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Posts tagged: mother and child

Travel: Escape to the Oregon Coast

 

    During the years when my children were in school, when I was tied to their academic calendar, I wasn’t able to just pick up and go when the mood struck. That kind of freedom didn’t come for another decade. But once a year I would pack up the family, more often than not, just my two youngest daughters—the others had summer jobs and other commitments—and run away to the Oregon Coast. 

 

    With the girls and the dogs in the car, squeezed in beside coolers and lawn chairs, beach towels and a big bag of books, we would drive for hours until we arrived at our favorite spot, a small town with no mall, no fast food, no distractions. And we would stay for as long as I could afford to keep us there.     

     I took extra assignments during the year to pay for a cottage. I would work late into the night so that when summer came I could throw myself at the Pacific the way we fall on our mothers, desperate for the comfort of something bigger than the small petty worries that chased themselves around my mind morning, noon and night.

 

    Those were wonderful days. When the fickle weather allowed, we spent hours playing in the sand, but there was the greater luxury of time for myself. While the girls slept or read or worked a puzzle in whatever cottage I’d rented that year, I would make my way down to the water. I would close my ears to everything but the sound of the waves hitting the shore, close my eyes to everything but the search for shells and agates on the beach. I would walk for miles up and down the beach, my back bent, my mind wandering, letting the cold wind and stinging sand scour away the brittle crust that had formed around me. 

 

    Somehow, answers that eluded me everywhere else always seemed easier to catch and hold while I walked the beach.     Without the stress of keeping house, meeting work deadlines, volunteering at school and all the other matters that constantly distracted me, I could read my own mind and make sense of things. I could see people and issues more clearly. Words filled my head and sentences and paragraphs wrote themselves, and stayed where I could find them when I got back to the cottage and sat down to my computer.  Without the distraction of television or friends calling and coming over, I could reconnect with my children on a more intimate level. Keeping my eyes on the horizon, I made peace with what I could not change and  measured the distance to dreams I was chasing. 

 

    It’s no wonder those days at the beach, in the company of the wild Pacific Ocean and my own sweet daughters, have taken on such a warm glow in my memory. 

 

    Life has a way of chipping away at us at times: Old friends battle cancer. Work disappoints or becomes less fulfilling. Loved ones lose their way and our own ambitions shift and take new direction. To work through such matters requires equal measures of silence and solitude. 

 

    I can’t go back in time; the two young girls are grown now and no longer mine to put in my car and drive away. But I can go back to the place we were so happy. The sea is still there. The waves still crash against the rocks on the shore and the wind still blows. What I need is somewhere on that beach, half buried with the agates and bits of broken shells. All I have to do is put my head down and walk until I find it.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” (available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Travel: Technology and Family Ties

    If I’d known then what I know now, it would have been no surprise that three of my four children came into the world after waking me up from a sound sleep. (The fourth missed out only because we beat her to the punch and induced labor.) All these years later, they’re all still robbing me of my sleep.
    I can be exhausted when I crawl under the comforter, but one nagging worry, one random thought of how long it’s been since they called or how they’re faring at school or work, and my eyes fly open and refuse to close.
    Just as they were when they were babies, these grown children of mine are always on my mind, just under the surface, only barely covered by the details of my own day.
    Last night, well after midnight, I was still staring at the ceiling. I couldn’t sleep because my mind was on my son who, the last time I’d spoken to him almost two weeks before, was heading out of India and into Nepal. I had no idea where he was or what he was doing. One part of me knew he was OK. But the other, involuntary, side of my brain kept playing out a string of possibilities and ‘what-ifs.’
    I tossed and turned, irritating the cat enough stretch and give me a nasty look before hopping off the bed in search of a more peaceful spot, until I finally surrendered, turned on the light beside the bed and picked up my phone.
    In a chatty “Not that I’m worried or anything…” tone of text, I sent a short email asking how and where he was and mentioning it had been a little while since we’d heard from him. I put down the phone, pulled the covers over my head and went to sleep.
    The next morning, when I sat up, put on my glasses and checked the morning’s email, I saw what I’d been hoping for: a reply. He was safe. He was happy. He would write more later.
    That was all I needed to know.
    For the rest of the day I thought about the solace of communication at the right time and just how easy it is these days for us to stay in touch.
    Like everyone else, I gripe about the flood of emails in my inbox, the frenzy of a 24/7 news cycle and the constant distraction of social media. But as a traveler and the mother of kids who seem bound to wander, I'm immensely grateful for technology. Imagine the wives and mothers of sailors and soldiers in the not-too-distant past who would have given anything for the comfort of one or two lines or a quick Skype call.
    Of course, if I’m honest, there is a more selfish reason I depend on this modern ability to reach out and connect. It allows me to wander now, too.  A freedom that was also denied to wives and mothers in the past.
    Tethered by technology, I can fly away for a day or a week and still be within the sound of a voice should my family need me. I can send a text to say good morning or a virtual kiss at bedtime. I can send or receive photos from around the world. I can be the woman whose heart remains at home but whose feet still itch to travel new roads.
    Technology is sometimes a nuisance, but it is always an amazing gift. Using Google Earth, we follow our son’s path through the Himalayas and with the aid of a maritime program we track our geologist daughter’s ship through the Pacific. Off on my own at even the most remote spots, when wireless is nowhere to be found, I can almost always sit down to a hotel’s computer and connect with the ones I love.
    That’s why, on the table beside my bed, I keep the things that matter most to me so they are always close at hand: A family portrait, a pen and notebook, and the device—my smartphone—that binds us together wherever we may roam.

