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Valentine’s Day

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I took a hard line against Valentine’s Day when I was raising my two kids. It’s for young lovers, I insisted, but still I capitulated and purchased the punch-out sheets of cards for the classroom. At least it had progressed to an inclusive observation, unlike when I was a child and only the same four or five popular kids would haul in 30 or 40 cards apiece while the rest of us settled for the one from our best friend – if we were lucky. A child’s life in those days was more Dickensian than the egalitarian approach of today.

It was a surprise to me, then, when my late daughter experienced a full-blown love affair at the tender age of eight with the character of Frederic in Gilbert and Sullivan’s light opera The Pirates of Penzance. We were a theatre-going family. Showboat, Rent, Jesus Christ Superstar, Les Miserables, Little Shop of Horrors – we saw them all but it started in Penzance with Frederic at the helm. Her eyes followed his every move and she hung on to each note like a prize. She left the theatre that night a singer and music became the one lasting expression of faith that never let her down, all thanks to Frederic and young love.

This Valentine’s Day, after attending my granddaughter’s dance recital, festooned and flanked by red hearts, I am reminded of that other little girl – my little girl. She lives in my heart today, as ever.

I still crabbed about the cards even as I made them (I’ve progressed to that!) I made sure to tell her the day was for young lovers and couples that need to remember to tell their partners they’re appreciated. This time ’round, though, I’m aware of a gentler, more subtle knowledge. Sometimes a fake Hallmark holiday can evolve to mean more than the retail sales surge for which it was originally created. Occasionally, like this year for me, it brings with it the memory of music and one girl’s first brush with sweet love.

Her love didn’t stop there. It grew to include Harry Anderson from Night Court fame (although we never could figure that one out), later including Jason Priestley and real boys, then men. But it started with Frederic and, now that she’s gone, it spirals back to the start where lightness and love first meet, so much like grief unfolding on the spectrum’s opposite end. I meet her there today, cinnamon heart-in-hand. Happy Valentine’s Day, love. I miss you.

© Kim Reynolds 2013

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Posted by on February 14, 2013 in Where's My Kid?

 

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After School Aperitif?

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There was a time a million years ago, back in the 90s, when the alcohol industry was just beginning to ponder what might happen to their marketplace if their beverages tasted like soda pop. My husband knew a sales rep for one such company and, thus, our refrigerator contained one of their testers – a big, plastic pop bottle of booze. I’d never seen such a thing and so I hadn’t contemplated the impact its presence in my after school fridge might have.

We were both at work. I came home to a still-dark house. Strange, considering the two knapsacks on the floor of the front hall. And I heard giggling. Hm. I put the dinner on, called hello and hopped in the shower. Somewhere around the second rinse I remembered seeing the bottle in the sink. No way. Oh shit. I ran down the stairs wrapped in a towel, dripping the whole way and there it was. One giant, empty, plastic bottle of fizzy, fruity booze. And I heard giggling.

Um, mum? Her voice was small. Unusual for her. I grabbed the empty and headed, still dripping, down one more flight of stairs and there they were. Tell me you didn’t, I said. We didn’t know, they protested and, both talking together, presented their case. It tasted so good, my daughter said. It wasn’t until we felt woozy that we looked at it, her friend corroborated. We made sandwiches to soak it up, they proclaimed together, proud of their 14 year-old problem solving skills.

I have to call your mother, I said. You’re staying for dinner. I’m not taking you home ’til you’re sober. I’m sorry, I said. It dawned on them that they weren’t going to be in the shit for this one. They began their debrief in earnest. I fell down the stairs, her friend said. It tastes so good, my daughter yelled, unaware of her volume. Yeah, you said that. Is there anything worse than drunk 14 year-olds? I think not.

Eat the sandwiches. I have to call your mother, I said.

Fortunately for me, the innocent mistake we’d all made harmed no one and was even perceived by the friend’s mum as an honest mistake thankfully accompanied by an appreciative laugh. Needless to say, I never became a consumer of that product and, as a result of the experience, developed the opinion that alcohol should actually taste like alcohol just so we remember it is. It really shouldn’t “taste so good.”

The best part of the story, though, then and now, is experiencing it with your best friend. Now that my daughter is gone and we’re left only with the memories of her life, the people she brought into our lives fill out the mental photo albums we work hard to hold onto.

This memory, those moments, how they unfolded, the people in it: It is all we have now. I’m so grateful for its sweet innocence.

When this same best friend stood at the front of the church and recited a poem in eulogy for my daughter, this was the moment I reached for. It is that day and its honest hilarity I keep close. The pain of loss permeates like acrid, filthy sweat – collecting day upon day. Sometimes you have to reach through it to the other side and find something better. And sometimes when you do, you uncover a memory like this that just tastes so good.

© Kim Reynolds 2012

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2012 in Where's My Kid?

