A Season of Folly
That I can recall, I didn’t have many childhood plans of folly. Most of the time, I truly did try to stay low on everyone’s radar. But that’s not to say I didn’t have any less-than-noble….adventures. One of the first I recall occurred in the third grade. Allow me to first justify my actions with some child-conceived rationalizations…
The sun was shining, the world was hot and dry. The classroom was full of anxious children who were shuffling their feet, trying hard to stay in their seats. It was the first day of third grade, and everyone was nervous and excited. I sat among them, knowing no one. I, too, was nervous — but school was my ally. I loved it and I was good at it, therefore, I was usually comfortable in the classroom. It was a large classroom, with a door that led outside. There were a few desks arranged in a circle in the back corner of the room, designated to be the reading area. The teacher was a short African-American woman in her forties with glasses. She seemed rather unassuming. She did not look nearly as menacing as she really was. Once the bell sounded, and the parents left, she closed the door to the room, stood in front of us students and boldly announced: “When I saw you enter the front door, I wanted to walk out the back,” pointing to the door in the room that led outside. This opening line set the tone for mine and this teacher’s relationship. By mid-year, she’d had me in tears a lot, and imbued with a healthy dose of intimidation and fear. Before graduating high school, I’d attended nearly 20 schools in more than half the US states and Canada, had more teachers than I can count, and yet, out of all the teachers and all the schools I knew, there were only four that I did not like.. Mrs. Davis topped that short list.
In spite of Mrs. Davis, I managed to make two really good friends in the third grade, friends whom I still remember fondly. The three of us would get in trouble for talking when we were supposed to be watching “Reading Rainbow.” We had typical girl drama and “I’m-not-going-to-be-your-friend-until-lunch-days”. While I don’t remember what the argument was about, I distinctly remember the three of us in the bathroom, arguing over something. They came to my birthday party, I was with one of them when I broke my wrist skating. We had sleepovers. We were friends. After that year, I wouldn’t have a real school friend, with the exception of my sister, until the eighth grade. One day, at lunch, these two friends of mine and I started lamenting our misfortunate of having received Mrs. Davis as a third grade teacher. We got ourselves quite worked up and by the end of lunch, had decided that the only thing to do was to…. FIRE Mrs. Davis. We knew WE couldn’t do this, but the principal could. Lucky for us, our principal was a woman with a kind nature. We liked her, and we were SURE she would listen to us objectively, see that we had been sorely mistreated, and fire our teacher for us. All we had to do was tell her. Somehow, I was elected to be the speaker, to actually tell the principal how horrible our teacher was and that she really needed to go. We began marching down the hallway towards the office.
Then… the lunch bell rang. It was time to go back to class. Fortunately for our lives, we regained common sense, turned ourselves around and went back to the classroom. The principal never heard of the woes Mrs. Davis poured onto our lives. She kept her job. We lived to tell the tale.
I was in the sixth grade, at a good school with a good teacher. I sat next to this boy named Aaron. While I don’t exactly remember playing with Aaron, I do know that I thought of him as my friend. I know we sat together at lunch and we talked on the playground. I don’t remember being “friends” with him in the way that the two girls in Mrs. Davis’ class were my friends, but I remember knowing that Aaron was nice. He had blonde hair and blue eyes, and he was reserved, like me. Well, one day, at the playground, Aaron gave me a note. It said simply, “will you be my girlfriend?” To this day, nearly twenty years later, I still remember holding that note and feeling my stomach soar. All of a sudden, I felt lighter than air. I remember feeling proud all of a sudden, for no reason. I remember feeling confident, and happy. But. I didn’t know what to say, or do, and I wanted to say the right thing. I carried the note with me back to classroom, after recess. I didn’t tell Aaron anything. I kept thinking about my mom, and how I couldn’t wait to tell her about it, and to ask her if it was okay if I said yes, or if that was what I was supposed to say. Soon, it was time to go to music class. I distinctly remember that. And everyone lined up. Aaron got behind me and, as we walked through the line, he asked me for the fifteen thousandth time what my answer was. The other fourteen thousand times he’d asked me that since recess, I’d replied that I had to think about it and I’d let him know because I didn’t want to tell him anything until I’d talked to Mama. By music, though, he had done driven me crazy so, as we walked into music and lined up along the risers, I looked at him and said, “Yes.” “Yes, you will?” he asked. I nodded and Aaron smiled. I don’t remember anything after that. To my recollection, we never even held hands. I’m not sure what I did as a “girlfriend” then at all, frankly. The memory is sweet, though, because it was the first time I remember someone outside Mama and Mandi making me think I was pretty or special in a really good way.
