Posts Tagged ‘children’


December 13, 2012

If it was up to me I’d cancel Christmas this year.  My dad died in May and it seems easier to just let the holiday pass without a glance.  I’m content to listen to silence rather than carols on the radio in the car on the way to work every morning. The beautiful Christmas cards I bought last January at seventy-five percent off are still in the box in the attic, and Grandma’s cookie recipes lay dormant in their file box.  December 25th is thirteen days away and the only shopping I’ve done is for my boys.  They gave me the list I asked for and I didn’t deviate from it, shopping online.  My children are older now, and they seem to understand my mood.

Christmas is less than two weeks away and my energy is funneled into the 1910 buggy shed attached to the house that originally belonged to my grandparents. We’ve gutted it and I’m building a room.  I’ve traded in my holiday sweaters for overalls and work gloves.  I sweep sawdust, prepare rough pine boards to be planed, hold the level, and read the rule. I’ve learned to show a hammer who’s boss, and I stand back to admire the recycled window that takes up almost an entire wall. I breathe in the scent of pine boards and feel the spirit of my grandpa around me. He was a carpenter.

On Christmas day, I’ll stop working in the backroom long enough  to prepare a Christmas meal of country ham, scalloped potatoes, green bean casserole, waldorf salad, and dinner rolls. Then, I’ll pull out Grandma’s rum cake recipe and prepare it just the way she did.  We’ll welcome our family, share a feast, open a few gifts, and enjoy a cup of egg nog and a piece of rum-soaked cake. We’ll miss my dad.


While I measured and helped cut boards tonight, my boys dragged the artificial Christmas tree down the attic stairs and rearranged the living room to make a space for it. They plugged in the lights and fluffed the branches, then decorated it with their individual glass ornaments, the ones I’ve ordered each year from a crafter who specializes in paper cuttings sandwiched between two round pieces of glass. The boys choose the highlight of their year for each of their ornaments. They keep these treasures in a box under their beds.  All the other ornaments are stored away in the recesses of the attic.

Ben and Ryan stuck their heads around the door to the backroom. I stood holding a beam in place as Bruce worked the hydraulic jack to raise the roof a few inches higher to level it.

“The tree’s kind of plain Mom,” Ryan said.

“Yeah, it could use some color,” Ben agreed.

I remembered a conversation I’d had with my dad years ago. He told me the story of when he was a little boy and my grandma didn’t have money enough to decorate the Christmas tree. She tied string to their Christmas cards and trimmed the tree with them. He said it was the prettiest Christmas tree he’d ever seen.

I shared the story with my boys. They turned and left the room.

I’ve done all the work I can do for the night. I’m ready to fall into bed. I dust off my jacket and walk back into the house. To my left is our Christmas tree adorned with the highlights of my boys lives and the Christmas cards we’ve received so far this year.

I have to agree with my dad. It is a beautiful tree.



‘Tis the Season

December 3, 2012


The thrift store seems more crowded than usual. I push the shopping cart toward house wares in the back. I need some vases for the nursing home. I can buy used ones for fifty-five cents. One of the local grocery stores has donated five cases of roses for our residents. It’s Christmas time and people want to do something nice for old people who don’t have family.

I turn down the children’s clothing aisle and five people have to move aside to let me by. Past that, shoppers line the perimeter of the space filled with larger items. An ugly chair upholstered in a black and brown patterned geometric fabric squats next to one of those wooden crate sofas, popular in the seventies. It has no cushions. A  pool table with a tear in its felt stands at a tilt, and a toddler’s red race car bed is missing its mattress. Three mismatched dining chairs, a kidney shape glass-topped coffee table, and a leaning brass floor lamp complete the sad ensemble.

A small bent man wearing white patent leather shoes, skinny jeans, a shiny silver belt, and a plaid button down dress shirt pulls the white tag off the naked sofa and turns toward the cashier, saying to himself, “I think I can find some cushions down the road.”

