Leap Year

unnamedLeap Year took off at my house in May, when Swoosh graduated from the University of Leaps and Bounds and began cutting an entrepreneurial swath through the Seattle music scene with an alacrity that did not surprise Old Mother in the least. In early June, Penrod did his own victory lap at Blessed High School, trotting up to the dais to collect his diploma during a 95-degree heatwave, an unusual event up here in the land of Rain Dripping Off Cedars (up to ten months a year, I might add). Maintenance wheeled a gigantic electric fan into the gymnasium, which was a brilliant plan for the six or seven people sitting in front of it, and the rest of the audience sweltered, especially us folks trapped in the top bleachers who had forgotten the principle HEAT RISES until it was too late, which was after about two point five minutes (I was not a physics major). The principal officially relaxed the dress code for the graduating seniors for both the Baccalaureate Mass and Commencement. I know you think you’re about to hear a story but I’m NOT going there. All I’ll say is that it involved balloons, and even Penrod, who proudly chose to stick with long-sleeved shirt, tie, and slacks beneath his cap and gown, gleefully participated.

After this event (and a quick shower) we immediately departed again in the Fun Bus for a downtown dance class recital. Although we sat front and center in the second row, I could not locate Sparkles until my sons pointed her out, whereupon my jaw dropped. It wasn’t the professional venue and it wasn’t the stage makeup. It was the joy–the joy of a child inhabiting a new-found metier with the ease and absolute assurance of talent. Not just a leap! A pole-vault.

Then in July, Miss Literary Omnivore Jr. traveled solo all the way across the continent to attend one of those juiced-up career exploratory workshops on lofty East Coast campuses for over-performing high-schoolers to keep them from being bored out of their skulls in the summer. It was great fun, especially the New York add-on weekend where she got to visit the U.N. and then spend several hours in the Eternally Juvenile flagship store on Times Square trying on clothes. She returned home with a taste of college life and the experience of suturing a pig’s foot, which may or may not have sold her on a career in medicine (insert smiley face here).

After that, we executed what I fondly refer to as the “Big Fat Greek Wedding College Drop-Off” for Penrod at On A Clear Day You Can See Forever U. in the mile-high city of Denver (hereinafter referred to as See-This University), driving over in extended-family convoy at the end of the family vacation in Colorado. Those of us who attended college in the Neolithic Era were quite surprised to see that dorm rooms now come automatically equipped with microwaves and mini-fridges. Because of this, young Chuckles decided he was going to stay, but luckily, with a sister pulling on each leg, we were able to peel his fingers off the doorframe of big brother’s freshman double before the roommate arrived.

Speaking of ForeverBaby, he himself is on the cusp of a major leap. Yes, he’s teetering on the edge of that familiar moment, the one when your son wakes up in the morning, walks into the kitchen, opens his mouth–and jumps out of his skin at the sound of his own voice. I have publicly promised to put all the baby clothes in the attic when this happens, so I am now engaging in the stealth initiative of tucking some wee little favorites into my bedside table drawer for those little pangs, the ones that come over you sometimes late at night when you realize the din has subsided and you think how did this happen? When did I stop reciting nursery rhymes?

Finally, as if that weren’t enough excitement, I went and married an Englishman. After tasting his roast beef and Yorkshire pudding the kids FORCED me to, so desperate were they for some good cooking, and I’d like some points for admitting that please.  So we grabbed a shoehorn and squeezed it into our Leap Year schedule, and beneath the mountain and by the side of the mother of waters we pledged our troth, which is another way of saying we had a teeny-tiny outdoor ceremony in a really cool location in the middle of a fun family weekend at a small resort on the Sound.

It was so teeny-tiny that Oakriver Lodge forgot to bill us. I’m telling you, weeks went by. It reminded me of the milkman. Our milkman was very fond of my mother. He used to come right in the back door and open the icebox to see what we needed if we forgot to leave the card out, but also mainly just to have a chat with my mother. Over the years, as us kids got older and went away to college, and our dairy needs contracted, the milkman expanded, also growing a beard, so he looked more and more like Santa Claus, which was kind of fitting in a cute way as we would come home for Christmas and there would be Santa Claus in the kitchen with my mother, chatting about, like, Minnesota and things.

Finally in the early 1980’s Sawthorn Dairy Farms stopped residential delivery, but Gunnar continued to take care of her. He took care of her, but never gave her a bill. Never, ever. Even when she asked. After awhile she tried to go buy milk at the grocery store, to give him the hint in that roundabout Episcopalian way (like, I’m going to buy my milk at the grocery store because I cannot accept it from you unless you bill me and THIS GESTURE SHOULD MAKE THAT ABSOLUTELY CLEAR) but this kind of subtlety did not work on him, probably because he was Lutheran. He would just open the fridge, see the store-bought milk, and be very, very, hurt. So she had to give that up. The relationship was complex. After another year, I put her out of her misery by suggesting the obvious: Gunnar was probably chalking her up to his commercial deliveries. She accepted this with stoicism, though it ran against the grain, and after a few more years, she got over the guilt.

Anyways, when the Yorkshire Lad was fretting about not getting the bill from Oakriver after a couple months, I made this analogy. He was skeptical.

“So your mom only needed a single half-gallon of skim milk and one pint of cottage cheese a week and what does this have to do with our wedding again?”

I patiently explained that since ours was probably the teeniest wedding they’d ever seen, they’d folded it in accounting-wise to the huge affair later that evening, knowing that the seriously hungover Seattle software mogul father of the bride would never notice it when he signed the bill at checkout the next morning. When I say huge I mean huge: eight bridesmaids, seven bar stations, six maids a-milking, etc. etc., all the way down to the photo booth, rope swing and marshmallow roast (outside of course). In the evening the girls and I had to wade right through ground zero (the spillover cocktail area in the lower banquet room lobby) in our fluffy white bathrobes en route to the saltwater pool, so I was, in fact, able to get that accurate bar station count, should you doubt me, as well as pen a few witty entries in the guest book (Old Mother can never resist a dare).

Rule Brittania told me I was utterly delightful and proceeded to email the catering director every morning at 9 a.m. until, irritated as heck, she finally called him back and took his credit card over the phone. I told him we ought to go to Parchment at the shopping mall and get a greeting card that said Thank you for taking my money but I didn’t think they made them. Not being Lutheran, he saw the humor.

Finally, there were the biggest leaps of all, this year, in both directions. Yorkshire Lad became Yorkshire Grandpa, and, in a miracle of timing which shocked Old Mother–as her experience has always been that of the watched-pot-never-boiling kind–was actually on hand when Blue-Ribbon Baby was born in another state. The other leaps were not expected. They never are; they’re always a surprise. Just like the milkman. His visits slowly dwindled over time, but he was still around; sightings became deliciously serendipitous; you’d turn a corner and there he’d be, tootling down Green Bay Road in his dilapidated ex-Sawthorn Dairy truck, bringing a smile to your face, a smile of delight and fond remembrance. Four years, eight years, twelve, sixteen…you never know what’s coming around the bend. Every year’s a Leap Year!

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