Sunday, October 28, 2012

Take A Break: Survival Manual for the Fractured Woman

Take A Break: Survival Manual for the Fractured Flippered Woman

I stepped out the back door of the Senior Center kitchen, headed for the dumpster, tripped on a leaf-covered three-inch-high door-stop jutting up in the center of the narrow sidewalk, and for a short while flew through the air. While I seemed well-schooled in take-off, I had completely neglected the instructions on landing. I flopped face first, taking most of the impact on my right side. Among other injuries, I broke my wrist. I’m right-handed, of course. Decidedly right-handed.

This is not the end of my world. This is a mere intermission. I’m a stranger neither to shattered bones nor to casts. In the long-ago I have endured plaster for weeks, even months at a time. What surprised and amazed me, once I emerged from shock, was my emotional reaction.

I felt angry, stupid, guilty, ashamed, clumsy, worthless. From where? From what? For why? Feelings circled like a maelstrom, sucking me into the center of its turbulence. I gritted my teeth and repeated like a mantra, "This is not rational. This is not rational" Eventually, the storm calmed, leaving debris in its wake.

"All I do is sleep," I complained.

"Good. Sleep heals," my friends replied.

"But I can’t do anything."

"Uh,huh. You’re not supposed to. Enjoy it while you can."

Enjoy. Right. Ha. I mean I can’t do any simple thing. Brushing my teeth with my left hand requires a towel slung ‘round my shoulders to catch dribbles, drools and splatters. Getting dressed is interesting—rather like The Three Stooges production with only one Stooge—Me. I quickly abandoned a certain feminine garment. Elastic-waist sweat pants, while not haute couture, are practical. I hate them but I wear them. Shoes are impossible. I resort to my Birkenstocks with wool socks. I can’t sign my name to documents, checks or my absentee ballot. Using the keyboard with one hand drives me nuts. I can’t feed myself a balanced diet, can’t slice bread and cheese or chop onions or a carrot.

Life is simple these days. I sleep a lot. I read books. I scramble eggs. I read books. I eat with a spoon. I read books. I ask for help. I read books.

Dick Francis, in one of his novels, wrote that in the first eight or nine days the break in a bone fills with soft tissue and then begins to harden. I figure Dick Francis should know because his heroes break multiple bones in every book, climb back in the saddle and finish the race. They don’t sleep for days, whine, or lay about. But I’m not a character in a Dick Francis novel.

While my bones must have begun the process of knitting back together, there are things I have learned.

My left arm, awkwardly attempting the unusual and the impossible is getting stronger in inverse proportion to the atrophying muscles of my right arm.

If I hold a pencil immobile between my right thumb and forefinger, by moving my entire arm over the paper, I can scrawl a large-lettered note to myself, much more legibly than my left-handed scribbles.

Before attempting any chore, stop and think the process through in minute detail. Note what parts must be done with two hands. Discard the attempt at the chore. Take a nap.

In the kitchen, wear an apron. Make this a bibbed, bakery-style apron rather than the ruffled, waist tied handkerchief of tulle worn by June Cleaver and our mothers in the 1950’s.

Keep the same apron on while you eat. Use a spoon. Spoons are safer.

Dishes can be washed with the left hand only. Awkward, but do-able.

Lotion cannot be applied with one hand to same one hand.

Have your hair washed by the nearest hairdresser. It feels good and it is worth it.

Friends and neighbors will flock to help. Let them. Thank them.

Never worry about doing something with your damaged wing that you shouldn’t. Trust me, the pain will stop you. You are not a hero in a book.

Let the undone chores pile up. They are not important.

Take walks. Get some fresh air. Drink lots of water.

Chocolate is good. Indulge.

Keep a blanket on the couch. Stay warm. Call friends. Read books.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

November 1, 2012
The True Story, As Told By Penguina The Cat

My human calls me Penguina for my alleged resemblance to a penguin. That silly name is not my true name but, never mind. I write this with keyboard assistance from Dee Dee, Sondra’s daughter. We cats have a superior means of communication. But that is another story.

