Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Olfactory

    In a drugstore recently I found myself in the sunscreen section.  Trying to decide which brand to purchase, which brand offered the best SPF coverage, what is the best SPF, etc. suddenly seemed an overwhelming task.
    First thing I want to mention is that it's amazing the imagery that a simple sniff of suntan lotion can conjure up. Just a tiny whiff of the coconut can instantly produce grainy sand between your toes, transistor radios, and salty air.  And if one is really lucky, one might hear the repetitive crash of the surf, or even the sounds of shrieks of a roller coaster nearby on the boardwalk.
     If your suntan lotion fantasy is lucky enough to include said boardwalk then your memories could be brimming with cliche beach snapshots. That nearby boardwalk represents distant fun, and heady sugary smells that hang in the air like a sweet dense cloud.  The clickety-clack of the roller coaster on the wooden tracks or the piped organ music from some cheap ride can be heard in the air.
   Lost in thought, I suddenly looked down at my watch. Running late,  I put the cap back on the  Hawaiian Tropic lotion and made my way towards the front of the store.











Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Wonderings. . .


    I can't look at my grandmother's or my great grandmother's silver and wonder not just what this beautiful, delicate piece of silver was used for, but also to imagine who might have held this piece last, and where were they? Or even what was the occasion?
    Lucky enough for me, I have my grandmother's mahogany pedestal table from the Empire period.  I love having a holiday meal at this grand ole regal piece of furniture, and to peer at my own immediate family sitting across from me, and think, "Oh how I wish my grandmother could see me now!"  Or,  "I sure wish she could meet Emma and Max."
   I think she would love that her table made it all the way to California from North Carolina and that it is the best-not too mention most finely made piece of furniture I own.  I think she would be happy that we gather around it, sharing good times, and making memories.
   Now I set the silver down lovingly.  I imagine a bygone time with ice boxes and pie safes.   I think of ice tea, and suppers in the middle of the day, and I smile contently to myself.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Detours

 "Everyone knows exactly what they want to study.  Everyone knows exactly what they want to major in, and even what career they want,"  my son confidently told me.  "I have no idea," he lamented.  "I would just waste your money," he spoke softer now.  My son was explaining why he did not want to go away to school this year. We had spoken passionately about this many times. As usual I knew nothing of his experience. Holy smokes!  My experience was over thirty years ago. My college dilemmas were nothing like his. I knew nothing. Everything now was completely different.
    I searched his face, and knew it was time to take a break. As I quietly closed his bedroom door I padded down the hall and remembered my own senior summer. Lately, my mind had wandered to my own major and concluded that I probably should have been an art major.  I can only imagine what path my life had taken had I followed something I was good at, something I loved, or even something that came easy to me.
    Nooooooo- I was raised in a "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps," mentality.  In my family, my father's mantra was basically,  "One must struggle," "One must be hard on oneself," and of course,  "One must take risks."  These thoughts were somehow ingrained into us.  So, somehow I ended up as a freshman with a major that I guess I enjoyed but  it was also so hard for me.   Combine that major with living far away from home, performing daily, being critiqued consistently by peers and professors- it  simply spelled a recipe that quickly wreaked havoc on my self esteem.
   However, I did survive.  I need to remember that. I smiled slightly at that memory.  And like Dorothy Parker quipped, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."  My bare feet curled up the carpet at the end of the hallway and I glanced wistfully down the hall at his closed door. I could almost smell the frustration on the other side of that door.  I turned back, headed down the stairs, with the knowledge that my son is destined for his own share of detours.  And that is more than okay.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A Delicate Balance

