In Which Julianna And I Find Something In Common

Photo via Wiki Commons

Photo via Wiki Commons

I was nine years old the year I discovered figure skating. That was the year Katarina Witt won the gold medal at the Sarejevo Olympics, and it was my first fandom. In retrospect, I think what I loved most about her was the fact that she served as a mirror for me, or rather a more beautiful version of me. That was my fourth grade year and my school picture was unequivocally the single worst photo ever taken of me, tiptoeing at the cusp of an incredibly awkward puberty. She was German, like me, her hair looked like mine when my mom did the fanciest braids; she had the same body shape (although mine was just starting to develop, so I didn’t really know that then), even her name was a mirror of mine.

For several years, in defiance of reality (i.e., the nearest rink was an hour and a half away and I never took a single lesson), I dreamed of being a figure skater. I spent my recesses “practicing” my jumps and striking poses, pretending I was in the middle of a routine. I graduated from that when I realized how foolish I looked, but instead I wrote a proto-novel about an Olympic ice skater.

Over the last thirty years my tastes have shifted. The singles no longer hold a lot of appeal for me. I find ice dance and pairs far more beautiful. But I haven’t watched much, because we’re always busy and even when I made note of an event that would be televised on a station we actually got (we were on basic-basic cable for over a decade, and then dropped it altogether for a few months), I usually would forget to turn it on.

Well, with the Olympics coming up it’s time to get back in touch. So Saturday afternoon we watched part of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Alex was grumpy–he wanted to use the Wii–but he could hardly argue that Mommy’s request to watch a single program was unreasonable. Mommy never, ever, ever claims the TV.

I swept the kitchen during the advertisements and sat on the couch while the pairs programs were on. Julianna and Nicholas were mesmerized, watching with me. When it was over I went to the computer to look up a program from the last Olympics that I remember being exceptionally beautiful. And in the middle of the program I looked up from YouTube to see my daughter on the other side of the computer desk, slowly and carefully twisting and turning…pretending to be a figure skater.

How to describe the emotion of that moment? I have all these boys running around. We’re a superhero family. I know far more about Transformers, Avengers and Justice League than I do about Strawberry Shortcake or, what are those creepy dolls called? Monsters High, or something? Christian and I have an inside joke; we call the girls’ toys section the “creepy girl aisle” because it gives us the willies.

I can’t get inside my daughter’s head; I never know for sure what she’s thinking or if I’m getting a genuine answer to any question I ask her. I’ve learned, for instance, that I can’t ask her if she did what I told her to do, because she’ll say “yes” no matter whether she has or hasn’t. Instead I have to tell her to do it again, and if she says, “Wye dee!” (“already did!”) in a tone of great personal affront, then I know she did it.

She’s the hardest child to shop for because nothing really interests her except music and books, and we already have so many of both. It’s hard to know what sorts of activities will excite her. It’s hard to include her in the family activities as her younger brother shoots past her in cognition and verbal ability and physical prowess.

All of this went through my head in a shock wave as I realized something that was infinitely precious to me as a child, and remains the only sport I actually like, is also special to my little girl. There’s a connection between us I didn’t even know was there. And it made my day.

We’ll be watching a lot of figure skating this year, I think.

Published in: on January 13, 2014 at 8:55 am  Comments (3)  
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Sibling Love?

“I’m sure you know this already,” said Julianna’s teacher, sitting in our living room on Saturday morning, “but…Julianna is just so sweet.

Christian and I exchanged a glance and chuckled, because we hear it all the time. In fact, he’d heard it from the counselor at her school just a couple of days before. And we get it all the time when we’re out and about as a family.

Which makes me really curious to know what goes through my other children’s minds when they hear such things.

The world’s perception of Julianna:

Strawberry Shortcake: Berry Blossom Festival

Strawberry Shortcake: Berry Blossom Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My children’s perception of Julianna:

(:27)

People routinely tell you how great your kids are, and every time they do, you have this surreal moment in which you have to remind yourself that they don’t see all the moments you do. Right?  But you’re an adult and you can remove yourself a bit from your own experience and appreciate what others see.

The kids, though–it’s harder for them. Above kidding aside, I really do wonder what my boys think of their sister. The relationships among the three of them are pretty clear. Nicholas is a button-pusher and he knows Alex’s buttons at least as well as he knows mine, but they declare regular cease-fires to play Ninjago or Avengers or Other-Superhero-of-the-Day together. Nicholas wants to be Alex, and Alex’s most common spiritual goal has to do with being nicer to/more patient with his brother. Alex and Michael adore each other, pure and simple. Nicholas and Michael are hurtling toward a mirror image of Alex and Nicholas’ relationship.

