Too Old for the Egg Hunt, Too Young for the Minibar Piñata


Our family has gone to the same Easter party for twenty years. It’s the one constant in our seat-of-our-pants holiday celebration style. Matthew is special-occasion challenged and I’m not a fan of repetition or ritual. The Easter party has given our kids their one glimpse of a normal, predictable holiday, but with an unconventional old-Austin style.

Our mushrooming, morphing city still loves its tired out, over commercialized tagline of “Keep Austin Weird.”  The Easter party was started when the slogan really meant something and continues to be a time capsule of the alternative, artsy, hippie culture that was dominant in Austin when I arrived thirty years ago.

The invitation came from Jan, one of the party’s co-founders, when it was just Matthew, Leo, and me. Jan had been Matthew’s professor and mentor when he attended  the University of Texas.

Leo was three and we had just moved back to Austin from Minneapolis.  Although we made a few life-long friends and tried our hardest to fall in love with the Twin Cities, our three-year stay ended as an unrequited affair. The culture was too buttoned up for us so we high-tailed it back to Austin as soon as there was an opportunity.

It was our first Easter after the move and the joyful, colorfully chaotic, loosely organized, pot lucking, egg hunting, bubble blowing, piñata bashing, cascarones smashing party punctuated our decision to move back to Austin with a giant exclamation point.

Fast forward twenty years, three more kids, and nineteen more Easter parties. We never missed one year.

The core group of steadfast, every-year party goers are a decade or more older than Matthew and me. We have watched their kids grow up and return with their children. Over the years people appear and disappear as life’s circumstances dictate, but there are always new faces and families with young children. The party is a welcoming, evolving organism.

We may periodically bump into our Easter friends during the year but our primary interactions are at the party, making the event an affirming celebration of renewal and catching up.  It’s a refreshing pace of communication to actual hear the telling of a year lived rather than to gawk at sanitized snippets on a Facebook page.

About Valentine’s Day, one of my kids will ask about the Easter party. They invite friends and help fill eggs for the hunt and come with me to buy big bags of spring-colored cascarones. Finally the day arrives.

The party begins with a pot luck and Jan at the head of the serving table making her famous french toast. When it’s time to hide the eggs all the hunters have to go inside while the adults scatter candy eggs and cascarones throughout the yard.

The kids are let out of the house in waves, by age group, but within minutes it’s mayhem. The three glitter covered, extra-hidden, money eggs are the big prize and on every kids’ mind.

The egg hunt is followed by two piñatas – one filled with candy and surprises for the kids and another filled with what can best be described as the contents of a minibar for the early twenty-somethings.

Over the years I’ve noted that the thirteen and fourteen year olds begin to opt out of the egg hunt. Instead, they congeal to form a sulky, bored-looking mass at the side of the lawn, nervously looking at their phones or wandering off into the neighborhood.  Once this occurs, this age group does not return the next year and will not step foot on Easter party grounds again until they are old enough for the minibar piñata or have a child of their own.

I watched Leo peel off and then Eli.  Last year when the twins were thirteen they still stormed out of the door with big smiles on their faces to look for eggs. Things were different this year. Although they arrived with enthusiasm, I later found Georgia, Lila, and their friend sitting on the curb as the kids bolted out of the house. They sheepishly ask me if I would take them home.

Sigh. Too old for the egg hunt, too young for the minibar piñata. Easter as I have known it for twenty years is now over.

However, the circle of life continues. Leo, now in his twenties and minibar piñata approved, texted me from Oregon on his spring break, the night before Easter, to ask if we were going to THE party.

Like a salmon going upstream, the Easter egg will eventually roll back to the basket.

Contract with the Universe


This past weekend I felt too old to be raising three teenagers.  I have fifty-two year old nerve endings that are frayed from twenty-three years of parenting.  I’m vulnerable to the unpredictable, but frequent, teenage emotional eruptions that occur around me. They make me skittish.

