Five Minute Friday: Present

1070030_10152012498928998_1193552644_nWednesday morning at 11 am, the view was unexpected and beautiful. A garden hidden between boarded up houses and run down lots. A block or two of renovated and rejuvenated old buildings, homes, and gardens. A reconstructed oasis in the outskirts of a forgotten downtown, reclaiming some history and dignity. Red brick streets warming in the early sun, flanked by shops and restaurants. Young women pushing strollers. Girlfriends going for a morning run. Shop keepers washing their windows and turning signs from “closed” to “open”.

And I sat.

Waiting.

We were meeting for lunch at The Green Well Gastro Pub in Grand Rapids, MI. For years I had known he spent the summers teaching at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, but ironically never realized it was the very camp The Tortoise went just a couple of summers ago. Less than three hours away, for the past twelve years, I had missed many opportunities to reconnect. In a moment of blind faith, I reached out and asked, “Can I see you for lunch?”

The two-hour drive to find this hidden spot gave me plenty of time to wade through years of memories and emotions. It had been nearly 15 years since we last saw each other. It had been nearly 15 years that we spent time together. He the teacher. I the student. From the time I was eleven until I was about twenty-five, this man was not only my music mentor, he was another parent and confidant. The bulk of my late childhood and early adulthood include him. The bulk of my musical passion and creativity stem from my relationship with this sweet man. Even in his absence, his insight and vision were always present. I missed him terribly, wondered if we would still be teacher and student or if time could transform us into friends.

Walking through the door, his smile caught my breath. He was exactly as I remembered and I fell into his arms, hugging him like the child I was when we last parted. Seven hours later, as the afternoon progressed into early evening, I knew we were more like friends.

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A Long Drive Home

Standing on his doorstep, waiting, it felt like the whole summer had slipped away on the long drive home.

Summer vacation meant road trips and visiting extended family and friends. It meant sibling squabbles in the backseat over who got to sit next to the window, eating sugary cereal at sunrise on picnic benches and sweaty thighs sticking to vinyl seats. But that summer I had my own portable cassette deck and earphones. I had Depeche Mode and A-Ha.  Best of all, I had a mix-tape from Him that was almost worn out by the time we made it back to San Antonio. Over and over I listened, searching for clues about his feelings. We weren’t really dating. He was mysterious and a little bit unpredictable, a repeat student. But his blue eyes held me captive in Creative Writing class, as his words wound their way around my naive heart.

We had kissed.

Once.

Maybe twice.

He lived alone with his dad and never talked about his mom. His dad encouraged our time together, made me feel like the most important person entering his home. My tightly permed curls, big puffy hair bows and white Keds were an uncomfortable contrast to the grey interior of their small apartment that smelled of cigarettes and take-out. Our last conversation played over and over in my mind, our feet dangling over the side of an old community pool, the blue-green water barely covering the peeling bottom. It was home to a swarm of mosquitoes.

“Call me as soon as you get back,” he said. A slanted smile and crooked tooth caught the shadow of a low afternoon sun. “I’ll miss you while you’re gone.”

I could hear his voice in my head as I spent the long drive home wishing for vacation to be over. Leaning against the window, my thoughts vibrated with the road. I sang silently every song on His mix-tape, letting R.E.M., Blue Oyster Cult and the Beatles lull me to sleep.

I didn’t care that he didn’t return my calls, or that his dad sounded so sad on the phone. I was home now. As I drove to his apartment, the feel of cloth seats, the breath of summer air and the grape smell of blooming Mountain Laurel rushing inside my car was a relief.

Surprising him would make our reunion all the sweeter.

Yet, the longer I stood on his doorstep, the shorter my drive felt, until finally his father opened the door. He smiled weakly, and for the first time, did not welcome me inside.

“He isn’t here,” he said.

“Oh,” I said disappointed, “Can you tell me when he’ll be back?”

“I’m so sorry, ” he replied, hands nervously playing with the door handle, “He left to get married, join the military and raise a baby.”

I stared at him in disbelief. The announcement hung in the air, hovering in my silence, as tears welled up in my eyes.

And then, I drove home.

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*This post was inspired by Mama Kat, prompt #2 and Write at the Merge, week 19.

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The scents and sounds of sisters

WatMButtonTake2wTextThere hasn’t been much snow this year, but the sharp temperatures have still been painful. So when a true snow day appeared on Friday, the kids were giddy. Unfortunately for The Hare, snow does not prohibit school from happening. And since we had already taken a few days off for gymnastics, there was much work to be done regardless. Her big sister, The Tortoise, was a good sport about honoring our school day. She worked on an English paper and caught up on some reading. It turned out to be a pretty productive day.

The weekend remained windy. Temperatures eased up enough to let patches of frozen grass peek out from under the blank canvas. We stayed inside, buried under blankets and pillows, watching movies and eating leftovers. While the rest of the north was still digging their way out of winter storms, our snow topped trees and yards melted, transforming into rivers of dirty slush, as icy rain pelted the earth most of Sunday night.

“Mom,” giggled The Tortoise Monday morning, “school’s cancelled.”

She had been up for almost an hour, her hair still damp, smelling of citrus and honey. We had not anticipated another snow day. There wasn’t any snow, but the constant patter-patter of raindrops through the night had turned the highways into skating rinks. We went back to bed. By 9am, the aroma of coffee and bacon, mixed with the faint scent of morning breath, unraveled in the kitchen as the three of us padded around the hard-wood floors in our slippers.  Since school was closed on Friday, The Tortoise had no new assignments. It was going to be a challenge to keep The Hare focused with her sister home again.

