Tag Archives: my girls

ten years ago today

We were in the garden, E and me. These photos look so similar to my mornings there with F. They blend together, which feels strange. I can so easily recall conversations and adventures and scraped knees and weird sightings there with F – even the ones that happened a few seasons ago. But I can’t remember that same level of detail with my older girl, the first time around. Is one layer overlapping another one, or is it simply an issue of time? Ten years isn’t nothing. She’s a gangly teenager now, rarely skipping, or even wearing a hat for that matter. She used to live in hats, indoors and outdoors, for years.

F and I call those stepping stones in the English Woodland Garden the “secret paths”. She convinced me that they were undiscovered until the day she stumbled upon them, weaving in and out of the trees, over a gurgling little stream and back again. I let her convince me because I didn’t recall walking on them or spending much time on them. But there’s photographic proof that I was there before she even entered my life. I’m pretty sure E was also a dozen stones ahead of me, always. I’m sure she dragged sticks across the ground behind her, and dropped leaves in at the top of the stream, and followed them as they moved alongside her. Her voice probably carried through the trees on the quiet of the morning. She slipped in the mud and stepped out onto perches in the water, waiting for me to remind her to come back to the path. I’d like to see a map of the garden, dotted with each spot where she sat down in the middle of the walk and declared that she could not, would not, walk another step. Those dots would cover half the trails, and F would fill the gaps.

Where do they overlap, these dots, if I carry this thought forward? What if I could trace them in transparent lines within the confines of this one space? Then I could see where they overlap, where we spent the most time, where one was most like the other, even when skipping. What if I could place a little flag in areas where something significant happened, the moment we realized that the jumping fountains had been fixed, or the time we stretched out across the lawn covered in yellow ginko leaves because they were just too beautiful to walk past?

Would I drop a flag in that spot where I lifted a tantrum-ing E and carried her, kicking and screaming, all the way back to the entrance, through the building, and across the parking lot to our car? I could certainly drop flags at all the locations along that march of shame where people commented on my child or my parenting. I remember where we received a band-aid from a gardener for a bleeding foot, and a brief reprieve from the shoes on requirement. Remember that wooden trellis and bridge that used to be near the Linnean House? The girls never fell in, although I was convinced that eventually it would happen. It’s gone now too, but F still points out its absence every visit.

Maybe the overlapping just continues, and the definition slowly fades. It will be quiet there again, and I’ll feel a little silly walking across those stones by myself. I’ll look for a good leaf, and drop it in. There’s a perfect spot for it, I know it by heart. I’ll watch it tumble through the gentle rapids and remember it all again.

leslie meets frances, and we all flip out

After inundating Instagram with photos Sunday night, I thought I should probably take the time to write down what happened so that we could read it later and remember all of the details. It’s not likely that we’ll forget that night anytime soon, but it’s a fun story to share as well, so here goes.

M’s parents gave us an early Christmas present this year. They bought us some really special VIP tickets to see Leslie Odom, Jr. in concert with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. When I was first discussing this opportunity with my MIL, I waffled a bit about the whole VIP thing. The tickets were very pricey, and I wasn’t even sure if children would be allowed. I knew that the girls would enjoy the concert regardless, but their grandmother called the Symphony’s office to chat about the details, and ended up going for the whole shebang.

Since I was the only one with any real knowledge of the details (although I had blocked off the time on our shared calendar in September), I knew there was an extra sting to our cancelled Thanksgiving trip. It was our opportunity to open the tickets together as a family. Instead, they packaged them up, sent them (insured!) through the post office, and we set up an evening to open them over Skype. Frances squealed, but Ella had the most profound reaction. She raced out of the room in tears, and came back barely holding it all together. It was pretty cool to watch.

Sunday rolled around and we ate an early dinner and got dressed up for the show. E put some fantastic French braids in F’s hair, and there were zero complaints about fancy holiday attire or dress coats. I always think the girls are pretty cute, but I will say that F was looking particularly adorable in her dark blue twirly dress with tiny gold stars and I’ve missed those braids now that she prefers to do her own hair in a simple ponytail. She also stood out from most of the crowd because of her size. There were definitely other children there, but most were older elementary, middle or high school students. In the first three rows where the VIP’s were sitting, she stood out as the only little one, almost dead center on the stage, and just feet from the microphone where Odom was about to stand. You should have seen our faces when we walked down to find our seats! I think that’s when it really started to sink in – Aaron Burr was going to be right smack in front of us for the next hour and a half. We were already over the moon and the concert hadn’t even started.

Then he was there. People went mad. The electricity in that place was unreal. He walked out of the door and straight to that mic and our whole family was just giddy. He immediately started to sing “Wait For It” from Hamilton, and that’s when it finally hit me how special this night was. We had this whole concert ahead of us, Odom, his musicians, the entire orchestra, and then, when that was through, we were going to meet him in person. I knew we’d never forget this night.

And then, after singing some of his own music – (“Winter Song”, “Autumn Leaves”, good gracious, so beautiful), the whole night changed. E noticed towards the end of the third song that he had locked eyes with F and gave her a little nod and smile. E said she knew then that he’d say something about his smallest fan. (I was oblivious to this because I was convinced that he was really just singing to me the whole time.) E was spot on.

He looked right at F and asked her for her name. Clear as a bell she answered “Frances.” The whole theater ahhed. He put his hand on his chest and said “Frances. I love that name.” (Melt.) “How old are you Frances?”

“Eight.” She wasn’t shy, she didn’t hide her face or cling to her dad. She just looked right back at him and answered. He teased her that she must be so bored with all those LOVE songs, and was wondering when he was going to get to more Hamilton already. She cracked up and he laughed with her, promising her they were coming, just you wait. He continued to talk to her between songs, and then intermission happened, and the four of us just stared each other with our jaws dropped. It hardly seemed real.

