I went out into my hot tub tonight, as I often do. The grandkids that I watch every day had gone home. I had dinner on the stove. The laundry was washed and folded and put away.
I stepped into the darkness and sank into the bubbling water. Ahhhhh.
As I always do, I raised my eyes to the sky.
And I saw a jet going over.
Now, you need to know that I live in North Central Massachusetts. There are only a few flight paths that go over my house. Every one of them shows me jets that are way, way, WAY up there. I only see a little silver spark up there. But I follow those sparks every night, as they cross my sky.
After almost a decade of sitting in my hot tub, watching the sky, I have figure out that there are only a few flight paths that go over me.
There is the path that clearly goes from Boston up to Montreal or Quebec. There’s the one that goes much higher up, along the eastern sky, seemingly from the south to the north along the coast.
I know the paths. I know the lights.
So tonight I was a little bit surprised to see a jet’s light coming up across my sky from South to North.
“Odd,” I thought. “Why is it in the middle, in between the two usual north to south flight paths?”
I put my head back, feeling the hot water on my aching neck.
And I saw that right behind the first little twinkle of light, there came another. Right behind it. Following the very same odd path.
And behind that? Another.
I was more than intrigued.
I began to count. 5–6–7…..there were SEVEN jets, flying high, crossing a flight path I had never seen before.
There was a moment of quiet, a moment of clouds, and then?
Five more silver lights, showing five more jets, all of them flying in a very straight line. One after the other, they crossed the sky above me. From south to north they went.
Then there was a short break.
And five more silver jet lights came along, on the exact, exact, same path. From the south to the north. They went diagonally across the paths of the flights that I have watched every night for almost ten years.
They were on a mission. They were in a line. They were clearly NOT passenger jets.
What the hell were they? And where were they headed?
When my kids were little, they used to describe the weird feeling of having a fever as having “big/small”. They said that the world felt small, tucked tight around them. But their hands and feet felt big, as if they were filled with helium.
The strange part is that I knew what they meant. I got it.
Now that I am an old lady with sleep and pain issues, and am a happy user of cannabis at night, I REALLY know what they mean.
The room is small. The sounds are big.
So. I was thinking about all of this bizarre focusing in and out and size changing today. Because I was home on my own all day, and I read, watched and listened to WAY too much news.
My focus on my world was BIG. I was forced to confront a crashing stock market, a raging fire in our Amazonian “lungs of the world” and two new cases of deadly EEE in my state.
The big world is terrifying to me right now.
I am afraid of the ticks (lyme disease, babesiosis and anaplasmosis). I am afraid of mosquitoes (West Nile Virus, Triple E). I’m scared of getting a sunburn because my Dad died of melanoma.
But even more scary is the fact that the oceans are rising, the largest forest on earth is on fire, and the Russians are promising to create and deploy a new super weapon.
I can barely force myself to leave my house!
If I shop, I’m afraid of e-coli in my produce. I’m afraid that some pissed off guy with a gun will decide to shoot up my grocery store.
The big picture is freakin’ terrifying.
So I turned my focus inward. I made it smaller.
I rubbed my doggies’ bellies. I walked them through out quiet neighborhood. I chatted with my friend and her beautiful one year old daughter.
Looking at the bright blue eyes of that little beauty, I started to think that all was well. My focus was back on my immediate and beautiful world.
I looked at the flowers in my yard. At the crazy weeds jumping out of the fertile earth. I laughed at the ridiculous pumpkin plant that it now ten feet up in a tree.
It felt safe. I felt comforted.
But then I got home. And looked again at Twitter.
The big came back; the lies and insanity of our President hit me in the face.
I clicked off and scrolled through pictures of my grandchildren.
I thought about my own kids. About how deeply and purely I loved them when they were little, and how much I love them now.
Big focus: My retirement fund is melting before my eyes.
Small focus: My house is clean and calm and comfortable.
Big: The world can’t live through this much climate damage.
Small: My yard is blooming effortlessly, and the grass never went brown.
And so it went, my focus and my fear swinging wildly from the worst to the best of feelings.
The oaks are full of acorns. We may have a cold and snowy winter. But I have a freezer full of corn, beans, peas and carrots.
