Reading the list on her iPhone as she marches down the aisle at Staples, Katherine tells me she needs five binders.
“And where do you think the graph paper would be?” she says. "I have no idea,” I tell her. “Let’s find someone who works here.”
“Binders, binders, binders,” I say under my breath, my eyes glazing over. “Where are the darn binders?” Of course, the middle-aged father with his middle school son, also back-to-school shopping, probably thinks I’m a Romney relative, albeit, a crazed one.
“Let’s look for binders full of women,” I say to Katherine. She glares at me, rolls hers eyes, and steps away, not wanting to be associated with such a “dork.”
I’ve always dreaded back-to-school shopping. I practically break into hives at the mere sight of a highlighter. All these lists, supplies, calendars. I’m not the organized type, so a place like Staples--similar to The Container Store--makes me nervous. Extremely nervous.
Not so for my 7th grader. “I love being organized,” she says. “Nothing makes me happier than making lists.” She is dead serious.
If I hadn’t given birth to her 13 years ago, I’d wonder if she were really my child. Could she be a mutation? Liking organization and making lists? Always begging me to take her to Staples, even when we’re not back-to-school shopping. Seriously?
I know I should be more organized. But I’m the type of person who pays the Pepco bill when the disconnection notice arrives--in a yellow envelope. Yellow, yikes, it must be time. Got one today, actually. Guess I should pay Comcast and the water bill while I’m at it.
What is it about bills and office supplies that sends my nerves aflutter? Is it that I really don’t want to be a responsible grown-up--at 47? Perhaps I need to take a hard look at this problem and take a page out of my daughter’s book, er, binder.
So I’m thinking about making some changes as the school year starts. Like New Year’s Day, the beginning of the school year is a time to start over. I will imagine my life as a fresh piece of white paper, ready for a new--and more organized--story to tell.
Nothing reminds me of how fast summer is rolling by than cornfields. Just yesterday, it seemed, the corn was knee-high. Now it’s as high as, well, an elephant’s eye. This is what I tell my girls every time we drive to the beach, passing cornfields along the way. They usually roll their eyes while I whistle the tune from “Oklahoma.”
Children and the corn. Both are growing so fast. And there’s no better reminder than summer, particularly this one.
I realize you can’t fight change; you have to roll with it, adapt to it, accept it. Cornstalks, stretching up to meet the cerulean sky, remind me how quickly life is passing. Winter can seem endless, with its gray afternoons and freezing rain pelting your skin like BBs. But summer ends before we’re ready.
Summer stirs the senses. Golden light casting long shadows on freshly mowed grass. Crickets and cicadas increasing their crescendo as the end of August nears. Fire flies flickering and looping around the treetops. Basil and mint, the quintessential scents of summer. Maybe we wouldn’t appreciate--or notice--it as much if it lasted longer. In the summertime, you can literally see the passage of time, whether it’s a cornstalk, a swelling zucchini or a ripe tomato growing heavy on the vine. And it’s a reminder of everything else that’s growing, particularly children.
This summer, I went from being Mommy to Mom. My younger daughter, Katherine, would say, “Mom, Mom, you’re not listening?” I would turn to her, suddenly realizing she was talking to me. Up until this point, I was “Mommy.”
“Mom” almost sounds like a bad word. I’m still adjusting to it.
In June, my 16-year-old daughter, Peyton, flew off to Spain on a school trip. She lived with a family that spoke little English. It was her first trip to Europe, and she went without me.
On Facebook, I’d see pictures of her frolicking in a floral sundress along the streets of Seville. She texted me about taking the metro and the bus, something she never does at home. She wrote of her conversations with her Spanish family discussing gun control and American politics. At one point, when I asked if she was having fun, she replied, “Yes, but this is not a vacation; it’s work. My brain literally hurts from thinking in Spanish.”
When I dropped her at Dulles, there were no tears on her part. I, on the other hand, had to contain myself. Like Speaker Boehner, I’m not always successful at reigning in the waterworks. Grabbing a pen from the ticket counter to fill out her luggage tag, I knew I was in trouble. The lump kept growing, tears welling. Swallow it, I told myself. Don’t make a scene. I could hear my own mother admonishing me, “We don’t cry in public.”
“Mommy, you’re not going to cry are you?” Peyton asked, with a mix of amusement and concern.
She called me “Mommy.”
And cry, I did.
And off she flew, over the green cornfields swaying in the breeze of a summer afternoon.
Meredith Sheperd stretches her tan, sinewy arm toward a vine clinging to a brick wall. She snaps off a purple bean.
“Here, try it. Eat the whole thing,” she says. Then she grabs a sprig of lemon balm from a nearby container. “This wards off mosquitos,” she says.
Sheperd is standing on an upstairs terrace in Georgetown, surrounded by the fruits, vegetables and herbs of her labor. Rosemary, thyme, basil, squash, cucumbers, kale. Even a kumquat tree.
With a weathered wicker sofa shaded by an over-sized yellow umbrella, and surrounded by pots of nasturtium, the setting looks like a country house in the south of France, not the west side of Georgetown. But it’s the home of National Geographic CEO John Fahey and his wife Heidi Fahey. Heidi, a gourmet cook, can often be found gathering items from their rooftop garden to cook for dinner. That’s why they hired Sheperd, the founder of an organic gardening service called Love and Carrots, to install and maintain their vegetable and herb oasis in Georgetown.
The Faheys once had a farm in Purcellville, Va., that Sheperd managed. “Even though we no longer had the farm, I still wanted a vegetable garden in the city, “ Fahey says. With Sheperd’s help, the Faheys now have access to run-of-the-mill vegetables, like carrots, squash and peppers, to more exotic ones, like Scarlett Runner beans and Kohlrabi. “I always considered myself a foodie,” Fahey says. “But now I’ve become more of a foodie when it comes to vegetables.”
Sheperd started Love and Carrots three years ago with only a handful of clients. Now she has seven full-time employees and has installed 140 gardens in and around the city, including several restaurants and the French Embassy. The 29-year-old grew up on a sheep farm in Woodstock, Vermont, so farming is in her blood. “My mother was visiting a few weeks ago and came to work with me every day.”
In June, Sheperd’s company won Green America’s People and Planet award for “socially and environmentally responsible businesses.” Sheperd says she’ll use the $5,000 prize money to set up a new composting site.
Another area Sheperd is exploring is beekeeping. She’s installed hives for several clients, noting that city bees produce more honey than country bees. “It’s because the flowers and vegetation are more accessible and closer together for the bees.” According to Sheperd, one hive can yield 100 lbs of honey.
Turns out, a trip to the city is bountiful for both Sheperd and the bees.