She’s Growing Up

Dear Papa Bill,

I was at work today, just sitting there writing a little program to collect statistics on CPU usage.  Nothing exciting at all, really, but I was content.  A small portion of my mind that wasn’t needed for focusing on the task at hand, that part dedicated to singing earworm songs and worrying about upcoming activities, was pondering how much Jane has grown up.

She made the school volleyball team and she’s really fired up about it.  She’s still playing the viola but I guess you were gone before she had even started that.  It’s hard to believe how much time has passed.  Now she’s in the band too, playing the flute.  It’s her favorite class.  She’s in all Pre-AP courses and working hard at them.  But it’s volleyball that I was thinking about as I toiled away at my keyboard.

When her Daddy took her to order her school-color workout clothes, she saw the letter jackets and was so very excited.  She can’t wait for the opportunity to letter in volleyball.  Then a couple of days ago, they poked their heads in the gym to watch the high school team play.  Each girl has a large poster with her picture on the wall of the gym.  Jane’s face lit up.  She’s already dreaming about being on one of those posters.

She works hard.  She’s not the best girl on the team but she’s big and strong and plays well.  We are anticipating traveling for games for many years to come.  And so it was that I was imagining mom and her boyfriend standing at the edge of the court, waiting to congratulate her on a game well-played.  Suddenly, it wasn’t Hugh standing next to mom; it was you.

I was immediately in tears.  My throat tightened up and hurt.  I turned my back to my cubicle door and grabbed a tissue.  I can’t even remember the last time I missed you so deeply; I thought I was well and truly past all that.

You would have been so proud of her.  You never showed a lot of emotion but in that little mental image, I saw the small smile that would have been on your face.  It felt so real.  So incredibly, achingly real.  You were special to her and I know she was to you as well, the first grandchild.  I never imagined that you wouldn’t be around to watch her grow up.  And then once you were gone, after awhile, I never thought about what you were missing.  Until today.  When I sat sobbing over what will never be while running CPU statistics on my screen and hoping no one would notice.

Some people believe they know for sure that our departed loved ones are watching from above.  I don’t know that.  I hope, but I don’t know.  In that brief moment, though, you were there and you were smiling.  Thank you for making it to one of her games, even if only in my imagination.

I love you,

Your daughter

Hal and the Flute

I have hesitated on whether to share this story because it involves spanking, which is a rather hot-button issue in parenting circles. I’m not interested in joining that debate. I think that many of us are on the fence on whether or not spanking of any kind is ever an appropriate tool in our parenting arsenal. I personally tend to agree with the anti-spankers on the notion that there are usually better ways to administer discipline and consequences. That said, spanking was part of my childhood and that can be difficult to overcome. And sometimes I simply can’t find a way to make the severity of the situation understood by my strong-willed and stubborn children. So, please, if you are opposed to spanking, extend me a little grace, knowing that I struggle with the issue, and please try to see the smiling moment in this tale.

Jane recently acquired a flute and hopes to join the band next year. The day the flute arrived, I had a very serious conversation with Hal about it. I explained that the flute was not ours and was very delicate and expensive and he was not to ever, ever touch it. I used my best stern, I’m-not-kidding-around-this-is-serious mommy voice to make sure he understood.

The next day, I was away from the house for awhile and when I returned, I found the flute case open on the dining room table with the individual parts in disarray on top of it. I bellowed Hal’s name and he reluctantly came into the room.

“Did you mess with Jane’s flute?”

“Yes.” His voice was very small.

“Hal, this is very serious. We talked about this.” I took him firmly by the hand and led him back to his bedroom. On arrival, I squatted down in front of him and took both hands. I looked him in the eyes. “Do you understand that that is a very expensive piece of equipment? It is not a toy and it does not belong to us. You cannot play with it. You must understand that. We aren’t playing around. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Ok. You are going to get a spanking for this because you had been told.”

As I finished speaking, his little face crumpled and his eyes welled with tears. I expected a protest about not wanting a spanking but that’s not what I got.

In a desperate,yet resigned voice, he cried, “But Daddy already gave me one!”

