Perseverance

Blades of kelly-green grass scratch at your ankles while you stand hand-in-hand in front of the little brick ranch: Doug’s house. You meet there because it’s in the middle.

There are seven of you, five on one side and two on the other. The sun is dipping below the trees and lightning bugs are in flight, flitting, blinking. Crickets are chirping, but it doesn’t stop you. There’s a game to play.

Your side is up. One more break and you win, stranding the loser on the other side. Your heart is pounding. Your hands are clammy. You haven’t been called yet, but you know it’s coming. You look across at the team of two. You’re the smallest on either side, but size doesn’t matter.

“Red Rover. Red Rover…” Your name is called.

“Shit,” you say only because your parents are inside watching Wheel of Fortune.

There is no time left to wuss up or back down. You run, slicing through the air, pummeling your bare toes into the dewy grass. Determined to break the chain, you push forward faster. You convince yourself that you are a powerful bolt of energy. Nothing can stop you. With fists clenched and teeth grinding together, you close your eyes and imagine what it will feel like to win the game for your team. Just two more steps. You lunge forward at their hands like a bull, but something stops you.

Instead of breaking their grasp in two, you bounce off. Their arms are iron poles fused together. The wind is gone from your lungs. You sail through the air, arms stretched back to brace for fall. In an unfocused instant, you see shoulders then snickering faces and a crimson sky before landing on your butt in the yard.

“Damn!” you say.

The boys high-five. Their loss is diverted – no delayed –  because of you.

“Three to four,” says Josh. “We got this now.”

You stand, brushing the grass from your backside, sulking to your new team with hot cheeks. You won’t live this down for at least a week.

You grab Doug’s hand, cringing at the sticky-ness between your palms. It almost makes you vomit. Boys – eww.

Before you can call the next person, his mom swings the storm door open and shouts, “Time to come in!”

A collective groan comes from the group because you know the rest of the parents won’t be far behind. Street lamps are on. 

“Rematch tomorrow?” Jess asks.

A chance for redemption!

“Rematch tomorrow.” You all agree.

 

Photo courtesy of Julia Raasch/Unsplash


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Teenage Escape Plan

I woke to warm, gooey air smothering me even though the ceiling fan was spinning on high. Dangling lightpulls smacked and banged the glass globe with each rotation of the blades. The base of the fan swayed and groaned, ready to jump from its screws in the drywall any second.

I blinked, trying to focus on my alarm clock. One forty-five. No doubt everyone in my house was sleeping: Dad on the couch with the remote resting in his hand, Mom in her room, reading glasses still on her nose, and my sister here or at a friend’s. Mom was more lenient with her. First daughters always have it the worst.

Moonlight seeped between the tree branches and into my bedroom window, providing the only light. Clothes were strewn about in piles on the floor. I rolled my eyes because Mom would make me clean them up tomorrow.

Until then, they would stay in heaps.

I spent hours buttering breadsticks and cooking pasta at work all day. And the day before. And almost every day since I turned sixteen. I had to pay for my own sneakers and shampoo unless I wanted what Mom could afford to buy.

Anxious and unable to return to sleep, I tossed the sheets onto the floor with the rest of the mess.

I glanced outside my second-floor window. It reminded me of a photo: so still and quiet. Below, blades of grass held their breath. Above, Stars burned brilliantly. I wanted to be part of it instead of sitting in my sticky room, to climb outside and get some fresh air.

I pulled the screen out – the cheap, removable one Dad bought because mine got ripped away in a thunderstorm. I had never been on the roof before. The excitement made my heart hammer in my chest so loud I worried that someone else might hear it. They can’t. They’re sleeping.

I stepped through the window and sat on the shingled porch awning. It scraped against my legs like sandpaper, so I curled them into my chest, using my bare feet as stability against the decline.

Street lamps illuminated the gray pavement, making it shine like the silver moon. Thin shadows crept between them, swelling into giants.

