pull up a chair

where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked…

Category: little one

boy, becoming…

teddy fitting room 13

he is trying it on, my boy in the three-way mirror. trying on what comes next: the gulch between boyhood and manhood. the years when certain nicknames are dropped and stuffed bears get tucked away in shadowed boxes. the years when bedtime comes later and later, long after mama’s in dreamland. the years when testing the fates begins to occur. the years when it all — sometimes — comes crashing deep down inside.

my little one is no longer. he’s 13 today. and while the statute of limitations on that tender name — “little one” — has worn out its welcome, i feel the urge to mark the moment here at the chair with a swift look back at my muse, the one whose moments i captured here where words are the butterfly net, here where the tenderest heart took hold in the cracks between letters.

my little one was all of five when the chair first pulled up to the table. he was a kindergartener who hadn’t quite figured out how to hold onto a pencil. or tie a shoe. or string all the slashes and blobs on the page into what might be called words. he climbed into bed, back in those days, outfitted for battle, slaying monsters with light sabers — all while he slept, apparently.

he went off to first grade here at the chair, armed with red hearts in his little jeans pocket. i kept one, too. mine was in my pocket, and all day long through the torturous hours of school, we squeezed on our wee little hearts, a morse code of the very best kind — “i love you.” “i miss you.” “i’m right here.”– were the messages we squeezed back and forth.

my little one and i went for moon walks. we gazed at the stars. and i captured his wonder.

captured his questions too, his questions without answers. “mama, what will happen when i die? will you die? will daddy die? who will die first?” the rat-a-tat-tat of truth-seeking missiles.

over time, and once he realized the world beyond his doorstep was occasionally reading along, he issued a declaration: i wasn’t allowed to write of his wisdoms and ponderings and wobbles and blips without first submitting draft form before the committee of one — the committee of T. he would read, rule, issue edict: publish or no.

what i’ve found — in that magical playground that is the stringing of alphabet letters into words into sentences into thinking out loud — is that the surest way to discover nooks and crannies in your own heart, and in the heart of the one you attempt to capture in brush strokes and shadings — not unlike the art student sketching the pose of the deftly-draped model in the drawing studio — is to circle back, again and again over the years, to put it to paper, to trace over and over again the outlines, the depths and the illuminations. to stand back over the years, and to see what you’d not seen on first go-around. to hold in your hand the faintest yet sharpest glimpse of the child who populates your hours, your heart, your deepest imagination.

to fall in love all over again is a gift to whomever beholds it. i fell in love, over and over, holding my little one up to the light. and now, my little one is at the brink of something quite big: he’s adding a “teen” to his numbers.

thirteen soft august eighths ago, i was perched in a hospital bed, cradling my very own miracle. the babe who defeated all odds — at every step of the odyssey, from conception to birth canal. i remember how keenly i studied him. his delivery had had a few bumps, the sort that can steal your sweet dream and turn it into a nightmare. in the flash of an instant. in a heartbeat skipped.

prayer — and the mightiest push that ever there was — delivered him. a babe in my arms at 44-and-3/4 years. take that, doctors (and actuarial tables) who swore it would never happen!

all these years, that notion of something outrageous, the blessing of beating the odds, it’s held me tight in its focus. i’ve a gift, we’ve a gift, all of us who melt at the tender words that ooze from that heart, or the way he rubs circles soft on your back. he’s a gift, the boy now crossing the great gulch to manhood. here’s praying we draw on all of our wisdom, and acres of love, to guide him safe to the other side.

bless you, sweet T. happy birthday. and with all of my heart, thank you. thank you for coming along….

one of the blessings of having typed here all these years, is that i’ve managed to capture a string of word snapshots: my boys growing up. and they are among the most precious treasures i know — the boys, certainly, but also the snapshots. i never set out to frame these moments in time, but that’s what’s happened. and it’s why i back-up and back-up. why i wish i could carve these in stone, so no cyber-thief, no computer blow-up, could ever steal these fragments of my heart. 

but since you don’t come to listen to me ooze about my beautiful boy, i thought i’d leave a little birthday present for anyone interested in the art of paying attention. here’s a glorious passage from robert bly, observing a caterpillar. it’s so exquisite in its powers of focus and concentration, i just thought i’d leave it out on the table — a morsel in words — for your delight. savor.

A Caterpillar on the Desk

by Robert Bly

           Lifting my coffee cup, I notice a caterpillar crawling over my sheet of ten-cent airmail stamps. The head is black as a Chinese box. Nine soft accordions follow it around, with a waving motion, like a flabby mountain. Skinny brushes used to clean pop bottles rise from some of its shoulders. As I pick up the sheet of stamps, the caterpillar advances around and around the edge, and I see his feet: three pairs under the head, four spongelike pairs under the middle body, and two final pairs at the tip, pink as a puppy’s hind legs. As he walks, he rears, six pairs of legs off the stamp, waving around the air! One of the sponge pairs, and the last two tail pairs, the reserve feet, hold on anxiously. It is the first of September. The leaf shadows are less ferocious on the notebook cover. A man accepts his failures more easily-or perhaps summer’s insanity is gone? A man notices ordinary earth, scorned in July, with affection, as he settles down to his daily work, to use stamps.

“A Caterpillar on the Desk” by Robert Bly, from The Morning Glory. © Harper & Row, 1975. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

and what such magnificent observations have you made today?

bit by bit (or, the wisdom of being lost)

bit by bit TK flyaway

the hard perch of the airport chair was where i sat for a good half hour after he’d slipped down the gullet that led to the plane that would carry him into the pink-soaked sun-setting sky.

i wasn’t budging till that plane rolled down the tarmac, till it pulled him into the twilight, into the far off far off.

i thought much during that chunk of an hour of how the heart is a vessel that needs determined attention. a heart doesn’t stretch to its widest capacity, not without a long curriculum of tending and exercise. not without short chapters in being pulled to the pinching point, and then finding our way, home through the maze.

my not-so-little one took his first solo flight into yesterday’s sunset. flashed his own boarding pass, lugged his own suitcase, squeezed no one’s hand this time when the plane lifted off, that glorious gallump from earthbound to air.

he’d been hoping and wishing and pining for a chance to go back to a place he loves, back to the global village he called home all last year, back to friends who’d wrapped him in their arms and their hearts and carried him through a landscape that forever changed his worldview. he squeezed me so tight the night i clicked on his ticket, i thought i’d teeter down the stairs. this week, as monday turned to tuesday and wednesday, and finally to thursday, he could barely keep from counting down every last hour.

but then, at gate C 27 at the far end of the concourse at the world’s second-busiest airport, he realized just what he was about to do, what he’d never done before. and once i kissed him — loudly, too loudly — on the forehead, once i’d discovered the angel named “christina” who promised to get him where he needed to be on the other end, in boston, he looked away, into the place where you look when you’re blinking back tears, and talking down all the worries that have come tumbling out of your heart and settled solidly in the pit of your throat.

