Posts tagged: families
My granddaughter is suddenly a toddler. Over the last few months we’ve watched her crawl then, almost overnight, put one foot in front of another learning first to walk and then run. Her mother, my daughter, is trained to work with patients with mobility issues and she told me that learning to walk is really just overcoming a constant feeling that you’re about to fall. I watched my own four children learn to walk and I’d never really thought about it that way, but when you do, learning to walk becomes a very brave thing to do. The easiest and safest thing would be to simply sit down and stay where we are, but nature takes care of that and we come into the world with the drive to get up and move forward.
My granddaughter is in constant motion these days, moving from one corner of the house to another, no longer unsteady and unsure. But those first stumbling steps have stayed on my mind. I noticed that while she was learning to walk, she never once looked down at her feet. She pushed herself up, put her eyes on the place or person she wanted to get to, and launched herself in that direction. She wasn’t thinking about what might get in her way—that was our job—she just had to move.
Of course, as adults, we’ve learned to watch where we put our feet. We know that one wrong step could send us tumbling. When we set a target and move toward it, we do so consciously and carefully. You get smarter as you get older, right?
The sad thing is that by growing up and growing older, most of us inevitably lose our inner toddler, the inquisitive, driven, risk taker we were born to be. We watch our steps so carefully, so determined not to fall or to fail, we risk never letting go and getting anywhere. We plant ourselves so firmly and deeply we take root. And one day some of us discover we’re stuck.
I’ve heard the phrase “baby steps” countless times, but until I watched this baby learn to walk, I’m not sure I ever really understood its meaning. Baby steps aren’t small steps, they’re big leaps of faith and curiosity. They are the means to getting where you want to be, in spite of the risks. This is another of the benefits of being the grandmother, I think. Now, I have time to watch the process with just enough distance and none of the fatigue, exhaustion and worry of being the parent.
Years ago, I threw myself headlong into into mothering. It was the most frighteningly wonderful thing I have ever done or will ever do. And the reward? Four unique adults who made their way confidently out of my nest just as this little one stepped in.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio 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 email@example.com
There is a house down the street from where I live and I often pass it on my afternoon walks through the neighborhood. It is a small white house, a classic Cape Cod, probably built in the lean years before the second World War. There is ivy climbing up the chimney and a tall evergreen tree anchors one corner of the front yard.
Most days, there is nothing about the little house that would draw your attention. It is like a hundred others in the city. But if you pass it on a summer evening, just at the softest part of the day when the sky is darkening to a deep shade of violet but still light at the western edge of the horizon, maybe a few of the earliest stars are already out, it’s possible the front door will be open. And through the screen door you can see into the small living room of the compact house where two baby grand pianos sit side by side, situated so that the pianists can see one another as they play.
I know nothing about the house or the people who live there, but to my way of thinking it is the pianos that tell the story, the way they fill the room, claiming it as a place where music is, or has been, made. When I look into that room I see love. There are people there who love music enough to make it the center of the house.
Once, at the end of a day in Paris, I walked down a narrow street near the Latin Quartier and past an apartment building. A tiny slice of one of the apartments was visible through the open terrace doors and I could see a faded but still elegant armchair, upholstered in a soft blue velvet that was worn in places from years of use. Tall shelves filled with rows and rows of books lined the wall and a lamp cast a soft glow over the chair.
With nothing more than a glimpse into the room I could imagine the person who lives there. I could see him (I don’t know why, but it felt like a man’s room) come home each evening, scan the shelves, select a book and then settle into the chair to read. From the outside, the building gave no clue to its inhabitants. Rows of windows shuttered the lives of those inside, but the love of books, the familiar and satisfying feel of a favorite book in one’s hands, spilled out out through the open door, carried into the night by the golden lamplight.
The peek into those two rooms has changed the way I think about my house. Now, I try to look past the usual clutter, the sleeping, shedding, cats and dog, past the unfinished projects on my to-do list. I focus hard on the way the chairs sit next to the window, perfect for watching the seasons change and the parade of people on the way to the park. I look at the books I’ve collected over a lifetime and the photographs I’ve taken of the people and places I love.