    A few days ago I learned my youngest had decided against college for now (despite getting into over a dozen schools- and his top choice) and opted for a community college and part time work at a deli.  He really doesn't know what he wants to do.  He admits even community college is a poor second choice but admitted he knew that, "You and Dad would not let me do nothing!"
   How right he is.
   And with our second child always came a whole new menu of doubts.  Questions would shoot off my brain much like a pinball machine. How hard should I push?  Should I push at all?  Should I let him? Should I stop him?
   Six months ago he was diagnosed with clinical depression.  We learned that his typical teenage lethargy (sleeping, not committed, unmotivated, not enthused) now had even deeper roots. I felt like even more of failure.  How could I have missed this? How could I have failed him?
   As I pour over resources that help me learn more about depression, and mental health as we learn  tools together that hopefully will help him cope with life, and his depression I feel a little hopeful. I know it is is delicate balance to maintain. It is delicate balance for both he and I.  This is all we can ever hope for; and that's okay.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Standing Still

  Out walking my dog and eager to get our house and throw on my p.j.s (please don't interfere with my nightly routine) a young, fit runner came by with obligatory earbuds. 
"Oh, Hi!," she gushed warmly, as she spun around. She shot me a smile that stopped me in my tracks.  It was the smile of recognition but the sad thing was it was only on her end. 
 "Hi, who are you?" I blurted unfiltered.
    Immediately, her smile grew broader and my tiny, little third grader, Mackenna came into full view for me.  Except Mackenna was longer tiny, nor a third grader.  She had the body of a gymnast and she was a beauty. 
"Mackenna!" I exclaimed in recognition and hugged her. 
"So good to see you," I quickly recovered.
    And I meant it.  She waved again, still smiling as she turned on her heel, and took off.  I stood frozen, and in awe of the love and warmth she left her wake.  I was conscious of how much this sweet girl had changed and grown.  Memories of her that year flooded me in waves for a few seconds. For a brief moment I could easily picture sweet, capable MacKenna.  She had been able to recognize me easily (even from behind) yet it taken me quite longer to remember her.

Invisible



    There's something we do in our culture, and it's appalling.  We value youth so much that we tend to disregard, or see less merit in people who are older. I couldn't tell you what the cut off point is. I don't even know if there is one?   Is it going on everywhere?  I can't answer that. I couldn't begin to speak about other professions but it's definitely going on in mine.  Somewhere down the line I stopped being a meaningful, vibrant part of my staff.  I stopped being the midway for my principal for advice, innovative methodology,  and an overall source of all things good ( progressive pedagogy, best practices).  Now, don't get me wrong.  I am not a pariah.  I'm just up on a  random shelf somewhere.  I just somehow began to have less value as compared to my peers.
     Luckily, for me I AM older, and I don't get my own value, or validation from my boss, or my colleagues.  I get it from my kids' faces, or even their thoughts and feelings.  Nevertheless, it is sad.  Although all the older teachers bring different things to the table- what we DO share in common is that what we bring is of merit.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Sweet Escape

   I am LUCKY enough to have a mountain getaway.  Better than any drug, any drink, or even a fine vintage (and "Yes" I really DID just say that) my sneak-away place brings me inner peace like no other physical thing in my life.  The smell of the rustling pines, the warmth of sun and the spill of blue blanketing those pine covered mountains just brings time to a stand still.  That view- that deck- just stops me dead in my tracks- and almost commands me, "Drink Me In!"
     And so I do.  And 

just for that weekend life slows down, and I check out.  Everything is done (if done at all)  on mountain time. Pajamas?  Bit your tongue!  Pajamas are every day wear in the mountains.  Sometimes,  when I wake up I notice the stars peeking through the window.  "Hello Big Dipper," I whisper.  And suddenly, the familiar irritation of waking up in the middle of night fades away, as I lay still, and look at the stars before I drift off.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Change of Heart

I headed off to SDSU to take the world by a storm. With a series of parts under my belt ( supporting and major) I was sure I would be a working actor in either LA or NY.
     Cut to four years later in a group of at least 1000 who all thought the same thing, but had more confidence, seemed to have “ it,” or who knows- were better than me?
   Yeah, my hopes and dreams got mutilated and pulverized pretty damn quick. It was a painful time.
   Towards the end of my senior year I began to get involved in children’s theatre. We toured local elementary schools and had a “ Q&A” after each performance. I don’t know when it exactly happened but I began to enjoy and even look forward to their crazy questions and wonderings. Somehow, I just soaked up the children’s “ holy curiosity.”
   That’s how I went into teaching and I have never regretted it. Their purity, energy and innocence  gets me through life. It is beautiful. I almost feed off it. And my theatre background comes into use daily. In the spring we start adding drama/improvs to our days on Fridays.
   That’s not to say there isn’t drama every day. . . ( wink wink)

