Friday, March 31, 2017

"She's taller than my dad!"

"I wonder if she can slam dunk."
"That mom is gonna hit her head on the door."
"She's taller than my dad!"

These are things often overheard when I drop my kids at school. Kids don't whisper quietly. None of these comments are new, mind you. I've heard these (and worse) since I was, oh, 9 years old, when I stood next to my 4th-grade teacher and one of my classmates noticed that I was as tall as Mrs. Schneider. No, I cannot slam dunk and I've never hit my head on a door jamb, but yeah, I'm taller than most dads. (And I've only met one mom in Portland who looks me in the eye; her kids go to a different school.)

I've borne the loud-whispered tall comments my whole life. Usually they're muttered behind my back, but often to my face as well. People say silly things. Period. Words sting, even if they're not intentionally harsh or teasing, and I wish people would realize that I can hear their gasps and whispers; my ears are not so high above your mouth that sound doesn't reach them. There are so many times - daily! - that I would like to simply blend in, to not stand an entire head taller than everyone in the room.

But what can I do about it? The only alternative I've come up with so far would be chopping off my feet just above the ankle to remove about 6 inches. (That would put be at about 5'9" which I've always felt would be a perfect height.) However, it would be difficult to get around without feet and ankles, and my hiking boots would surely never fit right again. I like hiking, so I suppose I'll continue to put up with the tall comments. I'll continue to pretend my ears are too far into the clouds to hear shorter people's questions, taunts, jokes. And I'll put off ordering the jacket that reads "I can hear you, dummy" across the back.

My kids are tall, too. Of course they are. You'd be surprised how many people - even well-educated people who understand the general concept of genetics - say things like "Wow, he's tall" when they see Happy standing next to me. (Interesting, too, is that they always ask, "Is his Dad tall?" As if my being 6'2" doesn't fully elucidate the origins of his height.) Just last week, at Zippy's 7-year-old well visit, our pediatrician's nurse practitioner said, "You should take a look at this growth chart! He's well above the curve for both height AND weight." I didn't respond with words. Instead, I glared a laser through her face until she realized what she'd said, how ridiculous it sounded when talking to a child's Amazonian mother. She looked down at the chart, wearing a sheepish I-can't-believe-I-just-said-that smile, and replied, "Well, I guess that's to be expected. I mean, he always has been. And you..." Her voice trailed off without finishing the sentence. (Can you believe she asked a few moments later if his dad is tall, too?)

In general, when I'm with my tall kids, the tall comments are directed at me (because I'm tallest, and I'm a woman and may as well have a horn growing from my forehead), and I absorb them as I always have. (Someday I'll tell you how mama-bear I feel when I hear people talking about Happy's size, and how amazed I am that my own parents must have carried a roiling ball of fire in their bellies without completely exploding on my behalf.) This morning, though, walking into Zippy's school and hearing (again) all the children whispering, a sudden anxiety gripped me: Will my kids be embarrassed by my size?

I mean, they're both at ages where their peers' perceptions are crucial to their own self-esteem. Will they hear these whispers and feel self-conscious of their own bodies? Will other kids tease them about me?! I was suddenly 9 years old again, hearing a classmate say "My mom thought you were the teacher!" about our class picture, listening to the laughter of my own classmates and wishing I could melt into the linoleum floor. I tucked my head down, felt my shoulders hunching.

At that very moment, Zippy reached out and grabbed my hand. I know he heard the comments, too. We walked a few more feet into the school entryway, and a little boy looked right at him and said, "Your mom is taller than allllll the teachers!"

"My mom," Zippy explained, "is tall like a superhero." His stride didn't slow, his voice didn't waver. True conviction and all heart. My boy's mom is tall like a superhero. In fact, she is taller than his dad, too.

I squeezed Zippy's hand. He squeezed back. Then I let go, breathed deeply, and watched him float along in the wave of children flooding the hallway. I could see him all the way to his classroom at the end of the hall, too, because he stands a head taller than every single child around him.







Thursday, March 23, 2017

Winter in Maine is

They tell us it's spring now, as of Monday morning, these experts who know about seasons and time and things. There are signs of spring, of course -- the sun certainly shines brighter and longer into the evening, the birds sing more confidently, and faces I pass on the street show a glimmer of hopefulness, a new willingness to smile or say hello -- but this is Maine, and spring in Maine is not like spring in other places. We still have 5-foot piles of snow at the back of our driveway, and the 20-foot snow tower in the Target parking lot will likely be there until June. We are still wearing our Big Coats because it's wicked cold...and boots because it's wicked muddy. We won't see a daffodil or crocus for at least another month, and we won't plant seedlings in our backyard gardens until Memorial Day.

The arrival of spring, even if in name only, means we've made it through winter, officially. And that's a pretty big deal. It's a long exhale, a softening in the shoulders after months of bracing against cold and dark and the ever-present wind. Any day now we'll be able to walk outside without a hat -- or even better, without buttoning our coats! Imagine how exciting it will be to peel off a layer of clothing, or even to wear lighter socks. Don't even get me started about the day the farmers' market returns...sheer joy, bliss, choirs of angels singing hallelujahs in my head.

Winter, however, isn't entirely bad. In fact, in the three winters we've spent here, I've learned how to settle in, how to embrace that Danish concept of hygge, to simply slow down and listen to what my body tells me to do. "Winter. Time to eat fat and watch hockey," Margaret Atwood began her poem "February." A more accurate description I haven't yet read.