The next very embarrassing memory that comes to mind took place in the seventh grade. We went to a couple of schools that year, but the one that stands out is Harding Academy in Memphis. It was a superb school, full of delightful students and teachers alike. There are two things I did while at this school that sometimes help remind me that I was once young. The first was in regards to the typing class I took. I have loved computers every since I can remember. I had the world’s largest “laptop” processer that had a self-contained printer that I was so proud of and on which I learned to type. By the time I got to Harding, I was a fast typer, and had henceforth gone completely unchallenged. I was delighted to learn that I’d be taking a typing class at Harding. I thought it would be fun. And it was fun. But for a completely unexpected reason. Beside me sat this boy. I do not remember his name, or what he looked like. All I remember is that he was a good typer, too. In fact, we were the best in the class. The teacher eventually recommended that we both be advanced to a more appropriate class. All day, every day, we would sit typing from these little books. Except me and this kid weren’t just typing—we were racing. I don’t remember who started it (surely he did) but I remember us leaning over and asking each other, “how far did you get that time? Ha! I got SOOO much further than you!” Typing class was really, really fun. I loved it, and I looked forward to it, because I could beat this kid at typing! A year ago or so I was recently reminded that, while it lies dormant most of the time, a spirit of competitiveness does still exist in me and that, if given a good reason, will still raise its funny—looking head.
Harding is infamous in my life, though, not for the typing class that I totally dominated but for an entirely different reason. Before beginning school there, we were given a tour. We would be starting mid-year and the administration’s office wanted to give us a chance to see our classrooms and meet our new teachers. While on this tour, we went from classroom to classroom, peeking in the windows to get a glimpse of the teacher and the class itself. It was all pretty boring. Until we got to Bible class. I peeked in the window and saw the most gorgeous creature on two legs. He happened to be teaching the class. I remember the secretary lady trying to point out a picture of Gorgeousness with Michael Jordon that was hanging up, but I couldn’t hear anything she said anymore. All I could think about was how cute that man was. He had dark hair, dark eyes. And he wore Mickey Mouse ties every day. After Bible class, I had to go to geography class. I never learned that teacher’s name. In fact, even while I was attending school there, I called that teacher Mr. Geography, because, sad to say, he was overshadowed by Mr. Daniels.
Mr. Daniels wasn’t only drop dead gorgeous, he was also genuinely kind. He would ask me to read out loud from the Bible and then, after class, when he’d see me in the halls, he’d comment on what a good reader I was. We’d been at Harding for a few weeks when I decided to let Mr. Daniels read a book I’d written. I gave it to him to read, not knowing that we would not be coming back to school the next day, but leaving town again. We left Memphis, and Mr. Daniels still had my book. Once we got settled back in Nashville, I decided to write to Mr. Daniels, obviously to get my book back (not that I really cared about the book). I spent time writing him what was, in essence, a love letter. I stuck it in an envelope that reeked of perfume. Then I actually mailed it, which still mortifies me. Awhile later, I received a polite note, and my book, back in the mail.
I don’t remember any other acts of obvious youth. I did once ride a racing horse barefoot (I ended up being drug, upside down, for quite a ways. I do not recommend saddling a horse you fully intend to run barefoot). I did once call an Ann Martin in New York, hoping and believing that she was the Ann M. Martin, writer of The Baby Sitter Club series. And I did send complete manuscripts (number one no-no) that were also fully unsolicited (number two no-no) to major publishing houses that only accept agented works, then get broken-hearted when they said no. I did open my sister’s mail, and I did partake in huge fights over getting to sit in the front seat of the car with her.
My daughter lost her fourth tooth tonight. The look of pride on her face was beautiful. I told her that I was “so very happy for” her, and that is true. I am. I’m happy because it makes her happy. But no one ever warned me that watching my little girl lose her tooth could be emotional and sentimental. The teeth she’s losing are her baby teeth. Losing teeth is a sign that she’s getting older, growing up. And I am very proud of the young girl she is. She’s a natural born leader, she’s a superb student, she’s very funny and outgoing, she’s very talented in multiple arenas, she’s the best big sister. Some of my happiest moments are when she gets really excited because she’ll laugh with her head tipped back and her eyes squeezed shut, she’ll just laugh and laugh for no reason until she makes me laugh alongside her. She loves her stuffed animals, and her special baby doll. She talks to “her kids” – imaginary kids that she calls upon whenever she is playing. She asks me to allow her stuffed animals to sit around us and participate in school. When I teach her a new concept, she wants to have her stuffed animals around her so that she can teach them. She loves animals, and she’s wonderful with little children. Today at the playground, there was a toddler standing too close behind a swing. Breathe told Alight to stop swinging, then she went and stood in front of the toddler, and tried to coax her out of the way. She was so gentle and seemed so much older than she really is. When she gets mad, I am so incredibly proud of her because she doesn’t fear showing or telling me that she’s angry.