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 catmillsap@gmail.com You can read previous ‘Home Planet’ columns at www.spokesman.com/blogs/homeplanet
  

Travel: Kicking the Bucket List


    So often when the subject of travel comes up, someone will invariably mention their 'bucket list.' They will talk about a city or continent, a monument or some kind of natural wonder or even an event they want to see before they die. Before, as the cliché goes, they kick the bucket.

    I heard the phrase whispered several times last year as I stood on the deck of a small ship in Alaska, watching humpback whales swim so close I could hear them breathing. I heard it just a few weeks ago watching the Northern Lights undulate across the spring sky over Manitoba, standing in a night so dark and cold it was as if I’d floated out into space.

    I never actually put my list down on paper, I’m not that organized, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Instead, I have carried a kind of mental itinerary in my head, images of places I want to see and things I want to experience. But that mental list, like the Northern Lights, is not constant. It shifts and changes, shining on one landscape and then another as I add and subtract. Every time I see a great photograph or read an exceptional travel story, I pencil in new locations. Sometimes the world changes and war, weather or political upheaval get in the way and a destination drops off.

    Of course, the truth is there will never be enough time to see it all, and not just because I got a late start at the second half of my traveling life, staying home to raise a family and then working around that family to build a career. Even if I’d started on a round-the-world trip the day I was born, there still wouldn’t be time enough to experience it all because the more I learn about the world around me, the more I want to see and do. But life is short so I try to treat every trip—large or small— like it will be my last. I remind myself stop and savor the moments instead of pushing to do more and see more. I have learned it’s important to appreciate where you are and where you’ve been, before hurrying on to the next adventure.

     Several years ago, as my daughter and I walked along the Great Wall in China, navigating the ancient, uneven steps, I suddenly remembered a photo of the wall in one of my school Geography books. At that time, China was still a closed and shuttered place. I’d studied the photo with interest but it never once occurred to me that I might one day stand at the place pictured in it, especially with a child of my own. But I did. And in that moment, watching my daughter focus her camera on one of the marvels of the world, I felt a swell of gratitude for the rambling path my life had taken to put us both there.

    So, no real list for me. When my time is up I want more than a column of checkmarks to define my wanderlust. Instead, I want to be the woman who didn’t always know where she was going but always took the time to appreciate where she was.
  

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel journalist  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 catmillsap@gmail.com

Travel: Home Cooking

   The routine is always the same.