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The First One

    Everything looked better from my grandparents brick porch.  The green velvet grass, the spicy smell of the boxwood and the swooping curves of the Elm trees.  Everything looked hopeful from there.  I would sit on the warm bricks, and the skin of my legs would get imprinted w/all the rivulets and crannies.   I could still hear their laughter, and the clinking of their tall glass Tab bottles. but I was a million miles away.  I couldn't quite hear the words they were spelling, but I knew they were engrossed in their nightly Scrabble.
    I would sit w/my head in my hands, waiting. I could sit forever waiting for dusk and anticipation the very first firefly.   There!  There it is . Was that one? Was it my imagination?  I know I saw a red spark.  I thought I did?  The first one is the best.  Is there more? Is it time?  Yes! The second one confirms it.  Then suddenly there are dozens. They are here, and I sigh and relax.

Monday, March 11, 2019

No Warm Fuzzies


I was the youngest of four and truly when I came along I pretty much think my parents were "done."  I remember wandering aimlessly through the house searching vainly for the dozen pictures of me posed on a rug, frozen, all set for my first roll over- yet there were none.  Where was my baby book citing every milestone, lost tooth or first words?  Nowhere.  After four kids I was lucky to get a place setting at the table. Believe me, I was grateful to find that thimble full of Kool-Aid at the bottom of the pitcher.
    So why, do you ask, was I expecting some warm Hallmark moment when my dad took me out to ride a bike on that warm Indiana afternoon?  And I answer, because I was an optimist.  Because I looked down that tree lined street, each tree bowing to us in a splash of crimsons, ochres and oranges, perched perfectly atop my sister's Schwinn Hollywood bike and I thought, "This is it! I'm not the baby anymore! He's going to give me special attention,"or at least that's what I thought.
   My dreams sorta did come true for about seven or so minutes.  He coached me. He guided me.  He held onto the back of the bike.  "He loves me," was my first thought. "This is easy," was my second. And then he let go.  And for a second my bike glided.  Then it hit a broken crack in the sidewalk and I  immediately fell over.  I banged my knee. "Get up!" He ordered.  I looked at him woefully. My knee was burning, and my eyes watered.  We tried again. He stayed with me a bit longer this time and ran along side the bike. My hair was blowing as I gained momentum.  Then he let go again, my bike zig-zagged and I crashed.   This time I landed on a soft mound of grass to the side of the sidewalk and my bike wheel spinned.  I was a bit stunned. "Get back on," he commanded.  This time I was angry.  This isn't fun, I thought bitterly.  I knew that tone.   And in my best interests, I got back on.
    We started down the sidewalk, we were far from our house now and I was disappointed in whole experience.  He was gruff.  I was never going to get the hang of this.  I felt his hand on my seat again.  He started running, and I pedaled faster.  All of sudden I couldn't feel the weight of his hand and he wasn't beside me anymore.  The trees flew by like a movie, and the air seemed to caress my hair.  I did it!  This is it!  He was a blur to the left of me, but I could just make out his hands on his hips, and I could swear he was smiling.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Cool as a cucumber

    I never knew my mother, persay.  Because of her illness I eventually had the task (it really was a gift) of cobbling together memories, and anecdotes from friends in attempt to assemble this person.
   One of the people I interviewed or spoke with was my mom's dear friend, Marian Timothy.  Marian lived three houses down from my grandparents and was not only close to my mother's age but had a brood of children much like my mother did. (Marian wasn't as brave as my mom, though. She had three to my mother's four). They sparked a quick friendship due to our frequent visits to my grandparent's home in Raleigh.  Marian knew my mother before she got sick, and later took on a HUGE role in my mother's rehabilitation, and recovery.
   Leaning back on Marian's gold damask couch that afternoon, pausing only to sip her coffee I vividly remember Marian's story of meeting my mother for the first time. 

