Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Springtime For Hula Hoop

We went to Target yesterday. I had some spring cleaning projects to do, and I needed a few supplies (metal baskets for pantry organization, Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, bleach, paper towels...that sort of thing), so I loaded up the Space Age Kids into the flying car and took off for Target.

Somewhere north of Mr. Clean and west of the bleach and the Dryel, I got sidetracked by OUTDOOR TOYS.

There was something alluring - irresistible - about the call of OUTDOOR TOYS. It was a sunny day. It was downright springlike with blue skies and a whisper of humidity. I swung my kid-heavy cart into the miles-long OUTDOOR TOYS aisle, marvelling at the brightly colored plastic and happily recalling recent springs past. The OUTDOOR TOYS knew their appeal and began jumping into my cart seemingly of their own volition.

Sidewalk chalk. A jump rope. No, two. We must have two. Six bottles of scented bubble solution. Two large bubble blowers. A bouncy ball. No, no. Two.

Finally, two hula hoops. Sparkly hula hoops with sparkly solution inside that swirled when the hoop twirled. The Space Age children were as fascinated by the sparkly hula hoops as I was. They raced me through paper towels, drawer organizers, Dustbuster filters and laundry degertent to get to the magical checkout lane and the card reader that would make the hula hoops ours.

When we got home, I sent them outside in spring jackets, arms laden with bubbles, sidewalk chalk, jump ropes, hula hoops, and little packages of rainbow-colored goldfish crackers. I heard their shouts and squeals and cheers as I gamely settled myself in to scrub the under-sink cabinet in the kitchen. My hands worked quickly, apparently with no help from my brain, which was occupied with the joy taking place on the other side of my kitchen window.

When cabinet was clean and the last Brillo pad and box of dishwasher detergent had been placed, I threw off my rubber gloves, abandoning the rest of the long list I'd stuck by Post-It note to the counter. I slid open the patio doors and ran outside to the children and their OUTDOOR TOYS.

Spage Age girl says that if I practice "for a million thousand hours," I might be able to hula hoop as well as she.

Monday, March 27, 2006

How Dino Joined Our Family

I originally posted this in answer to a poll question on a message board I frequent. I've told an abbreviated version of this story before.

How Dino Joined Our Family...

Last November, a cat came to our backyard. He was a pretty gray tabby with a red collar and a friendly nature. It was freezing out, so I let him into the house. There was no tag on his collar, so I had no idea where he belonged.

I came to this board for advice, and after reading suggestions, decided I would take him to a nearby vet to have him scanned for a chip. Not wanting to try taking the cat in the car with two little kids, I figured I'd wait until my husband got home. I gave the cat water and let him play with my children. He made himself at home immediately, purring and snuggling and sitting in my husband's chair.

Later, after my husband came home, my teenage daughter and I took the cat to the vet. She held him on her lap, petting him and speaking to him in soothing tones. He did not seem to like the car ride. We got to the vet's office just before they closed; unfortunately, they were unable to help. He did have a chip, but their scanner revealed no identifying information. It was suggested that we take the cat to the Humane Society and have him scanned there.

Fine. This necessitated an overnight stay at our house. I wasn't turning that cat loose to freeze or worse. We stopped at the store on the way home. My daughter cuddled the cat while I ran in for a litter box, food dish, and some food.

As he stayed overnight, we were growing attached to the cat. He was friendly and affectionate. He slept between my husband and me, purring nearly all night.

The next morning, I was reluctant to bring him to the Humane Society, fearing that we would find his owners and have to give him back. We'd even started thinking of names. Still, if he were my cat, wouldn't I want him back? Wouldn't I want those who found him to do the right thing? We brought him in. Sure enough, the Humane Society was able to pull his information from his chip, and I was given the name and phone number of his owners. I called the number immediately. When a woman answered, I explained I had found a cat I believed was hers - had she lost one? I described him to her, and she said, "Oh! That's Boots!" She said she hadn't seen him for a while, and they wondered if he was ever coming home. The Humane Society people gave us a cardboard cat carrier, and we reluctantly loaded Boots up to bring him home. The children were very sad. We drove all the way back to our own neighborhood - Boots' owners lived just down the block from our house. After we dropped him off, my husband drove right past our house and up the street that would take us to the freeway.

