Nothing more obvious

sunflower

“There would seem to be nothing

more obvious, more tangible and palpable than the present moment. 

And yet, it eludes us completely. 

All of the sadness of life lies in that fact.”  

~Milan Kundera  

 

 

The Summer Day

By Mary Oliver

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t exactly know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Old Teachers

I waited for Daddy Longlegs in the car with the boys in the backseat. They giggled in a secret, quiet way as they conspired together on something. I have found it best to quietly observe than to turn around and disrupt their work. I readjusted the rear-view mirror and watched them with a raised eyebrow.

A sock hit my shoulder like a single musical note, followed by another, and a size 7 Croc landed on the dashboard and hysterical laughter rose in a crescendo from behind my seat.

By the time their father returned, the boys were irritated. There was nothing left to throw. No socks, no shoes and since they were strapped into their seats, throwing their pants was not an option. I had gathered a nice collection of everything they lobbed into the front seat.  

The trunk popped open.

“They couldn’t find the right stuff,” Daddy Longlegs huffed as he loaded stones into the back of our Honda-CRV.

He shut the trunk and slid into the driver’s seat.

“The guy in there,” he gestured towards the store with his thumb, “he was trying to match the stone to what I ordered until I said, it’s the cobblestone. And the guy laughed and said, ‘I’ll never forget it now. Cobblestone, cobblestone, cobblestone. That reminds me of my fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Cobble. I wonder where he is now. I’ve been thinking about good ol’ Mr. Cobble a lot lately. What a guy.’”

It made me think of some of my former teachers, like Mrs. Landrum who seemed ancient when I was a kindergartener, but I think she was only in her fifties and blessed with salt and pepper hair, and Mrs. Prince who tossed out Jolly Ranchers for the right answer or if we were having a hard day and Mrs. Ambler who read a chapter a day from classics like Where the Red Fern Grows and Summer of the Monkeys.

“Memory is more indelible than ink.” Anita Loos

I wonder who will leave a lasting impression like that for my sons from the memories and experiences that are unformed and undone and from the people they have yet to meet. Who pops up for you, Dear Reader, when you remember those formative characters from your youth like the unforgettable, Mr. Cobble?

A Book’s Cover

Can you judge a book by its cover? I try to reserve judgement but its there one way or another, either in the very back or in the very front of my mind. Time and time again, I have been wrong after making a quick decision about a person because of their clothes or the way they speak. Recently, I met someone with a feather sticking out of her hair and instantly thought she was crazy, only to find she was a very competent employee and natural leader.

It is human nature, I think, to make up stories about who is safe or unsafe in an effort to understand our world and to quickly categorize those with whom we come into contact. Of course, humans are not so simple and seem to defy categorization because we live a long time and have layers upon layers of experiences that create and transform our character.  

I write all this to explain that we are in the process of finding a new babysitter. Our current gal gave the standard three day notice due to some silly health condition (extreme pregnancy) which we knew would happen sooner or later.

I posted an ad on our neighborhood page and within a few hours had exactly one interested party, a 16-year-old who lives down the road who loves kids. We set a date for her to come over for a meet and greet. She arrived in a baby doll dress with big eyes and blond hair. The boys had hearts in their eyes as they ran to her and offered her lollipops and popsicles to stay and play.

And I found myself making a hasty assessment of her thinking, she is young, well put-together and has so much potential, she would not jeopardize her future by doing something foolish or negligent with my sons. I want to see the best in her and as a long-time social worker, I know that potential is limitless in all directions, for better or worse.   

As we finished our popsicles, I said, “The job is yours if you want it,” with a hope for the best.

Fear of the Bad Man

There is a fear that follows me like a shadow. It has been with me ever since I was small. To be honest, I am still small and some days it seems that only the fear has grown.

It’s the fear of The Bad Man. You know, the man with the baseball cap pulled down low over his eyes lurking in the bushes or the guy crouching down and waiting beside your car in a dark parking lot.

I am talking about the pervasive fear of the predatory man that is perpetuated every time I watch the news or listen to the radio. He is out there, waiting and watching for his opportunity to cause harm.

As an independent, childless woman, I kept the Bad Man at bay, aware and defensive. Now that I have children to protect, everywhere I look, the potential for an interaction with the Bad Man is there.

We can’t go for a walk without the thought that he might be around the corner or back to the car from a store without an extra scan to see if he is following us. I lace my keys between my fingers or carry a metal water bottle, just in case. Yesterday, I priced out pepper spray options that I ultimately decided against due to the absolute certainty that one or two curious little boys would spray themselves.  

This fear is a gift from my mother, creative in her protection, she created the idea of the Bad Man and with years of constant reinforcement, it remains with me. I suppose it keeps me alert and present, albeit paranoid, anxious and a little neurotic, and therefore I keep my sons a little safer in a world that feels so very dangerous some days.

Does anyone else struggle with this fear?  How do you face down your fears, real or imagined?

