Keep Drawing Your Picture

I remember peeling down past the wave on a brand new purple Crayola® crayon.  Wax was caught under my fingernail that would distract me even more from the fact that I did not know what I had wanted to draw and only took the purple crayon so that no one else could have it.  The wrapper did not need to be pealed yet.  The tip was still that polished shiny new point full of possibilities. I was stalling.

I used to color with abandon.  I could draw fields of flowers with beautiful skies. I could draw people and animals in great detail that actually looked like what they were intended to look like.  Then it stopped.  I stopped. Indecision and insecurity set in.

When I was in second grade one day on the way home from school, Deana Case (not her real name) was sitting with me on the bus.  This was in a time when the seats were a simple molded plastic with no padding.  When the driver rounded a corner too fast, we would all slide in the opposite direction if we weren’t holding on in anticipation of the sway.  It was exciting and fun and lent adventure to my imagination.  The bus was always loud with chatter and laughter and the noise from the engine, wheels and breaks that would squeak and squeal as the bus came to a stop at the end of someone’s drive way.

Now that I think of that bus, big yellow orange container of so many different children.  It was like a rolling box of crayons itself full of so many different personalities and potentials.  On that one particular day, Deana pulled a drawing out of her bag.  We had a rare free time period that day and could draw and color anything we wanted. I had mine too. I loved what I had drawn and then I saw hers.

Wow.

Wow. The sight of her drawing froze me with awe.

Comparing her drawing to mine was like comparing the Sistine Chapel to the Sunday funnies.  I did like the Sunday funnies and to be honest, that may have been partly where I learned to draw so well. I noticed the lines and how a simple curve or swirl could make all the difference in the emotion or humor of a piece.  What she had done was foreign to me.  It covered the entire piece of paper from edge to edge and was an amazing scene with flowers, a house and a beautiful night sky.  She had blended her colors in a way that I had never imagined doing.  I did not even know you could do that with the box of broken and stubby crayons we passed around the classroom. Her drawing had a depth and perspective I was only on the verge of understanding in the simplest of terms.

Wow.

It was so beautiful.  I told her how beautiful it was.  Then I was embarrassed for the very first time to show my drawing to someone.  I did.  She liked it.  She complimented it as well.  I believed her because I knew Deana didn’t lie, but I still felt at a loss to understand how suddenly I was not as good as I had thought.  Had people been telling me I was good when I wasn’t?

I believe this might have been the start of my long-held inner belief that I was simple not really better at anything than anyone else.  Nothing I could do was any different, any more special or even good enough to compare from that point forward.   I got excellent grades moving through high school, graduating in the top 10% of my class and earning a scholarship.  I got excellent grades in college and was on the dean’s list several times during my freshman year.   My assumption, however, was that everyone was getting excellent or ever better grades.

There were some areas of curriculum that required I worked harder than others.  I loved geometry but could not wrap my head around advanced algebra. I loved English and all the stories and books we read – but could not embrace the ancient stuff. Beowulf for example.  I knew I had strengths and weaknesses, but again, my assumption was that everyone else only had strengths.  Even when I was called upon to tutor someone older than myself in middle school, I did not realize that this meant anything other than I was a good reader and could help this person with words just as I had helped my older brother with his math at home.

It did not mean I had any special knowledge or skill, right? I was nothing special.

While I think parents today often over-whelm their children to the point of delusion with how special, wonderful and talented they are, forever losing in them a sense of what it is like to really accomplish something from hard work, I do wish someone had noticed this in me earlier and helped me realize the truth.  It’s a fine line parents need to tread.  I was as special as anyone else. I was extremely resourceful and had talents in many areas that often outshone others and that was important and should have built confidence.  It didn’t.

No one had noticed.

On a job I had at Borders Books & More (I miss that store so much!) after college, my manager, a new manager not much older than myself, came out and asked me very pointedly:

“Do you know how smart you are?”

I shrugged it off.  It had to be some silly trick to get me to do more work.  I was prone to respond that way to a compliment.  I would work hard to please the person even more and people seemed to know this about me.

