I am a mother of five active, sometimes aggravating children that drive me crazy, provide me with lots of entertainment and remind me constantly about the value of love and family. I am married to my best friend. He makes me laugh every day (usually at myself). I love to eat, run, write, read and then eat again, run again…you get it. I am a children's author, having published four books with MeeGenuis (The Halloween Costume, When Santa Was Small, The Baseball Game, and The Great Adventure Brothers). I have had several pieces of writing published on Adoptive Families, Adoption Today, Brain Child, Scary Mommy, and Ten To Twenty Parenting. I am also a child psychologist, however I honestly think that I may have learned more from my parents and my children than I ever did in any book I read in graduate school. This blog is a place where I can gather my thoughts and my stories and share them with others. My writing is usually about kids and trying to see the world through their eyes, a few about parenting, adoption (one of my children is adopted) and some other random thoughts thrown in… I hope you enjoy them! So grab a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine, depending on what time of day it is (or what kind of day it is) and take a few minutes to sit back, relax and read. Please add your comments or opinions, I know you must have something to say, and I would love to hear it. Thanks for stopping by. Anne Cavanaugh-Sawan
Monthly Archives: September 2011
A Cool Change
This writing thing is fun…and a bit scary. It is scary to put your thoughts out there for all the world to see, to be scrutinized and critiqued, but you know what…I am 45, so screw it! It’s time to live dangerously. (I am such a rebel.)
“Forty is the old age of youth. Fifty is the youth of old age.” French Proverb.
My Readers Digest Contest is still going, the contest goes until November 15 so please vote a few more times! Or…enter yourself. You might get hooked like me. (If you vote for me, I’ll vote for you…)
(If you highlight this address, right-click, go to the site and go to Editor’s Picks, you should see my entry (Sunday Car Ride, Anne Sawan)
I actually just entered another competition put out by Writers Digest. This one is a story of 750 or less, and the topic is, “You are pulled over for speeding and when you open your glove compartment to get out your registration, something important falls out.”
Pretty interesting, right? Could be a lot of things: a hotel receipt, a can of forgotten Spaghettios, a photo of someone, a report card, an overdue library book, that lost check you and your spouse fought over, your child’s pet hamster…anything…
Funny where writing takes you if you let it. Sometimes you start off thinking one thing and end up with a completely different story. I sometimes feel like it controls me more than I control it.
This story is a bit different for me as I usually write children’s books, so we will see how it goes. I think it is good to challenge yourself once in a while. Change things up. Why not try your hand at it, let those creative juices flow, see where it leads you…
The blue and white lights flashing in my eyes made me dizzy, and the starched grey pants pressed against my car door made me sick.
I held my breath, hoping he wouldn’t be able to smell the scent of alcohol. It had only been two, three, maybe three and a half or four glasses of wine.
I leaned over and opened the glove compartment,
Papers spilled out: old car registrations I had never thrown away, a few parking passes from the university, some gum wrappers.
I bent down, hoping to find a piece of forgotten gum to cover up the smell of the wine, and I saw it.
White with just a tinge of blue.
Bile began bubbling up in my throat.
The evidence of my cowardice.
The note I wrote to Jimmy.
We had met freshmen year in college. He sat behind me in chemistry class. I noticed him right away because he had this terribly annoying way of slurping his coffee, and because his big brown eyes made it all okay.
Fridays we went to Copperfields. The cigarette smoke was always thick and the place smelled like spilled beer and old sweat. It was fall in Boston, if there was a Red Sox’s game the television would be on. I watched, I cheered. Jimmy grabbed me, sliding his hand behind my neck, and pulled me close.
Everything was changed in that one drunken moment in that small, smelly bar. After college we moved into a cramped basement apartment. Jimmy sailed through law school; I struggled to complete my doctorate. Jimmy sat up with me as I typed away. He listened to me complain about my Goddamn professors and my useless research. He wouldn’t let me quit, even when I cried. He would just shake his head, and quietly put the cups in the dishwater.
When my dissertation was completed, my cap and gown were on; he popped a bottle of champagne, got down on one knee, and asked me to be with him forever. I said yes.
We had sugar spun autumn leaves on our cream cheese frosted carrot cake and traveled to Africa for our honeymoon. We loved each other, we breathed in each other, we were each other.
I started my new position teaching at the university after we returned, becoming one of the hated professors I had complained about so bitterly. We bought a small house in the suburbs, Jimmy cut the grass, I painted the bathroom Seashell Blue, then Sienna Red, then back to Seashell Blue. Jimmy wrapped his legs around mine one night and whispered, “Let’s have a baby.”