i watched that young boy of mine, that boy whose heart carries him straight into the face of his fears sometimes, i watched him hand his boarding pass — a bit crinkled by then — to the nice man at the door to the jetway. i watched him tug one last time on his suitcase on wheels. i watched his little boy legs, decked out in hiking shorts and basketball socks, and i felt my heart melt away.

i know it’s not easy for him to get on a plane, to sleep on someone’s hard floor. i know he gets horrible headaches sometimes.

but i know, more than that, that this is a kid who leads with his heart. and who, despite the wobbles and the oh-what-did-i-get-myself-into’s, never backs down from fear. he gives a tug to the wheels and doesn’t look back. he turns round the bend and into the mouth of the plane.

i sat there, nose to the vast span of glass, and saw this short trip for a good bit of what it was: an exercise in finding his way, an exercise in letting a boy discover deep down inside just how resilient he is, just how deeply he can count on the heart that pounds in the chest of his 80-pound self.

his biggest worry as we’d driven to the airport was what if, once he got off the plane, he couldn’t find his way to the baggage claim? what if his dear and wonderful friend — and the whole seventh-grade welcome committee — couldn’t convince the TSA agents in boston to let them slide through security to get to the gate where the intrepid traveler would be getting off the plane?

you’ll find your way, i told him. you’ll stay calm, most of all. you’ll use your brain. and your common sense. and you’ll look for signs. and ask for help if you need it. there are kind people everywhere.

not a bad prescription for all of us, for all of life, come to think of it.

and maybe that’s why, more than anything, i could hold my own breath and let him walk down that accordion-pleated tube all on his own: because as much as i want to hold him tight — no, more than i want to hold him tight — i want him to feel the rush of wind at his cheeks, i want him to know the sturdiness of those well-muscled calves, i want him to know the intricacies of his own inner compass, and the invincibility of that very fine, very deep heart.

isn’t that one of the many definitions of love: to put wings to dreams? to launch early soarings that build to some day’s long flight?

isn’t all of childhood a trajectory of ascend and retreat, climb and tumble, kiss the hurt and try all over again? aren’t we always aiming to loosen the training wheels, to give the children we love the power and knowledge that there is not a hill  too high to try to crest? and how will they take in the view from the mountaintop if we don’t plonk them on the starter slopes, whisper in their ear that we know they can do it, and we’ll be here to catch them if and when they need us?

just last week i read a fascinating article about the latest frontier explored by howard gardner, the harvard educator who first advanced the notion of multiple intelligence. in a new book titled “the app generation,” gardner and his co-author, katie davis, consider the ways kids growing up with infinite apps at the touch of their smartphone screen will navigate this new world. the professors probe “app-dependent” versus “app-enabled,” and try to steer us toward the latter.

but the point they made that’s had me thinking all week is when they mentioned how, in a GPS world, kids today barely stand a chance of getting lost, of finding themselves directionless (in a literal, compass-like sense), and thus how they might never get to know the glorious rush of bewilderment followed by clarity. of walking aimlessly and without mooring, before digging deep, relying on internal and external cues to find their way out of the maze — be it city streets, or out in the woods. or in the A terminal of boston’s logan international airport.

so, sitting there in the hard airport chair, training my eyes on the plane that did not budge, i relished this moment, this breathtaking adventure of letting my big-hearted boy dip deep into the vast tool box that’s already his.

he’ll soar home through the stars come sunday eve, and there at the gate will be his papa and i, open-armed and ready to wrap him in once again. the brave sojourner, back where — for now — he belongs most of all.

godspeed, sweet traveler. you teach your mama so very much. xoxoxo

the art of getting lost: do you remember a time when you hadn’t a clue where you were, and needed to find your way? is it a lesson you’ve considered passing along? and do you remember your first solo flight? and what wisdom did you bring home, tucked in your traveler’s bag? 

joy of one

joy of one. tedd. 12.

sooner or later, it happens. to anyone who’s assembled a tumbled lot of kids. housed them. fed them. worried through a night or two.

it’s the law of simple arithmetic. subtraction, actually.

x – 1 (to the nth power, depending how many you’ve accumulated) eventually = 1.

for all the momentum you’d once acquired under that one shingled roof, for all the noise once collected over forks and spoons and spilled milk, there comes a day when there’s only one poor child under your sights.

poor child, indeed.

that one and only kid is unshakably under the steady gaze of eyes that have no distraction, that aren’t too often pulled hither or yon.

that poor kid is all alone in the glare of your watchtower.

and in our house, the grownups come in pairs. so in fact, he’s under double glare.

he wakes up some fine mornings to not one but two tall people tickling him from slumber. one’s armed with warm, moist washcloth (the turkish spa treatment, you might rightly think). the other employs soft circles to the hollow between the bumps where angel wings were supposed to sprout.

he saunters downstairs to made-to-order pancakes and bacon. on mornings like this morning, when all that slumber was hard to shake, one of the tall people caves and offers a ride in the little black sedan. complete with concentrated conversation, the rare sort that comes when the interviewer is truly deeply interested in all that lurks deep down inside your soul.

now, you might be retching right about here. thinking, holy lord, what sort of overindulgent parenting is this? where’s the rough-and-tough school of hit the “eject” button, hightail ’em out the door, stuff a granola bar in their pocket, and kick ’em in the pants, with a casual, “have a good one,” tossed over your shoulder as you slam the door behind ’em?

well, there are rare few chances in this boardgame called “a life,” in which to pull out all the stops, to give it everything you’ve got, to score one more chance to do it right, to love with all your heart.

so that seems to be the m. o. over here.

by accident of gestational bumps and broken hearts, we’re in our third chapter of parenting over here. we had the one-and-only round one (a round we thought would never end), the oh-my-gosh-it’s-two (yet another round i seemed to think would never end), and now, thanks to a very far away college quad, we’ve got one-and-mostly-only.

day in and day out, it’s a ratio of 2 to 1.

and perhaps the most beautiful part of being the mama of a 12-year-old when you yourself are 56, barreling toward 57, is that you are wise enough to know: there is no more sacred incubator in this blessed gift of life than the one into which you pour your heart, and whatever accumulated wisdom you’ve scraped up along the way — that holy vessel called a growing, stretching child.

doesn’t matter to me if the child comes by birth or by heart, or simply wanders down the sidewalk and finds a place on my couch. it’s a nasty speed-chase out there, with cars flying into ditches right and left. if the walls within which i dwell happen to offer rare respite, time-out, breathing room, a place where dreams can be launched, and hurts aired out to dry, well then i’m posting a shingle on my doorpost: “time-out offered here.”

even after all these days — and there’ve been 4,420 — since that sweet boy landed in my arms, i consider it a miracle of the first order that he’s here at all. never mind that mop of curls. or the bottomless smile and the matching dimples. or the tender way he takes my hand and gives it a squeeze in the middle of driving from anywhere to anywhere. never mind that, mid-lope out the door, he hits the brakes and circles back for a goodbye hug — one for each grownup.

never mind all that.

