The First Day of School

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I stayed up late the night before school started, praying and fretting until I was too tired to stay awake. I went to bed and spent the night restless, worry nagging at my brain until the sun peeked through the blinds over my bed and the alarm began it's incessant shriek.

Change has always been difficult for me. Even when that change is something as amazing as the first day of school.

I fed my blossoming scholars blueberry pancakes and bacon. They sat in their fuzzy robes at the table, more excited than nervous. I carefully ironed their clothes, pressing wrinkles from the fabric with a hiss of steam. I braided Elizabeth's hair and styled Joseph's. I scrubbed the syrup from their cheeks until they were rosy. 

They stood on the porch, their bodies leaning towards the car and the adventures awaiting them. I pulled back as long as I could. One more picture. One more image to freeze the moment.


We dropped off Joseph first. Third grade is different than second grade. The teacher raises her eyebrows when the whole family troops into the classroom with cameras. I ignored her as I thanked a benevolent universe for giving me a son who understands his mom still needs those hugs and kisses. I waved goodbye as he found his desk in a classroom of children I've watched grow since Kindergarten and who suddenly seem so...grown up.

We had an hour before Elizabeth's drop off. We went home, us two girls, and painted her nails. I held her in my lap and breathed in the scent of baby shampoo, missing the soft milk smell of my baby. We went to her classroom where my girl, so confident and sure, walked into the classroom with a smile on her face.

There was a moment, a few minutes, when she realized I wasn't staying and the teacher she'd hoped to get wasn't the one she had. She crawled into my lap and curled her body into mine, squeezing my neck with her sturdy arms.

"Can little kids hug and kiss their mommies a lot in the classroom before it's time for them to go?"

"Lots and lots, baby. Lots and lots."

With a smile on my face, I hugged her tight and said, "You are going to be amazing!" She looked at me, smiled, and wiggled into her seat. I left, waving from the door. She waved back and turned her attention to her teacher. 

I made it to the parking lot before I started crying.

My babies are growing up and I'm not ready.

Faded Shards

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I stood knee deep in the icy Pacific, not caring that the sun filtering through the fog was burning my shoulders. The water pushed and swirled around me as the tide made it's steadfast way higher and higher up the beach. My back ached and my quads burned from my bent position. Every few minutes, I thrust my hands into the water and pulled up a handful of pebbles, sifting through them to find the treasured sea glass.


This new obsession is still exercising its siren call. I stood in the water on my birthday and ran my thumb along the frosted and worn edges of glass. I worried the smooth edges with my fingers, drawing comfort in its texture. That same shard might have sliced my fingers when it was newer, shiner. It might have drawn blood if I stepped on it. It might have shattered into even smaller pieces if I'd dropped it.

I'm thirty-nine.

I'm staring forty in the face and the very idea of a number, a date on the calendar, irrationally terrifies me. Nancy called it the Forty Faultline, that crack in our story and life that opens like a vast crevice. I'm surrounded by youth in all its glory. Students with their youthful enthusiasm. New teachers with their smooth, unlined skin and smiling confidence. 

I remember my 29th birthday. I remember feeling as if my life was on track. I'd figured out this thing called "being a grown up". I was married to a man I loved madly, in a job I performed well, surrounded by friends who I adored, and had a body that could still wear short skirts.

Perhaps some of my apprehension is not so much fear of being older, but, rather, fear that ten years later, I've somehow gone in reverse in so many ways and fast forward in others. I wake up in the morning, feeling youth infuse me. I get out of bed with muscles sore from exercise - more sore than they would have been a decade ago. I move to the shower and see a woman with a sagging body. The lines around my eyes are deepening and the skin is slower to heal.

Those lines, I tell myself, are laugh lines, showing the joy of my life.

That skin, I tell myself, is stretched and pulled from carrying two healthy children. 

On a good day, I see the soft beauty of being slightly faded and worn around the edges. 

On a bad day, I miss the sharp sparkle of new glass.

A Prayer for the First Day of School

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Dear God,

It's me. Mandy.

Tomorrow I'll walk Joseph to his classroom for his fourth first day of school. I'll introduce myself to his teacher with quick words along with every other parent in the room. I'll watch him find his desk, his name written in black letters across the the top. I'll have time to take a picture, maybe two before I'm ushered out of the room.

Please, let him still let me give him a hug and kiss goodbye - even in front of his friends.

Please, let those friends be friends again. Let the summer not put a crack in their relationships and let them treat each other kindly.

Please, don't let older children tease or make fun. Let them see him for the amazing kid he is.

