From Here...to There...
Here...circa the mid 1950's
My fourth grade class assembles on the blacktop. It is not recess time and we are not here to play or run the bases. Wrapped around each wrist, a loop of string attached to the neck of an inflated helium balloon. The moment we step outdoors, the balloons tug and try to pull away from our grasp. Lighter than air, they long to float and soar on the whim of a breeze. Truth be told, we, their handlers, wish to do the same, but we are assembled with purpose. Earlier, back in the classroom, we wrote our names and addresses on the front of an index card. On the back of the card, we wrote in bold letters, the same message. "If found, please return this card to sender, and note your location. This is an experiment being conducted by our fourth grade geography class. We are having a contest to see how far our letters will travel through the air. If this letter reaches you, it is me, reaching out and waving hello. I hope you will take the time to wave back."
Our teacher stands on second base, as we gather in center field, arms outstretched and balloons taut and batting the air, anxious for escape. She drops the flag and I feel the card slip through my fingers. I rest my hand on my forehead to shield my eyes from the sun, then realize I am saluting, as my yellow and blue striped balloon bobs and wobbles near a stand of trees. It catches in the outstretched limbs, and I moan. No. No. I cannot end up exactly where I started. Oh, oh, a breath, a puff and then a gust of wind rushes in and under my balloon shaking it free. I clap my hands as it soars higher and higher into the sky, until it is just a yellow dot. One blink of an eye. Gone. My letter is in the skybox, successfully sent with a neatly printed reminder, Return To Sender.
Trooping back to class, our teacher lets the air out of all our balloons with a cautionary tale, not to get our hopes up, as we live in a bustling city in the Midwest, full of towering skyscrapers, busy skyscraping and getting in the way of good pen pal penmanship. Or, perhaps, pecking birds will punch a hole in one over the Great Lake and our missives will drown. Impediments. One bad connection and the conversation will be over before it starts.
But we can hope.
We can always hope.
That someone out there is listening. Looking. Watching the sky.
For a little yellow dot with their name on it.
We launched in April. By the end of the school year, several students received replies. From all over the country. As far away as Texas, and as close as two blocks down the street. My mailbox remained empty. The school year ended and summer began. I gave up hope.
One morning, mid-August, I got a letter in the mail. Inside the envelope was my index card. Smudged and torn, but tucked inside a sheet of paper. A letter. From Holland, Michigan. From a friend. A pal, taking up the pen, to let me know that my card sailed over the Great Lake, and landed in the middle of his pasture. He found it while working the land. On a hot August morning. And it made him smile, to think of me. This kind man, took the time to let me know, he was out there. Just like me. And glad to meet someone new. From a place he had never been.
I was a stranger to the state of Michigan. I had not traveled outside of my home state. I had walked along the shore of the Great Lake, but when I looked out over the water, I could not see the land beyond, nor any sign of the the people who lived there. So I pulled out my geography book, found a map of Michigan, and put a tiny gold star on the city of Holland. Holland, Michigan. Across the lake. Perhaps one day, I would skywrite across the ocean to Holland, the country where the tulips grow. I practiced my pen pal penmanship. I promised I would write one day, and I did.
To HERE, on the other side of the world, an older and slightly more cynical letter writer, I sit and skywrite late at night. Open the mailbox and hit Send. Time passes and no reply. Just as hope slips through my fingers, like the index card in the hopeful hand of a fourth grader, I imagine my letters tangled up in the trees or at the bottom of a lake. Then, one morning, months and months later, a note in my Inbox. From Australia. Another from Switzerland. Ireland. Wales. And yes, letters from the deep south and the far reaches of the Pacific Northwest.
I have a map now. In my studio. With tiny gold stars all over it. Sky letters from me to you. And from you to me. We may never meet, but in this day and in this time, I am so very glad to have the opportunity to say hello, to have a conversation, and to know that at night, we look up at the same sky, and wish each other well.
From One Aspiring Not-Yet-A-Yeti to Another...
Thursday, August 15, 2013
How To Break Your Mother's Heart...
The Ding Dong School Daze is upon me and here I stand on the curb, waving good-bye, a brave smile plastered on my face, and tears welling up behind a fragile facade.
