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Posts Tagged ‘childhood innocence’

We’re capable of much more than mediocrity, much more than merely getting by in this world. (Sharon Salzberg, Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection)

A Child’s description of a YMCA pool. “Nothing like the ocean…deeper even at the beginning.”

Two brothers enter the pool. I hear the younger boy say to the other, “This water is eleven feet deep. But it is nothing like the ocean. The ocean is deeper even at the beginning.”

I smile at the child’s innocence. His simple joy. The boy has his green wrist band now. So, he can plunge into the deep end. With confidence. Swim tests completed.

Unfortunately, during Covid19 days those times need to be reserved. Socially distanced. Limited. Nevertheless, I watch the family interact. Enjoy. Celebrate. As I tread water. And reality. As well as I can.

“You have a delightful family,” I finally tell Mom. She smiles. A camera slung around her shoulders. Pictures captured inside.

She is an attractive lady. Black hair almost to her shoulders. Smooth skin the color of dark chocolate. The boys are a tad lighter, with a chestnut tinge. Lean. Active. The father, attentive. Smiling. He doesn’t see me. I smile anyway. To a beauty that I recognize inside him.

And I think about how the ocean seems deeper, even at the edge. A long way between shores. A deep space between peoples.

“Have a blessed day,” I say to the woman as this group’s assigned time ends. As the staff prepares to clean. To keep the space safe during a pandemic virus.

Safe. Such a short word with such an expansive unsaid meaning.

Peace. For all.

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When I was 5 years, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life. (John Lennon)

 The young Beatle-to-be obviously didn’t have nuns as teachers. He would have been knocked down a step or two, or three, or four. With or without a cracking ruler.

If only happiness didn’t need to be pursued. I tell my grandchildren they are important often. Sure, action and discipline remain necessary. The-world-owes-me makes a sad goal. However, a happy-to-be-alive everyday life isn’t easy to achieve.

“You need to live to be 138,” one grandchild told me recently. “I’m going to need you that long.”

Sweet. Yes. And yet a potent message. A need to be assured remains powerful.

The little things. Always the little things. How well or poorly are they set together?

 

 

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Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So, go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you. (L.R. Knost

I wonder if the world has ever been more broken. Perhaps it has. Before mass communication replayed horrors in an infinite loop. My granddaughter Ella brings relief. With humor. A grin. One pretend-game after another.

She cooks. On a real stove. No heat. Most ingredients remain imaginary. Moose stew. The moose is invisible, hidden inside olive oil poured from a capped bottle.  Ella grabs blueberries and tomatoes. Okay. A little different. The molasses and sugar? Thank goodness our guests will be stuffed animals.

We bake a cake. No clean-up is necessary. An unopened bag of flour is easily returned to the shelf. A cake can be baked in three minutes. No hot pads needed for oven removal.  

Perhaps nothing of tangible worth was created. Then again, my heart found laughter. Needed to brighten dark places in the outside world.

Thanks for bringing simplicity into our home, Ella. We needed it. The light that is you.

 

 

 

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Know you what it is to be a child? It is to be something very different from the man of to-day. It is to have a spirit yet streaming from the waters of baptism; it is to believe in love, to believe in loveliness, to believe in belief; it is to be so little that the elves can reach to whisper in your ear; it is to turn pumpkins into coaches, and mice into horses, lowness into loftiness, and nothing into everything, for each child has his fairy godmother in his own soul. (Francis Thompson)

 Instead of a rant about racial prejudice, I reprinted this long-ago blog from March of 2011. I will let the children in the scene speak. May their innocence win.

 

A two-year-old girl at the Museum Center in Cincinnati protects one of the Children’s Center’s naked dolls as if it were her own. Her mother laughs. “I wonder how we are going to get out of here without it.” I watch as it becomes clear that she only wants this brown doll, not a nearly identical pale one she picks up by mistake. The little girl has ivory skin and wisps of honey hair, but she gravitates toward color.

 

 Funny, more of the pale dolls appear abandoned on the floor of the toddler room than darker-skinned ones. I smile, then laugh when I see my granddaughter Rebe making the same choice. “Baby” goes down the slide with her, takes a trip to the grocery in a miniature grocery cart, and explores the sandbox. Sometimes the doll is held upside down, but Rebe is visibly upset if “Baby” disappears into the arms of another child.

