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Posts tagged: parenting

New baby, new world

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

I don't deny it. I'm smitten with my new granddaughter. This new addition to the family is the last thing on my mind at night and the first thing I think of when I wake in the morning.

And as I hold her, watching her adjust to this new bright, noisy, chilly, world, I can't help but project forward, imagining the life she will have and the wonderful, incredible, changes she will see. And I hope I'm always close enough to share some of those adventures.

Read more in this CAMera blog post “Oh, The Places She Will Go!

Hoping for an Accessory Afterlife

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)



   If you were to ask me if I believe in heaven as a place where I’ll join all the people I’ve known and lost, and with whom I can spend eternity laughing and eating potato salad at one idyllic family reunion, I’d stall for time and finally fall back on that old relationship standard, “It’s complicated.”
But if you were to ask me to believe heaven is a place where I can be reunited with all the little things I’ve lost here on earth, especially the gold and silver that has slipped through my fingers, I’d have myself sent away like King Tut, laid out in style and surrounded by approximately half the jewelry I’ve ever owned. The hope would be I could finally find the missing half.

   My personal history is full of stories of the ones that got away. Starting with my school ring which I slipped off my finger and dropped into my purse. This would have been fine if I hadn’t put my purse on the top of my car and driven off. The purse, and the ring, were never seen again.

   Then there was that pair of tiny diamond earrings I lost in college. I remember taking them out before I went to sleep and pinning them to a piece of college rule (naturally)  notepaper. I also remember thinking I should get up and put them in my jewelry box. Unfortunately, the next time I went to put them on, I couldn’t remember where exactly I put that particular piece of paper. My roommate probably wadded it around her gum and tossed it. Or, it might have been me…

   As I grew up and began to travel, the trail of lost jewelry just got longer. There was that little gold chain that broke and slipped off somewhere on Broadway in New York City. And the bracelet I left behind in Memphis. And the silver hoop that went missing in Budapest. And the pearl earring that disappeared in Tuscany. And while it wasn’t a piece of jewelry, I’m still grieving for the cashmere scarf - five feet of comfort and warmth that cost more than I’d made that week-  the wind picked up and carried away while I was waiting for a bus in Reykjavik, Iceland. Really. The wind is fierce in Reykjavik, Iceland.

   I’m a sceptic when it comes to pearly gates and streets of gold, but I would become a willing believer in the idea of an accessory afterlife. Until, of course, I misplaced my halo. It would be all downhill from there.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance 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 Boy Who Believed

My son, who has been working in Japan, is on his way home. We haven't seen him in several months and I'm hungry for some time with him. My son has grown up to be a wonderful man; an adventurer, a tinkerer and a master of creating complex machines from bits of metal.

He'll be home for Christmas Eve and wrapping his gifts and putting them under the tree, thought about the boy who loved contraptions and I was reminded of something he taught me one Christmas years ago.

(I had to do some digging to find a copy of this early column.)

 

 

For some, Santa's magic a guarantee

The Spokesman Review The Spokesman Review
December 25, 2003 | Cheryl-Anne Millsap The Valley Voice

Early each Christmas morning, as I turn out the lights and make my way to my bed, knowing I will be pulled out of it again when the sun rises, I stop for a moment, overwhelmed by memories and the knowledge that time is flying past me.

The children, who have been the reason I wake each morning and fall into an exhausted sleep each night, are growing up so quickly. Already one has left the nest, and another is perched on the edge. Their Christmas lists are more sophisticated now, with high-tech gadgets replacing Easy-Bake ovens and G.I. Joe.

When my son was six, he fell under the spell of a miniature arcade game, the kind where you manipulate a giant claw to pick up prizes and stuffed animals and drop them down a chute. He wanted the game more than anything and put it at the top of his Christmas list.

He was thrilled when he found the game under the tree and played with it constantly. But it was a complicated toy that was never meant to go the distance. When it stopped working, he was disappointed and put it away in his closet.

I didn't think about it again until the next year on Christmas Eve when I was getting everyone ready for bed and another visit from Santa. He walked in and placed the broken game under the Christmas tree with a note asking Santa to please repair it.

I could only gape at him, speechless. It was already midnight and to paraphrase the poet, there were miles to go before we could sleep.

My little boy had no idea that his mother was staggering under the weight of postpartum depression or that his father, who was in graduate school and wearied by final exams, was scheduled to work a 24-hour shift on Christmas Day.

My son wasn't jumpy and distracted from listening for the cries of the colicky baby sister or thinking about the 2 a.m. feeding that would cut into the few productive hours of the night.

The way he saw it, Santa brought that game to him and he would want to know there was a problem. And since the big guy was going to be in the neighborhood, it wouldn't hurt to have him take a look at a broken toy. So he left it with a note asking that Santa “make it work again.”

Somehow, the two elves-in-residence, Sleepy and Weepy, did everything that needed to be done. The baby got her 2 a.m. feeding and Santa placed the surprises, including the refurbished toy, under the tree before the children woke with the dawn.

I was watching my son the next morning when he found the game. He was pleased but he wasn't surprised. It was just where he expected it to be. His face shining with pleasure, he took it to the kitchen table, turned it this way and that to admire Santa's handiwork, and began to play contentedly while new presents waited under the tree.

Whenever I am confronted with the reality that life doesn't come with guarantees, I think about that Christmas morning. And when I think about it, I wish I could be seven years old again, with that much trust in everyone around me to do the right thing. I wish I hadn't learned that sometimes things break so completely that no one can fix them, not even Santa. Not even for a day.

