Tag: Remembering

4Mar

Heirloom

Yesterday, the resident princess woke up one year older. She bounded out of bed, thrilled as any newly minted five-year-old and radiating enough energy to make her tired mother see stars.

Our pre-breakfast interview went thusly:

Me: “What is today?”

Natalie: “TOMORROW!” ::begins jumping up and down::

Me: “Uhh.. and what is tomorrow?”

Natalie: “My birthday! It’s my birthday! AHHHHHHH! I’m FIVE!” ::throws a balloon over her head repeatedly::

Sophie: “Sophie’s a five.”

Natalie: “And I have one heart balloon and other balloons, and I even got a heart balloon that’s the color green!”

Sophie: “Mine’s a purple.”

Natalie: “I want to do all kind of things today! Mommy, you know, I can look up and down and left and right, and I can do lots of jumps!” ::demonstrates:: “I can jump on one leg! Watch! I can do it with one leg! You know I like pink all the time?”

Sophie: “Orange balloon.”

Natalie: “I can do it so well now, but not when I’m four. Only five-year-olds are good at things. Just now. You like my long legs? My birthday! My birthday! You know? You’re probably right, it is my birthday. Woo-hoo-woo-hoo! You see the heart on my head?”

Sophie: “The color of all balloons!”

Me: “What are your favorite things to play with?”

Natalie: “A colorful piano, the pirate Legos…” ::goes to investigate:: “I can see a monkey, a shark, an alligator, a skeleton, lots of pirates with fish, there’s LOTS of pirates and a mermaid and a king, and I like ballet and my little toys and computer games and Super Mario Brothers.”

Sophie: “And Wii ‘ports!”

Natalie: “Mommy, you know I’m being good? You just know that I’m five now? When I go to sleep, I don’t suck my thumb anymore.”

Sophie: “Sophie’s sucking the thumb.”

Me, trying to stick to the script: “What can you do now that you’re five?”

Natalie: “Play with Barbies and open presents and play with some other toys. Oh, reading! I just know how to look at the pictures on my own, okay, Mommy? I can just look at my pictures. You see? I’m going to look at these pictures. Wow. Look at these letters, wow! Hey look, here’s my number that I turned!” ::points to the page number:: “FIVE!”

Me: ::nods and smiles while backing slowly toward my warm bed::

I was under the weather all day—as in, I couldn’t manage to lift my outlook above the low-lying clouds—but I loved watching her luxuriate in the occasion. It’s not every day a girl gets a custom-made pink layer cake and is finally allowed to use scissors at school. All the same, my mind would only grant that she was twenty-four hours older than she had been the day before, that the date was less worthy of celebration than the girl herself. The difference between five years old and four-plus-364-days wasn’t enough to coax awe, much less jumping jacks, out of me.

However, my stoic perspective lasted only as long as the tissue paper on her second present. It was a ring—a dusky pink jewel set in a gold circlet, misshapen from its former career as my fifth birthday present.

Natalie modeling Mommy's ring

Natalie tried on the ring, admired it for approximately three seconds, and put it back in its scuffed velvet box. Oh, I thought. Knowing the kid’s adoration for all things pink and sparkly, I had assumed she would love my little heirloom… but she was more excited about the 49-cent  pencil sharpener in the next package, and I wasn’t offended. I was jolted though. Watching my daughter twirl the ring in the kitchen light reminded me of the day I had gotten the ring. I remembered it. And the true weight of five-years-old landed squarely on my consciousness: She’s crossed the threshold from impression into memory.

The realization hummed in my background the rest of the day. Twenty years from now, would Natalie remember me sitting down to draw princesses with her? Would she remember me leaving the table to clean? Would she remember my frustration over the confounding Disney Wii game? Would she remember me leading her into the pages of Little House in the Big Woods and illuminating mysteries like venison and headcheese? What about me picking up my computer as a respite from several straight hours with the girls? Or me kissing the grumpiest part of her neck until the giggles burst out at bedtime?