it’s just the rare precious miracle of the chance to rocket-launch one more sack of hopes and dreams and heart. to try to pack in all the love and goodness and tender toughness that just might add a shard of light to this sometimes darkening planet.

i’ve always said he seems to know, deep inside his soul, that he was a last-chance baby. the one who beat the odds. the one who left his mama jaw-dropped and quaking at the news. those sterile hens in the bible — sarah (90, when she birthed isaac), rebekah and rachel, to name a few of the so-called “barren” — had nothing on me when it came to being flabbergasted at the revelation (although my shriek came upon seeing the little pregnancy plus sign turn pink, which i don’t think was part of the biblical story).

and so, he seems to indulge us in our over-lavishing. fear not, we try to keep it in check. at least when anyone’s watching. but i happen to have married my teacher in the tenderness department. in patience, too. that man has never once uttered a note in the tone of shrill, a tone i know by heart. used to be i didn’t stop myself till he shot me a withering glance. that stopped me, rattled me back on track.

but over all these years — and there’ve been 20 in the parenting corral — i’ve learned to take his lead, and not auto-leap — well, not every time — into the role of mrs. harsh & overhurried.

once upon a time you would’ve thought the world depended on our getting to the nursery school on time. and i still have trouble reminding myself that a tornado-strewn whirl of clothes heaped on the bedroom floor is NOT the moral equivalent of hauling swine flu into the country, hidden in a clandestine stick of salami.

i think often — expend a bumper crop of brain cells — on the subject of growing kids. it’s religion to me, the holiest sort. it matters more than anything else i will ever do. closest thing to curing cancer. because it boils down to taking the heart and soul you’ve been handed, and tenderly, wisely filling it with light. considering it a stealth missile of planetary illumination. the answer to a peace-prize prayer.

oh sure, the darkness will come. we can’t keep that at bay. but we can give the gift of buoyancy. we can keep the boing in the human spirit. the bounce-back machine that takes the wallops, and rights itself again.

there’s not a creature on the globe who wouldn’t pray to be loved deep and pure and forever after. it’s the highest hope of all creation.

and at our house he only wishes for someone else to please steal our attention. especially when we double-team the launching him from bed.

here, on this crystal clear morning before the day of atonement, at the end of a long week of wondering where my next writing assignment will be, the one bit that bubbled up was my poor outnumbered child. he weathers us well. has a stable of distractions. there are two particular readers, readers on the jersey shore whom i happen to adore, and this one was, in good measure, for them. forgive me for indulging in family lore. i know that nothing matters more to them than knowing their sweet boys — five grandsons — are in good-enough hands. 

what do you consider the holiest work you’ve been asked to do? 

love, bam

prodigal people

prodigal people

when your sweet boy is flying through night, is up in the clouds, winging his way to you, you can’t sleep too soundly. you toss and tumble, and peek open an eye to check on the clock.

you follow him, one flight to the next, berlin to amsterdam, amsterdam, home. 12:40, 2:40, 5:40….all in the ayems, of course. waiting, just waiting, for the scheduled landing at 2:10 p.m.

while he does his half of the task — sits strapped in the seat trying not to splatter his midnight breakfast — you do yours: you haul out the pots and the pans, you indulge in the making of prodigal feast.

there are apples to chop and to simmer. there is cinnamon to sprinkle in dashes. there’s that ol’ mac-‘n’-cheese, the one from page 200 of the may 1995 gourmet magazine, the one you first made when your firstborn turned two, and the one that — ever since — has been family shorthand for comfort hauled from the oven.

because your heart is thumping at john philip sousa proportions, you haul out the red “you are special today” plate. you run about the yard with your clippers, tucking hydrangea (the first of the summer) next to his bed (as if he’ll be awake enough to notice), plunging stems of rambling roses and catmint into an old cracked pitcher you’ve hauled out from hiding.

at last, you leap in the shiny black pick-up mobile (that’s pick-up as in boy from airport), and you note that it’s near out of gas. you make un-anticipated pit stop at nearest gasoline pump, then you motor on your way, arriving at said airport a good hour early. (but considering a week ago, you would have walked to germany to fetch the suffering child, this hour is nothing. and besides it gives you a chance to inhale the tears and the squeals and the long-lost embraces that come with the world’s second-busiest international terminal).

you stare so intently at the swinging double doors, the chute that spits out bleary-eyed, jet-lagged world travelers, you practically will your child to up and appear. as that first hour drags into the start of the second, you suddenly look up and there, curlier than ever, slump shouldered from all that he’s weathered since last you waved him goodbye, there is your sweet little boy, not yet a dozen years on this planet, and now bearing a much-stamped state-department-issued U.S. passport.

you cannot contain it. you yelp: “there he is!” as if everyone in the throng might care about your particular pronoun. and before you can note the collective raised eyebrows, you’ve leapt around the black sash that attempts to keep order there in the exiting-passenger chute.

so sweet is this holy reunion, your boy traveler doesn’t even flinch when you throw your arms tight round his shoulders and backpack. but the nice lady in the uniform does command you to move it along. so you do. and you stand there marveling at how gorgeous he is, how his soul feels like it’s deepened, it’s triumphed.

for it did triumph. that kid, who was sick for five days, who came to know far too many german toilettes, he found it deep within to muscle his way to the finish line. the line where, with your trembling hand squeezing his, he now stood.

you didn’t tarry, there in the airport. you shared hugs goodbye with two surrogate mamas (both of whom you’ll scribble onto your eternally-grateful list for the rest of your days), then you zipped to the car, began dialing essential persons — papa, big brother, anyone who happened to be breathlessly waiting by the phone for word of the traveler’s arrival.

and, at last, after 11 long months, and another two weeks plus a day, you brought the boy home to where he deeply, truly belongs.

he relished every step of the path to the door, through the overgrown greens and the weeds that threaten to cut you off at the knees. he called for his cat, the cat who leapt from the old wicker chair, and promptly rubbed fur against ankle.

he kerplumped into the couch. he soaked up the sights through his sleepiest eyes. then, halfway through mac ‘n’ cheese, he keeled over onto the bench by the old maple table. that’s when he begged for a bubbly bath, and his old old bed.

and that’s where i climbed in beside him, into the 100-year-old bed that once was my grandma’s. i curled my legs around his, and whispered a kite-string of prayer into his soft little ear. by the time i whispered the second “thank you, dear God,” he was off in that place where the dreams come, and he stayed there till six the next morning.

he’s still sleeping it off, all of it, but when he’s awake it’s utterly perfectly clear how he’s grown. deep down, deep inside where the stretching and growing unfolds, he’s a boy who’s mastered an obstacle course.

just two weeks ago he was sending home emails saying he couldn’t possibly make it, would not survive there in a faraway place, upchucking every few hours, alone in a house with few words of english. and we typed back a niagara falls of you-can-do-it declarations. it’s all we could do, since the state department isn’t so keen on issuing on-the-spot passports for mamas whose children are ailing from tummy flu.

there are times, i’ve discovered, when the wisest thing a mama can do is hold her breath, and believe. and pass on sparks of that faith — in whatever form she can send ’em — to a faraway child, who is out doing the hard work of childhood, discovering all the nooks and crannies of vigor and stamina nestled deep down inside. the figuring out that you’re stronger than you think you are. that you can do what you might have thought impossible.

and even when that mama’s heart is nearly skipping its beats, she’s giving that child the best she can give: the hard-won sense of mastery, sure-footed steadiness, that there is no mountain too steep for him to climb. that the summit is there, that lung-filling vista, for the kid who figures it out: put one hiking boot in front of the other, step, climb, step, steadying as you go. you’ll make it to the top. and, once there, you can always tuck that triumph snug in your pocket, for the next time you run into a climb up the sharp side of an incline.

