“Maybe one day you can write an article about it and tell me why you did it,” teased my father-in-law as he heard of my absolutely uncharacteristic “indiscretion” of the weekend before.
And as I now pivot my head to look in the full-length mirror, the reflection of my no-longer bare back takes me aback for just a moment.
A tattoo? Who-da- thunk it?
Yes, the weekend involved a college campus and a bit of peer pressure. But I swear no alcohol was involved.
I was attending a weekend workshop as part of my Masters’ classes at Miami University. The day marked the last day that my two daughters and I would all be students at Miami at the same time. With my oldest graduating the next month, the day was all the more sweet due to its significance.
“We need to do something big today,” one of my girls suggested. After a varying degree of propositions that took more time, money or nerve than I had that day, they both agreed on the best memory maker for us.
“You need to get the tattoo today.”
A few months earlier, when my younger daughter started at the same university as her sister, they decided to get matching tattoos. Their selection was a Celtic cross –the cross with the circle in the middle. When they unveiled this decision and tattoo to me for the first time, I have to admit it was a bit concerning to see the backs that I had rubbed with sunscreen all those years to protect from any permanent marks, now forever marked with a symbol. Still, I admit the idea of the symbol was intriguing. The cross of course, represents our faith; the circle of the cross, a symbol of eternal love. I actually thought it was a pretty nice tattoo for my daughters to share. When I mentioned it was, indeed, a nice bond, they suggested I join them in the bond. And I laughed at the impossibility of it all.
But somehow it didn’t seem so impossible when my daughters reminded me of their suggestion that day at Miami. Standing there with my two girls each now a young woman, on her own verge of the rest of her life, I wanted to freeze the moment. So I said yes.
And as I sat in the tattoo parlor in Oxford I could not stop smiling a ridiculously goofy smile at the strange scenario I was witnessing but could not fathom. This was a piece of my life’s puzzle you could never have told me would fit in with the other pieces of the last 48 years. It was so not me. And yet, knowing my girls wanted me to share in their bond, made me want to share in getting a tattoo I never would have imagined.
And as I stare at my back today, I think about writing that article to explain to my father-in-law and others why I did such a thing that is so different than anything else I have ever done. But maybe that is also part of the reason I did it.
Coloring inside the lines, thinking inside the box, doing the expected, is stable and decent and good. And that is pretty much how I have lived my life. I have prided myself in being dependable and therefore, pretty predictable. But there is something so liberating about getting older and waking up one day to realize you don’t need the approval of everyone after all. You have reached a beautiful zenith of life when you embrace the idea that you just don’t need to explain everything anymore.
So part of me was tempted to write that article explaining why I got my Celtic cross tattoo; but the other part of me doesn’t want to write it, because after 48 years, I finally know that I understand. And that’s enough.
Holidays when the kids are little have their own way of grabbing your attention as if in a face-hold and not allowing you a single thought until the moment is over. With those early years and the overwhelming need to protect, entertain, and feed our children, the reflective thoughts about the moment get put on the backburner for one day when you might actually entertain a free thought.
That day is today for me.
With my oldest now just graduated from college and my youngest in middle school, the days are full of busy-ness –but the time between the moments allow me to actually have a thought and process it.
This is what I reflected on while watching the 4th of July fireworks reflect from my rearview mirror this year.
Gone are the fourth of July days of preparing a bicycle for that early morning parade. No more purchases of crepe paper and mini flags to adorn a tricycle that will end up not being ridden when the little one decides he wants to be carried for the mile walk. No more packing a suitcase full of toys, snacks and mosquito repellent to take along for the waiting of the evening fireworks display.
This fourth of July had most in the family going their separate ways. Then as night began to fall, in anticipation of the fireworks, my son asked for a ride for him and his friends to go to the display. After dropping them off, I pulled over on the side of the road to watch the fireworks from my car.
At that moment it was the independence of my children I was reflecting on more than the independence of my country. But that night with every beautiful burst of light shooting across the sky, I started to believe the fireworks were symbolic of that precious thing called childhood.
With a burst of beauty, it all begins. At times loud, but always exciting, it has your full attention. You swear you will never take it for granted. But somehow you do. Then, when you think you have seen it all, something surprises you that takes your breath away, once again. Sometimes you think it’s preparing for the finale, but before you know it, you are given a little bit more. And a little bit more.
And then you start to kid yourself and pretend it will never end. But the fireworks and childhood always seem to end before you are completely ready to admit it’s time.
“You look nice. Have a good day.”
And thus began a typical day for me.
It was the ‘70’s, I was on my way to school, and my dad was driving.
Fathers of this time were of a different generation. Their sole concern was that there was enough money to clothe the family, feed the family and educate the family. It was the mother’s job to raise the family.