As I load the cart with glass bud vases, I hear three little girls vying for their mother’s attention with their questions:

“I like this one, can we get this one?”

“No Mommy, this one, it’s prettier.”

“I like the first one. It’s purple. I love purple. You love purple too Mommy, don’t you?”

“Quit arguing,” their mother says. “Or we won’t get any of them.”

The three little girls point out other things, asking if they can put this or that into the cart. If they can take things home to play with. “No.” Their mother says, her voice rising. “We’re not here to buy things for you.”

I find six green vases, three clear, one heart-shaped, and four white ones. I won’t pay over a dollar for any. The largest ones are ninety-five cents.  With the bottom of the cart covered, I turn toward the book shelves. I hit pay dirt finding two books on CD, James Patterson’s I Alex Cross, and Fanny Flagg’s Welcome to the World Baby Girl. They aren’t priced, so they cost only a dollar each.

Over in the holiday decorations, I can still hear the three little girls talking over top of one another, listing things they want for Christmas, asking their mother what she thinks Santa will bring.

The line to checkout stretches halfway down the aisle of women’s blouses.  The cashier calls for backup. A woman in a blue uniform comes from the ninety-five cent bin section, steps to the cash register opposite mine, and the line splits. When I reach my turn, I find myself across from the woman and her three little girls. They surround the cart as their mother places a box of purple Christmas ornaments, several pieces of clothing, a glass bowl, a basket, and some sort of game in a box on the counter.

“We can open it when we get home,” the smallest girl says to one of her sisters.

“God Dammit, I told you No three times already,” her mother yells. “It’s for your brother for Christmas.”

The little girls stop talking, all three look up to their mother. People around them stop talking. The store becomes still and quiet.

“That’ll be six twenty-four,” the cashier says.

The woman hands over the money, takes her bag, and the three little girls follow her out of the store.

Tornado Warning

April 24, 2011


My grandma said dark clouds hold wind.  Some of those clouds blew in from the west.

 Everything got real still. The air held its breath. Birds found a place to settle in trees, held fast, quieted. Crickets and frogs stopped singing and listened instead.

 The air shifted to cool and heavy. Wind picked up from the southwest, and the sky turned greenish–gray.   Eerie, that’s what I remember about the afternoon. It was eerily quiet just before the wind really picked up. 

 I opened the front door and looked toward the Blue Ridge Mountains. Black clouds moved east, toward the house. Usually, clouds close in slowly, gradually inching east over the mountains and through the sky, covering the clear and filling the empty space.  They form a line and don’t cross the treetops until all of them are together in formation, a unified front. 

 This time, they rolled in faster and with a force.  It was like they were in a hurry to create battle and needed to sneak up on everyone.

 “Watch out for those dark clouds,” I heard my Grandma say. “Pay attention. If they start to reach for the ground with little fingers, get down low, cover your head,” she warned.

 I gathered the children.  Our basement is a hole under the house, more like a root cellar than a family room. The door faces our vegetable garden. There’s one tiny, dingy window that puts the yard at eye level. 

 The boys wrestled our scratching, meowing ball of fur and claws, and held him tight as we ran through the downpour.   We pushed the door open and entered the musty, damp, cold space.  A grave came to mind.  

 When my life is in turmoil, I dream of tornadoes. I can’t find my children or get to the basement in time. Just as my last fingertip grip is pulled away by the wind, I wake to a fast heartbeat in my ears.

I’d done everything right, gotten us all down low and the drum of my heart still beat loudly in my ears.  

 The boys jumped up and down, squealing with excitement, opening the door to peek out.

 “Close that door,” I yelled.

 The door slammed shut and the children used their sleeves to wipe the dirt off the window. We had our backs to the weather outside. The storm was swirling toward us from the west, and the basement faces east. With an increase in the wind, hail arrived. It hit the ground and bounced, nickel size pieces of ice falling from the sky, bright white in the green grass of spring. 

 “It looks like popcorn,” one of the boys said.

