Ella and the Silly/Serious Dialectic

There are times when I feel very much like eighteen, and then there are times where I feel as young as ever. Take this evening for example.

During dinner we chat about the presidential election, children’s book authors, my lunch with Sadie, and British peerage, and my father remarks that he’s very impressed by how much I’ve matured in the past three years. I thank him and feel slightly smug.

However, five minutes later I’m lying on the floor, teasing the cat with a feather, and trying to imitate how a sick dog would whine. Then, the phone rings, and I take off running to answer it, hunched over, making zooming noises, with my arms out like Superman. I almost immediately trip over the edge of the carpet and smack my chin against a chair. It’s Pippa, and I inform her in an overly giddy voice that I have just sent her seven or so links to Downton Abbey stills, along with a link to several interviews with the cast.

Phone call complete, I go back to discussing regional accents and British architecture with my parents until eleven when I decide to go finish reading The New York Times Sunday Magazine and prepare for bed.

It all feels so seamless, like it’s only natural to go from imitating dogs and dangerously running around like Superman to talking about serious topics, when it reality there’s an incredibly sharp deviation in the level of maturity involved. I like the freedom to be goofy and silly without judgement, but I bet that there will come a day where I don’t feel the impulse to do these sorts antics. When that will come I don’t know, but until then I will probably still be making up songs about the things I have to do and pretending to be on a cooking show when I make my lunch.

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Eleanor and “French Math”

My mother’s side of the family is French and when I was young, we used to spend my birthday weekend/Memorial Day visiting with them. And while there were many aspects of these trips that I enjoyed, the visits were never very kid-friendly. I usually felt underfoot and like one of the adults was doing me a favor by watching me*. Then, when you factor in all of the adults speaking French and/or (though usually and) about France, relatives I didn’t know, and art/music, it was like being in a constant state of confusion.

And every year, things really came to a head when we went out to dinner on my birthday. It was a big affair that involved fancy clothing (often my arch-nemesis, the pale blue frilly blouse that had a habit of unbuttoning itself every few minutes and the flowered skirt that “I-was-absolutely-under-no-circumstances-to-spill-anything-on”), my very best table manners, and sitting across the table from my 100-year-old great-grandmother who terrified me.

My mother insists that she has never met anyone who has ever lived up to my grandmémé’s standards, and while I understood that it was probably true, I still was determined to be the anomaly. Of course, things never went as planned, and I somehow always managed to mess up and be swatted at within five minutes of sitting down. The swatting would be accompanied by some remark in French that I did not understand, and some adult would whisper in my ear what I supposed to say in response. I would manage to bungle the sentence, the adult would have to apologize for me, and the cycle would continue until I finally gave up on trying to be perfect and got incredibly antsy.

It was on my eighth birthday that my dad introduced me to what he called “French math.”

“Okay, Eleanor, so you know how you have to kiss everyone hello and goodbye? Now, I want you to add up how many kisses that is going to be. Remember Mémé, Grandmémé, and your great aunts each get four, and everyone else gets two.”

I’d work out the sum in my head, and then my dad would change it up so that I had to come up with the number of kisses for the people with blue eyes or everyone wearing black. Eventually, this turned into me making up my own rules for calculating kisses, and I’ve done it during every long family dinner since.

So the next time you find yourself stuck in a room full of French people you are going to have to kiss, you can pull out this trick and go wild.

Note: You can adopt it for hugs when you’re not with the French, but the level of difficulty and fun vastly decreases, so I’d suggest that you instead spend your time changing the lyrics of Yankee Doodle or plotting escape routes in case of an attack.

*Or often not watching, with the case in point being the time I nearly drowned in the pool when I was five because all of the adults thought someone else had an eye on me.

Eleanor Eats Ice Cream

There is an often-told family story about my first reaction to ice cream in which I have a complete meltdown because it’s too cold and sweet. It ends with my mother having to actually take apart the stroller to clean up the sticky mess I made.

I always assumed that I remained stuck in my only-broccoli-and-sweet-potatoes-please phase for much longer than I apparently did because I recently discovered photographs of me at the age of three devouring a very large bowl of chocolate ice cream and making a huge mess in my grandparents’ dining room.

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At least, I make an attempt of helping to clean up.

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Hawaii Photographs

My father arrived home from Hawaii today without his luggage (thanks for that, United!) but with a camera full of hundreds of pictures. I asked him to pull a few together–some highlights from his trip with my mom–and these are the ones he selected.

On Returning Home and Storytelling

Mom came home from Hawaii today, and I ate slices of sweet dried mango on the green couch while she told me about hiking a trail slick with red mud and snorkeling with a turtle. She brought home peices of sea glass in a sandwich bags and brightly colored snail shells the size of a single clove.

I also gave her a token from my less exotic travels–a rather broken up slice of carrot cake I purchased at her favorite bakery and restaurant, Claire’s Cornecopia. When they were attending Yale, my father had to set a time limit for how long she could savor her piece of cake, otherwise they’d be there for hours. Tonight, she made the cake last through three 20-minute TED Talks, and I promised to buy her a whole cake for their twenty-fifth anniversary in August. She smiled.