It’s a sobering discovery that my parenting from here on out is being archived rather than evaporating with the moment. (Frankly, it’s terrifying, but that may be only because my brain hasn’t taken its Valium yet.) I have about twenty hours’ total experience raising a five-year-old, and I’m guaranteed to botch the job over and over again as I figure it out. Will enough standout parenting moments cancel out the flubs that go on record? Can my core-deep love make up for my core-deep imperfection?

I certainly hope so, because otherwise… ::starts backing slowly toward my warm bed::

17Feb

Sugar and Spice

When I was growing up, I wanted a sister more than I wanted sugar.

Let that sink in a moment. Dessert in our house was all-natural peanut butter mixed with carob—a substance which may actually be dirt—and such was my longing for sugar that I would eat friends’ bubblegum toothpaste. A grandfatherly type at church would occasionally pass out those cinnamon hard candies blistering in red cellophane wrappers, and I would choke every one down despite the open flames in my mouth. I spent 95% of my babysitting money on contraband Girl Scout Cookies and swiped sweetener packets from restaurants when no one was looking. I dreamed about sugar.

But I wanted a sister even more. An older sister would have been ideal, but even in preschool I grasped the chronological difficulties that presented. A younger sister would do as long as she was close enough in age to share clothes and secrets and hobbies with me. I had it all planned—we would whisper under covers late at night, play pranks on our brothers, swap Lip Smackers, and grow up best friends for life. She would understand me as only a sister could. And eventually, we would marry two brothers and live happily ever after on adjacent horse ranches in the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

However, the sister position stayed vacant until I was old enough to babysit her. While she and I have always had a good relationship, my sisterhood fantasies never had a chance to materialize before I left home… and the more people I met, the less faith I had that close, secret-sharing family ties existed. By the time Natalie was born, I had all but forgotten the allure of sisterhood.

Until our next baby’s 20-week ultrasound during which we learned she was a Sophie and not an Ebeneezer*. Dan and I had both suspected a baby boy was brewing, so the news rocked my perspective into fairy tale territory. Sisters. Shoe swappers, secret whisperers, dance partners, goodnight huggers, lifelong friendship givers.

My daughters may still be young, and they may fight multiple times a day over who’s the princess and who’s the ballerina, and I doubt brother-husbands with horse ranches are in their future**, but at least one of my childhood theories has landed on proof: Sisters are better than sugar.

*Note to Social Services: We never actually picked out a boy’s name. You can put down your pitchforks now.

**Though I haven’t lost faith in the Big Rock Candy Mountains just yet.

1Jan

Trade-In

There are two things I should say before we begin:
1) I slept until noon today, and
2) it was entirely necessary.

I would like to say this was due to our wild party-animal instincts, but the drab truth is that we saw 31 too-late nights in December and were destroyed (as we say in Italian). I am a little miffed with this holiday season for hinting at long, languid hours of relaxation when it actually meant a sort of continuous harried feeling. Gifts to be gathered, events to be attended, games to be played, food to be cooked, meaningful time to be spent with friends and family—all lovely, holiday-y things that somehow arranged themselves into a military formation in my mind. How does this happen every year, I ask? (Just to be clear, love and good cheer still abounded, as evidenced by the photo below. They just had to compete for attention with tiredness and headless chicken syndrome.)

Family picture 1

And now it is next year. I’m a little surprised to find that I can believe an entire twelve-month span is over already; we put a lot of mileage on 2009, and it’s time for a trade-in. Besides traveling to eleven countries and over forty cities, I learned how to cook clams and braved black diamonds and started running (and stopped running… but have noble hopes to start again) and found a way out of an emotional quagmire and celebrated six years of marriage and moved houses and started wearing skirts again and cemented more than one close relationship and began teaching English and picked up piano playing again and attended weddings galore and had questions answered and spent delightful hours getting to know kindred spirits and finally found my taste for bitters and laughed more than cried. The year was richly layered with experience, and I feel comfortably full. It’s a good feeling.

