Sunday, April 19, 2015

Top Water Swimming



    From the time my children were only a few months old, they were taken to the pool where they were gently placed under the water and somehow, with some miraculous protection from above, they opened their eyes wide and began to naturally move through the water.  Perhaps it was genetic memory.  Perhaps it was dumb luck, but those babies could swim and had no fear of going under the water.  As I stood at the edge of the pool, nervously praying for their safety, my husband would cradle these tiny swimmers in his palms and gently blow a puff of air into their face.  Instinctively, they would inhale and that is when their underwater adventure began. I had seen it before and I knew exactly how it would occur, but the thought of placing a baby under water is more than a young mom can bear. Those underwater babies became powerful swimmers and our hearts swelled with pride as we had taught our children well.  

    As toddlers, they could jump in and swim back and forth across the pool.  Other families looked on in awe, as these tiny children had no fear of the water.  The problem, that we did not notice, was that they were skilled underwater swimmers and knew nothing about the top of the water.  Somewhere along the line, we forget to teach them about the breaststroke or the butterfly, because it was obvious they could cross an Olympic size pool with no problem and we were comfortable with the skills they had.

    The first realization that I may have forgotten a key part of the swimming program was when I entered my son in a summer swimming contest.  At the age of six, he eyed the lanes wondering what the black lines were for.  I was unaware that his view of the pool had always been from under the surface.  The children lined up with one goal of crossing to the other side.  I knew my dolphin child would excel at this race across the pool and I had already cleared a spot on the shelf for his trophy.  When the whistle blew, the children dove in and traveled in perfect breaststrokes down their lanes of pool traffic.  My son swam straight, about ten feet, disappeared under the water and took a hard left across the lanes.  He came up only to realize he was headed in the wrong direction.  He took a breath, reached across the water with arms wide open and sank back down under the now empty lanes of swimming children.  I knew we would never make it to the other side without some lessons on top water swimming.

    Ten years later, my daughter enrolled in lifeguard certification training.   She’s tiny, but she’s solid muscle and I knew floating might be an issue, as she has not an ounce of fat to help her float.   At the age of 50, I’m perfectly suited for bobbing in the pool with drink in hand and never having to actually move my feet.  I wished her luck and left her at the pool.  I had, once again, forgotten that my children were underwater swimmers.   When she text me and told me she had to swim ten laps, I could only imagine a dog paddling girl flailing her arms in every direction, swimming directly into those who were making their way back and forth across the top of the pool in straight lines.   It didn’t take her long to realize that the kids wearing the suits, which read “Swim Team” had skills, she did not possess.  These kids moved in unison as they flew across the pool, hitting the wall with their feet in perfect underwater somersaults that catapulted them half away across the pool for their next lap.  My dolphin child employed her underwater swimming skills to knock out the ten laps with ease and only broke the water a handful of times for a breath of air.    


    So, this summer, when I challenge my children to swim laps across the pool, they will have no idea that I’m secretly tying to squeeze in a chapter on swim lessons that I apparently forgot.    The breaststroke and the butterfly are definitely in our future.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Max The Devil Dog






    My daughter has an animal magnet that wounded and stray animals can sense from miles away.  On her way home from school, she happened upon an injured dog that walked on three legs.  Before I could clearly say, "No!" she arrived home with a small beagle wrapped in a blanket, in the back seat of her car. The two bonded immediately and plans were made for pink collars and lazy days of summer with Max, the newly named pet riding around town in the passenger seat of my child’s car.  


    Reluctantly, I agreed to foster the dog until a home could be found.  I listened in wonder as my daughter explained to her father what a grand hunting dog Max was.  We had owned him for less than 20 minutes and suddenly his entire life history was being fabricated to give birth to the idea that we actually needed a hunting dog.  My husband smiled at the thought.  My daughter smiled.   The dog  marked his territory with dreams of fun to be had. 

    It was about the time we introduced Max to the fenced-in yard that he turned from doe-eyed injured puppy to psycho devil dog. It was apparent that Max had been traumatized from some sort of confinement and has some issues that would not lend well to his fostering.  I agreed to let him rest at our back door until we could build some trust.  When my daughter walked in the house and I was left outside with Max, his anxiety level catapulted and he began tearing at my door to try to find his new friend.  Much like a Tasmanian devil, he whirled about, howled, jumped on the door,  jumped on me and fell into such a fit that my daughter was frightened away.  In less than 30 minutes, the bond was severed.  Now, I was left to tend with this out of control dog and the crying child on the other side of the door.

