Lima Bean and I sit at the dining room table. She does and does not want help, does and does not want me to be there. We have a plan. I sit and don’t speak. She works. She grumbles and sighs and tells me random things about her day. I wait. She says, “Check this,” and shoves the notebook towards me.
Her writing is fine and light. My eyes are not as young as hers. I squint and check and copy and work it out on my own, black ink bright and bold across whatever scrap paper is close at hand.
She forgets to distribute, I forget to change a sign. We both remember units.
I push the notebook back. “Good.” Or sometimes, “Bad math! Try again. Check the distribution.”
Sometimes she stops herself before she starts. “Ugh. This is stupid. What am I supposed to do?”
My answer is always the same. “What do you know? Write down what you know. Start from there.”
I am not alone in this helping. Tonight it is just me, but I am blessed with the brightest, mathiest Auntie Brigade a girl could ask for. At least three bona fide math majors. At least one educator. I am so very thankful.
Two days down. Many more to go.
My street is noisy in the warmer months. Two houses in particular rotate residents who let me experience street yelling and public drunkenness unlike anything I saw growing up. On a military base drunkenness is behind closed doors, at initiations, at picnics maybe, but even there I don’t recall the shouting or displays that happen where I am now.
There were no women on our court who staggered on the sidewalk telling all how they got drunk off of one and a half nips of 101. One. And. A. Half. She repeats it several times in case we hadn’t heard.
Earlier in the week this woman spent a quarter of an hour declaring her sexual preferences. If I wanted to set her up with someone, I now know exactly the type of man she is seeking.
We almost know each other. On a recent trip to the Emergency Department, she was there apologizing to another woman for having an affair with her husband. “Am I supposed to pretend that I don’t know you?” She takes a seat closer to her unwelcoming audience. The entire room pretends not to listen. We are all listening.
She is crying now. “He came to me, you know,” she continues as if this information will somehow be comforting. “He brought vodka and well, you know, that’s my drink. That’s. My. Drink.” She repeats everything. I know now this is her way. “I had my chip. I was so proud of that chip. My one day chip.”
I know alcoholism is a horrible combination of choices and illness. My heart hurts for her. I become less charitable when I notice she can flip off the tears as if they were on a switch. When the other woman is called back it is all laughter and smiles. Discussions of parties and people they know.
My neighborhood is in a precarious spot. Shootings are more frequent now than four years ago, but are not random. I can walk at night if The Kettle Slayer is with me.
As I write, the woman is yelling that she is leaving. Going to someone else’s house. She has told all her friends on the porch, the people across the street on their porches, her housemates and me, inside my upstairs apartment in the house next door. She has told us all five times. Some of us pretend not to listen. We are all listening.
My landlord wants to sell this house. Am I interested? He asks from time to time. This week my mortgage loan was approved. My hope is to not stay in this house. To move away from this street with the public drug use and yelling and drunkenness. To live on a street where the bears and I can walk safely at any time. A street where people keep their problems shut up tight in their houses where they belong. Where did I learn these things?
It is easy to leave here. I have the means and the desire. I didn’t do anything particularly special to obtain those things. My field was chosen almost completely at random when I was fourteen. Medical language was fascinating to me and I had read a snippet of career advice that suggested choosing a language you will be able to use every day without tiring of it. Only much later did I realize that health care jobs were in almost every town and spanned all skill and education levels. A happy accident.
My mother used to tell us that you can’t make a school system better by taking good parents out of it. Is it any more right to walk away from a neighborhood? What makes me assume that I’m the good here? This is on my mind today.
The smallest smallish bear and I had a quick kitchen adventure yesterday. A gift of many cucumbers inspired us to try refrigerator pickles.
Lady Bug wondered if these would be as salty as The Saltiest Pickles in the World, which were the ones we’d ended up with the last time we tried this experiment. I told her I hoped these would be different. If not delicious, then at least edible!
They smelled briny and amazing. Bright and fresh.
Lady Bug was delighted that their saltiness was of an acceptable degree. She thought they were a touch spicy, but I think they are just right.