As for 2010, I hope for much more of this…

Family Legostavaganza

…and this…

The spouses Bassett

…and this…

Sophie taking Mommy on the aqueduct 2

…with maybe just a wee bit more of this to go around:

Naptime for Ballerina Sophie

Happy New Year, everyone!

18Dec

Merry and Bright

Yesterday evening, I was dusting the living room in a flurry of last-minute prep for our annual white elephant party. Sophie was finally sleeping after an asthma attack that reallocated our afternoon to doctor’s offices and pharmacies and tight-throated cuddling, and I was dashing through my list of chores when the obscene bleat of a bus horn sounded outside the window. The dust could wait; I peeked over the balcony to see what the fuss was about.

In typical Italian fashion, someone had parked a car with courageous disregard for either logic or legality, i.e. – in the middle of the road. I watched for several minutes while the driver was procured, she failed to produce any keys, and various angry motorists contributed to the solution by honking while a neighbor pushed the car out of the street. I am sorry to say this little story has nothing whatsoever to do with this entry except that while standing on our balcony overlooking our city’s hills and valleys, I noticed something: no Christmas lights. Out of the thousands of houses visible, only one or two sported a strand of red bulbs on the balcony.

Italians celebrate Christmas jubilantly and with glad tidings of tiramisu and wine, but outdoor decorations just aren’t their thing. And while I love living in this warm-hearted country, I really miss driving around on December nights to ooh and ahh over twinkling Christmas displays. I also miss parades and candy canes and gingerbread mochas and a children’s section stocked with gorgeous holiday books.

The past two Christmases here, I felt desperate to hold onto that melted-butter sensation of holiday nostalgia. I planned red and green and cinnamon sparkles into every day, but I only found exhaustion where enchantment was supposed to be. So this year, expectations have been called back from Jupiter. I’ve been up front with myself about the traditions I miss, and I’ve whittled down my priority list to the essentials. Cookies are no longer on it, nor is our Christmas Eve brunch with friends. To tell the truth, this December looks as glitzy in my mind as a rain cloud. A hormonal one.

Yet this clammy, gray mindscape is exactly where nostalgia decided to find me. Maybe I just needed to release the pressures of baking and printing newsletters and feeling holiday cheer, damnit, or maybe the gloom of the last few years was simply another side-effect of my depression pills. Either way, this coming Christmas has been a reason to seek out magical moments in otherwise ordinary days—postponing naptime to decorate the rug with paper scraps, sitting down at the piano with Vince Guaraldi, brainstorming ways to make our friends and family feel loved… belting out carols when traffic fills the horizon (“Away in the ranger” is Natalie’s favorite; Sophie’s is “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, all da waaaaaayyyyyy!”)… anticipating the daily surprise in our advent calendar… reading a story each night that leads to the miracle birth we celebrate… sprinkling nutmeg on my coffee and calling it a success.

Snowflake-strewn living room

And as it turns out, twinkling yard displays are not the slightest bit necessary for a holiday to be merry and bright.

31May

Holy Writ Hives

“I like gypsy moths and radio talk
‘Cause it doesn’t remind me of anything…”
(Audioslave)

I was one of the coolest twelve-year-olds to enter our church’s youth group, oh yes. All the other denim-clad girls envied my broomstick skirts and the knitted granny shawl I wore as protection from the A/C.  I was widely admired for my mad worship-band-understudy flute skillz, and the guys were always ogling the sexy training bra outline on my cookie sheet chest. Everyone cheered when I alone took on the youth pastor’s challenge and memorized the entire biblical book of James to get a free trip to youth camp. Oh, and a mere two days into that camp when I was sent home with a case of the mumps? Well, that cemented my position as the most popular teen in church history.

Ha. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Ha ha. Oooooh, boy. ::wipes eyes::

I know I’ll be dashing some hopes here, but this entry is not about junior high fashion. (Sorry!) Nor is it about the many reasons to vaccinate your children, youth camp being one of the more compelling. No, this is about the holy tradition of Scripture memorization and why I think it sucks.

