Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Make Mine a Memory

I went to a high school volleyball game tonight. A young woman I know sat near me and was attending a game for the first time since graduating high school herself just a few years ago. She commented on how the knee pads had changed. The length of the socks was different. The girls had gotten new uniforms. I could tell this bothered her. She sort of pulled up her nose and said “I don’t like those knee pads. Why do they wear black ones now? And what’s up with those short socks? That looks weird.” We laughed and someone said “Hey, Kari, you’re just getting older like the rest of us.” She was not enjoying this new feeling and protested very loudly. “No….. I’m only 21. I’m not that old yet.” We laughed again. “But you’re not in high school anymore either.” The look in her eyes as these words sunk in showed me that she was in a sort of painful denial that the life she had to leave behind had gone on without her. No one in that school remembers her name. The uniforms have changed, the look of the students has changed and in her absence these changes taking place have left her feeling out of touch and unsure why.

My friend and I talked about that on the ride home from the game. We talked about how we so naturally flow through the stages of life. We both have teenagers now and have long since left the stay at home mom with toddlers stage of life. But it wasn’t that long ago that I cruised up to pick my daughter up from the swimming pool and saw the newest gang of young mom’s dangling their toes into the depths of the kiddie pool and felt a little pang for who I wasn’t anymore.

I’ve been doing some reflecting lately. A lot of sizing up the past and piecing it into the present. Watching Kari struggle tonight to let go completely of that teenage perception of herself made me suddenly so thankful for my 34 years. I smiled as I turned away from the conversation and looked out on the sea of generations that were cheering on their teams. I realized that I was very content to be 34 tonight. I’ve had to part with some pretty great era’s in my life already. But I’m so glad I wasn’t given the choice to remain. Those times have become memories, and rich ones at that.

I wish I’d been in a quiet place with Kari tonight, so that I could have encouraged her. I would have told her about how thankful I am to not be a teen or a twenty two year old anymore. I would have told her that even though my face is starting to show the signs of time and even though I’m at least two whole steps slower on the volleyball court than I once was, and even though I don’t look so hot in even my cutest jeans I wouldn’t trade a minute in. I have experienced life deeply and fully through all those stages so far and I don’t want to waste a minute of this moment being sorry that I’m here. I want to tell her that it’s okay to leave that stage behind. It isn’t waiting for you to come back.

As I look back on what has become my story, I realize the significance of my past and how those events have an effect on my life as I live it now. I look back with a sense of awe at how the story has unfolded, which causes me to look ahead with excitement toward what is yet to come. I’m thankful for the passage of time. Sure, like everyone, I wish it could go a little slower, but I’m so thankful it just keeps marching on. I love what I’ve learned so far.

I enjoyed being 16. And I was really in love with 25. But I’ve gained so much in the first 34 years I don’t want to stop now. Bring on the experiences and let me drink them in so deeply. Let me move through them with intentional passion and let them leave me with few regrets. I don't fear getting older.

Some people go through their lives trying to recapture their youth. As for me… make mine a memory. There’s so much new to experience today.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

First Love

I remember my first love. They say everyone does. I guess it’s not quite right to call it love now that I know love. In context true love is something entirely other, in fact. But first love; first love has that mix of heart engulfing emotion and teenage passion that we never quite get to experience again. That’s what makes it so memorable. Those years represent a time in life when we were ego centric and it seemed okay to be. We were teenagers.

I dated a senior who was from my town but not my school. I was just a sophomore. He was cyclist, a runner, student body president, and the homecoming king. I thought he hung the moon. His mom had passed away tragically when he was 14. His father had left his mother during her pregnancy with him. I guess, looking back the reason Human Services never intervened for him was because the man his mother had married was technically living with him. I say technically because this man managed road crews. The kind that travel for months at a time. My first love, had been on his own for the most critical part of his childhood. The fact that he was an amazing boy-man even through all of that is probably what attracted me and then held me in “love’s” grasp so strongly. He was an honor student and head of one of those anti drinking groups in his school. His friends were people who’d already experienced the toughest stuff of life with him. There for him through his mom’s illness and death, they became his family. It was a privilege to be around that brotherhood. It set a standard in friendship for me and I feel blessed by that still today.

When I look back on those days it’s as if this chunk of time were lived by someone else. The experiences were so poignant that the memories are still crisp and vivid. It’s the stuff of great drama and unimaginably deep and colorful characters. That time is sealed up tightly on a reel somewhere deep in my mind and when I visit it on rare occasion it’s like watching some sort of television series.. The kind of series you wish would never have to get canceled.

