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Helping

“Momma, I want to press letters.”

And so we are. I remember being her age and sitting at my mother’s blue typewriter, tongue sticking out of my mouth as I poked away at the keys. The satisfying click and thunk of the keys striking the paper roll.

This morning she read the white letters on the STOP sign in one of her picture books.

“S-T-O-P. Stop. That’s a stop sign.”

Ellie might not recognize the connection between what she’s saying and what she’s seeing, but that’s OK.

She’ll get there.

“I holded it up and I holded it down and I banged my heart in weightlessness.”

Yep. That’s my girl.

~*La!

Skeletons in the Backyard

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My parents will soon move from the house where I grew up and I have mixed feelings about the whole endeavor.

It’ll be good because  they’ll leave Virginia and move closer to me, but in doing so, will move farther away from my sister.

They’re having a new house built ultimately so that they can age in place, but I have a hard time visualizing them in their new space.

Back in the spring, my sister and I jotted down a list of all of the nice features of that old house. Skylights in the kitchen — one car-garage (in a neighborhood that does not have garages at all) — well-maintained year-round garden. But there’s other things about that house too that not everyone will love nor any potential buyer will ever know about.

Things like the guinea pig skeleton in the backyard. Scooter, a hand-me-down calico colored guinea pig, died the night before we were going to take her to the exotic animal veterinarian. I remember checking on her periodically throughout the evening and then going in to find that she wasn’t breathing.

We’d had other pets die before, but Scooter was mine. She’d been my responsibility since a neighbor kid couldn’t take care of her anymore and she came to live with us. Her grief was mine to carry and deal with. I emptied out a shoe box and we buried her the next day in the backyard. Every year when my parents go to till up the soil in the garden I think about where she’s buried and wonder how much evidence of her would be left. I wonder if whomever buys their house will ever find her tiny skeleton in tact or just dig up her bones one at a time and know them for what they are — a memory of child-sized grief.

 

She’s The Tear In My Heart

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Elle broke my heart this morning. It’s happened before, but we switched to summer hours this week and today was the first day I’ve dropped her off at daycare in over a year.

Mornings have been her and Mr. Pirate’s time since I’ve worked the morning shift this school year – 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

And over the course of the year she’s transitioned up into the more traditional preschool setting. She’s doing lots of really awesome things like putting on her shoes by herself (usually on the correct foot) and taking her plate to the counter when she finishes dinner. She’s becoming independent and that’s exactly what she should be doing. Elle is learning her own mind and I am so proud of her.

But sometimes I still have these moments of weakness. Like today. At school, I helped her out of her track jacket, hung it up in her cubby, greeted one of her classmates who was standing at the door and, then waved goodbye. Elle just stood there, green plaid lunch bag in hand and said: “I want my mama.”

Her teachers are great at deflecting potential melt-down situations. I stepped aside so she couldn’t see me and through the open door I heard them usher Elle to the refrigerator to put away her lunch. They then invited her to sit down and eat her morning snack with the rest of the 2-year-olds.

Yeah. She’s still just 2 and already she’s tugging at my heart strings.

Women have always had the greatest potential to break my heart.

My sister has broken my heart a time or two (I’ve broken hers too — it’s what sisters do to one another.) Three out of four college roommates broke my heart over the course of our time together. But Anne broke it first.

For some reason, our teachers thought it would be a great idea to take the entire eighth grade and let us loose at this big wilderness park. I mean, this is a place where there’s a lake and paddle boats during the summer. It’s a great place to spend the day, but it baffles me that they thought unsupervised 13-year-olds could handle it. I marvel that we didn’t all drown or leave pink and bumpy with poison ivy.

As soon as we disembarked the buses, my best friend Anne very deliberately gave me the slip. I remember her stepping off the bus ahead of me, looking back and then walking away very quickly with two other girls who I thought were also my friends.

We had sat next to each other on the bus ride and she gave no indication that we were going to play a big game of hide and seek. So we do-si-doed around the buses for a few minutes and then she was just gone.

Maybe we spoke. Maybe I called out to her, but at that moment of her avoiding me she might as well have physically hit me. It hurt so bad to realize she didn’t want me around anymore.

