Spring

(Originally published on Blipfillypicklepoo.blogspot.com on 8/2/2011 – edited for this publication)

littlegirl - publicdomainpictures.net

Source:  publicdomainpictures.net

Frankie moved down the street at a sprint – her eyes were closed. She knew this neighborhood like the back of her hand – maybe even better.  She could hear the wind, other kids laughing and yelling, birds chirping, leaves rustling in the breeze  and the city bus groaning into action after having deposited someone at the street corner. The contrast between the cool spring wind and the soft warm touch of the sun on her face was exhilarating.

She ran past the stand of lilac bushes at the end of the block tasting their sweet fragrance.    Opening her eyes she took  an extra long stride  as she turned the corner past the lilacs to avoid the broken patch of sidewalk.  Her heart pounded and threatened to burst from the run but she kept on going – past Mr. Smith’s yard with the chronic sprinkler and Sam the beagle baying at her passage, past old Mrs. Murphy’s  with the  “stay off the grass” sign,   past the Conway house with the children all too young to leave the yard and too numerous to be kept inside on such a day – they called to her and she smiled and waved as she raced by.

She looked briefly down at her feet and saw the new blue Keds with the super-white laces – they really did make her run faster, jump higher, go farther. On she went, plaid pleated skirt and white blouse flapping around her. One more corner and then the final leg of the jaunt that would bring her to the Rosewood Elementary School playground.  Frankie loved coming to the playground when school wasn’t in session. It seemed like such a daring thing to do and there weren’t nearly as many kids vying for a swing.  She got to the swing set and skidded  on the pea-gravel under the swings. Situating herself on her favorite swing, she began to pump her rubbery legs to get going as high as she could. In a matter of a minute she felt like she was flying and she leaned back and closed her eyes. The world turned upside down and Frankie’s face broke into a broad smile. She licked beads of sweat off her upper lip.

She stopped pumping her legs and just enjoyed the sensation, the gentle arc she drew in her small corner of the playground – the weightlessness and then the realization that very soon the swing would come to a stop and once again she would be grounded. She held on to the last bit of motion the swing  was willing to shell out  and then opened her eyes, dismounted and started walking – back to siblings, chores, dinner around a table with the people she most wanted to be like and liked by… and her Keds suddenly kicked her into high gear, pounding the pavement as Frankie moved toward home and all its comforts.

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Aging-ish

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My blue jeans are just a little snugger over my hips in the mornings and the face I see staring back at me in the mirror is a little less fresh and dewy than it once was.  My focus seems to have shifted startlingly while I wasn’t really paying attention.  Birthdays used to bother me only insofar as they were usually forgotten by people I had hoped would remember.  I think at one time I believed I would never be any older than 9 and I would always have a sense of “belonging” in the world – if not owning it – as I did when I flew down the street on the green Schwinn I shared with my sister.  When I turned 20 years old, my Uncle Mikey shared a now-sobering thought with me.  He said, “It feels like it takes forever to get to twenty, and the next time you look up, you’re fifty.  So enjoy!”  I remember that comment being accompanied by a big hug and followed by a bigger laugh….more than 20 years ago!  It seems like it was just yesterday.

*****

Years ago I was with a group of pre-schoolers (my favorite age of kids to work with) and was feeling like quite a youngster myself as I helped several children to build LEGO airplanes in the block area of a classroom.  Everything was going well – lots of giggles and helpful comments among the builders – when a very charming little guy asked me, “Whose grandma are you?”  Pierced straight through the heart (I don’t think I was 30 yet), I sputtered, “I’m no one’s grandma; I’m not even anyone’s mom!!”  The boy responded matter-0f-factly, “Then why do you have them cracks in your face?”  I experienced a twinge of alarm before I realized he was talking about the “character lines” on my face.  Not knowing what to say, I went over to see what was happening at the puzzle table.

