Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sometimes you win

In the autumn of 1985, I was a freshman in high school and my younger brother, J, had just started kindergarten. To say it hadn't been a good year for our family would be an understatement; I've had other bad years since then, but that was my first glimpse at just how wrong things could go, and how quickly.

Now it was Halloween, and J and I both wanted to carve a jack o'lantern, the way we'd been used to doing in previous years, but our mother said, regretfully, that she didn't have any extra money to spend on a pumpkin. J was crushed as only a five-year-old can be, and I wasn't too happy myself. But I was also a stubborn kid who didn't like to be beaten at anything, and I wasn't planning to give up yet.

"Don't worry," I told J. "I'm going to fix this."

I dug through my pockets and my school bag and scraped together all the change I could find, and then I took J by his sticky little hand and marched him to the supermarket down the street. There, I read the price on every kind of squash in the produce department and weighed them until I found one I could afford--it was a yellow spaghetti squash about the size of a Nerf football, with a nice flat bottom so it could stand up--and I paid seventy-nine cents for it and walked J home again. Standing in our dingy kitchenette, I cut that spaghetti squash open, and I scraped out the seeds and pulp, and I used the point of a steak knife to carve a miniature face with triangle eyes and nose and a gap-toothed mouth, just like a jack o'lantern. Then I stuck a single skinny birthday candle inside and lit it with a match, and I said to my brother, who had been watching the whole process with ever-increasing delight, "Here you go. It's a squashkin."

In the quarter-century since then, I've carved many real jack o' lanterns, and I'm sure J has too. As adults, we don't talk much or see each other often--it's been more than five years since the last time--and I don't know if he even remembers the squashkin. But I do. I remember it, and sometimes when everything is rotten and I feel as if I can't do anything right, I think about it and smile. It may have been a tiny win, but that day I won at life.

Friday, September 16, 2011

So far so good

Here we are at the end of week 2, and school is still gliding along as smoothly as can be. G was bumped up into honors biology this week, putting her in all honors classes except for math, and we've had no issues with homework - she's been finishing most of it during her tutorial period or while she's waiting to be picked up, and what she's had to do at night has been quick and easy. It helps that the assignments she's getting are more creative than in previous years; instead of "write these 20 spelling words five times each," it's "use this list of geographical features to design and draw your own island." I know which one I'd rather do.

She also asked earlier this week if we could go to New School's football game on Thursday night, which was not a request I'd ever expected to hear from my determinedly non-sporty child. I would have taken her, even though I have zero interest in football myself, but we had tickets to see a cinema broadcast of Shakespeare's Globe's Henry VIII that same evening, and Shakespeare trumps football in our house. Now is when her father, a devoted fan of anything involving a ball, should be here; he'd not only take her to the football games, he'd be over the moon that she wanted to go, and patiently educate her in the finer points of the sport. I know I wouldn't know anything at all about football (or basketball, or baseball, or golf, or or or) if it weren't for him.

Anyway, while walking out of the theater last night, G and I agreed that we're going to try to see all of Shakespeare's plays together. We've seen this one, The Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing, we have tickets to see Twelfth Night in November, and if I can swing it (tickets are expensive), we'll also see the Globe's touring production of The Comedy of Errors the same month. She wants to see A Midsummer Night's Dream after that, so I'll have to look for a production that's not too far from home. There was one at our local repertory theater back in January, but we missed it. Rats!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Time keeps on slipping

If I'd needed something to underline the fact that we've entered a new era in G's life, I got it by seven a.m. on the first day of seventh grade. At her small, familiar old school, the first day always meant a stream of parents walking hand-in-hand with little girls sporting braids and fancy barrettes, little boys in new, dark-blue jeans, and tiny kindergartners laboring under backpacks bigger than they were. At her giant new school, I drove past a crowd of unaccompanied teenagers who looked old enough to be driving themselves, stopped, and waited as G gave me a casual "see you later," hopped out of the car, slung her bag over her shoulder and walked away in a pair of my knee-high boots that she'd successfully campaigned to borrow. I'd warned her that those boots would hurt by the end of the day, but she didn't believe me. When I picked her up late that afternoon, the first words out of her mouth were "OMG, my feet are killing me. I'm never wearing these again." I suppose when it comes to some things, experience is the best teacher.

Aside from sore feet and a broken P.E. locker, her first week as a seventh-grader was supremely smooth and easy. She has six classes--biology, honors history, honors English, P.E., pre-algebra and vocal music--and already seems to have mastered traveling between them, as well as using the library and navigating the food service lines at lunch. (That said, I think I'm going back to packing a lunch for her, because on three out of four days, the only vegetarian item was pizza, and on the fourth day she had to get pasta and pick out the bits with no meat sauce.) She says her teachers are nice and is happy about all the subjects she's taking, so from her perspective, everything is roses.

For my part, there's been some emotional adjusting to do. I'm not sitting around sniffling soppily over her baby photos, mind you. If anything, I'm excited for her, because it became obvious to me last year that she'd outgrown the confines of elementary school and was ready for something new. But at the same time, this transition has really driven in the fact that she's getting older and the number of years she'll be at home with me is dwindling fast. Of course I've known ever since she was born that one day she'd get her driver's license, graduate from high school, go off to college, be grown up; but these always seemed like things that would happen far off in some hazy, half-imagined future. Now they seem like real events that are coming soon (very soon - she can get her learner's permit in less than three years) so I'd better start mentally preparing myself for them, not to mention figuring out what I want to do with myself after she flies the nest.

Of course she's only in seventh grade and it's not as if she's moving across the country tomorrow, and I don't want to spoil the next few years by constantly focusing on what's going to happen later. But time has a way of sneaking past faster than you think, and I don't want it to catch me off guard, either. Looks as if she and I both have a lot of work to do.