Social media is full of rage and hate. But my grandchildren, my dogs and the lovely little girl next door are full of unconditional love.
I need to learn how to keep my focus on the little things, and keep the big things in my peripheral vision.
My husband is a very good human. He is kind, thoughtful, gentle. Pretty much everyone likes him.
Paul was a shy and quiet child, but grew into himself as an adult. He’s a constant surprise to old friends who knew him way back in High School, because he’s now the most social one of all of us.
Now that he is an outgoing, confident adult (and a successful and well respected psychologist), he has begun to articulate what it is that makes him reach out to strangers.
“It’s all about the connections,” he tells me. “Life is about making connections with other human beings.”
I know that he’s right, but I am not always as open or as non-judgmental as he is. Still, I try to be open. I try to greet people with a smile and a welcome.
Today that attitude paid off for me, as I made a lovely connection in the most unexpected of ways.
I was shopping at my favorite guilty secret bargain store, Ocean State Job Lot. I went in for a few small items, but as usual, I was pulled in by the seed packets, the bubble wands and the plants. I was on my way home from a visit to my mother, and was thinking a lot about my childhood. I was feeling a little emotional as I went into the store.
I picked up everything I needed (or could justify to myself), including a pot of dianthus and one of lupine. I love both of these perennials, and mine are in need of reinforcements. So I plopped them into my cart and continued through the store.
When I got to the checkout, there was a bit of a line. I waited my turn, noticing the young man behind me who was talking on his phone with a work colleague.
I’ll be honest. I noticed him first, in my creepy old grandmother way, because he was very good looking. Southeast Asian, I thought, perhaps from Vietnam or Cambodia. Tall, slim, dark haired, with wide, light brown eyes that contrasted with his darker skin.
He had a tattoo on one wrist, and a sharp spike piercing his lower lip.
My turn came at the register, and the young cashier rang up all of my many, many items. She got the skin cream, the candy, the seeds, the olive oil, the potting soil and the potted dianthus.
Then she turned to the lupine. She spun the planter, and frowned. There was no price tag.
“What is this?”, she asked. When I answered with the name of the flower, she shook her head. She was looking at her list of items for sale, and the plants were not labelled by name. They were labelled by size.
“It’s a perennial” I said, looking over her shoulder. “But I don’t know if its a quart or a 6 1/2″ pot.” This seemed like a meaningless comparison to me. Quart? Versus inches? What?
The cashier was confused, so she called her manager. He had no more idea of what to think than we did. We all looked at each other blankly.
That’s when the man behind me leaned forward.
“This is a 6 1/2 in pot. It should be this price.” He reached forward to tap the page that we were all looking at.
I was delighted. What could have taken ten minutes had been reduced to one small, simple comment.
“Thank you so much!” I said with a smile. A real smile. Not a ‘I should be friendly’ smile.
He smiled back.
“Well, I work in a garden center,” he said.
As my transaction was finishing, I thanked him again, then told him that I wished I had more time to ask him for advice, because my gardening dreams are always more successful than my gardening realities. We both laughed, I thanked him again, and headed out to my car.
As I was putting my toys, makeup, and food into my car, the same man came out of the store and headed my way.
Wouldn’t you know that the universe had arranged for us to park next to each other?
The man held out his phone to me. “This is my greenhouse,” he said with pleasure. I looked at the image of the wide, bright, beautiful array of plants. What struck me was his pride in his work.
“It’s gorgeous!” I said with all sincerity.
We started to chat about his work, and I asked where it was located. It turns out that he is one of many growers at a garden center that I have known my whole life.
“My parents always got their plants from your garden center!” I told him with surprised pleasure. “I love it there!”
The young man smiled and nodded at the compliment. “It’s beautiful. We grow so much there, all year!”
Then he opened his trunk.
“This is what I grow,” he said with pride. He beckoned me over and we looked into the trunk of his car. Tomatoes, peppers, squash and four beautiful flower plants.
We talked for a few more minutes. I asked him for advice on how to get my lupines to reseed. He talked about the personalities and needs of different plants, and advised me to get to know each one.
And then he reached into his trunk and pulled out one of his beautiful young plants.
“For you,” he said, “If you want this sunflower.”
I tried to refuse, but only weakly. “Oh, I can’t take that from you!”