The first clue I had that something was up was when my servant, Sondra, was late coming home from work. Work, hmmm, something I don’t really understand. But she smells so delicious when she comes home. Sometimes, chicken, sometimes, fish. Mmmm. Oh, I’m forgetting where I was. Anyway, we have a system I worked out. Immediately after work she comes home and lets me out. Oh sure, I could use the "litter box" but really? I am much too refined. I prefer to refresh myself in nature. Anyway, that day the sun went down, it got cold, and she still wasn’t home. I do not like being kept waiting. Have I said that before?

Let me establish a few home truths right off the bat to avoid confusions later. Sondra calls me her cat. It is quite the other way around. Make no mistake, I own her.

After dark, Sondra finally rolled into the house. I elegantly and briskly marched outdoors. But, when I finished my toilette, I had to stand at the door and call for her to let me back in! Such rudeness! Such indignity! She ignored my complaints and sat down in my favorite chair. She thinks it’s hers. You humans are under the misperception that you own it all. I jumped up on her lap to be petted in that perfect way I taught her. What was that thing on her petting hand? It was hard and it smelled like medicine. She used her other hand. It does not pet as well. I endured. Hmpff. I wasn’t sure how she was going to do for me with one hand. I could see that I would have to take control here.

Sondra put me down and phoned her daughter, Dee Dee, my co-author. Dee Dee was my first servant. Oh, that is another story. Anyway, she told her daughter she had fallen and broken her wrist, banged her knee, bruised her face, chipped her glasses and ached all over.

Next she went to the bedroom to change into pajamas, which she lived in the next few days. She tried to pull her clothes off with one hand. And get dressed. I took pity on the poor old girl and grabbed an arm of her pajamas and handed it to her. You would have laughed to see the look Sondra gave me. Didn’t I already say we cats are the superior species?

Sondra clearly thinks she rules the roost. Roost, really, why do they call it a roost? We live in a house. No chickens here. Unless Sondra bakes a chicken. Yummm. I love fresh baked chicken when Sondra makes it. She always honors me with a giblet or special piece. Oh dear, I lost my train of thought again. Hmm, which makes me wonder why humans call it a train of thought? Oh well, I will worry about that later.

When the sun goes down, Sondra likes to brew tea to sip with a slice of toast. That evening was different. Did I say Sondra makes her own bread? She has to slice it? With one hand? I had to snicker when the loaf flew off the counter and landed under the table. I still find crumbs to lick up. Why she doesn’t buy sliced bread at the supermarket, like most humans, I don’t know. Sondra claimed she couldn’t open my cat-food can or make her usual home-cooked meal. So we had to make do with a little dry food for me and a glass of milk for her. I was so happy when she later called her friend Mary to bring her English muffins and a soft snack for me. I was afraid we might starve, but I guess that we will be fine.

As a rule, before bedtime I jump into Sondra’s lap. Usually she rubs me like a good servant and makes me so calm and relaxed I go to sleep. But since her good hand is useless, now I rub myself all over her and purr until her blood pressure goes down and she forgets her pain.

I can see that our roles will have to change for a while, a little while, just for this emergency. I would say this constitutes such. However, discretion is in order. Please, do not even hint to my fellow cats that I am serving a human. I would never live down the shame.

Penguina, for Sondra Ashton, by way of Deborah Robart

HDN: Looking out my back door

October 25, 2012

On Your Way to Heaven, Grab the Cash Box

On Your Way to Heaven, Grab the Cash Box

A couple weeks ago I went to Floweree to spend the weekend with Karen. Our friend Luana joined us for lunch. After we ate, we piled into Karen’s car and explored the back roads, down to the Missouri and the Carter Ferry. If black clouds had not been roiling over the mountains, we would have crossed the river on the ferry, driven dirt roads to Highwood and circled into Great Falls. Instead, we back-tracked through Carter, dug out a yucca plant we spotted along the roadside for me to add to my garden, and then headed north for several miles of sightseeing along the Teton. We wound up in Fort Benton, strolled across the walking bridge, took pictures, cruised the streets. We each had memory stories of times past, some good, some bad. As darkness fell, we headed home for pizza.

