Painting Rainbows

It’s been almost six months without Dad. In those six months, the grief comes and goes in waves, but lately, the waves have been farther apart. I think this perhaps because I am not in the car as much during the summer, not alone as much, and therefore, I don’t have the opportunity to cry. As much. And some days, that creates an illusion that the grief is subsiding.

But on Sunday, I had one of those “sneak attacks” of grief I had been warned about. I was at my daughter’s dance recital, and I was enjoying the show. I had remembered years when Dad had been in this very auditorium watching his only granddaughter perform, but I was able to bury that thought. That is… until the kindergarten class took the stage. The little ones are always the cutest, but then their music came on, a rendition of “Baby Mine” performed by Alison Krauss. And suddenly, feelings I didn’t know I was having came bubbling to the surface in a figurative storm of emotion. It was a whole mixture of Dumbo and circuses and Dad. And sitting there in the dark, I cried.

That afternoon, after a literal storm, there was a rainbow. It was the second that weekend and was followed by two more the next day. These rainbows were gifts that lifted my spirits and filled my heart.

When Dad passed away back in January, I found—tucked in a drawer with some other papers for safe-keeping—an old card that he had sent me when I was living some distance away on the other side of the country. On the front of the card was a picture of two painters on ladders, each painting opposite ends of a rainbow. The card, and the message inside, became the basis for my words at Dad’s service. I talked of the notes and silly poems that he wrote, and I ended with the following:

When we were in college, Mom and Dad would send care packages at exam time, and Dad would write poems to encourage us to study hard, to do our best, but also to let us know he believed in us. Before I returned home this time, I searched through a few old letters I had hanging around. The best of the notes are in storage boxes, but I did find one he sent to me when I was in California. This one was “just because.” After a brief newsy letter, he ended with a poem. It started out, Wish I could… and went on:

Paint you some rainbows

Write you some prose

Find you some fellows

(Even more of those!)

Bake you a cake

Offer you some laughter

Give you a break

Help you get what you’re after

Not many dads take the time to write poetry for their daughters. But my dad—he was the best. So Dad, we send you off with all the love we can muster and a promise to miss you forever. And if you’re listening, paint us some rainbows.

This year, I have seen more rainbows than usual. And for me, every rainbow is a gift—a very special gift—that lets me know Dad is still with us in some way, and he is letting us know he is thinking about us.

 

Lessons from the Tollbooth

Every experience, good or bad, can be considered an adventure. And every adventure, positive or negative, has its lessons. Let me set the scene….

It is 6:00 in the morning. It is still dark, and there is an unmistakable crispness in the air, despite the calendar’s July date. My daughter and I are traveling an unfamiliar highway in a Midwestern state to get to the airport for an early flight home from a nearly week-long adventure.

I have my electronic toll pass in the car with me, and even though it is from our home state, in theory, it should work here. The toll experience on the way in was spotty, but we made it through. Our home state removed the gates on their tollbooths many years ago in favor of speed and efficiency. Such is not the case here in this Midwestern state.

At the first tollbooth, we pull up to the gate, but the booth does not pick up the signal from our transponder. I wave it around in the car. Nothing. I push the “help” button on the tollbooth, and a male voice wishes me a good morning. I explain my situation. He asks me to read my transponder number. Um… it’s fairly dark in the car and I don’t have my reading glasses, but I don’t tell him this. I pass the transponder to my daughter. She reads the number, and I repeat it to the voice in the void. Once he confirms that I do, in fact, have an account, the gate rises, and I drive through.

After an hour or more on the road, the second tollbooth comes into view. We pull up, fully expecting (well… hoping for) our toll pass to work. Of course, it doesn’t. I roll down the window and lean way out, holding it under the barcode scanner that I discovered at the last tollbooth. The bright red laser line crosses the code. I watch the gate, but it doesn’t move from its persistent placement directly in front of the car. I push the “help” button and wait for a friendly voice. Nothing. In my rear view mirror, I see a semi truck approaching, but I figure he will go into a different toll lane. He doesn’t. In seconds, the massive rig is directly behind my car. We are trapped, and my daughter is trying desperately to hold herself together as she begins to panic in the seat beside me.

I step out of the car into the chilly dawn air, transponder in hand. I frantically wave it in front of the scanner while simultaneously pushing the “help” button. This tollbooth is completely unresponsive—nothing functional here, it seems. I breathe deeply, forcing air into and out of my lungs. I turn to the truck driver behind me. I muster my most helpless and apologetic expression and I shrug, still holding my transponder in my hand.

He pauses for two seconds. Then motions for me to get back in my car, and he begins to slowly back up so I can switch to a lane with a real, live attendant. But not only does he back up, he angles his truck in such a way as to block any traffic that might be approaching. Oh, bless you! I think to myself. I roll down my window as I move over several lanes, and I wave my thanks.

