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.

An Island Wedding

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We drove down the long, paved road until I thought surely we'd reached the far edge of the island. Pulling into a parking area, we walked across a grassy expanse to the water's edge and I had the belated realization that of all the people who had made this trek to witness Morgan and Erin's commitment to love, honor, and cherish, we were, if not the most superfluous, then the most random.


Destination weddings are usually the realm of close family and friends. Destination weddings to locales difficult to reach are even more so. I looked around and realized I knew not a soul besides the bride and even she I'd only met in real life once.

Morgan and I bonded over chickens. Using twitter all those years ago, we sent each other coop plans, breed ideas, articles, and posts. We saw ourselves as at the forefront of urban farming with our cute coops, our fluffy hens, and our adorable children collecting eggs. I was excited to finally meet her at Bloggy Boot Camp in San Diego. We exchanged hugs and smiles and conversation, easily transitioning from twitter to reality.

Shortly after that trip, my life fell apart. She was a strand in the rope keeping me moored to the dock of sanity. We texted. We chatted. And then, a few months later, she too was cast adrift in the sea of divorce. We bonded over paperwork and horribly funny dating stories. Flurries of texts would be followed by months of silence and then another flurry of texts as if only a moment had passed. When she met her farmer, their story gave me goosebumps and a renewed faith in the romantic nature of the Universe.

Through it all, she told me about her island. She insisted I needed to visit because it was a place to heal. I said "one day" with only vague intentions of visiting, though I dreamed of how amazing it would be. Then, four months ago, I mentioned on Facebook that I was thinking of traveling to the Pacific Northwest. A text quickly followed telling me I should plan it the weekend of her wedding.

Which is how I found myself sitting on a wooden bench, surrounded by strangers, and witnessing a tear and laughter filled wedding ceremony. After, as pictures were being taken, the kids and I wandered to the waterfront, our drinks in hand, to soak in the peace and beauty of the spot.


Children being children, we found ourselves at the trampoline in short order. I introduced myself to a British professor and his professor wife who summer on the island and spent a few minutes in general conversation.

"Watch out," he warned me in his lovely accent, "children tend to go feral on the island."

I looked at the kids bouncing, "Don't they always?"

"It's different," his wife said. She tried to articulate it more clearly. "It might be the safety - there's no crime here. Or maybe it's that the days are so long."


I nodded. By the end of the night I'd understand.


We wandered to the tables, carrying our own wooden benches. We refilled our drinks and mingled with still more people. We met two lovely women who not only spoke to me, but to the kids. They knelt to their level and begged dances and conversation, charming the gingers with their laughter and obvious delight. We chatted under the shade of a tree while the kids took off their shoes and ran back to the trampoline. There were toasts, music, pizza fresh from a clay oven. A soccer game started. Rings were tossed. Clothes were stripped off for a late afternoon swim in the Sound.


I walked back to the water's edge at dusk, watching the splashing of the swimmers rounding the buoy bobbing in lazy waves. A sense of peace settled over me. My shoulders relaxed. I took a deep, easy breath of the salt and pine tinged air and turned to look back up the gentle slope. Green and red lights swirled while dancers shouted "timber". My kids were on the dance floor, barefoot and sweaty. Elizabeth's hair had come free of her bun while braids swung around her head. One of Morgan's daughters had lost her dress and was dancing in her slip, holding hands with Joseph. Two teens were wearing wet dresses having run from the water to the dance floor. Adults from every generation were missing shoes or jackets, their bodies dancing to the tribal beats.

It's not just children who go feral on the island.

Discovering the Island

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I woke to a wall of green, sunlight filtering through the leaves and dancing across the blankets covering my legs and the chair was still wedged firmly beneath the door handle. I could hear the kids stirring, their voices thick with sleep as they asked about breakfast. Against all imaginary odds, we'd survived the night.

We showered, dressed and walked out the door to see our host and his dog crossing the field from what I could only guess was his home.


In daylight, the empty expanse was transformed into a wonderland of sculptures and gardens. Tiny huts dotted the hillside while giant chrome flowers bloomed between the trees. He pointed us in the proper direction of town and suggested a place where I could get tea. Cash writhed in canine ecstasy as the kids pet and scratched his belly.



The drive into town took almost a half hour over lazily rolling hills lined with wildflowers. We passed lakes cluttered with lily pads, meadows filled with sheep and cattle, orchards, and the ever present walls of evergreen. Between branches, we caught glimpses of beaches and the Sound.

We parked near the market and walked to a lovely restaurant with the promised strong, loose leaf tea and an omelet of roasted tomatoes, goats cheese, and arugala - and cell service. Feeling silly about my fears the night before, I took pictures and posted the sunshine where flowers bloomed and bees hovered.
After breakfast, we wandered down the street in the direction of the Farmers Market where I discovered children listening to a story and the beginning of my understanding of island life. The reader - a local librarian - paused between books.

"Can I help you?" she asked with a friendly smile, a new book laying across her lap.

"Oh. No. I'm just waiting for my kids," I gestured to the only little girl without feathers in her hair and the only little boy wearing shoes. "They are loving the stories."

Her smile widened. "You don't have to stay."

I looked around the open space noticing I was the only adult with the exception of the librarian. "Are you sure?"

She laughed. "You're new to the island. It's okay. They'll be fine here if you want to go walk around the booths."
I left reluctantly, still not certain of letting them out of my sight. Directly across from the story area, I found a booth filled with seaglass jewelry where I could keep an eye on the kids without being considered de trop.

I ran my fingers over the smooth bits of rainbow frosted glass. Suspended by silver chains and twisted in silver wire, it was expensive, but beautiful.

"If you find your own," the woman running the booth said, "I'll make it into jewelry for you."

I looked up as she handed me a card with the name Erica printed in script.

"There's seaglass here?" I fingered the card and did the mental arithmetic, trying to decide if I could splurge.

"This is all Orcas Island seaglass I collected myself." She gave me directions to the beach and, with a solidified idea of how to pass the remainder of the morning, I collected my gingers and headed to the long expanse of sweeping stone and warped driftwood.

"This doesn't look like a beach," Elizabeth said doubtfully as we picked our way across the muck of low tide and the fist sized rocks covered in barnacles. My Californian children are accustomed to powdery beaches and crashing waves. We kept our shoes on and picked our way across the land as tiny sand crabs scurried from under rocks. We sat on weathered logs, sifting through rocks and finding jewels. It was sweaty work without a breeze to cool us. The air hung heavy and humid as the kids shouted with delight at their hard won discoveries, more often than not, pretty stones and shells rather than glass.

Feeling sunburned and salty, we left the beach and entered the air conditioned storefront where Erica sells her wares. Showing her mother our treasure, she told us about another beach - a little down the way - where larger pieces were common and fewer people sifted the stones. She gave us a time frame to make the jewelry and, with smiles on our faces and a spring in our step, we left to get lunch and get ready for the wedding, knowing we now had a plan for the next day.


The drive home took twenty minutes while the air blasted and music accompanied the dips and bends of the road. We found the cottage after only one wrong turn and piled out of the car for a picnic lunch under the shade of a maple. We were delighted to discover our newly arrived neighbors were attending the same wedding. We exchanged smiles and small talk while Elizabeth carted our picnic supplies to the grass.


We sat cross-legged and spit cherry pits, bright purple juice staining our fingers and chins while we spoke of seaglass and mermaids. We watched as dragonflies darted between flowers and butterflies landed lightly on sculptures. With the exception of a small breeze in the trees and the sound of buzzing, it was silent. Blissfully so.

With reluctance and the knowledge we had time only for a quick wash, we finally made our way inside to dress.
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