Sunday morning Karen invited me to go to church with her. It would be the first Sunday she had been back to church since her husband died. The women of the Carter Methodist Church had provided strong support for Karen during Don’s lengthy illness. They catered food for the funeral held among the flower beds in Karen’s spacious yard. They kept her freezer loaded with casseroles for those first empty days alone. In this country we do know how to love with food.

If I sent you to the Methodist Church in Carter, you would identify it instantly; the little white clapboard country church with the bell in the steeple. You could cut it out and paste it into any small town in Montana. The bustling congregation enfolded Karen and greeted me with warmth, hugs and handshakes.

At the beginning of the service, Evelyn, the minister, gathered the younger children around her on the steps below the pulpit. There must have been a dozen little kids. I’m sure Evelyn intended her lesson about Heaven to be interactive because she started with questions, a tactic not without inherent dangers.

I don’t have her questions in any correct order, but this is the way I remember it.

"What do we have to do to get to heaven?" Evelyn posed.

"Die," answered a dark-haired boy, leaning against her on her left side, wildly waving his arm in the air.

That threw Evelyn for a moment, but she gamely waded back where angels rightly fear to tread. She tried to steer their little minds in a different direction by re-wording the question.

"Who gets to go to heaven?"

"People who die," answered a little girl sitting on the step slightly behind her.

"But does everybody who dies get to go to heaven?"

"Yes," the youngsters all agreed, vigorously.

"But what about BAD people; what happens to BAD people when they die?" And with this question Evelyn pointedly jabbed her forefinger downward toward the floor. "Where do they go?"

"Into the ground?" answered the little boy. He was obviously a creative thinker.

Evelyn attempted to reroute the discussion onto a safer road. "What do you think heaven will be like?"

Silence for a full minute. We adults ruminated on angels, harps, saints and clouds. The kids were mum.

"Will we need anything when we go to heaven?" Evelyn continued bravely.

"Cash," shouted the same little boy. By now I had fallen in love with him.

Evelyn asked no more questions, wrapped up her lesson, sent the children elsewhere to color pictures, and painfully got up from her perch on the low steps.

"I’ll bet you thought I lost control there for a minute," she said to us, revealing a wry sense of humor.

On my long drive home to Harlem, I thought about this fearless little boy. When I was his age, I certainly thought my own original thoughts. But, unlike him, I felt I had to keep them to myself. I spoke only the rote catechism I had memorized. I would not have dared be impertinent, to ask the questions I held in my mind, to risk the wrath of Sister Mary Francis or the fury of my family.

That evening I planted my yucca in a corner of my yard. I surrounded it with a blanket of gravel. It looks quite content in its new home. Maybe it thinks it died and went to heaven.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

October 18, 2012

In the Café of My Mind

In the Café of My Mind

I always thought what fun it would be to run a restaurant. No, I’m not going to do it. I know better. The idea is irrational at this time in my life. But "rational" has never been a great deterrent to my decisions.

Whenever I dine out, I toy with the idea. I assess the menu, the floor plan, the ease of operation, ambiance, lighting, colors, and of course, the food. I can’t help myself.

The closest I have come to running an eatery, was back in the early eighties when I taught school at Hays. For twelve solid weeks my home-ec students and I ran a restaurant. These kids were great. They planned menus, figured how much food to prepare, what products we would need, drove with me to Havre to buy groceries, planned the budget, and priced the menu. They cleaned, chopped, sliced, mixed and cooked. Each week we transformed our home-ec room into a gastronomic center of world cuisine. Following each week’s theme, we decorated with table cloths, candles or flowers. Every Thursday evening we opened our doors to the Hays community. We served an average of one-hundred ten meals a night to parents, grand-parents, aunties and uncles. The community loved it. My students loved it. I nearly collapsed from exhaustion.

As I said, I don’t always make rational decisions. I have few illusions. Yet this week I let myself get hooked into a decision that is, at best, as twisted as my famous pretzels with homemade jalapeno mustard. Here’s what happened.

