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
How can it already be the last day of September? It was a whirlwind month. Though, aren’t they all?
September was . . .
– reading three really good books: Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman, and The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection, by Michael Harris (NB: I finished A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman, immediately before September and it was a really touching read—as in ugly cry—so I’m including it here too)
– my daughter starting first grade and turning seven in the same week
– me now starting to ask my daughter for her permission before posting photos of her (and having a stricter set of guidelines of what I think is fair game now that she’s seven)
– the start of cold season around our house (boy, that was quick!)
– starting a new habit of commemorating a few lines of gratitude each week
– biting my tongue many, many times . . . and realizing that I am having an increasingly harder time convincing myself that “preserving the peace” is a noble endeavor, especially if it means my daughter hearing or seeing things that I no longer want her to
– realizing the value of taking a bona fide break from Facebook (and to a lesser degree, other social media) and making usage tweaks going forward
– submitting essays to four new places (one of which has already been accepted for publication…stay tuned!)
– waffling on which direction to go with a particular writing topic (that I’ve not covered anywhere publicly) and realizing I need an “idea-bouncer-offer” (any takers??)
– no rain but many, many great sunsets
– for the first time in seven birthday parties, a not so agreeable forecast of thunderstorms and 90 degree weather on the day of M’s outdoor party, leading to a partial cancellation/rain date…and yet it was still wonderful all the same
– capturing “September light” on Instagram (@littlelodestar)—I may do it again this month…something about this slanted light that moves me
– hearing the words, “she has a cavity” for the first time…oof!
– discovering I can no longer easily pick up my now 50+ pound daughter
– starting the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker (I’m reading it to M)
– speaking of ginger . . . this month’s go to cocktail: Moscow Mule
– having a few much needed and long overdue telephone conversations, some harder than others
– the realization that I did not grow a single tomato (on purpose) for the first time since I started gardening . . . and that it was a HUGE mistake
– ordering garlic for the November planting and July 2015 picking (another way gardening keeps me tied to an awareness of time)
– flower girl dress shopping
– really hoping time slows down before prom dress shopping!
- becoming quick fans of some sites that I now frequent more regularly (or follow on Twitter)…here are just three of them:
www.bloom-site.com (featuring authors who published their first book when they were 40 or older)
www.featureshoot.com (featuring moving and visually stunning photography projects/photographers)
www.amandamagee.com (man, does she get you thinking, fist pumping, and/or teary eyed, both on her blog and Twitter)
– signing up for the October session of Writing Naturally series hosted by Corinne Noel Cunningham (can’t wait!)
– tweaking my usual “Things That Make Me Smile” type of post into this one, because it seemed more coherent (and because cavities don’t make me smile!); seeing Rudri’s post solidified my gut feeling on this format
– that this girl is now at what might possibly be my favorite age (so far!)
How was your September? Now let’s get excited about October, my second favorite month of the year!
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
Even though it was nine years ago, I remember that giddy anticipation when we purchased our house. Our first house. This house.
Were we taking too much of a financial risk? I was barely a year into my job as a law firm associate. The very month during which we closed was also the apex of the bloated housing bubble. Needless to say, we leaped without much of a parachute, much less any alternate flight plans.
Would we spend all of our free time cleaning and tweaking this house? Our 800 SF apartment had been quite enough to maintain, it seemed.
Was this too big for just the two of us? We had no plans for animals or children.
But perhaps most pressing at the time, where will we sit?
We quickly realized we needed to fill these rooms if we wanted to use them. Wasn’t that the point, in fact, of buying a home?
Given the inflated cost of the house, our budget for furnishings was meager. We decided to start with the living room. We only had one piece to bring from the apartment: an oversized, overstuffed chair and ottoman. A faded sage twill, it was incredibly comfortable, at least to our twenty and thirtysomething year old bodies. It was practical too: the ottoman doubled as seating during parties. No matter that it took up a third of our new living room.
Yes, we would have to design and coordinate any new living room furniture around this chair.
We filled the room, somewhat in haste and all without really projecting into the future. No, we didn’t exactly account for our actual daily endeavors and pastimes in mind, or how our bodies might age (hint: much faster than we anticipated). We bought a honking large armoire to tuck away the tube television. A coffee table and an end table with the world’s sharpest corners rounded out the rest of the room. People could sit now too. The couch we ended up with was striped in green and blue, and a more scaled down version of the stuffy, puffy chair. Eventually we added a cheap book shelf to the room and a little bit of tabletop lighting.
It was all ours. These pieces quickly became fixtures within the central corridor of our home. People could sit and gather, think and talk, flop and snooze.
And tomorrow, we say goodbye to all of it in order to make way for new things.* Pieces that won’t break our backs anymore. Pieces that are more thought out with what we like to do in this room. Pieces that take into account the wide range of ages that frequent our home.
Up until a few days ago, I was happy about the whole thing. I mean, of course I still am. Our new space will have some additions I have coveted for many years (read: far more bookshelf space) and will lend itself to a more streamlined flow. We also have an opportunity to make others happy in the process. Yes. Good things.
And yet I am suddenly sentimental about one piece that is moving on: our sofa.
While watching my daughter lounge across the blue and green stripes earlier this week, I was unexpectedly face to face with an attachment I didn’t know I had to this workaday piece of furniture.
All in a moment, I remembered all that has happened on those 82 inches of upholstery and fill.
The endless hours of nursing her in that first (draining) year, her soft wisps of hair fluttering against my naked skin.
The Al Bundy years.
The (seemingly) endless hours of tending to her through the stomach bug/roseola/colds/strep/swine flu/fevers.
The infinite games of Uno and Go Fish.
Emma and Paul getting priority seating.
The countless cereal bars and yogurt smoothies consumed there by her for breakfast. Every. Day.
The slowly growing length of her legs that used to take up just one cushion, then two, and now three.
The naps where she fell asleep on top of me and I just breathed in the scent of her hair until she awoke.
The skills learned.
The books read.
The birthday and Christmas presents opened.
The sillies and the tickles.
The tears and the laughter.
I guess it’s not surprising that I am feeling sentimental about the sofa, though I wasn’t really expecting this reaction. It’s caused a few tears for sure. I thought maybe giving away her bed or our dining room table would someday move me like this, but not the sofa that I can no longer sit in for more than an hour without suffering the painful consequence. Yet, when I really think about it, there is a physical closeness that takes place on the sofa that is very much unlike what happens around a table or even a child’s bed. Snuggles ensue. Hugs happen. Heads rest upon shoulders. Toes touch knees. Intimate moments become indelible imprints. It is, it seems, the natural order of things when two or more people are sitting in such comfortable and close proximity.
But it’s time to let it go. It is.
And, just maybe, it will become sentimental to someone else too.
* I’m happy to pay all of it forward. The chair went (for free) to a woman who was looking to finish furnishing her own living room on the cheap. I was a little irritated because she never came back for the ottoman as promised, but I ultimately found another sweet, older woman who was looking to decorate her much-saved for and recently purchaed beach house where she will visit with her ten grandchildren each summer. She will reupholster the ottoman and use it as a coffee table. And the rest? It will be going to help formerly homeless individuals who are taking those first steps of having their own place to call home, and just need a little help filling the space. For those of you living in the greater Boston area and whom might have gently used furniture to donate, I encourage you to reach out to the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. There are many—too many—families who could use what you no longer need. Other than the chair and ottoman (which I gave away via Freecycle), this is where all of our living room furniture is going to live its second life, and hopefully a wonderful one at that.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
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