   I walk into our kitchen, a place that is deeply familiar and filled with all the pleasant associations of my family, and I pull out everything I will need. Methodically, listening to the radio or letting my mind wander, I chop onion, celery and carrots into the mirepoix that will form the base of a pot of homemade soup. Sauteing the vegetables, I separate two, three, sometimes four garlic cloves and chop them, tossing the aromatic pieces into the olive oil and butter with the other ingredients. Then I fill the big pot with stock, chicken or vegetable, add seasoning and put it on the stove to simmer. Sometimes I add leftover chicken but usually it is meat-free. In an hour or so our meal is done. I slice the bread, set the table and call out that dinner is ready. We pick up our spoons, take the first sip, and I know I am home.

   Food, as we all learn quickly enough, as newborn babies crying out in hunger and frustration, does more than just feed us. Food comforts. Food connects and unites us. It brings us closer and broadens our tastes. Food carries us forward and, as we get older and years escape us,  reminds us of the past.

   In some elemental way, soup captures all of that for me. It is simple, inexpensive and quickly prepared but it carries so much more than just flavor.

   For years now, after returning home from a trip, especially when no one could get away to come along with me, I’ve made soup when I got back and I’ve come to realized it is more than an act of putting food on the table. Sometimes, when I grabbed a cheap fare and took an impulsive journey, giving in to the temptation to travel, the meal is part apology. Other times, when my work took me away and I was busy and frustrated, it is part recompense, a way to make up for my short absence.

   But always, whether anyone sitting around the table knows or even cares, the act of making and sharing a pot of homemade soup, of gathering over the savory fragrance of simple ingredients, is an act of love. It is a way to say leaving this place and these people always hurts a little. And that coming home to chop and and stir and season a meal to feed them, somehow feeds me more.


For more about travel and homecoming, read Traveling Mothers

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington, whose 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

Travel: And All the Boys at Sea

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)


    Crossing the deck of the busy cruise ship, on my way to get something for lunch, I noticed a little boy crouched quietly, oblivious to the crowd around him as he bent over his shoe. He’d dropped to fasten the buckle and his mother stood patiently by, parting the sea of passengers that streamed around them. That, as every mother eventually learns, is what you do when you have a preschooler. You stand and wait while they master each new, seemingly monumental task. To do anything else is to invite tears and tantrums.

    I watched the boy’s fingers, small and deliberate, as they worked at his task and I remembered my son doing the same thing at that age. I remembered the way my breath caught at the tender vulnerability of his neck, his thin back curved over knobby knees, his concentration evident by his frown and the tip of his tongue peeking out of the corner of his mouth.

    I was on board the big ship to cover the launch of the brand new Carnival Breeze but the ceremonies were over and we were underway, already out to sea. I had nothing but time so I stayed where I was, watching the boy while fragments of other conversations drifted around me.

    “We’re on our honeymoon,” I heard a man’s voice say, and I turned to see two couples, one young, the other old, on lounge chairs by the pool.
 
    The old man replied that he and the old woman beside him had been married more than 50 years.

    “Wow, that’s impressive,” the young man replied, his voice lacquered with a gloss of interest and respect. “So, what kind of advice would you give us?”

    I knew, and the old man knew, it was a superficial question.  Still, the old man seemed to take it seriously and was silent for a long moment and I waited to hear what he would say. The little boy worked on his shoe. The young woman smoothed sunscreen over her flat belly and along her arms. The old woman, her skin browned and leathery from years in the sun, rummaged through the basket on the deck beside her chair until she found her sunglasses. The young man sipped his beer.

    Finally, the old man, his voice rough and graveled by years, spoke.
    “You got it pretty good right now, son,” he said, nodding his head toward the young woman. “But one day, when the sun ain’t shining on you, and you’re mad at your pretty little bride over there and you hate your boss and the kid needs braces, you might think about doing something stupid. You might think about walking away.”

    The young man looked a little shocked at the old man’s plain words.

    “My advice is to remember how you feel right now because one day you might need it.”

    “Yes, sir,”  the young man said. “I sure will.”

    The old man, having said his piece, closed his eyes and the young man went back to his beer.

    I looked back at the little boy just as he finally slipped the strap through the metal buckle. Dusting his hands on the back of his swimsuit, he stood up and said “Okay,” in a satisfied tone. With his mother beside him, he walked on and disappeared in the crowd.

    I moved on too, got my food and walked back to where my husband was reading. He looked up from his book. “What took you so long?” he asked, and I realized I’d lost track of time. Again.