“How many more tollbooths do we have to go through?” my daughter asks quietly.

I sigh, reluctant to tell her. “I think only one,” I say, keeping my tone low and tender.

It’s finally light out when the third—and final—tollbooth comes onto the horizon. The tension I feel from the passenger seat is pulling on my heart. I take a deep breath. “It will be fine,” I say by way of calming us both down. And it is. We sail right through. What? How is that possible? I glance in my rearview mirror, looking for answers that are not there. I take a deep breath and finally relax.

We survived and have had substantial time to decompress, and I am happy to share the lessons I gleaned from my not-so-good-morning at the tollbooth:

Don’t believe everything you hear or read on the Internet. We heard our toll transponder would work, but I checked the website to confirm. Even so, our transponder didn’t work exactly as we’d hoped.

Trust that people will work with you and rely on the kindness of strangers. For the most part, if people see you are in a tough situation, they generally offer their assistance. That could come as a helping hand, but it could also come as a truck driver backing up and blocking oncoming traffic so you can do what you need to do.

Always have an escape plan, or just a plan, in general Even if you don’t need it, it is good to have a plan in the back of your head. Just think, for a moment, about what you will do if you get stuck. What is it they say…? Anticipate the worst but hope for the best.

Be a calming force for those around you. Now in reality, I had no idea how we were going to get out of our predicament. But experience tells me that these things have a way of working themselves out. And after only a brief panic, they did work out. After all, when was the last time you heard of someone being permanently stuck in a tollbooth?

{Image: FreeImages.com / Travis Cripps}

A spring walk

This evening, my daughter and I went out for a glorious walk. First of all, it is actually (and finally) spring. The days have been so gray recently that a nice day was more than welcome. The temperature was warm, and the trees have begun to bloom. Buds, leaves, flowers, the works. So many people comment on the amazing fall foliage in New England, but I believe the colors of spring rival those of a beautiful fall day.

But it was dark, and our walk didn’t involve seeing the spring trees blooming in bright green, deep red, and the flowers were not visible. It was dark, but on Friday night in spring in a college town, there is much life.

Our first interesting encounter involved a little brown rabbit sitting on the lawn not far from the sidewalk. It was still and waiting, seemingly staring down a female student who was also still and waiting. She looked our way, and I smiled at her, but she did not acknowledge us. She was in deep telepathy with the animal.

We continued our walk. As we approached the chapel, we could hear choral music flowing out through the open door. The stained glass glowed from the light inside the building. “Let’s go check it out!” I said, and I picked up my pace. My daughter held back, thinking I was going to go inside to listen. I only wanted to see if the front door was open and listen for a bit. It was, and we did.

We continued to wander, but nearly wandered into a party. So we turned around and went back in the other direction. We talked about life and college and finding a campus where there is a lot going on rather than one where students go home every weekend. And then we wandered by a second building that was hosting a concert, this one instrumental.

From every building we walked past, we could hear conversation or music or laughter. We passed two men taking a picture of a building that was nearly all glass and fully lit. We wandered into the neighborhoods where there was a family party with men laughing around a fire pit and children playing with light sabers.

It’s spring. Things are coming to life, and it was wonderful to be out walking with one of my favorite people. So far this spring, I filled more than all of my free time with a demanding graduate course, which is winding down. The final presentation is done. After this weekend, I will have only to revise the project and write a paper. I can see the end.

And I can see a bit more free time to enjoy the nice weather with my favorite people. And to blog. I can’t wait to get back to my blog!

Class Rank

The conversation started out innocently enough. We were talking about the grades my daughter earned in the third quarter, which ended on Friday. Of course, nowadays, with programs like PowerSchool, there really are no surprises when it comes to grades. If parents open that report card and don’t know what their kids’ grades are, they’re not paying attention.

But then my daughter stared talking about a student in her AP English class who was missing much of her work for last quarter because she just didn’t hand it in. Or something. This particular student was ranked number one in the class last year, but this year… not so much.

If you’re wondering why a child would choose to slack off junior year—the year that is probably the most important, as far as college admission goes—read on. The rest of the conversation is quite telling. While the subject continued on grades and class rank, the focuse shifted to my youngest.

“I’ll bet you’re valedictorian in your class,” my daughter said to her brother. Her tone was almost accusatory.

“No I’m not,” he assured her, and he named the student who is.

“Well, you’re just a freshman,” she told him. “Your classes are easy and you don’t even do any homework. Wait until junior year. The people who are working hard now will get overwhelmed and start to struggle. Then you’ll be valedictorian.” She seemed pleased with her logic.

There was a pause in the conversation, and I thought it might be over. Then she said, “But if you’re valedictorian, you’ll have to give a speech, and you won’t want to do that. You’ll have to slack off a bit. But not too much because you don’t want Guidance to notice and ask you what’s up.”