“Really,” she said, “Look at this.”  She pointed to the floor in front of my section – Reference and Foreign Languages, at that time, where hundreds of newly arrived books were stacked in front of their respective shelves waiting to be inserted into their proper places among the floor stock.  I didn’t really get what she was trying to say, which was that I was a monster when it came to getting the new stock out on the floor in the shortest amount of time.  Most staff would bring out one v-cart at a time, without putting it into order first and shelf the books one book at a time, here, there, wherever until their shift was over.  I organized my entire task putting two or more v-carts into action, then broke it down into small steps by placing the books near their final destinations first.  Lots of easy little successes in shelving that lead to getting done quickly and efficiently so that I could move on.  I also neatened and shifted and “frontalized” while I was putting out the new stock instead of going back and doing this later as a separate step.  I didn’t realize I had put any more thought into the task than anyone else. It was just the way I felt it needed to be done so that I could browse in other areas.

Admittedly, it was efficient, but it also could only be done this way during times when the store was slow.  This system had to be revamped during those times when people were rampantly shopping, were laying on the floor reading, stalking some pretty girl in the art section next to reference or wandering around with a no-foam, half-caf, mocha latte espousing brilliant philosophical thoughts to no one in particular.  I guess that was something else she was trying to point out to me.  I not only could organize a vast amount of materials so that they took up the least amount of time, but I could be flexible and perceptive enough to realize this had to be adjusted based on the store’s foot-traffic.  And all this time I had believed the guys on staff when they told me I shelved faster because I had large hands.

It was nice of her to have pointed this out.  This was the first time anyone had complimented something my brain did that seemed automatic to me.  I wanted to get done so that I could go look at new books in the Anthropology or Sociology or fiction sections.  This was the first time I was given an inkling that my brain worked differently than others and that this was actually a good thing.  I knew my brain was different.  I knew I was different, but my assumption had been from childhood that this was not a good-different.  And here was this person, a person in authority, putting an idea in my mind that my form of different could actually be a potentially useful and wonderful thing.

It took many years after that to actually flesh out that idea to a fully formed image in my mind.  Her words would come back to me in different situations where I had done the same things – automatically. This was a new perspective that no one else had ever given me.  And it isn’t at all about parenting.  Everyone needs to re-parent themselves as they grow up and learn about the world and who they are in it.   I had set myself in a picture of my world early as the underachiever. I needed to pick up crayons or markers or pens and start drawing again and keep filling out the pages until I have properly redrawn a more honest representation of who I really was.

I suspect this is drawing that will continue on. It seems the more I learn, the more I change, the more there is to draw.

 

#keepcoloring #keeplearning #crayons

Let’s Talk Teeth

Let’s talk teeth.  They are, after all, forefront on my mind since I had Number 10 pulled and the pain began the next day and never stopped.  I’ve had teeth pulled before and the pain generally stops once the offending tooth is removed.  This tooth was not in pain to start with, so I had gone into this with an inflated sense of confidence that everything would be easy.   I’ve been to the dentist five times this past week and a half.  Once to the oral surgeon who did the ever so gentle ‘yanking out’ of the tooth and four other times to my own dentist for follow-up or what we might call “why am I still in pain appointments”.

The politically correct term for the ‘yanking out’ of the tooth is extraction.  And to be honest, the oral surgeon was a nice lady and she did get it out in one piece with minimal stress.  Making the left turn out of her parking lot onto a very busy street was actually more stressful.  Yes, I broke my long-standing practice of avoiding left turns.  Left turns, in my opinion, tend to inconvenience others which attracts attention to me that I don’t want. Left turns take extra time while I wait for my ‘window’ of opportunity and create a situation where I could be hit by cars coming from either direction rather than just the one direction, resulting in an accident which would be more inconvenience.  I don’t care for inconvenience.  So unless there is a light with a left arrow, I avoid left turns.  Try moving about the planet with that mindset.  The alternative here was a right turn taking me into downtown and no one wants to do that if they do not have to.  Or is that just me?