My child is leaving home. Backpack full of newly sharpened pencils and unopened boxes of crayons, the sixty-four pack. Dressed in first-day-of-school-primly-pressed-spanking-new-just-out-of-the-mall classroom chic. Wrestling and wriggling out of my hugs with a wave over your shoulder.
Leaving Home began long before this touching moment. This heart aching, soul breaking, tender lingering good-bye. I knew that it was coming. I did. I simply had no idea that it would come so soon. That the time from there...holding you close in my arms, watching you take your first breath, holding my own as you took your first step, to here...letting go of your hand...
...would fly away like Peter Pan in our bedtime story...
I look back now, at the parenting books, and the long lectures in pre-natal classes, about when the parent-child bonding begins. At birth, they said. The minute I saw your face, they said. They were wrong. Maybe for some, but personally speaking, I think those people are lying through their sleep-deprived toothy smiles.
The truth is that love at first sight is a myth. At first sight, at first light, all is a blur, a bundle and crying. Lots and lots of crying. Unreadable, un-understandable, uncontrollable crying. Sleepless nights and mixed up days, trying trying trying to figure out what you want, what you need, what to do, when and where and how. Trial and error. Error and trial. Questions and questions and questions. What worked an hour ago doesn't work now. What you are little one is a huge responsibility, a life in my care, a crying, uncomfortable tiny being whose needs must be met.
In truth, WE haven't met yet.
Then comes the day.
The day of parent and child. The first meeting, when life as we both knew it, changes forever. It is the day, you look at me, turn your head to the sound of my voice, and smile. At me. Your Mom.
The day you become irrevocably mine.
The day I become irrevocably yours.
The exact day the clock begins to tick tick tick and the journey begins step step step from here to there. From there to here. From our loving embrace and your precious face, to the open door, to the world needing you more. And if I do my job, as parents are wont to do, this is the best job I will ever do. I never had an interview. No one read my resume. Someone just assumed I would be qualified. I think that was me.
So I clapped the day you stood on wobbly legs. I tucked anxious helping hands into my pockets, when you took your first step. I dusted you off, dried your tears, and kissed the scrape on your knee when you fell. I ran alongside your bicycle, drew a deep breath and watched your tires wibble wobble on your solo flight.
I packed your suitcase with your blanket and your bear. Your first sleepover. Rolled your sleeping bag, and packed your kit, for away-from-home camp. Walked past your empty room, turned back and lingered in the doorway, comforted that by letting you roam, you would, at least this time, return home.
I survived the first day of school and even the last. Bickered and quarreled on the days in between, reeling you out and reeling you in. I was a safe place for you to land. A practice field. A warm-up before the first pitch. The umpire, in a life-is-not-always-fair, fight. Knowing what was coming made us both itch.
No, not the day you backed down the driveway. No, not that day.
No, not the day you met your first sweetheart and cast me aside.
Ah, not even then.
I kept my watch. I stayed awake until your key was in the door. I believed that my prayers kept your plane up in the sky and my telepathy made you call home when you landed. I even thought that I could slick down your hair for school pictures with the power of my spit.
Eyes in the back of my head. You, a constant blip on my radar. An endless game of chess, plotting my next move, before you made one.
You and I.
We have been practicing for a long long time.
And here you are, on the end of my fingertips.
Sliding slowly away. Growing ever up.
It is time for you to leave. Time to let you go.
Once more, a piece of my heart is aching, a part of me is breaking, and you'll forgive me if the vision I see, is not all grown up, ready and able. What I see, standing here, standing still, is you waving over your shoulder on the first day of school.
When I left you with a vow.
The very same vow I'm repeating right now.
To my child on leaving home.
I plan to help you pack your suitcase,
and I will hold your hand as you head for the door,
but the only thing I am letting go of,
is your hand.
I plan on holding you in my heart forever.
Friday, August 9, 2013
It starts with a pleasant and somewhat soothing chirping. Wee voices in the night calling out to one another. A quiet sit on the porch and I enjoy the company. Like an orchestra tuning up to the pitch of an oboe, it begins. As each instrument struggles to match the tone, the dissonance is shrill to the ear.
But I am patient, and know that once in tune, there will be a silent segue into song.
Not here. Nope. Not on MY porch.
No soaring sonata.
Instead, a cacophony of cicadas.