We headed to the lobby to get something to drink – F was VERY excited about this because we also had VIP drink tickets, and she had a Shirley Temple on the mind. That’s when we realized that we kept hearing the name “Frances” around us. Everyone was talking about that lucky little girl, and trying to come over to talk to her. She giggled when she realized that she was “famous” now.

My phone had buzzed a few times during the show, so I checked it and found a slew of messages like these:

We thought it couldn’t get any better, but then the orchestra filed back in, followed by Odom’s musicians, and then the lights dimmed and he walked back in to thunderous applause, waving, and pointing a phone to record the crowd because “his social media manager said he needed to post more.” The crowd went wild, and then he walked to the center of the stage, paused, pointed directly at our row and said “Frances. How are you?” The crowd erupted. “Good,” she answered.

“Did you take a power nap during the break?”

Giggling. “No!”

“Did you eat some candy?”

Again, “No!”

M and I stared across the girls at each other in disbelief. The night was young, and it just kept getting better and better and better. He continued to check in with her, referenced her age when telling the story of the first Broadway musical that changed his life – his “Hamilton” – the musical Rent. He thanked the crowd for supporting the arts. He looked right at me, at M, and thanked us for bringing our girls tonight. He sang a bit of “Forever Young” to her. He sang “Dear Theodosia”, and I seriously thought I might lose it at that point.

Then it was time. The orchestra was at attention. The musicians were alert. The lights changed. And Leslie Odom, Jr. looked right at F with a knowing nod and launched into “The Room Where It Happens.” Full force Hamilton, just as promised. The girls’ faces. M’s face. My goodness, let me remember this bit the longest.

…..

We were one of the last people to head downstairs to the lounge where we were scheduled to meet Odom. There were maybe 20-30 people in the room, and no other children. We waited a few minutes, and then the door at the top of the stairs opened and he came downstairs. F was standing on the landing, and he stopped, smiled and said “Frances – how did I know you’d be here?!” stooping over to hug her around the shoulders. Then he greeted the room and started meeting people one by one.

It was fun to be at the end of the line, because we got to watch him interact with everyone. He was hilarious and sweet and exactly as we imagined him to be. When it was our turn, each girl talked to him on their own, posed for several photos, and had him sign something special to them. F had him sign her lanyard, and E brought our big Hamilton book. He asked her if she had a page in mind, and she flipped open to a full page head shot. “Wow, that’s one handsome man,” he said, pulling out the marker to add his signature. “Well, I prefer the one of King George, but this one will do,” she teased. He cracked up and they talked for another minute of two. She seemed so cool and calm and it was just amazing to watch her charm one of her idols. Kids are just so cool sometimes.

We posed for a few family photos, and M shook his hand and thanked him for a night we would never forget. He thanked us again for coming, and we gave a shout out to the grandparents for the amazing Christmas gift. “Thank goodness for Grandmas!” he yelled, and we floated up the stairs and out of the quiet theater (pausing for a final celebrity Frances sighting and photo op!) into the night.

In the words of a favorite book we used to read years ago –

Wow. All I can say is wow.

rainbow themed

When I was in high school I started painting murals. It was the late eighties / early nineties, and that was a big thing – a more custom take on stenciled borders and wallpapered walls that everyone seemed to have. It kept me busy. I did a lot of nurseries and kid rooms, bathrooms, dining rooms, kitchens. I painted on larger walls in schools – lots of book themed murals in hallways and stairwells. I also did pen and ink renderings or watercolors of people’s homes, watercolor names of children for their rooms, a few painted mailboxes and flowerpots – I don’t think I ever turned down a job. Thinking back on that now, I really hustled in high school. I had places to go (Europe with my French class!), things to buy (Guess jeans!), events to attend (New Kids on the Block concerts!).

So it was kind of funny to have some flashbacks to this time over this past weekend.

I painted a lot of book themed murals in the elementary school where my mom taught third grade. I started painting them in high school, and added to the collection over summer breaks at home from college. Based on the date above, I must have done this one right before heading back to my sophomore year at Clemson. It’s a scene from Eric Carle’s Draw Me A Star, and I remember that it wasn’t that easy to paint something in thick paint that was originally rendered in painted tissue paper collages.

My first mural in that school was the cover of one of my favorite books – Tomie De Paulo’s The Art Lesson. It’s hard to tell in the photo, but that mural was ten feet tall and painted over a stair, so it was a pretty dicey ladder setup I worked from. Also, I had to use oil based paint on the painted concrete block walls, which wasn’t much fun. I don’t miss mineral spirits. I used to bathe in the stuff.

…..

E is always drawing or painting something at home. A friend asked recently if she’d be willing to paint a mural on her daughter’s bedroom wall, and E was excited to do it. I offered to help her get started on this project because I know that it’s not as easy as it looks. You need good quality paint, you need a lot of supplies, and it’s easy to tell when you haven’t done your homework. Plus, someone’s got to drive her around to do all of this, so she didn’t have much of a choice on the partnership. Luckily she was on board.

We ended up having a really great time together, and split the work pretty evenly to be efficient. I gave her lots of pointers along the way, but let her make or weigh in on every single decision. (We used a push pin in the corner of the wall, and stretched twine tied to a pencil to make the perfect arcs for the rainbow stripes. And we hunted through the house for big circles – using a step stool and a metal toy bin for the fluffy clouds.) We made a good team, and when we were driving home on the third day, she thanked me for the opportunity to try it. She loved the process and really loved the end result. She wants to do more. I have a feeling she might have a mural business in the making.