A Walk on the Wild Side

It is over 90 degrees in Tennessee and with the humidity, it feels like we are near the burning fires of Hell. The heat makes doing any kind of activity outdoors more difficult, but not impossible. And with two very active, young boys, time spent out of the house is an absolute requirement. We are creative in our plans, mindful of the sun, shade and always have lots of water on hand.

Today, we went for a hike in a lovely, forested park. The path was paved and surrounded by mature trees creating the perfect place for my wildings to run and burn off energy. It didn’t take long before they were slowing down and dripping with sweat.

“Carry me,” Baby Brother asked with upstretched arms.

“No, me,” Little Legs insisted as he shoved his brother aside.

“You are both big boys and can walk,” I explained, my hands were already full with their water bottle and abandoned hats.

“Maybe you should carry your brother?” I mistakenly suggested to Little Legs.

Little Legs took this as permission to grab his brother by the waist to start carrying him like a lumpy, sweaty sack of potatoes. Baby Brother fought him off only to get a double back slap-shove as he escaped and tried to run away.

They both cried and resumed their futile request for human transport before deciding it was easier to claim a mobility-impairing injury. Little Legs went down and Baby Brother in true monkey see, monkey do fashion, followed in the exact same way.

“My knee hurts,” Little Legs wailed

“Knee hurt,” Baby Brother cried.

“We can’t walk,” Little Legs explained as their spokesperson.

They both proceeded to go belly up for a rest on the pavement.   

In a surprise to no one, the heat brought out the crazy in both of them. They were only willing to move for the promise of orange push pops and blue Gatorade.  

As for me, I was glad we found a way to beat the heat, that they could walk unassisted (if it wasn’t for their double knee injuries), carry their own water bottles (if they put their minds to it) and we could spend the day together.

Hot and crazy, but together.

The Kindness of Strangers

The house was blissfully quiet aside from the gentle hum of the air conditioner. I peeked outside to check on Coco, the dog.

Minutes earlier, she was dozing on the front porch, her black head resting on her paws. Now, there was a brown magnolia leaf, a desiccated spider, and a pile of sand (a hallmark of the boys) but definitely and absolutely no dog.

She wasn’t around the back or in the grass, hiding behind a tree or romping in the woods. I called and whistled and shouted, all with a growing dread in the pit of my stomach.

It was still nap time. I couldn’t leave and I didn’t want to wake up the boys early. So I waited and paced around the house, checking the front door and then the back porch.

I ticked off the list of things we would need to do if she didn’t reappear within the next few hours: create a flyer, make copies, post flyer and wait.  

“Boys, we have to find Coco,” I explained when they woke up. “She ran away, again.”

They took matters into their own small hands, went outside and began shouting in squeaky voices for their beloved dog to return. Pleas that went unanswered.

Little Legs held his pointer finger up in the air, Einstein style, and said, “I have an idea.”

“I’m listening,” I said with the keys in my hand.

“We should get in the car to look for Coco,” he said.

“Great idea! Let’s do it, guys.”

We were off on a Coco rescue mission to the tune of Mission Impossible, with a fully rested squad and three quarters of a tank of gas, we were set.

After driving up and down side-streets for an hour, yelling out the windows, we had to call it and accept that we might not find her.

“Coco’s gone,” Little Legs told his brother.

Baby Brother said, “Car go, Coco,” unwilling to end the search.

“Who wants cartoons and a snack?” I asked and was answered with unanimous support.

It took Daddy Longlegs, after a long day at work solving other people’s problems, to say, “Did you check on the nextdoor app?”

And there she was, in all her floppy eared, tongue hanging-out glory, never lost at all, just passing time in a neighbor’s garage, eating milkbones (which later would wreck havoc on her GI system).

The post said, “Here until the owner claims her.”   

In spite of every trash bag and diaper ripped open, toy destroyed, mud tracked in the house, she is a good dog. She guards the yard from nothing and steals the boys’ snacks, through it all, she is ours, home and officially reclaimed.     

These are the days.

Enormous waves rolled up and crashed down on the beach. A red flag flapped overhead declaring dangerous water conditions which we did not dispute. We settled happily on the sand with towels, buckets, and shovels.  

Little Legs focused on burying the lower half of his brother’s body in the sand. He dumped scoop after scoop of wet sand onto Baby Brother’s chubby thighs and shins. With Little Legs’ tongue hanging out one side of his mouth, he was the very image of concentration and Baby Brother, the image of patience and grace.

Who agrees to be buried alive, aside from a sibling?   

Suddenly, Baby Brother rose with a roar, a toddler sized King Kong, and broke free from his sandy bondage. Little Legs screamed as sand flew up in a thousand different directions and his work was destroyed.

“No,” Little Legs yelled and lunged to pull his brother back down to the ground.

I assume his plan was to rebury Baby Brother.

Not interested in this, Baby Brother escaped and ran for the crashing waves.   

This time, I yelled “No” and raced after him.

I apprehended the runaway and brought him back to work on a new project, the construction of a sandcastle. Spoiler alert, it never got off the ground because Little Legs smashed every bucketful of carefully packed and formed sand.