We had been best friends since the first grade. This was the girl who I took dance lessons with. Whose house I played at in the afternoons until “All Things Considered” came on NPR. She almost had her eye poked out with a stick one summer and I felt so guilty because I was at the beach and not there to protect her.

And just like that, she walked away from me and we weren’t friends anymore.

I realize now that we had just grown apart. It happens. Relationships evolve and change and sometimes that change happens without both parties being aware of it.

She was interested in flirting and makeup. I liked reading and playing outside. I had a vague idea that flirting was a thing you could do, I just hadn’t figured it out yet.

I ended up spending the rest of that day wandering adrift and unsure of where I fit into the social structure of being a teenager without my best friend.

Our breakup made me stronger and spawned my own fierce independence. I can travel alone and am content to sit apart in a crowded room. I’m still not 100 percent at ease solely in the company of women though. People just hurt one another. It’s part of opening your heart to other people in the first place.

I know now that hearts tear and then get mended back together again and again. Like those heart-shaped necklaces that read “Best Friends” when they’re whole and “Be Fri” and “St Ends” when they’re apart (Anne and I had one of those necklaces. Mine’s probably in a box in the basement…).

Elle’s needing me this morning was just another tear in my heart. I’ll heal and we’ll both be stronger for it. I just don’t want to be the one who leaves her standing alone beside the bus.

~*La.

Mother’s Day and Leftover Pie

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Mr. Pirate asked the other night what I would like for Mother’s Day this year.

Flowers. Just a little hanging basket of petunias to put out in the yard and attempt to not kill.

It’s my first Mother’s Day as a mom and although growing up my family always had the attitude that you didn’t wait for a holiday to tell someone they are important to you, it’s still kind of nice to have time set aside to say these things out loud.

My mom has always made finding gifts for her at birthdays and holidays difficult. She doesn’t like chocolate all that much. She’s a minimalist when it comes to accessorizing. She just doesn’t really go in for stuff.

She’s an actions speak louder than words kind of lady.

I remember being 8 or 9 and wanting to make my mom breakfast in bed as a special treat.

Never mind that she eats her breakfast standing up at the kitchen counter. Totally disregard the fact that the breakfast I prepared was my idea of the perfect breakfast: buttered toast with cinnamon and sugar with a side of cold cereal.

Mum’s daily breakfast? Yogurt or maybe hot cereal in the winter.

I didn’t have the diligence as a kid to actually get up before my parents on weekends, so I probably coerced her to get back in bed so that I could bring her a tray with breakfast.

I wanted to make her feel special. Even though I had a very limited skill set in the kitchen I wanted to thank her for all of the daily things that she did to make me feel special.

Things like, singing me to bed every night until I was in middle school (I secretly missed it when she stopped but was too much of a teenager to say so).

Or letting me hold our dog’s leash when we went for walks. It’s silly, but that made me feel like she trusted me. Even when our schipperke would dash ahead and nearly tug the leash out of my hand. Mum let me know that I was capable of handling responsibility and stout energetic dogs.

Had my younger self really wanted to surprise my mom, I’d have prepared for her the ultimate breakfast, leftover pie. The joy of leftover dessert as breakfast is another thing I learned from my mom.

The day after a holiday meant that anything was fair game for breakfast. Even pie.

My parents are visiting from out-of-state this weekend to visit Elle for the first time. This afternoon I’m going to make her a Be-bop a Rhee-bop Rhubarb Pie. It won’t be leftover pie for breakfast today, but it will be ready for tomorrow which ought to do the trick.

Maybe the sentiment on Mother’s Day is sappy, but I still think it’s worthwhile to take the time to show someone what they mean to you. Even if it is just a drop in the bucket in comparison to raising someone.

~*La!

Playing House

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I remember playing house a lot when I was little. Not so much with my friends, but when I played alone.

We had this little miniature cardboard kitchen with a red sink and a window that looked out onto a backyard with a tree. I would prepare brightly-colored plastic meals for my Cabbage Patch kids and would talk to them as if we were a family. I folded and refolded their clothes  — infant onesies leftover from when my sister and I were tiny — and mimicked chores my mom did around the house.

