by Tanya Ward Goodman
I was in third grade and it was Halloween. A bunch of people had gathered at our house to eat and drink before heading out to trick-or-treat. My mother was dressed as a gypsy fortune-teller. She swirled around the house in satin skirts and a patchwork vest, dispensing red wine out of a big green jug. My father took one of his sign-painting brushes and painted “5¢” on the bare flesh just under her collarbone. He added an arrow pointing into her cleavage and then painted a half moon on her cheek. She stood very still while he did this.
My father didn’t usually wear a real costume – that is to say he didn’t dress up like a vampire or a clown or a goblin. He wore his standard uniform of paint-spattered blue jeans, cowboy shirt with pearl snaps and Tony Lama boots. Over all of this, depending upon the chill of the evening, he might throw a fleece and leather coat with silver arrows on the collar. He might wear a grey felt top hat or a brown derby or maybe the big black Stetson. In our house there were a lot of hats hanging from nails Dad pounded into the ceiling beams of the living room. There were lots of cattle brands burned into the floorboards. There was a stuffed moose head wearing wire rim spectacles and a big glass cage where our iguana ate bananas and spent all day and night under a 40 watt bulb. What I mean to say is that Dad didn’t need to think about what he was going to “be” for Halloween, because he’d already decided who he was going to “be” for life.
Halloween was a big night for my brother and I. We often started planning our costumes in August. With the late summer monsoon clouds filling the New Mexico sky, we thought ahead to that night in October when the air would be crisp and cold and filled with the scent of woodsmoke. We knew there would be a pot of chili on the stove and a tray of caramel apples. There might be candied popcorn or cookies sprinkled with sugar. There would be empanaditas – the little crescent moon pastries filled with green chile and cheese. There would be the gutting of pumpkins for jack o’lanterns and the salting and roasting of seeds. And then, there would be candy. Free candy. While we planned our costumes, we also planned what we would do with the candy. We strategized. We plotted. We knew there would be trading and stealing and most certainly a fight over baby Butterfingers and miniature Snickers. There would be elation and awe and gratitude for the gift of a full size candy bar. There would be bingeing and hoarding and stomachaches and the inevitable let down that is the first day of November when Christmas is far away and Thanksgiving has only pie to recommend it.
I was dressed as the Pink Panther this year in rosy fur and a paper mache mask that smelled of flour paste and newsprint. I was disappointed that the costume had turned out baggy and shapeless – more like a Pepto Bismol yeti than a panther. The mask was bulky and awkward and made it hard to see. The big muzzle weighed it down and pulled at my hair. With the fur hood over my head and the mask on my face I could feel sweat prickle on my scalp. I wished I had chosen a more beautiful costume. I wished I were more beautiful. I had a big crush on most of the boys trick-or-treating with us. It would not be untruthful to say I had a crush on all boys. I kept these crushes very secret. I had already read my way through the school’s SRA Reading Series. I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit in second grade. I was a smart girl. In my third grade mind smart girls were not boy crazy. They had more serious things to think about.
But I did think about boys. I thought about them the way I thought about store bought candy. They seemed as delicious and mysterious.
One boy was dressed as a Banshee, another as Big Foot. The Banshee was always losing the headpiece to his costume and Big Foot tripped constantly over his huge Styrofoam feet. The Banshee could draw any kind of animal, but was especially good at cats and hippos, which were my favorite. Big Foot had beautiful eyes and a sprinkle of freckles. He had a teepee permanently set up in the woods behind his house. In a perfect world, one of these boys would have taken my hand. In a perfect world, the Banshee’s grease paint would not have rubbed off on my pink fur and Big Foot would not have been so darned interested in my brother’s Matchbox Cars.
Bob Dylan was on the stereo and the grown ups were laughing in the kitchen. My aunt had wrapped herself in an old kimono from the closet and jammed chopsticks into her upswept hair. She rouged her lips. An impromptu Geisha.
“Are you ready?” My father bellowed. “Are you really, really ready?” He used his best carnival voice – the same one the midway ride boys working the Flying Bobs use when they ask, “Do you want to go faster?”
“We’re ready,” we screamed.
“Your chariot awaits,” Dad said ushering us all out the front door.