    “Oh, you know me,” I teased, sitting down beside him. “I was just watching all the boys.”

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 catmillsap@gmail.com
  

The urge to fly and the need to nest

    (Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

   The wind had picked a bit up the night before, sweeping through the tall pine trees, taking with it loose branches and needles, dropping them to the grass below.


    I noticed something else in the litter on the lawn and as I got closer I could see it was a small bird’s nest, still intact after its long fall. I picked it up and studied the way it was made. I have never seen a nest that isn’t, in some way, beautiful.  A marvel, really. But this one was exceptionally so.


    Made almost entirely of long strands of dried grass woven around what appeared to be wool or even dryer lint, the inside was lined with a soft, golden, feathery material. At first I thought it might be the bird’s own feathers but then I realized it was a layer of shredded cattail blooms, the tall plant that grows in ponds and marshes and bends and dances in the breeze. The compact bloom had been pulled apart and separated into downy fibers.


    I held the nest for a long time, thinking about what an engineering and artistic accomplishment it was. And to what lengths the birds had gone to to create it.


    Grass and lint are all around us. That could have come from any house nearby. But the cattail had to have come from the park down the hill, several blocks away. It would have been no small feat to bring home, bit by bit, enough of the fibers to fill even such a petite shelter. What compelled her to use that particular plant? Surely there must have been some easier way.


    I carried the nest home and set it on the mantel in my living room. For days, every time I walked by, I would stop for a closer look. One afternoon I sat down on the sofa—a piece with a new slipcover, sewn by a friend who does beautiful work. I searched and searched for just the right fabric before settling on the natural cotton and now every time I look at the sofa, it pleases me.


     Still cradling the fragile thing in my hand, still puzzling over the curiosity of it, I reached behind me to adjust the cushion at my back and felt the fine weave of the soft linen pillow cover under my fingertips. Immediately, I remembered the day I’d purchased it in a small shop in Estonia. I’d spent an hour pulling out cover after cover until I found a pair that were exactly right. 


     I glanced at the curtains hanging at the window and recalled discovering them in a second-hand store in Reyjkavik. I hadn’t given a thought to how I would get the four panels home, I just had to have them. The eight yards of material had stretched my already-full luggage to its limits and when I got to the airport I was told it was overweight.  The gate agent listened as I told him how I’d found the curtains. How they were old and soft and the color was perfect and that I would never again find such beautiful fabric. Still looking at me, without saying a word, he tagged my heavy bag and sent it away without charging me the extra fee.
   

 I turned to look at the small Native American rug behind the glass doors of the secretary standing in the corner. I’d spotted it in a weaver’s studio outside of Chimayo, New Mexico, picking it up and putting it down twice before committing. I tried to be practical, but I simply had to have it.


    My own nest is filled with soft things from unlikely places. Things which, although I stumbled onto them at the time I was, in some sense, seeking. Who am I to question a bird’s choice? After all, exposed to the elements, at the mercy of wind and rain and sly predators, she had fragile eggs to protect and tender fledgelings to care for. I have four sturdy walls and a roof over my head.


    The delicate nest is still on the mantel. I think I will keep it there as a reminder that the real difference in a shelter and a home is what surrounds us when we are there.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Traveling Mothers

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

  My son has been on a boat out on the Pacific for weeks now and every so often a few lines arrive by email.     
    “This has been a great trip,” he writes “The hurricane turned so the seas are not so rough now,” he writes. “Work is going well,” he writes. “Saw some whales today,” he writes.
    

   I see one word: Hurricane!
    

   I’d just settled into my usual routine of vague worry and superstitious bargaining with fate when, and, as usual, it was the last thing I expected, my daughter—the brand new geologist—was assigned to a job on a boat off the coast of Greenland. (Wait, isn’t Greenland melting?)
    

   Already living 200 miles away from me, with less than a day to prepare, she packed and flew away without my being able to see her face or hold her close. Now I’m left to wonder how two little land-locked children could grow up to sail so far away. At the same time.
    

   My friends point out I shouldn’t be surprised. Don’t I fly over oceans every chance I get?  Why would I expect any less of my children, especially these two adventurers? Stop worrying so much, they tell me.
    

