Grandpa’s Garden

Before his stroke, Grandpa was my favorite. I would sit on his belly, round like Santa’s, and ask him if the battery above his heart hurt. I’d lightly press my fingers against the square shape protruding from his chest, and Grandpa would smile wide, toothlessly.

“Naw, Baby Girl. That’s my ticker,” he’d say. I imagined a tiny clock inside his chest, sort of like the Tin Man.

Grandpa was a self-proclaimed botanist, without using so many words. He planted tomatoes and other vegetables, mostly for canning to keep Grandma and him fed through the harsh winter months when the junkyard didn’t need his help sorting metals. I used to walk behind him. I watched Grandpa whisper to his green babies and touch the leaves carefully. He taught me about them, but I can’t remember his lessons.

After my grandpa’s stroke, between first and second grade, we moved in with my grandparents. They owned a duplex, and we lived on the second floor so my mom could care for him.

There were times I wanted to climb back on his belly, but Grandpa’s new oxygen tank made my belly do flips. I thought I could catch whatever was making him so sick. If I get too close, I’ll need one of those tubes in my nose too.

I don’t have a single picture of the stairs in my grandparent’s house, but I remember them perfectly in my mind: hand carved wood painted the same shade of red as fallen leaves just before they turn brown and crumble. I wasn’t allowed to play outside, so when I wanted to get away from everyone I would sit on the landing. I could hear my mom on the phone above and my grandparent’s television below. I sat there playing with dolls or staring at the cracks and chips in the yellow walls pretending they were a part of a roadmap to someplace magical where Grandpa wasn’t ill.

His ticker stopped that autumn. I was in school when it happened. He was there when I left and gone when I got home, crumbled and blown away with the leaves.

All I kept thinking was that I didn’t get a chance to hug him once more, or to really listen to his lessons.

This year, I planted an herb and vegetable garden. It’s nothing like Grandpa’s, small in comparison. I thought about him while I was out there with my hands in the dirt. I touched the plants with care like he used to. Small bits of food have managed to grow, regardless of my natural knack for killing anything green. Although, some of them are limp, hanging on for dear life. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, or right for that matter. If only I could remember what he taught me.

If only we had more time.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

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

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

7 Tips to Give Your Child for a Great School Year

Whether it’s your child’s first day of Kindergarten, or last day of high school, we’ve been there and we know how scary it can be.  We also know everything will be fine, right? Tell her to keep her head high, follow this advice and sky’s the limit:

Tell Her to be Brave

Tell her not to be afraid to introduce herself to someone new. She may find a lifelong friend if she pushes herself to meet new people. And tell her to raise her hand often, even if she is unsure whether her answer is right, because we have to take chances in life.

Tell her to Not Follow the Leader

Unless she’s told to, of course. Instead, she should find her own path and make her own choices. And if she can’t find a path she likes, she should break ground, make a new one, and run on it as hard as she can.  Trust me, she’ll be happier there.

Tell Her to be Helpful

Whether it’s a peer struggling with an assignment, a teacher who needs an extra hand, or anything in between, tell her to help them.  Rarely do we regret helping someone in need. In fact, helping can be the most rewarding experience.

Tell Her to Know When to Speak and When to Listen

This is true not only with her teachers, but also with her peers.  Learning to be a good listener is a tool she will keep for the rest of her life.  So when someone gives her words, tell her to look that person in the eye and listen with her ears and her mind. That is how trust develops.

Tell Her to Smile Often

She is at school to learn, which is an amazing and rewarding experience. Tell her to go to school with her best foot forward and a smile on her face. Every day she will acquire new knowledge. That is hers to keep forever.

Tell Her to be Kind

Tell her to notice and appreciate the differences she has with her peers.  Tell her not to leave someone out because she is different in some way.  Instead, sit with her at lunch and try to find out what makes her tick. She is unique and so is each and every other person on Earth.  That is part of what makes humans such incredible beings.

