Wednesday, December 31, 2008
It is three days before Christmas. I enter the doors of the church ready for the sadness, but not expecting the scene before me. The church is Catholic and large; in the shape of a cross with seating on all four sides surrounding the alter. All seats are full; not in the sort of way that people spread to claim space against strangers, but in the tight, shoulder to shoulder way that people sit to make room for family. There is no room to sit and people begin to line the walls, first single and then two and three deep. There is no sound. Not a cough or a whisper. There is no sound that would be appropriate. A fifteen-year-old in our community took his own life just days before.
I sit bookend with my husband; my middle son between us. He knew Jake. He knew him some time ago through a mutual acquaintance and knew him casually now in high school; they rode on the same bus. “He was always smiling.” My son told me. I had learned of Jake’s death the day after it happened on December 16th and joined a town in profound sadness and loss.
A sophomore in high school.
A lacrosse player, a wrestler, a football player, a good student.
He did his homework that day.
He said “Good-bye” and “I love you” to his mom as she parted to pick up his twin sister.
Mom and sister were the ones who found him… still alive and struggling. As a mom, I cannot shake the image. As a sister, I cannot bear the pain.
The service is beautiful and the church is filled with teenagers; some who knew him and others who just knew his presence. A family friend gave the eulogy and spoke of a boy who would commonly be seen helping a neighbor repair a mailbox. He was a teenager who just a week prior worked with a high school outreach group at a local soup kitchen. He was a boy who reached out to younger kids as a role model. He was an athlete that gave his all for his teammates. He was a boy with an untold auditory processing problem that worked hard to keep it to himself. He was a boy who was picked on….but never told anyone, taking it all with a smile. He was a boy with darkness…that didn’t see the dawn.
I sit in that church in pain that is familiar; pain known well to my family. I sit at the threshold of a holiday filled with joy, feeling none in my heart. I think about the kids in that room who were unkind. Gone is my anger toward them. I pray for their hearts and for their own grieving. I sit in proximity to a mother, who knows the ultimate agony and try not to see her. I finally look and she is gracious. She leans on her husband and accepts the kind words of by-passers until the service is over. Her pain is ours as she wails the name of her child while they wheel the casket down the isle. She follows her child to put him to rest in the frozen ground.
I know now that the hardest part is to come.
The hardest part is when life resumes normal for the rest of the world.
I think about the Christmas tree in their home and the presents beneath it for Jake.
I wonder how these women, mother and sister, erase or blur the videos that run through their minds.
I pass by their house this evening and see a candle light in every window. I see a wreath on the front door and do not see the darkness I expected.
I pray for Jake; that he rests in God’s arms with LOVE in a place void of sadness and hurt.
I pry for Patty, his mom, for Jessica, his sister, and for Dave his father that they find the peace that passes all understanding and find light in his memory.
I pray for his teammates, those who may have not been kind, that they learn the power of reaching out.
I pray for a community that is mourning… that they find healing together.
Pray with me.
Friday, November 21, 2008
My husband is green.
He doesn’t know this.
He thinks that he is black and white or perhaps shades of gray, but certainly not one of those tree-hugging-save-the-planet types. He is for progress and productivity. The black and white stuff. He talks the talk, but walking the walk is a whole different matter.
Some years ago he became an avid recycler. This was, of course, under the guise of ‘cost effectiveness’, as he hauled our trash to the dump weekly and paid by the pound to deposit our waste; no charge for cans, bottles, plastic and cardboard recycled items.
About a year ago, he decided running to the dump was time consuming and a near break-even with paying a private company to collect. He continued to sort recyclable items, even though the cost was fixed regardless, chalking it up to habit and “the right thing to do.” Recently, however, he noticed that the collecting company tosseS all of the cardboard directly in with the trash, recycling only the cans, bottles and plastic. We now have a weekly curbside collection and a trip to the dump with cardboard.
His greenest tendencies, however, are revealed in his passion for plant life. He has always been a plant guy and has carted a Corn Dracaena plant around since his teenage years, house to house, move by move. It is a monster, this plant, and quite frankly not all that lovely to look at. It dwarfs every room in our home and has never found enough sunlight in any window. Its leaves are brown and crunchy on the ends and it is a dust magnet. I have begged, pleaded and threatened to slowly poison it, but his attachment to this plant defies logic. Every seven years, the monster blooms one long shoot dotted with pink flowers that only open at night, filling the air with breathtaking perfume and he gloats with a “See, I told you” look, buying a stay of execution for the next seven years.