The places we call home say much about us in ways we don’t always appreciate. We focus so much on the superficial—the wreath on the door, the curb appeal, the fresh coat of paint— that we forget that what defines any room as the place we belong has little to do with the decor and everything to do with how we live, and love, in the space.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a journalist and travel columnist whose audio 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Walking down a street in Paris, I had to step aside to let the woman pushing an infant in a pram pass on the narrow sidewalk.
My first glance was for the baby, small, bundled in blankets against the cold, damp, winter weather. Then I looked up at the woman. She was about my age, dressed for a stroll, yet still effortlessly elegant in that Parisian way. As we waited at the corner for the light to change, our eyes met and we returned one another’s smile. Our eyes met again.
I smiled down at the baby, tapped my chest and said “Grand-maman.”
“Oui,” she replied, nodding back at me and smiling. “Grand-maman.”
I don’t speak French and I have no idea if she speaks English. But some things are universal.
In the year since my first grandchild was born, as I’ve traveled I’ve become aware of a new kind of landscape. Grandmothers. I see them in parks, on busy sidewalks, on busses and trains. Sometimes they are with sons or daughters, an extra pair of hands or simply along for the ride. Often, like the woman in Paris, they are alone. Taking care of children while mother and father work. Exactly what I do when I am not away from home.
My phone is loaded with images of beautiful destinations. On it is a visual record of the places I’ve been for work and for the pure pleasure of traveling. I also have photos of my children and the whole family together. But the images I go to so often, when I’m on a plane or in a quiet hotel room in some beautiful city thousands of miles from home, are those of a little girl smiling up at the camera or sleeping in my arms. My grandchild.
My favorite is a copy of the first photo made of us together. She is only hours old and I have just walked into the hospital room my son-in-law has just gently given her to me. I am wrapped around her, cradling her, focused only on the tiny person in my arms.
Now, each time I look at that photograph, I see myself, in the instant the photo was taken, falling hopelessly in love.
The light changed and the woman, leaving me with one more smile, crossed the street and walked briskly away, turning down another street.
There was a time, when my children were still small, in my arms, on my hip or walking beside me, that I exchanged glances and smiles and unspoken empathy with other mothers. Women who, like me, were navigating sleepless nights, nursing, tantrums and all the countless little milestones of mothering. Now, I am in a new club. I look into the eyes of women all over the world and acknowledge the deep happiness of being the Grand-maman.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington whose essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at email@example.com
It was not the first time I’ve taken a daughter to Paris. Two years ago my middle daughter and I spent a January week in the City of Light, but that’s where the similarity ends. There is a world of difference in 17 and 21.
At 21, my middle daughter was living away at college and was getting close to graduation. She’d missed me and was ready for time together. Not so with my 17-year-old. She sees a lot of me. Maybe, if I’m reading the subtly of closed doors and rolling eyes correctly, a little too much of me.
This is her senior year. College comes in the fall. She is so close to independence, to getting out from under my wing and stepping out into her own life, that it’s all she thinks about. She’s been left here at home with us, without her brother and sisters who have grown up and have lives of their own. She wants what they have. She wants out.
Still, a trip to Paris is a trip to Paris. When I suggested we go just after Christmas, she signed on. For a while it looked like her sister, the one who’d gone with me before, might join us. But the real world—in the form of a real job—stepped in and it was back to one (disappointed) girl and her mother.
We landed in Paris, checked into the hotel, napped for a couple of hours and that was it. She never looked back. The minute we walked out the door of our hotel each morning, the race was on. We picked a direction, a museum or monument or quartier to visit, and she would set out, quickly leaving me to lope behind her like the family dog. Occasionally, she would realize she’d left me too far behind and would wait, her impatience only barely masked, until I could catch up. Then, after a block or two, she was off again.
She’s tall and her long legs speed her along. I am short and was carrying the bag full of cameras, umbrellas, maps and everything else that marked us as tourists. She looked like a local. I looked like a porter at the train station.