But Julianna stands kind of outside all these relationships. She plays with them occasionally, but she’s not cognitively able to play pretend; she still prefers to sit and look through word cards and listen to music. Her communications are different. You never know if you’re getting a straight answer out of her. She’s just, well, different.

We’ve never tried to hide, downplay or otherwise sugar coat Julianna’s differences. Alex began learning about Down syndrome as soon as we could talk about it without crying. Nicholas, being far less empathetic and much more, er, let’s call it focused-on-himself than his older brother, has only in the last six months begun to process what that extra chromosome means. But both of them know that Julianna’s disability means they have an extra long-term responsibility as brothers.

The circumstances of each person’s life color childhood, but the way they react to those circumstances is unique to each child. When I see Alex playing with his cousin or a friend who is around Julianna’s age, it always causes a pang. We had our first two close together partly so that they could be playmates, but it didn’t work out that way. As much as we value treating Julianna like any other child in our family would be treated, we can’t escape the fact that she is different, and those differences force many, many accommodations to be made. She does get treated differently. And I wonder how my boys will react to their sister in the long run.

Four Kids, One Cousin and Two Farms in Seven Quick Takes

(The world’s all-time record for a long blog post title?)

___1___

I practiced flute for half an hour in my bedroom at my parents’ house yesterday. Now, if you’re much of a musician you probably know that not all rooms are equal. Acoustics make playing in some rooms a pleasure and in others a chore. If I’d ever stopped to think about it I’d have known my carpeted basement lies closer to the latter than the former, but it’s the space I have and so I use it. My childhood bedroom, with its hard wood floors and un-fussy decor, felt like a concert hall. I was disappointed at being called away after only half an hour. (Which was in two parts, btw.)

___2___

We were at my parents’ because it was their 43rd wedding anniversary. Everybody tell them congratulations!

___3___

Mom pulled out her wedding gown. In the box she also unearthed my First Communion outfit. Which reminded me of my greatest childhood drama. (Prepare yourself.) When I was in the second grade, my mother told me First Communion was becoming too much about vanity, so I wasn’t going to wear a fancy white dress. I was extremely bitter, because not only was I the only girl in my entire class who didn’t wear a white dress and veil, I was the only one of my SISTERS who didn’t get to wear a white dress and veil for her First Communion.

I held this against my mother for years, until I’d been through a few First Communions as a liturgy director and decided the vanity factor is wwwwway out of hand, and these dresses are completely ridiculous. Then and only then did I discover that it wasn’t her idea in the first place, it was the teachers’.

Looking at my outfit–store bought, by the way, which says something about how bad my mom must have felt, because she never forked over the money for storebought us clothes when we were little–brought every twisted emotion I have ever felt on the subject roaring to the surface.

Now, how can I be so bitter about not having gotten to wear a fancy white dress and, at the same time, be irritated with the money-vanity factor of First Communion fashion today?

(My mom’s answer: “Then you reacted like a child, now you react like an adult. And it must have been a very deep hurt.”)

Here's the outfit...we put it on Julianna. She fought me all the way getting it on, and then refused to take it off, even though it was way too big.

Here’s the outfit…we put it on Julianna. She fought me all the way getting it on, and then refused to take it off, even though it was way too big.

___4___

Once my sister and her son arrived, Mom sent the kids outside to pick blackberries. Alex’s comment was priceless: “These are TOTally SOOOO not storebought.”

Of course, the real attraction of being in my parents’ back yard was the big round hay bales beyond it. All four of my kids had to go out and touch one.

Touching the hay bale

I had a strong memory of Finding Nemo.

___5___

Then we went down to watch my dad moving slats out of the hog barn, which is being repurposed for storing miscanthus bales.

Dad on tractor

Alex wanted to take a ride on a slat. Julianna hid behind her aunt as long as the tractor was running.

Tamara with Julianna

Then Dad turned off the tractor to say hi to the kids, and Michael dashed in. It took him all of five seconds to go from standing by me, relatively clean, to getting oil on his hand.

