Children Need Pause and Rewind Buttons

Well, we finally did it! The hubby and I survived high school. We made it through all four years and came out the other side relatively unscathed. There were some bumps and bruises along the way in the form of forgotten homework, mad dashes to school with hastily packed or forgotten lunches, and most recently, the delivery of two loads of cardboard that entirely filled the back of hubby’s SUV to the school our son attended in the afternoon for Civil Engineering and Architecture. Oh, did you think I meant hubby and I survived our own high school years? No, no, no… I’m talking about our son, Joshua, and how despite all the snark thrown our way (and that’s when he was actually communicating) we are now the proud parents of a high school graduate.

Man, did that go quickly. I put him on the bus for kindergarten on Monday, and he graduated on Friday? When I dressed him for school, he had on shorts, a striped t-shirt, and sneakers that lit up when he ran. He loved those shoes. What came home that last day wore a backpack bigger than he was when he started school and sneakers longer than the bus. His sense of fashion didn’t change much. He still leans toward t-shirts, but if you ever see him in shorts it’s only because someone pulled a prank and cut off the legs of the sixty dollar jeans he conned out of his grandfather.

I have vague memories of a little kid who never ordered anything to eat except “chickie fries” suddenly being the young man whose stately walk into the auditorium and perfect pivot at the aisle deposited him at his seat where he promptly clasped his hands behind his back like a Marine standing at attention. And after the ceremony, the only way I could spot him among the sea of blue and white caps and gowns was to look for the face that had once been soft and round and was now square and chiseled. I can recognize that jawline anywhere.

Leap past the graduation dinner at his favorite restaurant to all of us fast asleep in bed that evening. Everyone except me because my mind and heart aren’t quite sure if I’m supposed to be happy or sad. I believe that mix is called melancholy. Add to it a dash of “what do we do with this young person now,” and you will be standing outside the fence of the ballpark in which hubby and I are now playing. Perhaps you are familiar with this scenario, but Joshua is our one and only. We won’t even have the opportunity to apply what we learn to another child.

As I sit here typing this, watching him brush his teeth in the kitchen sink like some kind of animal, I have to wonder how we did with him. Is he truly ready to be unleashed on the public? How much will his behavior reflect on us? Is it too late for Catholic military boarding school in Siberia? Does he love us? Does he even like us?

I suppose we could have done this instead of that. More of A and less of B. Chosen what was behind curtain one as an alternative to taking what was in the box. Would it have made a difference? Life is not a dress rehearsal, so who can really say? I made a promise to infant Joshua to never lie to him no matter how many times he asked me the same question as a toddler (it’s true that airplanes don’t fly when it’s too cold). I tell teenage Joshua that I’ll pay for any therapy needed due to emotional scarring endured while cleaning his bedroom.

Sometimes I wish we had a crystal ball so we could see where all this is heading because it feels like we’re riding a roller coaster in the dark. There are times when I think that’s a good thing because there will be no witnesses when I push Joshua out of the car. But most days, I cling to him in case there is a sudden drop up ahead that none of us can see. We know he wants us to loosen our hold on him for the thrill of rising out of the seat on the dips and hills. And we will… once we check that he secured his seat belt for life.

The Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan

People who know me are aware of my love of books but may not know that I enjoy picture books every bit as much as novels and works of non-fiction. For those who don’t know me, start here (My Love Affair With Books).

The Rules of SummerA couple of weeks ago, as I shelved picture books in the children’s department of the library where I used to work, I discovered Shaun Tan’s book, The Rules of Summer. The unusual artwork on the cover immediately caught my eye, and I indulged in a few stolen moments to read the book. What a treasure.

The lean text tells the story of two brothers and the unique and arbitrary rules that govern their summer. The pictures, semi-abstract creations in oil and acrylic, relay a deeper story about the nature of the boys’ relationship.

I believe the story speaks volumes about how people treat each other whether they’re children or adults, friends or family. It’s testimony to how far we will go in our relationships and exactly what we’ll tolerate and for how long. This may sound heavy for a picture book, but the beauty of the subtle message is that there is hope even when human nature ensures that this process repeats itself. When it does, we learn and grow, love and forgive.