He pressed his knee into mine under the conference table. I didn’t move. His fingers touched mine in the elevator. I didn’t resist. He held an umbrella over my head as we walked across campus. Then he asked me out for drink, after work. I knew what he meant; I saw it in his eyes. That’s how it began. Then came the stolen kisses in the hallway, afternoons in hidden places. He urged me to say goodbye, to end it quickly, for Jimmy’s sake.
I stopped at the mall on the way home. There were cards for everything: cards for births, for deaths, for marriages, and anniversaries, holiday cards, leaving work cards, broken legs cards…but no, “I am going to break your heart” cards. No cards to say, “Goodbye, I am a cheater. I am a coward. I need to go…”
I bought a card with a teal and gold peacock spread across the front, wordless inside.
I filled it with the empty language of “I am sorry,” “I don’t know what happened,” “You deserve better.” I slipped it into the white with a blue tinge envelope. I would put the card on the table for him to see.
I pulled up to the house. There was a police car parked outside and an officer standing on the newly painted front porch.
I slipped the card into my glove compartment.
“Mrs. Cummings?” he said, stepping carelessly onto the lawn my husband had fertilized and watered so lovingly the day before.
“I am sorry Ma’am. There has been an accident. Your husband… his car… off the road…So sorry.”
The policeman came back to the car, handed me my registration.
“I am letting you go with a warning. Watch the speed please.”
I sat there trembling, the taste of cheap wine rising in my throat and I began to vomit.
Local author competes in Reader’s Digest
Local author competes in Reader’s Digest.
BY SARAH COPPINGER
• Wed, Sep 21, 2011
— Hometown Weekly Staff
Gym Class Heroes
I started up my tennis lessons again last week. I never even held a tennis racket in my hands until two years ago when a couple of friends asked me if I wanted to join them for a “Tennis for Dummies” class (that is not really what the sports club called it, I just thought the title seemed appropriate).
I had recently left my job and had some free time so I thought, Why not? If Serena Williams can do it, how hard can it be? Right?
(Have you seen that girl’s muscles? I am still waiting to get arms like that.)
So I joined and let me tell you, I stunk! Terrible! But it was fun and pretty much we all stunk together, so it was okay. Fast-forward to now, I am probably just a hair above stinking, so my teacher told me to try the next level up class (I think she is like Mrs. Puff on SpongeBob and I am the sponge/student she is trying to get rid of).
That is where I was last week. I felt unsure of myself, really wanted to skip the whole thing, pretend I was ill or had something glamorous like tennis elbow, but I forced myself to go and during the warm up… it became pretty obvious who the Uber players were and who the not-so Uber players were going to be. Guess where I fell…
After the warm up, the instructors told us to pair up a with a partner to begin the real playing, and then it happened …
A flashback to those gym classes of so long ago…
Picking teams, picking partners, the shifting of feet, sideways glances, praying you aren’t picked last, or hoping you aren’t paired with so and so…UGH!!
Suffice it to say, I made it through. I was sweating like a pig, and couldn’t move my arms the next day (Come on Serena arms!) but it was fun, and sorry Uber players, like Arnold and Charlie Sheen, I will be back.
That recent experience really made me think, and was a good reminder for me as a parent, as to what it is like to be put in a situation where you don’t feel ready or comfortable. How it feels not to know other people in the group. To have to try and prove yourself even if you know you aren’t as good as the others. How it feels not to be picked first. Or maybe even at all….it pretty much sucks.
My oldest son George is a natural athlete. I am not trying to brag, I am just stating a strength of his. Since he was in the womb he has been athletic. I remember him kicking and shooting hoops in- utero and I was like, “What the hell is going on in there!” My stomach constantly looked like some weird scene from Alien, and I swear I saw a Nike sign tattooed across my stretched skin. He walked at nine months, and ran at nine months, one day. I wanted to get a helmet for his head because was so small with his big baby head careening into everything.
Finally he was old enough for organized sports, and had a place to put all that energy. Thank God! And he loves it. Sports is his niche. Maybe not everyones niche, but definitely his.
He does well, he tries hard, he dedicates himself, but there are times like anyone when he fails…and he gets down on himself.
I wrote the story below, The Baseball Game, after I heard him say how much he stunk at something when he didn’t make a team he was vying for. After I wrote it, I read it to my youngest son, Teddy.
He said, “I like it, and I get it. Georgie is George and Andy is me, isn’t he mom?”
No pulling the wool over that kid’s eyes.
I wrote this story for my oldest son, and for the kids that love sports. Those that put their heart and soul into each game. Those that cheer when they win and cry when they lose. I also wrote it for those kids who don’t always do well in sports, or who really just don’t have an interest in them. I know those kids too. I get it. And it hurts when you are picked last or not at all.