Now, years have passed. Dad got through graduate school, Mom got over the blues, and the new baby stopped crying. The toy, which wasn't built to last, stopped working again and found its way back to the closet, to be eventually taken apart and its parts scavenged for a little boy's inventions.

For my son it was proof that Santa cared enough about him to take the time to try to make something work again. For the elves, it was an exercise in patience. For all of us it was a sweet reminder that love has responsibility.

Maybe this year under the tree I'll leave my heart, just to see what Santa can do.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance 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


Our Christmas Story


    Each year, after Thanksgiving dinner, some time after the last of the dishes are washed and before the pie comes back out again, I bring up a big handwoven basket from the storeroom in the basement. The basket is the size of a bed pillow, a split-oak rectangle with a sturdy handle, and it is filled with books.

     There are one or two that my husband and I brought with us when we married: his old copy of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. My 100-year-old edition of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Stories with A Christmas Carol, a story I’ve read and reread since I first opened the book as a girl. But mostly, it holds an assortment of holiday books we’ve collected since our first daughter was born more than 25 years ago; familiar titles like The Night Before Christmas, The Gift of the Magi and The Littlest Christmas Tree.

    Some are old toddlers’ board books, with broken spines and peeling pages, showing the wear and tear of little hands. Others are children’s classics filled with familiar illustrations.

    To me, the basket is a time capsule. A record of time spent together as a family and in the company of beloved books and stories. Each year another book is added to the collection. The new book is left propped under the tree late on Christmas Eve and is passed around on Christmas Day before going into the basket and, eventually, after the tree is undressed and all the decorations are put away, back down to the basement to wait until Christmas comes again.

    It pleases me to see my grown children sit down and pull out a book when they drop by during the holidays or on Christmas Day when we’re all together. Especially the older books that were in the house when they were babies.  I steal glances at them as they read. I like to think they hear, in some shadowy corner of memory, the sound of my voice and the feel of my arms around them as we read together; that they hear again the creak of the rocking chair and recall other rooms in other houses and are reminded of the sweetest years.

    So much of what happens during the season is rushed and hurried. So much is new and shiny and meant to be tossed away as soon as the New Year arrives.  But the basket, with it’s cargo of paper and ink and memories is evergreen. Like a precious ornament taken off the tree and put away for another day.
    




Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane. 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

There Are None So Blind

This is a repost of one of my favorite columns. I recorded it for Spokane Public Radio several years ago and it is available on Public Radio Exchange. This year, the audio essay was broadcast by Delta College Public Radio in Michigan.

 


November 22, 2004

Giving her thanks for a gift of insight
Cheryl–Anne Millsap
Correspondent




   When I was a girl, an old blind woman lived in the faded white house with peeling clapboards and a shaded, vine–covered porch, next door to me. Mrs. Miller was small and wiry, and very old. Her thin white hair was always pulled into a tight bun at the nape of her neck.
   

   She lived with a little Chihuahua named Rocky – a strange and exotic pet at the time. The dog was ancient, barely able to walk on his thin matchstick legs and he, too, was almost blind.

   Sometimes, Mrs. Miller’s son, John, lived with them. John was a loud and angry man who worked nights – when he worked – and either slept or watched game shows on the television all day. John drank. And when he was drunk, he wasn’t very nice to his mother.

   I was afraid of that house and everyone in it. To me, the old woman was a person of shadows, living a dark and shuttered life. John, whose angry voice I could hear through the closed windows, frightened me and I was wary of the odd little dog.

   Occasionally, when John wasn’t home, my grandmother would send me over with a baked sweet potato, a couple of ripe tomatoes or a slice of homemade pie. I would knock on the back door and listen to her shuffling through rooms, calling out to me in a thin, rough, voice. Rocky would totter across the linoleum floor, coughing out a dry, raspy, bark.

   As quickly as I could, I would leave the food on the kitchen table – the sticky oilcloth–covered surface crowded with salt and peppershakers, paper napkins and bottles of hot sauce and pickled peppers – and run back out into the sunlight.

   One Thanksgiving Day, my grandmother asked me to take a meal next door. I drooped, but I knew better than to argue.

   I carried the plate, piled with turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans and ruby–red spiced apple rings across my back yard. I walked up the bank and past the little grove of plum trees to her back door, and knocked.

   “Mrs. Miller,” I called. “I brought you some Thanksgiving dinner.”

   I listened to her slow, painful, progress through the cluttered rooms. I imagined her reaching out for familiar doorways, feeling the edges of the furniture with bent and arthritic fingers. When she finally opened the back door, I thrust the plate at her, anxious to deliver it and leave.

   But she didn’t take it. Instead, she put her face down to the steaming plate of food and inhaled deeply, breathing in the warm fragrance.

   “Oh, Lord,” the old woman said. “That’s good.”

  And she didn’t move. She just stood there, lost in thought. Finally, as soon as she stepped aside, I set the plate down on the table and ran home.

   Just today, when I thought about what we will have for our Thanksgiving dinner, and my mind remembered, and replayed for me the taste of roast turkey and cornbread dressing, I recalled that day so long ago.

   Thinking about it now, I understand that at that moment the old woman and I traded places.

   I was blind to everything but my desire to run away, but for an instant Mrs. Miller could see. Through clouded eyes, she looked back at other Thanksgivings, long gone. Happy days before she was old and blind, and trapped in a dark house with an angry son.

   In the years since that November day, when the trace of a scent or the sound of a voice leaves me gazing at ghosts, I’ve learned that time gives back as much as it takes away.