The Red Van sat in the driveway. This was Dad’s most recent set of wheels and my favorite ever. Dad bought the white delivery van used and had the whole thing spray-painted fire engine red. He cut a hole in the roof and installed a Plexiglas dome on top. Inside, he built wooden cabinets to hold his brushes and paints and added a sleeping platform covered with a thick foam mattress and patchwork quilts. There were velvet pillows and dangling crystals. There was a glass eye glued to the gearshift and plastic dinosaurs parading across the dashboard. Two big doors at the back swung wide and we all clambered aboard.
“Don’t forget your hat,” the Banshee’s mother cried.
“Have you got your feet?” Big Foot’s mother asked.
We had hats and feet and masks and paper bags to fill with candy. What we didn’t have were seat belts or even seats. The adults lounged on the mattress and the kids all crawled underneath the platform. We were squashed together in the dark with the smell of turpentine and enamel paint, wine and caramel. The engine revved and someone slammed the back door shut. We bounced up the driveway and onto the road. The night had begun.
This was no neighborhood to wander in careful groups. There were no sidewalks, no crosswalks, no streetlights and no close gatherings of houses. Trick-or-treating in the mountains meant driving down darkened driveways, up winding roads and rambling for miles in search of a lit pumpkin. We hit the Tiltons, the Mullendoors, the Chesters, the Fullertons. We tumbled out at the Houseman’s to find giant tombstones set up in the front yard and the soundtrack of wolves cranked on the stereo. At stop after stop, my father flung open the back doors of the van and we poured out, shouting and running, up the wooden boardwalks and gravel paths and dusty driveways. We opened our bags to receive chocolate, gummy skeletons, orange jawbreakers, candy corn. We opened our bags to popcorn balls and home made cookies in little wax paper bags. Back in the van, we peeled foil wrapping and sunk teeth into marshmallow and crackle.
“More?” my dad asked.
“More!” we shouted. “More.”
In the van, under the platform, the sway of the road jounced me into the Banshee one moment and into Big Foot the next. What if, what if, what if one of them opened their arms to catch me? My heart beat hard beneath pink fleece. My face felt hot and red under my mask. If I’d been a fortune-teller, I might have painted my lips, made them ready for kissing. I might have had skirts to swish and swirl and long, mascaraed eyelashes to flutter. The Pink Panther costume was for kids. It had been a bad choice – so frumpy and unromantic.
“Have you got your hat?” The Banshee’s mother shouted.
“Where are your feet?” Big Foot’s mother asked.
Dad pulled the van into the parking lot of the Bella Vista Restaurant. I could smell the all-you-can-eat fish and chicken from the parking lot. We teemed up the steps behind my father.
“It’s a restaurant,” I said. “Will they let us trick-or-treat?” I wanted to believe they would and that no one could say refuse my father, but I was also worried that this place with its white table cloths and fancy folk from up the city would not have us.
“Of course they will,” Dad said. “We’re the Red Van Raiders. We’ll take them by storm.”
At the bar, my father ordered a beer and the hostess filled our bags with starburst mints from the bowl by the cash register. A waiter brought a plate of French fries. We jostled against each other, shifting the hot fries from hand to hand. We pilfered wrapped toothpicks that tasted of mint.
My dad draped an arm over my shoulder and raised his beer in a toast.
“To the Red Van Raiders,” he said. “To you, daughter.”
I looked around to be sure that Big Foot and the Banshee could see that my father was the leader of the Red Van Raiders. He’d given them membership in something so great and powerful that a restaurant would give us food for free.
We tumbled out of the restaurant and back into the van, teeth chattering, tongues flapping, elated by our success. All night, we’d been welcomed, heralded, celebrated. Our paper bags bulged with treats, our breath was sweet with sugar already consumed. No boy held my hand that night, but I felt embraced by the world, filled to the brim with sweetness and excitement. Next year I might wear skirts and paint my lips, but for now, this, this was more than enough.
Tanya Ward Goodman is the author of “Leaving Tinkertown,” published by the University of New Mexico Press
by Tanya Ward Goodman
Since I last posted here at The Next Family, I’ve become a published author. My memoir, “Leaving Tinkertown” came out in August and was accompanied by a small flurry of interviews and readings. While I have considered myself a “writer,” for a long time, holding a book in my hands cemented this identity in my brain. The book is a “testimonial,” the kind that the Wizard of Oz bestows upon the Cowardly Lion and his pals. It wasn’t that they didn’t have courage, brains and heart, they just needed some tangible evidence to prove it. I get that. I’ve always had a problem answering the question “what do you do?” I stammer something along the lines of “I’m a mom, but I write a little.” The book has miraculously shifted the order of this answer. “I’m a writer,” I say. “And a stay at home mom.”