I could see the end of the block in both directions. I looked left, then right. In the distance, the neighbor’s Caddie swerved back and forth toward me. His headlights danced, his tires grumbled. His car came to an abrupt stop in front of his house, one tire on the curb, and he staggered out, likely drunk again. He slammed his car door shut, piercing a hole in the quiet, jingled his keys, and stumbled inside.

Silence returned.

A thought to climb off the roof and run entered my mind. To where? I didn’t know. To do what? No clue. What would Mom say? I knew If anyone caught me, I’d get grounded. Or maybe they wouldn’t even miss me.

Whatever.

I turned over on my belly to shimmy feet-first to the edge.

I needed the corner of the roof where the twisty iron rod connected the porch floor to the ceiling. I knew if I could find those supports, I could lower myself down it like a ladder. I would be free, at least for a little while.

So, I wiggled and inched along with sweat beads forming on my forehead. I looked over my shoulder and a rush of excitement swelled my chest. I looked at my toes, inches from the edge and my skin tingled from the danger.

Then I thought about climbing back up the iron posts and scaling the roof. I thought again about Dad or Mom waking. I thought about someone seeing me; a neighbor who would tattle, or a stranger who would hurt me. I thought about falling and being alone, barefoot and broken on my driveway. I looked back at my window, then down at the street, and back at the window once more.

I got to my hands and knees and crawled like the child I was back toward the house. I slipped inside and secured my screen back in its place, holding air deep within my lungs. I gathered the sheets from my floor and laid in bed, smoothing them over my dirty knees.

I closed my eyes, knowing how close I was. In the moment, it was more than enough.

Photo courtesy of Thom Oudhuis/Unsplash

Why Lockdown Drills Scare Me More Than My Child

Each day, I watch my daughter climb the steps of the big yellow school bus on her way to class. As it speeds off with her inside, it pulls the breath from my chest along with it. As much as I hate to admit it, the violent world we live in forces a small part of me to wonder if she will return. But as soon as that thought enters my mind, I push it back out. If I allowed those thoughts to dwell, I would drive myself crazy considering the horrible possibilities. But now my daughter is old enough to understand that, too. She sees more than cotton candy and plastic ponies. She sees the danger.

***

“Okay, guys. Everyone sit quietly and wait for the drill to be over.”

I overheard my daughter talking in her playroom, so I went in to check on her. She had some of her dolls lined up in a sitting position, shoulder to shoulder. “What are you doing, Hun?” I asked her, taking a spot on the floor next to her. I folded my legs underneath me to reach her level.

“We’re having a lockdown drill,” she said, nonchalantly shrugging her small shoulders. The hair on my arms raised. I couldn’t believe my six-year-old had to experience that kind of thing.

“What’s a lockdown drill?” I asked, pushing a rogue hair away from her face. I needed to know more, to know if these drills were affecting her.

“We have them in school,” she replied. “We sit really quiet by the backpacks and a police officer pretends to be a villain by rattling the door handle.” Tears clouded my vision, but I didn’t dare let one fall to my cheeks.

“How many lockdown drills have you had?” I asked. I pulled her into my lap. My parenting instincts kicked in and I had a visceral desire to protect her. I’m a mama bear protecting my cub.

“So far, two times,” she shrugged again.

I remember fire drills from school. We’d line up and quietly walk outside in a single-file line away from the building. A fireman would be at his truck timing our exit to safety. I’m also familiar with tornado drills. I’m from the Midwest, so tornados were pretty common. We’d sit crisscross applesauce in the hallway, lined up knee-to-knee, with our heads tucked securely in our laps. We’d cover our neck with our hands for protection. Although it was painful sitting like that for what seemed like forever, we looked forward to it as a welcomed break from classwork. I can’t imagine feeling the same about a lockdown drill. Angry people with guns are a different kind of threat than a natural disaster. There are too many unknown variables.

“Does that scare you?” I asked her.

“Not as much as Star Wars,” she looked away from me, distracted by her dolls.