   Of course, I have an answer ready. I’m not green. I’m not confident like my son. If anything, I’m overly cautious and too careful. I’m not young and beautiful and vulnerable like my daughter. I’m just another middle-aged woman on a train or in an airport, hugging her purse and keeping one eye on her luggage.
    

   But, truth be told, I finally had to admit to myself that what’s bothering me as much as worry, is guilt. I’m consumed with guilt. I can’t shake the feeling I’m not holding up my end of the bargain. I’d already booked a work-related trip to Alaska before I knew my children were going to be traveling; not that it even occurred to me to ask. And now, thanks to me, we’ll all be scattered across the globe. How will they reach me if they need me?
    

   Children are meant to fly, some tiny voice inside me whispers, mothers are not. It’s our job to be home base, the place our children come back to. If I am not here, what will become of us? What kind of home base goes to Alaska where cell phones and computers don’t work? The swallows only return to Capistrano because it’s there waiting for them.
    

   Before my children came along, even after I was married, I came and went as I pleased.  I bought plane tickets and train tickets at the drop of a hat. But after the babies, when the occasional chance to travel solo came along, I usually let the opportunity pass.
    

   Occasionally, when I would mention some place I’d been or adventure I’d had before they were born, they would look at me, confused, trying to imagine me anywhere else.
    “Well, Mommy wasn’t always Mommy,” I would tell them, laughing at their confusion. “I used to be another girl.”
    

   But if I'm honest, what held me back was that I couldn’t bear the idea of leaving them. Overwhelmed with love and responsibility, I wasn’t just afraid of something happening to my children. I was terrified something would happen to me. How would they survive without me? Who else knew them so completely?  If something happened to me and they asked their father or grandparents ( or their new mother!) for a Sadie Sally story, no one would know the world I’d created for them in my head. No one would know that Johnny was the little boy who kept a dragon named Jimbo or that Sadie was the sister who always discovered magic dust in her pocket just when it was most needed or that a road divided the enchanted forest and one side was a wonderful, magical, place but the other was dark and frightening and no matter how hard they tried something always lured Sadie, Sally and Johnny into that dark place where they had to rely on their wits and the dragon and a little magic to escape. Who else could tell Sadie Sally stories? Nobody but me.
    

   Only I knew who preferred her milk warmed. Who was afraid of the dark. Who liked to talk about dreams first thing in the morning. Who needed an extra kiss and glass of water before bed. I knew them on a cellular level. After all, each had peeled away from me, physically dividing us at birth. We were, at least in the beginning, two parts of one.
    

   Imagining the possibility of not being there for my children unhinged me. Just thinking about it, I whimpered and paced like an animal separated from her young. I didn’t put my traveling shoes back on until the three oldest were out of the house and on their own and the youngest showed an independent streak I wanted to encourage.
    

   I thought I’d left all that worry and guilt behind me, but again they’ve exposed me for who I really am.
    

   Mommy is always Mommy.
    

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, 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
  

Lesson from Estonia: Love feeds us all

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

Living in villages in the remote southeastern corner of Estonia, the Setu people have been farmers and woodsmen for centuries. No one seems to be exactly sure how long. They are said to be the oldest settled people in Europe, having never moved from their homeland. The pagan traditions of the past melded over time with the traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church and now, with half their homeland on the Soviet side of the demarcation line drawn after Estonian independence in 1991, leaving families fractured and divided, their primary export is more basic. It is the ancient songs traditionally sung by the women as they worked, cared for their families, worshiped and celebrated family ties. Now, Setu choirs perform around the world, on television, at festivals and fairs.

We were invited to join a group of Setu women at the cemetery for a special celebration. There, a cloth was spread at the base of the gravestone of a woman from the community. Food was arranged on the cloth and when everything was as it should be, the women stood up and began to sing. As they sang they swayed, some wearing traditional white wool coats over their woven skirts, white blouses and ornamental silver jewelry. All wore scarves covering their hair.

When the songs ended the women gestured toward the food, inviting us to come closer. They poured fruit punch, held up takeaway containers of cake and sandwiches and urged us to finish it all. Instead of the hushed voices one might expect in a churchyard, there was laughter and conversation.

