Miss Your Face

My family and I have been spared from pestilence so far, thank God. Still, I have this complaint: I am smile-starved. Before this season of masks, I never realized how much I communicate with smiles or how nourishing it is to get a smile.

Last night at Schnucks, I was struck by the cashier’s deliberate eye crinkling. I crinkled my eyes back at her. To me, eye crinkling takes more intentional effort than smiling, and I did my best to match her intensity. They don’t call them “the friendliest stores in town” for nothing. It was great, but it wasn’t the same as smiling.

I miss smiles the most at school. There’s nothing like the smile of a second grader with a couple of teeth missing. Well, unless you count the smile of a teeny-tiny kindergartner. However, the smile of a seventh grader is exceedingly rare and therefore precious. And, if memory serves, a teacher’s smile isn’t too shabby either. Reader, I am starving for smiles – genuine, IRL smiles!

Before school started, I ordered a transparent mask in anticipation of doing some smiling. When it arrived weeks later (after taking the slow train from China), I was let down by its poor design. The transparent window stuck to my lips and steamed up with every breath. It was gross. It was the opposite of smiling.

Smiling is my favorite, but I’m a big fan of faces overall. I love a good face. I love a so-called bad face. I love a sharp nose, a broad nose, a big, honking, dramatic nose. I love to find beauty in every face. I am starved for faces.     

I heard a podcast recently in which the host interviewed a famous rabbi who talked about the value of looking for yourself in the face of others. He illustrated this idea with the story of the Pharaoh’s daughter finding Baby Moses in the bulrushes.

When Moses was born, his mother was struck by the beauty of his tiny face and did her best to keep him safe for three months. But when the Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses at the river’s edge, his face was red and streaming with tears, and her heart went out to him.

This is the great challenge: to find beauty not just in those of our own tribe who think and act and look like us. The challenge is for our hearts to go out to others, especially those whose faces don’t match our own. I just love it when someone interprets a story in a way I’d never considered. Also, it reminded me of how much I miss people’s faces.

A smile, I think, is shorthand for your heart going out to someone – not in pity, but in a split second of simple human connection.

I realize it may be a while before we can safely smile and be smiled at. For now, crinkly eyes may be the best we can do. But I warn you: when we can smile again, watch out! I’m gonna be smiling like the morning sun, like a Cheshire Cat, like a fool with a secret, like eye crinkles are so last year.

And I will savor every smile I get in return.

-Em : )

This Is Not Forever

A friend and I chatted this morning as she made photocopies, commiserating over the inconvenience of this whole COVID thing. As she walked out the door, her parting words bounced through the library and in my mind: “But this is not forever!”

Over the past several months, I’ve been thinking about what to call this. Most people, including myself most of the time, just call it “the pandemic,” but something about that label doesn’t feel quite right. It’s accurate yet incomplete; it doesn’t cover all that we’ve experienced thus far this year.

A poet whose blog I enjoy calls it “the pandammit,” which made me chuckle when I read it. This label gets points for trying to incorporate the frustration of being hemmed in and inevitably fraying at the edges. Suggested usage: “Man, my nerves are frayed by this never-ending pandammit.”

My sister has embraced the term “jackass season,” which is apt if you’ve spent any time on the road lately. Driving skills and common courtesy have deteriorated in this period of upheaval. Has the concept of right of way lost all meaning? Amanda and I now use the term to explain bad behavior, as in, “What’s with the monster truck passing on the imaginary shoulder of the road?” “Ope, well, guess you hadn’t heard — they extended jackass season this year.” The obvious problem with this terminology is that, although it follows the pattern of “deer season” or “turkey season,” the jackasses are not being hunted. Instead, it seems they are running the show.

My friend Amy has taken to calling it “the apocalypse,” half-jokingly. She enjoys dropping this dire term into everyday conversation, as in, “We had a great turnout at the dance studio fundraiser, despite the apocalypse.” While I haven’t adopted the everyday use of “apocalypse,” I appreciate its literal meaning: a revealing. The times, they are revealing, that’s for sure.