The Senior Center in Harlem is the heart of our community. In addition to housing about a dozen residents in the Little Rockies Retirement Apartments, it serves the community in a variety of ways. The Sweet Medical Center has a satellite clinic. The County Health nurse, a dentist, and the Northern Montana Hospital Foot Clinic regularly provide additional medical services. The activity room is open for community use. Several groups hold monthly meetings. Men and women from Harlem have regular coffee hours. At any time one might find people at the center walking laps, working jigsaw puzzles, using computers, meeting for weight loss, playing cards, singing, and even experiencing harp therapy.

The Senior Center boasts a well-stocked kitchen with a commodious dining room. Lunch is served six days a week. Wednesday and Saturday are the big days as forty or more community members join the residents for lunch.

About three months ago the cook, Barbara, needed to quit so she could care for her ailing husband. Rose, one of the residents, stepped into Barbara’s shoes to temporarily fill the need.

But week after week the position remained unfilled. Rose continued to cook the meals. Katie, the director at the Center, approached me to see if I would like the job. My eyes glazed over. "No!" I said.

Then one morning, Chuck, a board member of the Center, cornered me one morning after coffee at the City Shop. "We still don’t have a cook. Sondra, do me a favor. Would you just think about it?"

On the basis of my pie, Chuck thinks I’m a good cook. "Why me, Chuck? I’m a plain farm cook," I said.

"Just think about it."

Every other day it seemed I heard from either Katie or Chuck. "So, have you thought about it?" I began ducking around corners to avoid them. I also noticed that various folks around the community were going out of their way to be nice to me—the same folks who eat lunch at the Center.

To my relief, the job was offered to an applicant. She accepted. I celebrated. The following day she took a different job.

Katie accosted me. "Look," I told her. "The only way I would even consider it is to job share."

"That’s perfect. Rose will stay on. You can share the job with her."

"I’ll think about it."

A young woman applied. It seemed like she was a good fit. Once more I was off the hook. Then, on what was to be her first day at work, the gal got a better offer.

"It’s just a few hours a day," said Katie.

"We need you," said Chuck.

Both, "Aw, come on, give it a try."

I felt like a ping-pong ball. Or the butt of a cosmic joke.

I capitulated. Rose and I will cook alternate weeks. I have no illusions. I’ll be serving meals to women who have spent a life time in their kitchens. "Well, she sure didn’t fix that meatloaf the way I make it." I’ll never be good enough.

I’ll make mistakes. The Seniors will set me straight. But this is not the café I had in mind.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

October 11, 2012

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Gone with the Winds of Worry

Gone with the Winds of Worry
I’ve been a bit down in the dumps this last week, entertained by garbage mind.  Well, maybe not crouched in the absolute bottom of the pit. More like I stood on the edge of the dump, toes hanging over, wondering if I should just go ahead, jump in and wallow around a bit. Maybe emerge sprinkled with coffee grounds, decorated with potato peels, a rotten cantaloupe shell for a hat.

In the movie, Scarlet O’Hara said, “I’ll think about it tomorrow.” I decided I would think about it today. I generally don’t get too upset when today looks like doom and gloom. I know that in the morning I will have a different outlook. As a friend of mine says, “Tomorrow will be different; maybe not better, but different.” I’ll take different.
These past couple weeks have been filled with sorrow. I lost four friends to death. On top of that six other friends face serious medical problems, hospitalization and surgery. They refuse to worry.  They told me. Without my conscious knowledge, I volunteered to worry for them. I didn’t realize that I’d stepped up to that plate until I was a week into the game. 

Work generally gets me out of any slump. Work is my best medicine. But I found myself toeing the pitcher’s mound in some sort of World Series of Worry. A task I should have knocked out in an hour, took all day. I would pick up a project, set it down and wander out into the yard, seduced by the warm sunshine.
Finally I quit pushing against the river’s flow, tossed worry out the window, crawled out of my gloom. I phoned my ailing friends, told them how much their friendship means to me, how I want to see them home and healthy.  I went to breakfast with Bill and Mary John. I harvested the rest of my tomatoes. They lie scattered across my kitchen table in varied shades of green. I took baskets of garden produce to Peg and Karl. I dug up some of my snow-on-the-mountain, and with a shovel and the hardy plants, drove across town to my cousin’s place and planted them for her.                  

