As the ball sailed over the goal, we laughed as we had many times before, then began our usual sideline comedic conversation.
I leaned over. “By the way, this is my friend, Felicia.”
“Hi Felicia. I’m Tammy.”
I smiled. Now I knew.
Through life-frayed edges,
A mulberry paper heart
Beats strongly within.
I set the packet in front of the 2nd grade English Language Learners. We were studying grammar and linking sentences in the context of learning about some of the more well known presidents. They scanned through the faces until they came to our current president.
“Oooh, that’s our president.” they cooed in unison, spilling over with excitement. “Barak Obama. He’s our president.” The adoration was palpable.
It was hard to pull them back to the task at hand as the conversation drifted onto the topic of politics and a mutual dislike for Donald Trump. As we reached end of the packet, another photo of the president pulled out more bright-eyed cooing. Their task was to create a compound sentence about the photo.
“President Obama is special.”
“Yes, but why is he special? You need to add to your sentence.”
“President Obama is special because he is nice.”
In all of my interactions with students, I have never seen the connection with a political official before now. I have been in classrooms where students parrot dislike for a candidate, and I become a fly on the wall at their family dinner conversations. I have seen students’ confusion over the whole process. In second grade, their idea of president is pretty limited. This is the first time I had seen actual love for a president.
President Obama ran on a platform of hope and inclusion. It’s nice to know that message reached some young minds. There may be hope for democracy yet.
Home life is quiet now. Too quiet.
If you would have asked me five years ago if my house would ever be quiet, I would have laughed. Smartypants lived 20 miles away at college and would come home on weekends, bringing with him his boisterous laughter and penchant for conversation. Bubbly, talkative Sunshine was still at home, and we shopped, cooked, and crafted between school, dance competitions and sleepovers with friends. Goose became a trumpet player and Maverick finessed his soccer moves or basketball shots. We relished each other’s company. They fought and laughed. We nagged and teased. The family pulse was beating strongly. Quiet came when no one was home, when work and school and obligations rendered the house devoid of life
If you would have asked me ten years ago if my house would ever be quiet, I would have rolled my eyes. Sunshine would have just entered her teen years, complete with slamming doors and shouting about parental atrocities and the unfairness of it all. Smartypants would have still been at home, and the revolving door of his life would have brought friends and a girlfriend, student journalism and robotics, and down time always brought the sound of his guitar. Goose and Maverick would have been alternating between the fantasy world of swordplay and wrestling each other to the ground, small warriors taunting each other with fighting words. Warm summer evenings found us around the fire, with lightsaber fights breaking the tranquility of the night. Remnants of Scattergories, Scrabble and Settlers littered the kitchen table, bearing witness to lively family game nights. Mario Kart challenges were heated, with trash talk and shouts of victory. The speed of life in these days was always at a run. Goose especially lived at full volume and never quite knew how to pull punch. Quiet was relative, and came late at night.
If you would have asked me fifteen years ago if my house would ever be quiet, I would have looked at you with wide-eyed, shell-shocked wonder. Smartypants would have been a fifth grader with too many activities on his plate, balancing them with Cat in the Hat finesse. Dinners were often on the run. Sunshine’s life revolved around dance classes and play dates, and the Goose and Maverick’s favorite activity was to strip down to their birthday suits and run laughing from one end of the house to the other. Taekwondo high kicks competed with twirling and cartwheels, creating a circus-like atmosphere, the cacophony of children’s voices shouting over
each other and laughter, always laughter, ringing through the house. There was usually a pretend animal lurking somewhere, and it turns out superheroes are rarely stealthy, at least when they are young. Disney jams were on constant repeat, creating a daily dance party in the living room. Silence was to be found in a locked master bathroom, and then only when Mr. A was home.
If you would have asked me twenty years ago if my house would ever be quiet, I would have smiled, as it would not have mattered. Smartypants and Sunshine lit up my world, their days were filled with pretend play and requests, constant requests, for those things young children can’t do for themselves. Mommy, can I have some milk? Can you tie my shoes? Can we go to the park? Can we go for a walk? Will you read me a story? In those days, Barbie shoes and Legos created a barefoot walker’s nightmare, and we skirted them as carefully as we skirt conversation topics now. Silence came at with an early bedtime and a chance for two young parents to finally reconnect.