See, my brain is a neurotic sponge. I never had much trouble memorizing, whether it be Shakespeare or sacred texts or shampoo ingredients. I routinely dazzled my Awana leaders by breezing through the required ream of Bible verses to then learn hefty chunks of the New Testament. I blasted through the competition to win first place in regional Bible drills. I could even recite the lineage of Old Testament kings by heart. (See above re: popularity.) I memorized and memorized and memorized and memorized and didn’t learn a thing.

It turns out that the proper ordering of words does little to reach a heart. In fact, the tuneless march of verses through my mind made reading the Bible impossible once I reached adulthood. I found myself paralyzed by each familiar page, with memories of the words leading to memories of the past leading to fog-banked panic. The holy writ gave me hives. It wasn’t until a friend bought me The Message (and, uh, it sat on the shelf under my suspicious glower for a few years) that I was able to understand what Jesus and Paul wrote. The Bible finally made unrecognizable; what relief!

As I’ve discovered the power of newborn words to seep far below my skin into soul territory, I’ve shunned attempts by family members to help Natalie memorize Bible verses. I don’t want forced familiarity with God-commissioned words to breed contempt before my daughter even has the chance to work out her own beliefs. This has kept me consistently uneasy about her Sunday School class, as week after week, Natalie’s classmates recite Bible verses for a gold star sticker leading to a yearly prize. Should we make her memorize the verses too so she’ll fit in? Should we remove her from the class, risking a million kinds of confrontation? Should we keep ignoring the issue?

This morning in Sunday School, things came to a head. In preparation for a church presentation next week, the children had been memorizing Psalm 23. Never before has a peaceful poem of cross-stitching fame wound a person as tightly as it did Natalie’s teacher. “Why can’t you say it all together?” she yelled at the group of preschoolers shifting in their hard-plastic chairs. “THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD—Fabio! Straighten up this instant! Ester, sit down! No, no, no, Gabriele, be quiet, we’re starting from the beginning, QUIET! THE LORD IS—Laura! Why aren’t you saying all the words? What is wrong with you? Well if you’re tired, you should have gotten more sleep last night, huh? No, Beniamino, you can’t go to the bathroom until we get the whole thing right. STEVEN, QUIET! Do you all want your parents to be disappointed in you?”

Still fuming at how badly the children had been treated, I got in the car with Dan after church and told him, “Those kids are never going to voluntarily memorize another Bible verse for the rest of their lives.”

And then…

I grinned.

27May

Mortification Monday, Chapter the Last

You may (or may not) have noticed that I stopped my Mortification Monday series early on. Awfully early on. I mean, the soap opera goes on for three years, which is something like forty-five teenage lifetimes, and I originally intended to drag you through every mortifying detail. However… Well, first, let me tell you the microbot version of the story.

I fell for Igor Dreamboat (not his real name) when I was twelve. He was two delectable years older and the cutest specimen of eventual manhood ever to sprout dimples. And he was funny. And charming. And every time we ended up within speaking distance of each other, I was terrified that I would accidentally start making out with him… because, you know, that sort of thing happens all the time.

After two years of loyal infatuation on my part, he started to come around. Not that he ever said as much, but when he started holding my hand under the table, I took that to mean we were together. My teenaged heart did a somersault off the nearest balcony, and I ran home that evening to write in my journal, “I shall never be depressed again!” This is called literary irony, folks.

He may have actually cared for me, but while my love ran fathoms deep, his was a sidewalk puddle good for splashing in from time to time. Knowing nothing of relationships and being vaguely banned from discussing the topic at home, I was the perfect girlfriend for his style. I assumed it was normal dating behavior to show physical affection in private and ignore each other in public. I shouldered the guilt each time he broke up with me for another girl and welcomed him back with open arms a few weeks later. I forgave again and again, fluttering toward each crumb of attention he tossed my way.

