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.

More than just a little story

I felt her hand on my chest. Her fingers found the soft spot she has always loved. The spot she has been caressing since her baby hands could reach it. She once told me she loves it because it’s squishy, warm and love. I love it as much as she does.

I caress her head and she cuddles in closer to me.

“Tell me about when I was born,” she coos. I have told her this story hundreds of times, but it never gets old for her. Or me. We love this story. The story of how she came into the world and I caught her myself. How I loved her little face the second I saw it. The big tub, her brother leaning over, grandma’s tears, how little she was, her ballet feet.

It’s our story.

She knows it so well that it is almost like a memory to her now.

That’s the power of storytelling.

Memory has always fascinated me. Some things I can recall crystal clear, yet others are slippery and elusive. It’s often in the telling and retelling that a story takes it’s permanent place in my memory bank. How close it is to the actual truth, I am uncertain.

I have so many stories I tell my children about themselves. Each one is selected purposefully. Stories that show how much they are loved, how strong they are and how they have overcome obstacles.

The story of how my son got stitches at age two is a favorite one. He was running to help a friend that had fallen. He hit his face on a park bench. All our friends rallied around us. Both kids love the part about how the nurse wrapped him up like a burrito and he asked for sour cream and avocado. Even in pain he made everyone laugh. I remember that he stared right into my eyes as they stitched him up. He didn’t move an inch. He was brave and in good spirits through the entire thing.

Every time they ask for a story about them, I am happy to tell it.

These are the stories they will remember and tell their children someday.

These stories are the foundation of how they think about themselves and how they fit into the world.

They are so much more than just stories.

I was reminded of this in a painful way this week.

I have a childhood friend that I love. Adore, really. Our history is long and we have lots of stories. Silly ones like swimming in the gutters and ruining our swimsuits. Sad ones like when she moved to England and I thought my heart would never recover from the break. Happy ones like when we used to squirt hoses across the street at each other.

For some reason, she keeps sharing a particular story that really doesn’t capture the “us” I remember. In this story, I am a bratty kid with a very bad attitude. Apparently, when I was about my boy’s age, I wrote her a letter in which I tell her that her mother is a bitch. Her mom kept this letter and they have brought it up several times now. They think it is funny. Maybe it is. But it doesn’t feel funny to me.

It actually hurts.

Deeply.

I didn’t say anything about it for awhile, because it is their story. But every time it is told, it makes my heart sink. It is embarrassing and I don’t remember writing it or feeling that emotion. I must have been really angry, upset or confused. It must have been hard for me to write such an emotionally charged word.

Memories are funny like that.

They remember me as this kid that wrote that letter. They also remember me as being mean and making fun of her for not being smart and knowing math.

I have no memory of either of those truths. I know those things happened…I just don’t remember it. Not even a tiny bit.

My image of myself at that age is a positive one. I loved school and was very good at it. The teachers loved me and I made friends easy. I have such vivid memories of being joyful, playing in the yard and riding bikes.

Maybe that is because those are the stories my mom told me about myself.

Maybe we just choose to remember the good about ourselves; because that is the truth we want to remember.

I have no idea.

What I do know is that storytelling is powerful stuff.

As a parent I need to keep that in mind. Always.

My son loves to hear and tell stories about the massive fits he used to throw. I would sit in his room with my back against the door while he raged and raged. He remembers feeling out of control. Kicking. Hitting. Sometimes even trying to bite me.

He is embarrassed now thinking about it, but I remind him that he was little and was having strong emotions he didn’t know how to express. I tell him that I loved him even in those moments, especially in those moments. That’s what parental love is.

These stories I tell and retell are helping my kids to write their own life story. It is shaping who they are and will become.

It’s an awesome responsibility and one that I don’t take lightly.

It is an honor.