In that moment, my heart went out to the poor boy. He had let his curiosity get the better of him and had messed with something he knew he wasn’t supposed to. His father had found out and punished him. Then his mother found out and was about to punish him again. And in the same way. He was trying to bear the consequences as best he could but this was too much. I could see in his eyes that he understood the severity of the situation and was not likely to ever touch the flute again.

“Oh, honey!” I cried. “If Daddy already gave you one, I won’t give you another. I didn’t know.” I wrapped him in a hug and felt the relief in his body as he hugged me back. I then wondered why my husband had not put the flute away after he found it. My planned administration of discipline had been born from my belief that I was the first person to encounter the flute, given its found state. I was later to learn that he hadn’t known how to put it in the case so had left it for me to deal with.

I honestly don’t know if the spanking alone would have been enough to stop Hal’s handling of the flute. But the unintended tag-team of the spank and the almost-spank worked miracles.

A Terrible Dichotomy

Today possessed a terrible dichotomy for me. It started off well. Last night, Jane’s small 7-person string ensemble performed at the sixth grade Christmas concert. They were dwarfed by the choir and the large band, but they performed admirably.

When it was over, she announced that she really wanted to play in the band next year. This is enough to warm the heart of any parent who was herself a band nerd. But then she told me that while they were waiting for the concert to start, the cellist had asked her to hold her cello. While holding it, she played Witches Dance, a fun fast song that she plays well on her viola.

A man standing nearby told her that she was very good. “That’s not her instrument,” her instructor said. “She’s never played that before.” That anecdote sent my spirits soaring. I love tales of her musical accomplishments. I went to work this morning feeling as though my daughter was the most wonderful, most talented child on the planet.

Later in the day, I talked to her PE coach about some trouble she was having at intramural practice. I wanted an adult’s perspective on the situation. In the course of the conversation, she told me that she thought Jane was one of the better volleyball players. She was convinced that Jane could make the A team at the middle school next year. I was beginning to feel the effects of oxygen deprivation, I was flying so high.

And then, it all came crashing down. I work in a cave. This is figurative, of course, but sometimes it takes a bit for news from outside to make it to me. But finally it did this afternoon and I learned about the horrible shootings in Newtown, CT.

Like all people, I was stunned and left numb. I was angry and sad and desperate to deny it. And then, like all parents, I couldn’t help but put myself in those parents’ shoes and imagine the horror of it happening here. This process, which I have engaged in many times, was made even worse because I was so full of love and pride for one of my children at the moment I learned the news. I imagined all that potential and promise ripped away.

The world does not deserve to be denied what my daughter has to offer. The world did not deserve to be denied what those children had to offer. I spent the afternoon in a hollow and empty shell.

That shell filled with family life when I got home. We went to a Christmas party. Hal met Santa for the first time. Eventually, however, we found ourselves at a restaurant and the day’s events smacked us back in the face. We don’t have TV at home, but this restaurant did. And Jane’s side of the booth was facing it. My precious, innocent, promising, wonderful daughter came face to face with the reality of a deranged man. When she finally lost control, she sobbed, “How can someone kill their own mother?!” She cried about how the children would never learn to play the flute. When we got home, she cried because they probably had Christmas presents under the tree that they would never open. They’d never learn to drive a car. They’d never have kids.

I did my best to put the pieces back together. I reminded her that everyone has different experiences. Everyone has a different life span. Those children are at rest now and aren’t regretting the things they never got to do. Their families need her prayers though. I took Mr. Roger’s advice and reminded her of all the “helpers” she saw on TV. The police, ambulance workers, doctors, and nurses. The social workers and counselors and teachers. Friends and family and neighbors and strangers all pitching in to help. “It was one bad person, honey, but hundreds of good people there to help the people that need it. Hold onto that baby, and pray for them all.”

Now let me tuck you in so I can take my turn curled up in a ball crying on my bed. About the senselessness of it all. About the anguish of watching your idyllic childhood view of the world crumble a little bit more into every adult’s reality. I love you my sweet angel and I am so thankful you are still here.