"We're going back," he explained.

It was time to find a cat of our own.

Once back at the Humane Society, we were let into a roomful of cats to observe and talk to. Way in the back was an orange tabby, two years old, without a single prospect. It was the kittens who commanded the attention of most people looking for a new friend. The orange tabby looked at us blankly with his big eyes, but he came to the front of his cage. He sniffed my hand and blinked, a little more life coming into his expression.

"This is the one," I said firmly.

The Humane Society woman opened his cage and handed him to me.

"He's a sweetie, but he's shy," she offered.

There was something familiar about this orange guy, but I chalked that up to our having had an orange tabby before, when we lived in Minnesota. Something about him tugged at me, however, and I knew he was the one. My husband agreed, and before too long we were filling out the paperwork.

As I signed form after form, I noticed one that listed an intersection near my house.

"Is this where he was found?" I asked the worker.

"Yes, it is."

"That's in my own neighborhood!"

Suddenly, I flashed on a memory from two months earlier, near the beginning of the school year. There was an orange tabby hanging around my daughter's elementary school. I had seen him three or four times - he had no collar and appeared to be a stray. On that day, he decided to follow us home after my son and I had walked up to school to pick up my daughter. The cat trailed behind us by several feet, but he was definitely following us. After we'd walked a couple of blocks, I had decided that if he followed us all the way home, I would let him in.

He turned and disappeared just two houses away from ours. I did not see him again.

Until that day at the Humane Society. It was him! It was the same orange tabby who had once nearly followed us home! I knew then that that was the familiarity in him, and that it seemed we really was meant to be our cat.

He spent the first week or so hiding under our bed all day, but as he grew more comfortable, he spent more and more time out of hiding and sitting or playing with us. He's a regular fixture around here now.

Boots came to visit us often after that - at least once a week he'd show up at our house asking to come in and play. It's been months now since we've seen Boots...I hope that he's all right. I believe he came to us that first day in order to lead us to the orange tabby, Dino, who became a member of our family.

Monday, March 20, 2006

So. What's going on?

My husband just called.

"What's going on?" he asked pleasantly.

Let's see. What is going on under Chaos Roof today?

Moments before the phone call, I heard Space Age Girl call out in a pitiful voice, "Mom! Come and help us!" I ran up to the playroom to find every stick and stone of Barbie equipment, four hundred and thirty-three Barbie outfits, five thousand and one Barbie shoes, and a few hundred Barbies littered all over the floor. The two young children were sitting in the green Rubbermaid tote that had once housed the Barbies, crammed in together and apparently stuck. There were three large - very large - drenched spots on the carpet, the result of a tea party held with water from the bathroom sink. The cat screeched in dismay and shot out from under the futon, escaping as soon as the door was opened, leaving a trail of orange hair in his wake.

I rescued the children. I picked up Space Age Boy's jacket from the floor, intending to hang it up in his closet. I stopped short at the threshold to his room. Every DVD in the children's DVD case had been removed. They were all strewn about the floor. Space Age Boy's jeans were on the floor also, as well as his discarded socks. I do not know why there were three discarded socks. To the best of my knowledge, his feet still number just two.

I paused. I went back to the playroom, where the children were busily avoiding putting the Barbie items back into the Rubbermaid tote, and noted that the boy was indeed running around in a t-shirt and a pair of Spongebob underwear. That explained the jeans on the floor.

Returning to the bedroom, I collected each DVD, slid them all back into the case, zipped it shut, and brought it downstairs. I hid it.