Shortly after we got married, we moved into a condo with lots of light but no southern exposure. I had a beautiful potted Hibiscus with glorious red flowers that found our new dwelling to be deadly. Slowly but surly, all signs of life dissipated and I was left with a pot of sticks. We did battle over tossing the plant, which I was determined to do, but Mr. Green Jeans would not hear of it. One day, while he was working, I tossed the pot of death into the dumpster, knowing that by the time he realized it was missing, it would be long gone. Problem solved. The very next morning, I found him rummaging through the dumpster until he rescued the pot of sticks, glaring at me like I was the Grim Reaper. “How could you?” he asked climbing out of the dumpster, brushing off debris and of course, he brought the sticks back to life.
He has kept this pattern of behavior through the years, watering plants belonging to neighbors that moved and left pots to die on their front porches, eventually bringing them home when abandonment was certain.
I have gotten used to his quirky green behaviors and understand that any broken shoot off of any plant must be rooted and potted; any random pine tree seedling in any garden must be delicately uprooted and potted and any perennial herb that might not stand the New England freeze must be dug out of his vegetable garden and yes…potted.
His latest rescue has me worried.
It is tradition every year after carving Halloween pumpkins that he and Cadence roast the pumpkin seeds for eating. Last week he called her into the kitchen with great excitement.
The Jack-O-Lanterns on the front porch were ready for composting over the stone wall in back and in relocating them; he found one little seed inside that had begun to sprout.
This, to my husband, is a life.
This, to my husband, is sacred.
He filled a little water bottle bottom with soil and planted the ‘little fella’ in the kitchen window. Sure enough, it began to uncurl its neck and lifted its head from the soil. Within four days, it was an inch tall. Four days later, it was two inches tall and continues to grow at a rate of ¼ inch per day.
“What do you think you are doing?” I ask, watching him water the seedling.
“Growing a pumpkin plant.” He answers matter-of-factly, “Just until spring and then I’ll move it outside.”
“You’re kidding me, right?” I ask, knowing full well that he is not.
“It already sprouted.” He defends, “and I’ll move it outside in March. It’ll be great. We’ll probably get huge pumpkins.”
“You do know that the ground is still frozen in March and that frost kills until late April, right? And you do know that pumpkins grow as a vine and that the stalk is about an inch thick and the leaves are bigger than your head, right?” I ask.
He turns to the sink and begins to rinse dishes to put in the dishwasher. “It won’t get that big that soon.” He answers, as if the subject is closed.
“April is five months away!” I retort to deaf ears. I prepare to Google some sense into him and print out three articles on pumpkin development.
“Did you know,” I begin, armed with data “Ten weeks after planting, the first flowers suddenly appear, bringing us to right about Christmas and that at its peak, the vine can grow as much as 6" a day?” He grins sheepishly while I continue. “Tendrils are touch sensitive and will tightly curl around any waiting objects in the path of the vine. Where exactly do you want to keep the 30’ long tendril grabbing giant?” I ask, shrill tone taking my voice.
“Your office?” He answers, glancing to my little 10 x 6 sun room with wall to wall windows.
I ignore his answer and explain that it would be pointless as he would never get pumpkins from it since there are no bees in my office to carry the pollen from male to female flower. I read the fertilization passage on the page in front of me, not stopping quickly enough and spit out that “Some avid growers imitate the bees and pollinate the pumpkins manually. The process is quite simple: use a small artist's brush to gather pollen from the males; carefully carry it to a chosen female and deposit the pollen by "painting" the center of her flower.”
I think I need to hide the paint brushes.
Friday, September 19, 2008
The sound woke me from my deep and needed slumber and I tried to sift it into a recognizable category. It sounded like a yelp, but not. It sounded like a croak or a bark, but different. Unable to make the sound familiar from my pillow, I pushed myself to the window to find the source. As soon as I saw her, I knew the sound by name; loss.
