Pretty Little Bow

I had three weeks’ notice to plan for the trip to see my sister become a wife, but it only took two days for the mailman to deliver my lace dress. I rummaged through my daughters’ and husband’s closets for something to match.

The ten-hour drive resulted in my children fighting over which movies to watch and who got to eat the last gummy shark. They also shared laughter from the bottom of their bellies.

In Toledo, the groom found the rings he lost, and I ran across a sheet of ice to collect the bouquets I forgot in the car. The bride smiled.

After two families tied a bow to become one, we celebrated with pasta and Peroni.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Join me at this week’s YeahWrite challenge!

Advertisements

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


Two Birds in a Bath

When the temperature rises above comfortably cool, they find happiness in the shallow end of the water.

Bright colors cover their flesh, drenched in summer sweat and the smell of coconuts.

They sing their sweet song and flap their fleshy wings spraying water droplets against the lens of my favorite glasses. I find my smile under an umbrella.

It’s summer, and they are my two tropical birds in paradise.

 

Photo courtesy of Pexels

In response to Donna-Louise’s Prompt Pot – Birds

Sock Surprise

She’s already ten minutes late; the bus is gone.

“Let me grab socks,” I say, unfolding a pair. I look at one purple sock and one green. “Did you do this?”

A small hand stifles her giggle. “Surprise!” She shouts.

“Not again,” I sigh. “Guess you need a new chore.”

If Confidence Were a Balloon

Slumped beneath the weight of her backpack, my daughter slinked from the school bus steps. Her ocean-blue eyes had faded to stormy skies and her skin was muted.

“How was your day?” I asked. I was concerned. Most days she raced off the steps with a grin so wide her eyes were shut. This day, she didn’t even wave.

“Fine,” she said. The word pushed out of her lips unwillingly, like the last puff of air leaving a balloon. She was deflated.

“Are you sure?” I pressed.

“Yep.” I watched her kick an invisible rock across the driveway.

“You know what?” I said as I cupped my hand around her small shoulder. “I think we should get some ice cream.”

“Really?” she stopped and looked up to me, squinting her eyes against the sun. I realized, in that moment, how fragile she still was. “Before dinner?”

“Yep,” I winked. “Let me get my keys.”

Ten minutes later, we were sitting at the table with bowls of pink frozen yogurt in front of us and I asked again, “Is everything alright, Hun? Did you have a bad day?”

My daughter stuffed her spoon deep into her cardboard bowl and swallowed a mouthful of creamy treat. “Sorta,” she shrugged.

I lowered my eyes to meet hers, pushed my bowl aside, and whispered, “wanna tell me about it?”

She looked away and tears started to gush from her eyes. “Mama, they chased me,” she sobbed. “I wanted to collect rocks and they chased me.” Her chest heaved, catching breath in spurts, and every bit of my heart crumbled.

“Who chased you, Hun?” I scooted my chair closer and wrapped my arms around her. I prayed that somewhere in my embrace she’d find strength, and a that my arms would take her sadness so I could store it under my own skin.

“My friends at recess,” she pressed against my heart like she did as a baby and continued to bawl. “I just needed some alone time.”

“Aww Sweetie, I think you were so brave for standing up for yourself. It can be hard to not give into the pressure of our friends,” I encouraged my daughter and inflated her balloon.

“I don’t know,” she said, then looked down at her sparkle-covered sneakers.

“Trust me. Sometimes our friends don’t understand when we need personal space,” I explained. “We have to tell them when we need to be left alone.”

“I did that Mama, but they kept chasing me!” she stuffed a spoonful of frozen yogurt into her mouth and wiped her face with her shirtsleeve. The parent in me wanted to scold her for staining her shirt, but the mother in me couldn’t. Instead, I handed her a sticky napkin to wipe the tears beneath her eyes.

Conversation comes easy for my little girl when she’s with family, but sometimes large groups of people drain her batteries. An only child for the first five years of her life, my daughter recognized at an early age that alone time helps her recharge. It’s especially necessary during the flurry of a long school day, when staying focused is so important.

“I know it can be frustrating. I need my personal space, too.” I took her soft cheek into my hand. “I get grumpy if I don’t have time to just be quiet and write each day.”

“Really?” she asked.

It is my job, as a mother, to ensure my daughter has enough air in her balloon, enough confidence, to succeed.