Chirping back and forth in pairs comfortable in the night. When two owls give a hoot and return a toot. Like watching a tennis match with your ears. Tilting my head in one direction and then the other. Tuning my bat ears in echolocation. Ahhh. So there you are. One in the birch and the other in the walnut tree beneath the garden wall.
Or whip-or-wills trilling a Q&A session.
I begin to twitch a bit as this conversation continues as it reminds me of my hard-of-hearing elderly Aunt and Uncle repeatedly asking one another "Who?" and "What?" over and over in the middle of the sermon on Sunday morning.
Of course, my all time favorites are the frogs or the toads or whatever amphibians croak deep in the dark. I imagine their throats puffing up, their bulging eyes emitting tiny yellow flashes in the reeds along the stream, as they take a breath from deep in the diaphragm and belch into the night. Ribbit. Ribbit. Ribbit. A low gravelly rumbly tumbly sound.
So what's so disturbing about a few chirping cicadas?
Unfortunately, the few has become many.
All chirping at once.
Droning on and on and on and on and on.
Humming. Hum hum hum hum hum hum.
On and on and on and on and on and on.
It drives me crazy. Out here on my porch.
Go inside, you say. Well I did and I do, but they are chirping so loudly I swear the windows are rattling, and if I leave the light on, they fly into the windows, suffer a concussion, and give ME a headache.
A nuisance is the person behind you in line talking on their phone, or the waitress clicking her pen and popping her gum as she drums a fake fingernail on the edge of your table while you decide what to order.
A nuisance has a beginning and an ending.
This buzzing, humming, droning goes on and on and on.
I read about it in an article the other other day. A mysterious hum identified in several parts of the world from Taos, New Mexico to Scotland and as far as Australia. Only this steady humming thrumming sound was heard INDOORS. Heard only by about 2% of the population with bat ears like mine, echolating all over the place, finding and symbolizing NOTHING.
Sensors, sonars, and audiological studies proved the following:
No Identifiable source.
No reason why or where or who or what.
No big deal for 98% of the population going about their lives tuned into the normal frequencies of the day. Oblivious.
For the remaining 2%, the ones who COULD hear it, who COULD NOT turn it off or tune it out...
Let's just say we share a symbiotic dread of droning.
Then this morning, when I stepped outside to water my plants, I saw it.
A concussed little cicada.
Lying at my feet on the dampened rock beneath my toes.
A little green cicada. I reached down to pick it up. I held it in the palm of my hand and realized it was not concussed. It was not taking a morning nap in the sun.
It was dead.
One less little chirping cicada.
I should gave felt a sense of relief. One less droning voice in the night.
I felt terrible.
So I brought it in and gently laid it beside me on my table. I needed to know more about this creature. Up close, its legs tucked in, its bulging eyes still open, its wings flat against its body. I placed it near my jar of rocks and twigs and stones, the one I keep with souvenirs of my walks at dusk. I wanted it to be with nature. I wanted it to feel safe in here with me.
Cicadas. I looked them up in the nature encyclopedia. Here, where I live, they tend to visit in large groups, a cicada convention, in thirteen year cycles. Somehow, somewhere, a signal is given and the nymphs rise from their holes dug deep in the earth where they have waited patiently, likes seeds planted in the Spring awaiting the first rains and hint of warmth. The females fly to the nearest tree and lay their eggs. Masses of eggs. Baby cicadas to be. The momma and poppa cicadas molt, exfoliate, and stand in line at the end of the food chain for the squirrels and the birds to consume. The eggs hatch, the new nymphs drop to the ground near the roots of the trees, and take a vow of silence.
A vow of silence for the next thirteen years.
From the ground up and back down.
And in between...thirteen years of pent up conversation spills out into the night.
Millions of voices chirping out, notice me. Hey, me over here. You over there. Listen up. Hey, me over here. You over there. Listen up. Hey, me over here. You over there. Listen up.
I dug a hole and buried the little green cicada.
But not before I sang it a song. A new song. A different song.
From a member of its own family. A distant cousin. Well, technically not related, but I think they would be very good friends, because they both like to sing, and they both like to be heard, and they both are willing to listen, when they sing.
A Song For A Cicada From Her Friend the Katydid
And somewhere a little green cicada chirped.
And joined the conversation.
Elspeth Edelweiss took a vow of silence...
For thirteen years...
Thursday, August 1, 2013
And blow your house down...
Well think again.