The Tortoise took the opportunity to clean her room and bathroom. She even got some of her laundry done, but by noon, she was desperate to find something less productive. The Hare worked distractedly on math and science, stopping every few minutes to peek around the corner to catch a glimpse of her sister’s whereabouts. The rain had ceased, but the cold persisted. No one wanted to leave the house.

At lunchtime, I sent The Hare to the kitchen with her reading book, while I hopped on the computer to get some work done. I worked quickly, anticipating the need to referee whining and pouting children. After all, sisters cooped up together for four days straight can’t possibly result in anything other than bickering. But the quiet turned into giggles and the shuffling of appliances. They whispered and cooed like best friends at a sleep over. Before long, the smell of boredom was replaced with butter and cinnamon, my nose recognizing the familiar scent of Snicker-doodle cookies.

The afternoon disappeared as the girls baked, drinking in every ounce of an unexpected concoction of happiness, joy and cookies.  I could have made sure The Hare finished her assignments, but I think the greatest lesson would have been lost.

I try twice as hard and I’m half as liked

WatMButtonTake2wTextIt’s strange to see pictures of my mom equivalent in age to the age I am now, even weirder to see pictures of myself at the current age of my oldest daughter. My mom wore 40 well. She looked youthful and well rested.  Lately, I just feel like I have one foot in the grave. Although, in my defense, I have been battling an infection. DW took me to urgent care yesterday when my fever spiked to nearly 103. (Thank you antibiotics.) This morning I am finally starting to feel like normal is around the corner.

“But I still wake up, I still see your ghost
Oh Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for oh
What do I stand for? What do I stand for?
Most nights, I don’t know anymore…” – Some Nights by Fun.

At fifteen, I looked awkward and naive. I worried too much about what other people thought of me and not enough of what I thought of myself. The plight of every teenager, I guess. I measured my success by the amount of friends I had, or by the amount of drama attention received. It’s comical how much of our youth we spend trying to be like everybody else, only to spend the latter half of our lives trying to figure out how to be ourselves.

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image courtesy of leo.jeje (via Flickr Creative Commons)

Seeing pictures of my mom at my current age puts things in perspective though. It reminds me how each stage of life is temporary yet necessary. It reminds me that what I thought I knew then, was nothing at all and it reminds me that what I think I know now, will change tomorrow. Sometimes, life feels as scattered as broken glass, but when I take a step back, I can see the amazing picture created. Like a stained glass window absorbing the sun, the light from our joys and successes shines through. It’s only in the darkness that we forget how beautiful our lives are.

I never realized how easy it was to be “just like everyone else”. It felt like so much work to wear the right clothes, hang with the right circle, talk with a certain inflection, or even worship like my neighbor. Now, I get “it”. I understand how much more effort it takes to wear what feels comfortable and not what is “in style”, choose only a handful of friends that really matter, speak openly and honestly or worship in a way that has meaning to me. My daughter looks so much more mature at fifteen than I did, but I know that looks can be deceiving. I know that at her core, she is no different than I was at her age.  I know that even though some days seem like we are treading water, there will come a day that she will “get it” too. And even though it feels like I am trying twice as hard at this stage of my life, and am only half as liked, that’s okay. Because it’s not my job to be liked right now. It’s my job to parent.

There will be time for my children to like me later.

Time is in the eye of the beholder

Sometimes I feel like I am battling myself, as if I am sifting through the stages of grief on a daily basis. Reflection is a double-edged sword. At times it reminds me of all the amazing moments I have had with my children, while other times it just highlights out how quickly my time with them is slipping away. From the moment my eyes take in the morning light, until the moment I finally put the day to rest, I celebrate my children’s accomplishments as often as I pine for the days that held so much unknown promise.

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The Tortoise (right) and her best friend

Last night The Tortoise went to Winterfest, her second high school dance. Although, originally a Sadie Hawkins dance, more girls are deciding to go with each other instead of dates. They have decided to make a statement that it is okay to not be dating someone and instead just have fun together with friends. The Tortoise also decided to invite her closest friend, Kay-Kay, even though she lives in a different school district. She wanted to have a night of laughter and dancing with the person she feels most comfortable around. The Tortoise and Kay-Kay met nearly twelve years ago when we moved to Michigan. Her family lived in our original neighborhood, along with three other families who we became very attached. These are the families that made Michigan feel like home. These are the families that helped me be a better parent, wife and friend. These are the families that love my children as if they were their own.

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First day of kindergarten for The Tortoise and her best friend.

But as the girls stood for pictures in my hallway, all I could see were the sweet little faces of a couple of five-year-old’s getting on the bus for their first day of kindergarten. Ten years ago they were five. Ten years ago I could only imagine what kind of young women they would be, and now they are embarking on the last few years of their childhood. Instead of dreaming about how to write their names, they are dreaming about signing driver’s licenses and filling out job applications. I’m not tying shoes anymore, but watching my first-born march down the stairs in strappy high-heels. And these girls have traded pig-tails and bubblegum scented lip balm for curling irons and perfectly matched make-up. As proud I am of who they have become, I can’t help but miss the little girls they were a decade ago.

There is a relief that they still have each other though. They are each others point of reference, a constant in an inconsistent world. And even though I know that DW and I have and will always be here for The Tortoise, it is important that she also have that one special someone, someone who loves her because she chooses to, not because she “has to”.

It doesn’t matter how much time passes between them either, because it is obvious that each time they come back together, they too see the same sweet faces I see from so many years ago.