My dad was not into reading books to pontificate parenting practices. Dads of this time were just in their kids’ lives –they didn’t worry about all that “bonding stuff” we worry about today.
For this reason, I enjoyed my rides to school with my daddy. Having him and his full attention to myself was a treat. And everyday it was the same routine. As we pulled into the school, I would kiss him on the cheek, at which point he would say the lines I had grown to expect, “You look nice. Have a good day.” And, I would exit the car, ready to start my day, full of the knowledge that my daddy thought I looked nice.
This routine remained unchanged for years, with the small exception of when I started Jr. High School. This was the time I informed him I was going to kiss him goodbye while he was still driving, before we actually got to school. This, of course, was due to my adolescent anxiety, fueled by the fear my classmates might realize I actually had parents, and heaven forbid, even liked them.
And he humored me and continued to reply those edifying words.
It was such a simple thing, but I am certain from that original exchange, blossomed a belief I was worth something. Years later, before I found my prince, while shuffling through many frogs, I remember on more than one occasion being displeased with something one of my dates might have said. The first thought to pop into my head was always, “My dad wouldn’t treat me that way.”
How true it is, that the first man in a little girl’s life is her daddy.
So, this year for Father’s Day, I know just what I’ll do. I am going to go right up to my dad and proudly say, “You look nice. Have a good day.” And then I will kiss him on the cheek.
No matter who is watching.
In three month’s time, three friends have lost a parent.
Somehow, that expression has always seemed strange to me as it seems better used to describe a child losing a parent in a crowd, panicking and crying for a minute and then finding them again. When we refer to the death of a loved one as losing that loved one, it negates the permanency of the situation. The implication of losing something is that it might ultimately be found. But in death, the loved one is not returning. And as much we can find comfort in our faith and rejoice in the promises of heaven of one day being together again, the death of a parent is one of those life moments you deny will ever happen even as a part of you understands it eventually will.
Because no matter how old you are, you are the child and they are the parent. Our words for them may change over the years. Da-da and Ma-ma become Mommy and Daddy which ultimately might morph into mom and dad, or mother and father. But while labels change, the role they play in our lives never completely changes.
We are their child.
We are someone’s child.
True, the rest of the world might recognize us as full-grown, competent adults, perhaps even answering to the labels of mom or dad ourselves; but to somebody somewhere, we are the child, the one they care for and love with an unconditional love. They’re our parents.
No matter how imperfect we are –or how imperfect our parents are--- there is a love that’s a love that forever defines what love is for us. There is a connection that connects us beyond genetic make-up and hereditary traits.
Maybe that’s it: we’ve always known we’ve had our mom or dad’s eyes, nose, mouth –but as we get older we come to realize we also have something so much more meaningful –we have their heart. And that is something we never lose.
Even after they’re gone.
A figurine of a Disney character may not represent for everyone the perfect college graduation gift. But for me, there was no other choice. The Little Mermaid’s Ariel had to be the gift given to my first-born daughter to commemorate the occasion of her walking across the stage at Miami University to receive a piece of paper that said she was officially, completely, without a doubt, now an adult.
The obvious connection is that it was the first Disney movie that secured my daughter’s passion for Disney princesses, as she watched it over and over and over. For a period of several months she would sing Ariel’s anthem to end in a dramatic finale of the line “…wish I could be….part of that …world” which would see her three-year-old body posed in a position identical to the animated Ariel who was perched on a rock in the sea.
I can see that image in my mind’s eye today, in spite of the woman’s body that has taken the place of the little girl’s.
Still, the main connection I think of while holding the mermaid figure all these years later is the theme of Ariel’s voice in the movie. The little mermaid, of course, traded her voice for the legs necessary to walk in the world where she wanted to go. And that voice is what I think of when I think of my daughter. Yes, the magnificent musicality of her voice is part of what defines her as she now entertains, singing songs beyond Disney sound tracks. But it goes deeper than that.
There is also her voice of compassion that shines through when a friend or even a stranger in a third world country is in need.
There is her voice of reason that has always been wise beyond her years.
There is her voice of change that will travel to Guatemala and places I cannot and probably do not want to imagine, simply for the reason that she might be able to make a difference there.
All these voices are inside one beautiful girl who is today learning to walk on legs that will take her into a whole new world.
But no matter where her voice… or her legs take her, I will always be blessed that she is, indeed, a part of my world.
Nothing heralds in the overture of the spring season of rebirth like the blossomings of a Bradford pear and a magnolia tree. Every year I observe the coloration of the world with these beautiful branches awash in delicate pinks and whites, and I feel a sense of hope and connection to God.