Hearing the children running up and down the hallway shouting "Giddyap!" I hollered back up to continue putting the Barbie things away lest the items be confiscated and placed in time out.

"It's too much work!" they yelled simultaneously.

I was rummaging through the pantry for the bottle of Cabernet when the phone rang.

So. What's going on with you?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Finding Johanna

This is another piece I wrote for my writers' group. They may recognize sukiyaki as having been one of the assigned words that week.


“What exactly is sukiyaki anyway?” Steve put down the newspaper and frowned across the breakfast table at me. I was going through recipes and cookbooks, muttering to myself and preparing a grocery list. I glanced up at him absent-mindedly.
“What, honey?”

“Sukiyaki. You said something about sukiyaki. What is it?”

“It’s a Japanese dish, dear. Layered vegetables and meat and bean curd, all fried together.”

“Bean curd?”


“Oh. Tofu. You’re not planning to make that are you?”

I sighed. “No, Steve, I’m not going to offend your sensitive palate by offering you sukiyaki. I might just as well try serving you fried eel or pork rinds. I just happened to see a recipe here and thought it looked interesting.”

Steve pushed aside the rest of his Swiss and tomato omelet.

“I’m full,” he announced, leaning back in his chair and burying his face behind the Saturday real estate supplement.

I scribbled the last few items on the list – milk, cheese, yeast, wheat flour, eggs – and stacked the recipe books. I stood up to clear the breakfast dishes, taking my recipe file with me. This was so typical of my relationship with Steve these days. He was either critical or detached, and I was left feeling awkward. Or worse – ignored.

As I rinsed the dishes and loaded them into the dishwasher, I wondered what was wrong with me lately. I was much more sensitive to Steve than ever before. I was acutely aware that neither he nor my children seemed to need me very much these days. Certainly I was necessary for their comfort: I did the shopping and the cooking and the wash. I ironed. I changed sheets. I picked up basketballs and dirty socks and milk glasses with crusty rims. I made sure the pantry was stocked with Gatorade, Power Bars, Cheerios and chocolate chip cookies. And I never, ever made anyone eat sukiyaki.

Was this what it felt like to be taken for granted? I wondered. Or maybe I was having a mid-life crisis. Isn’t 36 too young for a mid-life crisis? Yes. Too young for a mid-life crisis and too old for an identity crisis. I wasn’t sure what to call my crisis.

What was I? Just another worn out 36-year-old housewife. I had a handsome 42-year-old executive husband who earned enough money to give me the privilege of staying home to raise our boys. Those boys were now ten and fifteen, and perhaps my being home all day was beginning to be superfluous. And maybe the modern world had passed me by.

The truth of the matter was that I didn’t have many aspirations beyond being a good homemaker, hearthkeeper, wife and mother, and now I was worried that those roles didn’t mean much to anyone besides me.

I looked around the kitchen, now immaculate and sparkling. I caught a glimpse of my face reflected in the shiny stainless steel of my mixer bowl: it was tired, listless, and marked by those tiny lines that sneak up from nowhere when you realize you’re not twenty-five anymore. Although I shouldn’t have been, I was shocked to see that weary face looking back at me. It surely was a hoax of Mother Nature’s, wasn’t it, that I was no longer the soft and supple young woman I once was?

I felt Steve’s hand on my shoulder.

“I’m taking Ben to REI,” he said. “Want me to pick up anything for you while I’m out?”

“At REI?” I laughed. “Hardly. Have fun.”

“I want to buy some camping gear for next weekend,” Steve explained. He tossed his car keys in the air and caught them again, smiling at me broadly, looking youthful and vibrant and handsome as ever. Why didn’t he have the same time-weary lines I did? Why did the hint of silver in his hair make him all the more attractive while mine just made me look dull? Another of Mother Nature’s cruel little jokes, I supposed.

Ben, our long and lanky fifteen-year-old, came bounding up the stairway from the basement family room, all legs and sneakers and teenage sweat.

