The Perfect Grandson goes to Kindergarten

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School supplies are bought, labeled, and stowed neatly in a backpack by the door. The Lightning McQueen lunchbox is packed and chilling in the fridge. New shorts and a shirt are folded in a pile with clean socks and a handkerchief on the ready.

Tomorrow morning, The Perfect Grandson goes to kindergarten.

He’s a little nervous, but more excited. His classroom looks like jungle with monkeys on the walls, counting bugs in jars, books everywhere. The alpha and omega of his day will rest in Mrs. Lovelady’s hands. He calls her “Miss Lovely” and I think that is a very, very good sign.

I have no doubt The Perfect Grandson will have a sterling day. He’ll come home, eat everything that’s not nailed down, and talk nonstop until he goes to bed. He’s a born-curious extrovert who makes friends on the fly and who craves the how and why of everything. School will be his other food.

Em, on the other hand, is a wreck. I suspect this milestone sneaked up on her like the dirty thief time can be and now here it is, tomorrow. In truth, she’s been weeping off and on for a week. Not because she’s worried or scared that her son will be worried or scared, but because his going to Big School marks the end of something. The beginning too, and that’s a long hall to look down for any mama. When I think about Em’s first day of kindergarten, I’m fairly sure it was yesterday that she went. Maybe the day before, but no longer ago than that.

It’s been 21 years since I walked my baby to her first real classroom. So I understand when Em says tomorrow is the beginning and the end. She’s right. It is.

As a teacher and his Mimi, though, I can’t help but be excited for him. Fresh crayons and sharp pencils and the whole big world to learn. I won’t spend a second worrying about him tomorrow – that’s his mama’s specialty. Besides, The Perfect Grandson doesn’t need hand-wringing. He’ll be having entirely too much fun.

UPDATE:  The day was a smashing success and the young scholar ate all his lunch. How could a boy with shoes as cool as those have a bad day?

Anything for Science

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So I’m having it pulled in a few hours. Sometime after that, an implant, which will nearly make me The Bionic Mimi.

Because The Perfect Grandson is a five year-old boy, he wants to see the tooth. He’s heard a thing or two about losing teeth and that tooth fairy woman, but he’s a man who likes hard evidence. A scientist.

My fear, of course, is that my old tooth will rattle around in a plastic pill bottle alongside his beetles and dead paper-wasps. Wish me luck.

The Sky is Falling and That’s Just Fine

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“A poet is someone who stands outside in the rain hoping to be struck by lightning.”  ~James Dickey

Rain. I don’t know where you live, but here in bellybutton of Arkansas it’s been the broken promise of rain for two months now.

Two dry months in the middle of an Arkansas summer. The only thing worse is finally getting rain and living in a 115-degree steam bath the next day. I’ll care about that tomorrow, but for now it’s pit-patting on the roof. An old friend.

I could go on and on about this drought’s  devastating toll on farm and field around here, but I’m sure some of you are just as dust-covered as I am. Leaves crackled off the trees weeks ago here and everyone house is sporting patchy-dead grass. Watering doesn’t really help and they’ll stop that soon enough. I imagine a few boil-orders here and there as well.

My only comfort is that I never planted those early tomatoes.The grief would have been too much to bear.

A couple of weeks ago a friend and I vacationed Up North. Eureka Springs is in the Ozarks Proper, which means it has it own climate. A self-important mist comes rolling off those mountains every single morning and the whole world is so green it hurts your eyes. It even rained one afternoon, hard. Great sheets of rain blowing sideways, ancient trees flailing branches, thunder, lightning, like that. We sheltered in a local establishment and knit in front of a big leaky window and did not care how long the wait.

It felt almost pagan watching that much rain, which might explain most of the fine people we met in Eureka Springs. Later, I watched quite a few more file oddly through the bell tower of  St. Elizabeth’s Church to, I assume, pray for more of the same.

Only a refined sense of familial and educational duty made me come down out of those mountains and back home. One time I’m going to make the trip to Eureka and never come back. Watch me.

Ah, a lull. More on the way soon, though. The rain’s a small gift from Texas for which I’d like to say a big Thank You Very Much. In the morning, the whole world will smell inexplicably like a catfish, but that’s not their fault. 

Off the Page

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This has been an unanticipated, extended blog break, hasn’t it? The thing is, the dozens of times I sat down to write, I came up blank. I firmly believe there’s no such thing as writer’s block, but I do believe in a kind of swirling madness that keeps writers unfocused and off the page.