*****

Sitting at the lunch table with a group of 4- and 5-year old children, I was witness to a conversation they were having about what they were doing for their mothers for Mothers Day.  Deja asked me if I had any children, and when I answered that I did not, she asked if I had a dog or a cat.  “Yes!”, I said, “I have a dog.”  Deja smiled sweetly and said, “Then you are a dog mom.”  Brenda, another child at the table, made a disdainful face and stated, “That doesn’t make her a mom; that makes her a farmer!”

*****

Aging itself isn’t what bothers me.  I shudder to think of the opportunities I have let slip by me in my efforts to grow up.  Yeah, it’s somewhat daunting to see the lines that have appeared on my face and the not-so-stray strands of gray that highlight what used to be decidedly chestnut brown hair.  The thought that I would ever look like an “old lady” never entered my mind until recently.  What does bother me is the nagging pull in my gut that I haven’t “lived up to my potential”.  No graduate degrees, no children, no book deals, no exalted titles.  Going in one direction with certainty will, eventually,  inevitably find me wondering what might have been if only…  It is not a question of regretting my choices (well, not most of them); it is a sense of sorrow  – the loss of what might have happened on the road not taken – of wishing I could do everything I ever wanted to do and having the time and energy for all of it.

*****

I was helping out in a classroom of 5-year-olds whom I had gotten to know fairly well.  The children in this class were a joy to be around.  The schedule had us heading out to the playground and, as I moved toward the merry-go-round, twenty children followed me.  They piled onto it and began asking, even begging, me to push them around “real fast”.  After several attempts to honor this request only to have kids flying off or maintaining only a tenuous grasp on the play equipment, I had to be an adult.  I told them in a semi-stern voice that, if they wanted me to push them “real fast”, they would have to find a spot on the merry-go-round and hold on very tight. Talk about raining on their parade.  They perceived this a very unreasonable, but, seeing that I meant business, they eventually got themselves positioned for safe fun.  I began to push them in a circle, very slow at first and then faster as the kids began to fuss about it.  Then I was running as fast as I could without killing myself,  The kids were flying!  As I stepped away to watch  and listen to the kids enjoying themselves, a child named Rudolfo, who was right in the middle of the merry-go-round, yelled, “Miss Frances, you run like a teenager!”  I don’t care how loud the teachers were laughing – that comment made my day and Rudolfo is a child I will always remember.

*****

In my head I can do flawless back flips down a hallway, create the next BIG THING, raise incredible children, foster world peace, write a book worth publishing, cure cancer…

and

in my heart there is a dreamer who will probably always be nine-years-old.

The Hands that Hold Us

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The hands that held us are gone.

Hands that gently washed, dressed and fed lots of sweet babies.

Hands that held us, provided occasional righteous stings to little bottoms, applauded our triumphs and gave us a needed push.

Hands that cooled fevered brows and held back hair from the faces of children needing to give back their meals.

Hands that held “The Hobbit” in one hand, a white mug full of coffee with cream in the other, while keeping a passel of offspring— scattered across the living room floor cuddled in blankets— in Tolkien’s thrall.

Hands that kneaded dough for countless loaves – delivering warm slices of hearty bread soaked in butter to hungry mouths.

Hands that worked away from home – gone for days at a time – to financially support us.

Hands using chalk on a big blackboard to explain math or religious teaching – each equally mysterious.

Hands that knit afghans, washed a million diapers, ironed sheets and sometimes even boxer shorts.

Hands that quietly traced a cross on our foreheads at bedtime.

Hands used to shepherd children through the world’s challenges – crossing streets, maneuvering through crowds, learning to drive a manual transmission.

Hands that could tap out the rhythm to a recognizable tune on the table top.

Hands that signed permission slips and co-signed promissory notes – with trust and trepidation.

Hands that let go when we were ready to take steps – big and small – on our own.

Hands that waved to us … on our first day of school, from the audience during a dancing competition, as we left home to find our fortunes.

Hands that pulled us in close for a reassuring hug …when we were young… and, perhaps more importantly, when we were older.

Hands that grasped our own – squeezing when words were no longer possible – to say “Thank you!”, “I love you.” and “Goodbye”.