“I want you to have it,” he said. “This was a nice meeting.”
I took the sunflower baby, and I was filled with such happiness.
“You have made my day,” I said to him. “Thank you so very much!”
“Thank you!” he answered. “Good bye!”
We didn’t exchange names. We’ll never run into each other again. But just by chance, we were able to connect to another human being who shared our love of plants and our desire to reach out and just be pleasant to each other.
Sometimes the world is just a big pile of quicksand. You think you are on solid ground, and suddenly everything liquifies. Your footing shifts, your balance overturns, you find yourself sinking into that pit of quicksand.
I saw a movie once, when I was about ten. A man was chasing someone, and he stepped into quicksand. I can still picture it; the black and white image of the hero, slowly sinking into the sand that silently came up to claim him.
I don’t remember if the hero ever escaped. I only remember how horrified I was at the idea of sinking, sinking, sinking into death.
Now that I’m a grown assed adult, I feel like I have more secure footing. I don’t often fear the quicksand.
Because now I know what it is to be “grounded”. I know that I have roots that go deep deep deep into those parts of life that give us a sense of being anchored.
I have three adult children who love me, love my husband and truly love each other. What a secure anchor.
I have two beautiful grandchildren who love and depend on their parents. Who trust the love and support of those parents.
And who love and trust me almost as much.
What a truly deep and secure anchor.
I have siblings who love me and support me, even when we get on each others’ last nerve. And I have a Mom who tells me she loves me every time we see each other. And who shares stories of things I’ve done that have made her proud.
I am anchored.
I am secure.
I am married to my first true love. We met in (ahem) seventh grade, and fell in love by listening to each other’s stories and struggles. He’s been by my side every step of the way, through college, and grad school and infertility and babies and kids and teens and the empty nest.
He is “Papa!” to our best beloved grand kids.
I am grounded.
I am grounded because now, at last, after all this time….now I trust myself. I must be doing a pretty good job, because so many people I admire and love have told me so.
I am grounded.
In my garden, where I look at trees I planted two decades ago. When I look at the daffodils still blooming after all these many years.When I look at the new little walk that I crafted two years ago, and at the baby lilacs that line it’s way.
I am grounded.
My feet are firmly on this earth. My heart is firmly held by my love for those who still walk here. My soul feels the roots of the plants I’ve put in, reaching into the very heart of my soil to find life.
We humans like to believe that we are sophisticated, advanced, modern. We like to believe that we have left our ancient selves behind. We are no longer tied to the changing faces of the natural world, we tell ourselves. We live in a world of technology and science and modern advances.
Why is it, then, that when the sun sets into the western ocean, so many humans gather on the shore to watch in awe? What is that sense of wonder that comes over us as we watch the golden orb sinking into the ocean?
I don’t know.
All I know is that every time I see the sun set, I want to capture it, to photograph it, to paint it, or to find the words to describe the magic that it seems to be showing us.
We humans like to tell ourselves that we are creatures of reason, of rational thinking, of fact. We do our best to believe that we are subject to the laws of physics, but not to the laws of magic.
We think that we have left behind the primitive worship that our ancestors gave to the forces of nature.
When we step into the arms of the ocean, we humans lose that sense of rationality. The rocking, soothing, calming waves remind us, I think, of cradles and rocking chairs and the loving arms of our parents.
We are magically soothed.
Humans flock to the sea. From every far flung corner of every continent, it seems, we rush toward the sea when we need to rest, to be calm, to find a sense of peace.
Doesn’t that seem to be the most primitive drive? To find ourselves back in the place from where our earliest ancestors emerged? To return to a salt water origin that we all knew before we were born?
There’s just something magical about watching the sun reflect off of the ocean. There is a kind of healing and rebalancing that happens when we find ourselves afloat in the ocean. It’s elemental.
I can’t describe it. I keep trying, but I can’t.
All I know is that there is magic here. Magic that reminds us that we aren’t, after all, so far from our true origins. We haven’t come so far from the first humans who stood on beaches like this one.
We still want to watch the sun set and moon rise. We want to feel the salt wind in our faces. We find ourselves compelled to gather up the most perfect and beautiful of sea shells.
I love this about us. I love the fact that just beneath our carefully applied surfaces, we’re still only one small step away from our most primitive and basic origins.
