Earrings and a Bicycle
I Hate Home Schooling (Friday, 15 October 1993) Doro’s car pulls in the driveway shortly before supper this evening. Lauren gets out, thanks Doro for the ride back from Kung Fu practice, and says good-bye to Claire and Bryan, Claire’s 10-year-old brother. Doro is turning the car around and heading home when I come out of the community shelter to see how Kung Fu has gone.
“I hate home schooling!” are Lauren’s first words.
I’m startled, never having heard her express that feeling before.
“Bryan was teasing me about math on the way home. Asking me questions like, ‘What’s 9 times 7?’ or ‘What’s 12 times 8?’ I don’t know those big numbers yet! He was showing off and making me feel stupid.”
“That wasn’t very nice.”
Then, feeling my way cautiously, I add, “Hasn’t mom been nudging you to learn the rest of your multiplication tables?”
“Yeah. But that stuff’s boring.”
I nod my agreement.
“Look,” I say. “Why don’t you and I practice the multiplication tables secretly. Then when you’ve learned them, you can surprise Joyce. And the next time Bryan tries to tease you about them, you can surprise the heck out of him, too.”
Lauren’s eyes light up.
“That would be fun. When can we start?”
“We’ll start tonight. You can help me grind grain after supper and we’ll practice where no one can hear us. And after you’ve learned the first half of the times tables, through the 6’s, I’ll buy you something special, like some noodles or soups that you like, as a prize. And when you get all the way through the 12’s…”
“I want to learn the 13’s, too!”
“When you get through the 13’s, then, you’ll get another reward.”
“O.K. We’ll start tonight. But don’t tell mom. This is going to be a surprise.”
[As a footnote to this rare and transparent resort to bribery, I recently bumped into an article from U.S. News and World Report, entitled “Tarnished Trophies,” and pointing out the risks of using rewards as motivation.]
Wedding Cake (Saturday, 16 October 1993) We’re celebrating Adam’s birthday here tonight. Alice has brought along the birthday cake, which is delicious. Lauren loves it. Savoring her last bite, she sighs, “This is a great cake. When I get married, I’m going to have a cake just like this for my wedding.”
Baby Shower (Monday, 18 October 1993) Lauren attended her first baby shower yesterday. Ron’s brother, Curtis, and his wife, Lisa, are expecting their first child in November. There was added cause for celebration because Lisa’s first pregnancy, last year, had to be terminated when the child’s skull didn’t develop properly. Everything’s looking fine this time.
In prior years, Lauren hasn’t been old enough to accompany Joyce to a Blessing Way, which is a more ritualistic and Native American-inspired version of the baby shower. Lisa, however, grew up in Copper Hill. She came out of the traditional “old-timer” culture, rather than the alternative “newcomer” culture which Curtis represents. So it was appropriate that Lisa’s celebration be a baby shower rather than a Blessing Way.
When the invitation arrived in the mail several weeks ago, Lauren was thrilled to see that it was addressed to “Marlene, Joyce and Lauren.” I could almost see Lauren’s self-image shifting as she studied the envelope–one of those subtle, transitional moments in a child’s life, like losing the first baby tooth or spending the first night away from home. The invitation told Lauren that she had been accepted into the special circle of Lisa’s “women friends.”
This honor, I must add, didn’t prevent Lauren from being herself at the shower. After the presents had been opened, and the womanly talk had turned to stories of babies and birthings, Lauren slipped outside to join Curtis, Peter and Sage (the exiled males) for a rousing game of two-on-two basketball. It was perhaps the high point of her afternoon.
Yet Lisa’s gesture, and the celebration of the impending birth, clearly touched Lauren, for upon coming home yesterday, she made a lovely pencil sketch which beautifully captures Lisa’s shy, maternal excitement. After finishing the drawing, Lauren found a mat and a frame for it, wrapped it up, and delivered it to Lisa this afternoon.
Mothers (Tuesday, 19 October 1993) Lauren is prepping for Lisa’s baby shower. Part of the ritual calls for each woman to share her mother-line with the circle of other women. Lauren is practicing.
“I’m Lauren. Daughter of Joyce. Daughter of Lilly. Daughter of Dana. Daughter of…”
“Daughter of Mellie,” I prompt.
“Daughter of Mellie. Daughter of…”
Another pause. Then, with what I swear is a straight face, “Can you get me to Eve?”
Multiplication by Moonlight (Wednesday, 20 October 1993) Lauren and I are walking down to the house sometime after supper. It’s already dark, but a bright moon lights our path. We’re walking slowly, practicing the multiplication tables as we go.
“What’s 5 times 9?” I ask.
“What’s 6 times 9?”
There’s a pause while Lauren searches her memory.
“Remember the nine trick,” I say. “When you multiply something by nine, the digits of the answer have to add up to nine.”
“Right. How about 2 times 9?”
We pause on the little slope between the garden shed and the vineyard, both of us knowing we’ll have to stop when we reach the house, because Joyce is there and we don’t want to spoil the surprise.
So we lie down on the grass, looking up at the moon and the stars and the light clouds overhead.