“If I’m a junior and I’m number one in the class, I’ll have to slack off more than just ‘a bit.’”

“No you won’t,” I inserted myself into the conversation. “The top few students are really close. If one grade slips just a little, you’ll slip to number two with no problem.”

“But you don’t want to be salutatorian, either,” his sister cautioned him. “There’s really no point. If you aren’t number one, may as well go for third. Then you won’t have to give a speech, and you won’t have to be second.” If there was such a thing as an audible wink, she would have inserted one here.

And that explains why the top student in the class might slack off junior year—apparently, it’s all about the speech. And this is where I insert an audible groan….

 

Missing…

Every now and then, I get a glimpse of one of the things that my children have missed in their lives. Because my children have been brought up almost exclusively by one parent, there will always be things that I could not provide and attention that they did not get.

This weekend, I took my daughter out to buy a prom dress. The dress was one she had picked out several weeks ago, and one that we almost didn’t get. Not because she didn’t want it, but because it almost wasn’t available.

As we walked into the store, we found only two of the desired style on the rack, and both were the wrong size. My daughter briefly seemed to think she could make the smaller of the two work, but I was doubtful. Nevertheless, we made our way to the fitting room to try it on. Because it is prime prom dress season, there were piles of cast-off dresses littering just about every available surface throughout the store. As we walked by the register, I spotted another dress like the one she was about to try on. Amazingly, this one was her size!

When we arrived home with the dress, I had this crazy flash of memory that caught me off guard and allowed me to glimpse something from my past that my kids are missing. When I was young, Mom would take us shopping for clothes (new school clothes, special occasion dresses, etc.). Later that day, when Dad got home from work, we would model our new clothes for him. He always had some approving comment like, “That looks sharp!” or “That’s a great dress!” Always, he was positive and supportive of our outfits and our emerging sense of style (no matter how odd or colorful). Always, he was supportive of us.

Back at home this weekend, I had the thought that my daughter should have someone so encouraging in her life, someone for whom to model her new dress. Every kid needs more than one person who will say, “Wow! That’s beautiful!” or “What a great choice you made!” or “You make me proud!”

Every now and then, I get a glimpse of what is missing, but I pause and remind myself of what my children have. Not all children have the same memories, but they will still have memories that are unique to them and to their experiences. Hopefully, no better or worse. Just different.

Student Emotion

I was walking through one of the study areas at work yesterday, and I passed by one of my student tutors. She was sitting at a computer desk, her homework spread out around her. The non-work items on the desk were few since it was a public space, but she had a brightly colored box of tissues next to her. The box sported pictures of cartoony-looking fish from Finding Dory, giving me the impression it was not the nondescript pattern typically associated with institutional tissue boxes. Because we are (hopefully) emerging from the thick of cold and flu season, I pointed to the box. “Are you bringing your own tissues to work with you now?”

She looked up at me from behind the large the desk where she sat. “Yeah. It’s that point in the semester.” She blinked sad eyes for effect. “I brought them in case I need to cry.” Her face was more serious than usual.

I stopped abruptly. “Oh!” I studied her face. “Are you all right?”

She smiled. “They’re not really mine.”

“Okay,” I released a relieved sigh. “That sounded just like something my daughter would say,” I added.

“Yeah. It’s a girl thing,” she shrugged. But then she considered what she had said. “No, maybe not. I think it’s an age thing.”

I studied her face for a moment. In it, I could see hints of my daughter, of several of the students I work with, of so many people I know, young and old. “Maybe,” I pretended to accept this explanation as I turned to walk away, but I was certain it wasn’t an “age thing.”

What I really wanted to say was, “I think it’s a life thing!” But some things are better left unsaid.

Controversy

Lately, I have been running cold. No wait, that’s not right.

If I am completely honest, I have been cold every winter since I can remember. It seems, every little draft finds me and circulates around me, tickling my neck and spiraling down my spine.

My daughter would disagree. She would claim that my … ahem, middle age … is ruining her life. Her controversy is that it’s cold in the house, I won’t let her turn up the heat so she can get warm, and blah, blah, blah…. In her case, it’s more about dressing in something that’s not minimal and tissue paper thin. And I’m always happy to let her borrow a sweatshirt … or two.

At home, my temperature is generally fine because I’m moving, baking, cleaning, etc. But at work, I freeze. I have often considered bringing in a blanket and spending the day under it. But I might fall asleep, and that would not be good.

This morning, as I sat in my office working, I suddenly realized I was somewhat chillier than usual. I turned on my space heater, which cut the chill a bit. But then I began to smell fresh air. My boss had come in, decided it was too hot, and opened her office window. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one shivering, and she closed it.

Ah well, such is cold weather life in New England. It’s a good thing spring is (slowly) creeping in!