Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Innocence Lost

Today I came across a book I bought the summer before my daughter went into 5th grade. It was $2.99 in a bargain bin and is called "A Year in the Life of My Daughter". The "preview" on the back cover states this:

This unique journal offers the rare opportunity for parents to capture a single year in their daughter's life -- a year they can relive and remember as they flip through the pages in years to come. It is filled with "thought starters," writing prompts organized around the four seasons that reflect the issues, interests and challenges that parents and their daughters face."

I LOVED this idea and when I bought it I had every intention of documenting my daughter's 5th grade year. But did I ever get around to it? No. And for that I am sorry.

5th grade was what I consider the last year of innocence in my daughter's life and from what I've read, that is common for most girls. At 10 and 11, girls feel invincible and able to do whatever they want. The world is their oyster and they feel capable and good about themselves.

5th grade was the year she had her "most favorite teacher", the year she earned her Black Belt in karate, the year she had a group of friends who just "clicked" and a best friend she thought would always be there. It was before she knew what it was like to wear a bra. It was before she knew what it was like to have a crush and not have it returned and conversely before she knew how it felt to not like someone but have them tease you because they like you. It was a time when the girls she knew didn't wear makeup and didn't talk constantly about boys but talked about their own interests.

It wasn't until after 5th grade that she lost some innocence when her best friend went off with another group of girls, girls who acted older and tougher than they felt and later when another good friend moved out of state. And another piece of innocence was pinched off when she felt the betrayal of a friend's cutting words. But worst of all, it wasn't until later that the tragedy of suicide struck the son of her "most favorite teacher".

I look back and remember that the morning of 9-11 I was having a conference with her "most favorite teacher" a teacher who said "I really don't need to even have a conference for a child like her." It was a contrast in feeling pleased to have such a child and in feeling horror while watching the events of 9-11 unfold that day. I sometimes wonder if that was the signal that my child was soon to lose her innocence, just as the country lost theirs that day.

None of us can grow up without losing our innocence. Our lives will never again look as good as they do from the vantage point of a 10 year old. It's a necessary step to survival in this world to realize that bad goes along with the good but even though it's a passage, to a parent it feels cruel that our children have these lessons to learn. And we pray that the lessons won't hurt too much, that our children will be able to handle whatever is thrown their way and we hope they know we would switch places with them in a minute and bear any hurt for them if we could.

High school is coming up this fall and I have made a vow to use this book for her freshman year. There are new journeys to document. She has survived the growing pains of junior high, she is older and wiser and she is happy. I may mourn the loss of innocence but I am thankful for the happiness and for the strength she has acquired in the journey.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Old Friends, Old Memories

Mary Shelley (the author of Frankenstein) wrote: The companions of our childhood always possess a certain power over our minds which hardly any later friend can obtain.

The photos above are ones I scanned of my best friend from childhood, Barby. She's sitting with the Shrinking Violet doll I received one Christmas and my younger brother is next to her. She was 8 1/2 and I had turned 9 a few months before.

I received a camera that Christmas so we took turns taking photos of each other. I'm the one in my nightgown in the grass and this was Christmas morning. She probably dressed and ran over to see what I received from Santa. As I remember it, she was the one who told me there was no Santa but coming from my best friend, perhaps it made it easier to hear, I don't really remember.

And that's the funny thing about childhood friends, they often remember things we have forgotten and vice versa. In a recent email she told me she used to tell her daughters night time stories about a long, long time ago when she was a little girl. And of course, those stories included me since we were inseparable for many years.

My first clear memory of her is coming home from somewhere and seeing her mother talking and having coffee with my mother at our kitchen table. I went into my room to find her playing with my dolls and remember feeling a need to protect my territory. I don't remember if any fight happened, probably not, we were only about 4, maybe 5 but we became friends and stayed that way through the years.

Neither of us had a sister (well, I did much later when I was 12) so we enjoyed pretending we were sisters and loved thinking we looked alike (we didn't). She took ballet and always had her hair in a bun and there was a period of time I always wore a bun too. Maybe that was my mother's idea as my hair wasn't exactly tame but maybe it was our idea so we could look alike. So much is lost in childhood memories which is why it's wonderful to have someone out there who remembers mine as much as I remember hers.

I was reading in another blog and found this: I don't like to be the sole memory holder of something special. A memory is meant to be shared.

I find it comforting that she remembers our childhood and so much about my life such as my childhood home, my childhood bedroom and toys and our childhood projects. She wrote recently: One of our girls' favorite stories was about when we would walk to the library, and agonize over our books, bargaining who could get which one, then stopping by Googie's for french fries and a hot fudge sundae, then going home, getting a big bowl of orange slices, and diving into the first book. We'd call each other for progress reports/reviews. BR5-O249. Then trade books. Then act out the books with the Barbies, until Tommy and Billy took all the Barbies and undressed them, then reposed them in their exact positions.

She recently reminded me of our "secret" clubs, the Tut Tut Club, and the Girl's From A.U.N.T. (with the motto, Be Kind to all Aunts, both kinds). She and I both remember going to each other's cabins in the mountains to escape the summer heat. Hers was on a lake and we'd take the rowboat and row around. My family's cabin was on a creek where we'd skip stones and sit on the rocks with the water meandering past us. When we were in the city, our summer began by "toughening up" our bare feet by running back and forth to each other's house on the hot pavement. One year we both went away to summer camp, different camps, but I still have the letters she wrote in a shoebox stored away somewhere.

