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  • katherine halligan

Taffy Pull (Excuses, Excuses)

When I was a child, one of my favourite things to do at our local county fair was to watch taffy being pulled. There was something absolutely mesmerising about watching the machine stretch that satiny, ridged mass over and over again, until finally it was just the right consistency for the taffy people to pull off little bite-sized morsels of sweetness, wrap them in paper, and present them to you. If you got the mixed bag, it was a lottery which flavour you got, and I liked almost all of them, so the surprise was part of the fun.

Writing can often be like one giant taffy pull. You have an idea, you stretch it and work it and do it over and over again, until it finally emerges into something digestible and delicious and sometimes surprising.

After nearly six weeks away from my blog — the reasons for which absence I shall share shortly — I have been desperate to get back to it. And so, last Friday, I did. I took an idea I’d had a while ago, and started… and then I couldn’t stop. Normally it takes me about an hour to write a typical blogpost. I then spend about another hour editing it, and that’s that. Job done. I don’t do it all at once, ever, because that’s not how my life works these days; instead I work in chunks of time that last anything from three to twenty minutes, and that’s probably just as well, because I might just carried away with myself otherwise.

So when I sat down the other day to write, when somehow the stars aligned to give me a full hour in one stretch, I wrote five posts in one. Then, knowing that this was not right — because although more may be more, you do have better things to do than sit down and read this to the exclusion of everything else — I attempted to unpick it all. But I found that I couldn’t, because — rather like sticky taffy — what should have been five separate posts were all completely stuck together into one giant sticky mass, and I couldn’t pull out a single piece without making the whole thing fall apart or become so hard and stiff that it no longer resembled the thing that it had set out to be. And so, for the first time since I started this whole blogging thing, I felt deeply discouraged.

But I’m never one to stay down for long, so after I shared the epic mess of taffy with my husband (who is always my first and best reader) and he concurred that more was too much, I started over. Over there on the sidelines I’m still involved in the great taffy pull, and will eventually manage to separate out little nuggets of the sweet stuff and present them to you, edible and neatly wrapped, and I hope those nuggets will be worth waiting for.

In the meantime, as I try to pick myself up again — because I was in pieces, even if my writing wasn’t — I thought about why it’s been hard to find a minute to write, and I wanted to share with you why.

By way of example, I offer you my morning, thus far.

Having been up three times in the night with our eight-week-old puppy who came to us three days ago, I crashed back to sleep after the 5am waking and snoozed through my alarm. I was awakened again at 6:40 by our younger child jumping on me to ask if the puppy was awake yet (she was not, and I insisted she stay that way), and as I drifted off again I suddenly jerked awake, remembering that it was our older daughter’s school picture day. She is ten, so this matters. It's her last elementary school photo, in the weirdest year possible, so I needed to help her get this right.

I leapt up, attempted to wake her, failed, attempted to wake my husband (who’d also overslept and whose help I needed to carry the puppy play pen and crate back downstairs for the daytime setup, and who also needed to report in for an early meeting with his new boss), started breakfast for children, forgot what I was doing, started breakfast for puppy, forgot what I was doing, almost put the puppy’s milk on the children’s oatmeal, fed the puppy, fed the children, forgot what I was doing, started to make coffee, helped the older one find a two-litre plastic bottle with which to make a rocket at school (we don’t drink soda so had to locate instead an empty rectangular lemonade bottle which is unlikely to make liftoff), sent the bigger one scurrying to get dressed, put the little one on puppy watch, forgot what I was doing again, had three bites of my own oatmeal, dashed upstairs to dress myself, and then entered my older daughter’s room to find her wailing, “Mom, I look like a poodle!”

Last night I’d spent precious minutes that I could have been sleeping twisting my daughter’s damp hair into pin curls, so she could achieve the lovely, fat corkscrew ringlets she likes to sport on special occasions and which stay in her thick, smooth hair better than anything a curling wand can do. But she’d forgotten — and I’d forgotten to remind her — that in the morning you just remove the pins and finger- comb it out. Unluckily for her, she’d found a hairbrush (not always easy in our house), and she brushed those curls.

So it’s entirely true: she did look just like a very cute and very distressed poodle. I took a deep breath, sent her looking for a spray bottle, which she couldn’t find (because it’s often hard to find anything at all in our house, from hairbrushes to spray bottles to children), damped it down with sprinkles of water, twizzled her hair back into less-frizzy-but-by-no-means-ideally-formed curls, helped her apply concealer to two minuscule spots (maskne is real), helped her brush the lint off her leggings (she’d turned it backwards, so was adding lint to her personage rather than removing it), found her a water bottle, sent her back upstairs for her forgotten vocabulary book (the same Wordly Wise curriculum I’d had in fifth grade, which brings me no end of nostalgic delight), found her some shoes that were comfortable enough to wear for launching rockets but stylish enough for picture day (even though no one will see her feet — but she’s ten, so this matters), sent her looking for a mask, checked that her alien story was in her backpack (it was, but her pencil case was not; this is what happens when I’m busy with a puppy and not there to supervise the packing of backpacks the night before), found the pencil case, got into the car and got her to school on time for her COVID questionnaire at the gate before the bell rang.