***

one by one, my boys are trickling home. this old house is filling again, with the hums and the rhythms that make it purr. the blue-willow cookie plate, the one that shines from under the cake dome, it’s filled again. the fridge is stocked with milk in all percents — 0, 2 and 100-percent whole. the oven’s been cranked. the shower is steamy, is dripping.

there’s only one bed that’s un-stirred (so i plop the cat there to make it look used). and as much as i loved this old house all to myself, i discovered i love it more when it’s humming with people whose noises i know by heart.

my prodigal people are back. and i long for the missing one now more than ever, knowing we’ll not really be whole till he’s here.

i’m struck by a sense — sometimes softly, sometimes with a wallop — that it seems we’ve leapt a chapter or two since last we were huddled here at the old maple table.

i can almost hear the page that’s been turned, as the life of this family moves forward. and the sound of little feets on the floorboard, they’re fading. where’d the years go? oh, how i love this old house that remembers. that once knew the sounds of suckling, and little boy birthdays. and now is home to a world-traveler come home to catch up on sleep…..

post-script: i know. i said i would stay mum for awhile. but….well, i found a friday morning without typing a bit of an odd fit. and there were a few things that rumbled around this week, so tap-tap-tap, fingers to keyboard. i’ll try to rest easy in knowing that if you don’t care to click here, you certainly won’t. and i’ll console myself with the knowing that a writer needs to write if she cares to keep her verbs sharp and sharper, and i’ve teachers under my belt who admonish: daily, daily, you must do it daily. 

it’s a workday around here, as the professor is back to his life as a newspaper critic, and his first critique is spewing from the typewriter on deadline today. my world traveler is snoozing upstairs, and there’s a long day of writing ahead for me.

hope your fourth was lovely. and blanketed by a nightsky exploding with colors and sizzles and booms.

and now for a question: what were the chapters of your life that tested your deep-down i-can-do-it-ness? how’d you figure out that the best you could do was put one foot in front of the next, and sooner or later, you’d get where you needed, learning a few key lessons along the way?

home. amid a host of tugs and pulls and squeaks from far corners.

moving boxes...

dispatch from 60091 (in which, except for invasion of colonies of critters with matchstick-sized legs, i attempt to nest in solitude, with a few elephant-sized distractions…)

i’ve waited 18 months for this. to have unpacked the mountain of moving boxes. to have tiptoed room-to-room, inhaling the musty scent of home. to be tucked up against my old maple table, with the morning sun draped across the slabs. my old chipped coffee mug at the ready, inches from the keyboard.

i’ve waited for the tick and tock of our grandpa’s clock. to hear the morning song of birds, my birds, my flocks, rising up and rolling in from the jungle that is my overgrown garden. i’ve waited and waited.

to be home, and going nowhere.

alas, it hasn’t exactly been a week of lolligagging and tossing back bonbons in a tub of bubbles.

the night before i zipped the last of the home-bound suitcases, back in 02139, i got word — make that, news flash — from my hilarious friend who spent the year here holding down the fort. she’d ducked into the wee bathroom off my writing room (the old garage, long ago turned into maid’s quarters, how apt that i now dwell there…), and there, dozing atop a feather bed of nibbled toilet paper bits, a nice fat chipmunk. only it wasn’t sleeping. it was, um, dead. and had chosen a basket filled with toilet paper rolls to be his final resting place.

she spared me pix of the kerplunked critter, and instead sent me a dramatic close-up of just how adept chipmunks are at making bedclothes out of the tissue paper with a purpose.

i considered myself fair-warned.

which is why, once half across the country, once the cat, the boy, the three fat suitcases and i were greeted at the baggage depot by my fair mama and ferried home, i tiptoed with trepidation into that wee room. i scanned for paw prints, wee paw prints, everywhere a furry thing might scamper. i scanned, too, for the caraway-seed-sized deposits they always leave behind.

i found them.

abundantly.

piled high and thick atop the baby blankets i had so neatly folded and tucked into a basket back in the corner. must have seemed the perfect lullaby land for all the baby chipmunks (and judging from the pile, there was a bumper crop of baby chipmunks). i did not scream. i merely long-jumped from the room, slammed the door, and decided to deal with it in the morning.

long story, short: $500 later, my new best friend joe, the jesus-believing critter control apostle, arrived on the scene, armed with coyote urine, ammonia crystals and wheelbarrows of cement. not a poison to be found, bless his benevolent heart. just some serious deterrents for re-entry to the chipmunks’ underground metropolis, the one they dug in vast array beneath the concrete slab upon which the old garage was built.

that’s the story of the first-floor critters. upstairs, in all the drawers where soaps and cottonballs were stored (note the past tense), another branch of the Rodentia family (the ones with long skinny tails and appetite, apparently, for european scrubs) had made themselves quite at home. why, it was a veritable carnival of critters, all with matchstick legs and the itty-bittiest pit-a-pats the world has ever known. they’d run amok undetected for lord knows how many months. (they don’t exactly blow trumpets announcing their arrival.)

and, oh, they served as such a rousing welcome committee. (i was roused, all right!)

but all that, truly, fades in the narrative arc of this long week.

the heart of the matter is that one long dark night this week i sat alone in my long-awaited bed fielding phone calls from my firstborn who was spending the night in an ER 1,000 miles away, getting IV painkillers pumped into his veins (neck and head pains, all tied back to a broken neck in the eighth grade, when he somersaulted over his handlebars swerving from — get this — a chipmunk who’d dashed across his bike trail).

and that’s only the half of it. my little one, the brave one who boarded a plane to germany a mere 48 hours after whirling in the door, a trip he’d long awaited, a trip for which he’d spent the year studying with his german tutor, he’d gotten sick as a dog on the flight across the atlantic, and 24 hours after de-boarding the plane was still upchucking in his new german bathroom. i was getting emails from the teacher, updating me on just what shade of green he was sporting, hour by hour.

when you are 11, and 4,538 miles from home, and you’ve been tummy-rumbling in volcanic proportions for a good 36 hours, you really truly desperately deeply through-and-through want one of two things: a.) to catch the next plane home, or b.) to have your mama sky-dive from the clouds.

thus, you do what any thinking person would do: you pick up the phone, and dial in your request.