We still live, whether we like it or not, in a world that is ruled by magic.
Our house is an interesting place these days. I mean, like really, ya know….”interesting’.
We are renovating two bathrooms. That means that we are now tearing apart two out of our two bathrooms.
Ergo: we don’t have any bathroom sinks this week. And we only have one working toilet. The one that is in the hall of our main living area. The one that has (cough, cough), no DOOR.
Now, let me be clear. Our house is about 35 years old. We’ve been here for roughly 28 of those years. We have been in the same bathrooms all this time.
Oh, sure, we’ve painted and put in a couple of new medicine cabinets after the original $3.95 cabinets kind of fell apart. We did a little bit to make things better, but still.
We were bathing in a wicked old tub and a wicked old shower. The drains were…in a word….gross. The bathrooms had those horrific “popcorn” ceilings.
It was PAST TIME to update.
And we are.
We have hired a crew of very skilled men who are ripping things to pieces while adding plaster, paint, a new tub, new shower, new toilets, new vanity. It’s gonna be LOVELY.
In the meantime…..
I am here in my house. With two or three toddlers every day. One is in a diaper, so he’s safe, but the other two? Well….they need a toilet every two hours. Or less.
So I have to call out to the nice worker men, “Can we use the toilet!?” They say “Yes!” and go into another room. Then I take the identified toddler and put her on the pot. I stand in the doorway, since both are suddenly all about “privacy” and we have NO. DOOR. on our bathroom.
Here it is:
This means, of course, that the kids sometimes pee in their pants. It means that the working men have to tell me, “Just a head’s up, gonna use the bathroom!”
And it means that old Nonni here holds it in. All. Day.
Nonni is channeling her inner teacher. But still…..yikes.
It means that when the kids go home and the worker men go home, and Papa hasn’t arrived back from work yet….Nonni rushes right into the incomplete bathroom and finds some relief.
It also means that at 3 AM when Nonni feels the call of nature, she has to stand up, turn on her phone’s light and stand there for a minute. She has to think “Wait. Bathroom. Huh? Bathroom? What bathroom? Oh, yeah in the hall….with no door….in the middle of the freakin’ night…..” Nonni finally gets there, but she is left with a strange feeling of “what the FUCK?” as she climbs back into bed after answering the call of nature.
This is a very strange place to be.
And here we are now. At 6PM. The kids and workers have gone home. I have organized and cleaned the living room and started dinner.
And I look around the house, thinking about Nonni’s needs.
We do have one working toilet (thank you, dear Lord, for the half hour with nobody home except for poor old backed up Nonni!). We have a new floor in our small master bath (Nonni will sing the praises of these worker men for months….) We have smooth walls, with no paint or color….we have no sinks, but we can brush our teeth in the kitchen sink for a couple of more days…..
Nonni is working very very hard to remain calm and serene. She is overlooking the plaster dust, the missing toilets, the lack of bathroom doors. She is trying to embrace her inner camper woman, she is trying to recognize that many people around the world are in much worse shape…..
Nonni is kind of “all done.” I will be thrilled to have new paint, new fixtures, new smooth walls.
But I am ready to have this all done. Nonni is ready, thank you, to have a nice, private place to go to get some relief from nature’s most primitive urges.
I’m 62 years old. My back hurts pretty much every damn day. My neck is stiff. My knees are achy.
I have kids here in my house. Ergo: I must pretend.
Today my little Ellie asked to watch her favorite movie, “Frozen.” I agreed right away because I love the music in this movie. And I love the lesson that it teaches, too. “True love” isn’t necessarily found in the arms of the cute guy who makes you swoon.
True love is found when one truly loves.
Great theme. Great music. Great imagery in the movie.
So when Ellie asked to watch, I was happy to say, “Sure!”
After watching roughly a quarter of the movie, Ellie announced, “I’m done with the movie, Nonni. Turn it off!”
And I did.
Which meant that Ellie came running into the room with her “Elsa dress”, asking me to zip her into the dress and give her “one big braid”, just like Elsa. I did what I was told to do and before I knew it, I found myself playing the role of little sister “Anna” to Ellie’s Queen “Elsa.”
