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Home Planet

Archive for May 2011

Wanderlust and Motherhood

    Without turning on the light I tiptoed into her room, careful to step over the gaping backpack spilling its cargo of papers, gym clothes and books; over DVDs and laundry and other indistinguishable shapes strewn across the floor. When I got to the bed I felt my way across the comforter, past the dog who was trying to be invisible so as not to be scolded and sent away, past the mountain of pillows she swears she needs to sleep, until my hands found what I was looking for. I leaned over and kissed my daughter’s cheek.


    Taking advantage of the fact that she was only half awake and couldn’t rally the usual adolescent rebuff, I buried my face in her hair and kissed her again.


    “I’m off to the airport,” I whispered, breathing in the scent of a sleeping child. “I’ll miss you so much.”


    “Well,” she replied in a reasonable tone, her voice muffled by the pillow, “Why do you go then?”


    I laughed softly.  “That’s a very good question.” I kissed her one more time, two more times, and tiptoed out.
    

    Even as I checked my baggage, boarded my flight and and texted one last goodbye before I thumbed through the in-flight magazine, her question rolled around the corners of my mind.


    Why indeed?


    When school schedules, work commitments and the budget allows, we travel as a family. Occasionally, I’ll take a trip with a girlfriend. But other times, usually lured by a low fare, irresistible hotel bargain or simply the desire to see a place I’ve never seen before, I set out on my own.


    I don’t have to travel. I could do the bulk of my work without ever leaving town. But travel feeds my mind. And my mind feeds my work. But the most honest answer to my daughter’s question is that I go because I can.  I go because it would be a shame not to.


    I go because we live in an amazing time.  For all our gripes about fare increases, security, occasional delays and crowded flights, right now, like no other time in our history, the world is open to anyone, even a middle-aged mother of four who sometimes likes to pick a place on a map and just fly away.


    It’s not like I’m leaving infants to fend for themselves. Three of my children are off on their own. Only the sleepyhead - the teenage “baby” - is left behind with Dad for a few days. And, like I said, we all travel together whenever we can.


    I suppose, in a way, this penchant of mine to catch the occasional plane - solo - helps us both be more independent. I sample tiny bites of life with an empty nest. She makes do without the mother who will drop everything to deliver a forgotten lunch or can be talked into a banana-split as an after-school snack.


     I tell myself I want to set an example, to leave my children with a sense of adventure and the sure and certain knowledge that it’s OK to wander as long as you always come back home. But really, who’s kidding who? There is another reason I go. Teenagers are hard to catch and harder to hold. If I have to get up before the sun now and then to show a little love, then that’s exactly what I’ll do.
    
Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Broken Wings

Walking to an early meeting, the sharp tapping of my heels on the sidewalk ricocheting off the stone walls of the old cathedral on the corner, I looked down at my feet and I was shocked by what I saw. I’d almost stepped on two tiny wings.  A sparrow’s wings.  The sad, singular remainder of a deadly battle between predator and prey.

 At that moment, I looked up to see a woman coming toward me. She’s a familiar sight downtown. Small, with a quirky rolling gait, like a little sailor listing from side to side as she moves, she walks her city like a tourist. She peers up at window washers hanging from scaffolding. She peeks into buildings that are under renovation. She studies parked cars as she walks slowly past them. She looks up to follow planes as they pass low over the city. She turns to watch bicyclists and skateboarders rocket by.

I see her often and she always reminds me of a bird in an urban cage. She lives in the senior apartments near the Cathedral where I was standing. Her world is an orderly grid of streets and avenues: Six blocks to the drugstore.  Four blocks to the market.  Five blocks to the mall.

Every day, she walks, listening and watching the rest of the world; men in starched shirts and silk ties and women in heels and power suits, all hustling from one meeting to another, on their way to coffee breaks and corporate lunches.

I can’t help but think she must have been something when she was young. Even now, in old age, there is a hint of the petite, curvy, young woman she must have been. Now, even in elastic-waist pants and sensible shoes, I see a girl who wore a flower behind one ear. A girl who danced at the USO.
I wish I knew her story. Is she a widow? Or, perhaps a divorcee, from a time when divorce set a woman apart, leaving her to live on pennies and prayer.Did she raise a family, taking car vacations to National Parks or the train to big cities? Did she work? Does she miss all that?

How did she lose her wings, I wondered to myself. When did she turn into a solitary figure who walks the city as an observer?

The woman walked up to where I stood and stopped beside me, looking down at the feathers at my feet. Then she peered up at me, cocking her head to one side in that birdlike way she has.

 It was all I could do not to ask, “They aren’t yours, are they?”

I couldn’t see her eyes behind the dark, oversized glasses she always wears, as she smiled and shook her head in pity.

“Poor thing,” she said, and walked away.

Watching her, it struck me that a bird can’t survive without its wings.  But people? Well, people do it all the time.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Mother and Child

   She is our first mystery. Our first taste of love. She is the warm dark ocean where, curled and tethered, we float safe and secure.


    Before we are born she is the forgiving, elastic boundary of our small universe. She stretches around us, her bones cage and protect us. She nourishes us. She breathes for us. The beat of her heart is the first sound we hear and her voice, muffled and constant, settles into us and grows in us as we grow in her.


    And when her body forces us out into her world, into a world of bright lights, startling sound and cool air, the comforting scent of her skin is at once familiar, and the feel of her draws us instinctively close, feeding us, soothing us, filling us with warmth.


    She is, from the beginning, our mysterious and wonderful everything.


    When we are small, she is a puzzle. We study her face to read what is on her mind. We react to her smiles and grow still and watchful when her face is serious.


    She teaches us to crawl. To walk. To run and ride and drive. We cling to her and then, surprising both of us, suddenly we don’t. In the storm of adolescence, we push against her even when we can’t remember why we are pushing. We fight against the still-powerful magnetic pull of her, breaking free to claim our own spot on the planet.    We grow up. We step out into the world. And then, in spite of our vows to do anything but, we step into her shoes. We keep the circle growing. We bring our own babies into the world and that changes the way we look at everything. Even our mothers.


    Consumed with the demands of our own offspring, awash in fear and insecurity and emotions we never suspected she might have had, we don’t notice how time is slipping by until one day we become aware of how much has changed.


    While we were growing up and growing into the role of mother, she was growing old. There are lines on her face, deepest at the corners of her eyes and her mouth. She moves a bit slower than we remember. She steps less confidently. She tires easily.


    She seems to shrink a little more each day, until, finally, at the end, our roles have reversed. We care for her and she clings to us. She looks at us with questions and answers in her eyes. We study her face to read what is on her mind. We react to her smiles and grow still and watchful when her face is serious.


    Finally, all we can do is hold her hand, and taking baby steps again, help us both navigate the path to goodbye.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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