“What’s 4 times 13?”
“That’s your deck of cards trick,” I remind her.
“Oh yeah. 13 cards and 4 suits makes 52 cards in the deck. 4 times 13 is 52.”
“Good. How about 3 times 13?”
The lesson drifts on, both of us savoring this classroom of the moment, practicing multiplication by moonlight.
“Snakes in the Cave” (Friday, 22 October 1993) Lauren awakens this morning with a powerful dream and tapes it for me to transcribe. Yesterday she was sitting on my lap while reading me a story. The dream seems to be speaking to several related themes–Lauren’s approaching puberty; Oedipal issues; and the ongoing healing from her and Myra’s involvement with Adam the summer before last. My transcription follows.
“I’m sitting on Daddy’s lap in this cave thing. And there are lots of snakes and everything. Sage and Chris and Myra are there, too. We’re looking around and Chris puts his foot into a little puddle. It seems like it has scum on it. Then the scum clears away and you can see a copperhead.
“So he takes his foot back out of the puddle.
“Then I look up and there’s this snake that looks like it’s going to bite Daddy or me. And it’s like black with green and orange, and I think yellow stripes. It’s disgusting looking. It’s huge. There are millions of other snakes in there. It’s weird.
“There are some snakes in the way of where we’d normally get out. So we have to jump over them. It seems like a mining place where they have a horse stall. There’s a beam with boards across it and a doorway without a door, like the horse stall down at Alysia’s.
“So we jump onto the beam and hang on. And there are lots of rats. Then we jump across again and get out. I’m scared. Very scared.”
The Spanish Impulse (Wednesday, 27 October 1993) Roger and Tarcila joined us for pancakes a couple of Sundays ago. Roger’s a carpenter, specializing in restoring church steeples. He’s been in New York for several months, but prices were high and work scarce, so he’s giving Virginia a try.
Tarcila is Chilean. She and Roger met in Tarcila’s home town in southern Chile a number of years ago. They have lived there since, with periodic job-related journeys to the States.
Tarcila and Lauren hit it off right away. Tarcila’s learning English; Lauren decided she wanted to learn Spanish. Soon they had paper and pencil in hand and were huddled on the couch, teaching each other phrases and making word lists.
Tarcila’s been back several times since her first visit. She and Lauren are continuing their language work/play. Tom, who also knows Spanish, got some material out of the library and bought a Berlitz Spanish tape for Lauren. Joyce and I ordered something similar from one of the home schooling catalogues. The tapes are well done, geared to kids, with lots of catchy songs and music.
This has been a good exercise in home education. We had been weighing various language options for Lauren–French (Joyce and I both studied it in school, but it has little, if any, use in daily life); Esperanto (we have an audio cassette course for it, and there’s the family background, but it’s even more esoteric than French); and Spanish (which makes more sense, given this country’s demographic trends, but toward which I’ve had a curious prejudice).
Following the principle of child-led learning, and taking advantage of Lauren’s impulse and of the present opportunity, it appears that Spanish has been chosen. In a way, it’s better that all three of us will be starting from the beginning. It levels the playing field. And now I’ll have the chance to explore my subtle prejudice.
Two Worlds (Wednesday, 3 November 1993) Lauren awakens this morning with an understanding about the world of dreams. It is there as soon as she comes out of sleep. She shares it almost immediately with Joyce and then, over lunch, with the rest of us.
“As soon as I woke up I knew that there are two worlds. And that dreams are just covering up the other world, or only letting you see part of it.”
“You mean while you’re sleeping,” we ask, “that dreams are covering up the other world?”
“Yeah, that’s the other world. And dreams are only showing you pieces of it.”
“Do you know which it is? Are dreams covering up the other world or just showing you pieces of it?”
“I think sometimes they’re covering it up and sometimes they’re just showing me pieces. And sometimes dreams are like postcards from that other world.”
Earrings (Tuesday, 9 November 1993) Today’s the big day, the long-awaited day, the day toward which Lauren has been counting down for the past six weeks. No, it’s not Christmas or her birthday, the two red-letter days on a child’s internal calendar. But almost as special. Today Lauren’s newly pierced ears become fully functional.
Her resolve had ripened sometime in September.
“Dad, I want to get my ears pierced. Mom says it’s O.K. with her. Is it O.K. with you?”
“Are you ready for it,” I ask, remembering her earlier ambivalence.
“Go for it, then.”
With a little assistance, she calls around Roanoke and finds someplace that will do the deed. (“Ears pierced free with the purchase of three sets of earrings!”) On our next town trip, she and Joyce go into the store and enact one of those classic mother/daughter coming-of-age rituals.
“It didn’t hurt too much,” Lauren reports. “They used one of those ear-piercing guns. [Whatever happened to ice cubes and bloody needles?]. There was a little crunching noise and then it was done. The lady said I did real well. She said sometimes the girls scream and holler.”
Lauren grins and shows me the two tiny gold studs that will keep the holes in her ear lobes open; the three pairs of earrings she purchased; and the little bottle of disinfectant that she’ll be swabbing on the wounds morning and night for the next six weeks.
