The Peacock Effect | A Short Story

“What’s that horrible sound?” Walter asks, setting his black coffee mug on the wooden end table and muting the television. He misses the coaster by an inch.

“I didn’t hear anything,” Winnie says, moving the cup onto the coaster for him before she hears it—a harsh, grinding noise far off in the distance. A chainsaw, perhaps, or a car struggling to start.

“For heaven’s sake. I need quiet! Is that too much to ask?”

Winnie takes a drink of her coffee to avoid answering. There’s a shiny black rhinoceros beetle eating a banana on the screen and the movements of its big horn line up with the loud sound outside. Winnie giggles. Walter grunts.

“What’s so funny?”

She points at the strange insect on the TV and her husband turns it off. With a dramatic sigh, he hoists himself from his green-striped chair and walks with three slow shuffling steps to stand before the large bay window. He adjusts the glasses on his nose and stares in the direction of the noise.

Sunlight reflects off the many crystal prisms hung in the window casting round rainbows into Walter’s thin, grey hair and across his unshaven face. Winnie loves him, even if he makes her feel bad most days. Next month will be 40 years of marriage. They should plan a party.

“This won’t do.”

Turning toward her, she can see the anger and accusation in his grey eyes. He blames her for anything and everything that’s gone wrong since she insisted they sell the farm and move to this small house near town. She didn’t want to move either, but they couldn’t keep up with the work of the farm. They are both in their 70s, their only child lived more than two hours away, and Walter has a heart condition. It was the right choice to move, but he holds it against her. He makes her pay.

Coming up beside him she slips her arm around his waist and leans her head onto his shoulder. He used to tower over her, but now they are closer in height. As he shrugs her away she sidesteps, pretending to check the succulents on the windowsill to see if they need water. The tenderness between them has been replaced with iciness. It burns.

“There’s nothing to be done. I’m sure the sound will stop soon. Let’s watch the rest of our show. Those beetles are really fascinating.”

The grinding outside gets louder and sounds as if it’s coming toward them. Walter leans closer to the window and she does too. There’s no sign of whatever is making the noise.

“Can’t you do something?”

He’s not using his cane and wobbles for a second, but Winnie knows better than to put out her arm to steady him. The hair on the back of his neck is standing up like some pissed-off alleycat and she tries to rub his back. Stepping away, he makes a low sound. Did he just hiss at her?

“What would you have me do, Walter? You need to relax.”

“Don’t tell me to relax. You can find a way to make it stop. I need quiet—you already know this. It’s not good for my blood pressure.”

Translation: you made me move here and I hate it. I’m going to use my anger at the situation and your worry about my heart to make you feel sorry for me instead of taking responsibility for my own actions.

“Walter, are you seriously asking me to get dressed, leave the house, track down the source of the noise, and get it to stop?”

“I’m asking you to care.”

Using the wall to steady himself, he presses past her and disappears into the kitchen. She hears him pulling out the big silver pot from under the sink and slamming it onto the tile counter. They’re supposed to make two different fruit jams tomorrow, but it sounds like he’s starting it now. Winnie feels the tightness in her lower back and knows she won’t be much help. Damn him.

She straightens the pillows on the couch and gathers up the coffee mugs before heading to the kitchen. Walter’s lowering the peaches with a wooden spoon into the pot of boiling water. His eyes look red and it’s obvious he’s been crying.

Winnie feels a wave of exhaustion as she slumps down into one of the yellow kitchen chairs and looks out the small open window. They really should get a new screen, but the old farmhouse didn’t have any and it reminds her of home. She loves to sit here with her eyes closed and hear the sounds of the world—even if they are far different living in suburbia than out in the country. Today, she only hears the horrible grinding sound. What could be making such a racket?

Something brushes against her cheek and she opens her eyes. A brightly colored peacock feather lays in front of her. It must have flown in the window. She picks it up and stares at it in wonder. A magical gift.

“Walter, look at this!”

Keeping his hands on the counter he turns and his eyes widen upon seeing such a beautiful, delicate thing on their cluttered wooden table. It reminds them both instantly of their favorite family memory when their daughter wanted to be a turkey for Halloween. She’d proclaimed it at the breakfast table on the first day of October dressed in a mustard-colored jumper, her red hair braided into two long braids, and her feet stuffed into mismatched rain boots.