   And for that, like the old woman, I’m grateful.

 

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
  

October: The Power of Pink, The Power of Community

Each October I honor my grandmother, a breast cancer survivor, by re-posting this 2006 column.  She was, and will always be, an inspiration and a guiding force in my life. CAM

 

 

The Home Planet: Community potent weapon against breast cancer

Cheryl-Anne Millsap
Staff writer
Oct 30., 2006

 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I’m sure you’ve noticed – next to the orange and black Halloween and harvest decorations – the pink ribbons, pink tools, pink kitchen gadgets, all being sold guaranteeing part of the profit will go to work for a cure for breast cancer.

Thanks to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, pink is the other color of October.

Now pink is the signature color of breast cancer awareness, the color of breast cancer research and, for some, the color of hope and success.

Pink is also the color of community. And that might just be one of the most powerful weapon in the arsenal against breast cancer

When I was a small child I went with my younger sister and infant brother to live with my grandparents. Our young mother was simply unable to care for us.

Two years later, in 1963, my grandmother – a woman who had just turned 50 – found a lump in her breast. After her surgery, the surgeon walked into the waiting room, put his hand on my grandfather’s shoulder and gave him the bad news. It was cancer. And it was very serious. She might not make it.

Both of my grandmother’s breasts were removed and she started her treatment. I don’t really know what was done to fight her cancer, beyond the surgery and radiation treatments, but I know she lost her hair.

During this time my brother, sister and I were aware that our grandmother was ill; I have a vague memory of her being in the hospital, of my grandfather brushing my hair, something my grandmother usually did. I remember the strangeness of finding him in the kitchen cooking hot cereal. I remember her wearing a wig.

We knew she was sick but the seriousness of her illness was never mentioned. You just didn’t talk about that kind of thing. Especially with children.

As soon as she was well enough, my grandfather went back to work and so did she. She went back to keeping house, to cooking all of our meals and caring for three young children. Back to raising a second family.

Although, when we got older, we were told that my grandmother had had breast cancer, the full impact of what she had been through didn’t hit me until much later. Until the pink campaign.

In 1990, at the first Komen National Race for the Cure in Washington, D.C., pink ribbons were worn to signify status as a breast cancer survivor. The little badge took off and became a universal symbol. The simple pink ribbons worn that day have evolved into a potent marketing tool.

Now October has gone pink. I’ll admit that when I see pink kitchen mixers, pink umbrellas and pink vacuum cleaners, each promising to donate a portion of the profits from each sale to breast cancer research, I am vaguely irritated by all the hype. Enough already, I think. I get it.

But then I think about the monumental effort behind the campaign, and the work that has been done because of it, and I think about the world my grandmother lived in and changes that have come about. There’s a lot of power in that pink.

Just 40 years ago, we didn’t talk about cancer. You especially didn’t talk about breast cancer. Women like my grandmother had no choice but to soldier on taking care of homes and families, keeping what they endured to themselves, without the benefit of therapy or counseling. There were no support groups.

My grandmother was a relatively young woman to be raising grandchildren. She didn’t have a large circle of friends. She didn’t go to clubs or meetings. She didn’t meet other mothers for lunch downtown. She didn’t even drive. She was a true stay-at-home caregiver.

She battled cancer and the permanent effects of that battle, with only my grandfather to hold her hand. And she beat the odds. Despite a poor prognosis, she lived 20 years after her surgery before the disease reappeared. But what she didn’t have access to when she was so sick, and what I have to think would have been good medicine, was the support that only other fighters and survivors can offer.

She had sympathy but no empathy. She had no one to go to and complain, or cry, or shake her fist and scream about the pain and unfairness of what had happened to her.

That is a tool that, if today I was to find myself in her place, I would reach for immediately.

The scars after my grandmother’s surgery were disfiguring. But as I get older I wonder about the scars that were hidden. The scars no one ever saw.

There were no stitches or soothing salves for those wounds. She was left to care for them on her own.

The advances in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer; the advances in the search for a cause and a cure since my grandmother’s illness in 1963, have been huge.

Now, there are television commercials and magazine ads urging women to get mammograms and to make a pledge to remind one another to do regular breast self-exams.

Now, if a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer there is a community for her.

The disease is no longer shuttered and closeted. When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer she doesn’t just have the benefit of science and medicine behind her. She has the benefit of a corporate identity; a network of support groups, literature, advocacy and caring. That community is a big advance.

October only lasts 31 days, but the power of pink can last a lifetime.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is a contributing editor at Spokane Metro Magazine. 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

Catching a Midnight Train of Thought

 I woke up to feel my heart pounding, beating like a fist against the cage of my ribs, and for a moment I was confused. I realized I’d had a bad dream and just enough traces of the frightening things I’d imagined remained to poison the first moments of the morning. I tossed and turned for a while, trying to get back to sleep, but the damage was done. I was, for better or worse, awake and up for the day.
    

As I waited for the water to boil so I could press that first cup of coffee, I stared out at the sky watching it change as the sun rose slowly. I heated the milk, poured the coffee into a mug and sat down in my favorite chair by the big window in the living room to gather my thoughts.
   

 Just thinking of the list I’d made the night before of things that needed to be done made my heart pound again so I put it out of my mind and went back to gazing out at the quiet street as I sipped.
   

