Sunday, September 30, 2007

What a doll

Sophie and I hang out together this weekend. She is packed and ready by the time I arrive on Saturday afternoon, assuring me that everything in her little zippered purple bag is in order for a sleepover. When you’re six, it’s time to assert yourself and I don’t want to push the issue on what is in her bag. She nods ‘yes’ to sleepwear and tooth brush so that’s good enough for me. I grab a fleece top for her on the way out the door and we are good to go.

The weekend is a beauty - clear, bright skies and mild temps - mild enough to stop at the local hot-dog stand for dinner on a picnic bench, sharing our leftovers with the squirrels and pigeons. While we munch and watch the wildlife, we talk about a local woman who claims to be an animal communicator. She seems to understand all kinds of animals and has helped vets diagnose ailments. A pet psychic? Sophie finds that fascinating and wonders if the woman can tell what Eli is thinking or how he feels. We decide that if she can really communicate with animals, it is a very special gift indeed.

We change into our jammies as soon as we get to my house. It is then that Sophie realizes that she has packed two pajama tops and no bottoms. Luckily, we had stopped to buy scrapbook material at a department store on the way home and, unplanned, I also bought pajamas for both girls. Serendipity. Sophie is warm for the night.

We pull out all the scrapbook material and lay it on my bed while Sophie chooses the patterns she wants to use and I then remove them from the book. She is at an age where she needs to be in control and, frankly, I don’t mind taking orders. “Cut this, babci. Put this here, babci. We work good together.” I think she likes the role reversal and the freedom to organize this project by herself. And, frankly, she has a pretty good eye for color and design. I’m not surprised considering her family tree.

After our scrapbook materials are sorted and organized, we have our bedtime snack: mint chocolate-chip ice cream. Happiness is ice cream at bedtime.

Tired, we crawl into my bed and snuggle and read a couple stories from her Chickadee magazine. Then, lights out and no fuss. She brings my old Toni doll to bed with us. She renames her Katrina and seems delighted to play with a doll which was one of my favorites in the 1950s.

Today, we have pancakes for breakfast and play magnet fairies, a little board of characters, which becomes a theatrical production every time we take on the roles of all the little magnets. There are a daddy and mommy, little brothers, a unicorn, an owl, and two main characters named Rose (Sophie) and Edaline (me). They get into all kinds of predicaments and this fantasy play usually lasts a good hour or more. It’s the highlight of Sophie’s sleepover; she shyly admits that this game is one of the prime reasons for wanting to stay with me. She also tells me that I’m a “softie” and I laugh. Ain’t it the truth. I tell her that my mommy was a “softie” too.

We do some Junior Mad Libs and giggle at the silly stories we make up. I remember playing Mad Libs as a kid. I choose multi-syllable words to give Sophie more practice at writing her letters. This is another favorite game.

After lunch, we walk to town and hear the sound of drums and horns. It is the town’s annual fall foliage parade and Main Street is lined with families and tourists. Sophie runs ahead when she hears the marching band, excited to see her very first parade. I grew up in Philly; this is not the Mummer’s Parade but it is friendly and innocent. Older gents in lodge uniforms and feathered plumes stride by; a bagpipe band comes next; high-school bands show their stuff; an Irish pub band gets a big round of applause as they keep the crowd clapping. I look down at Sophie and she is clapping along in delight. There are cloggers and gymnasts, the National Guard (which gets another big round of applause), and plenty of flags waving in the sunlight. Hometown America.

Sophie spies the balloon man and I agree to a star-studded blue balloon for her, and a red one to take home to her sister. What’s a parade without a balloon? People are bustling around me; the sidewalks are more narrow than usual because folks have come early and placed beach chairs at the curbs in order to sit and watch the entire parade. I am fumbling jacket and balloons, warning Sophie to hold hers tight just as Hannah’s gets away from me and floats skyward. I look up, disappointed, and keep walking with Sophie but then realize that I can’t find my wallet in my jacket pocket. I freeze. Sophie looks on patiently and a bit confused as I turn my jacket inside out and know, just know, that my wallet is gone. I retrace our steps and ask the balloon man if he noticed anyone suspicious around me. Coming from the big city, I am now sure that someone stole my wallet as I was watching the balloon float up to the sky. The guy seems genuinely concerned and helps me look around his stand and then I walk up and down the busy sidewalk again, even looking in the trash cans, hoping that the thief just grabbed my money and ditched my wallet with credit cards intact. No luck. The parade is still in full swing but someone points me to a policeman and soon I’m telling him my dilemma. He gets on a walkie-talkie and then asks me my name. Across the parade route, there is another younger policeman making his way through the crowd and waving to us. This guy is nowhere near us and, yet, he’s got my wallet! Everything is inside, including the cash. Little towns are sure not the same as big cities. I was thinking the worst; yet someone found my wallet and turned it over to the police. Maybe I just dropped it after all or, maybe, the would-be thief suddenly had a change of heart.

Sophie and I stop at a toy shop where we know the local owner, a sweet woman who gives Sophie a big hug and tells her she’s missed her. We are on a mission. We find a new pink dress and little sweater for my old Toni doll. We sit on a bench outside the toy store and change Katrina’s clothes. The last time I did this I was twelve years old. Sophie hugs the doll and we agree that she looks happy and quite pretty in her new clothes.