    Having prior dinner plans at a friend's home, I had no time for any of this as we had to leave to avoid being late for dinner. Unwilling to go into the pen, Max was left at my back door to fend for himself.  I prayed he wouldn’t eat my house before I returned.  As we raced away, I could see Max running on three legs chasing my car as I yelled to my passengers, “Don’t Look Back, Don’t Look Back.”   I justified my quick escape with the knowledge that the dog knew where to return to if it wanted shelter and it if ran off, than he was on his own.

    As we traveled home that night, my daughter and I both secretly hoped that Max had returned to the neighborhood from which he came.  Desperate to know if he had gone away, she drove past the neighborhood where she found him. There, at the base of a stop sign, in the rain, sat Max, waiting for someone or something.  I know she saw him and she knows that I saw him.  We both gasped and kept our sights forward.  “Drive,” I whispered and both of us, sadly, heeded my previous instructions, “Don’t Look Back, Don’t Look Back. “   

    Max found his way back to where he had begun his short journey with our family.  He is free from whatever bonds once terrified him and perhaps he will find a matching doe-eyed girl to welcome him home where there are no pens or fences and Max can continue to be free.  The fact that we tried is the best that I can offer my child.  Some things are simply not meant to be, even when you pick them up and toss them in your car, certain that your helping hand is the answer.  There are times when that is just not enough.  But.... the fact that you tried makes all the difference. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hope In The Woods

 
    My daughter, Allison Hope, is now driving on her own and has a limited range that she may travel.   Looking much like a tiny soccer mom in my white SUV, she drives to school, church, the gym and occasionally to local restaurants to dine with friends.  She does an excellent job keeping me posted on her exact location at all times.  She is keenly aware that modern technology permits me to see the location of her phone as she travels down the road, but  I try not to be that insane of a mom and allow her the chance to keep me informed without big brother watching.  I think that teaches a much more important lesson on responsibility.  If she fails to call, I can always zoom in and find her munching on nachos at the third booth in Taco Bell.

    Recently, she had gone out to eat with friends at a local eatery.  They finished early and she called to ask if she could drive to her friend's home that was about a mile away.  I agreed and off she went.   The problem with this decision was that she did not know her friend wasn't home and her phone was about to die.  Had she traveled to anyone else's home, those facts would not have mattered.  Unfortunately, she drove to a house with a gated entry that allows one in, but doesn't let you out.  The exit sensor had been broken for weeks and egress was dependent on someone in the house opening the gate to let you out.

    Upon arrival, Allie realized that she was the only one at this house, tucked deep in a very dark wood.  As she neared the gate to come home, she realized the seriousness of the situation at hand.  She was trapped in the woods, alone, with a dead cell phone.  She drove back to the house to look in the vehicles to see if there was a gate remote.  None could be found.  She knew the alarm code to enter the house, but knew there was no land line in this home.  She had no way to call for help.  After being trapped for over an hour, panic began to set in and she mapped out a plan to cross a field and make her way to the highway, placing her in a much more dangerous situation than she was in, currently.  Luckily, the thought of coyotes in the woods caused her to abandon that plan and she began toying with the idea of climbing the gate.  The woods were much too dark and thoughts of strangers lurking behind the trees kept her planted in her car.  Her mind raced back to the open field behind the house, but the  coyotes and strange shadows in the woods were much too real and, thankfully, kept her away from the highway.

    An hour and a half into this situation, she prayed and told God that she could not sit there, alone in the woods, until midnight.  With tears in her eyes,  she looked down and saw the glowing apple light up on her cell phone as it mysteriously powered on.  She had no charger. The phone had been dead for over an hour and she had not touched it.  There was no backup battery and there is no other explanation than the fact that a child called out to God for help and He did. She immediately called me and I answered to find a frightened child crying for me to come and get her.  My heart sank as I imagined the worst.  As I raced for my car keys, I calmed her down and learned that she was safe.  There was enough battery on her phone for me to keep her on the line until I could arrive and enter the code to allow the gate to open and free her from the other side.

    She jumped out of her car, hugged me tight, and cried tears of relief.  Lesson learned....  never, never travel without a charger, a back-up battery or a simple back-up plan.  One should never have to run through the woods for help.  Red Riding Hood knew this well and my daughter was wise enough to stay clear of the dangers that lurked at the edge of her path. She waited for help and placed her trust in the Lord who delivered her safely back into my arms. Thank you God.