Now, given the fact that we have little Johnny in our care, as well as two small but energetic dogs, we had pretty much the main cast of the movie right in our living room.
“You’re Anna!” Ellie told me. “You need to try to follow me, but I will run away!”
Johnny was given the role of Olaf, the snowman. Lennie was the snowmonster and silly Bentley was put in the role of “Sven” the goofy reindeer.
To be clear, we didn’t actually follow the story line of the movie. But we did spend almost an entire day running up and down the hall in our house, shouting with intense emotion.
“Elsa!” I would yell, “My dear sister!! Don’t leave me!”
“Stay back!!! Stay away!!!!” Ellie yelled back over and over again, “I love you, but I will freeze your heart!”
“ahhhhhha! Mmmmmmah!” Johnny/Olaf crowed every time the two of us ran down the hall.
“Grrffffff..mmmmmmm…..?” the dogs would whine as we ran past them through the house.
This went on for hours. The entire day was taken up with Elsa, Anna, Olaf and the meaning of “true love.”
And as I sit here tonight, my back throbbing and my neck sore, I think I understand what Princess Anna meant when she talked about true love.
I think she meant the joy that an old lady could feel when asked to pretend once again. I thinks she meant the feeling that a Nonni could feel while sitting back and watching her grandchildren completely embrace the role of magical movie characters.
When I held Ellie on my knee today, watching the end of the movie, I was overwhelmed with the magic when she turned and whispered in my ear, “Look, look! That’s me making the ice castle! Look! It’s me sending you away!”
Ellie lived completely within that movie today. She WAS Elsa, the Queen who was afraid of her own emotions. And that let me live for a while as Anna, the Princess who loved and trusted her sister.
What a gift.
What an amazing and incredible gift it is to spend time in the imaginary world of the very young.
When my kids were little, I learned all about “mother guilt.” I got most of my exercise by beating myself up over what I did or didn’t do for my kids. I was too strict, or I let them get away with murder. Guilty!!! I was overprotective. But I didn’t watch them closely enough. Very guilty!!!
Dinner was…gasp….frozen pizza. Take away my mothering license!
Then the kids grew up. None of them are serial killers. All three are productive members of society.
I kind of let myself relax.
But now…I am suffering from a profound attack of momma guilt.
I’ll tell you why.
Two years ago we adopted a sweet little crazy pants puppy who we named Lennie. He was good company for our old dog, Tucker the Wolf King. All was well.
A year ago, though, old Tucker crossed that rainbow bridge, and Lennie was left with no one to play with except for Papa and I, two toddlers, two “cousin” dogs, a great neighbor dog and the occasional friend met on a walk.
We felt sorry for him. Also, if truth be told, we were hoping that a second dog might run off some of his boundless energy. So we reached out to some of the wonderful rescue groups out there, and we looked at a bunch of dogs. We thought we’d open our house to another canine in need of love and attention.
This time around, though, we had at least some idea of what we were doing, so we set some parameters.
“No more puppies,” we said to ourselves. “And no more hound dogs.” We had learned the hard way that puppies chew everything from your slippers to the living room rug. We knew that hounds would run away and not come back if they caught the scent of an animal outside. We were determined to avoid the mistakes of our pasts.
A few weeks went by and we started getting messages from a dear friend about a sweet, adorable, loving little labrador/basset hound mix. He looked so cute! He really needed a home.
We decided to adopt a hound puppy. Best laid plans and all that stuff.
His name is Bentley, and we have been in touch with his foster Mom for a couple of weeks. She’s crazy about him! We’ve been so excited to meet him. Two weeks before his arrival, I bought new toys, a pretty new collar with his name and our phone number. I even talked about him to Lennie.
I thought that everything was great until last night. I went to bed thinking, “Tomorrow we get to meet our little Bentley! Hurrah!”
Then I had a dream about Tucker. My sweet, beloved Wolf King. I dreamed of him so vividly that I could smell the familiar scent of his head. I could hear his mumblepuppy voice, and feel the soft soft fur of his ears.
I woke up, thinking, “Oh, Tucker! We aren’t replacing you! We’ll always love you! You were our boy, our Wolf King, our best friend.”
I laid awake for at least an hour, wracked with guilt.
Finally I fell asleep again, but awoke a little bit later wondering what that sound was in my ear.