The wooded areas around our property bring nature up-close and personal. In the spring, two of the wild turkeys from the local flock became mothers. They split off from the group and wandered solo, each followed by six or eight fuzzy little replicas. With an open field beside us, old barns and wooded land behind, there seems no logical reason for them to strut across the asphalt to wander behind the houses on the other side of the road, and yet, cross they do.
One early morning as I returned from dropping a child off at school, I stopped just before my driveway as Mama Turkey stood on the curb preparing to cross. She hesitated there, her fuzzy crew huddled behind her. I waited as she took her first step into the road and I looked ahead for oncoming cars. I was startled, as was Mama Turkey, by the sound of a horn and I saw the big black Mercedes with tinted windows behind me; short tempered man gesturing “Move already!” with his hands. I frantically pointed to the turkeys so he would understand, but he pulled out to pass me with speedy annoyance and I cringed and closed my eyes. Mama Turkey stopped; her fuzzy crew like a shadow and turned back to where she had come from.
As summer passed, the number of babies dwindled. The two mothers banned together, each with one remaining baby and the foursome spent most of their time in the field beside our home. The babies, now strong and sturdy, were almost half the size of their mothers. Through my window, I watched as Mom and baby pecked through the grass in the morning dew, the other mother walking head high, calling her grieving sound in the field.
The day before, we passed something dead on the roadside and I worried that it was our cat. I turned my car to make another pass and saw that it was a baby turkey. The two mothers and remaining baby were wandering there on the other side of the stone wall. I wondered if they knew the sad sight on the other side of the wall, or if they were simply looking for the missing baby. Hearing her calls in the still of morning was heartbreaking.
The mothers and young one have now rejoined the flock; big male standing proudly on the hill flapping his enormous wings reigns over the twelve. Each morning, my turkeys wander through the yard and into the field as if they know that they belong. I can see them from my office window and am moved from my seat every once in a while as I see them heading for the road. Walking up the curb, I head them off saying “What have I told you about the street?” shooing them back to safety.
Early this morning, Trevor walked into my office to say “Bye Mom,” and strode out to the bus stop. I told him to have a nice day and opened my office door. My flock was across the street heading towards us down a long driveway, Big Daddy nearing the curb. I stepped outside with Trevor, who looked at me in my pajamas and glanced down the road looking for the bus. “Mom, go back in.” He said, eyes wide with the horror that I may be seen by the bus.
“But the turkeys…” I began.
“I’ll cross them. Just go back in.” He said, walking slowly toward the street. Five had crossed and more about to step into the road, Trevor drives them back until the cars pass. Once the road is clear, he gives them space and four more make their way across.
The bus squeals to a stop and the remaining three hop into the brush. As the bus lumbers away, the three stick their heads out; Mama and baby are among them. Cadence and I rush out to watch for cars and Cadence skips down the curb once all are safely crossed, herding them like an old pro deep into the field.
I don’t know why the turkeys cross the road. Perhaps it really is just to get to the other side.
I don’t know why I feel responsible for them; running up the street in my PJs, risking being seen by passing cars as I stand in the road talking them back from the curb.
I do know that I will keep crossing them, silly as that may be, even if the neighbors are talking. Thinking of ordering a road sign...
Friday, September 05, 2008
Cadence bounces off the bus, long silky hair fluttering behind her like a flag in the wind. She looks similar to the girl I used to greet last year from the elementary school bus, but she is one hour earlier, several inches taller and sporting a purse over her shoulder. Each day she rummages through her wardrobe, layering old, outdated pieces with the few new additions; accessorizing to complete a package she feels wonderful to be wrapped in.
“Hey!” She says, sparkle in her voice. It is the third day of fifth grade and she seems to be getting the hang of things. “I had a greeaaat day! Madeline and I are great friends again and we traded shoes for almost the whole day! I remembered I had some of my own money, a five, so I bought ice cream at lunch. Oh, and I have lunch money on my debit card,” She says, throwing her backpack to the ground and making a bee line for the kitchen.
I remind her that we have not sent in money to her account and that she has no balance on her card yet. “Actually,” she says, “I had three dollars and some change after I bought the ice cream and the lady asked if I wanted money back or did I want it on my card and I thought ‘just put it on my card.” She said, sounding like an experienced shopper. “And I found out that one of the two boys I have a crush on likes me, too! “Oh, and I made a great new friend!”