I’ll probably just continue to call it “the pandemic” or, more cryptically, “these strange times,” but I think “the corrections” might just work. In the context of the stock market, corrections are U-turns in trends. At least that’s my feeble understanding – a zag in response to an over-zealous zig. As so many of us have become more individualistic, this awful pandemic offers a chance to consider the health and well-being of others — an invitation to care. Maybe someday I’ll tell my grandkids, “Those of us who lived through the corrections of 2020 came out humbler and wiser on the other side.”

Without a doubt, this is something that no one asked for, but it forces us to consider people other than ourselves. Indeed, the only way out of this contagious pandammit, or jackass season, or apocalypse, or strange time is through taking the welfare of others just as seriously as I take my own.

Will “the corrections” catch on? Probably not. To date, I’ve only used the term in my head. Still, it’s a helpful way to think about the sacrifices we are making to ensure that this is not forever. Come to think of it, maybe that’s the best name for this season: “Not Forever.”

Memory Lane, Target Style

At this contentious time, I think we can all agree on this: one-way aisles in stores are pointless. They only work if all shoppers move robotically at the same pace, six feet apart. Also, people ignore the arrows.  

I compulsively follow the arrows. I am a rule follower who suffers a twinge of guilt if I go even halfway down an aisle the wrong way. Quickly, I pick up the item I need, turn around, and (phew!) I’m back on the straight and narrow. Wish I weren’t so lame.  

And so I sighed with genuine relief when my Target removed the one-way arrows. Such a pleasant way to shop, not having to think about traffic laws.  

The only one-way route that remains is just inside the store, a row of posts with retractable belts that keeps you from taking a right into the checkout area. Sure, it’s a longer route than my usual beeline back to the milk, but the upshot is that this new route sends me on a This-Is-Your-Life-type trip down Memory Lane. As Caroline turns twelve next week, I don’t mind these sweet reminders of her life.    

Like a sheep being led away from COVID, I follow the aisle that leads to the back of the store. The first stop on Memory Lane is the maternity section, where I went hog wild buying cute tops for my enormous belly full o’ Caroline.  

I round the corner, and there’s the diaper aisle where I once discovered a coupon for a $20 Target gift card with the purchase of two Pampers and felt like I’d won the lottery. It’s the little things.  

Just down the way are the toy aisles, where I’ve stood for hours so Caroline could look at Shopkins, Disney princess accessories, and Lego Friends sets. My eyes would glaze over as she begged for each toy. 

Just past the toys is the seasonal aisle where Caroline got her summertime wish: a bright yellow Slip-and-Slide, perfect for making a fearsome mud hole in the backyard. In the same aisle, different day, I picked up a pair of matching Razor scooters so we could ride around the neighborhood together. Not too long after, I flew over the handlebars and might have lost my front teeth but for the grace of God. Six years later, she still loves the scooter; I prefer my teeth. 

Rounding the corner into grocery items, I pass by the fruit snacks that she loved for years and then, suddenly, hated. A few aisles over are the Eggo waffles, Caroline’s breakfast choice from early age to present day.  

And it was just steps away in the pet department that I found myself staring at a vast array of cat litter, unsure of what to buy having never, ever considered getting a cat. But little girls will do that to you: wear you down with begging until you are weighing features like absorbency, odor control, and whether you can actually lift the litter into the cart.   

Because of COVID, we haven’t been to Target together in several months, but I have a feeling the makeup aisle will be her next destination.  

It may be materialistic that my stations of the cross of motherhood are located throughout the nearest Target, but such is life. In spite of COVID, we’ll celebrate our daughter’s birthday, along with the fact that she’s outgrown Pampers, Shopkins, and fruity snacks in squeezy pouches.  

And for now, I’ll follow the rules and enjoy the walk down Memory Lane, albeit longer and indirect, every time I run out for a gallon of milk.   