So there I sat edging my way out onto Broad Street, four lanes wide, with a giant gauze blob sticking out of my mouth.  You see, prior to the extraction, the oral surgeon had to remove the temporary bridge I was wearing.  I call it the “Bridge of Dreams”.  It is what I always wanted my front teeth to look like. Like everyone else, straight, orderly, no giant gaps because of one tooth that opted to be shy and grow inward. She tried hard to hide the pair of pliers she used to pull the bridge out first but I saw them as well as the other tool for the extraction itself.  After the extraction and a single, ‘it will fall out on its own’ stitch, she replaced the bridge and gave me gauze to bite down on.

“Keep your mouth shut until you get to Dr. Thomas’s office,” were my instructions after writing the check for $275.00 and handing it over to the receptionist.  The gauze would help with the clotting and keep the bridge in place until Dr. Thomas could reset the temporary bridge.

I had asked the oral surgeon’s nurse prior to the procedure, “Could I have the tooth?  I’ve never asked for one before, but this one is symbolic,” I said.

Part of me was looking forward to this. It was a big step. She smiled politely and said yes. I could almost hear her rolling her eyes.

“So you want to put it under your pillow?”  the oral surgeon asked when I repeated the request. I wasn’t taking any chances that I hadn’t been heard.

“No,” I said, starting to get annoyed by the wait and now a silly question.  I had been a half hour early, typical me; they were running a half hour late, typical them and then no one could seem to unzip the email attachment with the tooth’s x-ray attached for their reference. I almost got up out of the chair to offer my help.  My sense of calm, which I had carefully prepared over the past month, was starting to wear thin now that ‘yanking’ of the tooth was eminent.

“It’s symbolic.” I said more to myself then to her.  I was not explaining this again. I was 55 years old and this tooth had been in my way for nearly my whole life, you do the math. I was ready, let’s do it.

My oldest brother had a similar tooth, but his grew outward.  I vividly remember the day we took him to an oral surgeon when I was around five, he ten.  I remember the waiting room was busy and my mother took us out in the hall to wait.  It was gray.  Everything, the walls, the floor, the ceiling.  At least in the waiting room there had been some children’s magazines – Highlights – I loved the hidden picture puzzles.  Why did we have to be pulled away from those?  We were milling around in the hall when we heard my brother screaming.  Not a normal shriek, but a bloody murder painful scream that lives in memories for a long time.  Apparently we’d gone to wait at the exact wrong end of the hall if my mother had been trying to protect us from anything scary.

We didn’t spend any extra time at dentists after that.  When my own wonky tooth came in, growing inward instead of outward as his did, it was decided that it could be left alone.  I used to try and try to push it outward with my tongue so that it was in the right place. So that I could smile and it would look like everyone else.  But had I been asked if I wanted it removed, I would have said a very definite “NO, Thank you,” remembering that scream and the condition of my brother after his appointment.

What about braces for me later?  While I know that the real issue was money, an equally large part of the issue was fear.  Fear and money probably keep people from doing a lot of things in their lives.

Braces would have costs thousands of dollars, even then.  It was the early seventies and my father was either on strike or laid off at least once every year for a period of several months.  My mother was already making what we had go as far as possible.  Not only would braces have been a large expense, but they would have meant endless extra visits to a dentist for adjustment.  My mother did not drive and the idea that my father would set aside this time was not an idea anyone would entertain.  It would have created inconvenience.  And then there was the potential for pain.  Braces are painful.  Painful to put in, painful to wear, painful to adjust.  Wires….those could not possibly be gentle in anyone’s mouth.  To have a child in pain, would have been a constant distraction from all of my mother’s daily chores and obligations taking care of a large family.

So braces had never been an option.  I was silent as a child for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was embarrassment over that tooth. I got the message.  Keep your mouth shut.  Don’t speak unless you are spoken to.  Don’t contradict an adult even when they are wrong.  Don’t be stupid. Don’t be smart.  Don’t be a smartass.  Do not question. In teaching me to not be outspoken, I was silenced. The tooth just created a physical reason to stay that way.