The Setu language was indecipherable to me. The way the women were dressed was exotic with the musical jangling of silver on silver, chains of coins draped over large, heavy cone-shaped breastplates meant to ward off evil spirits. But a ceremony to honor the dead centered around food and hospitality made perfect sense. Food is sustenance,  we take it in to satisfy the need to fuel our bodies and minds. But food is also a conduit for love.

Thinking of my childhood, I recall so many meals. Family dinners, picnic lunches and breakfasts of scrambled eggs and toast. Chocolate milk and cups of coffee. Leftovers.

Food was my introduction to each of my children. Our first embrace was when I nursed each one just minutes after birth. Even now, when I can get them all together I have to serve them something. To feed myself, I need to feed them, to see them satisfied and content. Thinking about it, I realize my last moments with my mother on the night she died were spent offering her tiny spoonfuls of ice. It was all I could do.

The scenery and the songs of the Setu may be different from my world, but the driving force is the same. We court over meals, we celebrate milestones—birthdays, anniversaries, promotions—at the table. We grieve those we have lost gifted with offerings of food prepared or delivered by friends and coworkers.

Food brings us together, binds us to one another. And standing in a windswept cemetery, surrounded by stones weathered and mossy with age, I didn’t have to understand the words to recognize the spirit of the songs.


 Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, 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
  

The Things That Hold Us

   In 2004, after writing a series of narrative feature obituaries for The Spokesman-Review, I began to notice how often women in their 70s and 80s—usually the surviving spouse—mentioned their service or work in a “Rosie the Riveter” type of job during World War II.


    Intrigued, I decided to do a larger feature on local women who’d been “Rosies.” My editor put a notice in the paper for a few weeks and I was inundated by calls. Hundreds of women contacted me asking to tell their story and I interviewed many of them.


    Time and time again the women talked about traveling to take a job at a shipyard or wartime factory. But I was left with the impression that their war work had been more than employment. It had been, for some, the biggest adventure of their lives.


     After the war most returned home or moved to another state with new husbands. Most left the workforce and stayed home with children. The dizzying whirl of sudden independence, graveyard shifts, USO dances was replaced with marriage, caring for young children and keeping house.


    Most didn’t seem to regret the choice, but I was struck by the fact that so many had never talked about the years before they settled down. Our interview was the first time they’d spoken of that time in front of family. Their children had no idea that the women they knew only as a mother, PTA president or Sunday School teacher had had any other kind of life.


    One woman said something that has stayed with me. I think of her words often.


    We’d finished the interview. I was packing up the portable scanner, the digital recorder, my laptop and my camera—the tools I carried to each meeting— and preparing to leave.  Almost as an afterthought, I turned to the woman who was still sitting at her daughter’s kitchen table.


    She’d traveled west to work at a California shipyard where she met and married a serviceman and at the war’s end moved to North Idaho with him to live on his family’s dairy farm. It was a life that was sometimes harsh with frigid winters, long hot summer days and the endless work of farm life. Like so many of the women I interviewed, she’d raised four or five children and then outlived her husband.


    “I’m curious,” I asked her. “How did the time you spent in California, not just the work but the things you saw and experienced, impact your life later?”


    The woman didn’t answer immediately. She looked down at her hands clasped as they rested on the table, smiled a small Mona LIsa smile, and said only, “There were times it sustained me.”


       Her daughter, a woman a few years older than me, reacted immediately.


      “Mother!” she said. “You know you were happy being home with us! You always said you loved living on the farm.” The woman continued to smile down at her hands.
   

    “It sustained me,” she said again.
   

    I said my goodbyes and left. But in the eight years since that morning, I’ve thought of her words at least once a week.
    

    So often I’ve imagined her, standing at the stove stirring oatmeal for the baby in his high chair, hanging laundry on the line, mending her husband’s work shirts, feeding the animals or working in the garden. I’ve imagined her taking care of everyone around her, but occasionally stopping for a moment to remember. To remember being a girl with a flower in her hair, dancing with a handsome sailor. To remember the camaraderie of lunches eaten out of a metal lunchbox in the company of other young women working to win the war. Remembering how it felt to be young and free and on her own.
   

