The Lofty Chronicles: 20 — A Pearl of Great Price

A Pearl of Great Price

Growing up
Growing up

Autumn 1993

Space (Monday, 15 November 1993) “Dad, can we–”


“You don’t even know what I was going to say.”

“I don’t need to know. It’s been one thing after another, nickel-and-dime stuff, for the past hour. I’ve had a long day. Except for meals, this is the first time I’ve stopped moving since I got up this morning. I need some space to just sit here and do nothing for a few minutes.”

“O.K. O.K. You don’t have to be so grumpy.”

Lauren’s right, but I’m in no mood to say so. I’m feeling the truth of one of our most popular calligraphic pieces, “Sometimes being around small children is like being nibbled to death by ducks.”

My respite lasts about 30 seconds. Then my daughter bounces into the chair beside me, magazine in hand.

“Hey, Dad, look at–”

“Arrrghhh,” I shout. “I said I needed space. Space, space, space!!!”

Lauren sulks over to another corner of the room, gets out some paper and markers, and immerses herself in drawing.

Ten minutes later, having recovered at least some semblance of equilibrium, I walk over to make amends.

“What are you working on?” I ask.

“Space, space, space!!!” she exclaims without looking up. “Can’t you see I’m busy? I need some space!”

I can’t help but laugh. The mimicry is perfect. She holds up this “poor-me” drawing and then smiles her forgiveness.

“Let’s see if we can find something fun to do together,” I say.

She stashes away her art equipment and immediately comes up with a list of about six ways of having fun together.

Reflections (Sunday, 28 November 1993) “Mom, what color eyes do I have?” Lauren’s been studying herself in the mirror for quite a while.

“I’d say you have greenish-brown eyes,” Joyce says.

A long silence, with Lauren still in front of the mirror.

Then, “Mom, which color eyes do you think are the most penetrating?”

Joyce barely manages to suppress a smile, wondering what Lauren’s been reading recently.

“I think you have lovely eyes,” she says.

Lauren nods, looks pensive for a moment, and then goes back to studying her reflection in the mirror.

Kung Fu (Friday, 3 December 1993) “Why don’t you tell me about Kung Fu,” I ask Lauren, as we sit in front of a tape recorder. “Pretend that your Grandpas and Grandmas and your aunts and uncles don’t know anything about Kung Fu and you’re going to describe it for them.”

“O.K. Kung Fu is really cool. It has lots of awesome kicks and lots of cool stuff. It’s a martial art.”

“Describe a typical Friday when you go over for your class?”

“Laurel and Leia and Myra and Claire and I are in the class, besides Diane–she’s our teacher. Before the class starts, we’re hanging around waiting for everyone to arrive. Or sometimes we go and play in Laurel’s room. Then when we start the class we all sit down in a circle and Diane asks us, ‘How are you?’ and, ‘How’s your day been?’

“Then we stand up and do our posts. We put our arms out in front of us and we pretend like we’re looking at a post in the middle of the circle. We put our left foot forward and then our right foot forward. Then we sit down and do breath of life.”

“What’s breath of life?”

(Covering the microphone with her hand and whispering:) “Are you going to make me explain everything?”

“Yes, because…”

(With great exasperation:) “Dad, there’s everything in Kung Fu! It’ll take ages! All right, it’s like Dad’s going to make me explain everything, so you probably want to skip over this part.

“Anyways… Are you going to make me explain everything?”

“Yes, because…”

“Even if I forget some of it?”

(Laughing:) “I can’t ask you to explain something you forget. But, you see, no one knows what breath of life is.”

“How do you know Andrew doesn’t?”

“Well, [my brother] Andrew might, because he does Karate. But other people might not know what breath of life is.”

(Further exasperation:) “All right. Fine. Breath of life is something where we sit down and breathe in through our nose and out through our mouth for a couple of minutes. And while we’re breathing we think about the center of our body. Then we do our hand exercises and other exercises and then we start our walk. That’s where we do kicks and spins and stuff like that. Of course, we have to bow before that.

“And Diane lets us teach different things sometimes. We do one of our moves and then the others bow to us one at a time, and do the same move we did. (You bow to honor your opponent.) After our walks and our flows–where we can do any moves we want–she tells us stories and we do our posts again and that’s it.”

Lauren could, of course, have gone on a greater length, but the above gives a feel for one of her current passions. It’s fun to watch her practice her flows and kicks and spins down the middle of the living room in the community shelter, soon after we’ve finished a meal. She’s getting good, and loves it. Can’t wait until next Friday’s lesson.

Beatitude (Sunday, 12 December 1993) We went over to Doug and Stan’s for dinner last night. This morning, seemingly out of the blue, Lauren says to Joyce, “I’m really blessed to live in this neighborhood. Everybody’s so different. And I get along so well with everybody. I get a taste of everything.”

(One of my favorite photos)
(One of my favorite photos)

The Pearl (Wednesday, 15 December 1993) A week or so ago, Adam was eating a bowl of home-made oyster stew over at Misty Mountain, where he’s living now, and nearly broke a tooth on a small pearl. When he told us about it, Lauren was intrigued. She wanted to know how big and what color it was, how pearls are formed, and whether they’re found in creatures other than oysters.

So when Adam arrives for Tuesday night meeting, he gives Lauren a small package. She is delighted, upon opening it, to find the small pearl.