We did go for regular dental check-ups and once in a while I had cavities that had to be filled.  Dear old Dr. Herrmann was our regular dentist.  I am sure he only seemed old.  The office smelled of antiseptic, but as he got close all I smelled was cigarette smoke.  Later I heard he drank a lot at the office.  I never smelled that.  Considering all the drinkers in the family, I might have found the scent of whiskey comforting.  Even so, it was always more the fear of pain, then the actual pain that was the real issue.  It still is.  Imagination mixed with a little memory are powerfully dangerous in terms of my anticipation.

So why now, why at 55?  About four years ago, around the time I was changing, I was referred by a friend to my current dentist for a broken tooth.  I had the money that I had not had in the past and wanted to take care of a few other teeth as well.  I’d lived with that wayward tooth for my whole life. It had not crossed my mind that it, too, could be taken care of.  This was around the time I had stopped eating wheat and discovered I was a different person – I had less anxiety, less depression, was less withdrawn and less introverted.  It was at the beginning of the new me so why not a new mouth?  During one visit, while Dr. Thomas was joking and putting me at ease, I noticed that he had something in his hand.  He had taken a little bit of putty they use and fashioned a tiny tooth.

“I’ve been thinking about something,” he said, “Open and I’ll show you.”  I opened.  He tucked the little tooth into the gap created by Number 10 hiding mostly behind where it should be.  Laura, the tech that supported him smiled and handed me a mirror.

“Have a look,” he said.  “What do you think?”

What could I think?  Wow!  WOW!  It fit right in, it made my front teeth look….normal for the first time in my life.

“That’s cool,” I said, “But…”  There were always ‘buts’.

“We have a plan, remember, and there are a lot of other teeth to take care of first.  It’s just something for you to think about.  First you should talk to others about options.  I would make you a bridge, but an orthodontist can tell you if braces are an option and I have someone you can speak to about implants to see if those options are something you want to pursue.  We will work on our plan and you can start doing your research.”

It was something to think about.  And it was pretty much all I could think about.  I used to get bored with work and Photoshop a tooth into that spot on my picture just to remind myself what he had shown me. I wanted that tooth.  I wanted it right away.  But we had a plan, so other work was done first.  And there was the money.  I would have the money but it needed to be spread out over the next several years.

I visited three different orthodontists about braces.  The first was a younger doctor who took one look in my mouth and at me.  I suppose I looked to him an unattractive, overweight older woman with some sort of vanity issue.

“It’s not going to make any difference in your life to have this fixed,” he informed me.   I heard the words “so why bother” after.   I cried for three days and did not see the next orthodontist for six months.

The next one ran what appeared to me clearly a “braces mill”.  It was an extremely busy office with an open floorplan exam area.  It had a trendy feel with one high-tech chair after another lined up like a hair salon with sparkling mouthed teenagers streaming in and out.  To their mind everyone should have braces and their expensive equipment and fancy cars in the parking lot supported that.

The third and final orthodontist was a very down to earth older fellow who spent a lot of time gently measuring my mouth.

“Wow, your mouth opens really wide,”  he announced putting his ruler away.

“Are you trying to tell me I have a big mouth?” I asked.

“I don’t really know you well enough to make that judgment.”

We had a nice rapport quickly.  If I wanted braces, yes, there would be discomfort, yes, it would take years, but, yes this tooth could be brought into line with the others over time.  It was the no bullshit approach to which I responded well.  If I had opted for the braces route, you know which I would have picked no doubt?

I visited one specialist about implants.  As she drove a metal pick into my mouth repeatedly making me squirm and cry out, I had images of doctors in death camps torturing prisoners.  She was very German and very cold.  Wait a sec, I’m German!

So for years, we’ve worked our plan.   A repaired root canal here, new root canal and a bridge there with time in between to heal and forget any “discomfort”.  My dentist knows how to make me comfortable.  He and his staff have taught me it is okay to be honest and to speak.  I can ask for a neck pillow.  I can request to wear the lead vest even when I am not getting x-rays (try it, it is super comforting).  And the best part.