There’s simply been too much going on and most of it was bad. Writing about unhappy events day after day feels too much like a junior high diary flashback, and we all know that’s no place to park a healthy psyche. Besides, there are enough Whiner Blogs out there who do this sadness-and-sorry thing much better than I ever could. I did a great deal of scribbling with fountain pens and Moleskines, not that I’ll ever want to read back over any of that maudlin crap. The beauty of a notebook is that 1) you can close it, and 2) you can throw the whole mess in the forgettable top of a closet or sling it into a fireplace.

Then the heavens opened up, remembered all that karma/balance business, and dropped something lovely in my lap. One of my other blogs, Easy Street Prompts, was listed on Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writers. I danced, I twirled, I made up celebratory songs and sang them with the Perfect Grandson. Then I ran away with friends to Branson so we could do the post-final-exams shopping trip. We drank wine, ate sushi, and stormed the outlet malls. Glorious, I tell you.

Not until I returned did I remember the Easy Street site was kind of a forgotten mess. It took a little paint and html coding, but all is right with the world there now. In the process I found that making up prompts for others helped to get me back on the (nonflammable) page.

While I still don’t feel like writing up the sad things just yet, I’ve decided angry and funny are perfectly comfortable right now. There are plenty of fist-waving disasters and head-shaking crazies out there to keep me on the page while I work through those other things.

I believe I’m mostly cured now. Between inclusion on the Writer’s Digest list and that Liz Claiborne bag I fount at 70% off, I’m golden.

Accidental Tourists

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Whew. It’s Spring Break.

The days have been slamming into each other at such a fast clip, and suddenly there’s a bit of stillness. It’s nice. I’m actually faced with a day when I don’t have to be anywhere at any particular time, and the only pressing item on the to-do list is housework.

I’d go outside and spend the day in the sun, but there’s been some meteorological confusion recently and the high here will be in the low 40s today. There’s a bizarre chance of snow tonight. I’m sure the weather will right itself in a few days, though. It’s not like Arkansas is anyone’s Spring Break Destination, so there’s no danger of losing the college-boy tourism dollar.

The danger is when the ground warms back up. That’s when the creepy crawlies set up housekeeping in the garage and odd high corners. Spiders – as long as they’re not furry or unduly large – I can deal with. It’s the snake situation that’s making me nervous. In the fall, there was a local phenomenon that somehow introduced scads of baby copperheads into neighborhoods where they’d not previously visited. Em killed one, a neighbor lady had an incident, and we saw two flattened in the road. I’m not convinced we’ve seen the whole family yet, is all I’m saying.

Since Aruba is out this year (well, every year) it looks like I’ll be close to home. I’m itching to throw a soul-cleansing yard sale, even though it means braving creepy crawlies in both the garage and the attic. Anything’s better than a surprise snake, though. Anything.

I’m praying for this funky-cold weather to continue through Friday, just for good measure. If anyone out there is an expert on the seasonal behavior of Arkansas copperheads, please give me a heads up.

Waiting for the Tsunami

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It’s a funny thing, all this science predicting natural occurrences. Historically, acts of God came on suddenly, randomly. Now we can watch numbers bounce off of carefully placed buoys bobbing about in the ocean, those numbers singing to satellites which turn them into warnings, a chance to gather supplies, find higher ground. There is time, now, to evade the Great Wave.

On Tuesday, my friend Olive Hilliard did not hear the singing. She died the next day from the massive stroke that never bothered to give her warning. Olive was 52, a mother, a sister, a teacher, a light.

For three years, Olive and I shared a windowless office and our lives. We nursed each other’s wounds, bragged, cursed, ate chocolate and dieted. We traded the secrets of teaching and wept over our children. Two women talking in an enclosed space, we decided, could eventually repair all the broken things in the world. I still believe that’s true.

The fact that she is gone now feels like a lie. Her beautiful children, the reflection of her goodness and bottomless love, had no chance to gather reserves, find higher ground before losing their mother. Their lives now are split into two chapters, and they have to figure out how to live in this new story. I ache for them.

The rest of us, her friends and women of a certain age, are hugging our children more closely. Whether we talk about it or not, we’re suddenly listening to our internals for signs of the singing, hoping we’ll be able to predict The Wave where Olive could not. And we grieve.

What the Moon Is

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“The moon is not luminous in itself, but it is well fitted to take the characteristics of light after the manner of the mirror or of water or any other shining body; and it grows larger in the east and in the west like the sun and the other planets, and the reason of this is that every luminous body grows larger as it becomes more remote.” ~ from The Notebooks of Leonardo DaVinci.

DaVinci did a great deal of scribbling. I love to sift through his notebooks now and then – my fat copy is always on the bedside table – just to find a piece of truth to carry around with me. I try to imagine a mind so recursive and fearless, so mathematically poetic, dipping quill after quill into ink. Who did he imagine might read all these random thoughts?