I quickly quit trying to keep up and began to enjoy the sight of her moving across the cobblestones, toward the Eiffel Tower, down narrow lanes and along the Quai Saint-Bernard skirting the Seine. I have a series of photos snapped on my phone as I trotted along behind her, sometimes quite a distance behind her. My beautiful daughter melted into Paris and I was able to watch.
Chasing her, I remember wanting desperately to be on my own at that age, without the weight of parents and siblings to slow me down. I wanted to travel alone, unencumbered. If, at 17 I’d found myself in Paris with only my mother for company, I would have done my best to shake her like so much dust out of the rug.
She led me on a merry chase from one end of Paris to the other but I’ll win in the end. She’ll go to Paris again, on her own or in the company of friends. But it will be too late. I will have marked the place. She’ll remember the little hotel I like so much, the one on a quiet street with a school and a market and rows of beautiful apartments.
She’ll order in French and think about the way I simply couldn’t pronounce Croque Monsieur without traces of my Southern accent coming through. She’ll get tired and remember the way I insisted on stopping each afternoon for a cup of chocolat, demanding a moment to savor the strong flavor and rest my sore feet.
She’ll return to Paris on her own terms but memories of our trip together will be folded into every crepe, waiting around every corner and strung like lights across the Pont Marie.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Most people dream of Paris in the springtime, when the city blooms and leaves unfurl like tiny pennants on tree-lined boulevards. Or, they look forward to a summer vacation in the high season, when the grass in the parks is lush and green, the warm breeze ruffles your hair as you cruise down the Seine and the sidewalk cafes are crowded with people-watchers and those who love to be watched.
But I long for Paris in January, when the weather is unpredictable and, on occasion, unfriendly.
In winter, Paris is imbued with a faded, elegant, melancholy romance. The sky is low and the air is heavy and darkness falls early. The river looks dense and cold and the top of the Eiffel Tower is occasionally shrouded in fog. Walking down narrow streets the aromas of the bakeries and tobacco shops and coffee houses linger and capture you as you walk past, drawing you in.
In January, Paris is a study in shades of gray and black and walking down the rain-slick cobblestones, it’s easy to imagine you’ve stepped back in time, back into an iconic Henry Cartier-Bresson photograph. I marvel at the architecture, the beautiful Hausmann buildings, Art Nuveau Metro stations and arching bridges, all somehow more prominent without the foliage and crowds that will come in warmer weather.
I took my middle daughter to Paris just after the first of the year in 2011. We arrived early, just as the weak morning light was stealing across the city. I watched her face as she looked out the taxi window and caught her first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.
We stayed at a small pre-war hotel in the 6th Arrondissement, a short walk from the Jardin du Luxembourg, and each day after breakfast we walked the streets of Paris. From the Latin Quarter to the Champs Elysse to the banks of the Seine we explored grand avenues and winding side streets. We stood in the hushed Cathedral of Notre Dame. We gazed at the paintings and sculpture at the Musee D’Orsay, buying postcards to bring home as souvenirs. We stopped at the sidewalk creperies and sipped espresso in tiny cafes watching the city go on about its business. And all the while a soft rain fell, washing the city in soft hues. We spent a companionable week that I will always remember.
This is not to say Paris in winter is without its flaws. The noise and congestion and the ubiquitous dog waste on the sidewalk are still there, just as they are any time of year. But for an incurable romantic, the dark and mysterious days of January are the perfect time to experience the city of light.
I loved it so much I returned this year with my youngest daughter. She’s been to Paris before on a school trip, but it was hurried and only superficial. This time we explored the city on our own, the way I did with her sister, visiting the places she chose. And once again I got the chance to see one of the world's most beautiful cities through a daughter’s eyes.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. (Portions of this essay were first published in Spokane Cd’A Woman Magazine.)