I never imagined what this house actually looked like. Everything revolved around the kitchen though. The doll bunk beds were in the kitchen. We drove to the store in the kitchen. The kitchen was basically the only room in that world of pretend.

Maybe my earliest imaginings about a home are why Mr. Pirate and I do not have a deadline for fixing up the Jade House. Perhaps, I am still not yet sure what this house looks like either.

That’s why I drool a little bit when I read articles in the newspaper like this one about a family who built their dream home with repurposed materials. Their home seems so funky and thought out. They knew what they wanted and they made it happen with hard work and dedication.

Here at the Jade House, we have moments of inspired progress. This winter we worked on the baby’s room in large part because with three weeks left, the baby’s room just needed to happen. The walls are still a little bare, but all the furniture is in place. Or at least, in place until we figure out how this space is going to be used and we end up rearranging to make it better.

There are even fewer rules with your own house than there are with the pretend house of my childhood games. I feel embarrassed at times by the clutter and overall state of work-in-progress-affairs. And then my cousin just randomly stops by and we stand around in the kitchen and talk about books and life in general and it’s all good.

There’s no stress about making our home neat and tidy in that moment. Just laughter and an overall moment of peace.

When you get right down to it, I think that’s the home that I want the Jade House to be. That’s the house I want this little person to grow up in.

~*La!

 

Long Exposure

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I finally bit the bullet this weekend and had the 11 rolls of film and one disposable camera from before I went digital developed.

I waited too long. After almost four years in some cases, the image quality is grainy. Relationships that had meaning at the time the pictures were taken are now something completely different. It’s eerie to look back at my past this way.

There are pictures from my bridal shower and our honeymoon.

Pictures from when we first came to Denver.

 Glimpses of things that, in my mind, I remembered differently.

At the time, I didn’t feel like we could spend the money on such frivolous things as developing the images I obsessively snap. As we prepared to move to the Jade House last summer, I carefully packed the plastic canisters of memories away with all of my other photographs.

I didn’t want to forget where we put them.

~*La

 

Shoveling Our Way to a White Christmas

It looks like we’ll have a white Christmas in our part of Colorado this year. Good old Mother Nature dropped a good foot of snow on us last night and it’s not likely to melt much by this weekend.

Growing up in Virginia, the concept of a white Christmas was really only something Bing Crosby sang about. I guess I dreamed about it too, it just didn’t ever do me much good to ask Santa Claus for snow. I remember one year when we got flurries, and another when we had enough to make a tiny snowman using pretty much all the snow in the backyard. My folks let me pack it into a Tupperware and put it in the freezer so that we’d have snow for the following year. I think I was in college before they found it and released it back into the wild.

My big winter memories come from shoveling snow. Or rather, watching my dad shovel snow. Apparently, when I was still in diapers, my sister, our poodle and I used to sit on the couch and just stare out at my dad shoveling. Later, I’d bundle up and sit on my sled in the front yard while Dad in his green Army jacket would soldier away at our fabulously long sidewalk. We lived on the corner and as if that weren’t enough shoveling, he’d also clear the gutter in front of our house and then go over and shovel our elderly neighbor’s walk as well.

Virginia snow usually happens in January or February and then it’s this slushy awful, ice on the bottom kind of snow.

Colorado on the other hand takes its snow seriously. Here, the snow tends toward the light and powdery variety even if you only live on the plains like we do. Also, it can start as early as October.

Not everyone in this state skis or snowboards, a fact to which my Wagner family are a testament. However, there are other things you can do in the snow. Like shoveling and meeting your neighbors for the first time.

The Jade House is on the corner and the sidewalk along the side of the house just seems to stretch on and on when the snow comes up to your knees. However, today I met our neighbor who lives behind us. We met her briefly, when we first came to look at the house and now after talking to her I learned that we would have met her sooner had we done more in the yard this fall.

Our neighborhood is an older one, as far as the suburbs go at least, and she had some fine memories about winter in our neighborhood. Such as the fact that a helicopter landed in the street the day her youngest daughter was born because of the snow that year and the fact that they couldn’t get to the hospital any other way.

In closing, here’s a shot of the cats inspecting our petite Christmas tree. Have a happy and warm holiday weekend!

~*La!