Just kids

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.
-Jack Layton


I still think about who they were back then, and who they might have become if their lives hadn’t been taken from them. They were both sassy, fierce, beautiful girls. Girls nobody messed with. Girls that other girls viewed with a mixture of admiration and fear.

Time stopped for them the autumn of our senior year of high school. The rest of us marched forward into adulthood without them. In the four decades since they’ve been gone, we have grown up, raised families, and made livings. Most of us are grandparents today. Some of us are already retired. We will have our fortieth class reunion this summer. We will say their names.

We were changed as a class because we’d lost two classmates. We became kinder and more aware of how very fast everything can change. It was a brutal lesson to learn at seventeen. It is a lesson that, sadly, too many young people face before they graduate. Sometimes, it’s an accident that takes a life. Other times, it’s a suicide. For this generation, and with increasing frequency, it is a random shooting in a school.

Last weekend, I watched the television coverage of thousands upon thousands of teenagers holding signs, chanting slogans, and marching in cities throughout the U.S. and was struck with the realization that this generation of teenagers is both completely different and exactly the same as every generation that has preceded it when it comes to social protest.  Teenagers are wired to be passionate. They are stubborn and idealistic and hard to get along with, generally. They say what’s on their minds. They are fearless.

And until they face the death of someone their age, they think they’re immortal, too.

I know we were all of those things. I know we thought that, too.

And then we lost friends, and were forever changed.




Mud vacation and marbles

From 2015…

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. ~Margaret Atwood

Last week, as I sat in the porch for the first time since October,  I watched the neighbor kids splash through the puddles in the woods and listened to their giggling as they successfully crossed a big log in single file. It was one of those squishy March days that kids love and as I watched them play, I was suddenly transported back to my own March days of puddle splashing and marble trading during Mud Vacation.  The fact that the school buses that brought the kids from the country couldn’t make it through the thick muck of unpaved roads for a week or so every Spring meant a break for all of us once the snow melted.

Our north end neighborhood back then was full to overflowing with kids who burst from doorways every March, feral and free. We could be found waiting to take turns on the rope swing that hung from the tree in the Erickson family’s backyard or riding our bikes from the top of Hospital Hill all the way to King School and back. We walked down the old railroad grade behind the high school and came too close to the river swollen with runoff more often than our parents knew. We played in the shoulder-tall grass behind the Kolu family’s house, constructing mazes until our moms called us in for supper, round burrs stuck to our socks.  We started each day clean and ended it dirty, the way kids should.  We scraped our knees on the Dead-end running for home base and slammed every back door in the neighborhood too loudly and stood in kitchens we knew as well as our own gulping down grape Kool-Aid that someone’s mother had made.

When my own two kids were young, I’d tell them stories about “mud vacation” and they’d look at me like I’d lost my marbles. They did their own growing up on paved city streets in a middle-sized town on the prairie. Their own, much windier, memories are happy ones even though the idea that school would be canceled due to mud and not blizzards is a foreign one.  March blizzards or floods on the prairie, they understood. But mud having that much power over something as important as school?  Really?

Yes, Really.  Lovely, lovely mud.

Those neighbor kids I remember are scattered far and wide these days. A lot of them are grandparents now.  Last week, one of them mentioned a game of marbles on her Facebook page which of course, got us ALL talking about marbles in the way that old friends who don’t see each other very often are prone to do when a topic like marbles comes up.  We are grateful that while our marble bags have been missing for quite some time, that the “marbles” that matter are mostly all still there most days.

It just takes the smell of fresh mud, the happy sound of kids at play in March, or the mention of marbles between old friends who remember it all to remind us what we had before all the different roads we chose to travel in life were paved.

Safe travels

When our babies were small, my sister and I never flew anywhere together.

There was a good reason for this. We were each other’s back up in the event that one of us didn’t survive those years of child-rearing. We had enough of our grandmother’s fear of flying in us not to tempt fate. And so, during those years my sister flew, and I flew, but we never flew together.

The only exception was in 1993 when we left our two toddler sons with their fathers and boarded a flight to Korea to bring my daughter home. We decided that the Good Lord would not send the two of us on such an important mission only to let the plane crash on the way.

I am the queen of magical thinking when it comes to airplanes. During take-offs, for example, I revert back to my Catholic upbringing and imagine an army of really strong angels lifting the plane off the ground. During landings, I imagine the plane floating like a paper airplane toward Earth until it magically finds the sweet spot where it is supposed to land.

This type of delusional…er…magical thinking is what has allowed me, through the years, to travel by air. It’s why, whenever one of my kids is on a plane, I need them to let me know when they’re about to take off. If I don’t text “safe travels” to my daughter every time, how will the angels know when to spring into action? And so, I do. Every time.

Well all have our rituals. I have learned not to mess with what works.

I know mothers who are perfectly content miles above the ground. I have noticed them during turbulence. They do not even bother to look up from their magazines! I am in awe of those types of mothers.  They go with the flow, and do not worry about what they cannot control. Moms who feel no need to pester angels about airplanes or anything else, where their grown children are concerned.

I am not one of them. I need those angels.

Just ask my children.


You know you’ve reached the end of the line on winter weather and/or grocery shopping  when you throw a mini-tantrum at the self-checkout at Super One and you’re not a toddler.  I did that today.  I do not say this with any sense of pride, believe me. It was not my finest moment.

The tough thing about having a hissy-fit over technology at the self-checkout is that once you’ve accepted that the machine hates your guts, and you put everything BACK in your cart and huff away saying, “Nope. Nope. NOPE!” loudly to no one in particular, you end up at the back of a different line.

Another customer witnessed this sad display of mine. She was already in a line where actual human beings were checking customers through.  “Rough day?” she asked. “It’s good I don’t say everything that pops into my head.” She smiled. “I know. I’m right there with you. I hate those things, too.” I do not know who this woman is, but she saved me.

Thanks to her, by the time I set my groceries on the belt, I was back to being relatively nice to other people. My cashier was about my age and as she scanned my items, I told her how much I appreciated that she was an actual human being. She said, “Thanks so much for saying that. Five minutes ago we had a little scene here and I am really wondering about humanity.”

As I’d been shopping, I’d noticed the trio of young men she began to tell me about. I recall thinking they were an obnoxious, vulgar trio as they sauntered from one aisle to the next spewing profanity. Bad words. Ugly words. You know that word that got your mouth washed out with Irish Spring if you said it around your mother back when you were a kid?  Yup. That one. F-bombs and S-bombs were raining down all over the store within earshot of  little old ladies and young moms with toddlers strapped into carts.

They continued the bombing run all the way to the cashier. Exasperated, she gave them the look of death that mothers around the world are known for. Instead of shutting their mouths or being ashamed, one of the young men stood inches away from her ear and shouted the same words directly at her. “It’s like he was just daring me to do something!” she said.

As she finished ringing me up, we commiserated about the state of our current culture. How it is possible that three young men would think that behavior like that was funny or appropriate? We wondered why not one man in the store had thought to walk up to the three and put a stop to what they were doing. When you are a woman of a certain age, you pick your battles. With technology, and with foul-mouthed strangers, too.

But here’s the thing. Sometimes, on a Sunday morning before a snow storm in March you get lucky, and women you don’t know save you. They tell you that despite all evidence to the contrary, that it’s all going to be okay. That we are going to be okay.

And you kind of believe it.