   It doesn’t have to mean we’re unhappy with the choices we’ve made when deep inside there is a place or an event or even a scrap of memory we cling to.
    

   Those are the moments, after all, that bear the weight of the lives we’ve built.


    
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and  CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, 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
  

We are so much more than ordinary

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 


   Holding my newborn granddaughter, gazing down at her as she sleeps, I study her closely, mapping her with my hands and my eyes just as I did with her mother, my firstborn child. Just as I did with each of my children.

   Cradling her in my left arm, instinctively holding her close, pressed against my heart, I trace the curves and folds of her ear with my fingertip. It is as tiny and perfect as a seashell. With my hand I follow the already discernible swirl of her down-like hair as it wreaths her head. I take her  hand in mine, marveling at the strength of her grip, aware that each tiny finger is already marked with her unique signature. I rest one soft, wrinkled foot in my palm, imagining the steps it will take as she walks into the future. I fold into her, putting my face against her skin and breathing in the heady perfume of a sleeping newborn. I am lost in this child. Just as I was with her mother. Just as I was with each of my children.

   Most of us would, if asked, describe ourselves as ordinary. But the truth is, if we stop to think about it, there is no such thing as an ordinary human being. Even beyond temperament and personality, each of us comes into this world extraordinary in countless physical characteristics; in the flecks of color in our eyes and the way our brow furrows or our smile curves, in the imprint of each foot as we stride. Sculpted around a ladder of bones, draped in soft skin, we are unique and individual. Unlike any other living creature.  We arrive complete, an exquisite product of the complex and mysterious cellular shuffle that takes place at conception.

   But somewhere along the road, most of us forget this. We lose sight of the fact as we swirl in the crowd of humanity—a snowflake in the blizzard—that each of us is one-of-a-kind and like no other. Oh, we all secretly know it about the children we’ve created. We marvel at them even as they grow up. But we forget we are also wonderful.

   Perhaps this is why new babies capture and claim us. It goes beyond love. Beyond pride and a sense of fulfillment. When we reach out and take a newborn, when we bring a child close and look down on the miracle, we are reminded that each of us comes into this world, and leaves it, as a rare and beautiful thing.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and  CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, 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
  

The Weight of Affection

   I knew even before I opened my eyes, something wasn’t right.
Lying on my back in the dark room, I could feel a heaviness on the center of my chest, a pressure that made taking each breath an effort. My mind raced, inventorying the signs of a heart attack. Shortness of breath? Yes. Pressure? Yes. Pain? Oddly, no.

   Fully awake by this time I realized the “elephant” occupying my chest was nothing more than a snoring two-year-old in footie pajamas, her precious blankie tucked under her arm, one thumb in her mouth, the thumb and forefinger of the other hand twisted—as was her habit—around one of her curls. She’d come into our room at some point and since her older brother and sister had—one by one—already made the trip and had staked out their places in the crowded bed, simply climbed up on top of me, popped her thumb in her mouth and drifted off again.

   I shifted, rolling her gently onto the bed beside me.

   Most mornings when the children were small, I woke up to find everyone who mattered most to me curled, warm and safe, around me. Our bed was an island—not always a comfortable island, with two adults, three children and the occasional cat—but in those moments, it was a sanctuary. 

   Now, the toddler who climbed me and stretched out like I was the top bunk at summer camp, is 22. Today is her birthday and there is a box of cupcakes waiting to welcome her home. 

   Now, she’s about to graduate from college and fling herself into the real world with all the enthusiasm, humor and jolly determination that have marked everything she’s done since the day she was born. She talked early. She walked early. She read early, asking me at five years old, her head cocked as she scanned a book on the shelves in the living room, “What is El-e-men-tal Ge-ol-o-gy?” Her only mispronunciation was a hard “ghee instead of “G”. It was at that moment I realized she hadn’t memorized all the children’s books in her room, as we’d thought. She’d been reading them since she was four.

   This middle daughter is an adult now, soon to have a degree in, of all things, geology. These days, nobody but the cat pads into our room in the wee hours.  But that doesn’t mean she isn’t still on my mind.