“Really,” I said. “Just keep reminding them. And if they don’t get it, it will be okay. At least you know what’s best for you.” I half-hugged her shoulder, then took a bit of my melted yogurt. “Mmm! Is this tomato flavor?”

My daughter laughed and straightened the slump in her shoulders. “Mama, you’re so silly. It’s strawberry!”

Photo courtesy of Seabass Creatives/Unsplash

How to Survive the Holidays with Toddlers

Holidays can make you want to pull your hair out. So can toddlers. Combine them and by the middle of December, your insides will burn like they’re at war with eachother. You’ll be running around with leftover fruitcake crumbs stuck to your chin, babbling nonsense about never celebrating another holiday for the rest of your life. Trust me. I’ve barely survived this time of year through two children and that’s no coincidence.

I’ve made mistakes, taken notes, studied, and practiced what I’ve learned. And, lucky for you, I’ve compiled a short-list of surviving the holidays with pint-size children so that maybe you’ll be able to make it to the new year with a smile of joy, rather than insanity, spread across your face. 

If you decorate a tree:

Don’t get a real one. You’ll find your toddler and your animals drinking out of the tree’s water bowl, side by side. Then you have a fire hazard. And a kid covered in sap.

And don’t put any ornaments made of real food on the tree. Someone will eat them, and I’m sure you can imagine what kind of bacteria is living on that three-year-old preschooler-made ice cream cone ornament. YUCK. Also, don’t even bother putting ornaments on the bottom two feet of the tree. They will just end up in other places like on the dog’s ears or under your feet. Same goes for garland and pearls. 

Actually… It might be a good idea to skip the tree altogether.

If you should wrap presents:

Two words: gift bag.

Kids don’t care about your fancy foil wrapping paper and handmade bow. And neither will you when you have to open half of her presents. Bag it. Add some tissue paper. Slap a dollar store bow on. Done.

If you go to visit family:

Don’t expect your toddler to behave like a tiny civilized human being. She will not. Instead, she will scream at decibels you didn’t know were possible. She will cry when Aunt Betty gives her a loud, wet kiss. And she will bite Uncle Richard when he tries to tickle her.

Get toys. Get apps. Get back-up.

Nothing helps moms more during the holidays than a good, reliable grandma. Borrow one, if your mom and mother-in-law are unavailable. Pay large amounts of money and hire one. Is this a thing? If not, HELLO new business venture!

If you can’t find a grandma to heist for all holiday-related activities, stay home. Full stop.

If you consider going out to eat at a nice restaurant:

Reconsider.

Places are more crowded during this time of year and employees have less patience for your food-throwing, booger-picking kid.

This is your only warning.

If you bake cookies:

Drink a lot of wine. It’s the only way you will survive all the sprinkles and artificially-dyed frosting colors.

Don’t eat them. Especially the ugly ones. Elderly neighbors love that homemade shit. Wrap them in some bright green saran wrap and have your kid march them next door, frosting still on her face.

If you go sledding:

Dress really, really, REALLY warm. Your toddler will be fine, because she’ll be having so much fun sailing down the snow-covered driveway on her plastic disk in the cold ass post-blizzard tundra, but you may never see the inside of your house again. Hypothermia will set in if you aren’t prepared.

Before your eyes get frozen in the open position, bribe her with hot cocoa and cookies to go inside, but not the ones you baked, because remember: neighbors.

Cross your fingers (if you don’t have frostbite) that she accepts your bribery.

If you get invited to a kid-free party:

Go.

Find a babysitter: a nephew, the girl around the corner, the Starbucks barista, ANYBODY. This will be the only opportunity you have to get your jingle on, so do it. Wear your ugly sweater and your mom jeans, feather your hair, and spend the entire night annoying all your ‘friends’ who only have fur-babies by talking about your kids’ latest group finger-painting project and how you’re sure you have the next Michelangelo and Picasso on your hands.

It will be awesome.

If you host a family get-together:

Get drunk. It will lessen the blow when your great granny tells you that your faucets are out of date, your kids need a good spanking, and that you ruined the apple pies with Fuji apples.

Heavy drinking sounds like a bad idea, but it might be your only chance for survival.

If you are thinking of putting your kid on Santa’s lap:           

Remember, you are potentially scarring her for the rest of her life. And Santa-at-the-mall is not Santa. He’s some pervy, middle-aged man with vomit on his beard who likes little kids and smells like whiskey, so…

Okay, let’s recap:

This holiday season, if you have small children: stay home, stay away from Santa, forget the tree, bake shit, and drink your weight in booze.