 Stress is a complex element in even the most ordinary life. It is a natural part of our existence and has been since the beginning when we worried that there would not be enough roots and berries to hunt and gather or that the wooly mammoth would win the fight.  Stress has evolved with us and has found a modern wardrobe in agitation about long delays in traffic or screaming headlines with bad news about the economy and the state of the world. It chases us a we take on complicated jobs, or think about keeping a job in an uncertain market. It settles on us as we fret about our children or a roof that will not last another winter; about cholesterol levels or the number on the scale. It nags us as we push a cart through the grocery story or fold the laundry or sit down to watch a movie.
   

 A certain amount of stress is, the experts say, good for us. It keeps us sharp and competitive. It feeds us the chemical cocktail our bodies need to navigate safely in and out of danger. But too much of anything is toxic. Even chocolate.
    

As I sat there, the dream began to fade as the sky lightened. Morning had broken its hold on me. The list, the more I looked at it and made plans for the day, began to seem more manageable. The coffee was good and hot and ideas began to percolate as I thought about the week’s deadlines.  
   

 Energized, comforted, I poured a second cup - my limit - and shrugged off the vague, nameless, fear that had shaken me out of a sound sleep. I was ready to take on the world again.
    


Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is the editor of Spokane Metro Magazine. 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
  

From the Boy on Top of the World

   It takes some getting used to when your children grow up and leave home. After years of living according to their schedules, from 2 a.m. feedings to a 2 a.m. curfew, even when they’ve been on their own for a while, it still feels odd on occasion to realize days have gone by and you haven’t heard from them.


    I have four children and two are out of the nest and settled into their own lives and homes. The third is only home when she’s not in school and the “baby” is edging closer to the door. I think of each of my children every day. Something - a song, the sound of the back door, the sight of outgrown boots on a shelf in the garage or a glance at the photos hanging on the wall - will bring them to mind. Other times, the best times, are when they reach out to me.


    I heard the chime indicating a text message on my phone the other day and I picked it up expecting to see a note from my husband to pick up cat food on the way home, or a message from the dentist reminding me of an appointment.
    Instead, in the palm of my hand, was the image of my son on top of the world. He was standing in the snow on the summit of Oregon's Mt. Hood at daybreak and the sun was just rising, tinting the sky. A friend had snapped a photo capturing the moment.


    I gazed at it for a long time, trying to reconcile the tall slender man in the photo with the memory of the sturdy toddler I carried on my hip. The boy with a headful of curls and the habit of wrinkling his nose and tipping back his head whenever he laughed.  Where have the years gone?


    Looking at the photo on my phone, imagining him standing at that elevation, exhilarated after the before-dawn climb, I could hear the familiar sound of his voice. I could see the energy in his stance, the pride in his smile. He was there, I am here, but he’d found a way to bridge the distance and include me in his happiness.


    Too often we complain about the way our phones and computers enslave us. They interrupt our thoughts and fracture our ability to concentrate. But there are times the tools that torment us turn about. They soothe and comfort us. They bring us closer to the ones we love.


    I send my son photos of home. He takes me to the top of the mountain. And love, unspoken, travels on invisible waves between the two.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is the editor of Spokane Metro Magazine. 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

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
  

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

Regie Hamm: A Song of Second Chances


    Walking down the streets of Nashville, it’s not uncommon to see a star; an artist stepping out of a studio or having a beer at a downtown watering hole. You might see them in the grocery store or jogging through the neighborhood. Nashville is that kind of town. Most are famous for the songs they’ve sung, but the thing most people forget is that most of those songs were hammered out by other people. Men and women who put happiness, hard work and heartbreak down on paper, one note, one chord, one word at a time.

    Tin Pan South is the songwriter’s time to shine.
    Once a year Nashville fills the Honkytonks, the cafes, the dives and auditoriums with the talent behind the talent. Songwriters, not necessarily the names and faces you associate with well-known songs, gather to perform. It’s fun to watch and interesting to occasionally spot a famous face, a famous fan of the relatively unknown man or woman on the stage, standing in the crowd. They are there, like the rest of us, to see the masters at work.

    On my last night in Nashville, I sat in the crowd at Puckett’s, just up the hill from the old Ryman Auditorium. On the stage, four musicians, the featured songwriters of the evening  - Regie Hamm, Karen Staley, Billy Kirsch and Wil Nance, and laughed and joked and sang. Regie Hamm was the spokesman for the group.
    Each took a turn playing and singing a song they’d written. But what made it so interesting were the stories they shared, the stories behind the songs. It’s funny what can happen to a song, like any offspring, when it leaves home. Ballads become rock and roll. Hard rock tunes turn mellow, intimate.
    “As a writer, I say my piece and then let it go,” Hamm told me later. “I've had to learn how to allow the song to live on its own, without me. I can't know how people will react to it or how the message will be received.”
    That can’t be easy.
    At the end of the evening Hamm, having saved his best work for last, began to talk. He had a song, and a story, he wanted to share.
    “This is a cruel business,” he said. “It can kill you.”
    “One minute you’re riding high and the next you’re as low as you can get.”
    He should know. He’s been there.
    In 2003, with an album climbing the charts, he and his wife traveled to China to adopt a baby girl. They were gone less than a month but when they returned their world was already beginning to spin out of control. His song was pulled, tour dates were cancelled and the big money never showed up. Hamm went from being the next big thing to just another artist trying to get a gig.    
    But the biggest blow was the discovery that their daughter had a rare genetic disorder. Angelman Syndrome. They lost their home and faced a landslide of medical bills.
Hamm grieved for what was lost and what would never be.