The stay-at-home mom business is a full time job if you go at it with a “bake-it-yourself” mentality. I know this, because for much of the past ten years, I’ve been baking and making. I’ve sewn Halloween costumes and prepared potluck casseroles. I made dinner every night and packed carefully nutritious lunches. I spent hours volunteering in school classrooms and baked hundreds of bake sale cupcakes. I’ve served on boards and committees and sat right next to my kids while they did their homework every day. And it has been great.
But it doesn’t allow much time for writing.
The book is a testimonial. A talisman. The book has my name on the front cover. The book has needs. The writer has needs.
“It’s just all about your book, now, isn’t it?” my daughter asks.
“Not all about it,” I say.
She yawns. My daughter will keep me honest. She will keep me humble.
“It’s an exciting thing,” I say.
“It is,” she says. “But you don’t have to talk about it all the time.”
I don’t have to talk about it all the time, but I want to. In those first few weeks, I crave to talk about it the way I used to crave cigarettes. I feel like I shouldn’t be taking up so much time and space talking about the book, but I can’t help myself and I begrudge the time I spend not talking about it and even more the time when I am not writing.
I stop baking and making. At first I feel guilty. I beat myself up for not writing. I beat myself up for not being a full-on-full-time mom. And then I get tired of beating myself up. For the first time in a long time, I cut myself some slack. I realize that having the book out has brought me as much happiness as having my children. I want both. And I deserve both.
I stop making dinner every night. I let the take-out containers pile up. The kids learn to make macaroni and cheese from a box. I let them turn on the stove and boil water with very little supervision. And no one dies.
But I feel guilty. I volunteer more at the elementary school and take on an extra tutoring session at the high school where I don’t even have kids. It only takes me a couple of weeks to realize that I am overcompensating.
I hire a babysitter to pick up a couple of days after school. My kids do not love me any less. In fact, they have enough love to love the babysitter, too. And I am nicer when they come home because I’ve had enough time to complete a thought, fill a page, be a writer.
A couple of months in, we are finding a balance. I’m getting a little more organized and the tide of take-out is diminishing. I can make a pot of soup in the morning and let the simmering smell keep me company while I sit down at the computer. I volunteer here and there and make time for exercise and meetings and seeing friends. I am not just a mother or just a writer. I want my kids to know that. I want them to know that I am a woman who is pleased and satisfied with her life and that I am willing to work hard to keep it that way.
by Tanya Ward Goodman
The mouse is named “Candy Corn.” He is grey on the top and bottom with a white middle. When we first saw this mouse, my daughter proclaimed in very passionate tones that he was “the mouse of her destiny.”
In the words of Taylor Swift : “Trouble, trouble, trouble…”
“We have a dog,” I said. “A dog that really needs to be walked and fed.”
“But this would be my own pet,” my daughter said. “I would take care of him and train him to live in my pocket.”
Because I’ve recently set some mousetraps in the basement, I worried about what might happen if this pocket training exercise failed.
“We have to talk to your Dad,” I said. I acknowledge that I totally and completely took the easy way out by saying that. I knew for a fact that my husband was going to close down this discussion pronto. As an added bonus, he would look like the bad guy while I would come off as simply non-committal.
When my husband opened our door, our daughter jumped on him.
“Mom said we could talk about getting a mouse. He’s the best mouse. The most perfect mouse…”
My husband wondered if he could come inside before he thought about adding a member to our family. He wondered if he could take off his jacket and put away his bag. He wondered if it could wait until after dinner.
Our daughter grew stormy. The emotional clouds gathered, but they did not let loose their store of tears. A minor developmental miracle. But she did not relent. The mouse was ideal. The mouse was her soul mate, her best friend, her animal totem. The mouse was needed.
My husband wavered. It was hard to remain strongly against the mouse when the movement FOR the mouse was so intense, so heartfelt. We sent our daughter up to get her pajamas on and when she was gone, we huddled.
“Why not?” he said to me out of the corner of his mouth.
I shrugged. We’ve had small pets before. Two hamsters, “FlowersHeartsandStars” and “Sunshine” were short-lived furry friends. Their deaths left me strangely bereft.