Please, let his teacher be charmed by his constant questions and willing grin. Let her recognize the kindness in his heart and know he'll try so hard to please her but be hardest on himself if he fails.

Tomorrow I'll walk Elizabeth to her classroom for the first day of school for the first time. I'll hand her teacher the supplies she requested and get in a quick word - along with every other parent in the room. I'll watch her find her desk, her name in bright colors on white paper. I'll have time to take a picture or seven before I'm ushered out of the room.

Please, let her be brave and not run for me as I leave. Let her confidence shine through as she waves goodbye.

Please, let her find good friends in her class who will accept all that she is and laugh and play with her. Let them be girls who use their imaginations and confidence to be kind rather than mean.

Please, help her remember she's only five once and not to be in a rush to be seven. Let her enjoy her class and her afterschool program with all the joy a kindergartener can muster.

Please, let her teacher see her dimpled grin and love her. Let her see her desire to learn and encourage her to passion and drive. Let her teacher realize my girl will never stop trying until she succeeds and will become single-minded in that pursuit.

Please, let this year go smoothly. Let it be filled with Friday afternoon dance parties, reading buddies, new books from the library, jump-a-thons, parent nights, new friends and old, talent shows, school gardens, and hundred day celebrations. Let the people I entrust with my children love them and guide them and know them.

And please give me the strength to let them go a little bit now so they'll be able to stand on their own in a few short years. Time is flying quickly now. Too quickly. Try as I might, I can't slow it down. Let me have moments of pause to savor and cherish before they slip through my fingers.

Amen

Music and Marvelous Mahem

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I sat on the folding chair, the silver instrument in my hands. I held it to my mouth and in my imagination, a flurry of notes poured forth, each one a perfect trill weaving its way through the melody. In reality, the only sound produced was the wheezing whistle of an asthmatic old man.

Next to me, a girl with curly hair held her own flute to her lips and brought forth a perfect c followed by an even more perfect b. I sighed, and concentrated yet again on the splotches of black dancing across the straight lines of the staff, paying close attention to the notes before the curly treble clef.

For the next eight years, I sat next to her. She moved to first chair, eventually adding the oboe and piccolo to her collection of instruments while I sat in second chair due more to my age than my skill level until finally we walked in our caps and gowns and promptly lost track of each other.

She was the first person from high school who contacted me on MySpace back when Facebook was a twinkle in Zuckerberg's eye. We transitioned to Facebook around the same time. I watched as her family grew and her adventures took her around the country, the curly haired vegetarian developed a taste for killer heels and even more delicious BBQ. When we decided to travel through Washington, she was one of the first people I contacted. I couldn't wait to meet the Brady Bunch and see her again after all these years.

The kids and I left Orcas Island Monday morning, watching the dock slip away into the distance like Brigadoon. We drove off the ferry, back on the mainland where cars were locked, people were showered, and children were no longer running free along the beaches. 


The drive to Olympia took longer than I'd hoped. We drove through a forest to her house - the theme of our trip - and pulled in front to see her children pouring out the doors. Chandra is the mother and stepmother to a total of six children - four of whom were at home. Her sons insisted on carrying our suitcases while her daughter promised to paint Elizabeth's nails. Within minutes the kids bonded over Minecraft and Chandra had somehow put dinner on the table while pouring wine, answering a text from work, and keeping her kitchen tidy.

Theirs is a family of music and laughter and so very much love and faith. Guitars dotted the living room, family made art hung on the walls, and I had the feeling they would welcome and care for anyone who came into their path. Her husband took time out of his studying to visit and chat. He has a voice, low and rhythmic, made for talking to a youth group or discussing a scripture in front of a group of young families. He is going to make a wonderful minister.


Chandra's sister and tiny little niece arrived to spend the night. We roasted marshmallows and sent the kids inside while the adults drank wine and talked of life, children, and the mayhem of raising them. I was struck again at how different my life might have been if I'd never made that trek to California. I wonder if I'd have memories past high school of the people I spent so many hours with for so many years. I wonder if I'd kept myself separated or if, as an adult, I'd have opened myself to the same sort of experiences and revelations I had in California. Somehow, for some reason, I think moving allowed me to discover who I was free of the chains of church and expectations. Still, I feel a tinge of regret.


Breakfast brought hot cocoa and mini marshmallows and my son begging to be left behind. I stood in the bedroom in the middle of packing and listened to the music drifting up the stairs, Chandra's clear voice accompanying it. There was a reason she was first chair and it was talent. 


We left their home with promises for future visits and tight hugs, pointed our car south and began our way back to Portland and the flight that would take us home.


Home.