Above all Else, Tell Her to be HER

Tell her she is great exactly as she is. Some days will be easy and some will undoubtedly be difficult. Kids might be mean to her or she might get a bad grade, but as long as she keeps being the very best version of herself, things will end up alright.

One More Thing

Tell her that no matter what, you are there for her. You love her and she can do this.

Photo courtesy of Poodar Chu

Kindergarten Memoirs

Hi, my name is Reagan and guess what?  I finished kindergarten today!

Even though it’s a really happy day, it’s been kinda sad, too.

When we were waiting for the bus to pick me up, Mom’s face was red, and her eyes were a little wet.  I asked why she was crying, and she said they were the good kind of tears.  I don’t know about that.

Her face looked the same way on the first day of school – all wrinkly on her forehead.  When she worries, it gets that way.  Squishy in weird places.  Stretched in others.

Anyway, on the first day of school, I was a little bit nervous.  What if I couldn’t open my applesauce?  Or if my shoes came untied?  Or if I missed Mommy?

I didn’t want to tell Mom that, because she kept hugging me so tight.  If I told her I was scared, she would be sadder, and the wrinkles would just get worse.

Plus, I was kinda excited for school, too.  Just a little bit.

When the yellow bus got there, it was REALLY big.  I almost couldn’t reach the steps, but I did, and Daddy was so proud!  He took lots of pictures with his phone.  He said he had to put one on the Face-thing for Omi.

Mommy covered her eyes.  More tears, I bet.

“Bye!” I yelled, at the top step.  Miss Melody, my bus driver, was nice.

In my seat, I looked out the window and waved at Mommy.  I smiled, to tell her I was okay.  She smiled back.

That was so long ago, and you know what?

I think this was a really, REALLY big year for me.

Last month, Daddy took the training wheels off my Minnie Mouse bike.  He helped me learn to ride on two wheels in the backyard, and I did great even though my knees kept bumping the handles.  I think maybe I grew so much because I eat my protein (Mom makes me).  I still had fun, though, and I always wore my helmet.  SAFETY FIRST, you know.

And last week Mommy started teaching me how to tie my shoes.  I watched closely.  She made bunny ears that looped, and ended with a neat bow.  She always double-knotted them.

Just in case, because she loves me.

Today, I tied my own shoes.  I was really careful.  I made both bunny ears, just like Mom, and tucked them in the right places.  Can you believe it?  I TIED MY VERY OWN SHOES!

I climbed onto the bus, and sat down next to one of my BFFs (I have a lot), Summer.  We talked about our graditation.  I didn’t look out the window to smile at Mommy, but she knew I was there.

And I knew that she knew.

Our recital was pretty fun, because I was a ladybug.  It was my very first choice.  I got to sing & dance with all my friends, and my moves were perfect!  We practiced a whole lot, because we all had family there to watch.  Then I got a special certificate from my teacher.

That was the sad part.  I will miss my teacher and my friends.

But after graditation, we got cookies and juice.  They were yummy, so I wasn’t sad anymore.

Mom was crying again, so I went and got a cookie for her, too.

Finally, after school, Daddy bought me a new bike.  One with bigger tires, and no training wheels.  It’s shiny, and bright, with a sparkly bell that looks like a gem.

I LOVE gems.

We practiced a little in the grass, but it’s a big girl bike.  Dad says it will take more time, and practice, before I’m ready for the street.

Mom thinks I’m growing up too fast, but I can’t wait to be a big kid.  I like being able to do stuff by myself, like tie my shoes.  It’s fun!  I still need Mommy and Daddy for some things, like making my dinner (pasta with red sauce is my favorite).  And maybe I’ll always need them, even when I’m big.  After all, Mom says, “I’ll always be her first baby.”

You know what else?  Sometimes I think they need me, too.

Photo courtesy of Krzysztof Puszczyński on Stocksnap.io.

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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