Oh, it’s not that I’d trade my one true love, that man I’m married to, whom I adore, to go back and make things work out. No, as I said before, first love is so very different from true love and true love wins every time. What I mean is; that was a very beautiful time filled with experiences that were all so new and fresh and I guess I just feel really blessed that they were so positive and that there are so few regrets. I know many people who’s stories of first love were difficult and painful. And it’s a gift to have memories like mine. Memories of a time that involves so much more than just a boy. These were the experiences of some sort of teenage community that we formed and that ended up forming us.

Last night I looked across the gym as my middle son interacted with his friends at a high school volleyball game. My son is a sophomore. He’s at the age I was when I met “the boy”. There’s this girl I know he likes. He’s been liking her for a while. And then there’s this other girl who likes him a lot and who I know he’s gotten close to. I watched from afar as teenage drama was played out in the student body section. Body language exchanged, side long glances, the brushing of a shoulder, a hand. Girls with their giggles and hair whipping turns to flirt with the boy behind them. Boys shoving each other around some sort of macho mating call I still don’t understand. I watched and I remembered. And I prayed. I prayed that my son would get to remember these days as something beautiful and priceless. That his memories would prove to be important, life shaping moments that hold little regret. That he’ll get to look back on these days realize that he learned something of grace and love mingled in all that poignant drama and teenage passion.

I can’t control what happens for him anymore. I wish I could. But this is his story now. It may not be as positive a chapter for him as it was for me, but he’ll learn and he’ll grow, and eventually, I know he’ll find true love, even if first love turns out to be something other. I have a feeling I know who she’ll be, the true love girl. Just, that mom sense we all have. But that chapter hasn’t been written yet. And I’m okay waiting a few years to find out.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Of IceSkates and Footballs

“The trees were sculpture without their leaves when you were reconciled to them.” Ernest Hemmingway, A Moveable Feast

My mom’s ice skates. They hung on a peg in the furnace room in our basement. I remember liking the way they looked, hanging there against the raw wood. I also liked to imagine a younger version of my mother gliding silently through the mist that hung above the frozen creek near her home.
I remember the first time I got to try them out. It was a perfect winter day. My best friend Jessica and I decided to trek down to a tiny pond at the edge of our hometown. I can still feel the sting of that snow packed earth beneath my jeans as I laced the skates tight. Back then new skills were easy to acquire and within moments I was slicing those blades fluidly against the surface of this beautiful retreat. Jess and I twirled and pirouetted our way through the blissful evening and into the sudden darkness of night. As we stuffed our frozen toes back into our boots and began our journey home I remember being taken aback for the first time by the way the bits of fog had settled onto the tree limbs and now glistened like millions of teeny diamonds strung against a velvet midnight sky. Always one to capture the moment, I traded my skates for a pen and battered notebook and ran back outside as soon as I had returned. I needed to describe in detail this new found beauty.

But yesterday… well, yesterday it was still supposed to be fall. My son had a football game and I dreaded it. Now I love football. I really love it. And I love fall as much as I love football. The two are supposed to go hand in hand. But this fall seems to have quickly morphed into winter. So as I left the cozy warmth of my home to venture out onto what had truly become a frozen tundra I was miserable. I dressed in layers of gortex and fiber fill, completing the look with gloves and yes, the be all end all of redneck wear, a stocking hat. As I parked my lawn chair between other 6th grade moms who were unrecognizable beneath their protective coatings there arose a lament against the season. Regrets over living in this God forsaken country rang out over the sounds of chattering teeth and steaming thermos’ being unscrewed. We were already sick of being cold and we were barely into October. This is love. Sitting in the midst of this barren wasteland that is a football field in winter, muffled claps of encouragement stemming from frozen fingers shrouded in thinsulate. But even love could not overcome the discouragement the cold brought with it.

Our team lost. Oh we lost bad. And as I was trying to thaw my joints enough to pack up the gear and get started toward the car where I knew heat would be found at the press of a button, Dalton came bursting on the scene. His head was steaming, sweat had matted his hair and his breathing was heavy and irregular. His big old arm wove aimlessly around my neck as he breathed, “Mom, what a great day for football huh?”

Suddenly I was 14 on the pond at dusk and the tree limbs were just beginning to dance with refracted light. I knew exactly what Hemmingway was talking about.