 

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Pyjama People

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Pyjamas are underrated, particularly by those who live in drizzle-free zones. Those of us who dwell north of 49 know the value of a good pair of pjs. The warmth they generate is not solely related to body temperature.

Psychologically, a prized pair of pyjamas can make for many a therapeutic substitution. Put on the flannels; pass on the Prozac. Feeling sad? Slip on the silk. Fancy some chocolate? Slide into chenille. For me and mine, rainy day feelings provide optimal pyjama-purchasing opportunities.

One of our oldest family traditions involved the Christmas Eve gift. Though the contents of the package were no secret, the style, texture and comfort level of the surprise sleepwear were left to the imagination. Let’s face it; this was mostly a girl thing. Though my husband and son participated, they were pretty much in it for the food that accompanied the Christmas Eve gift. At dusk on December 24th, the door to the outside world was closed and from that hour until bedtime, only the four of us existed.

Gathered around the living room coffee table, dinner started with appetizer after appetizer and grew with each course until the four of us lay bloated on the living room floor begging for mercy once the Swedish meatballs were done. It took hours – enough time to work our way from Frosty the Snowman to a National Lampoon Christmas. Stuffed, weary and ready-for-bed, out came the new pyjamas, the harbinger of good things ahead.

Throughout the years of my daughter’s illness, I took the pyjama game to new levels. Her discomfort and pain called for softer and smoother and I combed lingerie departments with my fingertips. The lighter its touch, the higher the priority assigned to a given garment. In the end, in the weeks and months before her death, even I gave up hoping I would find something that could alleviate the agony half an ounce of fabric weight produced.

I knew I would not survive her death without a good pair of pyjamas. I didn’t even try. On a warm September day last year, after her death but before her funeral, I ventured out. My husband and son were sad when I came home and showed them my purchase. They understood its significance. They held me tight on the driveway while I clutched this pair with purpose. I knew they would stay with me through thick and thin. I wasn’t so sure the two who held me now were as able.

Now, months later, and with another summer around the corner, it is another pair of pyjamas I hold close. A hat-wearing cat graces the shirt and it reads I love Mommy and Daddy. These were her first pyjamas, the beginning of our mutual admiration for all things cozy. It’s true I am still comforted by pyjamas, however, it is not the pair I purchased for myself that soothes me. Each night as I seek sleep, I wedge her precious pjs into the crook of my arm and hope they’ll lure her into my dreams and back to a time when life was sweet. Such times can be hard to find upon waking.

© Kim Reynolds 2012

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Where's My Kid?

 

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Diamonds

It’s ball season again. I used to be able to see the remnants of softball season’s past at the ballpark as each Spring revealed its new recruits and last year’s echoes pressed themselves against the white lines between first and third. I spent the last few years turning away from that magic, unwilling or, maybe more accurately, unable to look at the promise in those young faces. I didn’t know that the time would come when I would let the memories return and bring my child with them.

While I prepared to lose my daughter, I found the pure simplicity of softball too painful to remember. Parents pace the park, desperate to see their girls win. I’d wonder (bitterly) if they knew how good they had it. Do they know the outcome doesn’t matter? Can they see the metaphor that lives in the relay throw from left field to home plate? I doubted it. I doubted them. I used to be them. This season, now that she’s gone from this physical world, the same ballpark calls me.

Year after year the park photographer lines the girls up and they heft the bat onto their shoulder and squint into the sun. Those photos come home with them at season’s end and find their way to the bottom of a lint-filled drawer, stuck in the folds of a box or the back pages of yet another full photo album. When the unthinkable happens, and that child dies, the flow of life’s photos stop, too. Every picture you have must last the rest of your life. Some spark of some photo somewhere dogged me. I rooted through the stacks of photographs of her that fill every vacant surface of my home and there they were. Two photos, a decade apart – same park, same place, same grip – you can seeImage the church across the street over her shoulder. Hat-head. Check. Sun-squint. Check. Good stance. Check.

This season, as I sit in my car across from the park and eavesdrop on this year’s version of her past, I am struck by how each team looks as hers did. There’s the future softball scholarship winner at Virginia Tech on the mound; the stocky, fit third baseman with a gun for an arm; and the requisite one that doesn’t give a shit about ball but enjoys the camaraderie and uses the outfield hours she logs as opportune tanning moments. Through all the years that she was ill leading up to her death, I couldn’t see these girls for what they are. They represented a past with no future possibilities to me, and they broke my heart.

Now that she is gone, she takes her place beside them once again. She’s in every play at home plate. And each time one of them swings the bat and drops a high, hard one in no man’s land behind third base, I’ll see her trot off the field, casually toss her helmet into the dugout and glance my way just long enough to say with a look, “Did you see that?” Of course I did. That picture has to last a lifetime.

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© Kim Reynolds 2012

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2012 in Where's My Kid?

 

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