Alight turned four recently and, shortly thereafter, announced that she did want to get her other ear pierced (She had them pierced two years earlier but one of the holes grew infected, and closed. Piercing the ears nearly traumatized her, and she did not want to get the closed ear pierced again, so, for a year, she had one pierced ear in which she wore an earring, and one un-pierced earring). I asked her if she really did, and she said yes. She knew that it would hurt. But she walked into the store with me, asked me to hold her and sat so still in the chair. Once the ear was pierced, she did not even move a muscle. She didn’t cry. She just sat there. I hugged her, and told her I knew it hurt, and that it was okay to cry. For a few days afterward, she would get up and start laughing, look at me and say, “Did you forgot that I have two ears pierced?” She gathered up the courage to do that herself. She is the bravest four year old I know. Whenever she is frightened of something, she has to confront it head on. She’s scared of skeletons but she really wants me to buy her a skeleton puzzle. She says, “If you sit by me and do it with me, I won’t be scared. I promise.” She recently had to go to the ER and she was scared. Before going, she started crying and said, “Will I ever come home?” She was afraid that if she went to the hospital, she wouldn’t come home again. But to the hospital she went, and she was so brave as they had to poke her four times to get blood. The other night at church, she asked me if she could run get a drink of water. I got up to go with her, but she said, “no, stay here. I can do it myself.” Our church is huge and even though I know she’s walked the path a thousand times, it still makes me nervous for her to go somewhere when there are lots of people nearby. I wanted to go with her. She said, “I can do it, I’m old enough now, please.” Eventually, I let her do it. And she did just fine. She, too, is getting older.
I still remember when Breathe was born. I kept asking her, “are you a baby?” because I could not believe that she was really real, and that she was really mine. I remember how she was a late-start walker, and special toys that she had, like the house that played a song that said, “welcome home.” I remember how, after her surgery, she smiled and wanted to play so long and so vigorously we were scared she would overdo herself. I remember holding her in the rocker and reading “Goodnight Moon” every single night. And Alight… Alight’s pregnancy was very difficult—it seemed like every other doctor’s visit was scary. They thought she had Down Syndrome, there were twins and then there was only Alight, everything seemed especially hard with her. But when she was born, she was so sweet. She is the most cuddly baby I’ve ever known. She’s always loved being held. I remember laying her in the Moses basket for the first month or so of her life. I took that Moses basket with me everywhere—she laid in it outside for her first snow even, all bundled up. I remember how she liked her swing, it was the kind that had her laying down. She didn’t waste any time, either, growing up: she was rolling over way before she should have been. And she loves being read to. I can’t wait until she can read by herself because her love of books nearly surpasses mine. I had to coax Breathe into doing silly things like painting herself with paint—but Alight jumped at the chance to do such a thing. I haven’t forgotten a single second of their infancy — but I am so happy that they are 7 and 4 right now, too, because they amaze, astound and awe me every day. They are so innocent and so beautiful and precious, and I love the questions they ask, and the crazy things they do. I know one day soon I’m going to miss hearing them say things like “Mommy, can you come with us?” and so every time I hear it now, I cherish it.
Childhood is precious because its fleeting. I’m not young anymore. And most of my memories of childhood aren’t innocent or sweet or precious: a lot are scary, some are sad. Sometimes I become very sad when I realize that I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know what really grown-up things were. Sometimes I get sad when I realize how much innocence and youth was lost for me. But in the midst of a pain, glimmers of innocence were present. I know because I remember them. And what makes me world’s happier than besting some kid whose name I didn’t know at typing or contriving creative ways to fire a teacher or racing horses is waking up each morning to Breathe and Alight. They are my innocence. They are my spirit. They are my joy. They are my hope. And right now, today, is the day that I get to experience the world through healthy, happy, innocent child-like eyes: theirs. As they grow, they will continue to grace my world with tenderness, sweetness and an overwhelming sense of joy.
I love their adventures. I love their sense of independence and confidence. They think it is hilarious to “sneak out” of the room “without” my knowledge. Breathe loves “April fooling” me. Sometimes they leave the room and come back without clothes on, then proceed to dance around the room. They love going “bonkin’ crazy” at night when they know they should be in bed. The funny part is — so do I. I love all of those things about them too, even when it’s late and I’m tired. I love it because it’s innocent and because they’re children doing exactly what children are supposed to be doing: growing with healthy doses of confidence and security that enable them to be free. Life isn’t a picture in a photo album; it’s all around us, it’s in the “folly-filled ideas” that are part of every child. Life is about cherishing them, relishing them and learning to embrace them. My children have taught me, finally, that the world isn’t going to stop if I make a mistake and that mistakes aren’t things to be paralyzed over but rather training wheels for tomorrow.
Childhood equips us with far more than memories: it equips us with fundamental traits, like confidence and security, peace, perseverance and hope that shield us from the mundane monotony of adulthood. Being a mother is undoubtedly the best thing that has ever happened to me. These two girls are the two best people ever to come into my life. They may never understand what they’re mere existence does for me, or how deeply their words are etched into my memory and heart. Childhood, with its sweetness and with its folly-filled decisions, is at our doorstep every morning. I embrace it, welcome it, and then, at night, I thank God.