-Em : )

Target Bullseye 2

 

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Dreamed of a warm beach but instead dangled my feet in a cold river. Kept an eye on the snake snoozing ten feet away. Lost track of the snake and had to kick the water violently from then on to show all the snakes who’s boss. Not relaxing; would not recommend.

Got a mosquito bite, which became infected. At first, it looked like a red, angry eyeball then spread into a three-inch pink circle, hot to the touch. Took four weeks to fade away. Good times.

Discovered my natural hair color. It’s the exact shade of ground beef after you brown it and drain off the grease but before you add the taco seasoning packet.

Got away with brushing my teeth just once a day on one or two occasions. With the mask wearing and staying at home, it’s surprisingly easy. I apologize in advance to my hygienist Katrina.

Didn’t notice it was “summer vacation” until well into June. The days had faded into each other like ketchup and mustard.

Ate a lot.

Had a Bud Light with every meal for one week in early July. Well, not every meal. It simply doesn’t pair well with Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Watched every episode of Community, from the funny first seasons to the dismal last seasons. Re-watching ER, now in Season 9. Rest in peace, Dr. Mark Greene.

Cleaned up the same mess over and over.

Laughed maniacally for two minutes when I found Caroline’s wet towel on the floor for the billionth time. Thought my demented performance made quite an impression, which would come to mind the next time she’s tempted to leave her wet towel on the floor.

Was wrong. Many times. Not just about the wet towel.

Kept a journal of my pandemic experience. Wearied of journaling. Last entry: July 26.

Shopped online for things I don’t need. A cold-press juicer (for all my juicing needs?) A pair of rhinestone crab earrings (for all my crustaceous jewelry needs?) A pretty shower curtain. A thing that catches hair before it clogs up the drain. A miniature steel drum. School supplies.

Started therapy.

Wondered what took me so long to go to therapy.

Waited at a stop light, pondering whether the past five months have been one of those disturbing, hyper-real dreams. Glanced down at the face masks in the cup holder and asked, “If it’s all just a dream, then why are there masks in my car?” Dun dun dun.

Hit the gas when the light turned green. Of course it’s real.

***

Switched on the lamp on my nightstand. Again. Felt a rush a relief and gratefulness for our bed, for a book to read, for another day lived. Again. Sank into the hollow on my side of the bed. Exhaled a prayer of thanks for the respite of sleep. Again.

God willing, I’ll do the same tomorrow night. Again.

Turn the lamp on. Turn the lamp off. Close eyes. Open eyes. Put one foot in front of the other. Learn patience.

Summer vacation may be over, but every day I’m learning, remotely.

Pigeon Forge river rocks

The Green-with-Envy Cucumber

IMG_2185(2)_Moment
There once was a cuke
who wished she was a ‘mater.
IMG_2172 (2)
She longed to be round,
thought it would elevate her
standing in the garden.
IMG_2180(2)
But the more she tried to cater
to specs of red and juicy
she got all bent out of shape.
IMG_2178(2)
Just be yourself, cuke,
everyone else’s taken.
You’re shape’s just not orb-like,
you’re more like a snake, and
IMG_2174(2)
whether pickled or on a nacho,
the world is your gazpacho.
IMG_2167 (2)
So be a cuke and not a ‘mater,
not some warped, pale imitator.
IMG_2187(2)
And as the garden goes to seed,
live it up; grow like a weed —
like a weed, be unencumbered,
for you’re an exquisite green cucumber.
-Em : )

Parable of the Crows

Across the lot
I saw crows
three four
huddled picking at
something.
Their eyes turned on
me
sent shivers up my shins.
Their prize
a dove
wings peeled back
like a cartoon spinach can
whose fresh innards
now lived inside
crow bellies.

The blacktop
clean
not a drop of blood near
her discarded
feathery shell.
Her face
gone
eaten perhaps
or taken.
But her heart
smooth red
pointed as a spade
just inches away.

Birds
devouring
a bird felt
wrong
somehow outside norms
of predator and prey
or animal etiquette.
But are we so
dissimilar?

People
must become
things
in order to
make proper
use
of them.

dead bird