The sound was Lennie, sleeping with his head on my pillow, breathing right into my ear. I turned toward him, and he licked my cheek in his sleep.
If we brought a new dog home, would Lennie feel less loved? Would he wonder why we thought we needed another dog, if we already had him? Would my sweet boy feel inadequate as a pet and need years of therapy to get over the betrayal by his Mom?
Guilt. Guilty McGuiltington. I barely slept.
This morning, early, we headed off to meet the transit van that was bringing Bentley to New England. Lennie was left at home to wonder what was up. Tucker was in my heart, looking at me with big brown accusing eyes.
There was a lump in my throat.
But there we were, committed to the new guy. He got out of the van, waddled his way over to us, greeted us with a huge doggy grin and shook his long velvety ears.
My heart turned over, I fell in love, and some of the guilt slipped away. The rest would be up to Lennie.
We made our way home, Bentley snuggled in my arms, and introduced our boys to each other.
And holy hound dog. Whaddaya know.
“We’re gonna be the best of bruvvers!”
Within an hour, they had sniffed each other’s butts, bitten each other’s ears, shared the same water bowl, chased each other under various bushes, wrassled on the bed and the sofa and fallen asleep side by side.
I think it’s going rather well.
Now I look at Lennie and I feel guilty that I didn’t get him a baby brother months ago.
My Dad could do anything with his hands. When we were little, he used to spend a weekend taking apart a car engine, cleaning everything, then putting it back together again.
He could fix leaky pipes, he could paint walls and trim. My Dad could lay down carpet, strip wallpaper, rewire lights, plane the bottoms of doors so they wouldn’t stick.
Most of all, though, my Dad could bring out the life and the beauty of wood.
He made shelves, and little stools and steps and work sheds.
My Dad made my sons tiny wooden train sets that fit together perfectly. Each car had one of the boy’s names on it.
They are still here, in our house. The golden stained wood still gleams. The pieces still fit, 25 years after he made them. They are still beautiful.
Last weekend I drove two hours out to the small city in the Berkshire Hills where my boys live. I got a tour of the classic Victorian house where my son Matt is living.
As soon as I saw the old wooden floors, and the built in shelving, and the gorgeous dark wood bannisters on the stairs, I though of Dad. He would have loved that house!
We went up into Matt’s room, and there I saw his bureau. An old, golden hued wooden bureau, in Matt’s bedroom.
And it was if Dad was standing there beside me.
I started to laugh, but there were tears in there, too.
“Oh, man! I forgot that you have this bureau!” I said, running my hands across the smooth top.
“This is rock maple.” I said it reverently, although I have no idea what “rock maple” is. I could hear Dad saying those words to me, and they were filled with respect and pride when he said them.
So I repeated them to my boy.
This old bureau had belonged to my husband in his childhood. He doesn’t know where it came from, but he grew up with it. When we got married, it became our bureau. It was in our first apartment in the corner of the bedroom. It travelled with us to grad school in New Jersey, and then to our first apartment after graduation.
When our baby was born, we moved for a while back into my parents’ house. We needed to save money and we needed a safe, clean place to live. So back “home” we went.
And that’s where my Dad taught me how to refinish furniture. We took that old bureau, scratched and dinged and dirty, down into Dad’s garage workshop. And he stripped the old stain off, and sanded it, and sanded it again. I learned about the grades of sandpaper, and the use of a good “tack cloth”. I learned to use mineral spirits to clean up every speck of dirt and sawdust.
I learned about the proper use of stain, and how to smooth it on evenly. Dad pointed out the dovetail joints in the bureau drawers, telling me that you don’t see those very often any more.
Together we chose the stain, a very light golden oak that brought out the warmth in the hard, hard wood. Dad showed me every grain in that wood. He showed me how to be sure that every rough bit was smoothed away.
“Like a baby’s bottom,” he’d say when we got a drawer face perfectly smooth.
It was so special to work there beside him. He never got impatient. He never seemed in a hurry. I saw how the wood came to life under his hand. I saw how he was able to coax beauty out of something rough and old and stained.
I had wanted to toss out that old piece of furniture as soon as we could, but Dad was horrified at the thought.
“This is rock maple!” he’d said. “Those are dovetailed joints!”