I’ve already enjoyed reading The Rules of Summer five times and have decided that I must own a copy for my private library. The book as a whole is an incredible work of art, and I’ll never tire of sifting through the many layers of the story, both words and pictures.

I Think That I Shall Never See…

HBSmithPhotography

HBSmithPhotography

Trees are beautiful and majestic. I remember the pine tree on the back corner of our yard at the house in Ellet. There weren’t many limbs that were good for climbing, they were too close, too thin, and too gooey with pine tar, but we still managed to hoist ourselves up through the tightly spaced branches to reach a height that made the adults look up with concern. Don’t go too high was always the admonition. It never felt that high. We climbed under the illusion of childhood invincibility, a trait we didn’t even know we possessed.

That old pine was the only real tree on our property in suburban Akron. I say real because it was years before my father planted a Sunburst Honey Locust in the front yard at my mother’s request. The locust tree was so delicate and frilly, nothing like the ancient sentinel in the backyard. We would never climb Sunny. That was the name we gave to the tree.

The last time I drove past our former home, Sunny stood head and shoulders above the little white Cape Cod where I spent my grade school years. I don’t know if the pine was still there. I drove slowly past the house but didn’t linger long enough to make anyone suspicious. I really need to see if the pine still stands. As tightly packed as the cookie cutter houses were placed, removing the pine would be a precarious job best left to the professionals. Until that sad day, I hope many more small hands grasp the gritty branches, hauling little bodies skyward, as the camphorous odor of pine sap assaults little noses.

A Vision in Red

I woke up this morning thinking about the red glass rabbit. The memory must have ridden in on the tail end of a wild night of dreaming because I haven’t thought about her in decades. In my mind, she still holds center court among the animal figurines sitting on my great aunt’s kitchen windowsill in Tennessee.

My great aunt never hesitated to let me play with what I believed were her most treasured possessions. For this reason, I took great care not to break any of the inch and a half tall animals in the collective herd. There was a goose and a deer among the group, but my favorite was the solid red, blown glass rabbit with two miniscule dollops of white glass for eyes. She was perfect.

Red Glass RabbitThe red glass rabbit starred as the heroine in all my adventures played out on the kitchen table. She forever needed rescued by the other animals led by her boyfriend, the deer. I’m pretty sure I named him Bambi; I don’t recall what I named the rabbit. Every scenario, in which I imprisoned her in a tiny basket, ended with her being declared queen, a title she graciously accepted.

Occasionally, her liberation depended on the assistance of my great aunt’s salt and pepper shakers. There were four of them, two couples of different size, reminiscent of the man on the Cream of Wheat box and Aunt Jemima. These shakers are the type of item labeled Black Americana today and are found in antique stores and probably homes south of the Mason/Dixon line. I could be wrong about that, though.

During one summer visit to my great aunt’s home, I was horrified to discover that since the last year, someone had chipped the ear of the red glass rabbit. My great aunt didn’t seem as upset as I believed she should have been. She said either she, or my great uncle, or her mother probably knocked the rabbit off while washing dishes. My thoughts fluctuated between relief that it wasn’t me who caused the mar and appreciation that the damage could have been so much worse.

My great aunt broke up housekeeping several years ago after my great uncle and her mother passed. She sold the home and large items in Tennessee, bestowed smaller goods upon close friends, packed up the rest, and moved back to Ohio. It was good to have her home. I asked about the salt and pepper shakers because I trusted their size ensured they survived until my adult years. Unfortunately, my great aunt had already given them away.

I never inquired about the red glass rabbit. I knew in my heart the tiny treasure had disappeared long ago. Before I stopped playing with my own collection of animal figurines, the red glass rabbit probably had her ears and toes chipped until she appeared in a sorry state. Or perhaps one tumble into the depths of the empty kitchen sink was one too many, and she had to be discarded.

Does it matter that my great aunt probably doesn’t even remember owning such an item?  Does anyone reading this even care? Who can say? All I know is that somewhere in time, a very talented glassblower created a beautiful red glass rabbit that brought immeasurable joy to a little girl.

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