“A wild turkey with lots and lots of feathers,” she said, jumping up and down and shaking her butt.

Even then, at barely three years old, their only child knew what she wanted. A perfectly wild, free-spirited mix of the two of them, Wren made each day adventurous and challenging. They loved her with a ferocity verging on mania and they both knew if something happened to her they’d not survive. She was their everything.

They worked on the costume in secret each night after Wren went to bed and hid it on the top shelf of the pantry during the day. Walter collected feathers in the woods behind the farm and sheared one of the sheep for stuffing. Winnie attached the feathers one by one with a perfect whipstitch to a fluffy suit made to look fat and round by the fresh wool.

A day before Halloween they decided to show it to her. They needed her to try it on so they could make sure the placement of the wings hit the right spots of her body and make any last-minute changes.

“Surprise!” they said together holding it up when she woke from her afternoon nap.

“What is it?”

“A turkey,” Walter said.

“Just like you wanted,” Winnie said. “Your costume.”

Falling onto the floor in a heap of anguish, Wren sobbed and sobbed. Both parents sat beside her confused, waiting patiently until she could catch her breath and explain the costume catastrophe cry fest. Several minutes later she bolted to her room and emerged with a sketch of the “turkey” complete with colorful blue, green, and gold feathers.

Walter scooped her up into his arms and explained to her the mixup and asked what they could do to fix it. He was always so good at staying calm with her, listening, and problem-solving. They deconstructed the costume and using dye, an old umbrella, and lots of hot glue, turned the turkey into a beautiful peacock with a few minutes to spare before trick-or-treating.

“She was the cutest peacock ever,” Walter says.

“It seems like yesterday.”

Silence falls between them for a minute as they both relive that night. Driving in the old red pickup holding hands while the colorful peacock and her little brown and white dog Gromit bounced around the back. They’d driven down one of the long, gravel farm driveways and she’d jumped out and ran to the door with her hollow plastic pumpkin, Gromit barking at her heels. The neighbors would give her candy and she’d repay them with little gleeful laughs and grateful hugs.

“Grrrrrr….whirr….”

Both Walter and Winnie jump as the grinding sound erupts outside, much closer and louder this time. It’s a low strong bass-heavy booming sound and it causes the windows to rattle, the wind chimes to move, and a picture to fall off the wall. Winnie retrieves Walter’s cane from where he left it in the living room and the couple steps onto the front porch together.

“What in the heck is that?”

High above them, amongst a bright blue sky with streaking white clouds, are hundreds of glowing balls of light moving in straight even lines across the sky. They appear to have no mass, no distinct anything really. More like bubbles than anything. Booming bubbles.

“I have no idea, Walter.”

“Me either.”

Looking around, it appears most of the neighbors aren’t home. Is it possible in their attempt at simplifying their lives by cutting out watching the news has backfired? Did they miss some kind of important announcement? Wren will know what to do.

Winnie leaves Walter sitting in his old rocker on the front porch and finds the pot of water still boiling on the stove. She turns it off and leaves the mushy peaches where they are. Retrieving her cell phone from where she left it plugged in last night, she grabs the binoculars Walter uses to watch the birds and a bottle of water.

“They’ve stopped moving,” Walter says.

She hands him the binoculars and the water bottle before taking her place beside him on the porch. The bubble things sit still and silent in the sky. Maybe it’s some kind of sun flare or an optical illusion.

Not only has the sound stopped but everything around them seems paused. There’s no bird song. No rumbling cars in the distance. It’s quieter than a night on the farm and it makes them both feel uneasy.

Wren lives a few miles away in an apartment with her girlfriend Jade. They run a trendy coffee shop downtown filled with their artwork, used books, and mismatched comfy sofas. They have open-mic nights, write-ins, and art shows.

Winnie attends a lot of the events, but feels jealous and a bit out of place. Her daughter and their friends are so cool, free, and creative. It’s intimidating. After retrieving her reading glasses from her pocket, she sends Wren a text.

“Hey, it’s mom. Call me ASAP. It’s urgent.”

Walter hands Winnie the binoculars and then takes a long drink of water. He’s shaking slightly and Winnie realizes he needs to eat or his blood sugar will get too low. Before she can get to her feet, however, he reaches out his hand and squeezes it. There are tears in his eyes.