“I just beat Andy three times in foosball,” he laughed to his father, brushing past me and barely acknowledging my presence. Andy, our ten-year-old, the smaller carbon copy of his brother, appeared behind him, howling, “I never win! I want to go to REI too! Can I come, Dad?”

The three of them tumbled out the door, laughing and talking all at once, slamming the kitchen door behind them. I peeked out for just a moment, watching them pile into Steve’s Durango and roar off up the street.

The silence in my normally noisy house seemed louder than the noise it replaced. It was Saturday morning, the house was clean, my boys were out, and I had no idea what I would do to occupy my own time. Make cookies? No, I didn’t really feel like making cookies. Call my mother? No. I didn’t think she’d ever had a crisis of self in her life and would surely look on mine as a fundamental character flaw. Grocery shop? Yes, that was what I should do, but I didn’t have much enthusiasm for the task.

I wandered around the house aimlessly for a while, trying to resurrect the comfortable feeling of security in my home. It was a beautiful house, carefully decorated with pieces Steve and I picked out together. There was love in every hardwood floorboard, every stitch of the quilts on the beds, and in the small touches of matching towels and fully stocked bookcases. I had everything I could possibly hope for. Why in this moment did it feel like “not enough”?

I found myself heading for the bedroom with the intent of cleaning out and organizing the closets. Subconsciously, I suppose I knew that I wanted to inspect, reread, and wallow in the faded memorabilia of my life before Steve and the boys. I’d been married for 16 years, and my impetuous teens seemed light years away, a life lived long ago by a pretty young girl, a life I’d seen pictures of but couldn’t remember participating in.

Diving into the closet, I pulled out dusty shoeboxes filled with stiletto heels and long forgotten boots. I rummaged underneath the extra linens that weren’t quite as fresh-smelling as I would have liked. I found textbooks from Steve’s graduate school days, and moved past cardboard boxes full of family photos I’d promised myself would go in albums one day. I finally unearthed a dark green cardboard box tied with double-knotted twine. It had been buried underneath the accumulations of married life for more years than I wanted to think of. I slipped down the hallway back to the kitchen and pulled the shears out of the junk drawer. I stopped to fill a wineglass with Riesling, casting a guilty glance at the clock as I did so. It was just before eleven. Who was here to care if I had a glass of wine in the morning? Who would have cared if I’d had the whole bottle?

Back in the bedroom, I closed the door, hesitating only momentarily before locking it behind me. I sat on the floor with the big box and sliced through the twine with the shears. The scent of faded potpourri and old papers wafted to my nose and tempted me inside. I took a long sip of the Riesling, leaned back against the dresser with my knees pulled up, and placed a stack of papers next to me.

A few pages of high school poetry, stapled together in book form. A manila folder of essays written my sophomore year in college, before I dropped out to marry Steve. An article for the school paper. Another one for the local weekly, written just after Steve and I rented our first apartment. I read a little and laughed a little. I flipped through the pages of poems, sighing over the raw angst in the verses of my youth:

Late last evening, I
Cried for a time because you
Said, “I don’t love you,”
And how can I keep living
Knowing that I still love you?

I stopped reading for a minute to wonder if, like twenty years ago, I was drowning in my angst and allowing the problem to balloon to greater proportions than it warranted. I took another long sip of the wine and continued thumbing through the pages.

A paper on illegal immigrants written at age fifteen. Love notes from someone in my journalism class in college. A list of my favorite songs. More poetry. A few childish short stories and one ambitious play.

I reached into the box and pulled out more of the puzzle pieces that were my life: my high school diploma and tassel, a leatherette folder of pictures from a college party, a crumpled brown paper sack filled with letters from a soldier I’d written to.