The Baseball Game
George was the biggest kid in fifth grade at Highland Elementary, and the fastest and the strongest, and the coolest.
And no one thought he was cooler more than Andy.
Andy was the smallest, the slowest, the weakest and definitely not the coolest kid in fifth grade at Highland Elementary.
Everything George did was cool.
He never cried, never. Not even when he stapled his hand in art class. He just waved his hand in the air with the big staple sticking out and everyone cheered, except Mrs. Pritchard who looked like she was going to faint.
Andy poked himself in the eye with his pencil by mistake once. He cried and Mrs. Pritchard fainted.
George landed a triple flip off the high bars at recess and everyone cheered, except for Mrs. Pritchard who turned really pale and had to go sit in the shade with an ice pack on her head.
Andy tried to hang upside down on the low bar for ten seconds, but he fell off after eight seconds, busted his nose, chipped a tooth and scraped his knee. Mrs. Pritchard fainted.
George always wore his baseball hat backwards and his pants real low, just like the teenagers at the high school. Andy tried to wear his pants low once but they just slipped off in the middle of gym class and everyone laughed at his Captain Fantastic underwear.
And George always hit home runs in baseball. Always.
At the end of the school year it was a tradition for the Highland Fifth Graders to play the Harris School Fifth graders. The winning school got bragging rights for a whole year. Harris School had won five years in a row. That was a lot of bragging to listen too.
But, this year everyone just knew Highland was going to win, after all they had George.
Game day came. Highland School filled the bleachers to the right, Harris School filled the bleachers to the left.
“Batter up!” Yelled Mrs. Pritchard, the umpire.
The game began. It was hot. It was sticky. It was awesome. Strikes, home runs, kids sliding in, kids getting out.
Finally it was the bottom of the ninth inning. Two outs, bases loaded, Highland was down by one.
George walked to the plate.
“Georgie, Georgie!” The whole school cheered.
This was it! They were sure to win now! The crowd roared with excitement.
George readied his bat, and tilted his head. The pitcher wound up, and…
“Strike one!” Called Mrs. Pritchard.
“Ball!” Called Mrs. Pritchard.
“STIR-IKE!” Yelled the umpire, adjusting her face cage.
George shook his head, gripped the bat tighter, glared at the pitcher, and took a deep breath.
The pitcher wound up again and,
George swung! He swung hard! He swung fast!
Straight to centerfield! That ball was going, going….
The center fielder from Harris School began to run. He ran! He ran fast, his glove stretching out, out, reaching, reaching and… PLOP!
The ball landed right in his glove.
“You’re out!” Mrs. Pritchard managed to yell, right before she fainted from surprise.
A loud cheer rose from the left side of the field. Harris School had won… again!
The Highland fifth graders all sat in silence.
Was it possible? Did it really happen? They had lost? George was out?
George sat with his head in hands as all the students silently filed past. Everyone left. Everyone that is, except for Andy.
Andy scooted down from the stands and sat quietly next to George.
“I stink,” muttered George, shaking his head.
Andy scooted closer and sniffed, “No you don’t,” he said.
“No, I mean I stink. I stink in baseball! I stink! I stink at everything!” said George, a tear slipping down his cheek.
“Wow, that sure is a lot to stink at,” said Andy.
He thought for a moment.
“You don’t stink at everything.”
“You’re really good at stapling your body parts.”
“You’re really good at scaring Mrs. Pritchard.”
“And you’re really good at chewing with your mouth open.”
“I do that?” asked George.
“Sure, everyday at lunch,” said Andy.
“Is it gross?” asked George.
“Yeah, sort of, but in a really fascinating, disgusting, cool sort of way,” said Andy.
They sat together for a while.
“Want me to teach you how to play baseball?” said George.
“No thanks, I already asked that kid from the other team to teach me tomorrow,” said Andy. “But you could help me launch my sonic rocket to the moon.”
“Sure, why not,” He said.
He reached over and turned Andy’s hat around backwards. “Know what, you’re pretty cool.”
“And you know what,” said Andy, turning his hat back around and wrinkling his nose. “You do stink a little.”
Zoku is not a gym class
Okay I know this is not a product review blog but I just wanted to share with you three new gadgets that I LOVE!! (Given my recent dismal foray into the world of expressing my housekeeping opinions on Facebook, you may or may not want to follow my advice here.) And just so you know my sister actually laughed at me for purchasing two of these items, and I swear I heard her snickering as she drove away after I told her about the third. I won’t tell you which sister, she knows who she is…
(These items are mainly geared towards families with school age children, so if you do not want to continue reading that‘s fine, just quietly click on the “Like” button before you go on your way… )
The first is my new ultra fast popsicle maker I got this summer. I got mine at William Sonoma but I know you can find it other places. This Zoku pop maker is fantastic! It makes ice pops in under 10 minutes so no more sitting around all day with the kids asking you when the pops are going to be done. Just make sure you follow the easy directions, and don’t fill the containers to high or you’ll never get the suckers out. There is a book to go along with it, and other pieces you can purchase to make fancy-pants popsicles…I don’t do this.