Saturday, February 14, 2015

Stirring About

   

    In 1899, one hundred years before my daughter was born, another turn of the century child came to be.  Florence Joyce, a daughter of the 19th century, entered this world with an independent spirit that would serve her well in a life that would span almost an entire century.

    I came to know "Aunt Florence" when she was an old woman and I was just a child.  The road to her home was dirt and gravel and wound through the woods of Vicksburg under a canopy of trees that seemed like tunnels.  In a child's eyes, it was a great adventure to travel to the great white plantation that was Aunt Florence's home.  In the heat of the summer, we would all sleep on the giant sleigh bed in the downstairs bedroom for it was the coolest place in the house.  We kept the windows open, hoping for a breeze to come our way and break the still of the night.  The heat was sweltering and there was no such thing as air conditioning unless you stood in front of the freezer door.  The  adults would sit on the screened porch while the kids stirred inside, jumping on the bed, hoping not to get caught.

    My aunt was a firm believer that stirring was the key to life.  One should be up early going about the tasks of the day, never sitting idle.  Florence Joyce Mallet was the kind of woman who could work all day on the farm before coming home and changing into a proper dress, hat and gloves required of those attending the Vicksburg Garden Club.  She lost her husband at a young age to pneumonia and later lost her only son who flew into the unknown somewhere over Italy in WWII.  She had no choice but to be fiercely independent.  She lived alone in the large plantation home where she kept the front porch light on for thirty seven years in hopes that her son might return one day.  As a child, I did not understand this.  Didn't she know he was gone?  As a mother, I fully appreciate that she kept hope alive and never gave up on her child. I can still see the rose colored lamp that lit the entryway in the darkest of nights.

    During one such night, torrential rains were swallowing up the land around Vicksburg and my widowed aunt stayed up all night, in the downpour, moving earth equipment around to save her levee, which in turn, would save her plantation. She was one of the few who did not lose her farm or her cattle because she was not afraid to face a storm, even alone.

   Florence Mallet, a tiny woman in a big house, kept a gun under her pillow and a freshly baked whipping cream cake on the kitchen counter.  Her home was filled with antiques and colored glasses that caught the afternoon light and washed the staircase and hall in dots of brilliant colors.  The great home had a cellar which was just the right thing in the imagination of a child to conjure up ghosts of Confederate Soldiers who once had stayed there.  Years before, her husband's family had hidden their silver from the Union Soldiers and generations of children have since played in the woods convinced they would find buried treasure there.  No silver or ghostly apparitions were ever found but the thought of such kept children entertained for years.

    When Florence reached her 80's, she left the plantation to be near her sister in another state.  An opportunity for a summer job called to me and before I knew what I had agreed to, I was 600 miles away from home and the newly appointed caregiver for my aunt.  At the age of sixteen, my one goal was to earn $300 to purchase a stereo that had a magnificent light display on the panel.  My aunt's goal was to continue to live independently with a little help from her niece.  Together we helped one another and two girls from opposite ends of the century lived together for a short period of time. She bought a white Nova and I learned to strap a wheelchair to the back and sail down Cherry Street while she learned of the great bands of the seventies and eighties who would one day be singing on my future stereo.  When she fell and broke her arm, I learned that my job was to sit patiently in the waiting room because sometimes just being there is the best thing you can offer someone.

    At the close of the summer, I returned home with cash in hand and she moved on to live with her sister. I earned more than stereo money that summer.  I gained the knowledge that just because a body is frail, it does not mean that the mind is.  That 80 year old woman was sharp as a tack and did not sugar coat life just to make things easy.   She faced every trial head on with sound decisions and courage.