I glanced again at the stack of essays and short stories and the play I’d written at seventeen. I stood up and gently opened the door, peering out into the hallway. It was still and quiet. Steve and the boys were still enjoying their testosterone outing. I padded down the hallway toward the kitchen and retrieved the rest of the bottle of Riesling. It was eleven-thirty. Who cared? I had a past to live in today.

I returned to the bedroom, once more locking the door. Refilling my glass, I settled in on the floor again and spread the stacks of paper in front of me. Before I lost myself in the long-forgotten words, I wanted to get an image of my former self. I opened the leatherette folder of pictures, fanning them out and looking for an individual shot of myself. There I was: young and pretty, rosy-cheeked and smiling, hamming up a pose for whoever had been behind the camera. I wasn’t just pretty then. There was life there behind those mischievous blue eyes and brilliant smile. I hastily restacked the photos and crammed them back into the folder.

My eyes lifted to the framed wedding photo on Steve’s nightstand and saw the same smile, this time aimed adoringly at the face of my new husband. Had I been too young to get married, at twenty? I supposed not; we’d done well enough in our marriage and I loved my husband. Over the years the occasional tempting thought to have an affair popped into my head – I was intrigued with the idea of a relationship that was all passion and longing, and no dirty socks and televised golf games and Tuesday meatloaf. The ideas always went as quickly as they had flitted into my head, and it had been a long time since I’d even thought of it.

I turned back to my reading, slipping easily into the other worlds created in my own brain long dusty years ago. As I read on, I gained a new perspective on who I had been and who I could be. I felt myself lifting from the funk that had held me captive.

As I took the last swallow of wine in my glass, I heard a tap at the bedroom door. I opened it to find Steve on the other side.

“Johanna? Hey, what are you doing locked away in here?” he asked, looking quizzically at the papers and folders strewn on the floor.

“Oh, just looking for something.” I flashed him the same brilliant smile I’d admired earlier in the photos.

“Well, we missed you this morning, hon. The boys and I wanted to know if you’d like to go out and join us for lunch.”

The invitation touched me. I thought again of how I had everything I’d ever dreamed of, and the feeling that something was missing dissipated as a new and welcome thought occurred to me that I couldn’t wait to share with Steve.

“I’d love to,” I answered brightly, linking arms with my husband and heading back to the kitchen, where our sons waited near the door. Was reality really all about perception? Where earlier I’d felt taken for granted, I now felt like the belle of my own ball as I gazed on the expectantly happy faces of my family. Perhaps my journey down memory lane had positively altered my perception.

“So,” Steve asked, holding the door open for me to step outside, “did you find what you were looking for?”

“I think so,” I said.

“What was it?” he asked as he locked the door and motioned to the boys, who had started tossing the basketball around.

“Myself,” I whispered under my breath.

“What did you say, sweetie? Ben! Andy! Get in the car now!”

As I reached the door of the Durango, I turned to face my husband.

“Steve,” I said.


“I think I’d like to start writing again.”

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Because she's bad, she's bad...

I have been informed via space-age email that my writing "sucks" and that my short fiction is "boring." Those are two of the repeatable words from the email - sent by someone who appears to be a stranger to me - that describes the writer's dim view of my words.

To the unknown correspondent: Thank you for your thoughtful review. I'll keep your suggestions in mind, and I will no longer be hog-tying you and forcing you to read my blog. That was very inconsiderate of me, and I'll be more mindful of your sensibilities in the future.

Does anyone have an eye-rolling icon for me?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Slave Driver!

Tooth Girl is a slave driver.

I kept her home from school today with a cold. She's coughing, mildly feverish, and a bit out of sorts. She's also very needy.

Is there any more demanding taskmaster than a sick child? A sick child who is upstairs while most of my work is downstairs? Up, down. Up, down. Up, down. Up, down. Up, down. All day. Up, down. A hundred times, perhaps. I wonder how much cardio I can add to this morning's five-mile workout. Up and down the stairs all day long.

