Friday, May 22, 2015

Start What You Finish


  It goes without saying that good parents teach their children to finish what they start.  My own children have discovered how difficult this can be, just days after receiving their soccer jerseys and realizing that soccer wasn't what they wanted to do.  They have completed a season on a team, giving their all, even when they did not enjoy that which they had signed up for.  It's a life lesson that will carry them far.

  My son was only six years old when he landed a solo in the school play.  He had practiced and practiced and had his three minute song memorized and perfected.  As luck would have it, a seasonal cold left him hoarse the day before the play. He reserved his voice, communicating only with finger points and head nods, in an attempt to heal his vocal chords in time for the big event.  There was a morning practice and an afternoon performance.  He made it through the morning with only a few crackles in his voice.  When afternoon came, and the auditorium was filled with proud parents, my shining star stood at the top of the stage and began belting out his solo.  The first few words were beautiful and delivered in perfect pitch.  And then it came, the harsh crackling of a voice being torn from the performer and suddenly, no sounds came out.  Had I been in his position, I'm not certain I wouldn't have left the stage and hoped that the director would move to the next scene.  It was first grade after all.  No parents would have judged him.  Instead, that tiny child with the once big voice, continued to sing without sound and never missed a word.  A stunned audience watched as a child moved forward, finishing what he had started, delivering a silent performance worthy of a standing ovation.   I could not have been more proud of him.

  My daughter, an outstanding gymnast, who spent the most part of her early years upside down in half twists as she catapulted herself from room to room, has also lived this philosophy of finishing what you start.  After years of gymnastics and after school practice, five days a week for long hours, her twelve year old bones began to creak and pop.  On a grey November day, she shared with me that she was tired.  This wasn't the kind of tired that a nap can cure. Her body was tired.  She finished the season and finished what she had started with the completion of the Spring program on a Sunday afternoon in May.  It was, indeed, a grand finish.

  I've taught my children to do these things, and yet, I find myself in a quandary, unable to start what I have finished.  Let me explain.... I've written a 25,000 word book that has been finished for over two years.  The ending is great, but the beginning keeps changing.  It has changed shape and form while the characters come and go.  Edits are made and just when I think the beginning is good, I change it all again.  I've finished what I started, but I can't seem to get the start right.  And then.... I gave up.  I shelved it.... left it in a digital folder.  Had my children quit what they started, I would have placed them back in the proverbial saddle, put on that jersey, or cheered them on from the stands.  Perhaps I need a good dose of my own medicine.

   My long lost book characters call to me from their digital silence and I find myself ignoring their call.  I should remember that I heard my child when no words came out.  Sometimes you need to listen even when you believe there is nothing worth listening too.  I suppose I should follow my guidance to my children and listen to what is calling me and truly finish that which I keep starting over and over again.





Sunday, May 17, 2015

Frog Giggling


    Warm spring nights in the South wake us from our winter slumber and give us back our desire to be outside with Mother Nature.  My husband is much more of an outdoorsman than I, as my adventures are fairly limited to camping, boating and fishing.  That was not always the case, however.  I was invited, once, to participate in a frog gigging trip.  The thought of spearing a frog did not appeal to me, but, I was young and imagined that the outing might be fun.  I must remind you that I was only invited once, for very good reasons.

    My future husband, his nephew and I headed off into the flooded fields and ponds that teemed with spring frogs, snakes and alligators, none of which I actually wanted to be near. When we had motored out to the middle of a large body of water, the two men stepped outside of the boat and began walking around the dark, shallow lake with gigs in hand.  This was most unexpected and I was left in the boat with only a lantern and a prayer.  Uncertain what lurked in these waters, I feared at any moment I would see both of these men eaten by a large alligator. I watched as they flung snakes out of their way with the tips of their gigs and I wondered how crazy one must be to do this.  And then it hit me, I was alone in the boat and never asked the very important question, "Are snakes drawn to light?"  I doused the lantern and sat there enveloped in darkness.  I could hear the many unfamiliar sounds of the night and feared that the snakes might crawl in the boat with me and immediately turned the lantern back on. Still afraid I might be a beacon calling out to all the night critters, the light went out again.  For the next few hours I can only guess that it appeared as if someone was sending Morse code signals for help as a light flashed on and off from the middle of the darkness as I hid from view and repeatedly checked for incoming snakes.

