In a few weeks, we will head to South Carolina for a family visit. It dawned on me yesterday that we should probably make sure that M has something suitable for the (hopefully) warmer weather. Sure enough, last year’s shorts and t-shirts are just too snug anymore. It called for some summer clothes shopping, which was good timing considering that it was raw and rainy outside, with snow in the forecast. We needed the distraction from Mother Nature’s prevailing mood.
Before heading to the store, there were a couple of shirts that I tossed into the “storage” pile. She could still get them on, but they certainly did not fit her growing, lithe body. I was surprised when she was a bit upset that they did not stay in the “keeper” pile.
But, Mama, they’re my favorites. They’re comfortable.
It wasn’t lost on me that growing children do not have the same luxury as adults of adopting long-term comfort clothes. If you look in my closet, you’ll see that I still favor a few shorts and pajama pants that are relics from the late night study sessions of my first year of law school . . . sixteen years ago. Still, despite their threadbare status, they give me comfort more than chills and so they remain.
But children? They can’t get attached like that. Maybe that’s a good thing. It means they’re growing, right?
When we got home from our very short shopping excursion—she needs no convincing when it comes to soft cotton dresses—it was still quite bleak outside. She was going to play princess in the living room while I cut up some potatoes for the night’s dinner of salad and homemade fries. The front door was open to let in as much light as we could on that dreary Tuesday.
Then I noticed it: the way the light hit the tulle of her dress in the doorway. These mere photons of light propelled me backwards along the space-time continuum with such unexpected force.
I was immediately transported back to my mother’s house when M received that dress for Christmas in 2011. Unsure if it was mere minutes or light years ago, I could still remember how smitten she was to have received her first “fancy princess” dress. I took this picture that day, seeing a future bride, perhaps, but certainly the love of a little girl and her Daddy.
Yes, the hem hits higher on her now lanky legs, and it’s a bit harder for her to bend and breathe. The outer layer of tulle has since been trimmed away due to the snags incurred from years of dancing. But this dress? It still, somehow, has enough room left to provide her with the comfort that youth and imagination have to offer. It is still fit for a queen.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
Yesterday, we met with a local Corgi breeder to get the process underway to adopt a puppy, sometime within the next 8-12 months. And as much as I’d like to gush about that for a moment, instead I want to give a very large thank you to the tween girls out there that, I’m finding, are my daughter’s biggest idols right now.
You see, yesterday, when we were at the breeder’s house, two twelve year old girls came during our time there. Fresh faced, with beautiful braids and braces, cheeks pink from the slightly cool air blowing in off the bay, they were arriving for their after school job of feeding, walking and (for the younger pups) training the dogs. When they walked in I could see the girl crush my daughter instantly had for these two young women. Both girls were utterly kind and took the time to engage with M. Later, before bedtime, she even commented about how brave they were to work with all those dogs (I saw with my own eyes that 12+ dogs to care for is no small feat, so I understand her awe!) and how lucky they were to be around all that cuteness.
I saw the same kind of idolization when M saw that it is the fifth graders at her school who lead the lines of Kindergarteners and first graders into the building each morning. It seems that the bulk of the fifth graders who do this are girls. One day on the walk home, very early on in the school year, M said, “I hope that I get to be a line leader some day!” She’s made similar remarks about the fourth and fifth graders who come down to her classroom occasionally as guest readers. She was smitten with her fifth grade “buddy”—a girl— that she worked with on some nature walk in the fall. She proclaims that someday she might want to be a swim instructor much like the young women she sees at the Y each week.
When I see these girls, I catch a glimpse of M in the future. It makes my heart swell that there is a way in this noisy and tempting world we now live in that innocence, bravery, responsibility and fulfillment can still prevail in the tricky tween years.
I think that we often forget that some of the best role models for the very young in our society are those young people that are just five or six years older. Especially at M’s age, where she is gaining an understanding of the passage of time and what constitutes a year, the steps that it will take to get to that age of having a small after school job or helping out at the Y must seem so much more tangible—and the girls in those roles now, much more relatable. The young women visible within M’s sphere of daily life offer so much more than what is presented in the media. I think these tweens soften the expectation and pressure of what is often asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” that so many adults often ask young children to ponder. They give young children a chance to think about their own futures with a series of baby steps rather than the adult leaps and bounds that are increasingly expected.
While I certainly hope that as M grows older and eventually gets to high school, she will shape her longer term plans for her life, right now, I love that her biggest goal is what she might be able to accomplish at just eleven or twelve. I think that says something about M, but also about these young women she looks up to. I sense her own aspirations are developing because of girls like these. For that, I’m thankful.
