On St. Valentine’s Day when my Baby Doll was just three years old my husband and I wandered into a martial arts studio with her. They had classes for ages 3 to 6 called “Little Rhinos” and we decided to try her to see if she liked it. For the entire first session she sat there with her little legs crossed, quietly observing everything with her huge, dark brown eyes. She participated but did not utter one single word … and her participation was truly after careful consideration. Her instructor ever so gently coaxed her thumb out of her mouth and his kind but firm discipline reminded me of my father. She never cried once (like the boys) or even looked to me; she simply took it all in with a thoughtfulness that transcended her tender years. When class was over we asked if she wanted to go back and she said yes. Then to my great surprise I discovered it was South Korean! I went home and cried as I thought of my late father and how he used to call me endearments in Korean. He proudly served eight years in that forgotten war, becoming well-versed in Korean martial arts. And I just KNEW. I felt Daddy behind me on this. A dawning realization came of my childhood with its methodical discipline and I realized how much he had shaped my life. I was already subconsciously rearing our daughter in the same way. I began to look around and take notice of their actions: saluting the flag, bowing to show respect, and having to complete jobs lists they must submit in order to belt test. After that she earned her white belt which had her name written on it. I was SO PROUD. In this school kiddos earn a camouflage belt next. I got her a personalized belt rack for her bedroom door and then she earned her yellow stripe belt and after that she earned her orange stripe belt. Then she was able to move to the “Advanced Little Rhinos” class where she earned her purple stripe belt, her green stripe belt, her brown stripe belt, and her red stripe belt. Sitting in the studio tonight I thought this was it. About two years of her life later, almost at the end of age four, my little one would be testing for her first black belt. Of course this would be on a level for littles but it still does not diminish her knowledge, her skill, her confidence, her perseverance, or all of her hard work. In previous ceremonies she has busted boards in half with an ax kick (using her leg), an elbow strike (so difficult they weren’t sure she could even do it), and this board she would split with a side kick. I thought it was funny that for this picture she put it back together. So I am now the popping proud mother of a kind, gentle little girl who is learning strength and honor through discipline and respect; just as I know my father would have wanted. She is also learning the value of setting goals, and I pray all of it will serve her well throughout her entire life. My baby is a black belt!
I have been trying to declutter our house a little at a time for the past year or so. There are a couple of reasons for this: I want our home to look more spacious and I want to let go of things we no longer need or use. Environmentally, I am committed to reducing, reusing, and recycling. I do not want to have a disposable household and I want my daughter to appreciate her toys and her clothes. Change is a battle for me though because I am a creature of habit. I like my things precisely where they are. I am not one of those people switching up the furniture in every room all the time or painting the walls a different color. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just not me. My husband REALLY does not like change. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is quoted as having first said, “The only thing constant in life is change.” So when the TV guy broke one of my lava lamps I tried to look at the positives. One, it WAS looking a little cluttered; two, I did not need the second one over by my blue neon wolf. Three, the working one I moved really did look much better because it was in a place where it stood alone and could be seen more prominently. Our den feels totally different now just from having to make those small changes! I cannot believe how one thing that happened could affect so much! I am going to have to remember that: all actions have a ripple effect.
The famous American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson is said to have once asked and answered, “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.” I truly feel that way. First: I do not know as much as I would like about botany. Second: I am convinced God had SOME purpose in mind when He created each and every plant. I realize experienced gardeners might say many are invasive but I also think a great deal of what is being deemed weeds could also be beneficial if given a chance. I will never forget the year my folks and I let the winter cabbage literally spiral out of control. They had these yellow blooms that grew several feet centrifugally skyward. During a rare snow we had an entire flock of bright little yellow birds migrating and they all converged to feast upon the yellow tops that had gone to seed. All three of us stared in rapt fascination; we had never seen anything like it. I miss the amount of cicadas, fireflies and butterflies that were around when I was a child. I think people used to allow some “weeds” and wildflowers to grow without dousing them and everything else within a twelve mile radius full of toxic, carcinogenic chemicals. Fields simply left to be fields ARE being productive. We do not need another gas station, bank, or big box retailer. What we do need is serenity and a symbiotic relationship with nature, which we seem to be slipping away from more and more. When I discovered whatever this was in our front yard I transferred it to the empty planter on our back fence. I think it is pretty, it has been very hardy, and has required very little water. I do not want golf course sterility; I yearn for the wildness of nature. So, unless it’s poisonous or incredibly detrimental, I have decided I’m not weeding anything out.