We remember writing a neighborhood newspaper with gossip about the hated girl next door kissing a neighborhood boy and the girl's mother getting hot under the collar at us for writing it. I remember her dogs Dingo and Princess and she remembers my cat Esther. Even my own sister can't remember any of this stuff as she either wasn't born yet or was too young but Barby can
remember me with braces, as a gangly pre-teen and pre-husband and children. She remembers my parents as their younger selves and I remember hers. There aren't many people left in the world who remember these things and in my book that counts for a lot.

Our childhood seemed to close around the time my sister was born. I got the sister and she got the swimming pool we both wanted and most of that time is hazy to me. I went away for the summer to visit my aunt in Illinois, she went and visited relatives in California. By high school we were good friends again and we both got a boyfriend at the same time but a year later she moved out of state. Since then we've written, some years more than others, and we've married and had kids and raised families. To me, she'll always be a part of me, a part of my family and a part of my history. One of life's gifts is a good friend, but a good friend who holds part of your history inside herself just as I hold part of her is more than a gift, it's a treasure.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

My walk

I started walking daily about three years ago and there is rarely a day that I miss walking two miles, sometimes more, but always two. Usually my husband comes along but depending on his schedule I often walk alone and love it. It's fun to see what is new in the neighborhood, what house is for sale, who is outside working in the yard or walking or jogging. My path takes me through the back part of the neighborhood, across a little park and then out onto a dusty desert road. Once I get out of the neighborhood, I love seeing the changes that the seasons bring.

I live in the Sonoran desert and though we don't get the traditional seasons, we do have definite changes of nature here. Most people think of a desert as hot, barren and dry. Yes, we are definitely hot much of the year and only receive 12 inches of rainfall annually but our desert is lush with many different plants and animals.

We don't have sand dunes or rocks without vegetation or a landscape devoid of any animals. We have ancient saguaro cactus, prickly pear cactus with beautiful pink blossoms, mountains that really are purple and animals such as coyote and the funny quail with their little topknots bobbing as they usher their puffs of newly hatched babies across the road.

When I walk, I'm not in such a hurry that I can't stop and examine nature a bit. One day I saw a huge tarantula peering out of his hole in the ground, another day a snake slithered past. Thank goodnesss he was the friendly kind. I often see snake tracks cutting across the dirt in the road. Many times I've seen coyote scooting across the road, they are mangy and thin and always run away and not towards me for which I'm grateful. There are rabbits and prairie dogs and usually a lizard or two, sometimes big lizards, sometimes tiny. They all seem to wait in the shade doing pushups during the hot months.

Currently, the weather is hot and dry and we are waiting for our summer monsoons to start. The days must get hot enough to bring the moisture up from Mexico to produce the storms. When they come, they are fierce and the washes flood, and there is lightning and thunder. The mornings start out hot without a cloud in the sky and by the afternoon the clouds have built and the rain comes. It's a much appreciated and much looked forward to time of year.

We also have a winter rainy season and if we get enough rain there are wildflowers everywhere by spring. The Saguaros bloom then too with huge white waxy flowers. They remind me of ladies with new Easter bonnets.

It took me a while to appreciate the beauty of the area. I like the saying "Bloom where you're planted" and decided to adopt that as my motto about a year after we moved here. I missed the place where we used to live with trees so green and tall that you couldn't see the horizon, the change of leaves in the fall and mild snow in the winter. It took me some time to adapt to the desert again (I grew up in Phoenix) but now can't imagine where else I would live. We are four hours from the ocean and 30 minutes from the top of Mt Lemmon which is an 8500 ft mountain that is always cool in the summer and has skiing in the winter. So for now, I'll continue my walks and appreciate my surroundings and give thanks that I can experience such a unique environment.

Friday, July 01, 2005


My mother-in-law, who is 76, recently got a girlfriend. She is now going to weekly movies with her friend and even traveling together with her. I'm so happy for her as for many years I wondered who and where her female friends were. Oh, she had social acquaintances, but I never heard her speak of anyone special, no one that she could call to tell the latest dirt or anyone who could give her a shoulder to cry on. There was never a special person she went shopping with and no one to call for advice. I didn't understand it as my own mother has had the same best friend since 1952 and has played cards monthly with the same group of women for almost as long.

Growing up, I'd see my mom on the phone with her best friend daily. They lived on opposite sides of town so they weren't together daily but they almost always had daily contact via the phone. Once a year they planned a getaway to another city to do their Christmas shopping. When both had kids that were grown and gone, they took trips together, sometimes the husbands came along, sometimes they went on their own. They've been through everything together, the raising of kids, weddings, divorce, the death of parents and they now are stepping into the scary world of old age together. And for that I am very grateful.

My mother doesn't live close to me and her best friend is there to help now that her memory is failing. She watches her like a hawk and sends me letters telling the details of what my mother's life is like now. She misses hearing the things my mother can't remember such as details of her children's lives or about the grandchildren so I try to fill her in as best I can. She's there to take her to card club and there to remind her of appointments and of what the doctor said but mainly she is there, as she has always been, with her love and friendship never wavering.

Long ago a friend told me "men come and go but your women friends will always be there" and I realize the truth in that statement when I see my mother's life. She still goes to her monthly card club and still talks to her best friend daily. Her world has narrowed in many ways, but the love of her best friend is as full as ever. That's why I'm so pleased to see that my mother-in-law finally has a girlfriend, it's never too late to enjoy the delight and comfort of a good friend.

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