Quick housekeeping note: You may notice that I now have an “Email Subscription” field, both waaaaay down on the bottom of my main page, and on the side bar of individual blog posts if you click through to a particular post. It’s still in beta mode and this post will be the first test run. So, if you sign up to receive my blog posts via email (which I hope you do!), please be patient while I work out any kinks or formatting issues that may arise over the next few posts. Even though I’ve been blogging for four years come this June, I still take baby steps when it comes to the technology side. Thanks for understanding!
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
Sometimes, as a writer, you have to let go of certain pieces—that is, the ones that keep getting rejected. I wrote this about a year ago, in response to a call for submissions that focused on a particular theme. It got rejected. In fact, it got rejected a few more places after that. I need to let go of this piece, not because my confidence in it is faltering (though it is), but because the girl that I wrote about here, she’s different now. Braver and less risk averse. I want to honor that transformation. When I write about her, I want to be in the present. To do that, I need to let go of this tiny snapshot of the past.
What are you doing?” I asked her.
Her eyes were closed. Her empty hand was in a fist. Above it, she inhaled through her nose and exhaled through her sweet pink lips.
“Smelling my flower, and then blowing out my birthday candle to make a wish,” she replied, infused with that faint hint of “duh, Mama!” that five and a half year olds seem to suddenly pick up from the older kids at the playground.
My wrinkled eyebrow revealed that I didn’t understand.
“Miss Lara told me to do that when I was afraid of the dark clouds on the playground today,” she explained.
Ah, now I see. There must have been thunderstorms on the distant horizon during outdoor playtime. I can only imagine the look of fear that she must have had, likely clinging to the leg of the nearest adult. She had been in a stage where even the remotest of thunderstorm possibilities triggered palpable, visible fear. For the greater part of a year, this was but one thing that induced a perplexing state of anxiety for her, our sensitive worrier. These were covert breathing exercises aimed at getting her to relax.
But what threw me was the off-the-cuff brilliance of that twenty-something teacher’s aide. It far outshined the (very expensive) textbook advice that my anxious young daughter had received from her highly decorated post-doc therapist just nine months prior. It was so obvious and elegantly simple: if you want to reach a child, speak to them in their own magical language. Why do we adults so frequently forget this? Flowers and wishes? Yes, these she could understand. This she could use.
Our worrier was becoming a warrior. She was breathing again.
All it took was a pair of cheap plastic goggles. Not the supportive praise of her Dad offered from a poolside bench over sixteen humid Sundays at the Y. Not my kind words of encouragement before she left for her lessons, or the high fives for the small achievements when she returned. By all accounts she loved swimming in the pool. Yet despite our efforts, our young daughter was seemingly destined to remain a pike, with eel becoming increasingly elusive so long as she refused to immerse her head.
The reason? Wet eyes. She did not trust her breath if she had to keep her eyes closed too. Like me, she is someone who needs to see what is around her. Getting water in those bright blue eyes was the roadblock standing in the way of above and below.
Ultimately, it was not our measured reassurances and coaxing that gave her the confidence to go under. It was not our ability as loving, supportive parents. No, it was the bubblegum pink goggles found in the last aisle of a dusty bargain bin store, purchased in a last ditch effort to help her move forward. I hated them at first, overwhelming in their plastic stench and insulting in their $1.99 price tag. The likely conditions under which they were manufactured crawled under my skin. I thought about the environmental ramifications of my purchase as I reluctantly handed the clerk my five dollar bill.
But how could I ignore the instant transformation that this elegantly simple solution ultimately induced? This time, it seemed, her comfort and confidence were clearly Made in China.
Our little mermaid went deeper in the water and also within herself. She learned how to hold her breath.
The dichotomy of what my anxious little one learned in the span of just one year was nothing short of life saving, maybe for all of us. We are not living at the outer edge of raw exasperation. She can take in more of what life has to offer.
Breathe in, breathe out. Take a gulp of air, and hold it. To trust in these polar opposites is to reveal one’s own inner strength and bravery. She is freer now because she knows how to breathe, and when not to.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
We live in a small Cape just outside of Boston. We love our house, and have ever since we bought it nine years ago.
When we first came to own it, we were two worker bees who commuted back and forth to Boston (me) and Cambridge (my husband, E). We had nothing but a cat to take care of. Now that we’ve settled on our family size for certain, we know we do not need more space. The location suits us just fine since we enjoy being a one-car family; I now work from home and E walks to and from the Red Line every day, and we only have one child to tote around. Sure, there are days when I pine for a 40 acre expanse of secluded, wooded vistas in Vermont, but that’s what retirement is for, right?
