I remember before I got married, someone wise told me to take a moment during my wedding ceremony to look around at all of those people there with us. Really soak it in, all that love and friendship seated just yards away as we started our new chapter together. It was some really great advice.
However, it’s not what I remember from that day. Or at least it’s not the first memory of that milestone that jumps to the fore.
I realized this the other day while I was running a few miles on an indoor track. On the running hierarchy, running on a track—and a smaller, “more laps to a mile” track at that—ranks a hair above treadmill running for me. It’s definitely not my first choice of venue for running. I’d much rather be outside. But you might’ve heard we’ve had a smidge of snow here in Massachusetts. Just a tad.
To pass the time, I’d started a game with myself. Take a big milestone from my life, and what’s the very first thing that jumps into my mind.
First kiss: in middle school; a boy named Jason, at the fun fair, and he was wearing an acid washed denim jacket
First car (used Subaru): having to use two feet to drive if it rained
First college drinking experience gone wrong: Sex on the Beach (the drink); still cannot stand the smell of peach schnapps some 20+ years later
College graduation: bagpipes during the procession
Renting first post-college apartment: that huge closet and how frigid it was in winter
First international travel (Costa Rica): the sulfur smell of the hot springs and the sound of howler monkeys
Law school graduation: walking down the middle of Tremont Street in Boston to the Wang Theater
Wedding: My husband, E, forgetting his lines during the vows. The officiant would give a sentence or two for each of us to repeat, except that inadvertently he’d given E an entire paragraph without stopping. I will never forget that look on E’s face.
Honeymoon (Mexico): countless strawberry daiquiris and reading Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks, by the pool
Being sworn into the bar: my father-in-law’s smile while we were in Fanueil Hall for the ceremony
Buying our house: Eric looking pale while we signed the P&S and our agent asking him if he’d like a drink of water
Giving birth to my daughter: both of us yelling for the doctors to tell us whether it was a boy or girl (we didn’t know ahead of time) and them laughing because they thought we knew—those were the longest ten seconds of our life!
Wanna play? Leave your answers in the comments. Have a great weekend and Happy Valentine’s Day—and I raise a virtual warm mug of cocoa to my fellow New England friends…because there’s more snow on the way. Hang in there.
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
For the past week, there have really been only two noteworthy things going on in my life:
1. an incredible and unprecedented amount of snowfall that has, so far, resulted in six consecutive snow days at my daughter’s school, and
2. I went to the Billy Idol concert on Saturday night.
Until today, those two things didn’t seem connected in any particular way. But as I listen to my daughter squeal outside in the snow while her dad is shoveling, a kind of relevance has stopped me in my tracks.
I’m pretty certain that this string of snowstorms and their consequential school closings will be forever etched in my daughter’s mind. It feels epic, and certainly looks epic, when the elements force you to remain idle and at home for days on end. It’s anyone’s guess whether she will see a similar situation play out in her remaining school years. In fact, just maybe, it might not happen again quite like this until (or if) she becomes a mother someday, with her own children hunkered down with her during some stormy winter month.
When I first saw Billy Idol, it was 1990. I was sixteen and in eleventh grade. It was a rainy September night when he played that outdoor show. He’d just recovered from his infamous motorcycle accident. Even though he was still using a cane that night, he rocked that stage. I’m pretty sure it was the first concert I went to without a parent, and it was a good hour away from where I lived. Those factors alone make that concert incredibly memorable to me.
Well, those things and the fact that one of the people who I went to that concert with was my then boyfriend. By then we’d been dating three years, and would go on to date until the early part of my freshman year in college. We broke up for good after that. But the thing is that while I was in that particular moment of my life—not the concert, but being a sixteen year old girl—I thought I had a pretty good handle on how my life was going to look as an adult. I dare say I was certain.
Well, memories will burn you.
Memories grow older as people can
They just get colder
Like sweet sixteen
“Sweet Sixteen” – Billy Idol
Of course, with the hindsight of a 41 year old woman, I now know I couldn’t really know any of that, much less whether I’d see Billy play in concert some distant time in the future—some almost 25 years into the future to be precise.