___6___

IMG_0804 smallWhich was followed in short order by a trip into the haybarn-turned-machine shed. While my sister and I were waxing reminiscent about jumping off piles of hay bales, Michael got on Julianna’s bad side and got pushed to the ground. So now he had oil on his hand and thick dust on his bottom and his belly.

___7___

Alex milking cowWe followed this up with a trip to another farm that raises chickens, goats, and a llama. We got to feed them peanuts. At least, Alex did; Julianna and Nicholas wouldn’t dare, but Michael had to be dragged away screaming. He thought it was hilarious. The owner let Alex and his cousin milk a goat. All I can say is that I have a real sensitivity problem with dairy operations, wholly stemming from the manhandling of the mammary organs. As a nursing mother emeritus, I spend the entire time wincing and feeling violated. I know. It’s psychotic. The farm girl can’t handle hearing about or watching animals being milked. Well, we didn’t have a diary when I was a kid.

Anyway, we got good and dirty, which meant…what, do you think? That it was a great time to go to Great Grandma’s assisted living facility for an ice cream social, of course!

Bonus: For those who don’t read all the time, take a look at this post, if you will, and consider sharing. Ministry is so important, and every parish lacks for volunteers because people think they aren’t good enough or don’t have time. This is my attempt to make a dent in that!

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 227)

Published in: on August 9, 2013 at 4:33 am  Comments (11)  
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May Fest

Spring Festival Photo BoothWhen I was a kid, my little parochial school–200 students, grades 1-8–had its major fundraiser the first Friday in May. The school cafeteria/gym became the venue for a pork chop meal, which I think everyone in the parish attended, whether they had a kid in the school or not. In the corner was a country store selling baked goods. My mother always sent four loaves of bread. Each classroom was converted into a booth: cake walk, wood burning, engraving, lollipop tree. The end of the building, blocking the main entrance, was a white elephant.

It was a community event, and utterly magical. We looked forward to it every year. My parents have a set of six huge globe goblets that my sisters and I won piecemeal over the course of years by throwing ping pong balls into them. (As a parent, I can now shake my head and imagine their reaction: “Oh, great, just what I wanted. More of those tacky goblets.”)

I thought of this about an hour into Julianna’s school spring festival on Friday night. It was supposed to be outside, but–big surprise, this ridiculous weather year–it was too cold and rainy. In keeping with modern America’s abysmal eating habits, the meal was hot dog, chips and a cookie instead of the pork chop, green beans & homemade desserts of my youth. There wasn’t a country store or a white elephant–but the classrooms were set up for bean bag toss, lollipop tree, and the like. Including a photo booth, where I volunteered for half an hour.

It was a bit chaotic. Michael was getting tired, and our whole family (except Christian) has been fighting the sore throat/cough bug. Michael began hurling himself to the floor and rolling around long before we ran out of tickets. Until he discovered a water fountain with a stool in front of it, that is. After that, he was in heaven.

It was such a fun evening. Crazy, yes, because the halls were crowded and it was tough to keep track of the kids. My memories of Mayfest involve us being cut loose, but of course we were older.

What struck me about the juxtaposition of memory on present is the rarity of events like these nowadays. Even my parochial school has abandoned Mayfest for the more profitable “auction” format. And I don’t like that format. I feel locked out of auction events, because we will never, ever be in the market for large ticket items, especially not at auction prices. And although there is a community aspect to an auction evening, it’s not the same. Auctions are adults only. Now, don’t misunderstand: I can certainly sympathize with the desire to spend time with other adults. But at the same time, it feels wrong to me somehow to remove the kids from the quotient. After all, we’re fundraising for the kids’ school. Why not make them part of it? Let them be invested? Make fundraising an event that not only raises money and builds community, but also gives families the chance to have fun together?

Maybe it’s not an either/or situation. The auctions certainly serve their function; they raise a ton of money. But wouldn’t it be wonderful to have those family events that bind communities together, too?

I guess the obstacle is that a spring festival requires a higher commitment level from the community. The need for volunteers is greater, the need for donations is greater; people need to take time to bake goods and make crafts and prepare homemade desserts and spend shifts in the kitchen and the game booths. You have to go through your closets looking for white elephants to donate. All the way around, a festival is a bigger commitment from the non-committee members, and the larger the school, the more unwieldy the practicalities. And the reality of urban life in the modern world is that it’s hard to get people to volunteer to the needed level. I’m as guilty as anyone else.