     Hamm’s wife asked him to write a song - something she’d never done before - for the American Idol songwriting contest. At first, Hamm wasn’t interested. She persisted and finally, a week before the deadline, more excited about the furniture store jingle he’d been hired to compose, a jingle that would bring in a guaranteed $500, Hamm sat down to write. He wrote what he thought would win, words about happy endings and fairy tales come true. And then he stopped.
    “I realized I didn’t believe any of it,” he said.
    So, he started over and wrote what he’d learned. Life isn’t fair but it’s all we’ve got. And, even when it hurts, life is worth celebrating.
    He paid the $10 entry fee and sent it along with the song.
    There were 40,000 entries but Hamm’s song won.The song was “This is the Time of My Life.”
     Idol winner David Cook recorded it. It spent 16 weeks on the top of the charts. Oprah blessed it. The song was played at the closing ceremony at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, a particularly bittersweet moment for Hamm.
    “We’d said we would return for the Olympics, with our daughter,” he said. “That was before.”
    For Hamm it was a second chance.
    “Sometimes, you get surprised and someone takes your song to a new level with an amazing performance,” Hamm said. “That is always a blessing and is often the rush that keep you writing another day.”

    I left the show that evening and walked back to my hotel - a nobody in a city of somebodies - wondering how many people have listened to Hamm’s song, connected with it on some level, hummed along, tapping the steering wheel with their fingers as it played. People like me who had no idea what led to its creation but felt the power of peace and acceptance in every word. I walked on, filled with gratitude for people like Regie Hamm. People who are willing to live out loud and put it all down on paper - the good and the bad and the sheer, blind, hope that keeps us going.

 

Information about the Pacific NW Angelman Syndrome Foundation


 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
  

One (and then one more) for the road

   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 catmillsap@gmail.com

  

Love in Plain Brown Paper

Another Valentine re-post. This one was written in 2005 during my first life as a S-R freelancer.


  

February 14, 2005

Real love is the kind we are surrounded by every day

Cheryl-anne Millsap
The Spokesman-Review
 
 

Chances are you’ve got love, or something like it, on your mind. After all, it’s Valentine’s Day.

Did you buy roses? You need to buy roses. And a card covered with sentimental poetry written by a stranger.

Don’t forget the chocolate, the expensive perfume, something from Victoria’s Secret, a gourmet meal at a five-star restaurant and jewelry. Isn’t that what it takes to show love? Well, one day a year, maybe. But it’s the other 364 days that tell the tale.

The truth is, love doesn’t always come with balloons and words that rhyme. True love usually comes to us just like the groceries – mixed with the necessities and wrapped in plain brown paper.

Love is spread between the peanut butter and jelly in a school lunch sandwich and folded into baskets of clean laundry.

It is carried in a soft look at the end of a hard day and the gentle sound of your name on another’s lips.

Love is scrambled into eggs for a quick supper on a hectic night and sweetens a cup of coffee brought to you before you get out of bed on a cold morning.

Real love isn’t just tender whispers in the dark. It’s pillow talk about unreliable cars, failing hot water heaters, thinning hair, expanding waistlines, ominous medical tests and parent-teacher conferences.

Love is the glue that holds us together and the fuel that drives us to work, piano practice, dentist appointments and soccer games.

Love is the smell of a newborn baby. Love is the sound of a sullen “goodnight” muttered by a teenager who, only moments before, expressed a keen desire to become an orphan.

Love is when you tell the one you chose, “I’m scared,” and they hold your hand. For as long as you need it.

Real love is letting someone hold your hand.

Sometimes love is only visible, like the growth rings in a tree, when we’ve been cut and left with an open wound. And love is the bandage that binds our wounds and helps us heal.

Real love has very little to do with the candy and cards we buy and give once a year. It isn’t in romantic music and movies.

For most of us, love is hidden in the shadows of an ordinary life, when you open your eyes in the cold, gray light of morning and make the choice to stick it out one more day.

Most of us learn to take love where we find it. And when we look, really look, past all the frills and fuss of a made-for-retail holiday, it’s all around us.

 

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


True Love is Truly Ageless

This is a re-post of one of my favorite columns. I am always asked to read it when I have a speaking engagement. I wrote this in 2006 but I've never forgotten the feeling of standing at the window and watching the couple walk down the sidewalk.

Interestingly, I got dozens of phone calls, emails and notes from people who thought the pair I described might have been, or at least reminded them of, their parents. When the column aired on KPBX, the music I chose to undescore the essay was “Real Love” by John Lennon.

 

February 13, 2006

True love is truly ageless

Cheryl-Anne Millsap
Staff writer

 

 

 

Standing at the window, high above the busy street, I watched them.

The elderly couple walked slowly down the sidewalk. He was tall. His head was bent low over the woman at his side, and strands of his thin white hair lifted in the wind. Faded, shapeless, corduroy pants, a size too big, hung loosely on his spare frame.

The woman was small. Her head was no higher than the man’s shoulder and her open coat flapped around her thin legs and billowed behind her.

His arm was wrapped protectively around her slight shoulders as she clutched his sweater, and they clung together against the onslaught of the gusts of wintry wind.

There was something about the way they walked, fitted into and against one another, that hinted of a long history as a couple.

I imagined them as they had awakened that morning. Bodies that had lost the softness of youth, grown lean and sharp with age, spooned together in the bed they had shared for many years. They rose to greet the day in a room full of photographs, the smiling faces of mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, newborn babies and fresh-scrubbed children, looking down from the walls.

Their own wedding portrait – perhaps he was wearing a uniform – on the table beside the bed.

I imagined a room and two lives that had seen passion, heartache, tears and laughter. And love.