Perhaps it’s the fact that the creation reminds me of my Creator. I can imagine God dipping His paint brush first into a delightful pure white paint to tint the trees that were the day before brown and dreary. With the stroke of His majestic brush, He then draws on delicate flowerets that from afar look to be puffy popcorn balls. Then, perhaps, God smiles at His Bradford pear tree before moving on.
For the next special masterpiece of the magnolia tree, God keeps just enough of the pear-tree white on His brush to blend with the sweetest shade of pink. With broader strokes this time, He paints pretty petals that will burst into life with the sunrise. I don’t know if the Creator then takes time to admire this beautiful creation, but I certainly hope He does.
And then, sometimes too soon, it seems God must decide to dry the paint by blowing on it. Gentle winds --- and not so gentle winds waft through the air, transporting the pretty petals. With each breath of wind, the gorgeous blossoms of the trees become more sparse, as the once bare ground beneath the trees becomes carpeted with perfect petals of pink or white. As a child, the blossom’s short life-cycle used to sadden me.
But with the gift of age, I’ve come to understand that a short life seems lengthened by the beauty left behind. Like sweet blossoms fallen on the ground, the memory of the departed wonder clings to our hearts making that wonder never far from us, even when it’s time to enter a new season of our lives.
There I sat in my classroom a little after noon,
awash in the Seussical sounds
of “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.”
In an instant, I was a little girl again giggling
over the way the wondrous words tripped over
my seven year old tongue.
For a brief moment I could bask in the task
of needing to do nothing more than soak in the world,
discovering the uncovering of words.
Then, with no time between rhymes,
I heard the familiar refrain involving the train and the rain:
“I do not like Green eggs and ham, I do not like them Sam I am.”
This time, though fast, the years had past.
The little girl I’d now find in my mind
was my daughter
who was no more than two,
reading by memory her favorite book.
“Would you, could you on a boat? Would you, could you with a goat?”
the precious voice from so many years ago
proudly recited each line in my mind.
And then the blast from the past gave way to today,
as I remembered that little girl
will be graduating from college in two months.
Two months and then she will be completely free.
No more my little girl.
No more Seuss.
No more youth.
The mere thought made me
wipe my eyes to try not to cry.
But before I could dry my eyes,
my movie wrapped with a quote
from a note that Dr. Seuss wrote
in his last years:
“How did it get so late so soon?
It's night before it's afternoon.
December is here before it's June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?"
And as I stared at every letter,
I knew no one could say it better.
It’s a little known fact that a bleach bottle, when cut a certain way and filled with padding, makes a great chair. What is more, a box of tissues, covered in material, can become a perfect bed.
Those are just some of the ways I decorated my childhood Barbie house --- which was actually a three-tiered book case whose shelves I covered with left-over carpeting swatches.
Hundreds of hours of my childhood were spent with my less than one-foot friend, Barbie, and her friends, Skipper, Francie, and Ken, along with an occasional “adopted” baby from another line of toys. Together we would decorate that house, make more faux furniture, become singing sensations, get married, and have babies, all before lunch some days.
Back in those proverbial good-old-days, Barbie’s parent company, Mattel, didn’t release a new “must-have” dream house, sports car, or new, improved doll every season. Sure, I had a few of the commercial items like Barbie clothes and a mod-looking 1970’s camper, but my best memories of my Barbie days are of me pretending, stretching my imagination, being creative.
My bond with Barbie was such a part of my childhood that I felt it mandatory to break up with her when it was time for me to go to that necessary next level of my youth: Junior High School. I was, after all, almost a teenager, and teenagers certainly didn’t play with dolls, did they? Always a proponent of ripping the band-aid off instead of taking it off slowly, I reluctantly said goodbye to and then banished my dolls to my plastic Barbie case under my bed the day before 7th grade began, forcing myself to go cold turkey.
It wasn’t a painless rehab, but somehow I survived, only occasionally sneaking the cherished case out as if it were certified contraband all for the pleasure of checking on my old friends. Still, to this day, when I open up a new shower curtain and get a wondrous whiff of the brand new plastic, my senses take me back to the instant of getting that perfectly new Barbie case for Christmas one year and the childhood memories of my Barbie moments flood over me like refreshing rain.
Now my Barbie in the case is turning 50.
Some of those many years Barbie has been hidden, she might have been glad to be in seclusion Too much time and energy has been spent scaling Barbie’s measurements to that of a woman over five feet tall. It turns out if Barbie were true to size, her real life counter-part’s figure would measure 39-19-33. All that considered, it seems a miracle that during my youth I was fixated on cutting product boxes to make furniture for Barbie instead of cutting out lunch to make myself look more like her.