So maybe my idealized version of a school fundraiser is doomed to failure. But when I remember the festivals of my childhood, and when I see my kids enjoying the one at Julianna’s school, it makes me sad.

Published in: on May 6, 2013 at 7:36 am  Comments (12)  
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What I Learned About High School After Twenty Years

It was quite a weekend. On Saturday I found out two of my articles had won awards, the scales tipped at pre-pregnancy weight, and we went to my twenty-year high school reunion.

I’ve been anticipating this event ever since Christian’s reunion last fall. And several years before that, actually. But as the time grew close, I got a little nervous. Like many other writers and bloggers, I’m an introvert at heart. For all the good memories of high school, that time in my life is tainted by the persistent sense that I never really fit in.

I’m a lot more comfortable in my own skin now than I was twenty years ago, and when I know my role in a given situation, I can actually come across as pretty extroverted. But this was not one of those situations. I knew I just had to take a deep breath and dive in.

Twenty years ago, I couldn’t look people in the eye–especially the guys. These days, I can stare down a room full of medical students, I can sing in front of a thousand people with total calm, I can interact confidently with editors and give frank critiques. So it was disconcerting to feel the impulse to run and hide in a corner fighting to resurface–as if the pattern of those four years was too strong to be overthrown by mere adulthood.

Christian scolded me gently when it was all over, telling me he thought I sold myself short in talking about myself. Maybe I did come across as a boring little housewife with a bunch of kids. (I got an award for having the most kids, tied with another Catholic gradeschool classmate. :) ). I am proud of what I’ve accomplished–what I continue to work toward, in disability advocacy, in NFP promotion, in publication. But I also know my tendency to get so focused on my own affairs that I forget to focus on others’–and tonight, of all nights, I wanted to know what was going on in other people’s lives, not bore everyone to tears by bragging on myself.

As the music level ratcheted upward, slowly driving all but a handful of die-hard dancers outside (are deejays the only people in the universe who don’t understand that they are not the reason for the party?), my nerves settled. I was intensely interested to see what these people were like now, how they’d changed, what forces and events had shaped them in the years since I’d seen them last. Not surprisingly, we all have a lot more in common than we used to. Twenty years later, party animals and uber-serious analytical music nerds alike have kids, jobs, responsibilities…we’ve all experienced independence and realized it’s not everything we once thought it would be. For the most part, the things that separated us in adolescence have become irrelevant.

We gathered around a poster lined with head shots, and people pointed out pictures, sharing what we knew about their lives. They joked about who was named most fill-in-the-blank and teased each other for their teenage quirks. And I mostly listened and wondered, Where in the world was I during high school? I don’t remember any of this!

“Kate was a girl who wanted to have fun, but was scared she’d get in trouble,” said one of my classmates, and I laughed, because that was probably a pretty accurate summation. I wonder what I missed out on by walking around with my head in the clouds (or a book), and what I’ve gained instead, and I wonder if the balance had been otherwise, would I be as satisfied with my life today?

Fascinating questions for an aspiring novelist, but probably enough navel-gazing for one day. Suffice it to say, it was a very enjoyable evening, and I love finding out how much I like the people who formed the tapestry that made me who I am. I’m just a little sad that I waited twenty years to find out.

Published in: on June 25, 2012 at 7:02 am  Comments (7)  
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Mentor

Photo by zenonline, via Flickr

She was young and pretty and sweet, and from the first day she stood up in front of my sixth grade class, I adored her.

I was at the height of my awkward stage, my self-esteem slipping on the shifting sands of hormones and changing social requirements. I didn’t fit in with my peers, whose movies of choice for sleepovers were Porky’s and Children of the Corn, who listed Duran Duran as their favorite band. I was a space adventure and Somewhere Over the Rainbow kind of girl, and even when no one was tittering behind their hands about it, I was painfully aware that I didn’t fit in. Mrs. L’s perfect acceptance soothed my spirit.

At lunch recess, while my classmates played “liberation” kickball, I attached to Mrs. L.  On gray, dreary winter days we stood with our hands in our pockets and talked. About what, I couldn’t say now; all I know is that when I was with her, I felt loved.

And then one afternoon, she met my eager approach with a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Kate,” she said, “I think you need to go play with your classmates.”