There are people who seem to be born with a thirst for a thrill. They take every chance to leap off bridges, tethered only by elastic Bungee cords. They jump out of planes, trusting one yank of the cord will release the parachute that will lower them gently to the ground. They paddle kayaks over waterfalls and drop out of helicopters wearing skis.
I am not one of these people.
I don’t have that kind of confident trust. Cords snap, parachutes fail, waterfalls tumble and break the things that ride them. Why would I tempt fate?
But edging out of middle age, I seem to be shedding some of the extreme caution that has kept my feet on the ground most of my life. I’m still not a thrill-seeker, but I just don’t seem to be bound by so many “What Ifs.”
A recent trip to Elko, Nevada coincided with the annual Balloon Fest and I was offered a chance to take a hot air balloon ride. I didn’t stop to think once, much less twice. I hopped up into the basket and listened to the instructions about where I could and should not put my hands. (“Never touch the rope. If you touch the rope we will fall and die.” Check.)
It was only as the blasts of flaming gas right over my head lifted the balloon away from the ground that I began to ask myself what on earth I’d been thinking. The list of hazards—power lines, rogue winds, murderous sharp-shooters (Hey, what if?) and even fabric fatigue (I imagined seams fraying and opening and, well…)—played through my head like a bad movie.
But I was in. And we rose swiftly and silently, immediately catching the current of air and moving toward the horizon.
We moved steadily across the city. Dogs, startled by the sights and sounds of the balloons, there were 30 more behind us, barked and danced as we flew over. School children waved from the yellow bus that looked like a child’s toy. Birds flew beneath us, darting in and out of the trees lining neighborhood streets.
I’d wrapped my fingers tightly around one of the bars at the side of the wicker balloon the moment we’d lifted off and I didn’t seem to be able to let go. But, a few minutes in, still holding on, I felt myself relax enough to really think about what I was seeing and experiencing.
I looked out toward the Ruby Mountains, somewhat obscured by smoke from wildfires further north, across the high Nevada desert and the rough, dry landscape so many crossed on foot and by wagon train 150 years ago as they made their way over the California Trail to conquer the wide-open West and start new lives in California.
It really is a beautiful way to travel. In a balloon you do not fight the wind, you ride it. You surrender to the currents and ribbons of air that stream over the planet and let them take you where they are going. There are tools: hot air, vents, ballast, and so on, but ultimately, you are a guest of the wind.
At the end of the ride we began our descent. The landing was not smooth. A breeze came from out of nowhere and fought us, but we stuck it. Then, when the pilot realized we'd come down on railroad property—not cool—we lifted up just high enough to find a more accessible spot. The chase crew found us and we were done.
When I finally climbed out of the basket, back on the ground at last, a surge of adrenaline made me tremble.
“Anxious Annie” as a friend once dubbed me, had taken a chance. And I had one more thing I could check off my list.
We helped roll and fold the balloon, storing it and the basket in the trailer behind the chase van, and I was baptized with cheap champagne to mark my first flight. Later, I messaged a photo taken mid-flight to my children and their confused responses made me laugh. This was not what they expected to see.
That’s the beauty of aging. Not only do we surprise others when we take a chance, occasionally we even surprise ourselves.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. 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 email@example.com
I didn’t pay much attention to the first shoe. It’s not unusual to see a lone shoe on the road, although I almost always wonder who dropped it and left it behind.
The second shoe, the mate to the one I’d just passed, did get my attention. They were expensive-looking men’s leather shoes, lace-ups, and the one that had landed upside down showed a good sole, no holes or worn spots.
Who loses both shoes in the road?” I wondered.
But it was the pants that slowed me down. Not more than 100 feet down the road, a well-traveled arterial through an upscale residential neighborhood, a street lined by stately homes and old trees, a pair of men’s trousers, a nice wool gabardine by the look of them, were thrown across the center line.
Pants, shoes and then, yep, you guessed it, a little farther down the block, a shirt. A man’s light blue cotton dress shirt. By this time I was almost afraid to look ahead, afraid I would see some guy, stripped down to his boxers, splayed on the pavement like a scene from CSI.