Cheers!

Photo courtesy of Pexels/Pixabay

A Lesson in Speaking Up and Saying Sorry

The neighborhood I grew up in doesn’t look quite like it used to when I was young. Sure, the tiny bungalows and ranches of blues, yellows, whites and brick continue to sit close to the sidewalk with cement slab driveways and manicured lawns framing each one. Mature trees anchor the street firmly in its blue-collar place. And, even today, I could set my watch by the freight trains chugging along two streets over. But it has changed in other ways.

Most noticeably, the neighbors inside the houses seem farther apart. The kids I played with as a child moved out long before I finished high school, and now they have moved on, making families of their own. The houses have changed hands to an older generation who care less about connecting with one another and more about their own to-do lists.

On any given day when I was growing up, a herd of neighborhood kids would congregate in front of my house to play hide-and-seek, red rover and tag. 

I remember one day, in particular, where we were all taking turns with the jump rope and skip-it.

“I dare you to jump rope from the top of the steps,” I said to Douglas, my next-door neighbor. Before the words even finished running out of my mouth, I regretted saying them.

“Yeah, I double dare you!” my step-sister, Steph, exclaimed.

With a wobbly voice, he accepted. I kept my mouth shut and held one end of the jump rope while my stepsister held the other.

We swung the rope around, making it soar up towards the sky. The first couple of times it came down, towards his feet, he cleared it – no problem. But then on the third or fourth time, something happened. I couldn’t tell if he tripped, or maybe lost his footing against the step, but before I could stop it, he fell backwards onto the concrete. It happened in slow motion. First he was midair, face contorting and arms flailing, then he was slamming against the ground beneath him.

Douglas’ head hit the jagged corner of the bottom step, with a loud thunk. Blood started gushing onto the concrete. His face turned chalky as he opened his mouth into a strange shape and screamed. Razor blades scraped against my ears. My feet weighed ten thousand pounds, but somehow I managed to pick them up, one after another. I ran to find my mom.

I thought he would be broken forever.

Another neighbor, Josh, ran over my driveway and through the next front lawn to find Douglas’ parents.

When the adults met back at my steps, harsh words were shouted and all fingers kept pointing to me and my step-sister. My face was hotter than the blood in front of me, and knew I was responsible. I should have spoken up, but I didn’t.

“It was my idea,” I said, accepting the blame.

Douglas was rushed to the hospital and I was sent to my room where I buried my face against the coolness of my favorite pink pillow. I tried to bury my regret, too, but it kept welling back up through my eyes, streaming down my face in hot spurts.

I wanted to hide there forever, but my mom didn’t let me. After my step-sister went home, she took me to the dollar store. She loaned me four quarters and a dime to buy a toy for Douglas as an apology. I picked out a bag of green toy soldiers because soldiers were strong, and so was my friend.

When we got back home, she made me knock on his door, present in hand. A red-faced Douglas answered with his parents at his side.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey,” he responded.

“Are you okay?” I asked sheepishly.

“I got stitches,” he said, pointing to a freshly shaved spot on his head, sewn up with thick black thread. Looking at it made my belly feel like I just went down the first hill of a roller coaster at Cedar Point.

New tears burned the corners of my eyes. “I’m so sorry,” I said, handing him the bag of plastic army men as an olive branch.

“Cool,” he shrugged. “Wanna play with them?”

I looked up to my mom and she nodded, nudging me into the house. Douglas ripped open the bag and the little plastic soldiers spilled onto the wooden floor. We played with them while our parents drank fizzy cans of R.C Cola and mended the wound festering between them. When I looked up, my mom smiled, letting me know that everything was going to work itself out.

Though many things in my neighborhood have changed over the last thirty years, the bloodstain on my stepdad’s front step remains. It has faded only slightly with time.

Each time I see it, it reminds me to speak up, say sorry, and take care of my friends and neighbors.

***

Right now, more than ever, I need my mom to reassure me with that smile that everything will, again, work itself out.

I tried. I tried to speak up. To do my part, but it wasn’t enough. That roller coaster feeling in my belly won’t go away this time. I keep worrying about what the future holds for my girls, my neighbors, my friends.

Will more blood spill, because we didn’t speak loud enough? What can I do now?

Little plastic soldiers won’t work this time.

Photo courtesy of  Tim Marshall/Stocksnap.io