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I must have been a very small child, because someone was holding me up, carrying me on their hip and standing before the window so I could see outside.  “Yeah, that’s your brother and sister out there,” the person holding me says.  Identification is necessary not only because we’re looking down from a height — a second-story window, perhaps — but because my siblings are dressed in hooded snowsuits and boots.  They could be anyone.  “Look what they did for you.  Wasn’t that nice?” the voice continues, and the hand not supporting me points at the window, down at the ground.

There’s a snowman in the background.  The children in the snowsuits (one navy blue, one red) are standing, grinning with their entire bodies, before a set of footprints that spell out my name in very large letters.

I am a participant in Holidailies 2007.

Swistle has posted a great list of Things Not to Say to Anybody, Ever. One thing I’ve had said to me that would fit perfectly on this list was said by Mr. X, back when Acorn was a teeny baby:

I don’t get to take a nap. I have to work during the day!”

For context, my night before had involved a migraine, a baby who was both sick and teething, and multiple hours in a rocking chair. I think you can guess the amount of assistance (or sleep) I had actually had.

Having written this, though, I feel petty sharing a story about something I’m clearly still angry about a few years on. So please, share. Tell me something someone’s said to you that should not be said to anyone, by anyone. If I get enough comments, I’ll share the full list here on a future post.

Update!  In a bit of serendipitous timing, I just found Bridget’s list of Things Not to Say When Someone Tells You They Have Breast Cancer.  (Via Twisty, via LesbianDad.)

And then there was that one summer, the summer I was in college and supported myself working for minimum wage at a bargain-priced movie theater. After weeks at the concession stand, I got a promotion of sorts when the managers moved me to the box office. No more fake-butter stains on my shirts’ cuffs? No more twelve-hour shifts of listening to the same seven-minute loop of music in the lobby? Sign me up.

There, in the box office, I had much more direct contact with the people coming into the theater. On some shifts, I had to interact with every single one of them, since we weren’t quite busy enough to need two people working the box office; and since I wasn’t focused on up-selling them to a larger sized popcorn or adding a Coke, I got to have a more pleasant interaction with each of them. There was the woman who came to see Titanic on both Saturday and Sunday for its entire run, at least once each day. (“You must be a big movie fan,” she guessed. I wasn’t; it was the first place that hired me for the summer, and I stuck with it.) There were the kids, barely teenagers, who wanted me to sell them tickets for a movie that was just letting out as I closed up the office, to show their parents and disguise their having been elsewhere. And there were the people from the adult group home.

They drove up in a van, once a week. Adults who were physically disabled, or mentally handicapped, or autistic. Any sort of adult who couldn’t live on their own. Their caretakers brought them to the theater to while away a Sunday afternoon; and set them loose in the theater — those who could handle things on their own for a few hours — to give them a chance to interact with the big bad world without intermediaries.

There was one man in particular who was profoundly retarded. Each time he wanted to purchase a $1 movie ticket, he paid me $10, cheerfully thanked me for his $9 change and his flimsy paper stub, and went inside. Usually the $10 was a single bill, but there were times when he gave me a five and five ones. I had seen a few of my co-workers try to tell him he didn’t have to count out all the extra money, that they were just going to give it back to him; but this only confused him. I simply took the money he gave me, thanked him, and gave him correct change.

On one of those occasions, our chain-smoking assistant manager was standing behind me, observing everything for a few minutes. “I guess he just has a thing about paying $10,” the assistant manager said mildly, clearly unable to make sense out of this habit. “Maybe he just likes the number 10 or something. How weird.”

I was a little surprised, in turn. “I assumed it’s because he can’t reliably make change himself, so someone’s taught him to always pay $10 so he doesn’t have to figure out how much money to give someone.” And I could see it all, if this man did try to figure out that he needed only a one-dollar bill and not a ten: it was all there in the confusion on his face when my coworkers tried to explain this concept to him, in the grateful relief he showed when they’d snap, “Fine!” and take all the money he was offering before foisting most of it back on him. In the thankful smile he gave me, without fail, when I didn’t question how he chose to pay me.

“Huh,” my manager said, chewing on one end of his scraggly blond mustache. “I guess that makes sense. I never thought of that.”

Constant chaos, kids careening about the house.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Mousie OneFeather.

Pajamas.  Toothbrushing.

And she lived with her mother and father

Television still going while a big sister, with a later bedtime, finishes watching a show.

and her brothers and sisters

Another sister studies at the kitchen table, while a brother snacks on a bowl of cereal.

in a great big house they called the Wigwam.

Tucking the youngest child in bed.  Some nights, the mother reads stories.

Now to get to the Wigwam,

Other nights, the father lies down next to her, and draws on her back with a fingertip as he tells a brand new story.  Just for her.

they had to drive down a long and winding road

Each story is new. 

up and down the hills

These are one thing she never has to share.  One thing that didn’t belong to someone else before she was born.

and over the bridge — Bump, bump, bump!

