As an adult, I do not do well with compliments. My head knows I should accept them graciously and take them in the spirit in which they are given, but being easily embarrassed and eschewing the calling of any kind of attention to myself, I practice the fine art of deflection. But compliments directed toward my children? Bring ’em on! This week Don had an appointment with his surgeon to check on how he’s progressing (so far, so good); and while we were in the waiting room, we struck up a conversation with a woman who is a first-grade teacher. She was watching Oscar and Edgar play with Lego in the waiting room. They were both on the floor, creating spaceships and sets of steps to board said spaceships, and she remarked on how well they were playing, how they were using their imaginations to create their own scenarios. She added that many of the children she sees don’t seem to have that ability–that they are good at mimicking the dialogue they’ve heard in the movies and recreating scenes they’ve seen on television, but seem incapable of creating their own worlds through play. Each night before the boys brush their teeth, they play with their train table–doing precisely that–creating complicated situations for the trains, their coal tenders, and the occasional interloper. They work together and solve (and sometimes create) problems. And no matter how tired they (or we) are, we give them time and space to do this–even though bed is beckoning. One of their favorite expressions is, “I’m using my imagination.” And watching their imaginations in action is better than any television show or movie I’ve seen.
I’m sure that some might argue there is a such thing as too many books–especially in house that hovers somewhere around 1500 square feet. Floor-to-ceiling shelves abound: four in the living room, three in our dining room, one in the hallway, one in the boys’ bedroom, and another one in the playroom in addition to assorted baskets and hiding places throughout. But tonight I was grateful to have at my disposal a collection I could turn to. After dinner the boys and I ventured out into the backyard to do a little post-storm cleanup. We had had significant rain, and things were messy and needing attention. Edgar hopped right into our to-do list and collected rainwater from barrels to water plants. Soaking wet, gritty and muddy from the occasional romp in the sandbox, and shoe-less, he could not have been happier. Oscar–diametrically opposed to his brother in all that relates to tidiness–was none too pleased. He wanted to come out into the yard, but his yard shoes had mulch in them. I rinsed them off, but the ensuing wetness and length of time they were taking to dry in the humidity were not to be tolerated. He looked at his brother skipping through the grass–dirty, damp, and delirous–and said with a sigh and a tone of longing that caught me off-guard, “I wish I could be more like Edgar.” A dramatic pause from a mother who is seldom at a loss for words, and I ushered the boys in. After a warm bath, it was time for stories and talks. And tonight’s stories shared a common theme: self-esteem. We read Giraffes Can’t Dance, a wonderful book about a giraffe who cannot dance like the other animals but realizes his own rhythm after a profound talk with a very philosophical insect. We then embarked on Little Elephant’s Clever Trick, the story of an elephant who wishes he looked like the other animals he meets but understands at the end that his physical gifts are just as remarkable. We closed with I Love You Because You’re You and The Mommy Book, which both celebrate chidlren’s (and their mommies’) myriad moods and attributes. I am grateful for the talks each book inspired. The night ended well–with ear-to-ear smiles and a comprehensive list of all the characteristics that make Oscar Oscar. Self-esteem seems to me to be at the crux of most of the choices we make–as children and as adults. And nurturing and occasionally protecting a child’s self-esteem seems to me to be one of the tallest orders a parent must fulfill. I will not always have the opportunity to hear the words that will reveal what my children are thinking, and they may soon not always tell me, but if I can help them to feel good about the people they are and are becoming, then I know I have done my job and that they will be able to negotiate their own way.
A confession: I don’t understand–even remotely–the appeal of the Matchbox car. Okay, now that I”ve admitted that, let’s start at the beginning: I grew up with a brother who worshiped Matchbox cars (and the occasional, usually forbidden, Hot Wheel). I sat at a safe distance and watched him line them up, create scenarios, and line them up again. And I didn’t get it. Fast forward 30-plus years and I still don’t get it. I read a lot of parenting books and articles. As a teacher, I try very hard to understand what is “developmentally appropriate” for my children. And as a woman, I am trying very hard to believe that this has nothing to do with the fact that I have two X-chromosomes. But I sit and watch Oscar and Edgar “play cars,” and when I am invited to join them, I do–glad to be included and knowing full well that this won’t always be the case. But I don’t get how to play cars or why one plays cars. Sometimes, in a moment of realism, the cars drive along uneventfully then park. Sometimes personification prevails and they talk. And sometimes they crash. I assume there are rules, but I sure don’t know them. There is a lot about preschool play that I get: I understand that splashing in puddles, playing in a sandbox, and creating with Play-Doh is fun. But this one is elusive. I’m hoping that by continuing to accept their invitations and actively participating to whatever extent my own limitations will allow, I’ll figure it out. Hopefully, by then they will not have outgrown this clearly charming, imaginative play.