“Look.”

She presses the binoculars to her face and then lowers them covering her mouth in shock. The things aren’t bubbles at all but shiny metal ovals which are lowering slowly toward the ground. Not a solar flare. Not an optical illusion. Things. She checks her phone and finds Wren’s message unread. It’s not like her.

“What do we do?”

Walter doesn’t answer at first and Winnie isn’t sure if he heard her or if he’s thinking. She feels her heart beating fast. Every science fiction movie and television show plays through in her mind. Please let this be the Prime Directive kind of aliens and not the old “we are out of room on our planet and need yours” kind. Actually, let it not be aliens at all.

“We have to find Wren and Jade. Family should be together for whatever this is.”

Nodding, Winnie rises to her feet and hands the cell phone to Walter.

“I’m going to pack up a few things. You keep trying Wren.”

Walter nods and then grabs her hand and squeezes it. They’ve always been a team in crisis and she can see today will be no different. His eyes are softer now and she’s hit with a wave of gratitude for all he’s done to protect her over the years. She wants to say so much, but panic and worry about their daughter wins out and she lets go. When she’s inside she hears him call out to her.

“It’s going to be okay.”

The confidence and strength she has always admired in him can be heard in those words and it brings stinging tears to her eyes. He will get them through this. They just need to focus on finding Wren and it will all be okay. Whatever is happening, they can face it as a family.

Digging out an old black backpack of Wren’s from the hall closet covered in tiny buttons, Winnie fills it with Walter’s medicine and some food. Going into the bedroom, she pulls out two large suitcases. One she drags to the kitchen and fills with canned goods, chips, nuts, and a can opener.

The second suitcase she sets on the couch and fills with things from around the house. The photo albums from the bookshelf. A tiny pink crochet baby dress with a matching bonnet from a box under her bed—the first thing Wren wore after being born in front of the fireplace 35 winters ago. Wren’s painting of the farm hanging above the fireplace. Her grandmother’s antique perfume bottles from the top of her vanity. All the jewelry Walter and Wren have given her, including a locket with a piece of baby hair inside. Her favorite rose teapot.

Walter unlocks the white van and he helps her load the bags into the back. They add in pillows, blankets, and several large bottles of water. It reminds them both of the big fire when Wren was 10, scrambling to evacuate before it got too big and the roads were closed.

Walter stayed back and used his tractor to dig trenches/fire breaks around the farm and help his neighbors do the same. The fire stopped less than 20 feet from their large barn, but not before burning all their crops and half the county. It was a terrifying time, but they were a lot younger and had more energy to get things done. Now, it feels like too much.

Collapsing into the van, they are exhausted and sweaty from all the activity. Winnie makes Walter eat a protein bar and take an extra blood pressure pill. She takes a handful of painkillers for her back and hip. Checking the phone again she sees her message to Wren remains unread. Her stomach drops.

“I hope she’s okay, Walter. It’s not like her to not answer.”

“It’s barely noon. Maybe they had an art opening last night and she’s still asleep. She keeps her phone away from her bed like we do. I’m sure she’s okay.”

While Winnie appreciates his optimism, she can tell by the fast way he pulls out of the driveway he doesn’t quite believe it himself. They both look up at the sky and see the bubble things have gotten much lower. How long did it take them to pack things up? How long do they have before something truly terrible happens? Can they reach their daughter before then?

They pull onto a deserted freeway and drive for a few minutes before reaching downtown and taking the exit leading to Wren’s apartment. One of the silver bubble things sits atop a window-covered skyscraper, balanced on its peak like a marble on the end of a pen.

“What’s happening?” 

Winnie’s aware of the hysteria now in her voice. She can’t help it. The streets are empty. Homeless camps abandoned. Businesses open without electricity or people. Stoplights don’t blink red, they are simply not working at all.

Rolling down her window she finds the eerie quiet far scarier than it was on their little suburban street. They drive through an oval shadow and she pokes out her head to see another one of the things has reached the building level. It looks shiny but still without any real substance. If only she had something sharp she’s sure she could burst it.

“We need to get to Wren. She’ll know what to do.”

She loves her husband’s faith in her daughter and can’t help but feel the same way. Since moving close to the city, Wren and Jade have helped them with everything. They arrange their groceries to be delivered, take them out to fancy dinners, and make sure they always have tickets to every show in town. 