 

 Fortunately, I find another. Lots of pale faces lying around. But Rebe is not satisfied with the Caucasian version. As soon as the doll she wants is left for a second, she adopts it, with the speed of a hawk diving for prey.

    

True, Rebe has grown up in a mixed racial community. So did her father. But it seems that another awareness is involved here, on an innocence level lost long before adulthood. I think of the number of adjectives that describe darker skin, from mocha to mahogany to ebony. I can’t think of anywhere near as many words to describe fair and olive-skinned folk. 

 

Little people don’t need words. They go to the essence of a beautiful reality without it.

The photo is created from a simple colored penciled public domain photo, designed to mimic innocence. 

 

 

 

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open door

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them. (Ernest Hemingway

In 2012 I wrote a journal during Lent when memories of trauma ate through the present. Today I survive, as imperfectly as everyone else. I decided to reread an entry or two. This story appeared on an ordinary Wednesday when I was babysitting two of my granddaughters. Rebe was four and Ella was a toddler:  

I’m rinsing breakfast dishes as the doorbell rings. Jay is busy with Ella, so I answer. Outside a young girl stands sobbing. She asks to use our phone.

     “Who are you?” I ask.

     She doesn’t answer. Instead she tells me her boyfriend beat her up, and she wants to call the police.

     Jay is standing behind me by now. He holds Ella. I don’t know what else to do. I don’t want this girl standing out in the cold. I let her in and get her a glass of water, then finish the dishes as she calls from our living room.

     When I get back, Ella blows kisses to her and the girl smiles and tells me she has a one-year-old child.

     “How old are you?”

     “Eighteen.”

     The girl’s skin is a flawless ebony. I would have guessed she was much younger.

     While I don’t watch the clock, it seems like a long time until two policewomen arrive in two separate cars.

     We leave the room. I need to change Ella’s diaper anyway. On our way into the bedroom we hear one of the officers ask, “So why do you stay with him?”

     Apparently this is not a first-time event.

     After the girl leaves with bus money we provide, one of the policewomen comes back into the house and chides us for our kindness. This girl’s live-in is trouble. It is her choice to remain in jeopardy. Drugs are an issue.

       We should have called the police and made her stay on the porch. Twenty-twenty hindsight. (Although, an addition added to this entry in 2020, I doubt I would have followed her advice. After all, an abused eighteen-year-old girl is a child in need.)

Ella as a baby

       I am relieved later while Ella and Rebe watch Caillou, a children’s cartoon show, where a lost toy dinosaur is the only problem. Two little girls wrapped in the discovery of a stuffed toy and the loving concern of Caillou’s father.

     Real life isn’t always that sweet. I have been fortunate. My flaw today was trust. Yet, I pray that our little Ella’s blown kisses can be a blessing into the soul of this lost girl. A seed, perhaps. One that can grow someday, even if I never see it blossom.

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You know what the great thing about babies is? They are like little bundles of hope. Like the future in a basket. (Lish McBride)

I tell my hours-old granddaughter how beautiful she is. Everyone does, even if the message is a smile or a touch. Little bundle of hope. I look at her instead of the news. And leave my cold, wet coat on a chair. The outside world can wait while we meet:

You haven’t become complicated yet, Adeline. Your wants and needs are identical: warmth, food, protection, a pair of arms.

I pray for you, my old-lady blessing. Then I realize. You are the one blessing me with the freshness of possibilities. With love. As you grow may I learn to repair, seek no more than the basics, and celebrate life.

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The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them. (Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist.)

Ella and I play trick-or-treat any time of the year. Our version transcends reality. The costume takes over the wearer. A skeleton drinks apple juice and it passes from bone to bone to the front porch.

Today Ella wants me to be permanent trick-or-treater while she adjusts the treat to the visitor.

“Hi,” I say, then complain. “I’m a tree, and yeah, I know the peaceful nature scene. Quiet. The woods. All that. But I have bugs climbing all over me. Squirrels are nuts. They don’t just eat them. And the birds? That early morning song is nice enough, but the pre-dawn time can get on your sap after a while.”

Ella smiles and then takes on a composed expression. “Okay. Here’s a woodpecker.”

I’m immediately out of character. Our girl has a sense of humor. Down syndrome, yes. Up personality? No question about it.