and your mother, on the far side of the globe, hearing the whimper in your voice, imagining just how wretched it must feel to have wretched straight across the ocean, she kicks into high mama gear: she drops to her knees, points eyes heavenward, and unfurls the litanies of prayer reserved for just such moments.

she smacks herself upside the head for letting such a little guy go in the first place. she calls on angels, saints, random trumpet players, anyone and anything who might come charging to the rescue, to barrel up the hill and storm the ramparts.

she tries everything she can humanly think of. she pounds out “this i believe” treatises, reminding the little fellow just how brave he is, and just how valiantly he has conquered a host of uphill battles: the sleepover on wrigley field, the two-week summer camp in the deep dark mosquito-infested woods of michigan, the whole dang city of cambridge, massachusetts. heck, he even weathered a whomping case of scarlet fever and pneumonia when he was just a wee young thing.

the boy can do it.

he is, i often remind him, the egg that wouldn’t take no for an answer. while all the other eggs could not make it out of the roundhouse and chug up the mountain, that little guy was the one egg who made the climb, who was born in a shaft of pure white light at 3:22 one hot august morning, to a mother who defied logic and medical tomes, clocking into the maternity ward at 44 years, eight months and five days old.

on the off-chance that my sweet boy is tucked under the puffy covers in munster, reading these words from glowing screen, i have five words and a comma for you: you can do it, sweetie.

i love you higher than the moon and wider than the oceans. you have angels, saints, mamas, papas, grandmas and grandpas, uncles, aunts and a big brother all pulling for you. we’ll make sure you are pumped up with dramamine for the swift ride home. and we’ll be waiting at the airport with double-time hearts and wide-open arms. we’ll pull you to our thumping hearts, and keep you home all summer. we’ll even ply you with fresh-squeezed lemonade and oatmeal-raisin cookies. we’ll let you stay up late and sleep till lunchtime, if that’s the way you like it. we’ll whip up a welcome home parade, and make you grand marshal and chief potentate. i won’t even make you pluck your dirty socks off the floor. (not for the first hour, anyway….)

you will have triumphed over the latest in your long litany of championship makers. you are some boy, you glorious sweet soul, you who always says, “yes! i want to see the world!”

it’s right before your eyes. take it in, sweetheart. then hurry home. so we can all chase chipmunks hither and yon and all around the garden, one big happy reunited family. home sweet home, at last. oh, sweet lord, at last.

so that’s the news from the homecoming committee. shoulda known that you can’t go away for 10 long months and not expect a bump or grind upon return. 

question of the week: what words of wisdom would you impart to a wee lad far from home, and weathering a whopper case of travel bugs…..

turning the page on my little muse

goodbye little musedispatch from 02139 (in which my stretching-by-the-hour muse proclaims independence and right of first refusal…)

it was just a few weeks ago, one night after dinner, when my little fellow was nonchalantly clearing the table, and plopped his plate precipitously over the edge of the counter, threatening to wobble and crash to the depths of the dishwasher down below.

yes, half the plate was securely on the countertop. ah, but the other half, suspended on air and air alone.

seizing this moment of gravity instruction, i chimed: “sweetie, don’t leave the plate there. it could fall.”

to which my young isaac newton circled back, eyed the non-wobbling plate, and crisply replied: “well, it didn’t.”

“but it could,” i tried again, intent on cementing this lesson.

wherein the young thinker, once again, became the teacher.

said he, looking me straight in the eyeballs: “you don’t want to live your life in what-ifs!”

and then he scurried on. and i was left, alone in the kitchen, his words reverberating. making the walls shake. waking up sound-asleep brain cells.

“you don’t want to live your life in what-ifs.”

who is this 11-year-old buddha? is it not true that the heavens send us our teachers in soccer pants and sauce-stained T-shirts?

so struck was i by this kitchen-sink wisdom that i lurched to grab my trusty camera, to record the not-so-tipsy plate, just as he’d left it. so that, as i’ve so often done in the last six of his 11 years, i might etch the lesson here, on the pages of the chair.

but i was caught, mid-click.

he knew what i was up to. and there arose a gentle protest. a declaration of independence.

“mom, you can’t write about me without checking with me first.”

point taken.

so i didn’t write that week about the lesson of not living your life in what-ifs.

though it was a lesson that shot me through and through. because, yes, how often have i not crossed a threshold after ticking up the hundred ways that something might go wrong. because fear undercuts, boxes in, circumscribes, so very many blue highways in the landscape of our lives.

his claim to right of first refusal became an oft-returned-to point of discussion over days that followed. he’d deemed that if he could be first-reader, it might or might not pass the test. i might or might not get to click the “publish” button.

all wholly on the mark. all wholly admirable. and defensible.

and a policy to which i now subscribe.

and, yes, in that moment, i heard the crinkling of yet another page in my life as it turned, as i lifted up the fragile corner, arced it across time and space, and pressed it back, onto the growing stack of past.

my little muse had, for all these years, been the heartbeat of so many meanders here at the table. there was monster fighter, the one about how he armed himself for perilous nights in those fitful shadowed hours not long before he was swallowed up by first grade. there was the a-ha moment where the little black squiggles on the page suddenly, out of the blue, and after much trying, erupted into words, the likes of which he swallowed whole, in starter sentences and paragraphs. there was, most recently, stitching the homesick blanket, in which he wanted more than anything a plane ticket home. and the meander, in particular, that made him stand up and say, excuse me, i have a right to tell my own story of my own life.

it is a struggle many writers meet head on. there are sharp lines in our lives we do not cross. whole continents of heartland we do not explore in print.

it’s why there’s fiction.

being married to a writer, i’ve long known our unspoken pact: i don’t write about his private life, our private life, because it’s his as much as mine. being the mother of a college kid, i’ve known too just how close i can inch toward that tender, fragile, firm, border crossing. i’ve written less and less about him as he’s grown, claimed his own life story.

but my little one, until just now, has been the one whose heart, whose words, whose wonders i couldn’t help but capture.

like a lepidopterist, i’ve flailed my net, and here and there, in daisy fields and shaded coves, in kindergarten classrooms, and on little league playlots, i’ve netted bright-winged moments that were my sweet boy growing up.

moments that otherwise would have escaped, fluttered off to clouds, or tucked away behind a tree limb.

been lost to time and memory.

i’ve long said that more than anything, pull up a chair has been my truest snapshot album. has lassoed in times new roman (the font in which i type) a mother’s deepest felt moments, the charms of six-year-old and seven-year-old lexicon and logic. has been slow-release, unfurling love song.

more than anything, it’s holding up a life — my life, our life — to the light. it’s catching the rainbow shards distilled in every shaft of sunbeam. it’s turning a moment round and round, re-discovering a miracle or magic not seen in first-run.

and along the way, truth be always told, i fell more in love with one particular little fellow than i ever knew i could. it’s not that i didn’t love him through and through and through in real time. it’s just that in putting him on paper, in digging deep to find the words, to record his whims and whirling marvels, i fell in love all over and over and over again. it’s the prestidigitation of the pen.