My fruit trees need pruning. I went to my garden shed, found my whicker-whacker and my snipper-snapper, put them in my wheel barrow and set out to trim trees. I wheeled over to my sand cherry. I couldn’t do it. “Maybe next spring,” I whispered. “Let’s see what kind of winter we have.”

I want my lilacs along the fence to spread their branches and fill in the space, so I rolled past them and parked my wheel barrow by the currants. They definitely should be trimmed back. I snipped off two “dead” branches, saw that they weren’t really dead. I heard the bush cry out in pain. I felt awful.  I apologized and decided to wait, to see how the currants wintered. Moved on to the choke-cherries, stood in front of one bush that desperately needs to be shaped.  Stood there five minutes. I couldn’t do it. Gave up, put away my tools.
These bushes have become my friends and right now, I simply cannot chop away at my friends. Winter is coming, bringing with it a long dormancy. Maybe my young bushes will be stronger for another season of full growth. I know that in my imagination I am making up a false connection between my human friends and my fruit-tree friends. No matter.

The next day Shirley, Bev and I drove to Lewistown for lunch, expecting an opulent seafood meal. Never trust the food editor of a rival newspaper. (Rule of thumb: Never order seafood inland. Never order beef on the coast.) We poked around some unique stores on Main Street. On the way home we stopped at Slippery Ann on the CMR Wildlife Refuge to take in the annual gathering of the elk, all the bugling and prancing and sniffing and flirting. It’s like a Saturday night dance at a country western bar. A few hours of elk watching and we had worked up an appetite for dinner. Since we were close, we continued on to Zortman for a burger at the bar.
In jigs and jogs I’ve nudged myself away from the garbage pit of despair. I’ll keep telling my friends I love them, tell them how much I care. My shop work will wait. Today I’ll grab the warm sunshine. Tomorrow I’ll get back to work.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
October 4, 2012

Heritage Seed Club Meets at Zurich Spa—Top That, New York City!

Heritage Seed Club Meets at Zurich Spa—Top That, New York City!
Last night I accompanied Kim and Renee Hansen to garden club. Renee invited me to join this group of avid gardeners a year or maybe two years ago. Officially known as Zurich Seed Savers, somewhere along the line they abandoned the formal name and call themselves “garden club”.

Evidently, when she asked me to join, Renee could tell by the skeptical look on my face, that I was picturing a group of cutthroat women vying for the title of Master Gardener of the Year. So she explained, “Look, we’re only a bunch of men and women who like to dabble in dirt. We’re not formal. We meet once a month at the Spa Bar in Zurich for potluck. We share our garden successes and woes, exchange plants, seeds and seedlings. Sometimes we invite an expert to speak. But mostly we eat good food. We laugh a lot. Come on, try it. I’ll pick you up.”

So Renee and her husband Kim have been taking me to garden club ever since. Nobody calls the meeting to order. No committee reports. No budget headaches. No policy and procedures. We gather around the food, dig in, and talk about our gardens. Doesn’t get any better than that!

Last night, our group faced a crisis. Well, maybe not exactly crisis, but we had to make an important decision.

Several years ago Hillary Maxwell had gathered a group of fellow ground grubbers with the purpose of saving and propagating heritage garden seeds. She had written a grant which provided money to buy starter seeds of varieties of garden produce seldom seen in markets today.  Commercial fruits and vegetables are grown for uniform size and ease of shipping.  If it doesn’t transport easily, it doesn’t get grown. Ugly or misshapen gets discarded. One consequence of genetic uniformity, is that fruits and vegetables have lost their old time flavor. 

“After all these years of sharing plants, we pretty much have the same kind of seeds,” explained one member.

“I keep the seed bank,” said Jeanne, “and some of the seeds in it are getting old.”

“I’ll take those old seeds,” volunteered Ralph. “I have an extra plot of ground I want to work up.”

A few years ago Ralph cultivated part of his yard, mixed several seeds together in the same pot; peas, beans, beets, corn, everything. He broadcast the seed. Stuff came up side by side, helter-skelter. Sounds like he plans a repeat performance.