Winter has arrived early where I live and I’m not too excited about it, but I guess I better just reconcile myself to the fact. I’m afraid if I don’t I’ll miss out on all the sculpture of the trees, or the beauty of a boy and his frosty football.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Loneliest Place on Earth

Do you remember when you were a kid and everyone would race through the doors at recess and meet out on the baseball diamond for a quick game? You know the drill, captains are chosen and these captains take turns choosing team members. We would all stand around doing our best to look like it didn’t really matter if we got picked first, middle or last. We would scuff the tips of our shoes around in the dust of pitcher’s mound as we pulled our hats down to block the line of vision, or we’d start having conversations with the person next to us as if we were barely aware of teams being formed. I remember. It was always incredibly painful. I wasn’t usually picked last. I was actually pretty good at baseball, but I remember watching the face of the kids who were still standing when the teams were already swollen with talent. They say that pitcher’s mound is the loneliest place on earth. They’re only right if the kid standing there is the last one still waiting to be picked for a team.

We had a teacher who brilliantly decided one year that she was going to intervene. She made a chart on one end of our black board with each kid’s name. She set up this revolving system in which each of us got a turn to be captain and then when your turn came up in the lottery this teacher would pull you aside and tell you that you should pick a guy like Andy first for your team today. She would always go into this little lesson about how winning wasn’t as important as making someone feel good. It didn’t take long for word to get around on the ball field that the teacher was forcing everyone to choose a guy like Andy first. I remember one day watching as the captain called Andy’s name as the first addition to his team. Andy’s face belayed no eagerness, no joy. In fact poor Andy looked ashamed and embarrassed. I wanted so badly for that teacher to understand that being chosen because you don’t have a choice isn’t really being chosen at all.

The other day my husband and I played hooky. My husband is a farmer and we’ve been having a string of very rainy days. I work part time and this happened to be my day off. After I had fed the kids breakfast and gotten them off on their buses I settled down at the computer to balance my checkbook and pay some bills. My planner was spread before me with the hopes of great accomplishments mapped out boldly in it’s pages. Steve came over and nuzzled my neck. “Hey,” his voice lulled me away from my responsibilities, “How bout we don’t do any of this stuff and we just spend the whole day together.” He folded my planner and smiled wickedly. I was an easy target. An hour later I was sitting beside him in the car on our way out for lunch and shopping with plans for a movie in the later afternoon.

When we were driving home that afternoon I asked my incredible husband of 17+ years a question I have probably asked him a million times. “Do you love me?”

“So much!” He answered on cue.

“But would you love me if you had a choice?”

“I do have a choice. I chose you.”

“Yeah, but I mean. You had an unexpected day off and you wanted to go away and have a fun day out and really you kind of had to choose me to do it with didn’t you?”

“What’s your point?”

“I don’t know, it’s just that sometimes I feel like marriage makes me the kid who has to get picked first. The kid the teacher told the captain to choose.”

“I might need you to explain that one hon.”

“Nah… nevermind.”

“You sure?”

“Yep. I’m good.”

We rode on in comfortable silence but my mind was still filled with uncertainty. If Steve wasn’t married to me would he choose me? And then I had a thought. I pondered all the instances I could remember as a motley crew of jr. high kids engulfed in baseball dust on the corner lot of our school’s playground. Never once did I remember a captain acting like it bothered him to choose Andy. It wasn’t that they were just being obedient either. We all embraced the thought that being nice to another kid was a good thing to do. The problem wasn’t that the teacher had made the rule. The problem certainly wasn’t that any of us minded choosing Andy first. Day after day we all chose Andy and we kept on choosing him all year long. The problem was that Andy couldn’t accept the grace that was being offered. He couldn’t get his own pride out of the way enough to enjoy being chosen.

When you really peel away all the layers, the question that’s being asked is a simple one. Is love really love, if there isn’t a better option?

I’m not sure I’ve figured it out yet. At least not completely but I do know this. Steve chooses me. He might not have any other options, but he could just pick up his bat and his glove and stomp off the field. He doesn’t. He shows up. He shows up every time and he picks me.

