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!