I could feel the vein in my neck begin to expand and contract. My young, sweet daughter understands that there are predators out there that we have to prepare for. I don’t know if I’m ready to hand over the keys for her to drive herself to safety yet. I’m not ready for her to grow up. I know I can’t shelter her under the protection of our roof forever, but first grade seems too soon for the veil to be lifted. I want her to think of unicorns and Santa Clause instead of bad guys and bullets.

I once asked my friend, Nina Parrish, a well-respected teacher, mother, and business owner in Fredericksburg her opinion on lockdowns. She told me, “Unfortunately, the reality is that we have violence in our schools. There have been active shooters in elementary schools, and the schools would be irresponsible if they did not prepare.  Lockdown drills ensure that students and teachers know what to do if the worst case scenario does arise.” But that doesn’t make it any less scary for anyone involved; children, school staff, parents, police officers – everyone is affected by these drills. But what’s worse? Not being prepared? Still, my fists clench and bile rises from my belly when I imagine what it’s like to be in her classroom during a lockdown drill. Seeing the children piled into the corner, being told to be quiet while the person with a gun threatens their lives.

***

At the end of each day, when she climbs back down those big bus steps smiling and waving, I exhale with relief. Another day of school has passed and everything is fine. I know my daughter is home, safe.

My heart strings have tightened because I know the older she gets, the less I can protect her from every scrape, heartbreak, bully, and villain. And I know the older she gets, the more I have to trust her to follow her own instincts. The more I have to entrust in the world to keep her safe. The more I have to let go.

Until then, I will continue protecting her one mama bear moment at a time.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Davies on Unsplash

Bullying SUCKS.

The year was 1993, I was in fifth grade and I’d finally convinced them (you know the ones – they had perfectly poof-y hair, the best bodysuits, gem-colored jeans, the newest sneakers and BOYFRIENDS) that I was cool enough to be part of their group.  I was IN, which took some diligent work on my part because even though I wouldn’t say I came from a poor family, my parents definitely lived paycheck to measly paycheck, sometimes struggling to make ends meet.  They did their best to not let us feel the burden of being broke, but we had better luck getting a unicorn than clothes with labels.  That was difficult to explain while trying to fit in, but somehow I managed.

In any case, it was a cold, rainy day in good old blue-collar Toledo Ohio; a typical spring day in the Midwest.  It was pretty much completely miserable on all levels.  My “friends” and I arrived at school early, so we decided to take a stroll in the frigid, torrential rainstorm for some Jolt Cola at the local In-N-Out, situated across the street.  My brick behemoth of an elementary school was perched on top of a hill (which was lovely on a sunny day, but during rain it was like a slick pig, full of muddy bumps).  Instead of taking the stairs like any halfway intelligent person would have done, we decided to be total idiots and take the shortcut down the hill.  For some reason, I went first and (big surprise) I only got one K-mart sneaker on the hill before losing my footing.  One teensy-weensy tiny step and

DOWN

I

WENT.

I was sliding down a muddy hill wearing my only decent pair of blue jeans.

Crap.

As I was sliding (which felt like a freaking eternity, by the way), I managed to crane my neck to see “them,” my so-called friends.  I reached a pitiful hand out in a lame attempt at some help, but they just stared at me, wide-eyed with smirks painted on their pretty faces.  One laughed, then they were all laughing.  They pointed and giggled, then pointed and giggled some more.  When I finally came to a stop I was a brown, wet mess sitting on the sidewalk.  No one even helped me up.  So, with burning cheeks and an undeniable desire to crawl under the nearest rock, I got to my feet, found the closest set of stairs and went inside the school to call my mom. Rain water sloshed inside my no-label sneakers with each embarrassing step and brown water dripped from my even browner hair.  I hung my shoulders, not daring to glance at them.  I knew that I would officially be OUT and somehow, despite the chain of events, I still thought that mattered.

Bullying is a real problem.  I see it now even with my daughter, who is only six.  We, as parents, need to stop this starting at home.  We have to teach our children that bullying is wrong.  We have to help them learn that it’s important to include peers, and to be themselves, no matter what.

If you’d like more information on bullying, check out the government’s website found here.

 

Photo courtesy of Reza Shayestehpour on Unsplash