Last Friday Wren and Jade took her to get pedicures and out to lunch at a fancy cafe with mimosas in huge crystal goblets. That weekend they took Walter for a drive in the country and asked him to teach them the names of the different birds hanging around the rice fields. They are beautiful, wonderful girls. Women. She loves them both very much.

Pulling up to the three-story historic white building they don’t see Wren’s little gold car parked out front. In fact, there are no cars anywhere. Slipping through the unlocked side gate, they enter the small courtyard shared by three apartment buildings. It has a large stone fountain in the center surrounded by planters of hollyhocks, oxeye daisies, and marigolds.

Walter stops at a green picnic bench and sits.

“Go on without me. I’ll wait here.”

Winnie wants to argue but she’s anxious to reach her daughter and Walter walks so slow with his cane. Kissing him on the top of the head she sprints as fast as her aching body will let her to the blue stone staircase leading to the front door of her daughter’s apartment building. It’s really a beautiful place—old and decorative. It’s so Wren.

There are only five stone steps but Winnie finds herself grasping the thick metal handrails and pulling herself up inch by inch. She’s really tired. Packing the van was too much for both of them and she’s wondering if they should have stayed put and waited for Wren. What if she’s gone to fetch them and they aren’t there?

When she reaches the top another horrible thought occurs to her. If the electricity is out the elevator won’t be working. Her daughter lives in a penthouse on the third floor. Winnie won’t make it up all those stairs. It’s not possible. This all feels so foolish.

With a final look up toward the thing in the sky, she turns the large brass knob to at least call to Wren from inside. It’s locked. No! She hadn’t thought of this. It’s always unlocked. 

She bangs both fists on the hardwood for several minutes. The sound echoes around her but nobody comes, except Walter clunking toward her with his heavy wooden cane. He stops at the bottom step and leans on a large stone lion.

“The door’s locked. We can’t get in. What if she’s up there unconscious or something and we can’t reach her? What if she needs us, Walter? We can’t do anything! I’m useless!!”

She didn’t mean for it to come out and she covers her mouth a bit shocked at herself. Tears flow down her face and she takes steading breaths to stop herself from losing it completely. It’s not true, she knows it’s not, but she’s felt it for a long time. Far longer than losing Wren to college. Far longer than losing the farm. She’s felt useless most of her life.

Walter smiles up at her. It’s a genuinely kind smile and it reminds her so much of the boy he was when they met. She’s drawn to him, like she was back then, hobbling down the small staircase and landing in his arms. He pulls her close. He smells of Old Spice and wood. Why does he always smell so good?

“You have never been useless a day in your life, my love. From the moment we met you saved me. I don’t deserve you.”

From above them, the metal bubble softly sighs releasing a gentle, cool breeze. The courtyard fills with dancing cherry blossoms swirling in all directions—a private, silent show for two. They sit together on the bottom step and catch the delicate petals in their hands, a bouquet of pale pink and white.

Sunlight becomes darkness as the thing above them descends lower bringing stillness and cold. Peacock feathers float around them, first a few and then hundreds. Each contains a memory of their child—she’s here with them. They feel her in every feathery touch and they smile at the life they’ve had together. It was good. They did good. When the grinding sound comes they don’t flinch or look up. They hold hands and smile.

Author’s note: Each week I’m inspired by something in my life and it flows into my stories either directly or indirectly. These peacock pictures are from my trip to Oregon last week and they were begging me to use them somehow in a story. I struggled for a few days to find a direction to take Winnie and Walter but ultimately was led to the empty courtyard filled with feathers. This is my 30th short story this year and I feel both depleted and inspired. Your likes and comments keep me going, so please let me know what you think of the story in the comments below. Share with a friend if you really like it. Thanks for reading and have a great week!


Short Story Challenge | Week 30

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write about parents solving a problem together. We had to include rhinoceros, umbrella, announcement, petal, feather, fruit, placement, sketch, wobble, and boil.


Write With Us

Prompt: A tour guide in the Florida Keys

Include: revolver, headphones, doughnut, leopard, spaghetti, tiki hut, magma, magnetize, swampy, recital


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

How’s the Writing Going? 