just this morning, as i petitioned this very musing, as i inquired as we trudged through snow banks and skidded over ice patch en route to where the school bus stops, he generously offered more than compromise: “oh, you can write about me, mom. just not my private life.”

so no more snaps of little boy legs peeking out from under the covers. no more monster fighter garb, bare naked chest and legs. no more stories from the shadows and the aching vessels of his heart. not without assent — of the committee of one. not unless he lifts the “no trespassing” sign.

my little muse is growing up. and he’s the author of his life.

to which the corollary is: the life that’s mine is the one of which i’m allowed to write. and that alone, i’ll mine.

unless permission’s granted.

tipsy plate

for the writers and artists among you, do you too find places in your heart which you know not to trespass, at least not out loud and in public?

dashing to get to audio storytelling class. huge computer snafus this morning. will edit later. thanks, T, for letting me tell a story.

the sweet snap way above is my apple-cheeked boy, caught reading by the light of the double-d battery, long long ago. when he was five, and didn’t mind being the subject of a story.

stitching the homesick blanket

dispatch from 02139…

here on the banks of the charles river, it’s seeped in, that one thing i knew was coming, that one thing i prayed might be kept at bay.

but of course, it couldn’t, wouldn’t be.

not when traveling with young soul, tender soul, boy on the brink of those tumbling years, those years when friends mean everything, when the familiar is lifeline, is equilibrium.

and so, at the dawn of most days lately, and past nightfall, when the bedclothes are tucked up around his chin, that’s when i hear the sigh, the deep, deep hollow sigh. the boy misses home, misses friends, feels unmoored.

please, can we go home?!?!” he asks, begging and insisting in the same short breaths.

are there words in a mother’s lexicon that cut more sharply against the vessels of the heart?

one morning, not so many days ago, when i’d dried the tears, whispered words meant to stitch together the tatters, when i’d coaxed and promised and pleaded, at last he climbed down from the top of the bunk bed, surrendered more or less to the school day up ahead, and as he stood there, calm by then, bravely slipping arms through soccer jersey, he asked:

“mom, has there ever been a time in your life where you wished you could go back to a decision and make it over again?”

and i knew, of course, before the last word of the sentence rested on my eardrum, that the decision in mind here was the one back in january, around the dinner table, when we’d asked that fifth-grade boy what he’d think of up and moving to cambridge for a year, and he replied, without missing a beat, “sounds great. i need to see the world!”

and here, standing on the hard-planked floor of his little room on franklin street, in cambridge, in the heart of 02139, he was wishing with all his might that time was silly-putty, could be pulled and twisted, turned back, re-formed. that just maybe he’d said nope, no way, i’m stayin’ put.

but fact is, we’re here. for a mere nine more months.

and i know, deep in my mother heart, that he’ll be all right.

that this hurts, absolutely. (after all i’m the girl who sat on the garage stoop for my whole kindergarten year, every sunday night, oozing emptiness and sorrow as i watched my papa pull down the driveway, turn and fade into the darkness, gone again till friday, week after empty week, for most of that whole year.)

the thing that keeps me steady are the words some wise soul said in passing, just before we packed up all the boxes back on maple avenue, when she said: “a parent’s job is to teach our children to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.”

well, it’s uncomfortable, all right. for him, at least. for this kid who travels to a school where he claims just one friend, though when i pick him up on the basketball courts after school, he’s amid a thicket of ball players, all smiling, jostling. and they call out his name in a way that drips with honey, pure sweet, our little scrapper of a hustler on the court. and with that big ol’ smile to boot, he seems to be the proud owner of a formula for instant affection.

if i didn’t believe, deep down, with all my soul, that this year was in fact a trip through the accelerator, that shake-’em-up-machine that can’t help but infuse life knowledge, heart, a deeper wider understanding of the world, whether it comes from sitting on my lap while i read a story from our south african journalist friend about the 1,802 footsteps it takes along a muddy mountain path to fetch a jug of water (twice, each day), or whether it comes while kicking around a soccer ball with four kids, not one of whom speaks english, i would never have emptied out his dresser drawers, stuffed it all in duffel bags, and squished them into the back of the little black sedan that pulled out of our alley back home, and kept chugging till it got to the curb here on franklin.

but that doesn’t mean i’ve not, once again, pulled out my mother bag of implements and tools for stitching back together the tattered heart of a boy who’s been stricken with a nasty case of homesick blues.

and once again i’ve come to that blunt line, the precipice, where words run out, where there are only so many ways you can whisper hope, promise deliverance from this heartache.

and so, as always, i’ve turned to the alchemies of comfort.

i am simmering cider and spices in early morning hours so that even before he flutters open an eyelid, he’ll have breathed in a comfort note, a pungent autumn mix of cinnamon and clove and apple orchard.

i’m frying sausages and bacon. making whopping batches of french toast on weekends, so all week long he’ll start the day with a platter that tries to whisper: you are loved. you’re not home, but home is here, is where the ones who hold you up promise to sustain you, to keep you from being swallowed whole by the rocky waters of your achiness.

i’m snatching samples of hard-rock candy from the white house pastry chef who lectured to my “science and cooking” class, so that he knows, without words, that even in the thick of my dailiness, he is front and center in my mama brain.

last night, dashing out of a mind-blowing talk from five journalists who covered the arab spring, from egypt to liberia to yemen and tunisia, five journalists who barely missed bullets, and didn’t escape arrest, dashing out because i had to get to the soccer field, to fetch my homesick boy from practice, i spied a vat of goldfish crackers, and scooped up a whole cup because even when my head is swirling with images of war and foreign correspondents, i remember that little boys’ tummies growl when they are empty, and the drive home in cambridge traffic is always longer than it should be, and so there i was dashing along the cobbled streets, weaving and darting between college kids plugged into iPhones, with my plastic cup of bright orange goldfish.

because mamas never stop the art, the craft, the hope of being mamas. our one true work is nestled deep in that cord that forever connects us: we are, if we choose to be, the beginning and the end of someone’s belonging to this holy earth. we are womb. even when it’s emptied.

and our prayers are without end. our prayers, without words when we come to the place where no vowels, no consonants exist to capture the whole of what we ask, what we beg for.

dear God, please fill this child’s heart. please stitch together the gaping hole, the oozing-out place where it hurts so very much, where it feels like you’re falling, spinning, down a big black tunnel. where you think you’ll never again get home. where the comfort of your big old bed, the wallpaper that you know by heart, the sounds of the creaking at the top of the stairs, it’s all you long for. that and the footsteps of your friends, tramping in the door, encasing you in the whole cloth of friendship and familiar that you so miss.

dear God, pass me, please, the spool and the needle that i need here. as i try mightily, morning after morning, bedtime after bedtime, to stitch the homesick blanket. so i can tuck in the boy i love, wrap him in the holy cloth of comfort that only angels bring.

chair people, if you’ve an extra word of grace to spare, perhaps you might send up vespers for all the children in this world who don’t quite feel that they belong wherever it is they are.  and if you’ve tricks in your sewing kit, or recipes tucked into files, please do tell: how do you stitch comfort for the ones you love when they are aching, oozing, and wholly at a loss?