The shock went straight to my core in one horrible burst of shame. I was a smart girl. I instantly recognized everything she didn’t say. I was pestering my teacher at her much-needed break time. We were not friends, we were student and teacher, and I had stepped over the line. For one moment, I felt rejection, and then I recognized that she was right to banish me. By hanging out with her, I was solidifying division lines between myself and my peers, looking like a holier-than-thou teacher’s pet…which I already was; no need to make it worse.

For all the world I wouldn’t let her know how much it hurt. I skipped off, swallowing my tears, and I never again tried to chum with her. I only adored her at a distance. And although the next year of my life was perhaps the worst ever, by the time I graduated eighth grade, I had begun to connect with people my own age.

Everyone thinks they’re awkward in adolescence. I can already see it beginning in Alex, even in the first grade, and I wince. It hurts to see my children suffer; my instinct is to do everything in my power to fix it, to shield them and make sure they never feel shame or hurt or heartbreak.

But suffering is part of life, and a crucial one. Some of the most important lessons of my life were learned, not in joy, but in suffering; not in affirmation, but in shame. Pain is instructive. So I steel myself against the future, and even the present, and I try to temper my heart with my head, and remind myself that my role is not to protect my son from those tough lessons, but to stand by and love him unconditionally while he learns the lessons he needs to grow to strong manhood.

memoir writing, remembeRED, writing prompt

and continuing the practices of motherhood posts: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

Published in: on February 21, 2012 at 7:48 am  Comments (15)  
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The Importance of Saying “No” (a practices of mothering post)

Click here for Part 1

Click here for Part 2

There’s a Gospel passage in which Jesus says no man gives his child a snake when they ask for a fish. It’s built in to our love for our children, this desire to fulfill their needs…and their wants. Whatever they ask for–the newest toy or a special treat–we want to tell them yes.

But even God, to whom Jesus is comparing us, doesn’t give us everything we want–because what we want isn’t necessarily what we need.

Growing up, my sisters and I got told “no” a lot. We didn’t go out to eat, we almost never bought treats at the store. (Like Oreo’s. Oreo’s were a huge treat.) We were a farm family in the ’80s, and my parents had to be very frugal. They were also very busy–Dad almost always worked ten hour days, and during planting or harvest, it might be twelve or more. Mom had to be available to help move equipment, haul grain, or run to the dealership for a part. And she grew and preserved most of our vegetables. So the “no”‘s were unavoidable. We didn’t go to the pool very often, and when we did we very rarely bought snacks, and then only the cheapest ones–no candy bars. I can count our amusement park and baseball game trips on one hand. Vacations, for that reason, were a Very.Big.Deal.

It was a very different childhood from that of many of my classmates, whose parents took them to St. Louis to buy school clothes every August. I don’t ever remember shopping for school clothes. We just went downstairs and pulled out the next box from the storage room.

Frankly, I don’t think I got told “no” all that often, because I learned pretty quickly not to ask for a lot. I think at some instinctive level, I could sense how much it would hurt my parents to have to say no. (Although if my memory is skewed, I’m sure my mom will hop in and correct me. It’s wonderful, but sometimes dangerous, to write when you know your parents are reading. :) )

Like all childhood lessons that sting, this is one I have come to value greatly. Self-denial is not a sexy concept–our entire economy is based on self-gratification. But look what it’s led to: an epidemic of debt and obesity. Self-gratification is really dangerous. It’s not intrinsically bad, but it becomes bad at a very low level. And let’s face it: in adulthood, we often have to go without what we need, or think we need.

I want to teach my children the difference between needs and wants. But we don’t face the same necessities that my parents did, and it makes it harder to say no. Their deprivation hurts my heart; their pain hurts me. Yet I know they need to learn to handle not getting what they want. That is a lesson that takes a long time to learn—to handle the word “no” with grace.

So we try to practice moderation, stewardship, and frugality, because those three things all require “no.”

Moderation: food, toys, TV viewing–we try to keep reasonable limits on these things. We have made a rule that there will always be only one television in our house, in order to moderate the temptation.

Stewardship: We steward the environment by recycling, using cloth diapers, and not buying a lot. We practice financial stewardship by saving (and saving and saving) to make any major purchase–for instance, we’ve been saving for almost two years toward an SLR camera, because the darned hospital bills and repairs keep cutting into the project. We keep on a budget, and Alex knows very well that he must practice the piano, not just because he should, but because we’re paying good money for his lessons.