I’m sitting at my favorite coffee shop with avocado toast and an oat milk latte. Low-fi beats play in my rose gold headphones and I’m lost in the art of storytelling. People rush around me, blurring on the edge of my vision, but I’ve fallen into the words and barely register the ticking of the clock or the feel of my body in the chair.

It feels like magic. 

I’m an archaeologist uncovering the bones of an ancient beast buried deep within myself. I’m a wizard casting a spell upon the page. I’m the heroine discovering the power to change the world was inside me the whole time.

I’m a writer.

I’ve had this realization before, but something this time feels different. It’s not simply an identity adopted, but a feeling deep inside my bones I’m doing the thing I’m supposed to be doing.

It feels a lot like purpose.

Thank you 52-week writing challenge.

When my writing partner Anna and I sat down late last year and envisioned the challenge, we were seeking more accountability. We wanted to continue the momentum we’d experienced doing NaNoWriMo—harnessing our creative energy more consistently. We figured the more we wrote, the more energy we’d have to work on our manuscripts and the closer we’d be to following our dreams of being published.

Twelve weeks in is the perfect time to reflect on what I’ve learned so far:

  • I’ve started to see a clear pattern in the way I approach a story idea. I read the prompt over and over until a character begins to speak to me. I journal each morning, playing with possible story ideas for the character and feeling them out with many starts and stops. When I hit on the story it feels like something clicks and then, and only then, can I begin to write. If I start before that moment it will be rambling and I’ll have to start over.
  • I need the accountability of writing on deadline. My week has a definite rhythm now and it revolves around publishing on my blog and my photography. It feels comfortable and is getting easier. The first few weeks I waited until the last minute to begin and it resulted in a lot of late nights. Now, I publish on Saturday, rest on Sunday, and begin planning and thinking of the next story on Monday.
  • I find story ideas and photo opportunities everywhere. I sit still and feel the energy of the words inside me. I craft sentences in the shower, while I’m driving, and when I’m folding laundry. It feels like managed chaos—the energy has a place to go.
  • I’m making my writing a priority. I used to “try and write” around my schedule. I’d let things get in the way all the time, often seeking and finding ways to sabotage my writing time by doing things for others, cleaning my house, or playing games on my phone. I felt like I wasn’t a “real writer” and therefore I couldn’t take the time away from my family or my friends for a “hobby.” These short stories have shifted that. I write now because I must, and it is a priority.
  • My anxiety has lessened. The beauty of the weekly challenge is you have to post on a deadline so there isn’t time to short-circuit and collapse under the weight of self-doubt. I don’t have time to think too much about if what I’m writing is “good” or “good enough.” Time chases me and doesn’t allow me the space to think too long and hard about any of it. I can’t let Anna down. I can’t let myself down. I have to keep going.
  • It’s completely reframed the way I look at writing and my goals for the future. While I don’t have the time I thought I would for working on my manuscripts, I feel my writing style shifting and my skills improving with each short story. It feels like these words are necessary to keep growing my skills so when I return to my manuscripts it will be with fresh eyes and new skills. I still dream of being a published author, but I’m aware of the fact I’m not ready yet. I have more work to do.
  • I’m investing in myself. I’ve grown my readership on my blog and I’ve signed up for writing classes and workshops. I paid extra to have the ads taken off my website. I’ve not been this committed in the past, and I’m excited to see where it’s going.

The overall feeling is one of potential and growth. I don’t know why this project feels important, but it does. I’m going to keep moving forward and trust this is leading somewhere.

I’d like to thank my writing partner Anna for constantly pushing me, inspiring me, and blowing me away with her artwork and incredibly beautiful writing. I’m so happy to be on this journey with her. It’s fun to see how different we both interpret the prompt and I’m looking forward to a huge party with her at the end of the year.

Also, thank you to everyone who likes or comments on my blog. I value each and every one of you. Your support feels like a warm blanket I can slip into when the negative self-talk becomes too loud. It’s encouraging and appreciated.

See you on Saturday with my take on a haunted house story.


Write with us

If you find yourself in a rut or could use a framework for your chaotic creativity, consider joining us on this journey. We’d love to have you! There’s no commitment, and you can start and stop whenever you like. You make the rules for yourself. The prompt for the next week is at the bottom of our stories each week. Let me know if you write one of the prompts and I’ll link to your blog.

My 52 Week Challenge Journey

Out with the old and in with the new, or something like that

I’ve struggled to find words to process the last few years.