All in 49 minutes flat.

As you can imagine, one of my pandemic silver linings is that we only have to get to school two mornings a week, and they’re half days so no lunch-packing is involved (and I loathe lunch-packing), so I am thankful that it’s Tuesday (and the way this day is shaping up it will be Thursday by the time you read this) and we won’t have to repeat this exercise in barely contained madness for another six days. In truth, most of our mornings are far calmer and more organised, but throw an as-yet-unvaccinated puppy into the mix, along with picture day and rocket launching, and you have the perfect storm of a morning.

While I was gone on her school run, my husband (who was still home, which is another pandemic silver lining, though because he is on the team that developed a COVID test, he is an essential worker and normally goes into the office for some peace and quiet — but at least he is flexible in his whereabouts, which helps me no end) oversaw our younger daughter scooping puppy poops, which she does with marvellous enthusiasm. And so the school run was far less chaotic than it might have been had I also needed to get the younger one dressed and the puppy into her carrier, where presumably those poops would have occurred en route, making my morning rather more complicated and smelly.

But although the puppy finally slept after we dosed her with her probiotic (because even though she is three pounds soaking wet, she does not like it so it’s a team effort) and after some hilariously manic acrobatics which we all had to stop to watch, I was not able to sit down and write while enjoying my now slightly chilly coffee, because my newish job was just beginning: coaching our eight-year-old daughter through virtual school. That’s another story I need to untangle from the taffy pull before I can share it with you, but suffice to say I’m right back where I was in March.

In fact, just this very minute, I had to stop writing so that I could help her to fashion a dreidel out of household objects. I said no to the 13-minute online from-scratch tutorial and took the easy option, but that still involved finding a printable dreidel, printing it (but the printer ran out of paper so I had to go upstairs to reload it, and then the paper tray sort of broke so I had to sort of fix it), finding the scissors (I’ve shared before about her scissor fetish, so we hide them now — often so well the grownups can’t find them either), instructing her how to cut and fold her dreidel (while on the phone with the lovely people at the charity where we are adopting a family who somehow managed to email me a final reminder that gifts are due tomorrow, without ever having shared the information about the family we are adopting or any parameters for the gifts), then tape it together (and she also has a tape fetish so we also first had to find a roll she hasn’t used up, untangle it — because she has broken all but one tape dispenser — and peel the tape off of itself, which took a very long time, especially one-handed).

Then she had to stop to do a dance of joy.

Then the puppy woke up and tried to eat the tape that was stuck to my daughter’s hair and then she had to cuddle the puppy and so I found myself making the dreidel all on my own. (I was fine with that because I love playing dreidel; I was one of five or six Gentiles in my class all the way through elementary school, so I play a mean round of dreidel, know all the Hanukkah songs, and make excellent latkes.)

Then — of course! — we had to play the dreidel (for mini candy canes, even though I normally buy gelt at this time of year; it was a very fusion experience). Then we had to spell all the multi-syllabic words for her extremely elaborate essay about playing dreidel, and because she is upstairs using her sister’s desk and I am downstairs on puppy patrol, this means at least one of us has to use the stairs every time there’s a new word that stumps her (which is fine because then it’s spelling and PE all at once).

Then the latest spelling word utterly defeated her — as she announced, she’d had to fix 17 words 48 times — because her extensive vocabulary exceeds her ability to put it accurately into her expository writing, and her perfectionism means that she doesn’t want to see ANY squiggly red lines on her screen — another deeply annoying feature of digital learning, because when you write with an actual pencil on actual paper there are no squiggly red lines, just delightful kid spelling) and she needed a hug. (By this point, I did too.)

Then I sat down again to finish writing what I’d started working on at 8:30 when my daughter logged in for her morning check-in (which I’d also started yesterday, which I’d also started Friday, which I’d also started a dozen times in the last six weeks).

And so that is how I spent the first six hours of this morning.

Multiply everything that happened in those six hours by four (because my days rarely stop at bedtime, thanks to our older daughter’s sleep issues, which is also another story for another day — see how I get distracted?), and then again by the number of days since I last posted, which is 40, and you begin to see all the many thousands of things that have prevented me sitting down to post.

Plus deciding to pull our daughter out of school and educate her entirely virtually.

Plus an election of cataclysmic importance.

Plus Thanksgiving, plus our younger daughter’s eighth birthday the very next day.

Plus the puppy.

Plus, plus, plus.

Excuses, excuses.

So that, my friends, is why I haven’t posted a word in 40 days. If you’d wondered what had happened to me, now you know.

But I’m back on my game again, and I’ll be back with those little nuggets of taffy, just as soon as I figure out how to pull them apart from that big sticky mess of stories I wanted to tell you.

Except now we have more spelling to do and then we have to leave to pick up my older daughter and get there early enough to nab a good parking spot so I don’t have to get out of the car with the puppy and then I have to make lunch (both canine and human)…

And oh my goodness the puppy is awake and I think she is trying to eat her poo.

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