When I saw her walking up the front path, I had the funny urge to go running out of the door and leap on her, the way I did when I was three and thrilled to get to see her for a few hours before I went to bed or left for school. But eighteen is too old for leaping into your mother’s arms, no matter how light you are. Instead, I helped her lug her bags inside and asked her about her trip. She started her stories several sentences in, leaving me to wonder who on earth Patty was and why my father momentarily thought he had broken his back. It’s like skipping the first chapter of a book because it looks boring, only to find out that you don’t understand the interesting parts.

I thought about my blog, my electronic storytelling, and got ready to begin posting again, internet access restored after a week of almost no connection. I missed reading Shell’s, Libby’s, and all of my other favorite blogs. I missed sharing thoughts and stories with my mostly anonymous readers. I missed the joy and intellectual engagement of TED Talks, mental_floss, and The New York Times. I missed Humans of New York and perusing artist’s websites. And I missed things that weren’t the internet, like lying in my bed in those early evening hours when the sun light shines through the blinds and creates horizontal lines of light and shadow across my body. I missed the comfort and stability of knowing where everything is and living out of a dresser and closet, instead of a large red suitcase.

And now I’m back home with all of those things. We’re together again and happy. My mother is putting the house back in order, and Max is lying beside me in bed, annoyed that I’m tapping away on the computer and not curled up with him. Pippa went to her prom last night, and my father is still doing something important and science-y in Hawaii. We’re all bursting with things to share, and I’m excited to share my stories with you tomorrow and the next day and the next. Infinite storytelling!

Pippa’s Boarding School Stories

Having Pippa home for the weekend means that I get to hear all sorts of hilarious boarding school stories. When I’m not being regaled with tales of a boy taking off running to avoid a drug test and then disappearing for days, I’m giggling at Pippa’s other slightly scandalous tales.

“Then the hockey guys got mad about the dress code and didn’t wear their pants to class. Instead, they wore their suit jackets, ties, and oxfords over their under-armor tights.”

“And then to get back at his girlfriend for breaking up with him, he decides to cut his hair into a mullet. Obviously, it did not work. And then a bunch of other guys did it too, and someone else’s girlfriend dumped them because they couldn’t deal with the mullet. Mullets are never the way to go.”

“Oh, someone started a Gossip Girl-esque Facebook and Twitter account where they share all the gossip about people. It’s really popular. My roommate last year was on it a lot.”

“So, you know, he looks like a Hollywood kind of guy, but the type that always plays hockey players because he is a hockey player.”

I am absolutely entranced by these stories because they nearly all sound like the sort of events that only exist in novels, tv shows, and movies, only I’ve visited the school and can actually verify that they’re the truth.

Boarding school is a whole other world filled with cocaine expulsions, designer purses used as backpacks, and endless dances. If I had the opportunity, I would love to be a fly on the wall and observe these strange and often over-privileged kids in action as they go about their business in preppy clothes. Alas, I am not an Animagi nor have the power to shrink, so I’ll just have to keep hanging on every last one of Pippa’s words and keeping notes on the funny and interesting things she reports.

You can also find me collecting lovely images and words on tumblr athttp://emleng93.tumblr.com/. I’d love for you to follow me on my trek into the wilds of tumblr.

Two Thoughts for Wednesday

Pippa returns home tomorrow for her Winter Weekend, bringing her British friend home with her. I’m going to meet the two of them at the station, and we’ll have a whirlwind of an afternoon and evening, celebrating Pippa’s birthday. I anticipate lots of chocolate cake, books, and clothing. It’ll be life at its best.

In preparation, I have been cleaning the house and practicing my waking up skills. I’ve discovering that if I set an incredibly loud alarm that plays obnoxious showtunes (particularly of the Disney variety–oh how I revile all things Disney, especially their princesses) on a clock all the way across the room, I can practically guarantee that I will be out of bed and awake enough not to fall back asleep. So in a way, it is best if I start my day off being annoyed.

But for now, I’m dragging myself back off the the writing cave where I am working very hard on the top secret project I blabbed about here (I’m sure you’d love to read my terrible first pass at a new project.). I am a huge proponent of the butt in chair rule with the addition of hourly five-minute Wikipedia breaks. Current fascinations include accents and regional dialects and Inuits.

In other news, working for upwards of twelve hours straight fries my brain.

You can also find me collecting lovely images and words on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/. I’d love for you to follow me on my trek into the wilds of tumblr.

On Family Portraits

We took family portraits today, and I am very hopeful that this time I will not be the person to mess up the entire group shot. Here’s an example of what would happen five years ago when I was in middle school:

I kid you not, I look like this in about five out of the seven photographs my father took. I have my eyes half closed and a Cheshire Cat grin on my face in the other two.

But since as of late I seem to be particularly determined to add more bad pictures of my to the internet, here, have one that isn’t atrocious, just so that you know that I don’t look like a possessed demon in everyday life. (I bring that one out just for situations in which I’ll be photographed.)

For the month, you can find me updating my word count on NaNoWriMo here. (I need to do it more regularly so that it doesn’t become flat for a few days, only to receive an enormous spike, indicating that I somehow magically wrote about twelve thousand words in one day.)

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.