“Wow.” I say. “Sounds like a great day! What’s your new friend’s name? I ask, not ready to address the ice cream and crushes. Cadence shrugs her shoulders, opening the refrigerator door.
“How were your classes? Did you learn anything new?” I ask.
“Well,” she begins, grabbing a water bottle from the refrigerator and sitting down on a stool, “I learned that in middle school, you’re judged by the friends you have, what you wear and by your snacks.”
“Your snacks?” I say, as this is the one I have never heard about.
“Yeah, like you’re cool if you have cool snacks like pudding, mini coffee cakes, yodels, stuff like that. Could you buy that stuff instead of the healthy stuff? Granola and yogurt and the stuff I bring is lame.” She says, moving toward the television.
“No TV!" I tell her. "Let’s look to see what you have for homework first.” I nag, as she rolls her eyes and grabs her back pack.
Language Arts, Social Studies, Math, Science, Computer, Health, Spanish, Band and Chorus; big binder and folders organized, planner filled in. We seem off to a good start.
“I see you have spelling, reading, social studies and math homework.” I tell her, thinking she is in way over her head and trying to help her to prioritize.
“Where is your math book?”
“Uhh, it’s in my locker. I forgot it.” She says, tapping her pencil nervously.
We talk about strategies to help her remember what to pack at the fast and furious locker visit before buses.
“You’ll need to explain to your teacher tomorrow. What is your math teacher’s name?” I ask.
“Ummm… I don’t think she told us yet.” Cadence says, rolling her pencil back and forth.
Most definitely over her head.
She tackles the spelling homework and I urge her to move on to social studies.
“What are you studying in social studies?” I ask.
“Dead people.” She answers.
“Dead people?” I ask.
“Yeah. I guess they were all famous, but they’re all dead now.” She answers as I grab the syllabus, my eyes scanning the topics for the year: French and Indian War, American Civil War, Industrial Revolution…. she is right; all dead.
“What is that written on your hand?” I ask, noticing the green permanent marker.
“I ‘heart’ R.” She answers. “You know, that cute boy Riley from camp? He’s in my class. I put a note in his locker” She says, doodling on the “dead people” list. Riley is in over his head, I think.
It is the third day of school and we have nameless new friends and teachers, lame snacks, notes in Riley’s locker, but no books from Cadence’s.
At least she has all of the important things figured out!
The rest will follow...won't it?
Re-thinking home schooling.
Monday, August 25, 2008
continued from previous post...
A storm blows in, the afternoon regular event now and band practice comes to an abrupt halt as the power flickers on and off and sprints for car windows are made. After a brief bit of hanging around laughing, engines start in the driveway and trucks roll away...without the band equipment. I assume it is due to the weather.
"When are they coming back for their instruments?" I ask Tyler, hopeful that it will be this afternoon as couches and tables are pushed and piled into corners.
"They're not." Tyler answers calmly. "It's staying here.... for practice."
I feel my own power flicker on and off and answer, "No, not, no, not happening." Tyler looks at me not seeing any problem. "Why here? What about Mike's basement?" I say, trying not to shriek.
"There's more room here and it's nicer." he says while reading a text message on his phone.
"Sorry." I sputter. "No way. You said Monday and that is what I agreed to." I remind him standing squarely before him.
"I said Mondays." He insists. "Come on Mom. Just for the next nineteen days? We have our first gig." he says, tipping his head and flashing a crooked smile. "Please??" He asks, sounding five-years-old.
"You'll be in school on Mondays and you don't get home until 4:30!" I feel myself power surging.
"Yeah... After that." he says matter-of-factly.
Metal music for dinner.
I will not live until Christmas.
When we bought our house, our boys were young and we had tremendous vision. We bought an old house with only two bedrooms, knowing that it has expansion possibilities; an over sized, detached, two-car garage with large office space above set in close diagonal proximity to the house. We instantly saw the two structures connected; the garage converted to family room and the office to two more bedrooms.
Twelve years later, our home is exactly as we envisioned…almost…sort of... and then some. When we moved in, one of my few was the old, low, stone basement. Newer homes sported large neat basements that most people finished into recreations space. Ours was chiseled out of ledge and is just tall enough for me to stand, providing limited storage for some things, but would never be the finished “playroom” that so many other homes had. Looking back, that should have been the feature that sold me.