It’s Feb. 13.

For weeks we’ve seen ads for chocolate and diamonds and all the trappings of romance.

For some reason, in the midst of the sentimental spiel about expensive jewelry and sexy lingerie, the image of the old man and woman popped into my mind.

The idea of love as it is fed to us by greeting cards, movies and best-selling novels is luscious, soft and sweet. Like ripe fruit.

But what I saw in the language of the bodies that moved so slowly down the sidewalk was something else. It was older and mellowed, more mature.

It was real love. Love that has been tempered and forged. Love that, like wine, has opened and breathed. Love that has bloomed.

Forget the candy and the roses. I want what they have.

I’m not naïve. I know there must have been days, weeks, months and even years when the feeling between them waned. When the bonds felt more like chains, and desire cooled. When life was too hard and unforgiving to foster romance.

But love endured. I could see it in every move they made.

As I watched, the man and woman rounded the corner and disappeared from view. Impulsively, I hurried down the stairs and out the door to the corner. But they were gone.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day.

Somewhere in this town, in a room filled with memories, the morning light will fall on the man and the woman.

I can’t help but believe that when they stir, each feeling the comforting presence of the other before their eyes even open; without a word, without flowers or diamonds, they will quietly share what the rest of us will wrap in poetry and pretty paper: Love.

Real love.

Bailing out of Christmas

    Driving through town, even though it wasn’t very late, the city was quiet. It was Christmas Eve and most people were already wherever they were going to be for the night.  There was no traffic, the buildings downtown were dark. No one was out walking on the sidewalk.


    As we drove past the courthouse, we stopped at a red light at an intersection and I glanced over at an office that was brightly lit. It stood out in the dark quiet of the rest of the street.


    Through the wide front window, I could see a man sitting behind a desk, a heavyset man in his shirtsleeves, writing on a piece of paper. In front of him was a couple, a middle-aged man and a woman. They were well-dressed, wearing coats, as though they’d hurried in from the cold and forgotten to take them off. There was something about the way they sat, close together, leaning on one another for support, slightly bent, as though they were folding into themselves, that made me take a closer look.


     Their faces were composed but there was an air of sadness around them. A deep weary sadness..
    The scene looked like an Edward Hopper painting; the angular, starkly furnished office, the harsh light pouring from the windows and spilling across the sidewalk, and the people, three people with closed and shuttered faces.


     Maybe it was their age, close to my own, or the sadness that radiated from them, or the way they sat so close together, but something made me think the couple might be parents there to help a child. On a night when everyone else was celebrating, they’d gotten a call and dressed carefully before going down to post bail. On the night when in the past they might have been pulling hidden presents  down from the attic, assembling a bicycle, or building a doll house, they were downtown signing papers and writing a check.


    The light changed and we drove on, but I had a lump in my throat.
Somehow, the fact that it was Christmas Eve made everything worse.


    I don’t really know what was happening in that office, I filled in the blanks with my imagination. But each year I think of that couple and the scene I witnessed. They remind me that in the bright artificiality of the season there is always another side. In spite of the tinsel, the trees, the candles, some struggle, some grieve, some slog through the holiday burdened with real heartache. And some, like the man behind the desk, simply go about their business. Of course, that’s what we’re trying to forget this time of year. We decorate and shop and party, putting reality on hold for as long as we can. But it’s there. It’s always there. 




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

Why Worry?

   

   It wasn’t just that the voice was familiar to me, but the tone of the voice on the phone was also instantly and unpleasantly recognizable.  I would know it anywhere.
    It was, for those of you who’ve raised a family and know what I’m talking about, the annoying sound of an adult child ( or, to be more specific, a child who is almost an adult) letting me know that she wouldn’t be needing my advice at this particular moment.
    I’ve heard that tone plenty of times.
    “Mom, I’m 20 years old,” the disdainful voice on the phone said. “I know what I’m doing.”
    Oh, really? Is that a fact.
    I wanted to ask her if she had any idea how many times the words “I know what I’m doing” are served up with a really bad idea.
    I don’t know for sure, but I imagine “I know what I’m doing” is exactly what runs through the minds of squirrels, deer, possums and skunks right before they cross a six-lane highway. At rush hour.
    It seems to me George Armstrong Custer sent a similar message before riding over the hill and straight into a mighty big mess. So did Amelia Earhart as she cranked the propellers, climbed into the cockpit and flew right into an unsolved mystery. So did somebody at the White Star Line when the unsinkable Titanic rolled out of the shed and splashed into the sea. Just before it sank like a stone.
    What do you want to bet that some unlucky stiff in Chernobyl  said the same thing?  “Of course, I hear the warning bells. Relax. I know what I’m doing!”
    Want the perfect contemporary example of thinking you’re a whole lot smarter than you really are and getting us all in a lot of trouble because of it? Two words: British Petroleum. They told us they knew what they were doing, too.
      I woke up the next morning with a headache, brought on, I’m sure, by grinding my teeth all night.
    As a parent, nothing infuriates me more than having my offering of perfectly good advice and wisdom ignored.
    She ought to listen to me so I can save us both a lot of headaches. I’ve been around. I’ve done a few things. I’ve made enough mistakes for the both of us.
    I deserve a little respect. After all, for goodness sakes, I know what I’m doing.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist 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

Summer wings

 
It's officially the last day of school, in my household at least. Although the weather hasn't cooperated, I'm looking forward to slowing down. To long walks and time to think. To watching little girls ride bicycles…
 
First published June, 2008

It was the best part of a summer day: When the long, cool twilight winds us down; when light plays with shadows and night moves up, painting the edges of the horizon. When the moon chases the sun across the sky.