Here’s what the crisis was all about. This summer Hillary and Bob Maxwell sold their place in Zurich and moved to Landusky.  Garden club had a tough decision to make. How could we keep going without the leadership of Hillary, the backbone of our group?

Last night I asked the fifteen or so members gathered around the table, “How many years has this group been meeting?”

“A long time.” “Hmmm. Fifteen?” “Seventeen?” “Well, it was back before so and so moved away because they were with us at least two years, when was that, honey?” Mentally, I did the math—less than twenty but more than fifteen.

Shy though I am, I opened my mouth. I urged the group to continue to meet monthly.” In my experience with organizations,” I told them, “anything less frequent and the club would wither away.” I confess that this was all selfish on my part. I want garden club to continue because I need their help and wisdom and encouragement with my own garden. Besides, garden club is fun.

After lively discussion, the group put together a schedule of monthly meetings through May when we knock off for the summer to tend our garden plots. By then we will know if we want to resume in the fall.

Gaye, who opens the bar on a weekday evening so we can have a meeting room, quickly agreed to our continued schedule.  “You gardeners bring wonderful dishes for your pot luck. Where else am I going to get such a good meal,” she added. The Spa, a roadhouse bar closed most nights, has become a community center, a gathering place for events and celebrations.

For two hours we sat around the potluck feast, ate and shared yarns about gardens (the good, the bad and the weedy), skunks (how to build a live trap without stink), spiders (huge spider spun web in the garden shed—shades of Charlotte) and potato bugs (first ones in years—picked them off by hand).

I carried home five kinds of heritage peppers you will not find on any grocery shelf. To mariachi music, I chopped the peppers, added tomatoes, onions and cilantro from my garden and canned salsa to last me the year.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

September 27, 2012

That Which We Carry With Us

That Which We Carry With Us
This is a poem. A poem that was pushing at me to be written. I sat down to write it. This is what came out. A prose poem.

I ask myself, “Why did I move back to Montana?” I fish the waters for an answer. Sometimes I haul in a trout or a salmon. Often my line hooks seaweed or a sucker. I would like a rational answer. Even to my mind, decisions based on the smell of bruised sage, the open bowl of forever sky, the gathering of elk at Slippery Ann or the first crocus at Snake Butte do not seem rational.
Good sense would have anchored me in Washington, in the community where I carved a niche of belonging, where I came into my maturity, raised my kids, developed my talents, earned respect. But something elusive compelled me to come full circle, to return to my earlier place, my native ground.

Even clockmakers know that time does not run in a straight line. Time is a wheel, a circle, rolling ‘round and ‘round. We try to bury the past. The past still happens. It never leaves us. The wise elders know. Sit and listen to any old-timer tell his stories. Even my four-year old granddaughter knows this. Somewhere in the middle, we lose it.
It is the stories. It is those who know our stories. The people who know our goodness and who know our failings. The people who knew my Dad, my sister, my husband and his family. The people who knew me then. When those people are gone, our stories live on. Those stories live on in the stones, in the dirt, in the rush and lap of the river. That is what is important, the stories. In them we are known.

We often feel alone. We pretend nobody knows us. We don a mask to get us through each day. We try to hide our warts. We fear if people see the warts, we will not be loved. We reveal more story by what we hide than by the words we choose. But someone listens. Someone hears. Someone loves us.
When I was growing up, when I felt sad or in distress, I ran into the woods along the Milk River and climbed into the crotch of a huge cottonwood and nestled hidden in the branches. Nobody could see me. Nobody knew I was there. I cried or daydreamed or planned and they are all the same thing. I held my sadness close to me. I didn’t want it to show.

Years later, before my Dad sold the farm, I came home for a holiday visit. Dad took me aside and quietly told me, “Your tree came down in a storm. You might want to walk out to say good-by before I haul it away.” I cried and cried, not for the tree, but that my Dad knew. My Dad had kept my secret.
I wrote my first Montana poems in Chicago. I wrote my best Montana poems in Poulsbo, Washington. I pulled my poetry from a bag slung over my shoulders, a bag filled with each sense memory, each life experience. Often I pretended my bag was empty. I did not want to look at what I carried, at what weighed me down, slowed my step. I closed my eyes to the root of my sadness.