“Here’s your puzzle for the day,”

My dentist will enter and tape a post-it to the light over my head.  I started that when I was trying to distract myself from my anxiety during one of my early visits and I noticed a company name inside that bright light over my head.  I started to list words in my head using the letters of that company’s name. Of course, I had rules. I always have rules.  No words under three letters, no proper names, etc.  I found 45 words.  It had great vowels. He caught on that I was doing something and asked.  Now, every appointment, he adds a new word on a post-it to that light so I have a new game to play.  He has tried to give me logic puzzles and number puzzles but nothing works as well as a word puzzle for me in that situation.

During this week of pain that would not stop.  I called his office.  I texted him at home.  He always says come in.  There is never any hesitation and no issue that I do not have an appointment.  First we removed the ‘it will dissolve on its own’ stitch.  It was under the bridge and perhaps rubbing it the wrong way.  It looked like a huge rope!  I was sure that was the culprit.  It wasn’t.  I went back.  They squeezed me in again.  I was concerned I was wearing out my welcome.

Dr. Thomas tried to remove the temporary bridge that had been removed several times that week.  This one time, I nearly jumped out of the chair.  Bring on the Novacain.  Dr. Thomas went to check on a patient with an appointment while the drug took affect.   Very quickly my upper lip felt as though it expanded several feet out from my face and then deflated into a cold, unfeeling, fleshy fold over my teeth.  Laura left the room for a moment and I happened to reach up and touch my nose. That was a huge mistake.

I couldn’t feel my nose.  “Oh my God,” I thought,  “I am alone here and I am going to suffocate to death!”  Some rational part of my mind that I am not generally in touch with took over, “You can breathe through your nose even without feeling your nose,” it said.  Then it repeated it over and over again.  After a number of repetitions, I stopped believing it.  Laura returned to the room just as I was about to panic out loud.

“Oh dear,” she said in a tone worthy of a nurse in a mental ward, “I left you alone too long.”  And look what I’ve gone and done. I’ve gotten myself into a state.

She made me take deep breaths and let them out slowly.  I was okay around the fourth breath, but she went on to seven.  It was exhausting. The bridge was removed and shaved down inside and replaced.  When the Novocain wore off that day, I had the strangest feeling.  I felt normal. There was no pain.  There was no discomfort.  It was as though the tooth had not even been extracted.  My tongue knew it had, because it keeps checking.  It wasn’t there.

(I know….ewww)

After all, I had it in an envelope.  My first impression of it, laying there in my hand, was that it was smaller than I’d imagined.  It had seemed so large and out of place in my mouth all those years. But it was, in reality, so small.  The tip was bent.  It probably should not have come out so easily or in one piece.  But it did, and I have it.  It is, after all, symbolic.

In a few months, the permanent bridge will be placed.  The plan will be complete.  This year is the year.

Sleepovers

I did not go on many sleepovers as a child.

I do remember one sleepover at my Great Aunt Lily’s home.  Aunt Lily lived with her sister and her brother, all unmarried, in a two story home with a covered front porch on a tree lined street with many others just like it.  It was close enough that we visited them every weekend growing up.  On rare occasions that my parents would go out, one of the aunts might babysit us.  My brothers preferred Aunt Helen as she was the fun aunt, always quick with a joke, popping out her false teeth at you when no one was looking, always with a drink in hand.  Aunt Lily was the cautious aunt – never letting us stray too far from our side yard for fear of gypsies kidnapping one of us.

I was one of Aunt Lily’s favorites, if that is possible in an extended family with literally dozens and dozens of nieces and nephews.  Still, I always felt like I was.  I was quiet, not social, polite, not daring or adventurous.  I probably appealed to her sense of caution. I was probably the most manageable.

Aunt Helen wasn’t home that I recall on the night I slept over and it was after Uncle Albert had died. I was about ten.  As sleepovers go with one child and one older adult, it was quiet.  But it was time with her that made me feel special for some reason.  She showed me her room, which we never saw on weekly visits.  her room was the smallest in the house, at the very end of the hall that ran all the way around to the front on the second floor.  I would never have snuck in there, knowing how creaky the floor was, I would surely have been caught.  So when invited in on this special visit, it was like almost like entering some sacred space I still should not enter even escorted.