And now, as she celebrates her golden birthday, someone is sending her a birthday present in an invitation to a vacation to go away and never come back. All this because Mattel has come out with “Totally Stylin’ Tattoos” Barbie that allows little girls to temporarily tattoo Barbie (or themselves) with a symbol such as a butterfly, flower or star. This edgy Barbie is sending some parents and politicians over the edge. According to the Associated Press, West Virginia state lawmaker, Jeff Eldridge, wants to outlaw the sale of Barbie dolls, saying, "I just hate the image that we give to our kids that if you're beautiful, you're beautiful and you don't have to be smart.”
Maybe it’s the fact that my daughters, now in college, are old enough to get tattoos that aren’t temporary; or maybe I’ve been sniffing shower curtains again, but I don’t want anyone shoving my dear old friend forever in her case.
Perhaps it’s the timing of the whole thing. In a week that saw a reality show bachelor profess his love to a woman; break up with her; profess and propose to another; break up with her, and then bounce back to the previous lady he sent packing (who welcomed him with open arms), I don’t think my 11 ½ inch doll is going to be the blame for girls not understanding their true worth.
And in a time where a female singer is allegedly abused by her singing boyfriend, and then announces a happy reconciliation with him before the pictures of her bruised face are out of our minds, I doubt if the illogical proportions of Barbie, with or without a butterfly tattoo, will harm our children’s spirit more.
If only more kids took the opportunity to innocently play in a make-believe world with Barbie these days, maybe they would have the chance to slowly discover who they are without waiting for the “real” world to thrust unauthentic identities upon them. I wish upon the girls of today the hours of imaginative fun I had as a child before my self-imposed withdrawal. Truthfully, though, unless Barbie would appear in a new movie with a rating of PG 13 or acquire her own reality show, kids probably wouldn’t be as interested. There just doesn’t seem to be that much innocent, creative, unplugged play going on now. No more tissue box beds or bleach bottle chairs.
It all makes me a bit sad. Perhaps it’s time to sneak a look in my Barbie case again. Or maybe I’ll buy a new shower curtain.
The lawn chair he always brought with him was green and white, but in his heart, everything was red… Cardinal red.
For thirty years, Colerain High School’s biggest fan, Norb Monning, aka: “Mr. Colerain”, attended every game imaginable. Through victory and defeat, he watched and cheered from that lawn chair, never letting the outcome of the game effect his team spirit. Offering words of wit and wisdom to the youthful players, he became a grandfather-figure who wouldn’t miss a game of one of his hundreds of “grandchildren”. And like all good grandfathers, Norb Monning would often be found with a camera, taking pictures he would later bestow on the athletes along with more of his generous praise. It was as much a part of the Colerain tradition as their cardinal mascot.
Then, the day one knows will come, but hopes never will, came to Colerain. "Mr. Colerain" didn’t show up for the girls’ basketball game; and the students noticed. He wouldn’t miss a game if he could help it. Something had to be wrong. Soon the news was broken that the heart that kept beat to the Colerain Cardinal’s fight song, had stopped beating. At the age of 85, Mr. Norb Monning passed away.
Sometimes teenagers aren't the best at showing the emotions they are feeling, especially for older adults. But the week after Norb Monning's death, the emotion was palpable. It was as if a dimmer switch had turned the brightness of the school down a level or two.
His family was kind enough to give the green and white lawn chair to the school to remind them of their number one fan. But if you ask any of the students "Mr. Colerain" cheered for and was there for over the last thirty years, the lawn chair isn’t necessary to hold his memory. That job is happily being done by the thousands of hearts that have been touched by a fan who turned out to be a true champion.
I look out my ice-framed window at the wonderfully white winter wonderland that was simply my front yard the night before. The sun has finally come up to allow his rays to glisten on every ice cycle that envelops every bough of every tree within my vision. The blanket of newly fallen snow that the meteorologist will insist was only four inches looks to me to cover everything within sight. Its crystal surface shimmers in the new light of day. The mere brightness, or perhaps the mere beauty, makes my eyes begin to tear.
Where yesterday there was a messy mixture of mud and slush, hibernating brownish grass, and a driveway that has needed a new coat of blacktop for three years, today there is a faultless layer of sparkling perfection. At this moment, the moment before the first person dares to trod over the new fallen snow, before the dog runs out to do what dogs must do, this moment is the moment I am reminded of God’s grandeur. But even more, the purity, the clearness, the newness of the freshly fallen snow remind me of the grand gift of forgiveness.
Only God can change the ugliness of sin –all our mud and slush and everything about us that is not at all attractive. Only He can cover our inequities and imperfections with the sanctifying Grace of exquisite forgiveness. We still know what lies underneath; we are acutely aware of what we’ve done, and the limits of who we are. But when we ask, when we are very still, God’s grace falls upon us like forgiving flakes, permitting us to be new again.
And so I start the day by staring out my ice covered window, thanking God for the splendor of the seamless snow and the chance to glisten in the rising of the Son