    Aunt Florence is long gone now and I received a packet of all of the letters written between her and her son during the war.  He wrote of the missions and the cold and assured her all was well.  She sent her love and a scarf to keep him warm.  The packet of letters contains such love between a mother and son.  I like to think of her now sailing down the red dirt road of Vicksburg in her sporty little Nova darting in and out of view through the trees as she gets closer and closer to Heaven where her son waits with his helmet and scarf, simply stirring about until her arrival.  With windows down in a summer heat, she'll have "Journey" playing "Open Arms" on her radio as she disappears into the clouds with the boy she waited a lifetime on.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Rocky Raccoon



  You know you have too many cats when you fail to realize that the large, furry creature at your back door isn’t actually one of your cats.  Stepping into the darkness on a cold, winter night, my daughter was dressed in a robe and boots as she planned to retrieve her backpack from her car.  Her hopes were to dart quickly through the cold and be back inside within seconds.  When she opened the door and stepped outside, you can imagine her surprise when she realized she was standing next to a full grown raccoon who did not answer to “Here, kitty, kitty.” She jumped back inside the house as we both stared through the glass door, eye to eye with a wild thing who simply didn’t seem that wild.  As it has always been, all things injured find their way to our doorstep and at nine o’clock at night, I was not ready to play doctor in the cold to an injured raccoon, patiently waiting on the door mat that clearly said “Welcome.“

  A quick assessment from the safe side of the door led us to believe that the animal had broken a back leg.  A covey of cats was watching with great interest from the safety of the top of my car.  My daughter gave instructions for me to quickly lift the animal and protect him from the predators of the night.  As cuddly as he looked and as kind as his smile was, I knew down deep that I did not want a series of rabies shots, should he sink his teeth into my arm.   I danced around the car, keeping my feet far away from the raccoon as I carefully relocated cats from my sunroof to my laundry room.   With a large broom handle that was probably more frightening than it actually was, we pushed food into the corner for the raccoon to eat and prayed that he might return to his family in the woods.  There was little we could do for him without jeopardizing our own safety.   We removed the beasts of the night to lighten his load and offered a meal to get him on his way. 

  In the morning, our raccoon was nowhere to be found.  I continued to dance around my car as I wasn’t 100% certain he wouldn’t reach out from the undercarriage of the car for one last bite before he left.  I do hope that little guy makes it home and that Mother Nature will gently cradle a wild, injured thing that only she was ever meant to hold.    

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Vanity Is A Funny Thing


My daughter wanted a dressing table for her bedroom for Christmas and it was ordered long before the Christmas rush and safely stored in our garage.  You can imagine my shock when we removed it from the box, just days before Christmas, only to learn that it was the wrong item. The outside of the package clearly showed that we had received the white, five drawer unit that actually matched her furniture.  Sadly, the tiny black vanity would have to do until the correct one arrives.

As Christmas morning was only a few hours away, I asked my husband to move the vanity to the back door so we could easily bring it in after all were in bed.  I learned, after the fact, that you should not tell a young girl, on the cusp of driving by herself, that she can't go outside on Christmas Eve.  While I was trying to hide the likes of a dressing table, I never realized that my child would interpret this to mean that there may possibly be a new car out there.  She contained her excitement, yet lay in bed all night dreaming of the shiny black jeep that certainly awaited her.  Little did she know, it was only a shiny black dressing table. 

The next morning arrived and she flew to the Christmas tree with great excitement.  I should point out that giving someone a new key chain is a two part gift and it should never be given simply because it's a pretty key chain.  Unless there is a car that goes with such a gift, a key chain is a really bad gift idea.  I was completely unaware that my tiny beauty, sitting by the tree smiling at her new key holder, secretly clung to the idea that there was more we weren't telling her.  

As the morning closed and we rested back against a backdrop of discarded wrapping paper and boxes, I never saw any sign of disappointment from my child.  She basked in the joy of the tiny dressing table and the many sweaters, boots and scarves that she had received that morning.   

My joy was found in the new TV I received that would replace the outdated analog unit in our bedroom.  It had all the bells and whistles and could do everything short of launching spacecraft.  Sadly, I learned that it could not pick up cable TV channels.  You would think this would be something they would plaster on the front of the box in large print.   I've got Pandora and Netflix and can even send messages through Facebook on my TV, but I can't get the news or the weather.  My disappointment matched my daughter's, yet neither of us knew, as there were too many other things to be happy about. 

She spent much of the next day reorganizing her room to accommodate the new vanity and I tried in vain to pull channels out of the air.  We both learned to adjust our expectations and found we actually liked the gifts we had.  When the new vanity arrives, I will probably send it back as the sleek black unit works quite nicely.  Next Christmas, I will learn to read what's in boxes and be better prepared.  Nothing will be hidden outside unless it has four wheels and requires a key to operate.  While this Christmas was not the right time for a new car, the little vanity will go a long way in bringing happiness.