My only complaint is I wish the unit were bigger. You can only make three pops at a time. If you are listening, Zoku, I need at least five. Thanks.
The second item is a new hairbrush called a Knot Genie. I found this on Zulilly but you can go to knotgenie.com and purchase one. I don’t know how they do it, but this brush is unbelievable! It is like magic! My youngest daughter has had this unforgiving knot on the back of her head since infancy. I have conditioned, sprayed, brushed and combed… all to no avail. (She now has full-blown PTSD and runs whenever she sees a brush.) This creepy, messy, snarky, behind-the head hair monster always comes right back, which is sort of weird because the rest of her hair is straight and silky.
Okay, I have to sneak in one short story here. My son Teddy heard me talking about Eliza’s “snarl” one day and he started to laugh.
“Stop it Mom!”
“Stop what?” I said
“Stop saying, “snarl.” That is not a word. You just made it up.”
“No I didn’t!”
“Yes you did! Snarl! It sounds like some sort of monster or troll from one of your stories.”
(This kid is good! JK Rowling has nothing on this imagination! )
So then I had to look it up…maybe I was making up this word… but no, I found it right there in the dictionary.
Snarled: tangled, confused, jumbled.
Yup, sounds like the back of Eliza’s head alright (and the inside of mine).
Anyway, the Knot Genie is excellent! Defeats the snarls, gets out the knots and wins the Quidditch match!
The last thing is my new Packit Lunchboxes (packit.com). What a fantastic idea, finally!! These lunch boxes come with essentially three ice packs sewn into the sides on the lunch box. Your kid’s food stays cooler and fresher. When it is empty it folds down flat. At the end of the day, wipe them down and stick them in the freezer for tomorrow! Wah-la!
One small change they should consider however is to put a small zippered pocket on the front so you could stick some milk money in there. (But not evil chocolate milk because that is banned in Massachusetts!) I am sure that will be next year’s model so I can buy some more, oh and it needs some Disney Princesses sprinkled over the front.
And finally, I did just purchase the most amazing slow cooker at my favorite William Sonoma the other day, the Cuisinart Multi Cooker. This thing browns, sautés, roasts, steams and slow cooks, all in one pot, so your pot roast will taste fantastic… I haven’t actually taken it out of the box yet, ( To tell you the truth it sort of scares me) but I have high hopes. I will let you know how it goes. And clean up is a snap it probably only takes a half a paper towel to clean up any spills! (That’s for my Facebook friends!)
Any products you use that you would like to share? I am always looking to spend my money on something for my sister to laugh at!
Readers Digest Contest. http://apps.facebook.com/yourlifecontest/node/2182
Hey Guys! Readers Digest is having a contest titled, Your Life, The Reader’s Digest Version. You have to write a little blurb about a moment in your life in 150 words or less. I entered a few pieces and one made it to Editor’s Picks! Which is sort of exciting for me! If you could go to the site on your facebook page, and vote for my story that would be great! Thanks so much for all your support and friendship. It really means a lot. Anne
If you highlight this address, right-click, go to the site and go to Editor’s Picks, you should see my entry (Sunday Car Ride, Anne Sawan). A copy of it is below. Thanks again!
“Sunday Car Ride”
The Flower Garden
Flower Garden: An Arabic Adoption Folktale
Yippee!! Adoption Today Magazine published my short folktale, The Flower Garden, in their September issue which has just been released. You can read it here below, or go to their website, http://www.adoptinfo.net/catalog_g111.html?catId=55347. (It looks like you may need a subscription to read it there.)
“A folktale is a type of traditional story that tries to explain or understand the world. Such stories were orally passed down through the generations and feature morals or lessons. The stories usually take place long ago in a faraway place and are woven around talking animals, royalty, peasants, or mythical creatures. In a folktale, goodness is always rewarded. Heroes and heroines live happily ever after while villains are suitably punished. Throughout the generations, the story may change but its core remains the same. They mirror the values and culture of the society from which they originated. “(http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-folktale.)