Similar to the way we looked back over our summer as the astronomical year turned to autumn, the kids and I sat down this week to look back over our winter. It was a pretty good season, all told, and we checked off a lot of items on our Winter Fun poster, although I still haven't learned out to crochet.


Winter in Maine is...

  • darkness at 4:00, dinner at 5:30, bed (or sound asleep on the couch) by 8:00
  • flannel sheets, flannel shirts, flannel scarves -- and wool socks
  • a basket of hats, scarves, mittens to the left side of the front door and a throw rug covered in boots, gaiters, and snow pants to the right
  • jumping til we're sweaty and breathless at the indoor trampoline park, then watching the steam rise from our skin when we step outside
  • ice skating lessons on Saturday mornings, snow pants and helmets and teeny penguin steps across the pond
  • sledding any time we feel like it
  • hot cocoa loaded with marshmallows (or peppermint Schnapps)
  • twinkle lights strung across town that stay lit from November through March -- Winter Lights
  • weeks that waffle in temperture between 52 degrees and -15
  • Christmas parties, Super Bowl parties, Oscar parties, birthday parties -- all good excuses to eat junk food and drink beers
  • catching up on our Netflix list
  • catching up on our library list
  • catching up on our emails, letters, postcards
  • catching up on our cookie baking (and eating)
  • ducks bobbing on the surf like they haven't even noticed the wind that's slicing through your skull
  • a perfect blizzard grocery list: milk, bread, cold cuts, cookie dough ice cream, Doritos, wine, cat food
  • walking on the Old Orchard Beach in our snow boots, gulls overhead squawking a promise of warmer beach days to come
  • the warm purr of a cat on my lap, both of us enjoying a fleecy blanket
  • birch trees dabbled with lichen that bridge the gap between snow-sparkling field and cloud-dotted sky
  • never missing a chance to put my face in the sun and chant "I'm alive I'm alive I'm alive"


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

So I left a note on a car...

"Hello, Tori? This is Maureen." The voice is unfamiliar, somewhat tentative; I didn't recognize the phone number. I pause, put a smile in my voice, and respond, "Hello? I'm sorry, who?"

"Maureen. You put a note on my car yesterday."

Oh no. My stomach flips. In the midst of the blizzard clean-up a couple days ago, I backed the minivan into a small car in front of my house. The street was crowded with snow plows and commuters, I was a bit frazzled trying to find a way back into my own driveway, and I just didn't even see this little gray compact. I thought I'd backed into a snow bank! I was only moving about 3 mph, so I know I didn't damage the car, but I left a note because that's what you're supposed to do, right? I had hoped, since I hadn't heard anything in over 24 hours, that I'd never hear from the car owner. Maybe snow melted on the note and smeared the digits. Maybe she swished the wipers before seeing the note and it blew away. Maybe a gull pooped on it.

Yet here she is. A shaky-voiced stranger on the phone, and my first thought is, oh damn, this lady wants money...even though I know I didn't damage that car. Why didn't I just drive away? Because two years ago, when someone sheared the mirror off my car, I was more upset that they didn't take responsibility than I was about shelling out $500 to fix the damage. So I left my number and here she is. I chose kindness, and I need to stand by that now. I take a deep breath to calm the stomach flip.

"Yes, hi, thanks for calling," I acknowledge. "Is everything all right? I didn't see any dents or scratches, and I looked pretty closely." I'm so anxious I can feel my pulse in my throat. Damn, stupid snow! Damn, stupid crowded road! Damn, stupid me for being careless!

"Well, yeah, the car is really dirty," she continues, "so I really can't see anything until I wash it. But I'm sure it's okay." I breathe slowly, keep a smile in my voice, measure my words carefully as I reiterate that I was going really slowly, the car simply slipped on an ice chunk, I didn't see any damage when I checked.

Maureen keeps talking. "Oh, I know. It's a mess. I've been sick, and it was just such as hassle finding a spot in all that snow. Just a mess. I probably parked too close." This is a turn, isn't it? She's not asking for anything, just talking. Yet that small voice in my brain, the one that doesn't expect kindness from strangers, keeps whispering she's going to try to scam you.

She doesn't. Instead, she rambles on for a minute or so about nothing of consequence -- winter weather, trying to kick a chest cold, not really knowing our neighbors, wondering if the flowers she planted in the fall will actually bloom -- and finally she lands here: "I just wanted to thank you for leaving that note with your number. I was just real nice of you, that's all. I appreciate it."

Wait, what? My breath catches. She is just calling to thank me? For leaving a note? After I hit her car? She's thanking me for simply doing the right thing. Wow. Do we really have such low expectations of one another, that we don't think someone else will do the right thing? I guess so, judging by my own reaction to this phone call, my own expectations of this person I've never met. Wow.

What a big deal it is to be kind, to choose to do the right thing. And how scary. I mean, I'm still not entirely sure this woman won't demand cash from me eventually, but I stay on the phone. I ask where she lives (in one of the apartments across the street) and if she might need anything for her cold (she's improving, still not 100%). I could be opening myself to inconvenience and akwardness, but I've realized Maureen is an older woman (she calls me "hon" a couple times) who likely lives alone (she drives a teeny-tiny car!). We're coming to the end of winter (she's likely been cooped up just like I have), and she just wants to make a connection. It's a big deal for her to pick up the phone, too, isn't it?

And just like that, in a three-minute phone call from a stranger, I'm reminded how different the world could be if we each spent a few scary moments each day being intentionally kind to strangers -- choosing to be kind even when it could mean disruption, expense, or time. This is not a new concept...why is it so hard?