Fortunately, I didn’t find him. But there was a belt. A nice black leather belt with a shiny brass buckle.
I drove the rest of the way bemused. There had to be a story there somewhere.
Was this what was left of a stockbroker who’d decided enough was enough and had switched off his computer, pushed away from his desk and peeled out of the parking lot, stripping off his work uniform like a snake moves out of his skin? Did he walk into the house wearing only his underwear and carrying a brief case and say, “Guess what, Honey? I quit,” to his startled wife?
Or, perhaps it was something a little sexier. Had he been driving with a beautiful babe by his side urging him on as he peeled off his clothes, waving them once out the top of the convertible and then letting them fly as he sped away? If so, the pants and the belt impressed me. I mean, that would be hard to, well, pull off.
I suppose the clothing could have been put there by an angry girlfriend, a trail of spiteful crumbs left by a woman who felt a little better with each garment she threw away. Relationship roadkill.
I finally settled on another scenario. Not as romantic, but probably a little more realistic.
I pictured a car, maybe a minivan, driven by a man who left the office and stopped by the gym for a quick workout before picking up his toddler from day care. While he drove home, distracted, still connected to the office by a Bluetooth umbilicus, the curious child fished around in his gym bag, pulling out one thing after another and then deliberately pushing each out the window, delighting in the way the objects simply disappeared as the car moved on. I imagined his reaction when he opened the door and leaned over to unbuckle the grinning child.
The next morning everything was gone. The street was clothing-free. But somebody, somewhere, must have had some explaining to 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Slipping into a parking spot across the street from the high school, I
turned off the engine and waited for my daughter to come out the
Enjoying the quiet of the car, a welcome respite from
the noise of a busy day, lulled by the warm sun made even warmer by the
window, I relaxed as I watched the students as they gathered outside.
Some were waiting for rides others were just socializing, happy to be
I noticed a pair on the corner, a girl and a boy who couldn’t have
been more than freshmen. They still had the fresh, slightly awkward look
of of a pair of leggy, yearling colts.
They were standing close
together, and I could see that they were both focusing on something in
the boy’s hands. Then, I noticed the cord dangling from their ears and I
realized they were sharing the earphones for the boy’s iPod. His music
was hers. While she studied the screen of the music player, the boy
studied her. When she glanced up, he looked away, embarrassed to be
caught. Occasionally she risked a peek at him, through her lashes, quick
and surreptitious. It was a dance of glances.
He kept looking out at the street, scanning the cars going by,
watching for his ride. He must have seen it coming because he quickly
said something to the girl and reclaimed the earphone, coiling it and
stuffing it into his pocket. Then, a bit stiffly, he leaned over and
wrapped his arms around the girl. She returned the embrace.
They looked like a couple stepping out onto the dance floor for a
first slow dance. There was a bit of hesitation, a slight distance
between their bodies that hinted of first kisses and sweaty palms. When
his mother pulled up to the curb he hurried to the car and they drove
The girl, clutching her books to her chest in the way of schoolgirls
in the movies and romance novels, turned to walk down the hill. As she
hurried toward her own ride, for a moment, she forgot herself and
skipped one little skipping step, like the little girl she had been not
so very long ago. She got into her mother’s car and away they went.
Watching my own daughter make her way to me I thought about the
scene I had just watched. About the way the pair had been tethered,
sharing a single pulse of music, shoulder to shoulder sneaking peeks at
one another, before joining their mothers.
I thought about the women who were even at that moment asking “How
was your day?” and “What did you do today?” and getting only shrugs and
noncommittal grunts in return.
I glanced over at my own child as she grunted and shrugged at my questions.
I realized then that each of us, the three women in a crowd of
parents driving home with our silent, precious, adolescent cargo, on
some level, still believes that the cord that bound us to our offspring
is still intact. A spider’s silk umbilicus of love and worry and pride.
But what we haven’t thought about is who might be replacing us at
the other end of that thread. A girl. A boy. A new love. A new song.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for the Spokesman-Review. She is the author of Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons and can be reached at email@example.com