Joyce and I glance at each other and smile. Both of us are struck by how curiously appropriate Adam’s present is, given the circumstances of the past two years and the slow transmutation of that trauma into grace. Truly a pearl of great price. And how exquisitely we out-picture the rich tapestry of our inner lives into something as mundane as an oyster stew.

Lauren’s Reading List (Thursday, 16 December 1993) Joyce awakens before dawn today to find Lauren in bed, reading by flashlight. This inspires me to draw up a list of the books Lauren’s read this year. So I ask her for help in compiling the list.

“You want kind of long books, right?” she says. “Not kid’s books?”

I nod.

She disappears into her room and comes out a short while later with an armful. Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Disgusting Sneakers (“the first long book I read from beginning to end”) is there. So is a Radio Shack comic book called “Whiz Kids,” which we picked up free at a fair last summer. Also several of the 60-page illustrated comics we got for her: Robinson Crusoe, The Prince and the Pauper, and The Time Machine.

Then there’s a collection of her current favorites-volumes 1 and 2 of The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann Martin (Kristy’s Great Idea and Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls) and volumes 1 through 6 of Sweet Valley Twins by Francine Pascal (Best Friends, Teacher’s Pet, The Haunted House, Choosing Sides, Sneaking Out, and The New Girl).

“What about Alice in Wonderland?” I ask. “Weren’t you reading that not too long ago?”

“Yeah, but I still have another chapter to go on it.”

“What books are you reading now?” I inquire, knowing to use the plural. Lauren loves to be working on numerous books simultaneously, switching back and forth between them as the mood strikes her. And sure enough, she rattles off another half dozen titles.

The Best Five Minutes of My Life (Sunday, 19 December 1993) We’ve come down to our house after supper. I spontaneously suggest a round of massage: Lauren and I to rub Joyce for five minutes, then Lauren and Joyce to rub me, then Joyce and I to rub Lauren. The suggestion is met with quizzical looks, followed by nods of assent.

Fifteen minutes later, Lauren is lying contentedly on the floor, the lingering touch of her parents’ hands on her head and back and feet. She lets out a long, slow sigh of contentment.

“This,” she murmurs, “has been the best five minutes of my life.”

[A year goes by before I pick up my journal again, and then only for a final few entries. In December 1994, my journaling, and therefore The Lofty Chronicles, draw to a close.]

The Power Bracelet (Thursday, 1 December 1994) I’m working upstairs in the loft, cutting calligraphy mats. There’s a knock at the front door. It’s Sage.

“Hey Lauren, how ya doin’?”


“I hear you got a Power Bracelet!”


“Will you help me get it?”


Then there’s mostly silence for a while, broken only by the soft drift of electronic music wafting up the stairs. Occasionally I catch a phrase or two.

Sage is apparently telling Lauren about his previous evening: “I played and played and played practically without stopping.”

Lauren: “Go back into the forest where that treasure chest place is.”

Sage: “I’ve got 37 pieces of Magic Powder.”

For those without ready access to 8- or 10-year-olds, the above conversation may sound obscure. Two weeks ago I would have been equally puzzled. But that was before the arrival of Game Boy. Now the small, portable, Nintendo-like electronic game is my daughter’s almost constant companion. It’s impressive to see just how absorbing it is.

The silence downstairs is broken by Lauren’s excited exclamation. “Holy moly! Awesome!”

“What did you guys find?” I call down.


A pause, followed by a polite elaboration. “A fairy place.”

“A what?”

Patiently: “A place where there are fairies.”

More silence. These games are well designed. Lauren’s not completely obsessive. She lays down the Game Boy to eat meals and, surprisingly, to read. But for now, at least while the tide of novelty is running strong, she’s devoting quite a few hours a day to exploring this electronic labyrinth.

The two players downstairs have reached the Game Boy version of Terra Incognita.

“I’m someplace I’ve never been before,” Lauren murmurs.

To which Sage rather plaintively replies, “Where’s Seashell Mansion?”

Starting Over (Saturday, 3 December 1994) We’re down at our house, hustling to get ready to leave for a day in Blacksburg–lunch with a friend, library research on real estate law in the afternoon, folk dancing in the evening. Lauren’s been reading up to the last minute. Now she’s frantically trying to get dressed.

“I can’t find any sweat shirts anywhere,” she moans, trying on various clothing combinations in front of the mirror.

“If you hadn’t waited until the last minute,” says Joyce, who’s trying to back off a headache. And they get into a brief squabble about procrastination and appropriate attire.

Then, after a few moments of silence, comes the turn-around.

Lauren looks over at Joyce. “Can we start the day over?”

Joyce smiles. “Sure.”

“Hi, mom.”

“Hi, kid.”

Lauren finishes dressing and we move into our day, the clothing issue having evaporated as quickly as it arose. The issue’s never the issue, I marvel to myself, except when we get stuck in it. Then, until we’re able to extricate ourselves, there’s nothing but the issue.

Girl Talk (Wednesday, 21 December 1994) Without going into inappropriate details, I’ll simply report that as Lauren wends her way toward adolescence, she and Joyce have been developing an important rapport. Lovely strands of sisterhood and friendship weaving into the mother-daughter tapestry. Long talks about bodies and boys.

Occasionally, walking into a roomful of sudden silence and conspiratorial smiles, I realize that I’ve intruded into some of their “girl talk.” Lauren’s lucky (whatever that may mean) to have such a fine mom.


May 2005

Lauren and Joyce
Lauren and Joyce

Lauren and Joyce celebrating Lauren’s graduation
(summa cum laude) from our local community college
with a degree in communications design in May 2005.