Two beach-walkers with matching black sunglasses, maneuvered around us, holding hands. They were freckled and leathery from the sun.

“These are the best days of your life,” the man said.

“You don’t know it yet, but he’s right. These are the days,” the woman agreed.

The pair continued their path, straight ahead, leaving behind their prophetic wisdom and the thought that if these are the days, I want more, so many more. I am greedy for time with our children, satiated only by more time.

I am also overwhelmed with sadness to think this period could be it, the pinnacle of our time together. And I hope that the beachwalkers were wrong only in the omission of the word some, these are some of the best days of our life.

There can be more best days, many more.     

Bathroom Soup

Baby Brother rubbed his stomach.

“Hurt.”

As he was still taking his place as a speaker in the world, he did not waste words. He appeared to appreciate the power that using just a word or two held over crying for five minutes. The wrinkles in his forehead and appearance of being slightly green around the gills tipped me off as to the acute nature of this malady.

“Hurt,” he repeated.

I knelt in front of him and gazed into his deep brown eyes, in a nonverbal show of support and understanding. He grabbed me around the neck and with a whimper, he began the process of bringing everything he ate over the last 24 hours back into the light of day.

I scooped his thirty pounds up into my arms and rushed him into the bathroom while he threw up over my shoulder and onto my back and the floor. His stomach contents rested for just a second before they began to burn my skin. The smell permeated into my nostrils.

Once he finished, I turned on a warm shower to rinse lunch, breakfast and dinner, in that order, from his arms and legs.

“Missed a piece on your forehead, buddy.”                                                                

I flicked a bit of apple from his face and watched it travel down the drain.

Meanwhile, Little Legs had followed us into the bathroom.

“What happened, Mama?” he asked.

I focused on bringing Baby Brother out of the shower and toweling him dry as he shivered and said, “Brother got sick and we have to clean him up now.”

Only when I heard the clink of metal hitting the tile did I turn around to see that Little Legs brought his bowl of soup and was eating chicken and stars on the bathroom floor, in a show of support, but mostly curiosity.

“We don’t eat soup in the bathroom, Little Legs. Go back to the table.”

“Why not, Mama?”

Indeed, why not? It was the thousandth question of the day. I still needed to change clothes, mop the bathroom floor, get Baby Brother some Pedialyte and put everything away from lunch. On a normal day, we wouldn’t eat soup anywhere but the table, but this wasn’t a normal day.

This was a bathroom soup type of day.

Game Time

“We’re playing a game,” Little Legs shouted from another room.

The sound of running feet and paws and laughter followed.

Suddenly, the dog raced into the living room, took a flying leap and landed cattywampus on the chair next to me. It was no wonder how she hurt her leg just a week ago. She was miraculously healed, it appeared.

Little Legs ran after her with outstretched arms.

“We’re still playing our game,” he explained.

He grabbed her pink collar and tugged, trying to pull her off the chair.

“Come on, Coco,” he said.

“How does the game work?” I asked.

“I lock her up in her cage and then she breaks out and she bites me.”

“That sounds like an interesting game,” I said endorsing an activity that was certain to win a mother of the year award.

 “I’m going to go get Baby Brother now,” he said with a serious expression.

“He can play, too.”

Somehow, I sensed that Baby Brother was about to switch places with the dog and decided creative game time was over.  

Far from the Noise and Confusion

“My tummy hurts.”

The words find me in the darkness like bee drones, their reach is astonishing as my head is neatly tucked underneath of a pillow, meant to block out light and sound.

I need to wake up.

As I struggle to escape from the depths of sleep, I hear again, “My tummy hurts.”

This is not a false alarm in an attempt to stay up later or get a post-dinner snack. I hear the urgency in the voice.

I am coming. I try to say it, but I can’t connect my brain with my mouth. Fortunately, from a physical standpoint, I don’t have far to travel, the voice is coming from the foot of the bed.

Finally, I make it back to the land of the living and toss the pillow aside just as Little Legs starts to make a strange sound, hard to describe but impossible to misinterpret as the contents of his stomach gush from his mouth and onto the comforter, sheets and current occupants of the bed.

Blindly, I hold up my hands, dripping with chunky goo. I need to get my glasses to determine the next steps.

“My tummy still hurts,” he says.

And again, the gusher blows. I try to catch it in my hands and feel the force of it push through my fingers. The world is still blurry as I try to carry the boy to the bathroom, leaving a trail of macaroni and cheese bits and pieces in our wake.

When it is all said and done, Little Legs has stomach slime in his hair, the rugs are drenched, the toilet is covered. Daddy Longlegs is on his hands and knees, scooping godknowswhat from the floor and I am in disbelief that one little stomach could hold so much content.

It is a gross night with one, short-lived silver lining.  

“My tummy doesn’t hurt anymore,” Little Legs exclaims with glossy eyes.

I am right to wonder how long our break will last but see no reason to wait for the inevitable. Not a moment too soon, I scrunch down and settle back into a deep sleep far away from all the noise and confusion of the stomach of Little Legs.