   Even now there are nights when I wake and lie quietly in the dark, thinking about her, about the baby she was and the woman she’s grown to be. About the balance of time and how easily it shifts from now to then. And in those moments I feel, again, the warm, familiar weight of love pressing down on my heart.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and  CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, 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
  

To See the World Through a Child’s Eyes

(Photo by Jenna Millsap)

 

 

   My first grandchild arrived late last Sunday afternoon. As I sat by the phone, waiting for the call that she was here, safe and sound, I thought about what life will be like with this new little girl in our lives. I recalled late-night feedings, first words, bicycles with training wheels and first days of school, thinking it wasn't that long ago that I was experiencing all those things with my own firstborn. And now she's a mother.

   Looking ahead, looking for one special thing I can be to her, I imagined the places I can take this new granddaughter of mine, the parts of the world I'd like to show her.

   There is nothing like traveling with a child to open your eyes and ears. Our youngest daughter has traveled with me quite a bit and always, upon our return, I am startled by the things she teaches me. As only the young can, she notices things that escape me.

   Three years ago we sat in a garden in China, resting from the breakneck pace of the trip, and she pulled out the camera and set it to video. I asked what she was recording, looking around to see what had gotten her attention.

   “Nothing,” she said. “Just the sound of the birds.”

   I'd been so focused on my aching back and taking in the details of the exotic design of the garden and temple we'd been exploring, I hadn't even noticed the air was full of birdsong. Every treetop trembled with birds calling out and trilling to one another and we sat silently, listening, capturing that moment forever.

   The new baby is home now and everyone is adjusting to their new roles. I'm adjusting to being an advisor, not the CEO, and my daughter is learning to trust her own wisdom. But I look at those tiny feet and I am filled with secret plans to take them to the most wonderful places. To see the world anew through the eyes of this beautiful child.

Read more here.

 


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. She blogs about travel and photography at CAMera and antiques and collectibles at Treasure Hunting. 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

Mozart and the Boy

 

   The evening’s performance is Mozart and the beautiful old Fox Theater is filled with the sweet sounds of the violin and viola.


    My son is in town for the weekend and has accompanied us to a night at the Symphony. Watching him from a row behind, seated beside his sister, I notice the way he closes his eyes when the music starts, a small smile playing around the corners of his mouth.


    Something behind my ribs, deep in the center of me, aches. I know that look. I’ve seen it before.


    Every mother looks at a grown child and sees the baby he or she was. My son is tall now, his hair is short and dark, his face is angular and shadowed by the stubble of his beard. But in my gaze, superimposed on his adult features, is the image of the sturdy little boy whose head was once covered with soft cottony curls.
    For a moment, the little boy is mine to hold again.


    From the moment each of my children were born, we ended each day in the dark. Rocking in the old chair that had been their great-great grandmother’s, I held them close and sang a series of songs. The order of the lullabies, one sung after another, never varied and I sang them so many years the tunes melded into one melody always accompanied by the soft creaking sound of the old rocking chair.


    Each of my children had their own way of falling asleep. My firstborn fought it every step of the way. I could feel her surrender, finally softening in my arms and dropping into sleep. When I rocked my middle daughter she popped her thumb in her mouth and proceeded to fall asleep almost as soon as I started singing. My youngest, the baby, would lay in my arms silent and still but half-awake, through two loops of the singing before dropping off.
    My son, the only boy in a house of sisters, had his own way. He would curl against me, his head - covered with with those soft curls - would rest against my arm. He would close his eyes and smile, luxuriating in the pleasure of the rhythm and the caress and the music. I would gaze down on his face, as I did with each of them, illuminated by light coming through the bedroom window.


    Rocking those babies, everything - the burdens; the frustrations, the fatigue and the worry I’d carried with me all day - would fade, swept away on songs that mothers had been singing for ages.


    Try as I might, I have not found anything that soothes me as much as soothing my children did. My life, without all the care and worry of parenting small children, should be easier now, But there are days when I would welcome the chance to sit down and hold a warm little body in my arms; a chance to sing and rock and relax.


    I think about that as I steal glances at the man, my boy, who sits in a room filled with the sound of music. And I watch him smile.
    


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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