It was an agonizing year. During one of our on-again months, I spilled the news to some of my girlfriends at a slumber party, and their chirping congratulations were almost too happy to bear… until the next week at school when none of them would talk to me. “You didn’t have to make up lies to be our friend,” hissed one of the girls before turning her back. I recognized the signature cut of betrayal even before Igor pulled me aside and told me I wasn’t allowed to talk about us. He said he had had to deny our relationship to all our friends and teachers, and he broke up with me for the tenth time.

For the rest of that school year, I received bad grades. My favorite teacher was pointedly cold toward me. My former friends whispered accusations behind my back. My home life was in shambles as well, and I cried myself to sleep more times than I can count. Yet I was so hungry for love and so devoted to the boy with the flashing smile and fine-tuned sense of humor that I waited out the lonely weeks until he was willing to touch me again. Only during those hidden moments with our bodies pressed close did the ache in my chest subside.

The following summer, I traveled to Mexico where I turned fifteen and heard the first piece of relationship advice that had ever made sense to me: Romance is a mystery, and love is companionship. Novel, right? After a few days of thinking, I journaled, “I’m tired of being dumped. I want a guy who’ll carefully pick me up and never put me down.” Then I screwed my courage to the sticking place, told Igor we were through, reminded him we were through, reiterated no, really, we’re through, and got over the first love of my life.

I dream about him some nights, always sweet, aerial dreams. In them, I am confidently beautiful. He is laughing and holding my hand proudly in front of our friends, who cheer us on. It is all very last scene of “Titanic.Though it’s probably not kosher to be dreaming of other men while I’m happily married, I love that my mind has worked out a happy ending for the aching 14-year-old somewhere still inside me. She needed one. She has experienced plenty of mortification for a teenaged sliver of psyche, and I think she has finally earned her peace. Even if her dramatic journal entries WERE comedy gold.

R.I.P.

Mortification Mondays

2008-2009

21May

Slumbering Magic

At least once a year, I read Ray Bradbuary’s Dandelion Wine cover to cover. It has been a soul tradition since I first picked up the paperback at age 15 and lost a bit of my heart among the pages. And who wouldn’t? The book is a celebration of childhood and summertime equally, of life and death and the daily discoveries that make them so much more, written in the most delicious prose I’ve ever tasted.

“His breath raked over his teeth, going in ice, coming out fire. Ten thousand individual hairs grew a millionth of an inch on his head. He heard the twin hearts beating in each ear, the third heart beating in his throat, the two hearts throbbing his wrists, the real heart pounding his chest. The million pores on his body opened.
I’m really alive! he thought. I never knew it before…” *

Magic.

Every time I venture into its pages, I am twelve-year-old Douglas Spaulding. I suddenly feel the need for tennis shoes and old-fashioned lime-vanilla ice, plus a sip of the mysterious dandelion wine just to try.  I experience all the curiosity and fear and wondering joy woven into the stories. But despite how much I love the book, my heart floods with a soft pale-pink sadness at the end of each chapter because I wish it were mine. The writing. The nostalgia. The memories in print.

I have a hard time explaining the way Dandelion Wine tugs at me because it’s not jealousy… yet it is. I dearly want to write a book that captures people’s imaginations in the same way, and I think I could. I feel the magic slumbering just beneath the surface of my ability. But I’m missing the nostalgia, and that’s one thing a writer can’t make up. My childhood memories will never make the cut for an exploration of whimsy, and this dear adult life of mine needs a few more years to brew still.

So I take the book for what it was to me at 15—a miraculous first date with metaphors—and what it is to me now—a diamond trembling with a thousand emotional hues. My sadness is not an enemy, nor is it the face of defeat. Rather, it’s the whispered promise of nostalgia in my future. You will write of your own magic one day, you will…

* I had a ridiculously hard time choosing an exemplary passage from the book because every sentence in the thing is perfect. Some lazy day this summer, pour yourself a tall glass of lemonade, pick up a copy of Dandelion Wine, and read until your toes begin to tingle. That’s an order.

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