My oldest son has moved from being a man/teen to the twenty-something stage of life.  He has come full circle and is pleasant company, sincerely asks for our advice, voluntarily does the dishes, and can be home for a month without one tense moment.

I thumbed my nose at my advanced maternal age designation when I had Eli at thirty-five and the twins at thirty-seven. Like everyone in their thirties, I was still a little delusional about the inevitability of getting older. I had no vision of what the fifties would feel like or how raising teenagers accelerates the aging process.

The girls are fourteen so there is double the drama and constant confirmation that I’m embarrassing, irrelevant, and mean.  For self-preservation’s sake, I am resurrecting a coping mechanism from my repertoire that had been previously reserved for our disturbed second Rottweiler Oscar.

Oscar came to live with us after our beloved first Rottweiler, Toby, died. If I were to diagnose Oscar using the DSM-V, the standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders, he would be labeled as anti-social.

We were warned. When Oscar was just a cute fluff-ball of a puppy, he would growl and fight our vet when he rolled him on to his back.  The vet said it was not a good sign and we should think about putting him down. Of course we were horrified at the suggestion.

Instead we “managed” his personality disorder for the next eight years. He had medical problems too. In the first year, Oscar had double hip replacement for his dysphasia and abdominal surgery to remove his undescended testicles. A few years later he grazed the arm of a child who hit him with a stick and was then quarantined for rabies.

Oscar had a few good qualities, the most important being that he was a noble friend to our German Shepherd, Maude, who was heartbroken when Toby died.

By the time the girls came along, Oscar was a grouchy old dog with painful hips and a disdain for creatures that were smaller than him, including my twin daughters.  At this point we thought about finding him another home – putting him down was not an option for Matthew. Ultimately, neither of us felt like we could, with a clear conscience, pass Oscar off to someone else.

Oscar liked Matthew and Leo and tolerated Eli. He respected me as the alpha bitch of the house. He knew I would take him out if he hurt my girls. I was definitely not his favorite although most of the “managing” of Oscar was my job.

Since I have known Matthew he has held a non-negotiable belief that we make a pact with the universe every time we take on a pet that promises we will care and nurture each animal for its entire life.

In an effort to uphold our contract with the universe, we spent a fortune on a house-calling dog psychologist to help us with our crazy Rottweiler. She had a plan to de-alphatize Oscar and it actually worked fairly well. We trained him to walk away from the girls and he was allowed only supervised contact with them.  When the girls came near him, he would grudgingly move to another place all the while growling and baring his teeth.

Oscar did not transformed into a fun-loving family dog but he never bit or hurt anyone. We fulfilled our contract with the universe to love and guide Oscar for his entire life. When he had to be put to sleep after his lung cancer became too much for him, our entire family gathered around him on the vet’s floor to see him to the other side.

It goes without saying that I cherish my teenagers to the core and am honored and blessed to have these extraordinary children in my life.

But … there are moments while raising our teenagers when I have to remember that we made a contract with the universe.  It outlines the promise that we made to love and shepherd our obstinate, unpredictable, delightfully funny, smart and foolish, vicious and kind, wise and irrational teenagers into young adulthood and beyond. I will recognize them again when they come full circle and be in awe of the people they become.

It’s a great deal in the end.

Just Another Morning


3:37 am

The dogs are scratching at the back door and poised, once again, to pursue the possum family who lives under our shed. It’s a good deal for the dogs, all the challenge of a wildlife encounter and yet the game is rigged and they always win. Otis, sweetly dim, doesn’t understand his role in the ever-looping possum death-and-resurrection act. Opal, the brains of the pair, has it figured out and is still an eager participant in the nightly ritual.

I’m prepared for the predictability of their canine missions because I wake up at 3:20am more nights than not. It’s the exact time of my last night feeding when I nursed our twins. It doesn’t matter that it was twelve years ago, my body still remembers.