The mind pretends but the heart knows. For me, here beneath the slant of autumn sun, there is no room for pretense. My stories surround me. I listen. I learn. In each story is lodged a piece of me. I am not alone. Each story also holds a piece of you. Each story heard lightens my burden. The circle turns.
Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
September 20, 2012

Lessons Learned on Hollow Days with a Four-year Old

Lessons Learned on Hollow Days with a Four-year Old
A week and a day. I’m not counting, but if I were, there are only a few days left until Lexi’s Mommy and Daddy come home. I am in a suburb of Seattle babysitting my granddaughter, Alexandria. Lexi’s Mom and Dad are in Italy, so I get to stay and we get to play.

My granddaughters have permanent hooks into my heart. I tell the little darlings, “Anything your heart desires, Sweet Puss.”
They teach me new worlds. My formal re-education began the first Friday afternoon (day three). We headed out to visit cousin Toni and her family in Tulalip for the long weekend. I made forty-two trips to the car with clothing, necessities for every eventuality, toys to entertain during the trip and a tray of chocolate cup cakes, made (with Grandma’s help) and decorated by Lexi. I strapped Lexi into her Big Girl car seat for the trip of an hour and a bit from Issaquah. Lexi sang to while away the time and brighten the trip. I soon joined her. This is the song she taught me:

I used to be hot, hot, hot,
And now I’m not, not, not.

This from the sweet mouth of my beautiful four-year old. For an hour we sang. I thought about the meaning of those words. I thought about it a lot, lot, lot. Horrors! I was singing rap music. Her dad likes rap; he probably corrupted his own child. Finally I asked, “Where did you learn this song, Lexi?”
“From the Cat in the Hat.” My first conclusion—as usual—wrong.

Toni, now six, and Lexi played beautifully ninety-six percent of the time. In between their play and laughter we adults heard variations of “You’re not the boss of me,” “Quit following me,” and “Don’t touch me.”
On the way home after our first weekend visit, Lexi taught me another song, this one crowded with creative animals, all down by the bay, where the watermelons grow and bears comb their hair, mooses kiss gooses, bees sunburn their knees and whales have polka-dot tails.

Day six, Labor Day Monday, we walked to the ice cream store, down the hill in the shopping center, for a treat. This was our second visit to the ice cream store. I did not intend for us to go every day. I asked Lexi, “How often do you get to go to the ice cream store?”
“Only on Hollow Days,” her honest answer.

Day seven, Lexi bouncing like Tigger, started back to school. I learned the route with Lexi telling me where to turn. I entered the wrong street only once, when I failed to ask her first. She dutifully reported my error to the delight of Mom and Dad when they called.
Day eight began woefully. Mom and Dad made their daily visit via Skype. Lexi was not ready to blow kisses and say good-by. When they cut short the call, way too soon for her, Lexi had her first minor meltdown, curled on the couch, refused to put on her shoes and declared she would not go to school. I called school, said we might dawdle a bit and would be late. I left Lexi, generally a joyful child, alone for a while to feel her sadness. Then I wheedled her into her shoes and manipulated her out the door. After all, I am smarter than a four-year old.

I lost track of time. We spent weekends with cousin Toni. We picked blackberries. We went to a “Fifties-Sixties” dance, in costume. We baked bread. We canned sweet-potato butter. We celebrated an occasional Hollow Day at the ice-cream store. We took a jammie walk (not my idea), a stroll around the block after we brushed out teeth and wriggled into our jammies. The evening air was mild, neighbors were out grooming lawns. The big kids played ball or rolled past on scooters. Once one gets past the initial discomfort of walking around a suburban neighborhood in night wear, it is quite relaxing. Try it some time.
This much fun is hard work. If I were counting the days, I would tell you that I’ll be home none too soon, exhausted, my eyes like pinwheels, with my world greatly expanded. If I were counting.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

September 13, 2012