She wants a different DVD. She wants some yogurt. Is it time for her medicine yet? Can she have some more orange juice? Did I get her a new coloring book? Where is the cat? Is Daddy home yet? Another different DVD? Will I read her a book? What smells good in the oven? We read two books, and that smell is lemon squares.

Oh, wait. I'm being summoned again with a howled "Moooooooooooooooooooooooooom!"

She wanted to ask about Daddy again. When will he be home? One minute? Will he read to her?

I suggested that maybe Daddy can read her new library book to her while I make some supper.

She's sick rarely and has never missed school before, so I've indulged her slave-driving tendencies today. I did get her the new coloring book, and some stickers, and some drawing paper. Her sister babysat while I ran to the grocery store for the cough syrup, the orange juice, and the keep-her-occupied supplies. I was reminded of a time when I was a sick little girl in bed and my mother bought me a new coloring book (mine was The Archies; Tooth Girl's is Disney Princesses). New coloring books make lots of things more bearable when you're six.

She's sitting up now, her lap desk in front of her, wiggling her loose tooth and waiting for Daddy to come home. Maybe I'll let her have a lemon square before supper.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Old Little Girl and the Tooth

My six-year-old daughter finally has a loose tooth. She's among the last of her classmates to experience this particular little thrill, and it's obvious she's excited. Unfortunately, her little thrill comes with an unexpected side effect. It hurts.

She likes to wiggle the tooth with her tongue, but she gets frustrated when that hurts sometimes. She can't eat crunchy food. It's too uncomfortable.

"When will my tooth fall out, Mama?"

"I don't know. Soon."

I explained that if she wiggles it a little bit here and there it will get looser and looser and then fall out.

"Will it fall out when I'm eating?"

"It might."

When I saw her proudly pushing it outward with her tongue, showing off for her brother, I told her I was so excited for her.

"Why?" she asked.

"Because it's your first loose tooth. It's very exciting!"

"I didn't know you were excited. I thought you might be sad because your little girl is growing up."

That kid.

All I could do was hug her. Does she have to be so wordly wise at six?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Oh, my aging brain...

I opened the Blogger Dashboard oh, about an hour ago. Before I had a chance to write anything, I served leftover birthday cake to two of my children, ate a banana, took a shower, and put Whitestrips on my teeth (hey, these things really DO work!). I was summoned downstairs once more to serve beverages to two of my children. In my bathrobe, still not finished with my post-shower toilette, I popped in here for a quick scan of my messageboards.

I saw the Dashboard open. I remembered that I had been about to blog something before succumbing to the multiple distractions I often face (I'm so easily led astray, you see).

No clue.

No clue whatsoever what it was that I was going to write about. Was it the near miss we experienced earlier when the kids' dresser tumbled forward to the floor? No. That's not it. That was a terrifying experience, and not one I care to relive in the written word just quite yet. What was it?

The world may never know. Or care.

I'm getting old.

What did I come in here for again?

And just who are you?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Happy Birthday...

...to the Space Age Husband.


Inside The Box

“You don’t understand!”

This must be, what? The two-thousandth time my teenage daughter has leveled this accusation at me? But who’s counting?

Her level of self-absorption is staggering, though I suppose it's nothing more than typical of girls her age. Her inability to grasp that some modern teenage experiences are near universal and that sometimes I really do understand is normal as well. I accept this normalcy, but it doesn’t make these well-worn arguments any less frustrating for the parental side of the equation. I wonder if this is how my own mother felt when I was the teenager some twenty-plus years ago?

“Yes,” I reply with a weary sigh, “I do understand. Sometimes when I say ‘no’ to a thing, it isn’t because I don’t remember what being a teenager is like. It’s because I do remember.”

I should have known this answer would not only be unsatisfying, but that it would trigger another tirade. Times have changed! Teenagers in the eighties (said with an inflection implying that “the eighties” is roughly equivalent to “the Middle Ages”) didn’t face the same issues that twenty-first century teenagers do! I don’t know her! I don’t know what it’s like! Just leave her alone!

