Twenty Years of Dan Zanes and Cheese Sticks

Would it be the beginning of an academic year without a fruitless trip to the campus bookstore? Alas, no. Home now, without the $120 digital code for a virtual nursing lab OR the mango Powerade Polar Pop (RIP) that has supported every marathon work session for the last two years, I realize that I put the trash out too late this morning (fulfilling my ex-husband’s prophecy ofc). I roll the overfull bin back and park it in front of an inoperable garage door. Maybe next week. 

 I’m gearing up for my 4,786th semester and meeting it by throwing away everything I possibly can. Pay stubs from 10 years ago? Gone. Capless markers? Get out. Prehistoric deodorant from my “gym” bag? See ya never. One trip to Goodwill and two to the dumpster and I’m just getting started. I’m sifting through old work habits, too, replacing old (Of course I’ll be on that committee!) with new (Pay me.) and remembering that sometimes assertive and bitchy feel synonymous and ambition doesn’t have to mean self-sacrifice because there is plenty of time. Not everything has to be done or fixed or solved right now. 

In a kind of parenting ouroboros I’m still sobbing over Catherine Newman’s writing (this profile of her home in Cup of Jo is one of the best things I’ve read this month) but this time on both the early-parenting and empty-nest-ish ends. My books and walls are still getting tagged with unwashable marker because I‘m exactly the kind of person who forgets, after 21 consecutive years of parenting, to buy washable markers. I’m making kale salad and laughing when I strip the leaves. And while doing the cheese stick dance with my three-year-old daughter last night I heard the opening notes of Dan Zanes’ “Night Owl,” looked down at my boxy mom clothes and Birks, and clipped my tangled hair on top of my head; the whole scene a carbon copy of my life twenty years ago. Then, I was folding tiny Colby clothes in the dark bedroom of a shitty apartment. My enormous computer took five minutes minimum to dial in to the internet, and I usually fell asleep trying to figure out what to say in my virtual school 1.0 message boards.

This time, though, as I wrap up my final degree I have an actual job running in the background. A skill set I’m proud of that is almost automatic, easy to retrieve. My house may be falling apart but I’m not scrounging for apartments or rolling quarters for gas money. The internet is always on, for better or worse, and right now I’m typing on a system set up by that small boy from so long ago. And when my daughter, his baby sister, who has newly acquired a knack for repetition, says “This is an oven” twenty times in a row while pointing to a listing Play Doh box, I know it does not matter how many times I say “wow that IS an oven” because she’s just going to keep saying it and I can . . .  eat another cheese stick and wait it out


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