I mentioned before I love to read, and I read almost anything I can get my hands on. When I was little I would spend hours squirreled away in the corner of the library, pulling books off of the shelves and reading. I read all genres: mystery, humor, fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, biographies… not too much science fiction, but that’s just me. I read the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Amelia Bedelia, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, books by Lois Lenski and Beverly Cleary, and the scandalous Judy Blume, (which were shelved by themselves way up high on a shelf. I would have to sneak to read those!). I especially loved reading about places that seemed far away and mysterious. I loved reading the true stores of Brothers Grimm, the Blue Fairy Tale Books; and the scary Russsian tales of Baba Yaga with her house on chicken legs kept me awake for many nights. Funny to think that one of my favorite books was a wonderful, illustrated multi volume of the Children’s Bible. I can still see them all, taking up a whole row on the bookshelf, bright blue and white binding. I wasn’t so much interested in the religion part but found the stories contained within those pages magical, fascinating and frightening.
After my youngest daughter was home for a bit, I began to think about different ways to tell her about her life story, her adoption story. There are many ways to tell people things; the good old straight away, and the metaphorical. Sometimes we may have to be told things in a few different ways before we can really grasp the meaning or importance behind it.
I think many of us have forgotten about the power of fairy tales and fables. The joy of reading something that is told through symbols,and the inner work that it takes to sometimes decipher the messages embedded within. Kids get this stuff, it seeps into their brains and they work it out little by little. That’s the magic. The meanings may not hit you over the head, but seem to pop up over time here and there.
When we were in the Middle East, (and even at home a few times), people sometimes asked us if we were going to tell our daughter that she was adopted. I was so surprised at this question. “Of course we will tell her!” I thought, ‘What a strange thing to ask.” (See my previous post, Letter to My Daughter’s Birth Mother, to see the sometimes-bumpy road that thought has had). One day my husband said to someone who had asked, “Yes, as a matter of fact, I told her last night. So now she knows. Phew! Glad we got that out of the way”
I laughed. Our daughter was only ten weeks old, and he had sat with her in the rocking chair the previous night, singing and talking to her. I guess among the things he spoke to her about was her story: us finding her, her finding us. So there it was, out in the open, now she knew. She is adopted. We love her. End of story. (Not really, of course this will be an ongoing story, but I love his directness.)
The Flower Garden grew out of all of this; my love of books, my love of other cultures, my love for my daughter. I would like my child to have a story about her life that is a bit magical. (Wouldn’t we all love to have a story written about us?) One that incorporates her culture, her history and the wonderful land she is from.
So, here it is my short folktale for my daughter, and for all the children and families in the Middle East who have been touched by both the loss and love of adoption.
The Flower Garden
In a far away land of love and sorrow, strength and hardship there lived a kind young farmer. He was very handsome with eyes the deep color of evergreen and arms as thick and strong as the magnificent cedar trees that covered the hilltops. Over time the young farmer fell in love with a maiden from a nearby village. The maiden was beautiful with long shiny black hair; red lips and the most lovely heart-shaped face that all the villagers said reflected the great love in her heart. Together the young couple worked hard, harvesting their land, growing wheat and olives, and tending to their animals. They were happy, but more than anything the maiden longed for a small flower garden, for it seemed with all their hard work, there was never enough time for she and the farmer to just sit together and watch the gentle sunrise in the morning and the brilliant stars at night.
One spring day the maiden awoke. It was soon to be the anniversary of the day she and her love had first met and she had been working for many months on a small gift to give him. She had gathered the wool from only the finest sheep, combing it over and over until it was soft and light, and then spinning it endlessly on the wheel. She spent many nights bent over her loom making the cloth she needed and finally walked to the market to sell fresh eggs, greens from the garden and her special, delicious honey cakes. Using the money she earned from her wares she bought all the goods she needed for the farm, and then using a bit of the extra money from her cakes, she bought some delicate, golden thread. That night she picked up her needle and using the gold thread set about putting the final details of embroidery on the cloth.
The day of the anniversary she and the farmer went about their usual chores feeding the animals, tending to the crops, and raking out the barn. By midday they were tired and hungry so the maiden gathered some olives and cheese for lunch and using figs, sugar and flour made a special pastry. After they ate, the maiden took out the magnificent cape she had made and wrapped it around the farmer’s broad shoulders.
“For you,” she said. “So you can stay warm, and think of me while you work in the fields.”
The farmer smiled, saying, “I do not need any reminder of you, for you are always in my heart, but I will wear this robe proudly.”
He then took out his hand; in it was a small piece of folded cloth.
“I am sorry my gift is not as grand,” he said.
The maiden carefully unwrapped the cloth and there inside sat a single, tiny, flower seed. The farmer told the maiden that it was time for them to have a flower garden, where they could sit together in the morning and again at night, and he was certain that the blossoms in the garden were going to be as beautiful as she.
The maiden promised the farmer that she would give the plant all her love every day, and she was certain that the flowers would not only be beautiful but also have vines as strong as the cedars on the hills and as green as his own eyes, for it would take the love of both of them to make it grow.