I answer pleasantly enough, but firmly: “Disrespect isn’t going to change my mind. Take it somewhere else if you’re not going to talk calmly.”

My attitude is guaranteed to send her further into fury. And indeed, she is furious. Furious that she can’t get her way, and furious that I won’t engage in an argument. She flounces out of the kitchen and stomps up to her room, muttering under her breath words I don’t care to repeat. I consider letting her know that I can hear the obscenities and their attendant insult, but promptly discard the idea. Her obvious purpose in speaking that way within earshot is to rile me up and draw me into a confrontation, so I’ll deflate that balloon by not reacting. I have to empower myself as parent by whatever means possible, after all.

I find myself wondering if there's any way I can convince her that I occasionally know what I'm talking about. She won’t listen when I talk about my experiences. She refuses to entertain the idea that my teenage self underwent the same growing pains and anxiety that she suffers. After all, she’ll lash out with a stab, I had perfect parents. I had an idyllic upbringing. I never had the kind of social troubles she has. Mmmhmmm, I’ll tell her. And if that’s so, I belong in a museum – a display of the only perfect child raised by the only perfect parents in existence.

Well, no. Sarcasm never gets me anywhere with her, so I suppose I wouldn’t say that after all. I’d only get defensive, and then round two would begin. No, simply telling her about some of our common experiences won’t convince her. It would all be so much lip service to her, calculated words designed to get her to shut up.

I feel sad that I can’t seem to connect with her on a plane of common ground. I’m haunted by it, in fact, because I see the pain where she tries to hide it, and my hand hits an invisible wall when I reach out. I’m not looking for parental conquest. I just want a way to show her I’ve lived some of what she lives too.

I hear the music booming from behind her closed door, and I smile a little sadly. She’s replaying songs of wretched love and broken hearts. How well do I know that feeling. I can even guess that she’s probably sitting cross-legged on her bed, propped up by pillows, scribbling angsty poetry into a well-worn spiral notebook.

As that image comes to mind, so also does an idea that might work. I cover the stairway two steps at a time and slip into my bedroom, closing the door behind me. From the closet I withdraw a heavy cardboard box sealed with fraying duct tape. It is the vessel for the memoir of my life. The dated notation on the outside of the box indicates I sealed it up for a move several years ago and haven’t opened it since. I wonder why I didn’t think of this sooner.

Opening the box unearths a wealth of information, much of it detailing the inner workings of my then-teenaged mind. I pull out several hardbound volumes of my teenage journals, rich in the handwritten details of the life I lived then. If I let her read these, will that help her see me as not just her mother but as a whole person who lived a very real life before she was born? Will she see that my attempted words of comfort are more than just words? I can hope so. I select the volumes that represent the year I was her age and hesitate only a minute before knocking on her door.

She looks sullen when she opens the door. “What do you want?”

I hand her the books. “Read these.”

Shoving the books back at me, she says, “I don’t want to read that.”

I’m trying not to be hurt. Really. Her rejection of the books feels very much like a rejection of me, and I have to remind myself that it’s not personal. I had, however, counted on her being nosy enough to be interested. I think we both have unpleasantries to atone for here, and I had hoped the journals could serve as a peace offering.

I don’t say this to her.

Instead I say, “Please. Read one, at least. I’m really just a human too.” I put the books on the floor outside her door and head back downstairs without looking back.

Some time later, returning upstairs with a basket of laundry, I see that the books are no longer sitting on the floor.

When she emerges from her room still later, she has a smile for me. I know she won’t say that she was wrong, and I know that she won’t discuss what she has read. But I can see the understanding in her eyes, and I hope that she now can see the understanding in mine.

Thinking about the cardboard container in my bedroom still stuffed with journals, notebooks and day planners, it occurs to me that to bridge this gap, all I had to do was think inside the box - an old box on a high closet shelf.