 The sky turned late-evening dark and I kept waiting for the sound of a freight train.  We didn’t hear it, but the rain fell in curtains across the yard.  We couldn’t see the clothesline.

 Then, as suddenly as it came, the clouds lifted and the sky lightened.  The boys ran out and began throwing pieces of hail at each other, ducking and laughing, splashing barefoot through the puddles in the yard.

 I took a deep breath, cradling the cat as I stepped out of the basement, and  lifted my eyes to the sky in search of a rainbow.

On Learning a Lesson

March 5, 2011


I underestimate my youngest boy. Most of the time he surprises me in the end.  He decided, at the last minute, to try out for the high school baseball team.  In our town, if you don’t start baseball at the earliest age, follow through with private hitting lessons, then Fall ball,  and finally, Winter conditioning, you are not taking the game seriously. You don’t get picked. Everyone knows it.

Ryan’s older brother did all the  things expected of him.  In thirteen years of baseball, encompassing all the above into his routine, and with his determination, love of pitching, and the defensive play of his equally committed teammates, he won a State Championship. Ben never missed a practice, or a game until his face caught a line-drive off the bat of the player he was pitching to. He refused to have his nose reset and his sinus bone was too fractured to be repaired. The one game he missed was under doctor’s orders. His spirit was on the field. His body stood behind the fence at home plate, clinging, cheering his teammates on. He was back on the pitcher’s mound in less than a week, throwing for thirteen strike-outs. Baseball kept him together. Baseball was serious business. Baseball was his passion.

Ryan does things his own way.  His priorities are what suits him at the moment.  Baseball is a spring sport that takes a back burner to a birthday party or a trip to the theme park. No summer ball for him, he goes to the beach when the weather’s hot. To heck with Fall ball, bike rides on mountain trails are much more fun.  His thumbs are the only parts of his body  that get a serious workout in winter, playing Xbox-Live with his buddies. It’s all about his friends and fun. That’s his passion.

He put his baseball bat down two years ago in favor of a paintball gun, and hadn’t picked up the Louisville Slugger again until the night before tryouts. He hadn’t thrown a baseball in two years either.  His cleats no longer fit and his baseball pants had long been donated to the local thrift store.

“I need some metal cleats for tryouts,” he said to me Monday.  He had the day off from school for President’s Day.  “and some baseball pants.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I’m trying out for the baseball team,” he said.

“Really?” I asked. He’d just bought a new paintball gun, and won all kinds of nifty stuff at a paintball tournament for his tactical skill. He hadn’t practiced or played baseball in two years.  Why would I waste money on a pair of metal cleats that would last him a week of tryouts?  Baseball pants are twenty-five dollars a pair and all the ones at the thrift store are picked over or sold already.  Baseball season here starts at the end of January (not the actual season, but for the serious players it begins while snow is still forecasted.)

“When are tryouts?” I asked.

“They start tomorrow afternoon after school.”

“And you didn’t know this until today?”

“No I knew about it last week. I just decided I’d go out for the team today.”

This is Ryan, flying by the seat of his pants, decisions made at the last minute, hoping for the best. It’s a wonder I have hair left on my head.

 “Do you know how much I’m going to have to pay for cleats this close to season, even if we find a pair in your size?”

“My old ones were too little anyway,” he rationalized.

We went to the store, and Ryan found cleats on clearance a half size too big.  “I’ll wear an extra pair of socks,” he said.  We found a pair of gray baseball pants in his size.  He knew better than to ask for a three hundred dollar bat.

When we got home, he went into the attic and dug around for his brother’s gear.  He dragged the bat and glove downstairs and went outside for thirty minutes of practice with his Dad.

I heard the “ping, ping, ping” of ball on bat and a bit later, the “twack” of ball in glove. They are sounds I associate with spring and boys. I smiled a bittersweet smile.  It was a shame that he would have to learn the lesson that putting down a bat and glove for two years, at the crucial point of eighth and ninth grades, would land him a cut on the high school team.  This was a lesson he needed to learn on his own though. I was supportive of his efforts and gave him the supplies and encouragement he needed.