It was simple unlike Aunt Helen’s room – the largest bedroom at the very top of the stairs.  Aunt Helen’s  room had lush carpet, a large queen sized bed, special vanity and dressers for all her clothing.  Aunt Helen worked outside the home in an office, went out often and traveled a great deal.  She was always dressed up.  Apparently this necessitated her placement in this room.  I think it was more that she was always out late and needed to get up the stairs to her room without disturbing everyone else when she came in.

Aunt Lily’s room was simple, a single bed, a single dresser, an imposing Jesus nailed to a cross over the bed watching over her as she slept.  I knew I couldn’t sleep with him staring at me. On her dresser was a small jewelry box with a few special items.  Next to it was a round box of lightly rose scented powder with a puff that she used to apply it.  That scent still reminds me of her the same way that the scent of scotch reminds me of Aunt Helen.

Aunt Lily had worked outside the house for many years as the cook at the catholic school down the street.  Prior to that she raised all her six brothers and sisters from the time she was sixteen.  Her mother died several months after the youngest was born.  It was from that day on Lily’s responsibility to raise them.  She was twelve years older then her sister Helen.  They seemed decades different in age to me and worlds different in style and temperament.

She let me try the powder puff.  She let me explore the attic where my mother stayed when she lived there after high school.  I didn’t want to sleep in the attic.  It seemed too far away and it was already decided that I would sleep in Uncle Albert’s old room down the hall at the back of the house.  Before bed I had a bath in the claw footed tub and Aunt Lily combed out my hair.  I remember having trouble falling asleep. It was a strange place with strange sounds. I was not terribly brave. Eventually sleep overtook fear.

The next day after breakfast at the tiny table in the sunny kitchen overlooking the small backyard, Aunt Lily asked me if I knew the story of the little boy and girl on the china plate we’d been eating from.  I didn’t.  So she told me of the love story of two children from families that did not get along.  They loved each other and would meet on a little bridge over a river that divided their two properties.  It seems I was picked up shortly after helping dry the breakfast dishes.  All in all an uneventful sleepover.

It was so uneventful, I would have thought that there would be more.  I hadn’t broken anything.  I hadn’t been difficult or emotional.  I hadn’t even been slightly unhappy.   After I grew up my mother told me why there weren’t other sleepovers.   When she was a young girl, she’d been shipped off to this Aunt or that cousin for long periods of time.  She didn’t really say why, if she even knew.  She said that it always made her feel as though she wasn’t wanted.  She therefore never let me sleep over at people’s homes so that I wouldn’t feel that way.

For me it had the exact opposite effect.  It made me feel that something was wrong with me that I was kept at home, isolated.  I missed out on learning those social skills and on opportunities to feel comfortable in the homes of others that to this day would be useful.  All those years I felt there must have been something wrong with me that no one wanted me to sleepover at their house.  Had I only known it was my mother’s discomfort.  I think she realized later in life how her actions had betrayed the results she’d been looking for.

 

 

 

 

Frozen Fingers

A  big yellow school bus belching hideous exhaust picked us up in front of our house every day for school for 12 years, elementary, middle and high school.  It would drop us off there again every afternoon until high school, when it was decided by someone that we were of an age we could walk from what we called “the corner” – the intersection of our road and the next cross road to the North.  It was about a 3/8 of a mile, no big deal.  Our stretch of the road started on a rise at the corner and sloped gently downward as you headed south towards our house and the town line another quarter mile past.  Before reaching us, it rose upward to a point where the Dimm family lived. That isn’t a description of their personality, it was, unfortunately, their actual surname. From there the road sloped steeply downward to the creek in front of the Jones Family home before rising up again to our house.

As a small child you would envy the independence and freedom given the high school age kids to walk home on their own even if just from the corner.  It was all residential so there wasn’t a lot you could do between point a and point b.  But it was a few minutes of quiet freedom when you weren’t under the control of the adults at school and on the bus and the adults at home.  That was freedom.  When I was in high school and one of the neighbors had a nippy little dog that would bark and growl at me for a part of the walk, I lost all that envy.