During the planning of our expansion, I was only looking ahead about five years to when my boys would be ages seven and ten and it was just about the time that our expansion was in full swing; not a moment too soon, as Cadence came to be. We nearly doubled our living space and while the footprint of our house was “unusual,” having a north and south wing suited us. The boys bedrooms moved above the new family room and Cadence remained with us above the main house. Lots of space in between buffered noisy boys from my den and my office and even the kitchen was just far enough for peace.
“They are sooo going to sneak out of here when they’re older.” My sweet sister-in-law informed me with a twinkle that indicated she knew about these things. She, of course, was right and there indeed has been sneaking out…and in.
My vision for this new space was a warm and inviting family room with big comfy furniture and a gas fireplace, looking out over our snowy woods in the winter. My husband’s vision contained a bar, a pool table, a dart board and lots of musical equipment. I won, sans fireplace, and I allowed him to put up his dartboard with restrictions.
All was well, until the day the drum set came home. Brad found it at a tag sale; a huge bargain and he and the boys were in Heaven. I considered myself fortunate that it wasn’t an electric guitar and thought I could tolerate the drums, but low and behold, when Brad’s acoustic guitars came out, we discovered that
Needless to say, I avoid the testosterone ridden north wing of the house entirely except to trip over gaming controller wires to count pairs of shoes before bed to see if we have visitors that should have left.
The silver lining, however, is that neither of my boys is ‘the drummer” for a band and it is a given that “band practice” is held where the drum set lives. This, combined with the fact that lower-level play rooms, which I once coveted, morph into band practice rooms, leaves me free and clear…and grateful for limited space and low, stone basements.
“Mom, can we have band practice at our house Monday around 2:00? We can’t have it at Mike’s house and we have a gig coming up and need to practice.”
I realize that I have escaped this torture for the past few years and agree, reluctantly. Cadence and I run out to do a few errands and when I return, there are pick-up trucks and jeeps filling my driveway; music equipment carried by man-sized teenagers pouring into my front door. Within minutes the curse words are flying and I remind them that they must control their language and offer to make pizza bagels when they get hungry.
The music begins and I regret having agreed to this. Tyler writes beautiful ballads that he sings with smooth melancholy. This kind of music is nothing like that. It is the kind of singing that they refer to as “screaming,” but is somehow considered a skill, and the vocals roll back and forth between screaming and growling, sounding satanic to my ears. I do believe the proper term for their music is “metal” and it sends me closing windows and running for cover into my office. I fear that our lack of space for practice has been overcome and my family room has entered a new dimension.
They finally break to devourer the pizza bagels and then, still hungry, head to McDonalds.
Perhaps practice is over?
Perhaps I could conceal my distress simply find good reasons to never agree to this again?
Perhaps we should have considered soundproofing and doors for that family room?
Love that boy.
Hate that metal.
Love that boy.
For Christmas, I will ask for noise canceling headphones.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
We approach the blinking light and join the stream of cars turning right and down the hill. Passed the baseball fields, passed the soccer fields, the cars slowly move forward and settle into a holding pattern; the school now visible.
This will be the first time in twelve years that I do not have a student in elementary school. The middle school is visible now and as always, parking will be difficult.. The far parking lot is under renovation and I fall inline with the cars making a circle to the front of the building, unlikely to find a parking space here. There are more than 300 in the fifth grade class, gathering for a picnic in preparation for the start of school next week; STUDENTS ONLY the orientation announcement read.
Groups of mothers cluster here and there on the sidewalks with mixed expression, most of whom I know, some I realize are stepping up to middle school for the first time with their eldest. They find reassurance in these little pockets of peers, just far enough from the face of the building, hovering with the unease of leaving their child behind. Cadence’s brothers have paved all roads ahead of her and we sail through transitions with experience. I smile with reflective humor, knowing I once stood among them, trying to appear comfortable letting go.
“Maybe I am supposed to park and walk you in.” I say to her, glancing at the calm face in the rear view mirror. “I probably should walk you in.” I repeat, with no response. “I’m sure I must have walked in with
“Mom, this is me, not Tyler. I’m fine and you do not need to walk me in.” She says, her eyes meeting mine in the mirror, wide and certain. “Just drop me off in front.”