When stars appear and the air is heavy with the perfume of red roses and green grass and hamburgers cooked on the grill. When cats pounce on imaginary prey and dogs bark, passing the word that the day is done.

I walked my own silly dogs, walking off a long day at work, walking off my dinner and shaking off the weight of everything that had settled on me since I opened my eyes that morning. They strained at their leashes, pulling me forward. I pulled back, dawdling, distracted by the scenes in the windows of the houses I passed. Golden windows that gave me glimpses of other lives. Other interiors.
I heard voices and looked up to see her coming toward me, riding under the branches of the tall shade trees that line the boulevard.

She was astride a shiny new bicycle. A helmet was strapped under her chin, her hands gripped the handlebars and her skinny legs pumped the pedals. Her face was tight with concentration.
Her father, home from work, still dressed in his crisp white shirt and dark trousers, trotted behind her. His arms were outstretched, ready to catch her if she lost control and crashed.
She raced down the sidewalk, passing me as I stopped on the pavement to watch, and was gone. Her father tossed a smile as he ran past.

Maybe it was the time of day, the shadowy, magical part of the day when time is fluid and plays tricks on us; when what was and what is stop for an instant and exchange glances. Perhaps it was my mood, tinged with violet like the evening sky.
But for a heartbeat, I was that little girl. For an instant I was 6 years old. I could feel the handlebars in my hands, and the pedals against the soles of my shoes.
The world rushed by me as I flew down the streets of my neighborhood, leaning into the curves as the wind tangled in my hair. I had wings. I had wheels. I was free to push myself as far as I dared to go, yet I was still safe. If I fell, there was someone there to save me.
The man and the child rounded the corner and were gone, heading home. My dogs, impatient with the delay, tugged at their leads, anxious to travel. They had things to see before calling it a day.

I walked on, but my mind was light years away. I was a girl on a bike. I was a mother, my heart in my throat, watching a child, wobbling and weaving, navigate the world without training wheels.

I could see who I had been. What escaped me, is who I have become.

And then, just as night settled around me, it was clear: I’m still a bit of both. I still have my wings. I still have my wheels.

And if I fall? I pick myself up.

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

Toasting another school year with a strawberry shake

 
 
 
 


June 19, 2004

Funny how what we miss changes as we grow

Cheryl-Anne Millsap
Special to Handle Extra
 
 

The last day of school always catches me by surprise. So does the first day actually, but the routine is familiar and it doesn’t take long to get into the groove. Before I know it, it’s Christmas, and then spring break.

After that, the days gather speed until another year has passed. In the blur of final exams, recitals and sports, my children make a leap and I’m left with the bags of school papers, broken crayons and assorted hats and mittens they found stuffed in their desk.

This year, the last day was worse than usual. My son left home furious because, according to him, he would be the only student whose parents were abusive enough to make him go to school on the last day.

My daughter overslept, missed the bus and had to be driven to school. She stormed out of the car and into the building without a backward glance.

My youngest child sat quietly in the back seat and rode out the storm. When I delivered her to school, she hopped out of the car and trotted up to the front door, her backpack bobbing up and down. She turned around to smile at me and wave one last time before she disappeared inside.

I drove home and tried to work but I was restless and couldn’t focus. I was worried about my son, and couldn’t stop thinking about my 14-year-old daughter.

Our “welcome summer” tradition on the last day of school has been to go to the Milk Bottle on Garland for a celebratory lunch. In the past their friends have been invited and we were a rolling party of noisy, hungry kids.

This year, the teenagers all had something better to do, something that didn’t include me, so I found myself with only one child. The little third-grade graduate.

We ordered our usual cheeseburger special and while we waited for our food we talked about important things like who her teacher might be next year, and how much homework fourth-graders had.

Suddenly, she put her head down, hiding her face in her arms.

“Are you crying?” I asked. She just shrugged without lifting her head.

“What is it?”

She didn’t say anything for a minute then turned her head to the side. She looked up at me with large tear-filled hazel eyes, and a serious face — with exactly 28 freckles scattered across the bridge of her nose — and said, “I’m schoolsick.”

It’s funny how we can take words, like Playdoh, and squeeze them into new shapes. If her brother or sisters had said the same thing, it would have meant they were sick of school, sick of being told what to do and when to do it, sick of lessons and projects. Just sick of it all.

But she was heartsick because the school year was ending and weeks without the teacher she loved, and the comforting daily routine, were stretching out in front of her. She was bereft.

When our food arrived we stopped talking. She drank the milkshake first, then ate the fries one at a time, and finally a bite or two of the hamburger. By the time we finished, she was cheerful and chatty, full of plans for the summer.

We drove home, and I thought about the future. There aren’t many “hamburger parties” left before she’ll be too busy to celebrate with me. And I may never hear the word “schoolsick” again. Not in a good way, anyway.

That night, I kissed her and tucked her into bed. Then I walked into my room and looked into the mirror. “I’m childsick,” I told my reflection. And I understood exactly what I meant.

