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6th Dec, 2010

This One Is For Donna

I’m not sure what happened to last week.

That’s when I promised Donna I’d write something here. And I’m pretty sure I told another person or two that I’d do the same, but by now I’ve forgotten who those people were.

I guess this means that I should admit it turns out that my mother wasn’t as dumb as I imagined she was when I was old enough to realize Mom forgot really crucial things sometimes, but I was still young enough to have no idea what it is to think for a family-full of people.

I mean, just a few weeks ago the nurse from Kit and Jack’s school called to tell me I’d forgotten to send their lunches with them. “You’re wrong,” I told her adamantly, overly confident in my competence. “I remember packing them last night right after dinner.”

Of course I had to apologize to the nurse just a few beats later when I opened our refrigerator door and saw Kit and Jack’s lunch boxes perilously balanced on top of our family’s stash of yogurt and pudding cups, and I had to endure the brunt of Kit’s embarrassment as I rushed into the school gym twenty minutes later. She was sitting hunched over the lunch table, her arms crossed on top and her chin resting against them. She wouldn’t look at me, that daughter of mine. And she didn’t say a word to me, not one at all, as I turned away from her to walk back to my car.

Sorry, kiddo, I thought that afternoon as I traced my way across campus, down the sidewalk toward the parking lot. I hate to tell you this, but I’m bound to let you down again maybe a few hundred times more.

Last Monday night I went to a cocktail party for sponsors of the Meyer Center Ladies’ Luncheon, and then on Wednesday I attended the luncheon itself with Camille and Charlie and a whole bunch of other friends who feel like family by now. On Friday I went to Greenwood with Sarah and Becky for the HospiceCare of the Piedmont’s 19th annual Festival of Trees kick-off luncheon. Kit had ballet on Tuesday, Jack went to gymnastics on Wednesday, Archie and I went to the grocery store together on Thursday to pick up a prescription refill, and a whole bunch of other stuff happened in between all of those things.

But sometime during all that running around I remember listening to the radio in the car and hearing “If I Had $1,000,000” by the Barenaked Ladies. Of course that song started me thinking and I decided somewhere between Woodruff and Hudson roads that if the income from those oil wells out in North Dakota that John supposedly inherited from his mother’s family ever actually comes in I’ll give all that extra money to people like the teachers at Archie’s elementary school to use to buy supplies for their classrooms, and to places like the Meyer Center where Archie went to school before now. I decided that I’d also give some to our Children’s Hospital where all my children were born and where Archie was cared for in the NICU until he was transferred to Charleston for surgery, and where I still take Archie to the Cancer Center every now and again in fulfillment of his treatment protocol.

And after all of that I’m sure I’d give a little more money to the ballet company where Kit studies in support of their Nutcracker Outreach Performance Program, and even though I already write a check to Prince of Peace Catholic School for approximately nine-hundred-thousand-dollars-and-twenty-nine-cents each month I’d still spot them a little extra money to establish and fund a course of study like the Options Program at Bishop England High School in Charleston because, I mean, why not?

Or at least that is what I thought I’d do until last night when I was tucking the kids into bed. After Archie chased me down the hall to his bedroom, a race we pretend to run together every night, I turned on his bedside radio. It’s tuned to a local station that plays holiday music all the time, and when I flipped it on that song by Kenny Loggins was playing and that old emotion filled my chest and tightened my throat all over again as I picked up my skinny seven-year-old who was dressed in two sets of pajamas, one of those cotton Gap-brand long sleep sets layered underneath a fleecy footed sleeper from Target, to lay him down in his bed. That’s when I covered him in one hundred kisses and it occurred to me what I’d really like to buy if I were rich and it were possible is time.

I’d buy a whole bunch of time and I’d find a way to manipulate it so I could show the scared new mother version of me from several years ago a scene that’ll play out a little later this afternoon. It’s one that happens every weekday afternoon with little variation and it’s the routine of it all, I think, that holds potential’s promise.

I’d show that younger version of myself that soon I’ll drive over to Archie’s school, park my car and then walk up to the front of the building, right outside the cafeteria door. I’ll stand outside the school and kick the broken sidewalk with the toe of my worn canvas sneaker as I talk to the other parents and grandparents waiting there. I’ll swap jokes with Archie’s bus driver, whom we have come to depend upon, and when Archie’s teacher, Ms. Bradley, finally walks Archie out the door toward me she’ll drop his hand when we’ve closed the distance between us and he’ll run the final few steps to me hollering, “Mama! Mama! I had a great day!”

I’ll squat down to hug Archie then, and Ms. Bradley will confirm that Archie really did have a great day. She’ll remind me that his reading and math homework are in his backpack, and I’ll promise to see that Archie gets it all done before school tomorrow. And then as we walk to our car other kids climbing into buses will wave at us and call out, “’Bye, Archie! ’Bye, Archie’s mom!” and since I don’t recognize these kids from Archie’s class I’ll assume that they are his peers in the related arts classes he attends and I’ll feel all warm and huge-chested because I know that these are typical kids who have befriended my atypical son.

When we get to our car Archie will climb inside without my help and as I’m waiting for him to remove his backpack and place it on the seat next to his I’ll ask Archie, “What was the best part of your day?”

“I in first grade!” he’ll respond and I’ll be reminded of something that’s hard to explain but that feels a little like this:

There’s a part of our mind, I believe, that sometimes we can turn off if we try hard enough. From an athlete’s perspective it’s the button we push that helps us power through a painful workout, that gets us over the panicked part where we can’t breathe and our hearts are racing and we’re convinced for a moment or two that we really are going to die if we don’t stop soon. If you carry that analogy a step further and look at training as a metaphor for life, this place is the one we retreat to inside when a situation gets sticky but we have to keep moving forward to survive.

It turns out, I believe, that there’s something we learn to turn off every now and then when we move throughout our lives, and when we do we’re lucky to find ourselves in the slipstream, just moving forward effortlessly, painlessly. Some of us can get there like fingers snapping, and some of us struggle to find our way in. It’s where we go to transcend thought and time, it’s the place everything is really as easy as putting one foot in front of the other.

Archie is in first grade now and his success there is exceeding my expectations. But it’s as if I always knew we’d get here. It’s as if I saw this day before we arrived.

Maybe I’ve been here before, after all? Maybe confidence, it turns out, is a trick of time. Maybe we all find a way someday of giving ourselves the ability to do amazing things by just believing them so.

A note: If you follow this link to the Meyer Center for Special Children web site, you’ll find a video posted on the Center’s homepage. Watch it and you’ll spy Archie as a toddler, and me with my long hair pulled back in a ponytail. When I gave that interview, Kit and Jack, who were not quite one years old, were right off camera, strapped into a blue and white double stroller handed down to us by John’s coworker and friend. That seems about one hundred years ago. Or maybe it was just yesterday, after all.

Responses

Anne….your writing just amazes me. You have such a gift and I am glad to be on the receiving end.

Learned lots from this…thanks!

Kelly

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