I’d like to think that if Steve had his options open he would choose me anyway. But I don’t think it matters so much anymore. I think the fact that 17 years later we’re still playing on the same team should be all the affirmation I need. Like Andy I guess it’s time to realize that I’m the only thing standing in my own way. I should just sit back and enjoy my spot on the team. Right next to my captain!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Things I learned at a Picnic

I remember learning about friendship at a very early age. In my neighborhood there were probably a dozen kids or so who were our age. Our moms would throw these make shift picnics in the backyards. They would spread ratty old blankets across the grass and lay out a spread of sandwiches, homemade cookies and usually some sort of prepackaged supermarket treat. At first I can remember that these little alfresco dining escapades captured our imaginations and allowed us to dream up grand adventures in which we were pirates eating our spoils on the deck of a great ship or fair maidens trapped forever in a castle by a wicked emperor who would only allow us to eat what grain we could find scattered on the grounds of our beautiful prison. Later though, our little yard picnics became long, lazy afternoons filled with the lively banter or delicate discussion of friendship. We began to share our lives in the well tended grasses of our neighborhood. “You get your mom to make the lemonade and I’ll talk my mom out of the chocolate chip cookies she was making this morning. Meet back here at two o”clock and don’t forget your boom box.” We would meet beneath the protection of the weeping willows that outlined T’s property and spill secrets before the plastic cups and Tupperware containers hit the blanket. Our words were backlit by the drama of the tunes that spilled from the speakers; the likes of Bryan Adams and Madonna.

I had forgotten about those blissful afternoons until the other day when one of my best friends called and asked what I was doing. I recited a litany of duties including such things as laundry, cleaning and cooking when she intoned, “ Okay. Well I just made a great new recipe for cookies. ( This friend happens to be an incredible chef…how lucky am I?). and thought maybe if you had the wine we could sit on your patio and hang out.”

The laundry went undone that day and I’m pretty sure I still haven’t cleaned out the back closet but P and I talked for hours snuggled deep in the bright teal Adirondack chairs on my front patio. We talked over our marriages and shared concerns about our kids. But we delved further still. We talked about dreams we still held for our lives and giggled over a few aspirations we were glad had failed.

As P’s taillights drew slowly away from my house later into that evening I watched, thankful for the grassy backyard picnics of my youth. Our moms gifted us then with what they must have understood would be so important one day… that friendship takes time. It always seemed okay back in the neighborhood to invest time into relationships. I don’t think there were less demands on my mom. I don’t think her time was any less valuable than mine. I think she just chose to value people over schedules. I’m pretty certain that has everything to do with why I can make real and lasting connections with friends today.

We’ve come a long way since those clandestine meetings beneath the whispering willows I suppose. And then again if you call me on any given day, you can be sure I’ll uncork the wine and pull the homemade cookies from the freezer. Pull up a teal blue chair my friend and tell me what’s on your mind.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dreams : Taking Flight or Crash Landing part 2

At this point the storm that had been building began suddenly to unfurl it’s fury. The wind whipped mercilessly in an angry downdraft toward the plane and us, it’s unskilled caretakers. The body of the thing began to rock and in desperate hope my mind told me that perhaps the movement was being caused by someone who was struggling to get out. My eyes darted quickly to my husband who reassured me before I even spoke it, that it was only the wind catching the tail of the plane. I wrapped my arms as far as I could around that tail section and held for all I was worth. “What if someone’s alive?” I implored. “We should try to hold it steady so they don’t get injured any more than they already are.” Illogically seeing the sense in my words all of the men began to stabilize the plane along side me. With their strength beneath the bent up metal that plane wasn’t moving an inch. I was proud of Steve. Proud of these men I hadn’t met before today. They were uniting in what they knew was a futile attempt to save lives but they weren’t going to leave there without trying. One by one each of them had taken a turn peeking through the upside down windows at the bottom of the ditch. One by one I could read on each face what I already knew to be true but couldn’t admit.

The rest of the story passes by in my mind as a blur of flashing lights, bitter downpours of rain and uniformed officers with their hands on my shoulder. At one point I was asked to stand at the end of road turning traffic away. Another moment found me staring with my arms wrapped around myself as rain pelted my already soaked skin wondering how this had happened, and why here.

It was only a matter of hours before the packs of news crews and lookylues descended on our farm intruding on our space and irreverently scouring the scene for the gruesome details of death and destruction. The pilot and his two passengers hadn’t survived and as they were taken out stretcher by ghastly stretcher, photographers stood expanding the caution tape as far as it would extend to catch the carnage forever on film.

Eventually the ambulances and patrol cars navigated their way from the crash. And much later, though it seemed like forever, even the reporters along with their satellite vans and photographers began to dissemble and slowly slink away. A few days later a large crane was employed to lift the remains of the plane onto a truck and it’s silent pilgrimage home began. Families came out to visit the site, standing over the scarred and bleeding earth that so reflected the scars and blood of their broken hearts. All that remained of their loved ones last moments on earth.