Together they dug a small hole in the dirt, near the corner of the house where the sun rose, whispered their love into the ground and gently covered over the seed.
Every morning the maiden woke up, watered and cared for the seed. She would sing and talk to the little flower she knew was growing below, and as she waited she imagined the beautiful flower garden she and the farmer would someday share.
But as often happens, these things were not to be, for one day the farmer was working in the olive grove when the trees started to blow and the leaves began to dip in and out in a dangerous dance. The farmer looked to the distance and saw a dark, whirling cloud of thick, black smoke racing towards him. Quickly he got on his horse and rode towards the house thinking only of his love. He knew just where she would be, at the corner of their house tending to their dreams.
“Quickly, quickly,” he shouted, “We must go. Danger is coming!”
The maiden’s eyes opened wide in fear and she trembled as she leapt onto the back of the horse.
“Wait, wait! Our garden, our dreams!” she cried as they started to ride away.
The farmer stopped, the clouds above their heads were turning a cold, grey color and he knew they couldn’t stay much longer. There was no time to dig up the precious flower. Taking off his cape he leaned down and draped it gently over the little mound of dirt.
“Be safe little one,” he whispered before turning and galloping away.
The storm rolled in, dark and fierce, destroying everything in it path; tearing down the valley, tossing aside the mighty cedar trees, and destroying all of the hard-earned crops. It raged on for days, determined to wipe out all that it touched, but somehow, quietly, beneath the safety of the farmer’s cape and protected by the maiden’s whispered love, the small plant grew.
A while later a man and his wife from the city, who had heard about the deadly storm, decided to go to the countryside and see if they could offer some assistance to those who lived there. They knew all about sadness and lost, having experienced much of their own, and as they walked through the abandoned village and devastated farmlands the woman’s shoulder sagged. She couldn’t help but think about all of the families that were lost, and the hopes and dreams that had been destroyed. Suddenly her foot caught on something and she stumbled forward. There on the ground was a ripped and tattered cape, its gold thread shining ever so slightly through the thick layer of dust that covered it. The woman lifted the cape and there beneath it, protected from the devastation, was a tiny, flower shoot just beginning to show one folded red bud at the very top.
Her husband took out his knife and carefully dug up the plant. Wrapping it in the dusty cape, he handed it to his wife, and she cradled it gently to her chest.
They carried the tiny flower home to their small apartment in the city, and there the women planted it in a simple clay pot. Every day she would water and tend to the plant, moving it about from window to window to make sure it had just the right amount of sunshine. She had always wanted a small flower garden of her own, where she and her husband could sit together in the morning as the sun rose and watch the stars twinkling at night, but living in the crowded, busy city gave them no room and little time for such a place. Still the woman had dreamed and wished and hoped, and now she was filled with happiness at the thought of even one small flower. She sang and laughed as she took care of the plant, and waited patiently for the beautiful flower she knew would emerge one day. And then one day the plant started to grow.
The vines of the plant were green, strong and thick, and each flower that bloomed was bright red, and shaped like a perfect heart. As each blossom opened the sweetest perfume burst forth filling the tiny apartment with a lovely fragrance.
The vines grew quickly, racing up the walls, and in and out of the curtains, covering the apartment from top to bottom in beautiful petals. Finally, when there was no place left to go inside, the plant began to climb out the window. It stretched outside, trailing down to the ground encasing the sides of the grey cement high-rise with a thick blanket of rich red. The vines then ran back up to the roof, winding around and around an old abandoned trellis and creating an amazing flowery canopy. Almost overnight the once empty city rooftop was transformed into a magical garden, full of life, color, and sweet perfume, where the couple could sit together in the early morning and watch the stars shining at night.
Soon word of the splendid roof garden spread all across the land and people came to see the beautiful, red heart-shaped flowers. Suddenly there were wonderful children’s parties in the roof garden; splendid weddings, and magical dances with jeweled ladies in glimmering silk gowns and handsome men in colorful robes. Musicians would come to play their instruments under the hanging flowers, the mystical beat of the drums and flickering chimes of their tambourines mixing with the heavenly fragrance of the many blossoms. The sounds and scents drifted away, over the shiny minarets and past the golden domes of the city to the broken countryside, and into the window of one small cottage.
The roof garden was such a busy place full of life and love, and the husband and wife’s hearts were filled with joy, but sometimes, after the guests had all left and it was just the two of them, they would sit and talk, and wonder about the people who first planted the flower and saved it from certain ruin.