It was a tough road in the winter for something as large as a school bus.  In the winter, one of the most important morning duties after brushing your teeth and getting dressed was to listen to WAKR radio for a report on the weather and whether or not there was any resulting potential for a delay or a full snow day.  We took turns at this post near the radio. We were in a somewhat rural area and getting a school bus unstuck from a ditch was not an event anyone other than the children still on the bus would have felt excited about, so officials were fairly cautious and generally accurate.

I remember one day in particular that we were expecting snow and yet there was no snow day announced and no delay.  The roads were clear so we went off to school as usual.  Almost immediately after arriving at school, the heavy snow started to fall.  Later in the morning it was decided that the storm that had come in with a vengeance warranted sending every one home early.  That was the only time in my entire life that I can recall that happening.  It was exciting beyond measure to pile onto the school bus not only with those from my elementary school but to find it already crowded with middle schoolers also.  I was in first grade and felt very small amongst all these now loud and revved up kids.  My three older brothers were also somewhere on the bus as well as neighbors and classmates.

It is approximately forty-five minutes on the bus as it winds through other neighborhoods stopping constantly to dispense children to their homes.  They would erupt from the open doors like tic-tacs shaken from the tiny clear plastic candy container and roll around with as much direction and joy as candy pieces before running off into their yards to play.   When the bus arrived at the corner where it would normally make a right turn and proceed towards our house, it just stopped.  The bus driver looked up into that long mirror he used to keep an eye on us and said,

“I won’t be able to take the bus down this street.  It’s not clear enough.  Too dangerous.  Those of you on these stops will have to get off and walk home from here.”  He opened the door and we gathered our things to exit.

That seemed kind of exciting.  To walk like the big kids did.  To walk with the big kids.  But the big kids, my brothers included, had longer legs and were already planning the snow fort they were going to build in the front yard, so they were off and running.  I tried to keep up but they were pretty quick.  I called and yelled to them,

“Hey, wait for me!  Wait for me!”

They would slow for a few steps only and then their gait would quicken again.

“Hurry up! We wouldn’t need to wait if you would hurry.”  They complained at me.  Their logic was unquestionable.

At the Jones’ house next door, they decided to short cut up the drive way and across the field between our two houses.  The drive was cleared but the path that we had worn over years of running back and forth between the houses was full of drifting snow, twice as deep as what we had been slogging through.  I was exhausted as I started up the embankment to the now invisible path.

I attempted to walk in their steps but they were big steps and longer than my legs could manage.  And I kept falling.  I fell so many times I loss count.  The first few times it made me angry with them.

“Why aren’t you waiting for me,” I whimpered to no one listening. “Meanies!”

After that they were gone and I was just scared.  I panicked and it made me slip and slide and fall again and again.  What was worse than falling was I hadn’t taken any gloves to school with me that day.  Every time I fell, my hands were deep in the snow.  It was cold and wet.  My sleeves were full.  Every time I fell, it was worse, colder than I could imagine feeling.  At some point I started crying.  That meant my nose was also running.  What a mess!

My mother was waiting for me on the porch, coaxing me onward.  What seemed like miles to me, wasn’t really all that far. She had a sweater wrapped around herself and took me inside and helped me get all my snowy clothing off, now melting and sticky wet.  I couldn’t stop crying.  It wasn’t about being left behind at this point. I couldn’t feel my hands and in my naturally dramatic manner, was upset that this meant impending amputation.  They were completely numb, surely they would have to be cut off.  What would I do?  I wouldn’t be able to draw anymore!  All my crayons would have to lay still in their box forever.

My mother took me into her bedroom and we sat on her bed.  She wrapped me up in a blanket, but I was inconsolable about living a future life with no hands.  She took both my frozen hands in hers and placed them up against her stomach, covering them with her own.  She talked to me, but I have no idea what she said but I am sure it was cooing and soothing.  It wasn’t long before the warmth of her stomach began to thaw out my tiny fingers and the feeling began to return.  What a relief!!  I would color again!