This has been a week of significant loss–both personally and professionally. Our aunt Rosalie passed away on July 22, and on the same day our community lost a beloved colleague who epitomized the words “mentor” and “friend”–two souls in two different places going about their work in different ways–but yielding the same result: easing the suffering of others. In the midst of such sadness, it is comforting to know that laughter is still possible, that we are still capable of seeing beauty and innocence. Edgar seems to know intuitively when and how to inspire a smile. Once when Oscar was sick, Edgar’s performance–which involved his highly regarded boa and some Tinker Toys–made his previously and justifiably fussy brother sit up, take notice, and applaud. And this week, Edgar worked his magic once again. Declaring himself a “kitty,” and no doubt inspired by our own Dolores, he crawled into what can only be called our cat’s “apartment complex,” and channeled his inner feline–or, just perhaps, Rosalie or Tom, who always had beaming smiles and made it their life’s work to bring joy to others. Oscar will often say, “That Edgar! He’s such a clown.” There is a fine line between a clown and an empathic human being who knows how to ease others’ suffering. And as Edgar seems to be finding his way and discovering his own capacity to heal, I am proud–and have no doubt Rosalie and Tom would be as well.
It is a pleasant task to write about pleasant things, but to write about great loss is a task that–while admittedly therapeutic and ultimately valuable–is still about loss. And therefore it is with a very heavy heart that I write today about the passing of Don’s maternal aunt and Oscar and Edgar’s great-aunt Rosalie. The boys are young, and their actual memories of this independent, graceful woman will be short; however, her influence on and place in our family will assure that her legacy of caring and generosity will live on. Rosalie was a woman of elegant beauty; and it has always been my contention that no one can be so beautiful in appearance without a beautiful soul beneath. And hers was. Her desire to love surpassed her need to be loved. Her level of compassion for others was effortless and without thought of reward or recompense. She had a voice that was maternal and enveloping and a look in her eyes that brought instant comfort. She loved nature and humanity, her family and friends. She was easy to be with and put others’ needs before her own. Her wit was keen, her intellect sharp, and her judgment sound. A woman of great faith, she accepted others as they were and was fiercely loyal and loving to all. These photos are from a trip to the beach last summer–July 27, 2007, almost a year to the day. They remind me to approach each day with energy and enthusiasm, to embrace each new experience, and to move beyond the self. It’s what Rosalie would have wanted, and it is what we must do to properly honor her and her life.
Music has been an integral part of my life since 1986, the year Don and I met. And though it had previously always been something I had enjoyed, my taste was limited to what was in my childhood home: Tiny Tim records, Captain and Tennille eight-tracks and, later, cassettes of the Village People and Peaches & Herb. Ah, the 1970s. But I digress. Traveling through the college years and well beyond with Don–a musicology major and accomplished guitarist–my ears were opened and my tastes expanded exponentially. We went to Boston Symphony Hall to hear classical composers and to Nashville honkey-tonks to hear bluegrass and country bands. We’ve been to jazz clubs and festivals more times than I can count, and I can credit Don completely and with the utmost reverence for my musical education. In our home, there is always music–on the CD player, radio, and in Don’s guitar-playing. And yesterday a new sound was added–the sound of piano. A colleague was looking to give away a beautiful, antique mahogany A. B. Chase upright (c. 1906, we think), and we were looking for a piano. A group of three men, who will forever be known as nothing short of miracle workers, moved all 700-plus pounds of it up our front stairs, down a narrow hallway, and against the last remaining free wall in our house. It awaits a tuning and a little refinishing, but it’s here–and it sounds sweet. Oscar and Edgar have already received their first informal lessons (the best kind) from Don, who–despite that darned brace–can still teach his sons a little do-re-mi. Oscar told us long ago he wanted to play tuba; and Edgar seems at home at a set of drums. But it all starts with the piano. And ours is here. My musical education started when I was 18–the boys’ starts now. And may it take them wherever they want to go!
The impetus for today’s outing was assuredly Edgar and his love of all things equine. Dream Horse may reign supreme, but after today he has a healthy dose of competition in Buddy, the gentle, intuitive, beautiful horse of a friend and colleague who bought property with a stable a few years ago, and now resides with two horses, two goats, two dogs, two cats, and seven chickens. The boys fed the chickens–after an enthusiastic chase–then went to the stables and met the larger inhabitants. Buddy and his roommate Di got a brushing, and then Buddy offered a ride to both Oscar and Edgar, who were held securely by our host’s capable and kind daughter. Though the family today was experiencing challenges relating to a well that was not functioning properly (or at all), the beauty of their home, the love and care they give to their animals, and the hospitality they extend to others were all evident. And I am as grateful to them for spending time with us today as I am to Edgar for sharing his adoration of horses and providing us with a memorable day.