“Are you sure?” I ask, an unexpected wave of melancholy beginning to fill me from the bottom up.
Cadence unhooks her seat belt and pushes open the door, standing up and then bending over to meet my gaze. “I’m fine. I love you, Mom. Have a great day!” she says, as if she is sending me off to new territory. I guess in a sense she is and I watch her walk, hair swinging back and forth, into the double doors.
Friday, August 22, 2008
“Exactly, so let’s focus on the ‘pre’ and not go too heavy on the ‘teen.’" I tell her in response to her latest of many recent color schemes for her bedroom makeover. “Red and black,” I continue, “seems a little drastic.”
We settle on the idea of painting some of the white furniture to create splashy pieces of art work and begin with clearing out everything she finds “babyish.” Dolls and stuffed animals are sorted into three piles; those to keep stored away for memory, bags to send off to Good Will to find new families to love and some to keep in her room. “Even teenagers like a few stuffed animal here and there.” I tell her, not mentioning, but thrilled that one baby doll has made it to the ‘keep in her room’ pile.
Prints of little girls playing dress-up are lifted down from the wall, lacey curtains adorned with butterflies slide off the curtain rod, toys and puzzles cleared from the toy shelf and soon, a new space is created. We work swiftly clearing off her desk and chair to get the project started before Dad comes home. He is resistant to the change. “Her room is beautiful, don’t change it.” He says, “I worked so hard making that room.”
I assure him his labor of love will stay intact, as we have no intention of un-doing any of the construction and vow to leave the dressing room, toy shelves etc. in place. “We’re talking paint here, Brad” I tell him.
“But it’s so beautiful.” He says, knowing he will not be able to win the argument any more than he can stop her from growing up. I am likewise saddened a bit by the evaporation of her “little girl” and startled by the energy with which she accelerates toward adolescence. With the boys, it seemed more of an evolution, slow and stumbling along; placing them on the next leg of the journey without knowing how they got there. With Cadence, it seems to be a deliberate and preplanned shift, mapped out in her head and journeyed with purpose.
Change is harder for some; near impossible even. I LOVE change and I see the gleam in Cadence’s eye as we stand before her desk. “OK, how are we going to get it downstairs?” she asks.
“Me and you.” I tell her, “We can do this.”
I tell her we need to start before her dad comes home as he is not happy that we discussed painting the desk.
“But I like that desk.” He argued.
“Just paint, Brad.” I countered.
We stand the desk up on one end and walk it out into the hallway. I brace myself under as she guides the other end, sliding it one down the stairs, one step at at time. Cadence worries that I’ll be crushed. “Watch your feet.” I tell her, “And in the future; you should never move furniture barefoot.” Midway down the stairs in our bare feet, I look at the determination on her face and see the DNA of an Irish woman; never deterred by obstacles; never saying “I can’t do it.”
After choosing from the paints we have to work with, she settles on lavender, navy blue and lime green for the base colors and we head to the paint store for the lime green. There are many lime options, but Cadence chooses the one that is most electric. “Festival Green” it is called and I lose the battle in trying to get her to tone it down a notch.
I remember choosing a similar shocking “hot pink” for the trim in my room at about the same age. My mother didn’t flinch. She believed that one’s bedroom was a personal space that should reflect the individual and allowed us to decorate as we chose. My room saw many colors and themes along the way.
When I was Cadence’s age, my room was hot pink and posters of Bobby Sherman. I had a huge crush on a boy named David and I cut every ‘David’ from the David Cassidy articles out of Teen Beat magazine and taped hundreds of little Davids to one wall.
I remember being all ‘smock top’ and ‘bell bottoms’ in my artist phase where an easel and a paint pallet were the focal points of my room. I remember having a mini office with a small desk and old typewriter where I would tap out stories on the keys in my writer phase. I once had a corner with a rug and candles and incense where I would sit by candlelight with mysterious mood music, trying hard to meditate.
As I got older, my mom helped me with the ‘black and white’ theme; white walls, black trim and furniture, a giant astrological sun on one wall and dizzying black strips on another. My mother seemed to know that change would come, with or without her and she always chose to jump right in with us. I see Cadence’s mind racing with ideas and I’m excited to be part of her experience, allowing her aura to spill out and into the very walls of her space.