Built in 1940, the house had great bones but needed some upgrades and updating, the least of which was complete eradication of the faux paint finishes that the prior owners indulged in and some basement carpeting that potentially served as a mushroom farm. We’ve since done all of those things, and all that’s left really is the outside. The kind of stuff that is not necessary, but that would complete the picture of the sanctuary that our home has become. When you’re homebodies like us, you spend your money here at home, it seems, rather than on things and trips.
Over the fall, we started the process in the front yard, something that was necessary, structurally. Last week, we received the plans and estimate for the backyard landscaping that remains to be done.
Before signing the contract for the remaining work, I asked my husband, “We’re really staying in this house, right? No plans to move, right?”
The funny thing was, I had not asked this same question any of the other times we decided to drop some serious dough into the house. Sure, some of those things were actually smart decisions and sound investments that we would recoup should we ever move, like upgrading the heating system, but many of the other things we simply had wanted. Why was I suddenly so cautious about whether we were going to stay, in my mind, forever?
I didn’t realize until the other night what was driving my hesitation: the moves my then intact family had made when I was a child. We’d moved a few times as a family, but there was one house, one place, that seemed like my childhood home for so long. The white colonial in upstate New York. It’s where I went to elementary school and made my first friends. It’s where I had my first pet to call my own, a stray cat named Kitty that found me. It’s where I had a crush on my best friend’s (much) older brother. It’s where I learned to roller skate. It’s where I learned about the awful tragedy of the Challenger explosion. It’s why the scent of a pine tree can make me nine years old again. I did a lot of growing up there.
We moved from that home in 1986 to come live in Massachusetts. My parents split less than a decade later. A different kind of growing up happened in all of those years since upstate New York.
There are very few pictures of that New York home left in our family photo collection. It got me to wondering what it looks like now. Being a four hour drive away, it’s not easy to do the drive-by that I sometimes do when I want to see the first apartment my husband and I rented together across town or visit the home I lived in while in high school.
I decided to Google my old address. I think what happened next revealed the Pandora’s box of the Internet.
When you look at your childhood home(s), you always expect the trees to be more overgrown or the paint color to be different. But that didn’t happen here. The house looks exactly the same, save for some gardening structure that seems to now be in the front yard. This photograph could have just as easily been ripped out of my family photo album.
Which is why I was so taken aback by my reaction when I looked up this photo. It can only be succinctly summed up by telling you there was profound sadness. I know the whole of it is because the family that once lived there is no longer together. I don’t think I really ever properly grieved that part of my parents’ split. Can any child of divorce ever really do that anyway?
I think my attachment to childhood homes, and that New York house in particular, is why I am so now keenly aware of what foundations we are building with our daughter in our midst. As she inches toward seven years old this year, her first year of school well underway, I know that her roots are forming. Roots that are integrally tied to the home we are creating, and the lasting impression that I now know forms as a result. I know that she will likely remember the texture of the granite rock in our backyard like the lines in her palm. The colors of the plants that grow here will be as familiar as the freckles that dot her legs. She will remember the sticky cool feeling the September grass leaves on her legs in the spot under our maple tree where we watch “bird TV”.
Though I know that nothing is forever, even if well-intentioned or planned out in advance, I remain sensitive to the value and central role that a home plays in a child’s life, especially as the years tick by in that same house. It’s why I am simultaneously, if not contradictorily, so excited and hesitant to make ours what we want it to be. To make it ours, as a family, for the long-term.
There was no hesitation in my husband’s answers to my questions. We signed the contract for the landscaping. The new plants will go in the ground this spring. A new patio will be carved out for gatherings with family and friends. These things will take root and get mossy. They will become part of our daily landscape. And, I hope, complement the strong foundation this home already seems to have.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
I’m not sure if it’s my earlier days of schooling in science, or my lifetime love of taking photographs—nothing tops the magic of developing your own film—but I’ve always loved the various instruments that we use to examine the world around us. Microscopes, telescopes, cameras and mirrors—they all focus, capture and reflect the wonder that is contained within our world. They each offer a different way to put things in context. They help us better understand our reality. They have stories to tell, though sometimes the endings are yet unknown.
Take the telescope, for example. It allows us to see things far beyond our reach (at least right now). It puts us, mere mortals, into some often needed perspective. We are so small. We are not all that there is. Today’s biggest problem may not be all that big after all.
Or the microscope. We can glimpse at the infinite moving parts that make up life. Only when we step away from the viewfinder do we appreciate the macro that is comprised of the micro. We are humbled that some life, just nanometers in diameter, can be the difference between life and death for others. We may be larger in relative size, but by no means are we always going to be the victor.