Four hands are gone, turned to ashes too soon.

Four hands that produced 16 more

…hands to hold us when they were gone.

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I love you, Mrs. Green

Sitting in the yellow molded-plastic chair in the new classroom at the start of a new school year in a new school, the skinny girl with a pale complexion leaned forward in expectation and apprehension. Delicate shoulders squared, hands clasped together on top of the desk, her serious brown eyes surveyed the room. None of the other kids had talked to her yet.

The bell announcing the start of Frankie’s third grade year pealed through the school.

There were about twenty children in the class and some were obviously well-acquainted with each other.  Frankie heard some of the girls giggling and sharing stories about summer camps and family vacations.  Some of the boys were goofing off and doing gross things that boys do – belching, picking at body parts (their own) and saying words they thought were “dirty” but which really weren’t.  The big round clock on the wall with the audibly moving hands clicked to 8:04 a.m.  The kids all started looking around the room, craning their necks to see the door.  Where was the teacher?  The room became unnaturally quiet for a space full of 8- and 9-year-olds.

Then, with a whoosh and a squeaking of rubber-soled shoes on the floor, in walked a lovely young woman with long hair the color of straw, a light blue skirt and a blouse with so many flowers in the design Frankie looked at the floor expecting to see petals scattered there.  The woman’s arms were full of boxes; her slender frame in danger of breaking under the load.  She made her way carefully down a row of seats and set her burden heavily on the floor next to the teacher’s desk.  “Good morning!  I’m Mrs. Green and I’m the new third grade teacher.” she said with a smile that would have lit up the entire room were a sudden and total solar eclipse to have occurred.

The students stared at her with a mix of enchantment, skepticism and… hope!  The previous third grade teacher, by all accounts, had been a real sourpuss and all the kids, when they managed to think about school at all over the summer, had had varying degrees of anxiety about what third grade was going to be like. This smiling, pretty woman in front of the class left Frankie with the feeling you get when you think the M&M bag is empty and then realize there is still candy left inside.

Third grade was a swirl of joy, anxiety and revelation for Frankie.  Mrs. Green was a voracious reader and introduced the class to new worlds compliments of E.B. White, Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, Madeline L’Engle, etc… When she wasn’t reading to them, she was encouraging her students to explore the characters brought to life by these ingenious creators or, better yet, to generate their own.  Mrs. Green acted as though each child in her class was someone special and capable, and the whole class seemed to meet her expectation – with a couple of notable exceptions.  She was funny, sweet, challenging, thoughtful and a fierce proponent of her kids avoiding dullard status.

Frankie would sit in class and marvel at the energy and enthusiasm her teacher exhibited.  Even in the midst of flurries of silliness sprinkled with idiocy among her charges, she would forge ahead with her lesson plan, a disarming grin on her face, and get the class moving in the right direction.  Field trips, library visits, spelling bees and reading competitions punctuated third grade and inspired the class to strive for and accomplish more than was expected.

At the end of the school year, Frankie’s head was overfull of imaginings and possibilities.  She woke up one summer morning before her fourth-grade year started and looked out at the lemony yellow sun beginning it’s daily climb. She made her way silently down the stairs and out the back door, hopped on her bike and rode through the cool, quiet neighborhood before most of the neighbors or even her family were awake. There was a glorious sense of anticipation in her chest – why, anything could happen! She felt, for all the world, like Douglas Spaulding, in the opening chapter of “Dandelion Wine”, commanding the world to wake up and come alive.

(For many years I’ve wanted to express my gratitude to Mrs. Green for making such a positive difference in my life.  This post is hardly adequate, but it’s a start.   I love you, Mrs. Green! Wherever you are, thank you!)

~ This post was originally published on 1/15/2011 on Blipfillypicklepoo.blogspot.com and was edited for this publication.