    "I think she had brought Sheila, who was a year younger than Liz, " she reminded me.  (Marian's children Marjory, Liz and David mirrored my mother's four kids in age)  "And I just remember your mother wore white.  It floored me, you know because I knew she had four young children- and you know, white was just off limits.  It was a white sleeveless sheath and a purse to match.  We had coffee and chatted.  And then I remember your mother had to go for some reason, and she called out to your sister who was playing in the sun room."
     Marian gestured behind us, as I knew the house quite well myself having played in it many summer vacations in a row.  The sun room was no longer filled with toys, as it had been when we were children but instead now housed many books and large houseplants.  I nodded in acknowledgement.  Marian continued,
     " Your sister did not want to leave, and your mom called out again.  This time she rose quietly, and thanked me graciously for the coffee.  She walked into the sun room and your sister  abruptly threw herself on the floor and began kicking, and screaming.  Virginia scooped her up in one deft move, shifted her purse to her other hand, and thanked me again. We walked to the door, as your sister continued to scream, but by this point was was basically rendered immobile under your mother's right arm. I watched from the window as your mother swiftly walked the few hundred feet to your grandparent's house with her parcel. I will never forget that," she smiled at me then.
"She was cool as a cucumber."

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Hidden Influences

"Hey Morna! We are over here,"  My initial awkwardness subsided as my former student- now in her thirties called out warmly to me, and beckoned me to a big table nestled in the restaurant.  The people stood up one-by-one, some offering their hands to shake, other's hugging, each grinning their not so childlike smiles at me. The memories came back slowly at first, and faces I remembered clearly, while others not so easily.  For some it was the way their eyes crinkled, or their grins spread across their face, or even just how they tilted their heads to trip my memory.  Immediately, my brain was full of things I hadn't thought about in what seemed like forever.  I traveled back in time for that moment- to the nineties- when my hair was big and I listened to Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins.
   It didn't take long to love them again, enjoy them, listening their peals of laughter.  I marveled at their vivid recollections of things like our Greek Athens simulations, treks to the S.F.  Exploratorium, and even Outdoor Ed at the Marin Headlands.
   Amazed, I sit back to learn they attend each others weddings,  or hear one  respectfully ask about someone's parent, or even inquire about another classmate they have lost track of.
   How did this little micro family form?  Was I so busy teaching cursive, and long division that I never saw this happening?
    I didn't pay attention to anything on the road when I drove home that night. I was lost in thought.  I floated home.  I wanted to bottle that feeling I had that night for the rest of my life.   I would take that bottle and bury it deep in my satchel. I might pull the bottle out from time to time.
Just like Superman getting power from the sun.  For instance, I would bring it out during standardized testing, and take a deep whiff like a smelling salt.  "Ah, yes! (it will remind me) THIS is why I teach!"

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Severed Branch

    My mother's "accident" happened when I was 3.  She was here one day, and gone the next.  No warning, no indicator- just POOF and gone.  Six minutes w/o oxygen left her oddly with the aptitude of a 12 year old.  (This was after two years of intensive therapy at Duke Hospital) This intellectual stage, the nurses said was a testimony to my mother's intelligence prior to her accident. I quickly learned the value of life, as well as telling people how you feel in that very moment.  All four of us kids well knew that moment may never come again. We were well versed in tragedy, or so we thought.
    My sister is gone now, too. Not in the same way, not under the same conditions, but nonetheless still "gone."  Two years ago she came to stay with me and my family. The idea was she would live rent free to get back on her feet- as her 30 year marriage had ended.  She moved in with us from out of state. We went from random occasional visits to living together.  Inside of two weeks I learned she was a raging alcoholic. She was in rehabs four times the year she lived in California.  Each time unsuccessful, and each rehab stint progressively worse.  Presently, she lives with someone she has met online and is completely cut off from all family.
    I don't know who this person is.  I don't know if she will ever get well.  On one hand, she is "gone" yet, she is technically alive.  Or is she?