Cameras, too. They capture a moment in time, something we want to remember. We use our editorial license to frame it just so, and though there’s no way to capture the other senses that were ignited in that particular moment—the squeals of baby feet being tickled, the yeasty smell of a warm kitchen on Christmas, the cool breeze that kissed our cheek—we take pictures to catalog a life that was lived. We create a pictorial inventory that allows us to take stock at the end of our days and remind us that it all really happened, and it was as beautiful as we remember it to be.
Mirrors allow us to see what’s in front of us, right now, as well as what’s behind us already in our rear view, sometimes safely, sometimes sadly. Mirrors force us to acknowledge the gray hair and the latent effect of too much time at the shore. We can take one last glance before we put the car in drive and pull away.
This morning, while I was pulling my wet hair back to start my day, I stood in the bathroom before our large mirror and realized I wasn’t really looking at myself directly. Sure, I don’t really need the aid of reflection to tie a wet ponytail, but we have this huge 3′x4′ mirror and three bright lights and yet I don’t really look at myself with more than a glance anymore. Somehow I am able to put on makeup and brush my teeth every day without really looking at myself. Why am I avoiding my own reality, one that I’ve essentially earned? Or maybe it’s deserved. Do you do this too?
I don’t know when I started this avoidance technique, but it seems to have coincided with the gray hairs taking up residence atop my head and the wrinkles and sags that have settled in these past few years. Rather than staring myself down, I tend to daydream and let my wind wander while I have these few minutes of solitude in the morning. It seems like a more productive use of my time.
And this morning I was thinking about all of these various instruments we use to look at our physical world around us. I thought about how they are equally useful, in a metaphorical sense, to examine our own lives. It got me to thinking about how, when I was younger, particularly in my late teens, the mirror (literally) and telescope (figuratively) were my primary tools. I was only concerned about what I looked like right in that moment, and what my future might contain. I didn’t reflect so much about the past. There was nothing particularly noteworthy that required me to memorialize it with a camera, if you could even come by one then.
Then there was a shift in my twenties, especially in college. I wanted to remember it all because I was having so much fun. I especially wanted to retain evidence of my budding independence and existence as an entity outside of my family (which was going through a divorce) and then long-term boyfriend from high school (we broke up around my sophomore year in college). As a result, there were many pictures taken while I was living my life in Worcester. In fact, it was probably my only tool, other than a vague sense that I was supposed to be using a telescope to peer beyond the four years I would be at college.
From the time I graduated college until my mid-thirties, I think a microscope would best describe the means by which I deliberated my life. What parts were there? What, or perhaps whom, was I made of? How did I function optimally, exactly? These are the questions you ask as you parse out career paths, future husbands, and domiciles. It is a period of extreme, close-up examination. Slide after slide, your eyes can hurt under the strain and headaches develop with so much focusing, but the work must be done. It is the critical point to do so as your life apex appears on the horizon.
And now? Becoming a mother has required me to shift the tools in my arsenal once again. I find this to be a period of deep reflection—primarily about my own childhood and my parents’ (since ended) marriage—as I compare and contrast the life I had and the parents I had, with the life and guidance I now offer M as her mother. I feel like I am looking in a rearview mirror much of the time, maybe to be sure I am not veering off the good parts of the course that my parents led me down, at least while they were still married.
The camera is also once again in heavy rotation. It is seemingly permanently affixed to my eye, my finger trigger happy like no other time. I do not want forget any of it. Has time always been this fleeting? I don’t recall it so. I also want to create indelible memories for my daughter to look back upon someday, particularly when we, her parents, are no longer of this world. I now realize that both of these motivations to create lasting impressions come from some deep scars (both good and bad) that I have finally come to terms with, and now realize shape so much of how I have approached my years as a parent.
But why am I suddenly so afraid of the mirror before me? I wonder about this. Is it that I am afraid to acknowledge what is really there, or, more to the point, not there? Indeed, it is the one instrument that requires some confidence and comfort in oneself; the others are all outwardly facing so we don’t have to look as good. I need to think about this for a while. I also need to remind myself that the telescope does not have to be banished to the back of the closet just because I’ve turned forty. I’m allowed to look forward and outward and course correct as new discoveries are made. Maybe only then, after I have finished charting the constellations and nebulae that are within my dusky sky, will I be able to finally look in the mirror with the same confidence as that once upon a time teenage girl.
What instrument do you favor to view your life right in this moment? Which one are you most comfortable holding?
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
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