Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Henry's Magnolia Blossoms

For the last few days, our dining room has been filled with the scent of magnolia. It's not a sweet smell; it's grassy, a bit earthy, almost tangy. It smells like a growing thing. I love the extravagant blossoms, and the yellow-green new leaves almost as much. Our neighbor Henry's tree nestles up against the fence we share, so when his magnolia blooms, it almost seems like our magnolia, too. Every year he likes to offer me some blossoms. Actually the blossoms are his excuse for a little chat over the fence, him tottering on an old wooden ladder, me stretching my hand down off the balcony for the branches. I pass him over some stalks from our cymbidium in bloom. This is our spring ritual.
He is retired and his wife is not well, so he doesn't see too many different people each day. I suspect he watches out the window until me or my husband step out on the deck, and then emerges with his rake to battle his lawn or the clippers to trim his extremely carefully trimmed bushes. But I don't begrudge him ten minutes of chatting. Since he's hard of hearing, the chatting is mostly one-sided (his). I realized he didn't hear too well when I noticed his response to whatever I said was a low chuckle and a nonsequiteur--a comment that had little to do with what I had said. He always likes to comment on how thin I look, which he attributes to our family eating a healthy diet (although he has no idea what we eat). He is concerned with eating healthily because of his wife's ill health and because he is diabetic. Our favorite story about Henry is when he came to the door to return the letter we gave him about our remodeling plans (a requirement for our building permit). He stood on the doorstep holding the letter, and I invited him inside. Once he ascertained that my husband was not at home, he declined my invitation, saying it wouldn't be right.
Henry is turning 80 this May. My husband and I are trying to think of what to get him--something for the garden, since that's where we spend our moments with him--but nothing requiring too much attention. He's already got a lot to take care of.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Paper Hearts

My older son and I had a rocky evening recently. From my perspective, he was being uncommunicative and rude, answering my questions in the least number of syllables possible and giving every verbal and nonverbal sign that he thought my questions were stupid. From his perspective, I was nagging him and treating him like I thought he was incapable of taking care of himself. Typical teenager-mom thing. The last straw was when I had the audacity to suggest that he eat his peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich 45 minutes before his event at the track meet. He growled some reply, and I stomped off into the office, and my husband had to come in and remind me who was the adult here. Not my best moment. But other than his compliments on my cooking (which I do like and which definitely works to keep me turning out the meatloaf and fried chicken and cherry pies) and him consuming every scrap of food that I prepare him, I'm not getting a lot of appreciation.
Then today I was cleaning out a box in the garage and found an envelope addressed to me from his old nursery school. I dumped it out on the ping-pong table and a pile of colored paper hearts poured out. They all said "To Mom From _____." Actually quite a few said "To Mom and Dad" but the great bulk of them were to me. My own heart caught for a moment. I was showered with valentines "To Mom", "To Mom", "To Mom" that I had forgotten in the ensuing 12 years. These hearts did not represent one day's worth of work. These were days' and days', perhaps weeks', worth of cutting and writing. They were an expression of love and a practice of his new skills, over and over again. And in fact, that's how my son does things. All out, one hundred percent, over and over until he has mastered whatever it is and exhausted that particular vein of inspiration. And then on to the next thing. I was really happy to see those hearts. They remind me that even when he's fighting with me, he's saying he loves me and practicing skills at the same time. Practicing breaking away, asserting his independence from me. It's a skill that takes a lot of practice.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Hug

Today I was dropping my son off at middle school and I saw a boy who had gone to the same elementary school as my son. He was hanging out in front of school, along with a bunch of other kids. Every time I see this boy--and it's only two or three times a year, now--he comes over with a big smile and says hi and gives me a big hug. Today was no exception. It's not because I'm friends with his parents, since I don't know his parents. He is not of the same ethnic or cultural background that I am, which doesn't matter except that it could have been a reason for him to feel distant from me. It's not because he and my son were really good friends; they were in a few classes together, but that's all. Maybe it's because I volunteered in the classroom and the library a lot at the elementary school, so he got used to seeing me around. But this is a seventh grader I'm talking about. I mean, my own son doesn't like it when I acknowledge him at school now. But this boy is good-natured, with a sense of humor and a lot of friends. I guess I'm one of them. That hug carried me through the morning on a happy cloud.

(The photo is a red-breasted nuthatch about to eat a french fry at Alpine Meadows. I can't think what it has to do with this post.)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

On the Beach

If it wasn't enough that it was a gorgeous, sunny day for my walk on Ocean Beach, there was beach art to look at, too.

I saw people surfing, walking, jogging, fishing, playing with dogs, and just sitting. These folks were watching the ceaselessly moving painting we had all come to see.

Monday, March 3, 2008

What kind of punctuation mark are you?

Okay, it's all Susan's fault. I couldn't bear knowing she was a comma without knowing what I was! It turns out, I'm a semicolon. (And as an editor, I quibble with the unnecessary hyphen in the word "semicolon" below.) Now I bet you want to find out what you are.

You Are a Semi-Colon

You are elegant, understated, and subtle in your communication.

You're very smart (and you know it), but you don't often showcase your brilliance.

Instead, you carefully construct your arguments, ideas, and theories until they are bulletproof.

You see your words as an expression of yourself, and you are careful not to waste them.

You friends see you as enlightened, logical, and shrewd.

(But what you're saying often goes right over their heads.)

You excel in: The Arts

You get along best with: The Colon