The Story of J.R.

I received a heavy, 11×14  package the other day and smiled when I saw the return address: “Jimmee P.,” it said. From Washington.

Jimmee P. has gone by many names in my lifetime — J.R., then James, then back to J.R., then Jim, then Jimmee P. — and he’s had about as many personalities to go with each name. Strangest thing is, he hardly remembers any of them.

I met him as J.R., in high school, when Superman was introducing to me to all his friends in our early days of dating. Even though Superman and I came from the same circles of friends, pretty much, he had this other group of three friends that was separate: J.R. among them. These were friends he’d made in football his freshman year, and he spent many summer days with them after football practice, goofing off with impromptu tackle games, spending time competing with the bench press in the weight room, learning to shoot BB guns, and ditching class — when class started — to sneak off and see movies like Rambo and anything with Arnold Swartzenegger in it. These guys had testosterone soaring through their veins.

When Superman and I started dating, though, there wasn’t much place for me in this small band of friends, and he hung out with them less and less. Although I met them, they tended to treat me as somewhat of a foreign creature. They would look at me as if I were some delicate gecko in a terrarium — one wrong move and I’d flee. So they rarely spoke on the few occasions Superman and I would stop and chat with them — only smiled politely and made small talk (very small) — and when Superman and I would leave, they’d all look relieved. Continue reading

The Story of Baby

You’d think, after three children, I’d have this mothering thing down pat a little better, and yet I continuously misjudge my youngest son. Experienced parents will agree with me here, but each child is just so different. And what works for one child may not work for another. And blah, blah, blah. … Excuses abound. …

But here’s how I misjudged my son most recently: It all involved three huge misconceptions: (1) that little boys don’t feel attached to toys anymore, (2) the forgotten power and reality of unconditional love, (3) the betrayal of a mother who is always supposed to have your back, and (4) the long-forgotten truism that little pitchers truly do have big ears. …

One night, a couple of years ago, when all my book club friends were over at my house, one friend plopped onto my couch and accidentally found herself perched upon the rubber carcass of what once had been a baby doll, but whose soft, hollow hands were missing. She pulled it out from under her. Startled, she took a closer look and peered at its misshapen little body, at it’s missing hands and toes, at the ballpoint pen marks over its torso. And then … She gasped.

“Oh, I know,” I said, sliding the dessert platter between the coffee cups on the coffee table. “That’s Baby. It’s Nathan’s. He’s had it almost since he was born.” Continue reading

One of “Those” Days …

This morning it was one of “those” days.  You know the ones —  where everything seems to be going wrong, falling, slipping, clock not going off, jelly stain on your shirt button, and it’s not even 9 a.m.?

But this time it wasn’t me or Superman or one of the teens experiencing it.

It was our little guy, Nate.

“It’s going to be a terrible day,” he was saying to me, sighing deeply.

He’d forgotten his math worksheet and was nervous about not bringing it in completed today, then he forgot his present for his gift exchange and didn’t remember until he’d walked halfway to school already. Then his shoe laces were giving him trouble, so he kept stopping to retie them, and ended up snapping one at the quick — and he had P.E.

He finally called me, exasperated, on his cell phone:

“Mom? I forgot my present on the couch, and my shoe is broken, and I have P.E., and I’m walking home right now. I hope you’re there to give me ride, but if you’re not … [deep little-boy sigh] … I just don’t know what I’ll do …” Continue reading

Learning Great Stories From People You Randomly Meet

He was tall and lean, his bald head dotted with age spots. But the way he moved – the way he rested back languidly in the patio chair – spoke of a youthfulness that belied his 80 years. Maybe it was a smoothness borne of decades of athleticism. Or maybe a military career. Something. …

He moved his hands to swat the pigeons away, and his long fingers gave away more of his story. Something involving wealth. Something involving elegance. Something involving shiny automobiles, perhaps. …

“You’re a cool chick,” he yelled to me across the patio.

The waitress walked away as I squinted back at him through the heat. I pulled my chair in and set my purse in an empty seat.


“You’re a cool chick,” he repeated. He smiled when he said it this time. He directed his oversized sunglasses more pointedly toward me, but maintained his languid pose, one elbow draped over the chair beside him. He motioned again with his hand toward the empty patio. “It’s hotter than blazes out here, but you’re sitting outside.”

I laughed politely. “Well, let’s see how long I last.”

The heat truly was oppressive. Over 100 degrees. Continue reading

The Influence of Teachers: The Story of Mrs. Booth

When I was in first grade, I had a teacher named Mrs. Booth. She was an outrageously hip product of the early ‘70s – very hippie-esque, with long flowing skirts and sandals, uber-cool Afro-styled hair, and enormous hoop earrings. Most days she wore some kind of beaded necklace or bracelet that always made me think of macramé.

Mrs. Booth took the entire first grade on a field trip once, to a local beachside community. To be honest, I can’t remember the original purpose of the field trip. There must have been some sort of educational relevancy. (… Or … I don’t know, maybe not. This was the ‘70s, afterall.) But mostly I remember running across the sand with 25 other first graders, squealing with delight when the Pacific hit our toes, and our shoes becoming a tangled mess of 50 mismatched sneakers back on the beach with the adults. I held hands with a girl named Robin, who was my bus partner, and drank soda for the first time out of a can with a straw. I remember there being something to do with a firefighting boat that patrolled the harbor – I think we got a little tour of how it worked, or something. But that was neither here nor there — the real highlight of the trip, at least in my mind, was Mrs. Booth’s sailboat, which she lived on.

Long before the day of law suits and fine-print permission slips, I guess it was okay for teachers to be a little more personal about field trips, and I remember Mrs. Booth letting us all funnel single-file into her boat.  Continue reading

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