 

photo a combination of pic taken in our backyard and portion of public domain pic

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It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. (Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker)

On Labor Day afternoon my granddaughter, Ella, and I play fast-food restaurant. She is at the drive-through and I am a 107-year-old customer with a special request. Since my chewing is limited, I want my order cut into small pieces: 2 hamburgers, a couple dozen chicken nuggets, five orders of fries.

She is willing to oblige.

“How much is that?” I ask as I reach for my invisible order from my imaginary car. (Fortunate, since at 107, more than chewing mechanisms would be out of order. Driving may not be advisable.)

“Nine hundred dollars.” She grins.

Wow! Service charges have gone up everywhere. However, in the pretend world I can reach into my pocket and find five dollars, a thousand dollars, or a magic frog.

Perhaps I should have given her the magic frog.

Imagination. I hope it stays with me until I am old enough to keep the nursing home entertained.

Ella’s real-life gifts appear as I get lunch ready. She makes Lego creations for my friend, Ann, to see by feeling them. Ann has been blind since birth. I don’t mind that Ella sits next to Ann instead of me.

After the meal, Ella brings Ann to our toy shelf and shows her safe-for-kid paint jars, stuffed animals, cars.

I watch. Enriched. Ella has Down syndrome: I am grateful to be favored by the up of her existence.

 

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From discord, find Harmony. (Albert Einstein)

An Old Man’s Final Wish

Along a back window

at a huge family gathering

at a rented hall

the oldest uncle sat in his wheelchair

with the youngest child curled in his lap.

 

In the center

long tables covered with

gold, red, or blue

painted signs demanded isolation.

They claimed truth, whole

perfect, beyond criticism.

 

The families divided the space

into zones, while ugly words

stung the air—

How can you say that?

I can’t forgive you . . .

You are a fool.

 

While the family members argued,

the elderly gentleman and the tiny girl

met with approving eyes,

a twining of fingers, a gesture, a smile.

 

He celebrated the exquisite fit of

her name to her personality,

despite the hardened hearts

that fed her and his inabilities

to respond beyond a crooked grin

and speech delayed by multiple strokes

and advanced age.

 

She giggled, tugging gently

at the sagging folds in his face.

Then, as the toddler grew tired

and slept in his arms,

the man’s wife, gone twenty years,

appeared, clothed in soft light.

 

She called to him.

 

Before he allowed his spirit

to separate from his body,

he whispered his final wish

into the girl’s small ear.

 

The buffet opened as

the child’s mother noticed

her waking in the lap

of the dead man.

 

Unwilling to touch cold flesh,

several family members

abandoned their divisions,

at least for that moment,

and called to the girl,

 

Please, Hope, come to us.

 

They didn’t know they were

echoing the gentle man’s

deepest desire for his family.

 

poem previously published in For a Better World and in Piker Press

 

 

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The one thing I need to leave behind is good memories. (Michael Landon)

So many things clutter our attic. I find my wedding dress, yellowed with age, and remember a poem I wrote after my parents died:

LAST VISIT TO THE HOUSE I CALLED HOME

Dust encases the old homestead.

Encyclopedias from 1963,

boxes of unused pencils,

 

skeins of yarn with faded fifty-cent

mark-down stickers,

a broken clock.

 

Most of the saved items are gone,

Dumpster and shredder items wait.

Bags of cancelled checks

 

on Mom’s closed account.

She died years ago.

Dad’s will to maintain dissolved, too.

 

In the back yard his loss leaked

into the naked, open space

leaving it flat, withered.

 

Before the property grew sullen,

I planted seeds for annuals that sprouted into

a tiny-stemmed miniature garden.

 

They dwarfed next to tomato vines

Dad tied to hand-cut posts.

Sunlight coaxed

 

white blossoms into green and then red fruit.

Inside the house Mom made soups that

took all day to blend the chicken

 

with onions, carrots, celery

into a fragrance that filled every nook.

I try to recall an ancient, lingering scent

 

but it was taken for granted

too long ago. I find my wedding gown

in an eaves closet,

 

zipped in plastic.

I had changed my name and moved on.

The yellowed department-store receipt

 

remains attached to the wire hanger.

I wipe off the grime and carry what-was-me

into what-is-me now.

 

The door locks for the last time.

The sun leaves a sliver of itself

on a pink horizon,

 

a visible color beyond reach,

like memories, both dark and light,

locked inside things left behind.

 

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