Together we worked on the old wooden bureau, and I learned that my father was an artist, though he never described himself that way. I learned to be patient when polishing the top of a refinished piece of furniture with wax.
I learned how to listen, to watch, to imitate. I learned how to see the strength and the beauty under the rough exterior.
I learned how much my father loved a job well done, and I learned how much I loved my father.
Last week, standing in that bedroom in that old Victorian house, I caught sight of that beautiful bureau, with my son’s belongings sitting on top.
“This is rock maple!” I told him seriously. I pulled out one of the drawers. “See?” I asked him and his bemused friend, “These are dovetailed joints.”
They agreed that the bureau is a real beauty. They were smiling at my earnestness.
We left then, turning off the lights and leaving the old rock maple bureau in the dark, in that old, old house.
It’s hard to say how much I love the thought of my son sleeping every night beside that wood that had felt my Dad’s loving hand.
I hope Matt keeps that bureau. I hope he gives it to a child of his own one day.
I hope that he tells that child, very seriously, “This is rock maple, you know.”
There is a new buzzword in the world of education, and its a real eye roller.
The word is “grit” and it means the ability to handle difficulty; to persevere, to deal with opposition. It’s actually a fabulous idea, and one that a whole lot of parents need to learn. But I guess its an eye roller because so many parents of my generation already know this stuff.
Anyway, the idea of giving a child “grit” means that as adults we step back and let the kids struggle a bit. Its the idea that unless the child has worked hard and struggled at least a little, his success won’t feel like anything much.
I was a teacher for a long time. I raised three kids. I grew up in a family of six kids with two busy, working parents. I know about grit.
I know that too many children are rescued by well meaning parents when their social lives run into conflict. I know that too many kids are celebrated when they haven’t actually achieved their goals. I know that stressed out families try to shield their children from any anxiety or struggle, in a misguided belief that those are dangerous emotions.
But I also know that when I was a child, I didn’t feel particularly excited to get good grades in reading or writing. Ho, hum. I could ace that stuff with my eyes closed and one hand tied behind my back. ButI was thrilled to get a C plus in chemistry, because THAT was some serious crap.
Years ago my youngest son, Tim, was learning to play hockey. Early in his skating life, he came across a mean spirited, nasty coach. I remember that I picked my little boy up from practice one night. On the way home, I noticed that my 9 year old was in tears in the back seat. When I pressed him, he told me that his coach had called him a “baby” because his wrist shot was so weak. I was outraged, of course. My very best Mamma Bear self reared up to defend my cub. But he was much smarter than I was. When I expressed my outrage and told my boy that I planned to talk to the idiot coach, he said, “Don’t, Mommy. Just let me think bad words about him in my head. Don’t talk to him.”
So I didn’t.
A few days later, my Tim came home from school, put on his skates and his hockey gloves and headed out to our backyard rink. I didn’t know exactly what he was doing, but I kept peeking out the window at him as the afternoon wore on. Finally, just at dark, he came in the front door. Throwing down his gloves, my sweet little boy looked up at me and said, “There! Now I have a damned wrist shot.”
The coach never teased him again. Grit.
Now I am taking care of my sweet baby Ellie. She is a serene, happy little thing. Up until now, she has rarely cried.
But she has suddenly hit a point in her life when she desperately wants to MOVE! She can scoot on her butt and turn herself around. She can roll over and back again. But she can’t quite get herself propelled forward to reach her toys. She can’t yet pull herself up.
So I sit with her on the floor every day. I watch her reach for the stacking cups, and pick them up. I watch as one rolls away and I watch her struggle to stretch herself out to pull it back. She grimaces, she groans. Sometimes she squeezes her eyes shut, shakes her fists and howls.
I sit beside her. I tell her “Keep going.” I smile and I nod. I say, “Ellie, you can do it!”
Sometimes she fails. But sometimes she manages to lean herself forward so far that she is almost on her knees, and she hooks one determined finger around that errant cup and she pulls it back and picks it up. And then I breathe a huge sigh, and I cheer her on. “You did it, honey! You got it!”
Grit. I hope that I am giving her a sense that she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to accomplish. I hope that I am giving her, even at this tender age, the realization that she doesn’t need Nonni to do what she wants; she can do it all by herself.