We’ve collectively lived through something hard.

Impossibly hard.

I can’t write about the enormity of the experience, so I’ll take it to the personal micro-level.

I lost my grandmother to Covid. I didn’t get to say goodbye and we didn’t have a funeral for her.

My son had two terrible accidents. They were scary. I relive them daily and I hold him too close.

My daughter didn’t react well to social distancing. Her light dimmed so much I felt I might lose her.

Our family was together all the time, but somehow things got messy and convoluted. The undercurrent of fear kept us on edge, too internal, and we became strange to each other.

I want to move forward and say 2022 is the year it all changes, but it feels like rebuilding a puzzle without knowing the picture, and some of the pieces could be missing. It’s an uneasy feeling.

Yet, I’m going to try anyway.

Trying for me looks like refocusing on daily journaling, the short story challenge, and recommitting to posting to this blog. I’m moving my body and cooking dinner. I’m taking vitamins and sticking to a budget. I cleaned my closets. I’m making plans with friends.

These are important steps forward, creating new focus and new habits.

But if I learned anything from watching the Muppet Christmas Carol on repeat all December, we have to live in the past, present, and the future.

Not everything during the last two years was awful.

The dark night sky had some glittery stars, and they were incredibly beautiful.

Can I show you?

There was time to watch the sunrise and the sunset.

We drew this chalk mural for our neighbors to see as they walked by our house. We also hung hearts and paper cranes in our front window. It gave us a purpose and made us feel more connected to the outside world.

There was more time to spend outdoors, and we hiked a lot.

My sweet nephew got in on the hiking, too. Silly faces were a requirement.

We did an online challenge of trying to copy famous paintings. I think we nailed it.

We snuck away to a beach house during the lockdown, and took a walk on the empty beach. It began to rain, and we saw starfish everywhere. We lost count at 100.

I grew my first ever pumpkin, and then…

I became queen of the pumpkins.

I did some of my daughter’s school work with her and drew this beauty.

We did numerous photo shoots with Puff the Magic Hamster, who was a wonderful sport about it.

We had our own May Day, and it’s my favorite picture of us.

My son got his first car,

and my daughter grew wings.

I got to take my nephew to his first rock concert and see him light up.

I got my first tattoo, a matching wave with my best friend.

I captured this moment at the aquarium.

When I could hug my mother again, it was everything.

And when it was safe, this group got together and my heart was full.


My kids tease me because I take a lot of pictures, but I’m grateful. Looking through these memories, and there were a lot more, it helps me remember the last two years have been hard, yes, but also filled with tiny moments of beauty and joy.

Can you tell me some of yours?

 

Summertime madness

The theme was people making 180-degree turns in their lives and I was completely taken with this particular story about the author of “The Education of Little Tree.” I was vaguely aware that I was no longer in my car and that I was walking into the grocery store.

I’ve never left headphones on in public, but my time to listen is so limited that I decide to shop and indulge in “This American Life” at the same time. I pull out my grocery list and half shop, half listen. I shuffle around the store with my head down, not making eye contact, grabbing what I need.

At some point I look up to see a teenage boy doing the same thing.

Then I start looking around.

The store is really crowded. The aisles are jammed with carts and people. United in our efforts to get food, yet so separate and isolated.

Our own little islands.

There is a line at the registers. I pick the shortest and file in. A mom in front of me is loading her food onto the counter as her little boy, maybe 2, starts wailing and thrashing on the floor.

Taking off my headphones, I try to get his attention. His eyes are shut tight in the way little ones get when they are truly frustrated and upset.

“Moooommmmyyyy” he is wailing. “Mooommmmmmmm!”

She doesn’t look down. I recognize that look on her face. She is just trying to get through the day.

The boy finally looks my way and I smile as big as I can.

“Hi,” I whisper. “Are you OK?”

He blinks at me from behind his moms’ legs and stops crying. He clearly is not sure what to make of me.

“I’m so done with this store too,” I say.

He blinks again.

“It’s too loud in here, huh? Good thing you’re almost done.”

This time he smiles a little and then moves more behind his mom.

They finish paying and his mom lifts him into the cart. He gives me a little wave as they disappear out the door.

“Hi,” I say to the cashier.

She looks flustered. The lines are long and it has clearly been a tough morning.

