Wednesday, June 24, 2015


"First graders have to have grit. What is grit?
Grit is when you try and try and keep on trying until you get it right."
- Ethan's class play

Over the weekend, prepping for Anna's family birthday party, I wondered if we were trying for some sort of record on things that could go wrong.

On Friday, I forgot about the huge pot of sauce heating up on the stove (Anna requested her favorite, Italian food) and managed to so thoroughly burn it that we had to throw out not just the sauce, but the blackened pot as well.

While baking Anna's cake I couldn't understand why the instructions were telling me to grease, flour and put parchment paper in the pan. I couldn't ever remember doing all three. Maybe I should've remembered that I can count on one hand the number of times I've baked cakes, because, you know, I'm not very good at it. So of course the cakes stuck to the pan, and we ended up having to throw them out (after shoving a few warm handfuls into our mouths).

Friday was the last day of school for Ethan, and I thought we'd celebrate summer vacation by making a little fire in the backyard from this "bonfire log" we'd bought at the grocery store. Our log lit for 20 seconds and died. We wondered if maybe we were supposed to surround it with kindling like a real fire, only it was too dark to look for wood. We did find some sumac branches, and learned quickly that burning sumac smells an awful lot like pot. I can only imagine what the neighbors were thinking. Never mind Ethan's cries of "There's too many mosquitos!" Which of course there wouldn't have been, had we gotten an actual fire going.

At one point, though, before the mosquitos had gotten too bad, as I was throwing matches on the darned log and Dan was looking around for some paper to light, Ethan curled up in his chair to watch and said, "I'm proud of you for having grit, mama. You're not giving up!"

"Grit" was something they'd been talking about in school and particularly in their first grade play. The kids had learned that one of the ways they were "Extraordinary First Graders" was by showing grit; perseverance; determination.

The next day I prepared round two of the sauce and the cake. When Dan came home he set about replacing the spray hose in our kitchen sink, which had sprung a leak. Only, as so often seems to happen in our 75-year-old home, one minor problem turned into a large one when the parts he bought didn't work with our sink. And then he accidentally broke something.

Saturday ended with parts all over the kitchen, and the sink not being usable. I literally had to rinse off a few dishes in the bathtub.

Sunday morning, party day, Father's Day, and instead of coming to church Dan had to buy and install an entirely new faucet. Just before I prepared to frost Anna's cake I managed to spill scalding hot water all over me. As I stood there, holding an ice pack on the burned splotch while attempting to frost with the other hand, I could feel it simmering. Grit. That was it. I wanted to shake an imaginary fist at the Universe. You will NOT stop me, I wanted to shout. I bit my tongue, vowing not to whine, yell, or cry.

I realized, and I know I've written about this before, that never mind the first graders, that I was the one who needed a larger dose of grit. I've heard it said that many people on the autism spectrum have difficulty persisting when they can't figure something out, of not liking that feeling of trying and failing. Again I will say then maybe I'm a little spectrummy, because I have always been one to throw in the towel, to throw up my hands, to let my emotions overtake me and just say, Forget this.

But no. I frosted the cake. We went to church. Dan fixed the sink. We put the kitchen and the house back together again. Everyone came over and we had fun and it was not in the least hyperbole when I told people it was a true miracle that somehow, this had all come together.

The next day at Big Y I saw those darned, supposed-bonfire logs. I noticed the advertising display ("Just one match is all you need!") and started to feel indignant. No one was going to stop me from my fire, darn it. It was time to dig in my heels again. I marched up to customer service, kindly explained the situation and asked for another (free of charge) log to try.

At home that evening, as darkness fell, this log lit with one try. The flames shot up the way they were supposed to. We roasted the last of the marshmallows and saw the first fireflies of the summer. Stars came out, but we didn't want to go inside. The night was so big; the summer stretched out like a ripple in a pond, endless; full of promise.

Some things come easily, and other times the gift comes when you sink your teeth in like a bulldog and determine that you're going to do your best to make something happen, to keep the better attitude, to choose the higher way.

First graders may need grit, but so do 40-year-olds. We all have those days and those moments when we need to remember to never, ever, ever give up.

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