Frugality: When we buy, we do it right, but we don’t buy much. We bought a new TV when I was 8 months pregnant with Alex–a great monster with a picture tube–at the time it was still the best picture quality. That’s no longer the case, and it would be awesome to have an HD TV, but how can we justify the expense? Ours works fine.

I hope these lessons help my children learn that life is measured not by Stuff, but by the quality of their relationships, both with the people in their lives and with the world at large.

What do you do to help your kids learn the importance of “no”?

Click here for part 4

Feels Like Home To Me

ElinorD kneading bread dough

Image via Wikipedia

On days when crisp fall fades to a dusk that chills the toes, I always think of home. Because on days like this, my house smells like baking bread.

In the eighteen years that I lived at home, I don’t think my mother ever once bought a loaf of bread. It was one of those tasks, like laundry, that you just do yourself, no matter how tiresome. Perhaps the most familiar scene from my childhood is Mom, with the huge aluminum bowl on the table in the middle of that beat-up linoleum floor and horrible burnt-yellow wallpaper, making bread.

Ingredients:

5-lb. bag of white flour (more or less)
½ c. lard
2 T. salt
1/3 c. sugar
2 T. yeast dissolved in 5 ½ c. warm water (potato water if you have it)

Dump half the flour in a large pan. Measure in lard, salt & sugar. Cut in lard & stir. Add yeast water and stir, adding flour as it gets incorporated.

We’d prop our hands on brown-vinyl chair backs and the cabinet and swing back and forth, regaling her with stories. She never stopped folding dough onto itself, the table squeaking under the force of her arms, a sound you heard and recognized wherever you were in the house. I never understood how she did it. Even today my arms wear out long before the bread’s ready.

When dough is too stiff to stir, continue kneading with hands, at least fifteen minutes, till texture is smooth and satiny. “You can’t knead bread too much,” she says.

At last, she’d slap the dough on the table and dig floury fingers into the lard bucket, smearing it around the bowl to keep the dough from sticking. She’d put the big ball in, rub it around, flip it over, then cover the top to keep it moist for the next couple hours as the smell of yeast permeated the front rooms.

Let rise until doubled. Punch down, let rise again.

Sometimes she didn’t get started early enough in the day, and the smell was late blossoming, twining with roast beef and potatoes and apple pie. I was almost sorry on those days, because it was hard to pick out the smell.

Cut dough ball into quarters. Knead and shape each piece into loaves. Place into pans greased with lard and turn to coat the loaf. Let rise until doubled.

Those nights, we’d all go to bed and Mom would stay up, sitting at the table reading, waiting for the loaves to finish rising and then baking. I always felt sorry for her, but I wonder now if some part of her relished that quiet solitude.

Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes. Turn out onto cooling racks and smear with bacon grease to lock the moisture in.

Now, as then, warm homemade bread with butter and honey is my favorite of all indulgences. Brownies and ice cream are decadent, but fresh bread is soul food. It means home.

Write on Edge: RemembeRED

Published in: on November 1, 2011 at 5:05 am  Comments (15)  
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I Miss My Childhood

Harvest Moon
Image by pixieclipx via Flickr

On nights when the incessant traffic noise mysteriously vanishes and the sound of a dog barking echoes outside my window, I miss my childhood. My heart reaches back toward sight of the full moon rising swollen and orange behind rows of corn and the smell of burning leaves at the end of the driveway, burrowing into cotton and denim and polyester, permeating thick hair for days.

I long for the feel of the concrete porch under my pink nightgown, the cats rubbing up against me as I filled three-ring binders with poems, stories, and the drama of a blissfully mundane life.

I ache for the heady freedom of sitting atop a ten-foot whitewashed fence at sunset, of lying back on a corrugated tin roof as it radiates the heat of the day into the cool night, watching the endless sky fade from sunset to first stars to bejeweled. I feel again the warmth and good smells and brightness upon opening the door afterward, the smell of bread promising love and security.

I miss games of badminton in the big yard that were about conversation, not sport. On a good night we had to move into the pool of greenish-white below the security light to keep going past dark.

I miss the simplicity of those days: mist rising from creeks to east and west, breezes through the treehouse, sunsets turning from sherbet to russet in the still surface of the pond, and the ghostly roar of the grain dryer running at night, waxing and waning with the vagaries of the night breezes. On what did I squander those precious hours? Now, everything is a responsibility, even hobbies.  And the kicking inside my pelvis reminds me that the responsibilities are only on the rise.