    Eventually, the men returned with their catch and announced that it was time for me to go frog giggling.  This new sport, not quite the same as frog gigging, involved snatching a frog out of the darkness with your bare hands.  They motored us close to the bank and told me to watch for glowing eyes. Once I spied a pair, I was instructed to reach out and quickly grab them.  I blindly followed this instruction and safely nabbed an unsuspecting toad.  An afterthought occurred to me that I should have asked another important question, "Do snakes have glowing eyes?"

   With a boat full of frogs, it was soon time to leave.  Being the only one wide awake from an adrenaline rush, I drove us home as the two hunters slept. Still uncertain how this can happen, I, apparently, never noticed when the boat slipped from the trailer and slid onto the highway leaving the boat, motor and frogs miles from home.  As we cut through the night, traveling down back roads, I sang softly with the radio unaware of what was missing.  As I drove the vehicle over the railroad tracks in town, I looked back to make sure the boat was okay.  You can only imagine my surprise to discover that the boat was gone.  In a panic, I woke the men and asked the brilliant question, "Where's the boat?!?"  I whipped the truck around, crossing back over the tracks in a frenzied rush, sending the front of the vehicle down hard into the pavement, knocking the bumper and winch off the truck, bringing us to a sudden stop.  Much like a wounded animal, the vehicle moved slowly off the road, dragging the broken parts with it, shooting sparks into the night.  We were now boatless and broken.  I retired myself to the back seat and the men took over, placing the front of the truck into the back of the truck and returning us to the highway to find the boat.

    About twenty miles out of town, we pulled up to a very happy motorist who was loading an abandoned boat in the back of his truck.  The frogs croaked from the sack that still sat on the side of the highway.  We retrieved out boat and our frogs, but the motor was long gone.

    Warm spring nights still remind me of that time in the middle of the pond where I sat with my light and my faith listening to the symphony of frog songs, crickets, and night noises.  I think everyone should try this at least once, because sometimes once is all you get.   But most importantly, sometimes once is all you need.




Saturday, April 25, 2015

One Too Many Cats

 

    While driving to work the other day, a black cat ran out of the woods and darted across the road in front of my car.  They say that it is bad luck to have a black cat cross your path and this thought played in the back of my mind as I tried to figure out what this cat was carrying in its mouth as it ran, in a fevered pace, away from my car, into the woods, leaving its trail of bad luck for me to cross. And then it hit me.... it was carrying another black cat!   This was certainly the height of bad luck to have two black cats cross one's path, one in the mouth of another and I immediately spilled my coffee all over the passenger seat. The running cat did have a white spot on his back, so I convinced myself that this had to counter the double bad luck of this feline duo in the middle of the road.  In fact, I decided that this must be a sign of good things to come because what are the odds of having two cats run in front of a speeding car and nobody leaving the scene with coffee burns or road rash.  

    Later that day, I returned to my neighborhood where I spied a poodle who had been wandering our streets for days.  His ears and tail had been dyed blue and he was about as hard to miss as the two traveling cats of my morning.  I had to wonder why these oddities continued to cross my path, but more so, I wondered why anyone would dye an animal blue or any other color.

    As I pulled up to my house, my own feline pets greeted me with their little pollen covered feet and immediately walked across the hood of my once clean car.  I started to rethink this good luck/bad luck thing and wondered if I had assessed this all wrong.  A covey of cats sat on the fence and we eyed each other with uncertainty as I tried to recall if I actually knew each of their names.  It was a collection of critters brought home by my child who is unable to resist the call of an animal in need, no matter the color.  At some point, I simply stopped learning their names and they are known only for their personalities.  As "Good Cat" walked across my car, I wondered how bad the others were if she owned this title.

    I have known for years that my daughter possesses some kind of intangible force that draws animals of every kind to her.  A scene still plays in my head of her walking down the road in front of our house with an injured squirrel in her hands, a pet deer walking behind her, a white dog gently walking behind the deer, and a black cat bringing up the rear.  It was much like living with Snow White. The beautiful creatures of nature surrounded her.  My animal magnet seems to be a bit askew as I find myself surrounded by unnaturally colored dogs, yellow footed pets, and black cats resembling Russian nesting dolls.

When I grow old and my children are forced to take care of me, I hope they will pull out a copy of The Napping House and read it to me.  While only a child's book, it will remind me of the many animals who have passed our way, black, white, and dipped in blue.








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 texted 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 halfway 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 trying 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.