Hot chocolate at the kitchen table helped continue the warm up.  My hands were saved, my future artistic endeavors saved.  I was warm as I never thought I would be again.  My mother had given her warmth to me!  We did not have a lot of close moments before or after that as she was always so busy, so those moments of closeness were a rare and cherished memory.

To this day when it gets very cold out, my hands cry out with pain inside as if they remember and it reminds me of that day.  To this day I keep extra gloves everywhere.

 

Giving and Receiving

I want to write about giving.  Giving gets written about mostly during the holidays.  I think it is an all  year round thing for me personally.  It gives me a lot of joy to lend someone a hand, to answer a call for help or donations, to listen when someone needs it.  Everyone gives what they can in their own way.

A few weeks ago the office sent out a memo.  They were collecting donations of school supplies for a Back-to-School Drive.  I had initially skipped over the email, but when I was at the store standing in front of a partially set up display of Crayola Crayons, I remembered it.  The shelves were full of cases of the small box of 24 crayons each, waiting to be opened and displayed for sale.  I couldn’t tear myself away from the sight of all those brand new crayons – all that potential.  A new crayon is such an exciting thing – a whole box – well, that’s just wonderful.  From the first trail of waxy color running across a page until whatever masterpiece is completed -it is exciting. I bought a case of them and a few other items.

I felt compelled to explain to the cashier that they weren’t for me.

“Kids should have crayons,” I said somewhat feebly, after explaining it was for a school donation drive. But it was something I believed, crayons, pens, pencils, markers, paper – all those means of self-expression, they should have them.  They should have an unending supply of them for their entire lives.

“That’s great,” she said.

“I have what I need,” I said. It wasn’t what I wanted to express.  I didn’t know where to go from there.  That part made her look at me though.

I am sure like all children, I was given gifts growing up.  There wasn’t a lot of money so they were reserved for birthdays and Christmas. Once a friend gave me a little book – not on my birthday or Christmas.  I remember holding it proudly as I hopped off that last big step from the big yellow school bus.  I don’t recall what book it was but I recall my mother taking me aside to tell me that I had to give it back.  I did as I was told but this time I had asked why.  Why did I have to give it back? There wasn’t anything wrong with it.  It was nice. It was a nice thing between friends, I thought.

“We don’t accept things from others because we don’t want people to think we can’t afford them ourselves.”

“Okay,” I said, but I was a muddle of feelings – confused, ashamed, sad, embarrassed.  And I had an odd feeling, a sort of sickly revelation of the type that shakes the foundation of what a small child holds fast to as truth.  I had a feeling that my mother was wrong.  Can parents be wrong? I also had a feeling that this line of thought was an area in which I needed to tread lightly for fear any of the words in my head might escape through my mouth.

It didn’t make sense to me, but the message was clear.  Don’t accept charity. I gave it back mostly because somehow I thought I had brought shame on the family in accepting it. If we couldn’t afford it, we did not need it. And we should not want it?  I loved that little expression of kindness from my friend and was not allowed to have it.  It had made me feel special and I had needed that gesture and didn’t even know how much.  Now as an adult, I can feel the insult that was returning the little book.  And it was wrong.  My mother was wrong.  Can parents be wrong?  Oh boy, yes.  There are loads of things that people cannot afford that they do need.   Love and kindness are free….and should be freely given and accepted.

I give myself things all the time now.  I buy myself things. I create things. But I have not known my whole life how to give myself love and kindness.  The free things. I had not learned how to give those things to myself, to fulfill that need.  I have been starting by giving myself time and experiences, but it is a process.

Yesterday at the grocery store, I bought a rather considerable amount of cat food.  A shelter had put out a call for donations on Facebook.

“These aren’t for me. I only have two cats,” I said to the teenage boy ringing up the seemingly endless piles of cans of that mushy pate version my cats won’t even consider eating.  I didn’t want him to think that I was a crazy cat lady, or worse, that I was eating it myself.

“Sure,”  he nodded rolling his eyes.  I really need to stop trying to strike up conversations with cashiers.

 

(to be continued)