It’s hard to remember, on nights like this, with the windows open and the orchestra of crickets carrying me backward in time, that I wasn’t cognizant of what lay all around me.

(the silence, the space, the distant bellow of a cow and the ghostly sound of feeder lids tapping tin)

That most of the time I was so busy focusing on something else that I didn’t realize how deeply the impressions were engraving, shaping me,

(the uneven boards of a treehouse built of platforms, my own brain child, the day we were washing windows and I impulsively carried my ladder from the west side of the house to the tree at the corner of the driveway)

that in my life now there are moments of equal beauty that I overlook in the mad rush to accomplish other things,

(dark almond eyes in the orange of street light, the smile of a little girl who never fails to be delighted that Mommy responded to her midnight cries)

moments that skip right over my awareness and embed themselves within, shaping me, drawing me inexorably along the continuum from who I am today to the woman I will be a few years.

I miss childhood, but it’s a gift, moving on.

   On In Around button

Published in: on September 6, 2011 at 5:01 am  Comments (7)  
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Boys vs. Girls

 We (or more specifically, Nicholas) are enrolled in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which sends one book a month. The last two have been sibling photo books.

Big Sister, Little Sister” came first. I rolled my eyes a bit at the sight of the tutu/princess dress-clad girls, but yanno. Okay. It’s a cute book. In its pages, the girls (perfectly coutured and exquisitely matched throughout) zip up in one coat, play violin, give each other a boost, and wear high heels together—basically the picture of What A Girl Is Supposed To Be: well-behaved, empathetic, supportive, nurturing. My kids adored it—so thoroughly that within a week it had the ripped, bent look of every other book in our library.

Then came “Big Brother, Little Brother”, which you know is going to be an animal of another kind altogether based upon this cover.

Cover Image

On the first page, they’re eating worms. (Right. Your boys do that every day, don’t they?) Then they stick fish in each other’s faces and try to kiss a tropical bird. There’s a token moment or two in which the boys comfort each other—and the two pages devoted to adoption choke me up. Even so, I look at these books and I wonder: whose boys, and whose girls, are these kids? Because they don’t look like any kid I know!

I grew up with three sisters, and let me tell you, we did not have the gorgeous Kodak moments portrayed in the “sisters” book. No, we had pinching, hitting, screaming catfights. All.The.Time. When we did play, it was outside, jumping off hay bales or climbing on trucks and tractors down in the third driveway. Our play houses were in dusty attics around the farm: the milk barn, the machine shop, the abandoned grain storage above the two-story cinderblock garage. With the wasps.

But mostly, we fought. Especially when we were the ages of these girls (2 up to about 8).

Fast forward to the present. I have two boys and a girl.

My boys:

My girl:

Okay, I know that wasn’t fair. How about this one?

She likes baby dolls, but she also likes trucks and trains and bicycles and wallowing in the mud at the edge of the creek. And my boys? So far, Nicholas is more a “boy’s boy” (except he sleeps with a baby doll). But at six, Alex is a well-balanced child who enjoys art even more than baseball, and on par with riding his bicycle. He’s brainy; he loves reading and writing, school and playing the piano.

I guess the thing that bothers me is the “never the two shall meet” way boys and girls are packaged inAmerica. Let me explain.

Have you ever tried shopping for boys’ clothes? Go to the children’s department and the girls’ clothes—most of them adorable, except for what I call “attitude” clothes (“Little Miss Perfect,” “I’m the queen,” etc.)—stretch out of sight. And hidden on about three racks are the boys clothes, in muted hunters’ colors. If you don’t want a sports or occasional hunting reference, you might as well not waste the gas to go to the store. Meanwhile, girls are presented with an array of spangles, colors, layers, butterflies and crowns, one top for one pair of pants, no mixing and matching here! And have you ever noticed that nobody makes short-sleeved shirts for girls? Only wrist-length or sleeveless. What message is that supposed to be sending? That girls don’t go outside in mid-temperature weather?

I’m not one of those people who denies the difference between genders. But I think it’s a little weird how advertising shoves boys into one box and girls into another, completely ignoring the reality that human beings are complex and beautifully messy in packaging. It’s like girls are supposed to be prissy, clean little angels who are only interested in dolls and princesses—but woe to anyone who suggests that these associations continue into adulthood! Is it just me, or is this a mixed message?

Published in: on April 26, 2011 at 7:38 am  Comments (7)  
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