Skipping Away

Parking at a school, watching children through my van’s windshield is not as creepy as it sounds.  Even though it is part of my daily routine.

Most school-aged children at our day care center ride a bus to and fro, but that is not an option for either the sixth grade boy I pick up after school or the five Kindergarteners I pick up at noon.  Watching either the Middle School or Kindergarten groups dismiss can be entertaining, and both are great opportunities to observe human nature.

The Kindergarteners were carefully tagged and trained the first two weeks of school until  they and the teachers knew what line each belonged in, how they were to exit the building, and how to safely approach and enter the vehicle for their trip home.  Months later, they are still monitored, with teachers at the front of the line and strategically placed within the line to herd these children quickly, safely to those of us waiting in three lanes to transport them. It is an impressively organized routine.

Even so, this line of seventy children is no orderly line of ducklings following their mama.

Sure, some are a study in concentration as they keep their eyes straight ahead, maintaining an even pace and a careful distance from the child they follow. These concentrators take their new role as Kindergartener seriously, leaning forward slightly to balance the big backpack they are wearing.  Some concentrators even maintain their composure while the child behind them repeatedly bumps into them, shoves them, or swings a back pack at their head. When these more “interactive” kids tire of pestering the child ahead of them, they try the funny-every-time trick of stopping suddenly, causing a collision and mini pile-up of children behind.  Many are nonchalant line-walkers by now, looking around for distractions without intentionally bothering others.  They check out the cars, find people to wave at,  or spot friends and call repeated goodbyes. This inattention may cause them to run into another walker, to wander out of line, or to occasionally trip and fall.  As long as they get back up, no one seems concerned. The line keeps moving.

Teachers position themselves by rain puddles, urging the children to go around.  The concentrators proudly obey.  The distracted “nonchalants” wander through the puddle while staring at the teacher who is talking so animatedly.  The “interactives” stomp gleefully through the middle and look for more puddles.

No one in the Kindergarten line seems self conscious of others watching them, or self aware as to how they compare, though they differ greatly in size and shape, and styles of clothing. These Kindergarteners all seem happy or at least content, to be walking in line together, part of a group.

Despite varied walking styles, any of them, at any time, might suddenly begin to skip.  Even the most serious minded concentrator spontaneously skips a few steps.  Even the little boy with the skull on his black t-shirt that says “Too Cool For School”, skips. Little girls wearing Disney princess shirts and pigtails, and the ones dressed like mini-teens, skipping together.  It always makes me smile.

When do we stop skipping?  Why?

Six years older, the middle school kids burst out of the building like popcorn.  Many doors, no organized parking lines, no teachers visible, they pop out one or two at a time, then in great bunches overflowing into the streets, then a few last stragglers.

Six years older than my Kindergarteners, so much has changed.

Most seem self-conscious, sure everyone is watching, judging.  They are hugely aware of each other, ignoring any random adults.  Like the Kindergarteners, they vary greatly in size, shape and style of clothing.  Some of them are laughing and happy, some look desperately unhappy as they hurry away.  Some still roughhouse, shoving a friend off the sidewalk or into someone else.  Some talking on a cell phone – that shield against apparent loneliness.  Running, yelling, shoving, riding bikes, walking along.  No one is skipping. Ever.

Those walking alone interest me the most,  worry me a little.  I am glad to see someone speak to them or wave, to know that they have not been completely alone that day.

The boy I pick up just turned twelve.  He still waves each day when he spots me.  He has introduced me to friends and a girlfriend when they have been walking near him.  But he usually walks out alone.  He chatters to me about his good days and bad days, and is peculiarly happy with his lot in life, which has not been easy.  Not much easy in sight for the future, either.

I pray for him.  Childhood skips away too quickly.

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Christmas Windows

Two Christmas windows made me smile last night.

The first was a generously lit multicolored tree filling a bow window. Translucent curtains muted the lights adding to a sense that this tree was really for the family inside.  A long drive led to this warmly inviting, Christmas-card-perfect picture.  This was the place worth singing about for Christmas homecomings, if only in our dreams.

The second was a table top tree barely glimpsed through a home’s side window. 15 lights, tops. A child’s bedroom?  We had given our kids similar trees to decorate their own rooms years ago.  A senior citizen avoiding the work of a big tree?

Whatever the story, someone inside was celebrating Christmas.

Amidst more extravagant outdoor displays, a simple tree lighting up a window remains my favorite and reminds me of my dad.

No one ever accused my dad of being a big spender.  It’s not that he lacked generosity, but spending money on temporary things like Christmas trees seemed quite frivolous to him.  So our family hunted the lots for a small tree and Dad haggled for a small price.  Not quite Charlie Brown trees, but definitely not showy.

At home, Dad would arrange our short tree on a table beneath the picture window.  From the outside it appeared as the top of a six foot tree rather than the entire three  footer. Inside, the size didn’t matter.  It was our tree and it was beautiful, drenched in the silver tinsel carefully saved from Christmas’ past.

In a few years our family changed along with our trees.  Dad invested in an artificial green one, safely past the 60’s fad of silver trees.  The tree was not the only artificial part of our family life during these years, but the ritual of celebrating Christmas together continued, however painful.