The desk is detailed with abstract swirls and purple roses. I help her with the vines and leaves and soon, we are staring at a masterpiece. Finally, it is time for the chair. “Splatter.” She nods; lips spread tight and dimple flashing. As we carry the chair into the backyard and gather newspaper, I remind her of the history of the chair.
I came upon a tag sale nearly twenty years ago at an old school house and the chairs from that school were for sale, twenty-five cents a piece. They were simple, solid wood chairs with bent wood in back, most having a large crack across the seat revealing their age. They were decades old, perhaps near one hundred years and somehow, they seemed to me to have a soul. Surly hundreds of people sat in them over the years; scootchy school children in front of stern teachers. I bought eight of them and was so excited with my two dollar investment. Brad and I sanded them to bare wood, primed and painted them and they sat in our first dining room, refurbished and beautiful.
The chairs have since moved around our house, a black one in Trevor’s room, a blue one in
Cadence takes a stance like a fencer on the strip and flicks her brush in the direction of the old chair; a combination of sport and art as paints fly and splatter. There is much giggling and I wonder if some isn’t coming from the chair itself as it is tickled with paint.
The finished project sits partner with the desk. They are colored the same, yet stark contrasts of deliberate detail and carefree abandon. She is thrilled with her creation and excited to see her father’s face. Brad looks at the desk and sees a reflection of Cadence.
“Awesome.” He says. “Incredible. Absolutely beautiful.”
“And it’s just paint, Dad. You can always change it back again later.” She says.
“Not a chance.” He answers.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
“Mom, do you have a minute?” Trevor asks from behind me. My mind slowly retreats from its present dimension, filled with numbers and analysis.
“Mom, do you have a minute?” Trevor asks from behind me. My mind slowly retreats from its present dimension, filled with numbers and analysis.
“Just a minute.” I tell him without turning from the screen in front of me as I type the remainder of my thought on the yellow page staring back. “OK, what is it?” I ask, still clicking at the keys, but straddling between dimensions enough to hear his question. He knows that interruptions are supposed to be of an “urgent” nature when coming into my office while I’m working.
“Mom, I don’t want to ask for money to go the carnival two nights in a row,” he begins, allowing a pause for my potential reaction, “so instead, could I have a few friends over?”
The carnival is in town and I believe it is mandatory in the teenage code of ethics that all are present on the opening and closing nights. Trevor and his boys wouldn’t dream of breaking the code and attended opening night as expected. The problem is… the carnival runs five nights, necessitating a stream of cash that he knows better than to ask for.
“What’s a few?” I ask without turning, his tall lanky fourteen-year-old presence visible in my minds eye.
“Like… six?” He says, his voice softening, indicating he is backing up a step or two.
My desk chair whips like a carnival ride from the sheer jolt of negative energy in my torso. “No!” I look him square in the eye. “Enough is enough!” His new face looks at me with earnest, sincere pleading. His beautiful blond locks that hung low on his face, gone with a recent radical haircut and the eyebrows I haven’t seen in years make an arched plea.
“Just 3 boys… not to sleep over, and a couple of girls later… just for a little while?” He says with a cross between a smile and an apology spread across his face. “Please?”
Trevor has been on a social marathon. He has always been purposeful and tenacious, finding the way to his goal no matter what the obstacle. This summer, he has been involved in a Round-Robin sleepover with his buddies that rolls between houses and I keep looking for reasons to say ‘no’ but I have not really found any. He has learned the art of timing and looks for the opportune moment to pitch his social requests.
Trevor thrives on social interaction, which over the last couple of years has begun more and more to include the ladies. This comes as no surprise as he has been a ‘ladies man’ since he could walk. When Trevor was very young, he sought out older girls wherever we went and before long, had them swooning over him; the lifeguards, the soccer coaches, the groups of teens at the fair. When he was six, he professed his love to the teenage girl who coached his soccer clinic.
The house is quiet with his brother and sister gone and I am intensely focused on a difficult assignment for work. Once again, I search for a reason to say no. My mind begins to spin a list of reasons, but my guard falls away and I agree…with conditions.