It was a dark and stormy night…

(Originally posted on Blipfillypicklepoo.blogspot.com on 12/11/2010 – edited for this posting)

LucyandSnoopy

                                                  Charles Schulz

The winds shrieked like a woman who has just learned her beloved is a germy cheat. The forecast had called for flurries, but looking at the white-out conditions from the dining room window, she was pretty sure someone on the “storm team” should be fired – or worse.  It felt decadent to be so cozy and warm, snuggled into the too-big sweater that was pulled out for all manner of occasions calling for comfort – feeling punky, getting over a heartbreak, not wanting to pay the gas bill for frivolously turning the thermostat to 68 degrees.  The slipper socks with the faux leather soles purchased at Kohl’s were a nod to her mother who used to knit slipper-socks rather like them for her to wear in cold weather. Sipping  a cup of hot cocoa  she looked around the dining room – at the papers scattered across the table, bills, to-do lists, requests for donations to find a cure for cancer, feed the hungry, stop violence, run crooked politicians out of office, etc….  Did anything ever really get done?  No matter how much she tried to keep this all in check, it seemed to multiply two-fold for each thing she actually got done.  Very discouraging.  She picked up one of the marshmallows sitting next to the cup of hot cocoa and popped it in her mouth.

A sharp rap on the front door brought her out the chair she was sitting in at the end of the table – one of the chair arms bit into her thigh as she moved toward the door.  She couldn’t imagine who it could be at this hour. She glanced up at the wall clock and saw it was only 7:30 p.m.  Reaching for the door handle, she was startled by a second hard rap on the door. She stepped back from the door, absentmindedly rubbing the sore spot on her leg.  There were windows in the door with glass that let in the light but distorted the view of what or who was on either side of it.  She hadn’t turned on the porch light when it started getting dark, but she could see there was someone or something very large standing on the other side.  The third knock was hard enough to rattle the glass and she finally just grabbed the doorknob and pulled open the door to find a large man holding a shovel and looking cold and miserable.

He looked a bit comical wrapped up like the mummy against the weather. “Can I …. ?” She could almost see the words being ripped out of the air by the punishing gusts of wind.  Huh?  “Can I shovel your walk?’ he said gruffly looking a little annoyed.  Is he kidding?  The blizzard was keeping most of the snow pressed nicely against the side of her house, the side of the car, the sides of everything.  The walk was surprisingly clear. The cold was cutting through her sweater and she wanted to slam the door to keep the house at it’s normal constant 64 degrees.  What was this guy thinking?  She started to say “Thanks, but no” when she noticed that in the space of time she had taken to determine she didn’t need this guys services, he had adjusted his stance and was now poised, shovel over his head appearing to look straight through her.  She yelped a pathetic sound and ducked, at the same time trying to shove the door closed with her slipper-shod foot, as she saw him begin to bring  the shovel down rapidly toward her head.  There was a thunderous sound as the shovel hit it’s mark….

She jumped almost out of her skin as the shovel crashed down on a spot just to the left of where she was standing. She tried to swear at the mummy man, but it was hard to get even a word past her pounding heart currently lodged in her throat.  On the floor, under the blade of the shovel, was a small, spreading pool of what looked like blood – very grisly.  Looking up the handle of the shovel, up past the big hands that held it and the arms the hands were attached to, she locked eyes with the would-be sidewalk clearer. He looked expectant – perhaps waiting for a thank you.  With comically raised eyebrows she asked, without words, what the heck had just happened.  He raised the shovel off the floor and dunked it into the snow at the side of the porch.

Just inside the door there was now a puddle of goo and unidentifiable material.  What was it?  The man no longer appeared menacing and was standing looking at the floor too.  Her lips pulled back in disgust, she slowly bent down to get a better look.  Her knees crackled as she got down to a squat and she had to put a hand on the door jamb to steady herself.  Peering at the floor she suddenly burst out laughing.   The victim of the shovel attack was the toy she had bought for her cat a while back.  It was a big rat on wheels – wheels hidden so that when the thing moved across the floor it had an eerie life-like quality.  It had scared the cat and he would only deign the interact with it long enough to knock it away from him – which he must have done tonight in the midst of the goings on at the front door, sending the toy boldly into the line of fire and to it’s doom. The unexpected guest at her door had acted the hero.