There we were, this dashing Frenchie and I, together for our regular nooner, taking our walk and enjoying the cooler weather. This handsome boy has a rep around the neighborhood for giving it to anyone he doesn’t like … whether two-legged or four. He’s not aggressive; he’s just opinionated. The American writer Mark Twain once said, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” This little guy definitely fits that! The street we were on was lined with huge dogs all going nuts, no doubt intimidated by Bruiser’s big personality. He never failed to bark it back to any of them … until we came to the next to the last house at the end of a long street. This German Shepherd was going absolutely berserk: incessantly barking, jumping up and down on its hind legs, and scratching frantically at all the doors. As we passed I noticed my companion was uncharacteristically quiet and kept looking straight ahead. The next thing I knew there was a huge “BLAM!” followed by the unmistakable tinkling of shattered glass. A myriad of shards rained down like glittering diamonds in the noonday sun. Psycho shepherd had actually busted out the entire front window of his folks’ 1920’s home (ancient by Dallas standards) and it is one of the few times in my life I have ever been truly scared; only the second time ever with an animal. I have been a professional petsitter for over sixteen years now. Once I even regularly walked a very aggressive Chow who wound up mauling his own owner! The guy required surgery. Anyway, Bruiser and I both quickened our steps and I was worried I would have to scoop him up for fear he would get seriously hurt. I didn’t relish the thought of getting bitten or ripped to shreds myself. The shepherd stayed put (thank heaven) and I found myself hoping it wasn’t hurt by the all glass. Meanwhile the wide-eyed postal carrier was so unglued he skipped delivery to about half the block. I stifled an unbidden giggle at the thought of the age old battle between dogs and the mail. And I could only imagine what that poor dog’s parents were going to think when they came home. So I called the police and left my name and number to let them know they were not robbed. The 911 dispatcher asked if she should send out officers and I told her, “Don’t worry; the house is safe!”
There are few things I adore more than the strong, sweet fragrance of lilies. Recently my husband and I attended an engagement party for one of his cousins and they had huge arrangements of flowers everywhere. I remember thinking they were lovely. On the way out my aunt by marriage encouraged me to take some home. I was going to refuse until she said they were just going to go in the trash! I then gladly accepted and asked my husband to get one as well. I wanted to bring it to our babysitter hoping she’d enjoy them, but I think her allergies may extend to flowers. Heaven knows the woman is already a saint for braving our house with her cat allergies. So we wound up with two arrangements which looked even more enormous in our own house. I woke up the next morning and the heady scent of beautiful lilies greet me as I made my way down the stairs. Even my car smelled heavenly with just a few dropped petals from the night before. My little one noticed it, too and we decided to leave them. All weekend long we were wreathed in the rich scent of Stargazers and it was pure bliss. They must have been delivered fresh just before the party because they remained upright and beautiful for days. When Monday rolled around I realized I still needed to get flowers for my little one’s class. This was her turn to provide snacks and fresh flowers for the week. Then I realized we had lots of perfectly beautiful blooms already and so I set about removing them from their green floral foam and put some in a vase to bring to school. I still had some to keep and, to my surprise and delight, when I came to pick her up, I noticed the flowers were everywhere! They were lining the windowsills and graced just about every available surface in her large classroom. The American botanist Luther Burbank once said:
“Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.”