dashing to send this off because any minute now, the power’s going out for the whole day here. i’ll have to nip and tuck later. but for now…..my morning’s meander….

tumblings from a cambridge notebook…

dispatch from 02139… in which the chair explores the nooks and crannies of this wonderland where at every turn, it seems, there is something to capture the imagination and set it soaring… 

because i’ve somehow managed to decorate my days-long fever with wall-to-wall crimson spots (ever conscious of the college colors), i’ve decided that the wisest dispatch here this morning would be the one in which i merely shake out my reporter’s notebook from this enchanted week in cambridge, one in which we launched deep and wide into orientation at the white clapboard lippmann house where the cottage garden blooms and where already i’ve encountered a slew of amazing souls from all around the world.

it is pinch-me hard to believe, quite often, that i am in fact sitting in a chair in a sun-streamed assembly room, looking up at a wall, where there hangs a banner that reads: “nieman foundation for journalism at harvard.”

but there we sit, eight hours in a day, absorbing all they have to tell us about this year of, as the curator of us all so beautifully put it: “exposure to big and wonderful minds.” not a bad agenda for a year.

among us is a foreign correspondent (whose identity i must keep masked) who tells tales of interviewing terrorists and then being told that if the interviews don’t work out, maybe she could marry one of the ol’ bomb-lobbers. yet another is a woman who has dedicated her life and every waking second of the last two years to documenting every single homicide in washington, d.c.; she has been in court for every hearing and proceeding of every bloody death in the district, she hears from victim’s families and suspects and accusers, along with eyewitnesses, and a host of hangers-on, and she was in tears when she got up to introduce herself and explained that in order to come on the fellowship she had to close down her site, and for the first time in two years, there were murders in d.c. going down undocumented this week, unwatched by her watchful eyes.

the conversation i’ll not ever forget is the one that unfolded the other night, sitting at a picnic table, beside a man from a country i won’t name (for confidentiality reasons), who told me that he is publishing a book on the history of his country, and that when he returned home at the end of this year, “trouble will be waiting.”

when i asked what exactly “trouble” meant, he quietly answered, “prison.”

“how long,” i asked.

he shook his head. he didn’t know. but he had two friends, he told me, who’d been in prison 17 years already.

you don’t engage in conversations like those and not begin to feel a shifting deep inside, as you realize that around the world lives are risked for the work that journalists — hellbent on truth-telling, no matter the cost — do each and every day, recording every bloody uprising, every random gang-bang.

on the other end of an indelible spectrum, i’ve been witness to my little fellow, the one who in recent weeks was scared to death about leaving home, the one who on the morning of our leaving, when i walked into his bedroom at dawn to announce, “it’s time to go,” burst into unbroken sobs. i have been watching him cast aside every doubt and worry and dive into friendships with kids he never knew a week ago. even when they don’t speak a word of english.

the most heavenly of those friendships is the one we’ve come to call the three musketeers: there is my little guy, who speaks barely a word of spanish; there is a little boy from spain who speaks barely a word of english; and, in the middle, there is a little fellow whose parents are from argentina, but who has lived in cambridge his whole life, and who fluidly and fluently is the verbal glue between all three. that and the universal conjunction, the soccer ball, which needs no translation, and which the other night, on the sloping lawn of the lippmann house, steering clear of the butterfly bush and the cosmos, was the magnet that drew some 20 kids, from the diaper-set to the 11-year-old ringleaders, into a game that would not quit, not till well after the last drop of cambridge sunlight had been wrung from the night sky.

in my fevered state, it’s hard to find words for how darn proud i am of that little fellow, who has dug down deep and pulled forth a motherlode of courage and great good wit, to already claim a host of friends from all around the world. glory be to the angels and saints to whom i’ve prayed for months, for this very answer to countless whispered pleadings.

and so this week, more than anything, has been about making friends, peeling back that layer that we all show to the world, and through the simple act of asking questions, and listening carefully to the stories that spill and spill, finding divine connection that will carry us through a short and winding year.

a mother from south africa told me how, through meditation, she came to know she was birthing twins. a radio broadcaster from chile extolled the virtues of a chilean feminist poet who’s been clouded by pablo neruda’s blinding fame; and she and i, now on a shared poetry quest, intend to trek to grolier’s, the oldest poetry-only bookstore in the country, just off harvard square. a food writer from new orleans promised he’d make us gumbo.

and so it goes. all upholstered by my smashing case of spots, in harvard crimson colors.

next up: shopping for classes. on the list? “poetry and religion,” in which we explore the works of Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, Elizabeth Bishop, Anna Akhmatova, Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, Carol Ann Duffy, Sylvia Plath. or maybe “the science of cooking,” yes, cooking. or perhaps wynton marsalis’ ongoing lecture series. or whatever else tumbles on my hungry path. 

and by the way, oh goodness what a difference a year makes, we take the college boy back to amherst tomorrow morn. it will soon be just the three of us. and already i miss that gorgeous soul who inhabits such an enormous chunk of my heart. 

do you, too, revel in the art of discovering those divine connections that draw us together and hold us forever after? (and how was that for a rhetorical question…)

apple pie, poker & the afterglow of hardballs to the noggin

these odd chapters somehow always manage to creep up unawares. and so this one.

we were sitting the other eve, forks in mid-lift, i’m certain, when suddenly a skinny pair of sun-browned legs came swishing through the steamy jungle that these days is my secret tangled garden, the one tucked along the side of this old house. not many lopes behind him came another pair of legs, grown-up legs, a mother’s legs. but not his mother’s.

while it took my brain cells a spell or two to shake all this out, it all came tumbling clear once i saw the look of dazed despair on the little one’s face, and the ashen worry on the mama trailing just behind. then i saw the boy holding something to his dust-splattered head, and i needed little explanation to reach the quick conclusion that this was not how the evening had been scripted.

while the little guy stared up at me with those thirsty hazel-brown eyes of his, in that way that kids have of signaling simultaneous distress and “help me, help me, mama! this here’s your job,” the mama trailing behind him began to spill the dots.

there had been a game of stealing bases, and a hardball, one zipping through the air at 35 miles per hour, she figured (and, the mother of three ball-playing boys, she knows these things). that hard-beaned hardball made a beeline straight to my little guy’s forehead, which set him “crumpling” (her word) to the ground, upon which he couldn’t remember my phone number, and kept saying the same thing over and over. oh, and he was dizzy. and he thought he might throw up.

now, mind you, i’d just the week before heard a tale of precisely the same thing, a kid on the side of a ball field taking a bean to the head, how he got rushed to the school nurse, who thought not so much of it, so he went along to his after-school playdate, only to start getting droopy-faced within the hour. that poor kid wound up in emergency brain surgery before the sun set, and now, thank god, is a-okay. though he won’t be playing ball for a long long time. or ever, if his mother has anything to say about it.