“Crazy today, huh?” I say.

“Yep,” she replies without looking up.

I notice how beautiful her hair is and how a few little curls have escaped and circle around her face. A bright blue star tattoo with an outline of red is on her collarbone, just barely visible.

“Beautiful tattoo,” I say.

She stops moving and looks at me for the first time.

“Thanks, it’s in remembrance of my father who died of cancer last year,” she says with a big smile. “He had one just like it.”

She continues to scan my groceries and we chat a bit more. The barrier between us falls a little and it makes me happy.

“Have a great day,” she says as I walk away.

“You too. Thanks for helping me today.”

***

This is the third week of summer and the first chance I’ve had to sit and write.

Waves of emotions, memories and movement are sweeping me forward each day.

Unorganized and floundering, I’m often in survival mode.

I’m feeling so much responsibility and pressure to provide experiences and joy for my children.

I’m missing it.

I’m not taking the moments to reflect.

There is no space to breathe.

My girl is seven now and she is swimming underwater.

My boy is devouring books and experiencing the frustration of learning an instrument.

My summer daughter is here and she’s schooling me on all things teen girls love, including reading and seeing “A Fault in Our Stars.”

It’s all so much and it’s just beginning.

We have lots on the horizon; camping, hiking, day trips, rafting and fun with friends.

My tendency is to always be looking forward and planning or looking inward and analyzing.

Yet, the schedule and rhythm I planned is not working and I’m forgetting things. I’ve let people down and I’ve been feeding my kids crap.

“Live in the moment.”

I’ve always hated that phrase because it’s so elusive to me. Children can do this because they are not responsible. They don’t have to figure in things like nutrition, sleep and finances. They can simply move from one experience to another.

I can’t.

The madness of summer is here and it’s time I surrender if I plan to survive.

Summer will continue to move forward. I can either let go and enjoy the ride, or stay stuck in regret and chaos.

The power is in my hands.

Casting stones with third graders

rockAs they filed passed her, she grabbed a smooth stone from the basket and placed it into their waiting hands. In silence they accepted the stone and lined up outside the classroom.

For the next 20 minutes or so they walked in complete silence. Some clutched the stone toward their chest. Others tossed it in the air occasionally letting it fall to the ground. All were silent.

They followed their teacher as she led them off the school campus, across the street, through the neighborhood to a well-worn path that cut down to the river.

Forming a line along the river’s edge, the children watched their teacher and mimicked her movements. She held the stone out in front of her with both hands. She closed her eyes. When she opened them she threw the stone out into the river and watched the ripple cascade out from where it fell. Recognizing their cue, all the children started tossing in their stones. They stood quietly watching where they fell.

Stepping back from the river they formed a circle.

“Would anyone like to share what they were thinking about?”

Hands raised very quickly.

“I was thinking how I need to be nicer to my brother.”

“I want to do more things for my dog.”

“I want to work on my patience.”

“I think I can listen to my mom more.”

After sharing, the class sang several songs they had prepared for the day. The songs were filled with glee and hopefulness.

The walk back was anything but quiet. Lots of silliness, giggling and reflection.

“That was weird not talking, but cool.”

“I think we could have surprised a deer!”

“I’m proud of our class.”

Once in the classroom they had the traditional snack of apples and honey.

The teacher then presented the children with a new stone and said “Shanah Tovah,” which means “Good Year.”

The stones that were thrown in the river represented things to “cast off” from the previous year. The new stone represents the year to come.

This was my sons third grade class celebrating Rosh Hashanah. He attends a charter Waldorf school and it’s part of the third grade curriculum. They have been learning, through story and watercolor painting, the creation story. Rosh Hashanah is the “anniversary” of the creation of Adam and Eve.

These are 8- and 9-year-old children who walked in complete silence for almost 30 minutes AND participated in self-reflection.

Love this.

Next week the children will be building temporary structures called sukkah’s and the week will culminate in an evening feast for all the families.

Love this too.

I feel so lucky to have witnessed this beautiful example of reverence and reflection that is at the heart of Waldorf education.

I was even able to cast my own stone into the water. As I watched it sink to the bottom I tried to let all my pain, anger and sadness sink with it.

I’m doing work, my friends. I am starting to feel hope. Thanks for all the kind words and hugs. They have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.

Shanah Tovah.