One morning as the city was first waking, the woman and her husband stood in their flower filled kitchen preparing their morning tea, when something caught their eye. A young couple was standing together under the flowers. It was too early in the day for a wedding or a celebration of any kind, and the woman wondered what they were doing there. Her husband watched them through the window for a bit, and then he slowly turned. Opening a cupboard, he took down the old, dusty cape he had stored away a long time ago. He rubbed his hand slowly along the soft cloth until the gold thread began to shine through.
“It is time,” he said, gently taking his wife’s hand.
The couple in the garden turned as they approached and the woman saw the man’s face for the first time. It was strong and handsome with the deepest, greenest eyes she had ever seen. The young maiden by his side had her hair covered with a modest cloth, but it could not hide the lovely heart-shaped face or the beautiful red lips, the same color as the many flowers that now hung over her head.
“Excuse us,” said the farmer, bowing his head just a bit. “We have travelled far. We heard the music at night… it floated in our windows, filling our ears with the sounds of love, and the beautiful aroma of the flowers filled our dreams so we couldn’t sleep. We had to come.”
The woman’s legs shook with fear and her heart raced. She sank down on a nearby bench as terror flooded her heart; she knew it was them. They had come to take her precious flower away.
And then the young maiden began to cry.
“It is so beautiful,” she said. “So much more than I ever dreamed…”
She sat down on the bench next to the woman. A tear fell from her eye and slipped to the hard concrete floor of the rooftop, and then another and another.
“There was no time. No time,” she sobbed, holding her head in her hands.
The woman leaned over and gently took the young maiden in her arms.
“The dream began with you,” she said, “ Without you, there would be no flower garden here. No music, no magical parties with laughing children and grand dances. It would be just another empty city roof top.”
Their tears fell together.
The husband took the faded cape from his arms and held it out to the farmer.
“I believe this is yours,” he said.
The farmer swallowed hard and nodded, “Yes, I thought it might…”
The husband smiled and nodded, “It worked,” he said. “You saved it, see?”
He gestured towards the glorious garden and as he did the most wondrous thing began to happen. A small vine began to push itself up from the harsh concrete where the women’s tears had fallen. It grew quickly, stretching upwards, wrapped around the bench, and slowly twisted and turned, gently enveloping the two women in its branches, stopping only as a single red flower started to bloom. The beautiful flower slowly unfurled to reveal inside a very small bird.
The bird’s feathers were a shiny deep black mixed with bright red streaks, and a single thread of gold ran straight through the center of each majestic plume. The tiny creature looked at the couples with large, green eyes, and although small her eyes reflected a great inner strength. The bird raised her gracious head into the air, puffed up her chest, and opening her beak sang out a breathtaking melody. A beautiful song without words that told a story of hardship and strength, sorrow and love. Then spreading her magnificent wings, she flew away into the sky.
The two couples stayed for many days and nights surrounded by their magical flower garden. Together they watched the gentle sunrise and later the pink sunset, and always the marvelous, magical bird was there soaring over the dusty rooftops, and among the brilliant stars, singing her song for the whole city to hear… and there was plenty of time. Plenty of time.
The other day as I was rushing around gathering school supplies, I saw a sign for a barbershop. I quickly yanked my ten year old out of the car and marched him in.
As my son sat in the chair I took advantage of the few minutes of peace and looked around for something to read. I picked up the local paper. There were the usual stories: sports achievements, town money issues, wedding announcements, etc. Then a small story caught my eye. Two local girls had held a cupcake stand to raise money for the family of a teenage boy in this particular town who had died recently “at his home.” The story never said how the boy died, the family did not want to speak to the paper, but the girls who had the fund raiser spoke to the reporter about how they felt badly that the boy had been bullied at school, teased for being overweight, and for the clothes he wore among other things. It didn’t take much to put the pieces of the tragic puzzle together. The barber saw me reading the article. He caught my eye, and over my son’s head, mouthed the words, “Suicide. Sad. So sad.”
“Again?” You say, “Geez, wasn’t this front-page news last year? Didn’t we solve the problem? There are no more bullies, right?” Wrong. Go sit in a middle school or a high school…or even a kindergarten, and you will see it.
I looked up at my child, sitting there happily chatting away with the barber as pieces of his unruly hair fell to the floor. I thought, “What if… What if that happened to him? What if he was bullied? What if he was so desperate? Would I know? Could I help?” My stomach flopped.
Then I thought. “What if…? What if he was the bully? Would I know? Could I help?” My stomach flopped again.
Here is a piece I wrote about bullying a year or so back after I first read an article about Phoebe Prince, the young girl that committed suicide after being tormented for years by classmates out in western Massachusetts. I was so outraged at what had happened, that I had to write to the paper. I kept thinking, “Where were the parents of these bullies? Why didn’t they do anything? Did they know? Did they care? Did she have any friends, anyone she could reach out too?