3:52 am

The dogs’ storming of the backyard cues our dieting orange cat to lumberingly leap up on to our bed. She begins kneading my belly while practicing for the world’s loudest purring contest. She wants food and her face rubbed.

4:20 am

My husband, Matthew, decides to come to bed. He can sleep anywhere at anytime, on command. This sleep superpower allows him to keep odd hours and often he works late into the night. It’s like a parade coming through our bedroom. His toothbrushing process is unexplainably noisy and bright. The dogs burst into our room and immediately remember the menacing possums.

Thirty seconds later, utilizing his sleep superpower, Matthew is in a deep slumber and I’m awake, waiting to let the dogs back in the house. Eventually, the dogs scratch to come in and curl up on their bed next to us. They also have Matthew’s sleep superpower.

I’m a fragile sleeper. Ideally I need blackhole-like darkness and silence, as well as a constant room temperature of sixty-eight degrees. I found my perfect sleep environment only once. It was on a cruise ship, of all places.  Surprisingly, my tiny room at the bottom of the ship hit every one of my sleep metrics and added another to the list.  A gentle hammock-like rocking is now another must have for my sleep utopia.

4:30 am

I remember that my daughter’s jeans are still wet in the washer and decide that I better get up and start the dryer so she doesn’t suffer another mother-induced fashion nightmare. Yes, she is in middle school. I make coffee and feed our ravenous dieting cat. There are a few dishes to finish from last night and I catch up on emails. It’s quiet, dark and cold so I should be sleeping but I’ve had too much coffee.

5:30 am

I continue to putter and start on my to-do list. This is the calmest, most productive part of my day and the only moment when I’m not surrounded by animals and people.

5:50 am

I’m instinctively fidgety because my body knows what’s coming. It’s time to rouse the three teenagers sleeping upstairs which begins our daily version of the Jerry Springer show. Each of my children wakes tired, argumentative, and usually mad at me for a reason yet to be discovered. One of our daughters is ridiculously organized and driven crazy by her twin sister whose optimal morning functioning hovers at feral. The feral child’s morning routine has me yelling, marine-sergeant-style, at every turn in the process.

Our fifteen-year-old son gets up eight minutes before we pile into the car. He and I argue every morning about him cutting it too close. More often than not he’s the first kid ready. He sits on the couch, the victor, waiting and gloating.

The rest is a blur of breakfast choice complaining, signing papers I don’t read, a million items lost and mostly found, and bad lunch-making reviews. It all comes to a crescendo with me hollering out the countdown to the minivan’s departure.

Matthew is up now and has words of sunshine and happiness for the kids as they finish loading their backpacks. Somehow he is always the good guy. He’s miraculously rested after his micro-nap. In contrast, my head is spinning as the kids exchange last minute barbs and we push through the front door.

6:55 am

The minivan pulls away from the curb while the automatic side door is still closing. Our organized daughter continues her lecture on my soft, ineffective parenting style. After a few merciful miles into the drive, the girls find their way to a truce and recap yesterday’s lunchroom conversation.  Eli, sitting in the passenger seat, informs me that now that he’s taken Driver’s Ed he realizes that I’m a terrible driver and that if he was a cop he would follow me around all day and give me tickets.

7:18 am

I drop off the kids and breathe deeply in the splendor of my empty minivan. I spend the drive back home thinking about ways to tweak our morning routine to go more smoothly.  All my analysis and best plans don’t have a chance. Animals, teenagers and parents of teenagers are not rational beings and time management theories do not apply to this stage of life.

My twenty-one-year-old son serves as the light at the end of the tunnel. As a teenager, he was just as surly and pushed back with as much gusto. Today he is a well-adjusted, functioning young adult who actually likes my husband and me. Resigned to five more years of morning anarchy, I remind myself that kinder, awake teenagers will return home this afternoon.


I took the photo at Graffiti Park, Austin, TX.