The girl’s ribs serve as bumps for the story-family’s bridge.  It only makes it all the better that there have been two decades of children hearing these stories before.  The opening is by now ritual; each story is one of a kind.

One day, Mousie OneFeather went for a walk in the wide, wide world…

And gradually, the sounds of a crowded household fade from their awareness as parent and child find peace at day’s end.

“I do not want to do this.”

When I was a kid, I was a smart little goody-two-shoes. I was a teacher’s dream: I learned quickly, did my work willingly, and was quiet both in and out of class, following all the rules. (Years later I would realize this resulted in part because my guilt-and-shame meter seems to have been congenitally set in overdrive.) I also always got heaping truckloads of positive feedback on my writing. Talent? The effects of the gargantuan vocabulary that impressed the pants off of every teacher I ever had? I don’t know any more, and I doubt it matters.

No surprise, then, that when I was about seven and my Vacation Bible School teacher asked us to write the story of Daniel in the lions’ den in our own words, I thought, “Easy peasy (and a little boring),” and whipped out a paragraph or so. Unfortunately, after reading over the class’s works, she asked me to read my work aloud. Not to the class, which would have been bad enough, but at the front of the auditorium on Parents’ Night. With a microphone and everything. I demurred, she persisted, I caved. “All right, I guess,” were my approximate words after she told me she really, really wanted me to read my page at Parents’ Night.

So, the big day (or night) came. And the whole class trooped onto stage when it was our turn, and a handful of students came forward to read various things they had written in class. I was the last up, or close to it. My handwritten piece of paper was clutched in my hand. My turn.

I stepped forward from the line and approached the microphone — the same one our preacher stood at every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. I looked at all the people, watching expectantly, waiting for me to begin to speak. The room seemed to swirl a bit, then righted itself; and with that sense of the room settling back onto its foundation came a confidence in what I had to do that I had never felt before.

“I do not want to do this,” I said into the microphone, enunciating each word clearly. And suddenly, the whole world seemed a little brighter. I stepped back into line, just a spear carrier again, while my friend said with glee, “I’ll read it!” and proceeded to the microphone with the paper she had snatched out of my hand. I’m sure it was painful for our audience to listen to her — she wasn’t good at reading aloud under the best of circumstances, stumbling over words and reading without the inflections we need to make sense of a sentence — but she was delighted to get the chance; and I for one didn’t hear her at all. The intensity of the relief I felt was too great for that.

“I do not want to do this.”

It was my first truly independent action, one that was not only not coached by an adult but was actively opposed by an authority figure.  My mother told me, years after the fact, that she could have killed me at that moment; but she added, as we laughed about it in those later years, that my grandmother had been relieved, because until then she had worried for me, worried that I would do whatever a grown-up said simply because they were a grown-up.

I used to think writing was easy. And it was easy, for me. It came easily. Teachers gave assignments, some of which restricted my work (use three similes and three metaphors in this five-paragraph essay; write about Lizzie Borden) and some of which were minimums I laughed at (at least two pages, at least eight sentences per paragraph). My words flowed. I wrote daily — I had to, both to keep up with class assignments and because my brain thrived on it, because it made me feel fulfilled and connected with the world outside my little town like nothing else did.

I read constantly, too. That was the other thing that made me feel connected with the big world outside: getting inside other people’s lives, inside their heads even, by reading about what things were like for them, what they were thinking. Books introduced me to new ideas and gave me the intellectual stimulation I desperately sought throughout my youth.

So, what happened? Why haven’t I written anything requiring more thought or effort than message board posts since college?

Well. For one thing, I was horribly burned out by the end of college. Well before the end, in fact; but everyone around me discouraged me strongly from taking a break. “You’ll never come back,” they said; but I think I would have.

But even before that, I wasn’t writing much. It wasn’t all about burnout. It was also about the fact that I didn’t value my writing. It came so easily to me (not that it didn’t require work!) that I didn’t see how I could dedicate my life to it, how I could do that for a living. There were so many warnings about not expecting to be able to support yourself writing that I thought it wasn’t even worthwhile to try and felt I needed to focus my efforts on some profession that would allow me to support myself. And I did. I focused so much on that, that I lost sight of an activity I loved and was (at one time) good at.

So. What is this blog? It’s an effort to get that joy back. We’ll see how it goes; it’s been a long time, and a lot has changed. I’m rusty, and this doesn’t come as easily as it used to. My sense of humor isn’t the same as it was. My writing style, if I can still be said to have one, is surely different. Some of this is good: I’m surely more mature now, and my writing will surely show that. Some of it can, I hope, be mended: if I can get the habit of writing back, much of the rest will surely follow.

Here goes nothing.

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