I am, right now, in a much different place than where I thought I’d be. Happy, definitely. But also so totally and utterly different. The first concert has remained etched in my mind, but most of the professions, plans, or people never really panned out. Which is why, I think, when these “big” things happen in our young lives, they become the brighter points on the timeline of our life. Snowstorms, first concerts, and first boyfriends all become a frame of reference for looking forward and, eventually, for looking back.
As I stood there among the concertgoers this time around I was struck by how old we mostly were, not in the sense of being elderly, but our collective age range. A few women remarked in the bathroom they’d seen him in high school or middle school. The guy behind me on the stairs after the show said he was 16 when he saw him…in 1984. There were many folks there who were well into their 60s. It was apparent to me that lots of folks were reliving something there that night, I think, but I also wonder if they were taking stock of what good they have right now. I certainly was.
Here’s my advice: if you can, find a way to go to a live show of someone you saw when you were a teenager. Look around you and see your contemporaries swaying to the music having a great night. Then, when you hear “your songs”, consider your journey to right there. You will look back at all the brilliant points of light along your lifeline, and I bet you will see that you were not as idle in this life as you first thought.
What was your most memorable concert as a teenager? Where has life taken you since then?
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
My beloved maple still has a full verdant crown. Only a smattering of leaves have been tinged with a kiss of deep burgundy. Jewels in the crown. Those will fall early, it seems. Did the arborist tell me it was a Norway maple? I think so, but I can’t remember. It doesn’t really matter. I love this tree, deep into the heartwood. It’s a constant that I gaze upon often. Though I worry about the wet autumn winds when she is still heavy with leaves. Will she weather the storm another year? Is it better to have the three trunks instead of one? It seems as though she is stable, but I’m never entirely sure.
She turned seven this month. Her hair is barely blond anymore. Is that because she’s going to be a brunette or we didn’t spend enough time outside this summer? I need to be better about that next year. I can’t even remember most of August and here she is starting first grade. New teacher, new classmates, new expectations. Even our morning routine feels a little different, though I can’t place how just yet. She still likes to snuggle on the couch for the last ten minutes before we leave. I know the transitions are hard for her, but nothing like they used to be. I’m happy for this change, though more for her than for me.
The colors don’t seem as vibrant as last year. Or maybe they are the same. I really don’t remember. I always think I will recall year to year, but then I never do. Black spot has peppered the changing leaves this year, but it’s only noticeable on the few that have reached the ground. The crown is now dull and muted, like an army boot that has trudged through miles of terrain. She’s getting ready to let her leaves go. But not without a show first. She waits until the very end of the month to glide into a spectrum of golds. Did it happen overnight? It seems that way. I try to catch a few of the big ones to press between a heavy book so I can remember their vivid yellow, but my effort is futile. I leave empty handed, with only a memory lightly etched into my mind’s eye. Or so I tell myself.
I know what it is now: she doesn’t want me to read to her before school anymore. She’d rather look out the window or play in the last few minutes before I say, “it’s time to go” and hunt down shoes and keys. When she was three and four and five, clinging to me and crying, this is what I longed for, right? Then why do I feel like an awkward interloper? I’m no longer a necessary participant. When did that happen? She’s only seven. Yet she still wants to hold my hand on the walk to school. I clutch her small fingers as though they were gold coins. I don’t want to let go of my riches while I still have them. I’m holding on tight.
It only took two weeks. The branches danced vigorously some of those nights, dropping confetti on the lawn. When I look out my window in the morning, I see the party is almost over. Points of gold and brown flutter and glow in the low angled light, stuck between blades of grass. Are they waving goodbye? Only a few leaves remain on the tree. Maybe they are stubborn and don’t want to let go. I wonder what holds on tighter—the stem or the branch? If it’s the tree, I would understand completely. But, eventually, the leaves will drop. They always do. There are never any leaves left come December. Some drift into the yards of neighbors or clog the storm drains along our sandy streets. The rest get raked into a pile, only to end up in the city’s hands or in our compost bin. The cycle of life. I try to keep as much of them in my yard as I can. They will feed the soil and fuel the flowers come spring. They are mine and I don’t want to let go.