My happiest childhood Christmas memories lay beneath a puny tree.  It was a time we were joyful to be together celebrating the advent of Jesus’ birth.  A time when all the small gifts exchanged expressed love.

But outside our picture window no one ever saw the difference between our small tree years and the artificial ones.

My Kitchen Windows

Autumn Sunset

Autumn Sunset

From my kitchen I can see the sunrise and the sunset.

Granted, I have seen many fewer sunrises, but I love seeing them on the mornings I must be up so early. The sunrise window is also the waving window discussed in a previous post. When they were babies and toddlers too young to reach the window themselves, I lifted my children to see that “Yes!” Daddy was home to play with them so that I might for a few minutes at least pull supper together with both hands free. Later they pressed their own noses to this window in anticipation of his arrival or upon hearing their grandpa’s tractor pulling in to our drive.

They loved to see their grandpa stop by after his trip to our barn to feed the cows he kept there. He was an easy man to love with his calm patience and gentle teasing humor – so much like his son, their daddy. It was fun to watch the two of them walking to the barn together, similar in height and build, or stopping to chat beside the tractor, so comfortable in each others’ company. We lost Grandpa Bob too soon in life to a cancer that had struck first ten years earlier. Those ten years were the difference of the children having their own loving memories of him, not just photographs and other people’s stories. A blessing. His tractor sold to a neighbor, and for years afterwards when I would see that tractor from my window the thought “Here comes Bob”, would flicker in my mind.

That window holds the memories of toddling children, first bikes and first cars, black cats, a blonde dog, and the comings and goings of beloved faces, friends and family. A different history is in the sunset window.

My oven faces the setting sun which often forces me to pull the blinds, but I keep them open enough to view the sunset once the glare is over. The yard from this view slopes down toward a creek, and I can see the bench swing the family gave for my fiftieth birthday. We really should sit out there to watch the sunset more often instead of peering out this window. I always smile to see this yard, which started as a humble pasture for cows and is the site of a favorite family story: the lost-until-found-in-the-septic-tank calf. Another time for that one.

We visited this creek when we were dating. My then boyfriends grandparents farmed here and he was driving me around all the family farms on a tractor when we stopped so I could meet them. They were so obviously disappointed to learn I was not a farm girl. At all. But they were kind nonetheless, and I’m sure we were offered one of his grandma’s famous sugar cookies before resuming our tour. He stopped the tractor down by the creek and we climbed around on a fallen log which spanned the creek and took some pictures. It was here he first spoke to me about our spending our lives together. Neither of us envisioned that we would spend more than thirty years of it on that very property.

You can see the flower garden my husband built for me to enjoy from the window over the sink. This third view from the kitchen faces south, to our barn and fields beyond. We do not farm, but have always had dogs and cats to be fed at these barns. My husband has always had a unique walk. I could pick him out from a crowd at a distance by observing it. As he makes the trip to the barn to feed the animals tonight, I notice he now has his father’s gait, slightly stooped forward at the waist. I turn to pull the roast from the oven and glance out the window. It’s another lovely autumn sunset.

The Waving Window

When I was 12 we made a once-in-a-lifetime trip to visit my mother’s best friend from college, several states away.  We had heard stories about “Punky” and similarly nick-named friends from that time in Mom’s life.  But from Punky we heard stories about our mom “GInger” that she had never told us, such as the fun they had bowling in the dorm hall with oranges and pop bottles. Since I was sure we would get in trouble for trying such a thing, this was hard to envision.

But the most memorable story I heard in the few days our families spent together was Punky describing how she saw her husband off to work each day by walking him out of the house to his car, hugging and kissing him goodbye, then leaning in through the car window for a last kiss as he drove off.  She laughed about what a scene they made each day for the neighbors.

This was amazing to me.

Displays of affection were rarely seen between my parents, and certainly none of our neighbors were putting on a show like she described.  It suggested a possibility of relationship unlike what I had seen in our family or circle of friends.

The thought stuck with me and saying goodby with a hug and a kiss every time one of us leaves is a habit we have stuck with for 35 years of marriage now. Having few neighbors (and both being somewhat introverted) we have practiced this more privately than Punky.

Somewhere along the way this tradition of acknowledging even the little goodbys grew to include waving and blowing a kiss to each other from the window in the kitchen door as the other pulled out of the driveway. This is such a part of us now that it always feels a little empty to drive away from the house without someone at the window seeing me off.

As our children started driving, a last goodby to them from the waving window became part of the routine.  I have smiled and waved as they drove off in a first car, to their first job, and last day of high school.  Then smiled with tears once they were out of sight in a car overloaded with stuff for their dorm room, or with wedding presents headed to a first apartment.

To me being at the waving window says “I love seeing you and will miss you until I see you again,” whether it will be a few hours, days or months until that happens.

I don’t know if my children think of this as a particularly meaningful family tradition.  They at least play along  by turning on their dome lights to wave back when leaving in the dark.

But it still makes my husband smile each time I am there waving and blowing him a kiss.