We were eating supper that night when Ryan said, “Oh, I need a physical before I can try out.”

My hand hit my forehead and I glared at the boy. “Tryouts start tomorrow Ryan,” I said. “You have school tomorrow.”

“School doesn’t close and the doctor’s office doesn’t just stop what they’re doing to let you come have a physical,” Bruce said, looking up from his potato salad.  “You need to learn to plan ahead, son.”

“Can you call them Mom and just see if I can get one sometime tonight or tomorrow?”

I could feel the steam rising in me, now a physical.  I slammed the phone book onto the table and started flipping pages.  Ryan came up and hugged me from behind.  “Here,” he said, taking the phone book  from me, “let me look it up for you.”

“We can fit him in at 5:45 tomorrow evening. That’s the earliest we can do,” Sharon, the evening nurse said to me. I growled out my frustration to her about teenagers, and she said, “Yeah tell me about it, my Jared was in here for his physical just today because he didn’t tell me about baseball tryouts until Saturday.”  It made me feel better, that I wasn’t alone in this journey through teenagedom.

“I’ll just go to the first meeting after school and tell the coach I have my physical appointment at 5:45,” Ryan said.  “Maybe they’ll let me practice without the form.”

They didn’t.  He called at five minutes after four to tell me that the coaches had to have his physical form before they would let him step foot on the field. I picked him up from the parking lot.  He missed the first day of tryouts.

He remembered to take his physical form to school the next day and knew to turn it in to the Athletic Secretary.  She wasn’t at her desk when he went by, so he kept it in his bat bag.  The baseball field is behind the Elementary School,  a half mile across the road from the high school. The potential players were there, answering roll call for practice the second day when Ryan’s name wasn’t called.  He raised his hand with his form.

“You have to have the initials from the Athletic Secretary before you can practice,” the coach said.  “You can run up to the school and bring it back signed if you want to practice.”  

Now he had two strikes against him, but he ran to the school and back with the signed paper, got in line for drills, and when he poured himself into the car at six thirty after practice, he was more tired than I’ve ever seen him.

Later that night, he came into the bedroom where I was.  “You’re going to be really mad at me,” he said.

That statement is usually followed by a reason why he failed a test, quiz or couldn’t hand in a paper on time. “What now?” I asked.  

“I left my backpack on the baseball field,” he said.

I put my coat on over my pajamas, handed Ryan the flashlight, and drove him to the school.  His backpack  wasn’t there.

“I hope one of the coaches put it in his car,” Ryan said.  “He probably did. I’ll check in the Athletic office tomorrow.”

All I could do was shake my head and think.  Hmmm, there’s your third strike.  Coach figures 1.  Kid can’t get his physical on time, misses first practice. 2. Can’t follow directions, has to miss part of second practice running to have form signed. 3. Now, can’t keep up with his things, I have to tote his books around for him.  In my mind, Ryan didn’t have a chance.  I began wondering what use I might have for a size eleven and a half pair of metal baseball cleats.  I guessed I could put them on myself with four pairs of socks, and aerate the yard.  The baseball pants would just be a loss, too stretchy, too small.

Thursday was rainy, no practice. Friday brought high wind warnings with sixty mile gusts, no practice. I got a text message from Ryan before I left work.  “If it’s OK, I’m going to Tomas’ to spend the night.  Tryouts are from ten to one tomorrow.  Can you pick me up at nine, so I can get some breakfast first?”

Sure, I thought. You’ll stay up until all hours, refining Xbox or paintball strategy with Tomas and drag around on the baseball field tomorrow morning for the coaches.  Lessons, I thought to myself, we all have to learn lessons.

