A Place in the Shade

My thoughts and stories; no more, no less.

Arm’s Length November 23, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — sweetfeet63 @ 9:37 am

(I actually wrote this several years ago, but it holds up)

The guy wearing the puka shell necklace flirted with me in the study hall on my college campus. Puka shells were a little out of date by 1983, but I found it amusing that he was wearing them, I’ve always been partial to dorks. We had one moderately fun date, and I planned to get in touch with him before too long.

“Thanks for the evening, I’ll give you a call,” I said.

I fully intended to phone him. We had a few things in common, he had a nice smile, there may have been more layers underneath. But I wasn’t certain, I needed a little time.

He didn’t give it to me.

He dropped by. Daily. Apparently my apartment was on his way home from campus. He showed up with candy, a card, or just to say hello. He appeared while my roommate was fitting me in a bridesmaid dress, gushing at my beauty as I stood there on a stool in the kitchen of my college apartment. He meant well, he meant to show me his interest, but it was creepy and I didn’t want him there. Each time he visited I said, “Nice to see you, I’ll call you soon,” hoping he’d give me a little more breathing room so I could determine if this was a relationship I wanted to pursue. I was polite, I was kind, I smiled sweetly. Occasionally I hid in my room while my roommate answered the door.

One afternoon he came by with flowers. I should have been flattered, but this man had continued to appear at my door, unannounced and uninvited, for two weeks, not receiving my subtle attempts to maintain my psychic space. I’d had it. I gave the flowers back to him and told him clearly and firmly no thank you, and that he needed to leave me alone. Perhaps I overreacted, but clearly he hadn’t understood me before.

He was, of course, crushed. I received an angry phone call from him a day later, describing how his roommate wanted to come over and give me a piece of her mind. I imagined him relating his side of the story to her, how he’d been nothing but attentive and I had rudely rejected him.

Hadn’t he heard me? Had I not spoken loudly or directly enough? I had tried to be gentle, to not hurt his feelings, but in a narrow space of time, he had smothered me with his attentions and adoration in a way that made me feel claustrophobic and unsafe. I have never been one to be owned, and I wasn’t planning on getting near anyone even remotely controlling. I’ve felt guilty for 20 years, but ultimately, my feelings of security were more important than kindness.

He would not stay at arm’s length. So I pushed. Sorry, puka shell guy.



That Could Have Been My Classroom December 15, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — sweetfeet63 @ 11:03 am

That could have been my classroom.

I was numb and shocked at first, in that kind of distant way I have become when these things occur. I wasn’t sure what had happened when I turned on the news, and found myself madly clicking away at the computer, trying to get back to the start of the event, to find out the facts. You see, I’d been in my Kindergarten classroom all day, disconnected from the outside world, plotting and planning my next exciting art activity, determining the letter of the week, and the way in which I was going to guide these kids toward reading bigger words.

So, I have to imagine it was my room. To make it real, to get my brain around the incomprehensible horror of it. My room and the classroom next door, half the children gone. The principal, the psychologist, the various adults, shot in the front office. Chaos over the intercom. The teachers, grabbing kids in the hallway and dragging them into the nearest room, locking the doors. First graders in fifth grade rooms, sixth graders in the second. A few stragglers in the library.

We have a plan. Of course we have a plan. But I have two doors to lock, half my windows have broken blinds, and the others don’t have blinds at all. And what good are blinds when there are guns like that? I picture myself running around, drawing the children toward the safest corner of the room, rubbing their backs, calming their cries, hiding where we can’t hide. Pushing down my own fear.

And the helplessness. The sheer helplessness. Because there isn’t a whole lot I can do about it. Part of my job is to protect them. Protect them. How can I protect them from mentally ill people with guns?

I came home frustrated with my students yesterday. The holiday joy and madness is infecting them, and they are happily dancing up the walls. I wonder what Monday will be like. I will hug them, I will chide them, I will become frustrated with them. Because honestly, those things don’t change. But I couldn’t love them more. And I’ll find myself constantly looking out that window, wondering if I could keep them safe.


October is the Cruelest Month October 20, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — sweetfeet63 @ 7:19 pm

October. Days become shorter, there is too much darkness in the morning and I am depressed until noon. I love the fall colors, but the weather is capricious and unnerving in California. Foggy at dawn and ninety degrees by three p.m. For two or three days it blisteringly hot, then suddenly chill and rainy. It is a month of earthquakes and fires. Loma Prieta, Oakland Hills. They reverberate in my memory, and I always expect disaster in this month.

Halloween is not my favorite holiday. It should last a day, at most a week. But it pervades the whole thirty-one days. I turn off the TV and don’t go anywhere, sensitive as I am to the images of ghosts and gore. I am not one who likes to look at suggestions of pain and death. My students are wild, wound up by the same images, and the promise of costumes and candy and parades. My job is hard.

Mom died in October. It was 1981. I was 17. While acceptance and a certain intellectual ability to discuss it have replaced denial, I still grieve. Every year I feel the sadness, the loss, the missing. Some years I am too busy to pay attention to it. This year I thought I had reached a point of calm and reasonable reflection. But no. It has hit me hard, the sadness creeping in and taking over before I had time to realize what was happening. I cry easily, I am especially sensitive. I just want to sleep without dreaming and wake up in spring.

At moments the weight of this month is crushing. I can’t wait for November.