“These things hit you hard,” my husband said. “This mouse might not live very long.”
“Mice live for three years,” our daughter called down from upstairs. It must be said, her hearing is very good.
“This is the kid we’ve got,” my husband said.
This is a kid who saves bees from drowning, who rescues mosquitoes from the bathroom and sets them free into the night. She mourns the death of an earwig. She recently asked to clean out the garage in the hope that we might turn up a rat. She’s decided that when she grows up, she’ll find nearly extinct animals and keep them safe until they have babies and then release them back into the world. She wants a horse and a cat and a bunny and a mouse. The mouse will leave the daintiest of footprints on our house – the mouse is basically a fish with fur. Why not a mouse?
My husband thinks we should wait until morning to tell her that her wish has been granted. He wants her to learn the value of patience, but me, I’m the kid who eats the marshmallow right away. Why prolong the moment when we can be the beneficiaries of her complete and total love? Why wait? Besides, what if some python owner buys Candy Corn for snake food? We can’t risk it.
Our daughter’s screams are joyful. Her hugs are fierce.
And our family has one more member.
by Tanya Ward Goodman
My Grandmother’s death has brought the family together, but my daughter’s loose tooth has given us something cheerful to do. We are united by Sadie’s tooth. When she wiggles that darned thing, we stop thinking for a moment about how hard it will be to sell the house and what a waste it would be to send that antique cameo necklace into a hole in the ground. No matter how we feel about the President, gun control or healthcare, the loose tooth brings us all together. We plot and plan for extraction when wills and accounts and phone conversations with lawyers are the dark alternative.
Sweet Sadie with her big smile and her curly hair is an eight year old in a house full of sad adults. She feeds her virtual Ipod horse and talks to the very real cat. She curls up on the wingback sofa and flips through scrapbooks hoping to find photos of someone she knows. My uncle says we should reach up behind the tooth – get a nail under the raw edge. “Move it sideways,” he says. My brother makes a lasso of dental floss and spends the better part of an hour trying to slip it around the tiny tooth. Sadie chews gum and eats the hardened caramels we find in the kitchen cupboard. She wonders if she started running fast and fell down the big hill, the tooth would get knocked out on its own. When she is tired of grown up conversation, she cries and shouts that it’s not fair to have a loose tooth. It’s painful and keeps her from eating all the things she doesn’t like, though a child at a funeral can get by on only Jell-o salad and soft white rolls. She wiggles the tooth and lets others wiggle it. Fingers yellow with nicotine have touched the pearl of this little tooth. The funeral leaves us soggy with tears and chilled to the bone in the Dakota wind, but the tooth doesn’t come out.
The tooth is wiggly on the plane and in the taxi and keeps my girl awake all through our first night at home. She rages and gnashes and I think perhaps the tight set of her jaw will push the thing right out.
At dinner on our second night home, she asks for pliers. We have guests, but they seem not to mind, so I give her a Leatherman. We watch as she grabs and slips, grabs and slips. Someone suggests a paper towel. Once again this tooth is a project. We’re in it together and Sadie is happy to be right in the middle. There is wiggling and working. There is a ten-minute bout of frustration. Tears are shed. And just when we are all feeling like it should be over, just when we’ve begun to turn back to grown up talk, she pulls it out. Her smile is broad and bloody. The tooth is white and shiny in the black metal pincers.
And then, like that, we’re back on the girl.
by Tanya Ward Goodman
Though they couldn’t be less alike, I am lucky to have two moms: the one who spent 36 hours in labor before I was cut from her belly and handed over to the nuns in the small brick hospital where I was born and the one who wore a dress the color of jacaranda blossoms when she married Dad just before my twelfth birthday. They have both been such strong influences in my life that somehow even my body reflects equal parts of these women. I have the height and lean arms of my stepmother, the woman I call “La,” and the sturdy legs and curving hips of my mother. My hands are square and rough at the knuckles like my mother’s hands, punished by years of gardening without gloves, and like La’s, whose hands ache at the joints from the effort of turning cold clay into coffee cups and cereal bowls on a wheel.
It is not just my body that bears the imprint of these women. Thanks to my mother, I have the ability to identify plants and discern a raven from a crow (the raven is bigger and looks blue in the sun). From La, I get my drive to action, my need to fix things. These forces brought me to New Mexico to care for my father when he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.