Sad, so sad.
Jesse Logan, Phoebe Prince. I am sure there are others. Beautiful, young girls with their whole lives in front of them. Diamonds just starting to shine, stolen away by the dark demons of depression to be thrown down the slick, slippery slide of low self-esteem. Pecked to death, slowly over time, by the taunts of their equally insecure classmates. Teenagers, who tormented by their own lack of confidence, repeatedly called them vile names, squashing them beneath the black boots of adolescent disdain as they clambered over their bodies in an attempt to climb up the ladder of social success.
I did not know Phoebe, or Jesse. I do not know their peers, but I do know what it is like to be a teenager, to feel desperate and to be unable to see the future even if it is right down the road. If only they had held on, made it through the mess of adolescent, maybe they would have been okay. Maybe they would have blossomed into a strong, young women, succeeding in college, going on to do research and to write and talk about their experiences of being bullied, hoping to stop the pain for someone else. Maybe Jesse would have discovered life on another planet. Phoebe, become the head of the United Nations. Maybe they would have had children and settled down in a small town doing the most important job, parenting. And as a parent they could have imparted onto their children the knowledge gained by their humiliating experience in high school, and taught them the importance of reaching out to others. But they didn’t survive; they were too afraid and young to hang on. They didn’t know to look down the road, that things would get better.
And now we will never know, who or what they might have been. They were stolen from all of us. So we, the parents, must now act us parents should and stand up for them. We must cradle in our arms the victims of bullying and confront the tormentors, no matter who they may be, even if they are our own.
We were all there once, middle school and high school, each of us struggling to make it through the day. Worried about how big our boobs were, or weren’t, how many zits we had on our faces. Do I smell, will he talk at me, is my fly open, will my face turn red when I talk in front of the class, what if she won’t be my science partner, who will I sit with at lunch? We have all been there. Under attack by our fear and hormones, and instead of pulling together as a group and seeing our strength in numbers, we separated. Divided by unseen walls of status: the victims, the invisibles, the druggies, the jocks, the populars’.
Ask yourself, right now. What group were you in? Did you like it there? Would you want your child to be in that group? What did you give up to be in that group? Your pride? Your individuality? Your voice? With exclusion comes sacrifice. Maybe you sacrificed yourself, your relationship with you family, or your best friend since kindergarten. The one you watched Creature Double Feature with everyday at five, played long stretched out games of Monopoly, and told your inner most secrets to. Suddenly, they had to go. They were not cool enough, pretty enough, strong enough. They were holding you back, so you threw them aside to move up the ladder of popularity or avoid the shame of being shunned. Do you think it is different now? You’re right, it is. The insults come quicker, harder and easier thanks to the anonymity and speed of computers. But the feelings and inevitable sad outcomes remain the same.
Maybe you were the one who was left behind. Unable to protest, feeling small and scared you decide to be silent, become invisible. Pretend it didn’t hurt. Now, you are determined that your child does not suffer the same fate as you. You will do anything to make sure he is captain of the football, or she is head cheerleader. You guide them towards certain friends, the right families to associate with.
Don’t be fooled by the kid who says “There is no bullying in my school. We have a program for that.” As history has unfortunately shown us over and over again, we are all capable of aggression and brutality. I know this is hard to accept but even your own kids, the ones you love with all of your heart. The ones whose eyes you look in every night and think, “Oh, he/she would never do that.” Really? Think back with true honesty to your own experiences. Did you ever step outside of your group to offer an outsider a place at the lunch table? Were you willing to stand up for a friend even if it meant you might be turned on next? Do you ever participate in the jeering, sneering, meanness of middle school? Why would your child be any different?
The anti-bullying programs are wonderful and necessary, but it cannot end there. The conversations must continue at home. Just as you practice math and science with your kids, you must practice kindness as well.
Teach children to accept, to stand up, to challenge. Teach them when they are young not to exclude others on the playground, to give everyone a chance, to invite all the kids to the birthday party, to open up their circle of friends. Bullying is not just physical harm or rude insults; it also comes in the form of exclusion. Being alone, forced out, made to watch from the sides.
It is natural to develop a group of friends over time. We can’t all hold hands and be best buddies. It is not realistic to expect this, but perhaps, maybe, if you teach your child to just reach out a little to the kid that is sitting by him/herself, the one whose pants are a bit too short or who wears the wrong style; someone they don’t know very well, maybe your child can help just that one person to feel included. Maybe if they smile at this person or ask them how their weekend was, tell them they did a great job in Spanish class, maybe, just maybe that child will feel like they matter. It is our job as parents to teach this. Not the school. Not some government agency. Ours. Teach kindness at home, so it can be practiced at school.