DaVinci’s moon is the simple metaphor of teaching and parenting and grandparenting, always reflecting some brighter light. I think of the students I run into at the grocery store or the bank, those who never said much when they sat in my classes, but who gush and say the loveliest things now that classes are years over.

My Grandma Monda, who died when I was nine but has become for me the largest definition of love – there’s a moon.

Old sweethearts we immortalize and who sanctify us – there’s another.

In his mad scribbling, I suspect our man Leo couldn’t help himself. The scientist’s observation and the poet’s metaphor were clearly simultaneous for him. His mind processed like a synaptic pinball machine. What a gift.

O Captain, My Captain

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Captain Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie has died. If you’ve never watched Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel, then you probably don’t understand the enormity of such news. Captain Phil was a Bering Sea crab fisherman, a roughneck, a superstitious seafarer, a treasure hunter, a pirate with a heart as big as a refrigerator. He died Tuesday at 53.

This series began on the Discovery Channel about the time The Perfect Grandson was born. Our little guy had some scary reflux, and for the first three months of his life he slept in an upright position under the watchful eyes of either his mother or me. One of us was always awake with him. We slept in shifts, and my night shift was from 10 pm to 3 am. The Discovery Channel and those crab fisherman on Deadliest Catch were my salvation in the wee hours. No matter how much sleep I lost, those boys on the Cornelia Marie lost more. When The Perfect Grandson woke fretfully, we cuddled and watched the boats rise out of the waves and snatch crabs from the freezing bottom of the sea, the Cornelia Marie crew dangling like bait from their own boat.

In fact, I made a list at one time of Things The Perfect Grandson Can Never Be. A Crab Fisherman in the Bering Sea came in at #2, just behind A Prisoner of Any Kind and several ahead of A Republican.

But that’s not why I’m heartbroken over the passing of a man I only know from a reality TV series on the Discovery Channel. Captain Phil was every boy I went to high school with who drove muscle cars too fast and partied too hard, who screeched into the school parking lot with a Marlboro clenched in his smile and a warm roach-clip tucked in the ashtray. Phil was every rough boy playing pool with his paycheck on Fridays and sporting a two-day shiner on Monday mornings. The kind of boy who made you laugh despite yourself, who winked and called you darlin’ in front of your boyfriend. The kind of boy who fell in love, hard, every time.

Captain Phil was every unapologetic charming rascal I’ve ever known. They defy geography and time, those fellas. For the most part, these boys are bulletproof – you can’t kill them and they can’t kill themselves, no matter how hard they seem to try.

So I was understandably gut-punched to hear that the good captain died, of a stroke no less, at 53. While I’ve come to some sort of hand-shaking terms with my own mortality, it’s trickier to see the charming rascals of my youth as human enough to die. At least not from something like a stroke. A crash or overdose or barroom fight gone south, maybe, but not from some old man’s disease. There’s no hero in a story like that.

A man who rode the Bering Sea like a wild horse for thirty years needs a stronger ending.

(Photo via

The Novelty Has Worn Off

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Be careful what you wish for, is all I’m saying. This snow experience came without much warning. No one, in fact, had time to clean the shelves out at Kroger before it became too tricky to get there. So I guess we’re all stuck inside eating bread-heels and watching the news.

Five more inches tonight, they say. Clearly this is some sort of Superbowl/Saints overflow miracle. That, or the eighty or so students who had a paper due in my class today gathered together some powerful mojo to buy themselves some time. It could happen.

What do y’all up North find to pass the time during such a snow? I’m at a loss, dahlings. Bread-heels and bad daytime TV are about to do us all in.

UPDATE: A couple of fast shots taken from the warmth of an open doorway.

The Perfect Grandson…

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…is going to be fine. He should be coming home tomorrow. It’s been a harrowing week for everyone, but he is a strong, brave boy surrounded by love and good medicine. Maybe it was asthma or an ear infection run amok – we don’t know. He’s breathing beautifully tonight and the best team of nurses in the land hover over him.

His Mama is holding up well and I’m proud of her. Nothing prepares young mothers for this kind of fear. I guess nothing could. Emily has become the rock she always thought I was. She knows how to cry behind a door now and that’s how it works. Parenting in critical times is mostly smoke and mirrors and shaky bravado. She’s learned to compartmentalize in the moment and that’s not something they teach in college.

The Perfect Grandson braved all manner of poking and procedures without a tear. He’s the light and joy of everyone at the hospital and they worked tirelessly to make him well. He is better, and tomorrow he’ll be home. Four days is a long time for a little guy to keep still and be good, but he’s done it.

Tonight he’ll sleep and breathe without assistance. Em will curl herself around him in that skinny hospital bed, and her gentleman friend will sleep in the lounge chair beside them – just as he’s done every night this week. He’s a keeper and she knows this.

This is what a happy ending looks like.