Sometimes these two influences are at war. The shyness and insecurity I inherited from my mother battle it out daily with La’s brave and often blind self-confidence. Guided by the force of her will she is often able to muscle through situations that would terrify my mother. She is, for example, navigating the unknown territory of my father’s illness while Mom stands at the edge of the forest and waits for someone to bring a map.
The strengths and shortcomings of my two mothers are tangled up with all that I have been given by Dad. Dad shares Mom’s reverence for the beauty and uniqueness of the world, but his intense drive to create quickened his pace, kept his hand moving over canvases and sketchpads late into the night. That pace is slowing now, which trips up La and me. I have come home to be with him and share this time, and I want to follow Dad’s meandering, but my responsibilities often lengthen my stride.
When I look in the mirror, I see Dad’s green eyes staring back through mine. I see his long torso reflected in my own. If I cut my head open right now, would I also see a faint shadow of forgetting?
Adapted from my memoir, “Leaving Tinkertown” which will be published in August of 2013
By Tanya Ward Goodman
We’ve been on a liquid diet. It’s not a fad. We’re not trying to lose weight. It’s just that we got this new blender and my son has been making smoothies the way I imagine Nancy Silverton once made bread — obsessively, consistently, and with feverish experimentation.
“We need more frozen pineapple,” he says every other day.
More pineapple, more mango, more berries. We’ve gone through so many bananas the clerks at our neighborhood market might suspect we are harboring an orangutan.
Every morning we have a smoothie for breakfast and sometimes, after dinner, a smoothie for dessert. He’s so excited; it’s hard to say no. Making a smoothie is something my son can do from start to finish on his own. He gets to choose the ingredients, operate (semi) heavy machinery and serve us something he created. I get it. It’s powerful to feed people.
I try hard to keep my controlling self out of the kitchen. Sometimes this is difficult. I find it nearly impossible not to wonder at the appropriateness of ingesting ice cream before 8 am. (Though strangely, I’m all for a donut – a contradiction I cannot explain.)
“Where’s the cocoa powder?” my boy wonders. “If I can’t use ice cream, there should at least be cocoa.” I shake my head and will my stomach not to clench as he adds milk and soy milk and coconut water and orange juice.
“Do you think maybe just one or two?” I ask. “That sure is a lot of flavors,” I muse.
My husband shoos me away. He will drink anything. He is not phased by the sound of a week’s worth of groceries being ground into one thick and chilly breakfast. He is taking the high and indulgent road on this one. My husband will choose other battles.
I look for more opportunities to give my boy this kind of autonomy. I ask him to pick out his clothes, run his own shower, bring the garbage cans up from the curb. I show him how to turn on the stove and scramble eggs in a pan. He makes pancakes and grilled cheese sandwiches and a Caprese salad with artistic drizzles of balsamic vinegar.
In another life, my son might be herding cows or chopping wood. He is hardwired for this sort of activity, but here in the city, we’ve got only the dog and central heating, so we turn to the kitchen where there are sharp knives and big choices to be made. The blender is great, but soon I’ll teach him to sauté and braise and roast. It’s fall and my boy is nearly ten. I raise a glass of smoothie to his budding independence.
By Tanya Ward Goodman
My belly is so huge, I can only fasten the top three buttons of my shirt. I fold the fabric up and run my hands over the warmth. Under my palm is the little lump that is an elbow or knee. Right now, the boy we have decided to call Theo is curled up inside me. When I close my eyes, I can see him. I can’t wait to meet him, can’t wait to hold him in my arms and inspect all his little parts. I want to put his toes in my mouth. I look forward to reading him stories and giving him his first spoonful of ice cream. I want to show him how to stand very still and look closely for lizards sleeping in the sunshine. I will make up songs for my boy and help him curl his fingers around a pencil.
The phone rings. It is my stepmother Carla, whose name over the years has shortened to La. Her voice is bright and brittle and I know that something is wrong.
“Your Dad’s had a stroke,” she says. “He’s not in great shape. I don’t want you to worry, but I want you to know.”