Now looking at the carnage, she became aware that the still spreading puddle was some sort of dark, thickish fluid filling in the toy that made it all soft and rodenty  She laughed again. Her laughter appeared to have an impact on the man on the porch.  He looked perturbed and unappreciated.  She stood up, crackling and popping,  explained her mirth and thanked him for his gallantry.  His face, previously pinched with irritation, broke into a warm smile and he let out a great gust of laughter that was quickly cut off by another intense blast of wintry air. After a moment’s consideration, she invited him to step inside for a cup of hot cocoa and to warm up a bit before continuing his evening.  He accepted and as she started toward the kitchen to get something to clean up the mess, she rubbed the sore spot on her thigh, turned briefly and said, “Leave the shovel outside!”

Is it hot in here or is it just me?

embarrassed (2)Will I ever NOT be plagued by the involuntary “flush” response embarrassment causes?  More importantly, will I ever stop being embarrassed about taking up space in the world?  Incredibly and positively, “I’m sorry!” is no longer my most common utterance in any given 24-hour period.  I’m the kid in school who, when asked to go up to the board to solve a problem, would darn near expire making my way up there – face beet red, sweat beading my brow, the roar of several oceans deafening me to any teacher instructions (but not to other kids in the class saying “Oh my gosh.  Look how red she is!”.) Being praised would evoke a similar heart thudding, perspiring blush – not because I was unhappy with the recognition – I just didn’t want anyone to think I was calling attention to myself.

I was shocked to discover in my youth that I could even be intensely embarrassed by/around my family who, I am pretty sure, love me and think I’m a good egg.  One afternoon when I was about 8 years old, my older brother (whose attention and approval I craved and whose good opinion I still hope for) laid some new knowledge on me and one of my little sisters.   He told us that the phrase “cut the cheese” was another way of referring to “breaking wind”. As we didn’t have a TV and were strongly encouraged to use our God-given imagination and intellect, of course my sister and I found this information revelatory, delightfully wicked and hilarious.

What are the odds that, on that very night, the dinner table would be graced with a big block of cheese on a board?  After prayers were said, Dad said to Mom, “Would you like to cut the cheese?”  My sister and I started giggling uncontrollably, looking at each other knowingly.  When I looked across the table at my brother, his face was impassive.  Laughter was not frowned upon during meals, but usually it was a shared experience.  A reckoning was coming.  My giggling ebbed as I began to panic, mentally running through possible explanations for my lapse in good manners. I couldn’t throw my brother under the bus and certainly could not inform Dad what he really said at the dinner table.  Childhood logic expended, when Dad asked “What’s so funny?”, I took the path of least resistance, blurted “I don’t know.” and started crying.

As my sister and I stood on either side of Dad’s chair at the head of the table doing a halting, “sing-songy” rendition of the phrase  “cut the cheese”, I occasionally looked up through tears of embarrassment to see some of my siblings looking at me with a mixture of enjoyment, sympathy and relief that they were not me. There was a real physical pain associated with that moment; being on the  “outside”, especially relative to family, hurts. This early encounter with semi-public humiliation cemented in me an almost pathological dislike for being the center of attention, good or bad, and heightened my sensitivity to and avoidance of any potential rake lying tines-up in my path.

A large white billboard with the word Oops alerting you to a public mistake, gaffe, blunder or blooper that is causing embarrassment for the wrong person or business

photo by iqoncept

Interspersed with long stretches of blessed invisibility over the years,  I have had my share of awkward moments – spinach in my teeth on a date,  the butt seam of my slacks secretly giving way while I was in public feeling pretty good about myself, crossing my legs in a job interview only to have a  dryer sheet fall out one of my pant legs…  That I survive these catastrophes and continue to leave the house is a testament to the human spirit – sort of.  It may not be the brightest strategy to engage in self-talk that includes phrases like “it can’t get worse that this.” I fear that statement may be proven wrong the next time my vigilance wavers.