Those weeks had dragged by with agonizing slowness. Lauren did the obligatory swabbing religiously, with barely a reminder needed. She also took a meticulous inventory of Joyce’s earring collection. (“Mom, will I be able to borrow this pair? Or this pair? How ’bout these?”) But mostly she kept an eye on the calendar.
Now, at last, the magical day has arrived. We’re in Arden, visiting family and friends. At the very crack of dawn, out come the studs and on go a new pair of earrings. (“How do they look, Dad? Do you like them?”) Her poor ears get quite a workout their first day on the job, with Lauren trying on and changing earrings a couple of dozen times at least.
To top it off, we visit Peg and Lew (my aunt and uncle) after supper. Lew just “happens” to make earrings. Bringing out a small collection, he tells Lauren she can choose a pair as a present. She eventually narrows the field down to two, but is unable to go any further.
“I’d like this pair as the present,” she tells Lew. “Thank you! And could I buy this other pair?”
Lew very graciously, and with a twinkle in his eyes, agrees. Lauren leaves beaming, with sparkling silver dangling from her suddenly grown-up ears.
I Keep Pinching Myself (Wednesday, 10 November 1993) Here’s a short story about complementary impulses. We’ve driven north to visit family and friends and also to peddle some calligraphy. Our new marketing strategy (all 5×7 size, a smaller display box, wholesale price just under $100, direct sale only, and focusing on metaphysical bookstores) has been wildly successful. Just about every storekeeper than has seen the calligraphy has wanted it. By the time we get to the next store on our list, on the outskirts of Philadelphia, only two of the eight displays we brought with us remain unsold.
This particular store, however, is closed and won’t open up for another two hours. By then we are hoping to have a good start on our long drive home.
“Come on,” I say to Lauren, who is standing in front of the closed store with me, gazing wistfully at the selection of used children’s books. “Let’s hit the road.”
So we re-trace our steps to the van. But as we pass one of the other shops on the street, Lauren suddenly says, “Let’s try to sell a display here.”
I glance at the store. It’s a tiny gift shop. Pleasant, but with no hint of anything metaphysical, or even unorthodox.
“No way,” I say to myself. And to Lauren, “Why not?”
After all, if I’m wanting her learn to trust her impulses, here’s an opportunity. So we walk into the store and I lay out my line to the lady behind the counter.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I can’t afford to buy anything more until after the first of the year. But I might be interested then.”
I explain that we’re from out of town and are only passing through. Like gypsies, I muse, selling crafts from door to door, with our gypsy wagon van parked outside.
“Do you have any with you?” she asks. “I’d at least like to look at them to see if I want to order some in January.”
I go out to the gypsy wagon, get a display, and bring it in.
She browses through it, stopping to chuckle or to nod appreciatively at various pieces, asks about prices, and then reaches under the counter for her checkbook. A moment later we’re back on the street, Lauren clutching a check for $98 and grinning broadly.
“See?!” she exults. “I told you that would be a good store to stop at.”
“You sure got that one right,” I agree, slowly realizing that the niche for our calligraphy may be bigger than I had thought.
An hour later, heading south toward home, we pass Swarthmore, where I grew up.
“Let’s get sub sandwiches for lunch,” I say, impulsively turning down Chester Road.
We park the van by the train station in downtown Swarthmore and order the subs. Lauren and Joyce humor my nostalgia as I reminisce about riding the train to Philly on rainy Saturday afternoons to play pinball in the 30th Street station, or putting pennies on the railroad tracks to be squashed into flat copper discs, or carrying my bike down the stairs of the underpass and then up the other side.
Remembering how central a bicycle had been during my early teen years, I re-affirm my intention to get Lauren a decent bike. Her little “starter bike” has finally fallen apart. What she really needs, on our hilly, graveled back roads, is the kind of mountain bike that I have. One with safe, fat, treaded tires and a good range of gears. I’d already done sufficient phone research to know what brands to look for and to avoid and what prices to expect.
After lunch, we drive out of town. Just outside Swarthmore, I stop at a gas station to get directions to a connecting route to the interstate highway. Next to the gas station is a bike shop. In the bike shop is The Perfect Bike. The perfect size. The perfect brand. The perfect color. The perfect price.
Lauren test-drives it around the parking lot.
“Does it ride well?” we ask. “Do you like it? Is the color right? Do you want it?”
“Yes,” she cries. “Yes! Yes! YES!!!”
Many hours later, droning down the long stretch of I-81 from Winchester to Roanoke, I catch Lauren in the rear-view mirror. She’s gazing lovingly at Spokes, as she has named her new bike.
“I can’t believe it,” she says. “I just can’t believe it. I keep pinching myself to make sure Spokes is really there. I can’t wait to get home!”
“Well,” I say. “You got the idea to take our calligraphy into that unlikely gift store and we walked out with a check. I got the idea to stop by Swarthmore for subs and we left with a bike. Sometimes trusting impulses can pay off big-time. We’re happy you’re so happy.”
“Oh, I am,” she replies. “I am.”