A little over four years ago, my dad was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at age fifty-eight. Just as the doctors promised, the disease progressed quickly, running like a forestfire through Dad’s mind, leaving only emptiness it its wake. Dad doesn’t know that Theo is about to arrive. In a process the Alzheimer’s literature calls “shrimping,” his body has curved inward. He no longer speaks or feeds himself. Like my unborn son, he is floating in his own waters. Though we find this brine vast and uncharted, I have to believe that he is taking as much comfort and nourishment from these waters as my son is taking from the fluids of my womb.
Theo is not due for three weeks, but perhaps because he knows something I do not, perhaps because he and my father have traveled in shared waters of consciousness, he decides to arrive early. At ten o’clock in the morning, I stand up from my chair and I feel a small pop. My pants are wet and for a moment, I think, great, not only am I huge, but I’m incontinent, too… but then I realize the water keeps coming. Holy smokes, this is it. I’m oddly calm. I change clothes and call my doctor’s office. Then I call a friend to tell her I won’t be able to make our movie date. Then I call my husband.
“Honey,” I say. “My water broke. I’m fine. We have a doctor’s appointment in an hour.”
“I’m leaving right now,” he says. David doesn’t sound quite as calm as I feel.
I am having small contractions, but they are not painful. My belly feels taut like the string on a bow just before the arrow is let fly.
I call my mom. “I’m in labor,” I say. “The baby is coming.”
“But what should I do?” She says. “What should I do?”
“Get on a plane,” I say. “We’ll see you soon.”
I call La. “The baby is coming,” I say.
“Holy shit,” she says. “It’s good timing. Maybe he’ll get to meet his granddad. Hang in there.”
I call my sister-in-law Megan. “The baby is coming,” I say.
“And you’re talking on the phone?” she says. “Geez, Tanya. Keep breathing, just keep breathing.”
And I do. I keep breathing. We all do. A couple of hours later, with the help of David and our neighbor, I make the journey down the steps from our apartment to the car on the street. I have to stop every couple of breaths to bend and let the pain crash over me. Big changes are afoot. I am an earthquake. My boy is on his way and there is nothing I can do but give myself over to the rumbling.
At the hospital, I walk around and I make jokes and every few minutes, I stop all of that and I curl up into myself and let Theo try to work his way out. We are a team. This is a joint project. It is painful and difficult, but we are in it together and I love him already for his courage and his ferocity. As the contractions come faster and faster, I close my eyes between tremors and I see my son swimming toward me. I rest in these moments. I reach out to my boy and guide him through the water. When I open my eyes, I push with all my might.
My boy is swimming toward me. Like a little fish, his body is flying quick and silvery through one world into the next. The pain of this transition is almost unbearable.
“Feel his head,” my husband says and he guides my fingers down between my legs to something damp and wrinkled and fuzzy like a peach.
“You should see your face,” David says. “You look wonderful.”
And then Theo is in the world. He is wailing and I am gasping and all around me the lights are dancing with halos made by my tears. We have a son. We have a family.
When I was nine I realized that one day my father would die. I cried and cried and he held me and dug his big tickling fingers into my armpits and said, “Jesus, Tanya, I’m only 35. I’m not going anywhere.”
Now, I’m nearly 35 and my father is dying and I’m holding my newborn son in my arms and I understand how Dad could be so certain. The kind of love I feel right now for my boy is the kind of love that makes me feel like I could defy death. It’s the kind of love that I will still feel, like the sun on my back, even after my father is gone.
Adapted from Tanya’s memoir, “Leaving Tinkertown” which will be published by the University of New Mexico in Fall 2013.
By Tanya Ward Goodman
Today I put my feet in the Los Angeles River. A school of silver fish the size of paper clips glimmered in the shallows. I felt gravel between my toes. In the distance a cement bridge and the roar of the traffic on Burbank Boulevard reminded me that I was still in the city.
I had signed on with LA River Expeditions, a group whose original mission to protect the Los Angeles River via the Clean Water Act was accomplished by proving the river could be navigated in its entirety. Hoping to further their cause, the group has dedicated itself to providing first hand educational encounters with the river. They figure that the more people who travel the river, the more people there will be who understand that there is something to protect and preserve.
I climbed into a small, lime green kayak and joined my fellow travellers as we headed up river. We paused under a cement bridge where the reflections of the water danced across the graffiti of a shark.