If you would have asked me twenty-five years ago if my house would ever be quiet, I would not have known how to answer you. We had just entered into this world of parenthood with a colicky, precious little Smartypants. I wore down the sidewalk in front of my house as I tried to soothe him, patting his back so my husband could sleep, grateful for the summer warmth. My days were spent introducing him to his new world, and rediscovering it myself through his sense of wonder. He walked at ten months and ran soon after, and he only slowed down to sleep. The music of my world was infant crying and baby giggles and babbling, then questions and observations from a knee high level. There was no need for silence.
But silence is descending, as sure as the rains come. It will be mere months before Goose and Maverick prime their wings and head off to college. Sunshine still calls frequently, but lives halfway across the country. We are lucky to hear from Smartypants once or twice a month. Very soon we will be true empty-nesters. The prospect of freedom has liberating appeal, quick and light travel, art and writing uninterrupted by small voices, a clean house, making food that is to my liking. (No more spaghetti – ever.)
But those small voices beckon from the past. “Mommy, look at me!” And as I look at them, I am overwhelmed with a sense of pride to see the people they’ve become.
Cool tears assuage the pain as though my feet
Have stumbled over shards of glass so fine
That you contrived to throw where we might meet,
And in your tantrum bold have drawn a line.
Your viewpoint is confirmed, my dear, not mine,
For I believe concession is an art.
In meeting of the minds we may align
To face the future tethered at the heart.
The fragile bonds of trust may tear apart
When scornful words are cast about at will.
In your defense you say we’ve pulled apart
While in my heart I know I love you still,
And wish with all my soul you’d sweep those shards
Of stubbornness and fix this house of cards.
Is it February already?
The new year leaped out of the gate and is already well on its way around the track, while I have had my head down, distracted by events unfolding in the state of Oregon. It’s fair to say that the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge with its band of rough-and-tumble cowboy wannabes in the southeastern part of my state has captured my complete attention.
Before you imaging me in a darkened room hunched over the small, glimmering light of a single computer screen, let me assure you that through this addiction I was able to go about my daily life of work, family, and responsibilities… barely.
For forty-one days I was glued to my Twitter feed, scouring articles about events and perspectives that led up to this occupation, reviewing recent right-wing revisionist history and being introduced to some interesting conspiracy theories. I learned about underhanded efforts to release public lands to state and private interests, and witnessed the groundswell of support for those lands. Toward the end, I joined 60,000 others in listening to an intense live feed of FBI approaching the encroachers in a last-ditch attempt to round them up before things really got out of hand. I listened in as deal was made, and the next morning they all finally walked off the refuge to a collective hallelujah from law enforcement and most who were following the story.
I looked up and found myself in early February. I felt a little dirty, like I’d been a witness to my neighbors bringing their dirty laundry to air on my front porch, but now that they were gone, balance was restored and life could go on as before.
What did I hope to accomplish in 2016? Well, first and foremost, I intended to write. This didn’t happen. Though I managed to squeeze a couple of small pieces out, most attempts were colored with the issue I was focused on or had an icing of negativity that is born of the insecurity that comes from instability. It’s now time to play catch-up.
Another of my ongoing goals is training for distance running. At my age, that sounds ridiculously focused, but it’s a fact that to get this old body moving on any level requires training, one step in front of the other, increases of distance daily and weekly. I managed to get myself to the gym, though I watched CNN and checked my Twitter feed instead of my regular treadmill routine of watching Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. I’m on track for some nice runs come spring.
Life feels lighter now. The cloud is lifting, and my brain is engaging.
Bring on 2016!
If you, too, are interested in the occupation, here’s a great article from High Country News.
In response to The Daily Post’s prompt: How is the year shaping up for you so far? Have your predictions come true, or did you have to face a curve ball or two?
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