Home to gentle rolling hills of brown dotted with splotches of dusty green and rows of vines. Home to warm sandy beaches and surfers cutting through the waves. Home to the place where my babies were born, where my heart was broken and then healed. Home to family and friends who have helped me create the memories of adulthood. 

Is it possible for two places to call to your soul? One the soft safety of childhood and the other the hard reality of a life being lived.


Seaglass

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I found a piece of rose seaglass, it's surface a fan of ridges. I knew instantly I was holding depression glass between my fingers. Perhaps it was once a plate or a bowl. I turned it over, the smooth edges a frosted pale pink.

Had it graced a family's table?
She stepped back from the linen topped table, a smile on her face. It was perfect. Smoothing her skirt she risked a quick glance at the clock ticking on the mantel. He'd be home soon. Pale pink glass held his favorite dishes. She pressed a hand to her stomach imagining she could feel life. She smiled. He'd be so happy.
Had it collected dust?
He swept the feather duster across the top of the plate. His mom had had one just like it. Old fashioned fluting decorated the edges while swirls formed the bottom. He wondered if she still collected the junk of if she'd finally traded it in for something more durable.
How had it happened to find its way into the trash? After all, most seaglass was just that. Discarded refuse.
The noise startled her. The cup she was drying shattered as it hit the floor. 
"Why would you do this to me?" she cried in pain. She picked up the plate sitting in the dish rack and threw it against the wall. 
"No one wants that junk, honey. Just toss it." She knew he was right. It was old fashioned and poorly made. With a sigh, she dropped it in the bin.
I set it down and picked up another piece, the letter "R" deeply inset. I'd read the previous evening these brown pieces were typically from mundane Clorox bottles, an everyday household item of such boring origins.

Still, there was a story in each piece.

They'd been used and discarded, tossed into the sea and pounded by the surf. They'd been reformed, reshaped, yet clung to a remnant of their old lives. They had traveled for years only to be washed up on the shore at that precise spot at that precise time to catch the light in that precise way and be picked up by three people a thousand miles from home in a place they'd never before visited.

There was a miracle in each shard.

I held a frosted green bit to the sun and felt affinity strum my heart.
I was once whole and beautiful. The light shone through me like a treasure until I was discarded. I went over the cliff and shattered into dozens of pieces. I was drowned, pummeled, and tossed. I was transformed. My edges were softened and smoothed until I became something whole and beautiful yet again. 
 

Treasure Hunting

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The pebbles rained from my fingers and plopped onto salty stones below. With the exception of the geese, we had the long curve of beach to ourselves.


Every handful, revealed seaglass. Some were tiny, barely bigger than grains of sand. Others were large, clunky bottoms of bottles or shards of jars. Elizabeth had an eye for brown, picking out, with unerring skill, the amber pieces from a beach littered in shades of brown. Joseph searched out whites, somehow spying them among the sun-bleached driftwood and rocks. My eyes spied blue, green, lavender, and pink jewels. We held each piece to the sun and exclaimed over its beauty, it's color, it's unique shape and size. We studied the etched letters remaining and wondered over its origin. We polished it on dirty shorts to better see the color.

We were addicts.

After a morning post-wedding brunch, we'd made our way to the beach. What was to be an hour, perhaps two, became our obsession. My legs pinkened under the beating sun while strands of hair stuck to my neck. Hunger and thirst sent us from the beach to get a sandwich. A late night of dancing sent us back to the cottage for much needed naps.


When the kids woke, it was nearly five. On vacation time in a place where the sun didn't set for another four or five hours, we plotted what to do next. There was a mountain to hike, a lake to wade in, canoes to rent, more places to explore.

Yet, we found ourselves back on that beach, alone again. It was quiet work, each of us lost in our own thoughts. It was meditative, sifting our fingers through smooth stone. It required concentration to look beyond the whole we saw at a glance and instead see the pieces.


I watched Joseph, his puppy large feet clumsy and awkward. I saw the piece of him, there with the whole. I saw his eagerness to please, to do things correctly. He dug next to his legs until his stick hit hard sand, ensuring he sifted through every part of his space and withdrew every bit of glass.

Elizabeth sat next to me, her little legs stretched beside mine. She swept the ground with light fingers, admonishing me for not being gentle enough. While Joseph and I worked in the same manner, she was determined to find her own way.

We got hot and waded in the icy water, moving floating logs to the beach where it dried in the sun while we leaned back against them. We built a wall in this way, marking our progress down the beach and tucking ourselves between the tall grass and the driftwood as heat gave way to evening cool and the sky began to turn pink.

Grabbing a pizza from the market, we made our way home in the dusk.
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