This is an open letter to all the big bad wolves,
prowling about for innocent victims.
On behalf of all the children in the universe, could the adults out there listening please raise your hands?
There IS a difference between right and wrong and we all KNOW it.
Taking what does not belong to you is WRONG. It has a name.
Not borrowing or misplacing or deserving or sharing or finders keepers.
Using language that in print looks like this, **!!%#*!*, in front of young children or in the middle of your office or in line at the grocery store or on TV at 4 in the afternoon is WRONG. It has a name.
*Swearing. Profanity. Bad language.
Swearing is like sitting in the cheap seats. Anyone can do it. And it seems like a daily contest to see who can do it more or get by the bleep button. One by one, words that used to be followed by a mouthful of soap, pop up so often that even an inexperienced lip reader knows what was said.
Even your toddler.
Tweets are not sweet when they are filled with vile and hateful language. If you want the world to know what you think, fine, express yourself. If you want the world to know that your grasp on the English language consists of the same string of expletives over and over and over, your message is clear.
Hit the Delete key before you hit Send.
*Stereotyping by any criteria is WRONG.
Every single person is blessed at birth with a name.
To live up to.
Or to destroy.
We are what we DO not what we LOOK LIKE.
And what we, the adults, are DOING is a pretty lousy job.
The kids are watching.
They see the WOLF pacing outside the house way too soon. They see the big teeth and the creepy smile all over the Internet, and on TV and in their neighborhoods, and down the street and on their way to school.
So they run to the house made of straw. The house the straw men built. The house the anonymous faceless nameless weasels built. The house built on hot air, by hot heads, whose sole accomplishment is judging all the people passing by with great contempt and scorn. But when the Wolf blows, when real life comes knocking, they cower inside and hope for help. The residents in the straw house are too busy being bystanders, but are the first to complain and fume when help is too slow to arrive. Out the front door, down the block to the house built of sticks, with the children trailing behind, the Wolf nipping at their heels.
The kids are watching.
From inside the house of sticks, built by people with good intentions. The procrastinators, the apologists, the live and let live, i'm ok you're ok, we're all in the same boat and should just get along, share and share alike, level the playing field floaters who dwell in the rarefied air somewhere just above the roof line where the sky is always gray, the lines are always blurred and the water tepid to the touch. Nothing to see here. Just move along. The don't get involved crowd. The shoulder shrugging what can you do about it bunch, whose sails luft in the calm and whose boat is perpetually stuck in the fog. Until the pearly white fangs of the Wolf loom large. Right in their own backyard.
Then, and only then, a line is crossed and something must be done.
And so it is. The kids are watching. They see the Wolf for what it is.
And the kids are smarter than we think.
They are looking for the house made of bricks, where they will be safe, waiting for the adults to show up and lead the way home.
Cause we teach them to be safe.
Cause we teach them to use kind words and to be polite.
Cause we teach them how to dress themselves, to make their bed, to take their brother's hand when they cross the street.
We set the boundaries and give them limits,
a boundary within which they will be safe.
For about a week. Or maybe a month.
I walked through the drugstore the other day and overheard a conversation between two kindergarten age kids waiting for their parents. I cannot repeat what they said. Well I could, but I won't. It was not their conversation that shocked me, sad to say, it was their parent's reaction that scared me more.
There wasn't any.
Outrage. We have enough of that. More and more and more.
It is what we are NOT outraged about that is missing.
Listen. Listen to what the children are saying.
Watch. Watch what the children are doing.
Pay attention to their fears and their worries.
Be mindful that THEY see the WOLF at the door and would like to know that their house is made of brick.
We adults are the builders.
We choose the straw or the sticks or the brick.
WE KEEP THEM SAFE.
Safe enough to grow up and become responsible adults.
The next generation.
They did not choose to be here.
And keeping the wolves at bay is our job, and it is full time.
And like the story of the Three Little Pigs, there is a moral to be told.
Building a decent foundation requires bricks and heavy lifting.
Not huffing and puffing.
Do your job.
One kind, decent, honest, hard-working, brick-by-brick-house-building day at a time.
Give children a new perspective.
Be that someone that they can trust,
that they respect,
that they can aspire to be.
Be someone YOU are proud of,
and the children will sleep better at night,
knowing WE are keeping watch
and the Wolf is back in the Wild where he belongs.