The particular stretch we travelled is one of three sandy bottom sections of the river. Because this section is not cemented over like so much of the river, plants and trees grow thick and wild and birds are everywhere. I saw egrets and stilts and an osprey and dozens of smaller birds I could not name. I maneuvered through the shallow water, around the occasional submerged and rusted shopping cart. I saw a huge tire flocked with thick green algae. Shredded plastic bags hung from low branches, waving in the wind like prayer flags. Despite these traces of humanity, it was beautiful. The water was smooth and green and the sun cast long shadows of leaves over the rippled surface. I dipped my paddle in and out of the water and I felt peaceful.
I had an adventure in what could be loosely construed as my own backyard, but I feel as if I’ve taken a longer journey. Today I saw something that few people have seen. I travelled a waterway that few have travelled. And I did it all with time to spare for school pickup and soccer practice. Next time, I will bring the kids.
By Tanya Ward Goodman
At the tail end of winter, we began a huge yard renovation. We dug things up and moved things around. It would look much worse before it looked any better. My daughter and I took apart the composter where we had been tossing rinds and seeds and smushy ends of fruit and vegetables for nearly three years. We turned the whole mess over with a pitchfork and then shoveled it onto a piece of screen set over the wheelbarrow. My girl shook the screen while I, with gloved hands, crumbled chalky bits of eggshell and removed hollowed cornhusks and banana peels made leathery in the heat. We found huge white grubs, eyeless worm things as thick as my thumb. We found earwigs and shiny black beetles and millipedes as flexible and bright as copper wire. It was messy business this composting, but our labor was rewarded with a nearly full wheelbarrow of fine soil, dark as coffee grounds.
As the work in the yard dragged on, we rolled this precious soil from one place to the next, hoping to add it to new garden beds where we would grow more vegetables and herbs and start the whole composting process again. It took a long time before the beds were ready and with all the rain and sun, small sprouts had begun to grow in the red wheelbarrow. I recognized the jagged leaves of tomato and the lily pad leaves of squash or melon. I thought there might be an eggplant. We transplanted these “volunteers” into the new yard as the gloom of June lifted. As the heat of July descended, we waited for them to reveal their identities.
This morning, I held the hem of my shirt up to make a pocket and loaded dozens of bright red tomatoes the size of quail eggs. In my garden there are also Japanese eggplant and the prickly green mystery pods have turned into melons, which ripen in the sun. Miniature pumpkins rise from the husk of last Halloween. It is magical and wonderful, but also very logical and real. These things went into the compost and so it makes sense that they would come out.
That logic doesn’t detract at all from the magic.
“Why did you cry when we found our dog, but not when we lost her?”
This is a question my daughter asked me today. Our dog had run out of the house and down the street with our dear houseguests chasing valiantly and desperately after. Despite their heroic efforts, she vanished.
My daughter and I had been dropping my son at camp. We returned to sorrowful faces and we began the hunt. We climbed up the trail in the park (the largest city park in the country) and the trees that are usually so delightfully shady seemed ominous and dark. The park, so familiar to us from so many, many rambles, seemed strange and dangerous.
My daughter’s lip trembled.
I shouted our dog’s name.
“Grace.” I shouted for Grace.
Tears the size of green grapes rolled down my daughter’s cheeks.
“Will she be home for dinner?” she asked. “She has to be home for dinner.”
She cried and I shouted. I called for Grace until my throat was dry and my voice was a whisper.
We returned home for better shoes, water, hats, and sunscreen. We returned home hoping to find our small, strawberry blonde dog sitting on our doorstep.
My daughter cried some more.
We drove around the neighborhood. We asked everyone we saw to keep a lookout for our dog and they all promised that they would. The hikers and the bikers and the midday dog walkers joined in our search. I posted our missing dog’s photo online and friends in town and from far away chimed in to help. Dear Grace’s floppy ears and little black nose popped up on iPhones and computer screens across the country.
And still my daughter cried.
We were taking another run up the hill in the park when I got the call. A nice man, a self-described “dog person” had found Grace. I had to ask him repeat his address because I couldn’t hear it over the sound of my own sobs.
The answer to my daughter’s question is this: I cannot cry while you are crying because I have to find a way to fix the problem and if I’m crying it will be harder. Later, when I know it is all going to be okay, I cry to let out all the tears I was too busy and worried to cry. And then some.
Grace is a blessing, a temporary reprieve. Grace is a dog. Grace is what I hope for as a parent. And what, for a time I was able to achieve today. Grace is home safe where she belongs.