His boys show up and scurry to help him ready the space. I hear the vacuum cleaner and giggle inside at how he’ll do anything for the ladies. As usual, my summer clock has lost all awareness of time and I realize that we are hovering around the dinner hour and I offer to order pizza. Trevor, not wanting to push his luck says just a large cheese pizza would do or …maybe two. I order three and Trevor smiles, “Three? Well… OK.” he says, knowing he now has my full approval.
Three girls arrive and I am shocked at how they look more like women than girls now. I have known some of them since kindergarten and they make their way to the kitchen to chat with me. I had given Trevor a current and appropriate movie, which is running in the DVD player, grabbing no one’s attention.
I bake a large batch of brownies, the aroma pulling the group from the family room to the kitchen in a hypnotic state and they swarm like seagull as the dump. I realize now that there are six girls and Trevor has transformed a “few” friends into ten and I offer to deliver the brownies to the family room.
One of the girls bursts with a brilliant idea, “Oh…can we watch the talent show? 2003? Please?” The room fills with a combination of groans and cheers and before long; all ten are piled into chairs around the television. My heart melts at the sight of them. I ran that talent show for the last eight years and fought hard to keep the program in place. I was committed for so many reasons. It fostered team work and camaraderie. It gave kids a connection with one another and a chance to shine that some couldn’t find anywhere else. But mostly it knocked down barriers between groups and opened doors. It taught them courage, risk-taking and to how to trust in themselves. Watching them flash back five years with such delight confirmed that all of my efforts were worthwhile.
They laugh and share stories of “Remember when…” and “I can’t believe that is you.” They look and sound so grown up, but a childlike energy fills the room. They rewind and replay and revel in yesterday.
They will begin high school this fall and are hopping the fence to adulthood. They are in a place they will never be again, close enough to reach back and touch childhood, holding it arms length as they get ready to let go. They are balancing on one foot, ready to step over the fence and lingering for that one last look.
I take in the image of them; bittersweet and fleeting. I would like to freeze them right there and stretch fourteen out as long as possible.
Monday, August 11, 2008
My senses awake one at a time, first to the sound of birds chirping. The breeze blew into the window; the air smells fresh and dry. Finally, my eyes cracked opened to reveal the answer to the promise made yesterday. It was indeed a perfect day; blue sky and sunshine. I promise myself to make every minute of this summer perfection count; my number one priority being the beach.
Of course, the family had other plans. I had forgotten a birthday party that Cadence had scheduled and Brad had to get the grass replanted over the septic tank. Reluctantly, I pry open the lid to the paint can and busy myself while waiting. It is, after all, a great day for painting.
By 2:00, the moment of triumph is upon us as we pulled into the parking lot at the beach. “Wow, it’s really hot.” Brad remarks as the wind has stilled and the sun is blazing. He spreads our blanket and I sit myself quickly, forgoing the book and enjoying the rays. “There’s no breeze at all.” He remarks.
We lay for about ten minutes when Brad pushes up to his elbows. “Whew, it’s hot.” He says again. “Not for long,” I tell him, gazing to the northwest. My cloud is moving closer. This time, I am more amused than bothered. It is smaller today; less angry. Slowly, a second black cloud pushes in from the southeast over the water. The two move closer and I giggle to myself. His and hers clouds; perfect.
I lie back down and watch them feeling very silly, like a five-year-old with magical powers. I am satisfied, as I watch them begin to touch, that I could bring such needed relief to the sun baked beachgoers; a comfortable cool settling in.
I think back a couple of weeks to the carpentry my husband toiled over, finishing the trim from the addition put on several years ago. I have hated the unfinished-ness of our house; raw plaster and sheet rock, two by fours for doorways. As fast as he trimmed each section, I scrambled behind him with a paint brush, blended everything together as is should be.
One evening, I came upon him staring at his completed project looking perplexed. “I worked so hard at this all week and it doesn’t look like I did anything. It looks like it was here all along.” He said, somewhat disappointed. I had thought the very same thing. It occurred to me then that I did not see the finished work, as my eyes fixated on what remained undone. It was as if we could only see what was missing, not what was there, forgetting to appreciate what we did have.
I smile up at my black cloud and I understand now; my great teacher from above. It came to teach me about gratitude. It is not wrong to look for sunshine, but it is wrong to chase perfection; seeing only what is lacking and missing everything beautiful along the way. I had been running from my cloud, instead of looking for its silver lining.
It was there all along.
It always is.