As large crowds start making their way back to the parking lots from the parade, we simply join hands and start walking back with our balloons and Katrina, a vision in pink. I think of another walk many, many years ago when my mom took me to our local five-and-dime to buy the dress (the old dress) which has been on this doll. Now Sophie and I have made the same kind of shopping trip for the very same doll. I hope the doll lasts another 50 years so Sophie can give it to her daughter one day.

We stop to take more photos of Katrina for Sophie’s scrapbook and, unfortunately, the little doll suffers a mishap. Her glass eye falls back in her head. I try to reposition the eye(s) but to no avail. Sophie is quite worried. I tell her that there are kind people who actually fix old dolls. We just have to find one.

We have posed this doll for many pictures today and now she’s not the clear-eyed ingĂ©nue she was at the start of our adventure. Resplendent in her new outfit, but a bit cock-eyed in her demeanor, Katrina is given back to me with the plea: “Please get her fixed, babci.”

Tomorrow, I search for a doctor of toys who will help Katrina regain her vision.

If not, she will have to sit next to the Velveteen Rabbit and wink at Sophie and me from time to time.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Passion or peace

These are hard, confusing days on the home front. I will work my way through. It's what I do. It's what I have to do.

In the meantime, I am busy at school trying to find internships for my seniors - launching them into new commitments and workplaces in the community. I often tell them to find their passion - find what really excites them, gives life. This, then, is what they are meant to do: pursue their passion, follow that energy.

Today, however, I am brought up short as a prospective employer tells one of my girls that she knows she has found her calling because it brings a feeling of peace.

"Passion too?" I hopefully interject.

The woman looks at me thoughtfully and then says, "No. I feel calm, peaceful, when I come to this job. It's like coming home."

I continue to think about her revelation.

Here I am, stirring the students to find their "passion" and raise some fuss. But there may be another alternative: a quiet, intuitive knowledge that the shoe fits, that what you are doing is what you are meant to be doing. No fireworks. Just a deep sense of self satisfaction.

I like that alternative. I respect that alternative.

Sometimes God speaks in a whisper.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Apples and angels

I stopped by the kids' house the other evening and shared a New Year dinner with the girls. Their Jewish bubba had sent fresh apples and honey. We dipped the apples into the honey and wished each other a sweet new year. Hannah then dipped the sweetened apples into her cup of milk and proclaimed that it was a good combination also. I reminded them that Israel became the promised land of milk and honey in the bible.

David is taking Hebrew lessons at the local synagogue and takes the girls whenever convenient. Trying better to understand the tenets of the Jewish faith, I read through some of the literature he brings home. Living ethically, seeking atonement, performing mitzvahs all seem morally on track to me. I'd like to think that the girls will get the best of both worlds, Judaism and Christianity, growing up with a bubba and a babci.

After dinner, we move into the living room for a dance recital by "Ella, the ballerina princess" (aka Hannah). I can't help but giggle as she chooses Hark, the Herald Angels Sing for her musical accompaniment. She has paid tribute to the land of milk and honey in the kitchen and now wants Christmas music to dance to. Sophie settles onto my lap and we watch Hannah, a vision in her pink tutu, complete a plie, whirl and twirl, bow deeply while the angels sing. She has quite a good command of her tiny body and it's fun to watch her dance.

I finish the evening on Sophie's bed, letting her read aloud a chapter from a new book. It's amazing to think that Sophie now reads her own bedtime stories with very little need of help. Books are valued in this house, as are a love of music, dance and art.

In the Book of Life, God must be keeping note of such things. It will be a very sweet new year, indeed.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Double exposure

I spend Labor Day with my grown daughter. Once again, she volunteers to be my personal shopper and David, bless him, minds the girls while Jenn and I scoot off to a local shopping mall to boost the economy. Armed with one credit card, we manage to find sale items for the entire family: girls’ back-to-school dresses, David’s back-to-university shirts, a new school wardrobe for me and a few nifty tops and leopard-print dress for Jenn (yes, it looks much better than it sounds).

I have been self-conscious of my weight gain and standing in front of a dressing-room mirror, trying on clothes, is an exercise in humility and reality.

“Mom, what is … is.”

I struggle to come to grips with my shape and allow myself to be seen by a daughter whose own shape in the dressing-room mirror reminds me so much of the woman I was at her age. She looks lovely in the new tops and dress. I feel melancholy at the realization that who she is now is what I was then.

Suddenly, I’m a grandmother in my sixties and my daughter is heading toward her forties. My daughter is the only one to see me exposed like this. She brings all sorts of clothes into the dressing room and I wrestle with the image looking back at me, with who I am, am not.

I remember my mom, at the age of 71, telling me that the person she saw in the mirror was not the person she felt like … in her mind, she was still very much the young, vibrant, shapely woman of her youth.

I want to feel like that. I want to let the younger, dark-haired, thinner version of myself come out to play. Today, however, she stays hidden.

Today, I must be content with reality.

A dressing-room mirror is a harsh mistress.