Ryan is not a morning person.  He was standing at the end of Tomas’ driveway with his arms folded and his eyes closed.  He dropped into the seat and laid his head over onto the passenger window.  We drove home in silence.  He sat for twenty minutes watching cartoons, eating an egg and cheese bagel I handed him, then got dressed fifteen minutes before ten.  He arrived on the field at exactly ten o’clock.

My phone rang at five after one.  “I’m ready,” he said. “Can you come and pick me up?”

He got in the car smiling.  “Good practice?” I asked.

“I made the team,” he said.

“You did?” I asked trying to hide my surprise. I should have known. When Ryan decides to do something, he puts all of his effort into the thing.  He is competitive and tenacious when he wants to be.  He dug deep and remembered all those drills from Little League and Babe Ruth ball.  He caught with two hands, gripped the bat knuckles over knuckles and stepped into the pitch. He made his first step back in the outfield and took a secondary lead off first when it mattered.

“Yeah, JV.  And guess what?” Ryan asked, leaning back against the seat with his eyes closed and a smile on his face.

“What?” I asked.

“Stevie, Aaron and Josh are on the team too. Remember them from Little League? They were hilarious.  It’s gonna be a good season.”

For Ryan, it’s not about finding one passion in Kindergarten and sticking with it to the end. It’s about trying on different suits, maybe a baseball uniform in spring, swimming trunks in summer, and bicycle shorts in fall. He likes the look and feel of camouflage for paintball tournaments  down the road in Glasgow, and a pair of worn sweats while sitting in his gaming chair, headset donned in winter, giving his thumbs a workout. He’s figuring things out his way, and always finding friends along the way.  

He’s also teaching his mother a few lessons in the process.

Eyes at the Elevator

January 29, 2011

Their eyes caught and held me, all four pairs of those eyes, big, round, searching, and scared. Maybe I was reading into them, maybe not.  The four children stood with their parents at the elevator in the nursing home, waiting for the doors to open.  As I met their gazes, each of the children looked down, as did their mother. The father didn’t. He glared, stern-faced, like he was daring me to continue eye contact.

I put on my best smile and gave a cheerful, “Hello, how are you today?”

“Fine,” he said, and looked away, dismissing me to frown up at the numbers above the elevator door.

Each of the children carried a package.  The boy, older and taller than the girls, held a bucket of fried chicken, the oldest girl, a sheet cake with “Happy Birthday Dad” written in grocery store script across it.  One of the girls clutched a Kroger bag, and the smallest one, about four, carried a plastic bag with plates, plastic utensils, napkins and cups. The mother carried a large black purse. The father gripped a French bread baguette.

I beamed, and clasped my hands together. “Wow, a traveling party,” I said, looking at the birthday cake.

The smallest girl looked up at me and said, “It’s Grandpa’s birthday. We brought Hazard.” She pointed at her mother’s purse.

“Hazard?” I asked.  

“Our dog,” she whispered, barely smiling .

“We called to make sure he could visit,” the father interjected. “We follow rules.”

“We love dogs here,” I said, smiling at the little girl. “Dogs and children.” I winked at her.

The mother unzipped the end of her purse and a small, black nose stuck out. “He’s a miniature Doberman Pinscher,” she said.

“He’s beautiful,” I said, reaching out to pet his head.

“Push the button,” the man barked at his wife.

“I did,” she said, pushing the button repeatedly and staring at it, like she was wishing her touch could make it work.

“Are there steps in this place?” The husband snapped.  

“Sure, right around the corner here,” I said leading the way, the man following me.

He stood over my shoulder as I punched the code into the alarm and opened the door for the family to pass through.  They descended the stairs one at a time as the man stood over the group, wielding his baguette.

I followed them downstairs, and when I passed Mr. Eldridge’s room, the smallest girl looked up from where she stood in a corner of the room. She smiled at me and gave a small wave before the door clicked shut.