That’s exactly how I feel … flowers are indeed sunshine for the soul.
“There, I guess King George will be able to read that without his spectacles!” John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress, is reported to have said after he was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776. He is remembered for his large and stylish signature so much so that the term “John Hancock” has become, in the United States at least, a synonym for a signature. My little one has been “signing” for me electronically at places since she was two. It has always been a thrill for her. But by four she could actually sign her name and I still cannot quite believe it. So when she signed for me the other day a new cashier’s eyes visibly widened and, in a side whisper to the associate next to her, she asked, “Can she DO that?!” I told her she was authorized to sign for me and winked. This time I was the one who was thrilled, watching my girl carefully write her name. I find it ironic that in an electronic age we all seem to be signing more instead of less. In fact it would seem it is almost the only thing we actually write by hand now at all. However I’m all for going paperless on transactions. And I am SO glad my mother forced me to take typing in high school! At SMU in the early nineties it was all pecking on computers and I had to learn to write directly from a keyboard. I am happy though to still see people signing guest registries at major life events. They are wonderful to look back upon and become cherished especially when the signer is no longer with us. Someone on my husband’s side of the family signed his name and had it etched in his wife’s wedding ring instead of just engraving it. I always thought that was unique and meaningful. I am also a stickler about hand signing Christmas cards. I realize printing, stamping and even embossing are more efficient. But they leave me feeling cold. There is an indelible imprint and something of one’s self that remains when it’s the real thing; as if a tiny piece of that person has been ever so slightly revealed. It may be more time consuming, but for me at least, I still intend to sign at the bottom.
I never played in a sandbox as a kid. I have not really ever cared for the gritty stuff, particularly in a landlocked city. But my little one has been lucky enough to visit an ocean every year since her birth. Perhaps that is why she is more drawn to it than I. We were at the park on a rare day that was not sizzling hot and I was completely shocked to discover they had built in this subtly clever, winding trench of sand. After all the times we had been there I had never even noticed it! But she found it and soon made friends with two fraternal twins playing construction with their trucks. Now I understood why she wanted to bring her beach pail and shovel. Sitting on the stone wall in the shade I watched in contemplative silence as the three of them played side by side, each happy in their own little world. I found myself thinking about the sands of time. Like an hourglass, it seems to trickle much more slowly when you’re younger. One of the beauties of children is I think they allow you to slow down as well. The great English poet William Blake must be on my mind lately. I was reminded of my favorite quote of his:
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”
The English poet William Blake once said, “No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.” Both of my parents wanted that for me and they also both loved to feed the birds. When I got married and we bought our home I could not wait to set up a bird feeder. I eagerly anticipated the tranquility that watching them pause to eat would bring. However it quickly became more like watching a gang fight. The mourning doves, which I had always assumed were peaceful, became horrible bullies and crowded out the cardinals, mockingbirds, and even my beloved (and somewhat aggressive) blue jays. We had the most well-fed morning doves around. Pretty soon they became freakishly huge and started to resemble hordes of quail. The poor little finches and sparrows could not even collect what was on the ground. Fat squirrels (whom my husband calls “blub blubs”) hogged the bottom around the feeder gathering crumbs with all the desperation of a group who had just broken out of a fasting retreat. Then we found out the cute tree rats were partaking from the feeders at night and that’s when the hubs said we had to stop. I knew he was right but it broke my heart not to feed the birds anymore. Devoid the chattering of squirrels and the cooing of mourning doves it has seemed sadly quiet. We used to call our side yard “cat TV” because there was always something flitting about to watch. Our cats would crouch down, make weird noises, and stalk their prey with twitching whiskers from the comfort of the den. Then a visit with my family in Arizona made me realize: hummingbirds! I could at least feed them without bringing in anyone else. Eagerly I came back home and made their nectar, a simple solution of one part white table sugar to four parts water. The feeder is red to attract them without using any dye and it even has an ant blocker so the hummingbird’s nectar cannot be infiltrated and stolen. I’ve had it up for months now and so far nothing. I still keep watching and hoping; they say it takes awhile. But I must confess, all this waiting is for the birds.