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Converted

I have always been a cat lover for as long as I can remember.  We have always had cats.  I preferred the lofty, anti-social black ones but my last one was an orange tabby named, Lance.  Lance, my husband Brian and I decided, was a "Cog." He was a cat that thought he was a dog.  He was so laid back, so friendly (or maybe lacking brain cells) that he didn't even run when a stray dog got in our yard.  Lance tried (in vain) to befriend it.  Keep in mind, this lasted all of say, 30 seconds- but the point is- he did try.  Lance lived to be twenty, and he lived through the infancy and toddlerdom of two additions to the family.  And let's just put it this way- he survived MANY pick ups by his tail with barely a flinch.  Lance was not just kid proof, he was one-of-a-kind.  The whole family held him, petted, and stroked him in the exam room when the vet suggested we put him to sleep. Lance's  kidneys had failed.  We loved him so.
   So, never having a dog before, and Lance leaving big paws to fill, were big obstacles for my family.  My husband read books, researched online and all the while I thought to myself, "How hard can this be?" What is the big deal?
    Well, after taking days off to potty train her, getting up in the middle of the night early on to take her to the bathroom, taking her to puppy school and back to training I began to not only take in the huge responsibility of a dog, but also to fall deeply.
   To walk in the door, and yell out, "Helloooo, I'm home," to a deafening silence of adolescent indifference is mighty sad.  However, to lay my things down only to be almost bowled over by a mop of curls who smells like a bag of old Fritos is a pretty darn good.
   Who else would want to ride in the front seat with me to exciting places like the post office, and then hear all about my day?

Monday, March 4, 2019

Cutting Apron Strings

    I can't tell you when it happened.  I wish I knew.  It wasn't really one time exactly (and maybe that's the problem?) It was a series of events, really.  I think because it was a chain of occurrences that made me pay them no heed. Sort of like a flurry (not a legitimate snow fall) or a quick drizzle (not REAL torrents of rain)-its significance slipped by me.
    One minute we were out in the backyard doing chromotagraphy experiments w/ M-n-m's, or  was it making fizzy drinks w/citric acid? Maybe, it was playing restaurant or when the sleepovers started? I opened the doors to laughter, or secrets and to be told they didn't need anything. I was happy then.  I shut the door contentedly.  Or at least I thought I did?
     The next thing I remember vividly was driving them around and no one wanted to sit up front with me.  Suddenly, it seemed like there was an invisible wall of glass between the front seat and the back seat.  All these kids are still hopping in the car, but they climb in the back now, and no one is talking to me.  I try to make awkward conversation with them, but I see the panic in my son's eyes in my rear view mirror.   I catch his eye. I understand. I do sound a little bit desperate.
    My daughter goes off. Of course, I cry. I sleep initially with Brer Rabbit. I console myself with the idea of having my son for the next two years.  We will bond, we will get even closer I think.
     Fade to my soon- to- be eighteen year old short cutting through the side door of the garage on a school night.  We barely hear his steps as he tries to slip upstairs without divulging any information.  He pauses and looks over his shoulder as my husband and I call out a greeting, or even a query.  The incision is barely successful as we carefully extract the one syllable responses from him.  We hear his bedroom door click shut.  We look at each other numbly.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

   This is my great aunt's porch.  This is a place that calls out to you and whispers, "Come sit here! Relax, rock. . ."  You can't really see the vast blankets of green grass that embrace this porch, or the old oak in the center of the pebbled driveway that marks my grandfather's birthplace.  I can see them, though.  I can easily picture them.  I always close my eyes as I walk up the drive, and I can almost imagine my grandfather, and his sisters arriving in a buggy, and then eventually perhaps an old Model T.
    Nowadays, I manage to content myself to simply rock on the porch and hear the wood planks creak underneath my chair. Eventually, I get up and the chair slams against the farmhouse as I rise to rejoin my aunt in her kitchen.  The battered screen door bangs behind me.