A perfect summer endeavor and a much appreciated success at the end of a difficult day.
Sunday Morning – An elderly woman struggles to move groceries from her cart to the trunk of her car. A pair of younger people stop and offer help. As they load the groceries, the woman keeps repeating, “Thank you. Oh, thank you so much.” They put her cart away when they are finished. I note that they helped without even being asked, without knowing this woman. I note that the youngsters and the woman appear to come from different ethnic backgrounds – their skin is not the same color. And today, with all of the tension reported all around me, it seemed important to pay attention to this quiet, perhaps unremarkable, beautiful moment.
Monday Evening – I wait in the car while The Kettle Slayer puts our cart away. A man inches his cart through the lot just ahead of me. He stops and peers up the aisle, then over to the left and the right. Panic crosses his face and then resolution. He looks again. Panic again. My hand is on the door handle. I hesitate. Does he need help? Would he welcome help? He creeps forward another foot or two and pure relief floods his whole being. From behind a full-sized SUV, the corner of a boat-like Cadillac is now visible. He straightens, strides toward the car, and loads groceries with ease.
The world is a lonely place sometimes. Full of brokenness, full of fear. I am on the lookout for the antidote, the balancing moments. Watching for the perseverance and relief. And, as always, collecting joy.
The pattern has to be wrong. I’ve looked at it several times and there’s just no way it will be long enough. No errata to be found. I even remembered to check if the measurements were inches or centimeters. It must be wrong.
Stockinette for 22 inches. This is a baby sleeping bag for a baby due in about three weeks. A late summer baby. The yarn is heavy and the sleeping bag will be warm. He won’t fit into it for even two weeks! What is wrong with this designer?
Lima Bean was 19 inches long. This is never going to work.
The past two or three knitting days were like that. Me worrying over this pattern and desperately trying to knit more and faster.
And then this afternoon –
News Flash: Babies have heads. Heads stick out of sleeping bags. 22 inches is plenty long. We now return to our regularly scheduled knitting.
Lady Bug was showing off some of her Thumbs Up prizes tonight. Two bottles of bubbles! But these, she told me, were nothing compared to the coveted purple prize: fifteen extra minutes of recess.
She told me about these things in one or two sentence bursts, interrupted by trips in and out of her room. She was in the room and almost out of sight when I asked, “What do you guys do at recess?”
Peeking out of the doorway she looks at me as though I must have hit my head. “Mom! We play.”
Of course they play. I am glad to hear that recess is not a series of marching exercises around the school yard.
I try to remember what I played at recess in third grade. Hopeless at any team sport, organized or otherwise, I was still happily in the land of make believe and jumping ropes. It was one of the years that jelly bracelets were popular and it was both funny and frustrating when someone’s entire collection slipped off their wrist and down the rope, stopping the game while the treasures were gathered back onto the proper arms.
One dear friend Alicia and I made a world out of a patch of dirt with broken glass all over it. It couldn’t have been more than eighteen inches long and maybe six inches across. It was magical. Crystal Lake. She would bring action figures to school and we would have such adventures. I remember being especially envious of her Princess Leia toy.
“Yes,” I continue to Lady Bug, “but what do you play? Baseball?”
She scrunches her nose at me. Team sports are not terrifying to her, but they are not her first choice either. “No. We play on the structure.”
It sounds like a post-apocalyptic ruin of long forgotten significance.
She suprises me with the next part. Popping her head out of the room again she announces, “Today we had a funeral for a bee.”
Now this does sound interesting. “For a bee?! What happened?”
“Well,” she begins, my storyteller in her true element, “Dante stepped on a bee and so we buried it, but then Neil didn’t get to see it so we dug it back up and it was ALIVE! It was moving and everything and I touched it. It was kind of gross.”
“What kind of bee was it?” Always mama, always the scientist.
“One of the big fat ones, but not a bumblebee. They do have stingers, but Neil says they rarely use them so I touched it. And then Andre stepped on it again and we buried it again.”
“Did you sing any bee funeral songs?”
“No. We all held hands in a circle and then fell backwards and then we talked about how we felt.”
I think recess is in good hands with these kids.