Every once in a while I go out to visit the bush that 3 inconsolable wives who had all too suddenly become widows planted there that day. I slip quietly down the ledge of earth and sit there for a moment at the bottom. I think about my dreams of becoming a pilot. I wonder if I’ll ever get the chance to fly a little plane like that one. If I do I hope my loved ones understand what these men must surely have known; that sometimes a dream has to take flight even if it ends in a crash landing.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dreams: Taking Flight or Crash Landing - Part 1

I can’t really say what sparked it, but at some point during my childhood I became inexplicably fascinated by airplanes. When teachers would inevitably ask us to write about what we wanted to be when we grew up, my answer never seemed to reflect the common threads of the day. Most little girls wanted to be teachers, nurses or mommies. There were always the overachievers as well. Someone always wanted to be a neo natal doctor or a trial lawyer (like on L.A. Law), but I’m pretty sure I was the only girl who wanted to be a fighter pilot. This was a phase I’m certain my teachers and parents assumed I would outgrow by jr. high. Not so the case. I remember one occasion in particular in which an assignment was handed down instructing us to write a letter to someone in the field we were interested in. We were meant to ask them to offer a few tips or pointers; something they wished they’d known when they were younger about the road to success in their particular career. I am still so thankful to my teachers for going along with my dream, never crushing my spirit, when even in the eighth grade I was still pursuing my fighter pilot hope. When it was my turn to give the report, I read the letter I had received from the governor of our state on the requirements needed to receive an appointment to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. They listened to my report with straight and sober faces. I was convinced and they weren’t going to tell me otherwise. God bless ‘em!

In high school while posters of the likes of Kirk Cameron and Corey Haim shellacked the walls of my friends bedrooms, I puttied up photos of F-14’s and B-1 Bombers in all their glory. By then I had started to realize my dream was not only not going to happen, but I had begun to be distracted by boyfriends and fashion and good old girl friend gossip. My grades suffered, and lets face it, grades are a very important factor when one aspires to the likes of the national Air Force Academy. Still, I wasn’t going to give up my love of powerful planes and the way they ripped through the air with no apologies. Air shows and air bases and all things plane or space still gets my heart pumping today. And I still harbor the last vestiges of my dream. Perhaps one day I’ll learn to fly a small plane. A girl can dream can’t she? But I had no frame of reference for what happened near our home just a few months ago.

It was a lovely morning in July and my husband had just hopped in his pickup to leave our farm. I noticed that he was hesitating at the end of the driveway. He was staring rather strangely down the road. In almost the same moment my 16 yr. old daughter, we’ll call her “N”, was filling a glass at the kitchen sink and said “Mom, is that an airplane in the ditch?” I laughed as is my custom when N speaks nonsense. One adapts these sorts of coping mechanisms when one lives with a teenager who rarely tries to make sense. But when I strode to the nearest window to take a look I was astonished to find that a small single engine airplane really had taken a nose dive none to gently into the ditch very near our home.

I ran outside and hopped into my car just seconds behind Steve who was speeding quickly toward the scene. Steve had already called 911 when I pulled up to the plane, even as two men who had observed the plane flying low and sporadically rushed up to help. A front had begun to move in and the sudden stillness seemed only to add to the spine-chilling feeling of our motley little crew as we gathered near the tail of the plane which had flipped end over end and was now protruding onto the gravel road. After spending a few moments looking at each other in silence, unsure what to do next, the men decided to move the vehicles back and out of the way to make a path for the ambulance and patrolmen who were soon to arrive. As they backed cars and pickups into field driveways and along the edges of the ditches I carefully slid down the embankment to peer inside. What I saw there I hope to be able to forgot sooner than later. It seemed clear by the angles of the bodies that the men had not lived through the impact, but how can one be sure? So I called out to them to tell them that we had sent for help and the paramedics would be arriving soon. I asked them to try to hang in there if they could hear my voice because help was on the way. And I told them I was praying for them. My words were met with ghostly silence. Having become a bit unnerved I scurried back up the side of the ditch, vowing I would not look into the cold, unblinking windows of that plane ever again.

I would like to tell you the rest of my story but I’m sure that’s all any of us have time for today. So I want to welcome you back tomorrow for chapter 2 of Dreams: Taking Flight or Crash Landing. BTW – I’m so glad you’re here! Please blog on by anytime!