Handmade Happiness

    I got a call from a friend the other night. One of those late-night calls women make when they have a moment to themselves.
    She was alone in a quiet house full of sleeping children and a husband who was softly snoring in front of the television. She was desperately tired. After all, she’d spent the day caring for her three small children. She’d packed lunches, driven the morning carpool, played with the toddler who was still home all day, shuttled to after-school activities, made dinner, helped with homework, refereed baths, read a bed-time story, fetched one more glass of water and finally, finally, turned out the light.
    Then, when she could have gone straight to bed to catch up on some much-needed sleep, she did what mothers do all the time. She got busy.
    Sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by her boxes of beads and stones and all the tools and findings she uses to make the beautiful necklaces and earrings she gives as gifts to friends and family, she let her mind wander as her fingers worked. She felt the tension slip away. For a few minutes she wasn’t Mommy. She was herself again. That’s when she picked up the phone to call me.
    While we talked, I thought back to my life when my children were still small. I spent the day doing all the things stay-at-home mothers do. At night I spent hours answering a powerful creative urge.
    This seems to happen to many of us when our children are born. We get crafty.
    I see young mothers experiencing this all the time. Women who were once busy professionals with pressured careers now sew baby dresses or construct elaborate scrapbooks and photo albums. They revel in this new side of themselves, gathering with others who are experiencing the same delight in handcrafting.
    I think it has something to do with the way we change after the babies come along. Suddenly, we are no longer the carefree women we were before. Our minds are never still. We’re listening, watching, weighing and evaluating. We fret. We forecast the future and regret the past. Mothering is all-consuming. There are few moments when our children aren’t foremost in our thoughts.
    Creativity is a way to slip out of the confines of being the responsible party. It is a way to open and explore the child who still lives within us.
    My days were consumed by the work and worry of four young children. Goodness knows, I had plenty to keep me busy. But every night, even when I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open, I sat down to create. Like my friend, I went through my beading phase. I strung freshwater pears into ropes, adding antique charms and other found objects to make one-of-a-kind necklaces and earrings. I sold these to a boutique in the area and soon began to notice my work on women at the children’s schools and around town. That spurred me on to stay up later and make more.
    After that, I spent long hours making hats, steaming and blocking the fabric, stitching silk roses and velvet leaves onto the felt and straw. These went to the same boutique. Again, I began to see my hats on women at the mall or at church.
    Later, I polished and cut old silverware and bent the handles into earrings, rings, key rings and necklaces. These went to local gift shops and to antiques and craft shows.
    I took black-and-white photographs of children and families and then delicately hand-tinted the photos, adding small touches of color to give the portraits a vintage look.
    I packaged gift trays using and vintage china, silver and lace and shipped them across the country to be opened by grateful strangers.
    I smocked dresses and rompers for my daughters and my son, sometimes finding myself nodding over my needle.
    Most of this was done at night. When I should have been sleeping. When I should have been too tired to do anything more than close my eyes and rest up for the coming day.
    But, like my friend, like so many women, I crafted into the wee hours. I made things with my hands. Letting my mind play while my fingers worked.
    After a while I realized that my newfound passion for crafting was nothing new. I was just one more in a long history. Middle-class Victorian women, gifted with time by the household innovations of the industrial revolution, wove accessories from the hair of loved ones or painted delicate watercolors.
    I tinted photographs and strung tiny pearls. Now, I write. I still sit down and write late into the night the way my friend works with chunky gemstones and glass beads.
    Some mothers sew. They crochet or knit. They bake. They refinish furniture. The commonality, just as it always has been, is the desire to create. To construct and produce and, each in our own way, to provide proof beyond our most precious contribution - the children that own us so completely - that we were here. That deep inside there was a spark, a gift, a source of happiness that was completely handmade.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her audio 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 catmillsap@gmail.com.

        

Graduation Girl

Going through previous graduation columns…

Home Planet: They grow up at breathtaking speed

Cheryl-Anne Millsap
The Spokesman-Review
June 2, 2008
 

She came into this world after a labor and delivery so fast and efficient it left us both dazed and breathless. Exhilarated and exhausted, I rubbed my cheek against her soft, dark curls. I counted 10 tiny fingers and 10 tiny toes. I tucked her into the curve of my arm and closed my eyes to rest.

I’m still trying to catch up.

I brought her home and held her close to me as we rocked in her great-grandmother’s rocking chair. I nursed her and sang lullabies in the dark. But in a heartbeat she got away from me. Before I knew it, she was toddling around, talking and singing, one thumb in her mouth and the other hand twisting her hair, laughing a deep belly laugh at the antics of her siblings.

Then, distracted by the everyday chores that pulled at me, I looked up to find she was ready for kindergarten, already reading the books her brother and sister brought home from school.

Another blink and she was on her bicycle, wearing Band-Aids on skinned knees and an ear-to-ear grin on her face. She was in constant motion, an Energizer Bunny who danced through the house and into our hearts.

We were still calling her “the baby” when she went away to summer camp for the first time and I brought her home to find she’d grown taller in just a week.

One minute she was playing with her dolls and the next she was wearing braces on her teeth and getting into my makeup and talking about boys. Then she was driving and dating and we were arguing about curfews and clothes.

Yesterday she was in my arms and now, although it feels like I only closed my eyes for a second, she’s graduating from high school.

While I looked over my shoulder at the past or gazed too far down the road worrying about the future or simply focused on the day-to-day routine, she grew up.

She’s bright and beautiful and I’m grateful for every minute I’ve had with her. But, oh, how I wish I could turn back time.

When she heads off to college in the fall, putting three states – and other less-tangible barriers – between us, I suspect she’ll start her new adventure with just as much impatience and exuberance and determination as she showed when she came into my life in the wee hours of a February morning 18 years ago. She’ll rush off to her future, a whirlwind of potential and possibility.

And once again I’ll be left to catch my breath.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist 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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About this blog

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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