January 23, 2011

Ben calls. It’s not unusual to get a call from him, they generally come mid-afternoon, when a good grade is handed back, or at dinner time to see what we’re all enjoying after he’s been to the “Caf” for a supper with no seasoning. What’s unusual about this call is how late it comes, and Ben’s demeanor. His ADHD now expresses itself in his over-focus on organization and cleaning, and in his verbiage. He has to get the words out, let them run, until his thoughts have emptied from his brain. We listen to all the news, weather, and sports, then it’s our turn to talk. Tonight is different.

“Hey Mama, whatcha up to?”

“Just getting ready for bed, what’s up with you?”

“Just checking in. I’ve been working on my Senior Thesis, rough draft is due tomorrow. Do you mind giving it a read for me?” Ben usually sends his final drafts to me to read for any glaring inconsistencies, repetition, grammar glitches, punctuation misfires. I highlight parts he needs to look at again, give my thoughts at the end and he decides on revision.

“It’s a rough draft, right? Just turn it in.”

“It’s my Senior Thesis though. I want it to at least make sense in a rough draft.”

“Ok, send it and I’ll do a read through.”

“Thanks Mom.” Silence on the other end. No “goodbye” or “I love you,” just a long quiet space. I wait. Finally, I think he’s hung up.


“I’m still here.” More silence.

Now I’m worried. “What is it? Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, just on RA probation.”

My thoughts turn party. He’s gotten caught partying with his buds, or worse, with the freshmen on his hall. “Probation? For what?”

“It’s been a damn rough week. I’ve had this Senior Thesis draft due, been on duty three days, had five hours of sleep in two days, and my RA programming was due. On top of that, one of my students was having a crisis last night and I was up most of the night dealing with that. I didn’t have time to write up the damn programming, so I turned in the form and wrote on it I didn’t have time to deal with it.”

“How did that get you on probation?”

“My boss called and said my attitude’s been different since I came back to school, said I have “Senioritis.” He said I wasn’t setting a very good example. So, I’m on probation. John, my boss, said my form was a “passive-aggressive FU.”

Now I know my boy. He usually sees one side of a situation, and that’s his own. I remember his senior year in high school. His last semester handed him the only Discipline referral he ever received. He got it for arguing with a teacher about dress code. Ben was wearing flip flops, and got called on it. The teacher was also wearing flip flops. Ben reminded her that teachers had a dress code too. He is a stickler for fairness, always has been.

I’ve heard rumblings of uneven workloads on RA’s, how training is repetitious and unnecessary, how RA’s are talked down to in meetings. Then, when Ben is called down for attitude, he doesn’t mince words. He tells his supervisors exactly what he thinks. Ben is growing and he’s stretching his big wings and he’s doing it with no finesse. He’s exactly like his Dad, and now it’s gotten him on probation.

“Was it a passive-aggressive FU, Ben?”

“I don’t think so. I was tired, worn out tired, and I didn’t have time to sit there and plan some stupid activity that no one would show up for anyway. You’d think I got caught at a party with my students. That’s what RA’s get probation for.”

“It might not be just from this incident. Maybe things have built up.”

More silence on the other end. He’s counting the times he’s said something that wasn’t filtered. “They ought to be in my shoes for just one week,” he says. “I have a good mind to quit.”

“Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face,” I caution. “Remember, this is a paid gig. You get a private room. You like your students, and being an RA. This will look good on your resume. You have three and a half months to go.”

“I know,” he says. “Let me know what you think of the paper. I think you’ll like the first part. I did that “hook” thing you were talking about.”

“Ok, I will. I love you. Get some sleep. Things will look better tomorrow.”

“Love you too. Bye.”

I hung up the phone with a sigh.

“What was that all about?” Bruce asks over his cup of coffee.

I tell him the story.

Bruce harrumphs, “He should have called his boss and said, “I’ve spent all week writing a fifteen page paper, on top of pulling duty and staying up all night helping one of my students with a crisis. Forget the passive-aggressive part, F. U.”

Yep, that’s why Bruce is in business for himself. Glad Ben caught me when he called instead of his Dad.