Twelve to Thirteen September 15, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — sweetfeet63 @ 10:40 am

She looks older all of a sudden. I noticed it about a week after she started junior high. Maybe it’s the bangs. They’re really flattering, and encompass her face like a framed work of art. But there is something else too. She holds herself differently, a little a taller. The timbre of her voice has changed, a little deeper and, believe it or not, less whiny. I could swear she’s gotten taller in the last month too. And there are gestures and exclamations that I haven’t seen before. More mature, more grown up, exuberant.

I realize that on her next birthday, only six months away, she will be thirteen. I only just got used to twelve. All those things I’d promised her she could do (wear makeup, go places on her own) I will have to let her do. I’d push off makeup until she was sixteen if I could, but I can’t. She’s there. Much as I’d like to deny it. I’ve loved my daughter at every age. And her wonderfulness does not change, just expands and stretches and reaches out further into the world. Like all well-brought up kids, she confidently grows away from me bit by bit, and I grab onto precious memories until she rolls her eyes at me yet again. And we smile indulgently at each other, and I must release my hold just a little bit more.



Breakage June 22, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — sweetfeet63 @ 10:13 am

I’ve been reworking this tiny piece of writing since 1998. I’ve decided just to throw it out there. It continues to be relevant.


I sit here and think about things that break. Heaters and cars and relationships and hearts. All that breakage puts little cracks in my faith in the way the world operates. Appointments, bones, flower stems on rainy days. Most things can be repaired, or will regrow or assume rebirth. But my belief that all things will keep functioning keeps getting dented around the edges.

How does breakage help me? Do I develop strength, knowing that even though many things will fracture, that life will still move forward? Do I simply grow older and wiser? Or does my faith continue to shrink, little by little, inch-by-inch, until I understand that everything will eventually fall apart, including me, and that’s simply the way of it?

There are many things in my home now that are broken and not yet repaired. I have, instead, spent the time repairing myself, my relationships, my parenting. For me, time spent on the soul has always been more important than the bathroom faucet. Until I finally do get it repaired, and I realize it was so easy to do, and it has improved my life so much. Silly me, physical repairs are so much easier than emotional ones.


Get a Room! June 19, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — sweetfeet63 @ 11:49 am

My 12-year-old daughter and I recently spent 3 days in an upscale hotel in Santa Cruz, California. On the beach, in the sun, turn down service and chocolates on the pillow; a major splurge. Witnessing a phone conversation at the front desk, it was clear that the clientele was demanding and entitled, and the hotel staff was dealing with them as gracefully as possible. But they were driving me crazy too.

Does anyone know how to close a door quietly? Can you lean over and pick up your own garbage? Do you have a polite inside voice? Does anyone know the difference between private and public spaces?

The first night my child and I ventured down to the hot tub and pool. The pool was warm, the hot tub bubbly and inviting under the coastal moon. Sharing space with us was a family with three teenage girls. The father was in the hot tub, chewing out one of the girls for some social faux pas or another. Loudly. We could hear his voice echoing off the asphalt. The mom flinched in a corner of the hot tub, embarrassed, apologizing with her eyes. On and on he went. Driving his point home, not bothering to tone it down after we arrived, even though he could clearly see everyone in the vicinity was uncomfortable, darting looks at each other. Unpleasant, and a great way to alienate your teenage daughter. I was sympathetic to his plight, but don’t you have a room where you could do that? Finally, the girls escape to the beach below, and peace pervades. But I wouldn’t get in the hot tub with that guy.

The next day we went to the pool in the afternoon (my kid is part dolphin.) It was full of kids, bouncing, screaming, and throwing balls around, surrounded by parents and older siblings lounging in myriad chaises with drinks in their hands. Standing smack in the center of the pool was a young couple having an argument as if no one else was around. From my post far away from the screaming kids, I could see him gesturing and read the volume in his voice. The girl is crying, he is angry. My daughter keeps turning to look at me. Has anyone else noticed this? Or are they too wrapped up in their pina coladas? The couple takes it to the hot tub for “more privacy,” where my daughter has escaped – she has been back and forth between the pool and the tub, as is her method of relaxation. She leaves and comes to me to report how uncomfortable she is. The couple is alternately fighting and making out and she is offended by his foul language. Haven’t they got a room where they can do that? Are they so self absorbed they don’t notice or care about the 6-year-olds surrounding them? I fight the battle in my head over whether or not to say something, and they finally depart for the far corner of the deck, kissing and cooing.

Yes, you paid a lot of money to stay in this hotel. Yes, you are allowed to use the shared spaces. Yes, people have disagreements. But this is not your backyard. And I paid a lot of money for a nice vacation too. Please people, some decorum. Some awareness. Some respect. Some ability to see beyond your own little bubble. I’m on vacation, and not in a position where I can put you on a timeout.


I Want What You HAve January 5, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — sweetfeet63 @ 11:06 am
Tags: , , , , ,

I want what you have.
The way your husband looks at you
with adoration
I want what you have
four family members on a Christmas card
all together
I want what you have
wedding albums of family and friends
the same man standing next to you
as the one in the picture.
I want what you have
a man who will get out of his chair
and attend to childish needs
while you sip on your wine
and eat olives.
I want what you have
a man who appears
with a mojito in his hand
as you tread in the door.
I want what you have
the light in his eyes
and yours
the exchange of glances
at a fifteen year old inside joke
made on your honeymoon.