As a kid I lived for Saturdays: Cap’n Crunch cereal, “Scooby Doo”, “School House Rock”, and then roller skating every afternoon from 2 to 5 at Broadway Skateland. I got one quarter which I would spend on a “suicide” — all the sodas at the fountain combined into one. I didn’t even like it; I just thought it was cool to order it. Colored streamers billowed from the ceiling, as round lights changed colors in time with the beats of disco music. We all orbited around an elliptical track like tiny planets revolving around the sun. Presiding over us all was a giant disco ball suspended magically from the center twirling and sending out fragments of light in every direction. Kids sat on mushroom shaped stools with shagged carpeting to put on their brown rental skates but I had my own. My Daddy wouldn’t allow me to have black speed skates (he said those were for boys) but I did have white ones which I actually competed in at a local level much like figure skaters do at the Olympics. Console video games were hot then and if I ever felt like giving up my drink money and using the water fountain I could play a game of Pac-Man. A quarter was the ticket to everything in the seventies. They were glory days in a way and I loved the rink as I never did a “club” when I became older. There is just something so freeing about the wheels … gliding and spinning, that cannot be accomplished in regular shoes. I have often thought it was like a child’s innocent version of Studio 54. For so many kids it was an institution, a coming of age arena in an era that predated the internet, texting, and cell phones. I am so glad our church had a function last year where the kids went skating. Burk and I could not WAIT to take our little one! I got her a cool skating outfit just like I had when I was little: roller skate hair barrettes, a shirt with roller skates on it, and the all-important dark blue jeans rolled up at the bottom with a rhinestone design on the back pockets. I even wore my School House Rock shirt in silent tribute. See those skates I’m wearing? They are the SAME ones I wore all those years ago as a sixth grader (wish I could say the same for my jeans size). We all got glow necklaces which they did not have when I was little. I skated backwards as I tried to hold up my then three year old who had never been on skates. She was in the smallest size they had. We all left EXHAUSTED. The local rink in this picture is going to close its doors. I resolve to go and take my girl back to the rink of my youth and pray it stays open. It is a living piece of time and I want that for her: the joy, the freedom, the independence, and the glorious feeling that the world is yours as you skate out on that waxy wooden floor. American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote, “Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind.” I want my little one to have some of the same shadows as I … before they skate by.
When it comes to cars I have always appreciated performance and superfluous extras. Growing up we only had one car, an unairconditioned station wagon with paint ladders on the top. But being able to look backwards from the rear of the car and wave at other people was so much fun. My little one could not believe I did not have a car seat growing up. I didn’t tell her I used to straddle the console between my folks up front or that I could stand, lie down or ride on Daddy’s paint cans pretending to play the drums. Car seats? I didn’t have a seat belt! It was the ’70’s after all. I may not have thought much for safety as a kid but I certainly think about it as an adult for my child. My husband and I are trying not to be helicopter parents, constantly hovering over our little girl. I have been hit hard twice in the last two years in accidents that were not my fault. The first was by an uninsured motorist (T-boned) and the last (rear-ended) by an illegal who fled the country the very next day. In both cases I had my little girl with me. I am so grateful to God she has been OK! And I am thankful to have been in cars built well enough to absorb a lot of the shock. It’s not like the old days when cars were tanks. That’s a huge part of why I do not want a bubble car; one is too vulnerable in a big city full of hostile, distracted drivers. OK and yes, it lacks a turbo engine and ambient lighting. Anyway, the last two cars I have had were black and I have decided switching to silver might be a proverbial fresh start. Silly, I know. American actress Alexandra Paul once said, “The cars we drive say a lot about us.” In my case, I’m taking back the Edge.