so, with that fresh little spectacle shining in my head, i took in the scene with my very own head-bonked boy, and before you can spell “concussion,” i’d speed-dialed our trusty pediatricians, who wasted no time in sending me to the ER we live so conveniently close to. (note to mothers of boys: when house hunting, be sure to clock the door-to-door distance to your nearest friendly emergency room. it comes in handy.)

not-so-long story abbreviated: dear boy didn’t even need a CT scan, though of course they ruled his head bonk a by-the-book concussion. and, worth mention, his big brother did a memorable job playing ambulance driver, clicking on the bright red flashers only to be stuck in traffic behind the north shore’s slowest-ever driver, meandering lazily down the express route to the hospital. and, happy ending taken up a notch, we walked out of that ER into the arms of a thrashing summer’s storm. hallelujah!

but this wouldn’t be a tale worth telling if not for the prescription that came with the bump: no TV, no computers, no reading, no contact sports.

egad.

for how long we must endure this, we do not know. we see the concussion doctor monday. so for now, and through the weekend, we’ve turned back the clock and we’re playing like pioneers, minus the covered wagon.

yesterday we filled the day with this list of exotica: two boys — ages 10 and 11, mind you — baked, from scratch, an apple pie. yessiree, they sliced the apples, dumped the sugar, sprinkled cinnamon with vigor. they rolled out the dough, crimped the edge (in remarkably poetic undulations). then, because both share the initials TK, they drew out a lance from the kitchen junk drawer and lanced away at their letters, a cris-cross of hard-edged consonants nearly doing in the pie top.

while the apple pie did its oven dance, they did what bakers do: they tried their hand at texas hold ’em, a poker variation, then moved on to black jack and dominoes. ping pong served as minor interlude, along with a promise from our head-bonked one that he would not, absolutely not, come crashing down on the sharp corner of the table.

later in the evening, yet another little fellow wandered by. he took the bumped one out for ice cream, and, quietly strolling the lanes from there to here, they returned home for a long night of not-oft-seen board games. checkers, monopoly, and the fierce pursuit of plastic real estate.

so goes the old-fashioned, turn-back-the-clock life of the forehead compromised.

and, of course you’ve guessed that the point here is that gifts sometimes come wrapped in odd packages. say, ones with purple-green swirls just under a little boy’s forehead curls.

it is rather a refreshing, if taxing, way to spend a summer’s day, exercising the imagination, steering clear of pursuits that might potentially jar that tender brain of his.

deep inside, i long for just such summer days. for the gift of building tree forts (though at the moment, the fort is grounded, not cleared for take-off). for, perhaps, lying upon a summer’s couch, listening to the words of a mama turning the page of some fine adventure tale. and, pray tell, how about a lemonade stand, peddling from-scratch lemony-sugar potion, at the turn-back price of 5 cents a glass?

sometimes it takes a klonk on the head to get us seeing clearly. and if that’s the moral to the hardball story, well, then, i wish we could have gotten there without the goose egg hatching on my little fellow’s forehead.

how do you dream of spending a summer’s day? one spent the old-fashioned way?

humpty dumpty powder and other tricks of motherhood

humpty dumpty had a great fall…all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put humpty together again….

indeed, and thank goodness, not all the falls that befall our little ones are great ones.

sometimes, they’re bumps.

sometimes brought on by being brave in the woods. sometimes by being brave in the woods for two long weeks you thought might never end. sometimes, they’re stirred by spending the night in a tent on the side of a sand dune, on a night when the thunder and lightning would not cease, when hail pummeled the tent flaps, when the counselors at 3 a.m. shooshed you onto the bus for safekeeping, while they struggled to stake down the flipped-over tents, and all you could manage was to pray for dawn’s first light, and a cure for the ache in your belly.

and so, when you get to the end of that shell-shaking spell in the woods, when your mama pulls up to the dried meadow at the edge of camp, and you leap out of your flip-flops to throw yourself into her arms, you need your mama to reach deep into her bag of mama tricks and pull out the humpty dumpty powder.

you need your mama to put you together again.

that’s what mamas do best. that’s job no. 1 in the old mama bible.

oh, sure we birth those babes back at the launch. but from then on in, it’s our supreme holy calling to be there for bee stings and dog bites and nights without end in the woods.

and it is indeed how i am spending these hours, ever since i picked up my brave little camper there in the woods.

didn’t take long, not more than a minute, to see that this hadn’t quite been a picnic, no mere frolic on the shores of torch lake. and it wasn’t simply the stench coming from his toes, there in the back of the homeward-bound rescue mobile.

there were clues, the sort a mama can read without prompt, that the boy sound asleep for most of the car ride, straight through michigan and half indiana, had utterly and completely tapped out his stay-strong tank.

heck, he’d survived on PB&J for the better part of 13 lunches and 13 dinners. even the night of the all-camp banquet, when ribs and baked alaska highlight the menu, the boy i love filled up on “four ears of corn and candy.” his words, exactly.

no wonder he came home sun-browned and skinny.

so, besides the bottle of bleach and the buckets for multiple pre-soaks (half the loam of the woods came home stuck in our little dude’s socks), we have pulled out all stops here on the home-team recovery squad.

we’ve showered him with kisses, and filled the bathtub with bubbles. we’ve cooked up cherry-filled pancakes, drizzled cherry syrup over slabs of turkey bacon, concocted “torch lake sunrises,” an orange-juice-and-cherry-concentrate breakfast mocktail.

we’ve squeezed triple-antibiotic ointment into oozing blisters on the sides of both feet. we’ve fluffed a pillow, unfurled a blanket and rubbed itty-bitty circles there where the headache pounded.

but the best cure of all was the big brother who’d once roamed the same woods, downed the same baked alaska. he knew the camp songs, the lore, the legend. he got the kid laughing again.

come dinner time, we let the little guy order up a feast of favorites: from-scratch mac-‘n’-cheese, ditto the applesauce, corn on the cob (minus the candy, his mama insisted), all washed down with cherry pie ala mode.

in no time, we suspect, our little camper oughta be back to his usual mostly-unflappable self.

but one of the breath-taking truths of motherhood is that you’ve got a rare, front-row seat on the naked work of growing up and learning to be brave.

i’ll never forget that kid standing at the window, just two weeks ago, the night before we left him at camp. he was staring up to the starlit dome, and, even there in the dark, you could read the prayers spill off his lips, and the way he wrapped it all up with a sign of the cross, and a tip of his palm to the heavens, just like the ballplayers do. he was beside himself with worry, he told us. could not imagine going two weeks without seeing a glimpse of us.

but he made it. he did it.

and that’s what i keep whispering in his ear.

“you did it, sweetheart. you did the very thing you thought you couldn’t.”

and if, for the next coupla days, we need to stoke you with buckets of cherries, and lavish you with kisses, we’ll get you steady on your feet. because we’ve seen you, backlit by the night sky, in your hour of near-despair, and we’ve felt our own lungs swell, at the depth of your courage: you took to the woods, little one, and you found your way home, shaken but not cracked.

tell me your tales of profiles in courage you’ve witnessed up close and personal. humpty dumpty powder not needed.