We sail through the mornings. No more “hurry up” or “did you remember?” is needed from me. Afternoons are spent in mutual space but individual thoughts, especially when I let her take the lead. That’s been true for a while now. I just wait idle in the living room while she goes about her routine. Though I want to feel needed and find myself offering a gentle reminder before she even needs one. I get heavy sighs and “I know” in return. She’s making it clear that she’s letting go in this small way that doesn’t feel at all small to me. She’s asking questions about things that I know she’s picking up from friends as she flutters with them through recess and snack time. Things that seem like they are on the other side of the cusp where she stands. They are “what’s next” and I’m not entirely ready. I take pictures of her, much like the way I’d press those leaves I never seem to catch. I’m afraid I’ll forget, that my memory won’t be strong enough to withstand the windy days and barer branches ahead. She is mine and I don’t want to let go.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
I often wonder what it is that my daughter will remember about me when I am long gone or when she raises her own children (if she so chooses).
Will it be the way my hair smells or the texture of my sweaters (cotton, always)? Will it be the sight of me with my nose in a book (or, too often perhaps, my phone), legs tucked up under me on the couch? Will it be the very basic but very reliable dinners that I serve? Will it be the way I gather her hair into a ponytail most mornings? Will it be the triple nose tap that we have for each other when we say “I love you” from afar? Will it be the weight of my body in her bed as we read books each night?
Or maybe it will simply be the invitation to always be the one to lick the honey spoon after I’m done with it.
Is there a distinct memory about your parent(s) that you have from childhood? If you have children, what do you think they will remember about you?
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
We’re going to need a bigger house. No, not a new baby. It’s the books. Specifically, my daughter’s books. I cannot seem to edit her bedroom bookshelves to make room for new books (other than maybe to pay forward those pesky mass market paperback equivalents known as “easy readers”—you buy one and suddenly there are ten in the same spot the next morning). She has literally hundreds of books, of all kinds, collected since she was a wee lass.
I’m emotionally tied to virtually all of them for one reason or another. Part of it is the actual financial investment of buying books. We buy books far more than toys (family and birthday parties usually pick up the slack when it comes to toys). It’s not only because books retain their value (and usability) longer term, but I like to support authors and illustrators, and, when possible, independent bookstores or places like Better World Books. Yes, we certainly make good use of our library on a very regular basis, but I’m also committed to investing in books of our own too.
Some small part is also wanting to hang on to something from her childhood for her to share with her own children someday. I certainly see myself making storage sacrifices for Frog and Toad more than Elsa or Fluttershy. Some of it is not wanting to rush gifts from friends and family out the door too soon. But mostly, I just really love books and find comfort in being surrounded by them.
I’m not the only one. She also has a really hard time letting go of books. Certainly, there are some books that are easy to move along. The board books are long gone to cousins or Goodwill. Topics or characters that she simply wasn’t into are now residing in her former Kindergarten and current first grade classrooms, maybe to ignite the reading fire of another child. But the rest? She wants to keep them. So for now, we shift, stack, and start second rows.
It got me to thinking about the picture books on her shelf that I would give to other children as gifts, either because they have compelling stories or messages, interesting illustrations, or because M has shown us that they are the kinds of books that can be returned to time and again, each time revealing another layer that her younger self might not have seen. They are equally suitable for boys and girls and do not have (in my opinion) any questionable content.* These are the “workhorses” who’ve been with us for a while now (with one exception**), and aren’t going anywhere either.
I’m sure there’s a few more gift worthy books I could cull from her stack, but these were the ones that jumped out to me right away. And when I stacked them in the living room as a reminder to write this post, this is what happened, another type of gift altogether:
What picture books are on your child’s shelves that you think would make good gift books for children 12 and younger? Is there one “go to” book that you give over and over again? What book has your child received that has become a “keeper”?
* Near the end of Where Do Balloons Go? (a story about the mystery of where a balloon that’s accidentally let go might end up) there is a reference to “that place up above” the stars, which for some might mean heaven; as an atheist, I think it’s worded vaguely enough to be comfortable interpreting it as just more outer space beyond the stars we can see.
** Rosie Revere Engineer is a very recent addition to our collection, but already I can see that it has sparked her imagination and definitely is the kind of book I think so many children would enjoy as a gift.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
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