A Picture-less Year

Every year as the holidays approach, we put together our photo calendar to commemorate the events of the passing year. A great gift for grandparents. A cheerful reminder of happy times and vacations hanging over the desk at work. It is time once again. But I woke up this morning with the realization that we have almost no photos from 2020. 

It was a momentous year for us in many ways. We moved. New house. New job. New schools. An 18-year-old voting for the first time. A 16-year-old getting his license. A 13-year-old entering his teens.

But it was also a ski season cut short. Limited time at the farm. No family beach trips. No annual camping trip. No hunting or fishing. No cross-country races or basketball games.

The only picture that stays in my head is the daily safepickup.com photo showing that our son passed his Covid pandemic health check, so they let him into school – no fever, no cough, no sore throat, no vomiting, no travel, no contact….

Although they change the screen colors every day, it doesn’t make for a very interesting calendar.

Then it came to me. It is 2020… the end of a decade, twenty years into a century with plenty to reminisce about and to celebrate. And fortunately for the calendar, hundreds and hundreds of wonderful photos.

Evolution and Another Dog Walk During COVID-19

“If all the humans die, which animal do you think would take our place?”

We looked at our unlikely dog trotting ahead of us, sniffing the air, ever-hopeful for a… Bunny? Squirrel? 

“The strongest or the smartest?” continued the 6th grader, knowing the bunny wins every time.

Some conversations last the entire 3-mile loop around the neighborhood. Some return at the dinner table.

Would it be different on each continent? Would the strong win first, then a weaker but smarter species evolve to overtake the strong? Or could the strong one evolve to be smarter? Would the next phase of evolution follow the same pattern as before? Would the next “humans” be like us? Would they look like an animal we already know?

Another doubting glance in the direction of our sweet, old dog.

If You Were a Monarch

“If you were a monarch, what would your portrait pose be?” 

Sometimes it takes my brain a minute to confirm that yes, that’s the out-of-the-blue question I just heard.

So our sixteen year old positioned into his own pose. Feet crossed. Arm resting on the back of a stool. Chin raised. Very royal.

He looked at me expectantly. Grabbed his phone and pulled up Louis XVI in a lavish cloak. Tweaked his own pose. “This is my favorite.”

“Ummmm…..”

“Elizabeth and Victoria have good ones….” he suggested.

His Dad didn’t miss a beat. “Sword raised. On a horse.” 

A Trip to the Bank

I brought our 16-year-old to get a cashier’s check to pay the auto repair shop for damage he inflicted on his car. When we walked inside the bank, he whispered, “This is so nice!”

It’s a regular bank branch. Large. Corporate looking. Nothing fancy. Muted elevator music. 

Still half-way across the room, a friendly teller called out, “How can I help you?”

The only other teller disappeared. The chairs opposite the financial experts who get their own desks were all empty.

I thought how absolutely bored they must be. The teller. The financial expert. 9 to 5. The white sound of air conditioning. An occasional customer. Then back to the quiet in that big room.

The smiling teller handed us the check.

Then with a last sweeping look, my son sighed, “What a nice place to work. It’s so peaceful.”

“All the World’s a Stage”

Yesterday, when our son came from backstage after the 5thgrade performance of Hello Shakespeare, he beamed. A look of joyful pride I’d never seen in him before. Not ever.

And grinning ear-to-ear, he hugged me as if his emotion was too great not to share.

It’s been a tough school year. Academically. Mostly socially. Many days, he comes home quiet. Goes to his room to draw maps or write in his journal. 

I keep thinking that he just needs to feel good at something. Some positive feedback coming from the universe.

Then yesterday, he was a natural Will Shakespeare. A fun-loving ham. As the curtain closed, and the other kids headed off stage, he remained, tossing his bowler hat in the air, smiling at the audience, soaking it in, drawing the moment out a few more seconds.

The happiest, I think, he has ever been.

At least for a day, he found his world’s the stage.

Looking Good, Dude

Our 11-year-old son’s 2019 New Year’s Resolution was to run on the treadmill two days a week, and to lift weights three days. As we enter month two of 2019, he has hit the treadmill three or four times, and the weights two or three.

Definitely more than his 2018 totals.

So he stood at the side of our bed, shirtless, potbelly touching the bedspread, and grinned proudly, “my six-pack is starting.”

Superheroes

Most nights at the dinner table, I think to myself that we – my sisters and friends and I – never talked about stuff like this. The Falcons game when Matt Ryan…. But Aaron Rodgers is… Who’s better at…. Who’s gonna win at…..

And the other day, overhearing my ten-year-old son and his friend argue the merits of Iron Man and Black Panther, I caught myself thinking the same. Boys are so different.

But then, I remembered Sabrina.

In my mind, she was the best Charlie’s Angel. The smart one. Never the one who sprained her ankle, got caught by the bad guy, or was stupid enough to fall for him. If we were playing Charlie’s Angels, I claimed her. She was going to solve the crime.

Kelly, of course, was a fan favorite, or Jill, or Chris, and their merits could be argued, for sure. Better hair, if nothing else. But I always fought for Sabrina, the grown-up, slightly nerdy tomboy.

Iron Man. Black Panther. Iron Man. Black Panther.

“The suit made him. He wasn’t a real superhero.”

“He made the suit. His brain made him a superhero.”

She was the smartest. The prettiest. The fastest. The bravest. The best.

Iron Man. Black Panther.

Sabrina. Kelly. Jill.

And then… Joe. Beth. Amy. Meg.

Laura. Mary. Carrie.

And we – my sisters and friends and I – talked about stuff like that all the time.

Nurse Star

Our fourth grader started throwing up at 4:30 this morning, and spent the next three hours lying on the bathroom floor. Sleep. Puke. Sleep. Puke. Sleep. Puke.

After one such bout, our dog Star, with her aching hips, forced her creaky self off the hall rug and scratched to be let outside.

“My tummy hurts so bad,” moaned the little guy, as I lay a blanket over him.

Star re-appeared at the door moments later with a dirty bone dug out of hiding. Passed right by me when I let her in. Dropped the bone outside the bathroom a foot from my son’s feverish forehead. “Here, try this,” she seemed to say, “It always makes me feel better.”

Then returned to her nap nearby… just in case he needed her.

Return to the Playground

When the boys were little, we spent many mornings at the park. It’s where I made my first friends in our then-new hometown. So, it was a little strange when, after not going for a few years, my ten-year-old son and niece veered in while walking the dog.

They climbed, “Count how long it takes me!”…

…and swung, “Come on! Higher!”…

…and spun each other around, “Faster! Faster! No, stop! Stop! Stop!”…

The dog and I followed the path encircling the playground equipment. It brought back  memories of trailing my sons on their tricycles as they rode along that same path. Of moving from one side of the playground to the other, as they did, to make sure I was close enough in case they fell, got stuck, got their feelings hurt. Of standing, eating cold green grapes, next to the big tree they all loved to climb.

I walk past the park almost daily, but a ten-year-old body at play makes the playground look a miniature version of the one in my memory. Had my teenagers been with us, I imagine it would have seemed even smaller. You can get anywhere in a few quick steps. See everything from any bench.

Apparently, I didn’t need to follow so close back then. It would never dawn on me now to interrupt their play with “Not so fast!” “Not too far!” “Don’t jump off that…”

So, as the dog and I wandered, they happily climbed and swung and spun and squealed at each other.

And when we got home, my ten-year-old threw up all over the carpet. Too much spinning, but still the best part of his day.