This poem, by Shel Silverstein, always made me sad. When I was a little girl, I had an audiocassette of him reciting it, and his warm, avuncular voice is the one I hear in my head when I read it.
The Little Boy and the Old Man
by Shel Silverstein (1930-1999)
Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
Said the little old man, “I do that too.”
The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
“I do that too,” laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
The old man nodded, “So do I.”
“But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
“I know what you mean,” said the little old man.
It’s hard not to feel heard. Little children sense that they’re being ignored even if they can’t express it well. They may do other things to get the attention of grown-ups: break something, have a tantrum, or find other ways to force that grown-up to take notice. Old men may quietly do what they want, or give up entirely, but they have an understanding of who they were when they were young men — that they ignored their elders, that they paid less attention than they wished they had, and the empathy they have might lessen that feeling of sadness. These are expected responses.
This last week of summer vacation, my daughters are redecorating the basement.
They are thirteen and sixteen, past needing space for a vast collection of magnetic princesses and plastic animals, the dollhouse closed up and stored beneath the stairs. The collection of pony puzzles and foam building toys and inexplicable plastic parts from birthday-party-goody-bags have been sorted, donated, stored or thrown out. Elmo and Dora the Explorer are long gone. What remains is a small enough collection of things that the basement — home to all things daughter for a dozen years — is ready to become a teenager hangout. They are planning it themselves.
Like many projects, this was supposed to be an all-summer-long plan, but here we are in the last week of summer vacation, frantically painting. I brought paint sample pamphlets from Home Depot for them, blues and reds and greens and purples and yellows. They’re the same kinds of sample cards that their father used to give them to hold while he wheeled them through the store in the oversized carts when they were very tiny, on the one day each week when he’d bundle them quickly out of the house in the early morning so I could get a few precious extra hours of sleep. They still talk about playing with the doorknobs in the store. They still remember the carts.
This week, they finally chose a light blue for the walls of their hangout. My older daughter says “It’s going to be like looking at the sky!” Continue Reading…
In the years I’ve spent as a parent, I’ve been humbled hundreds of times. Sometimes one of my daughters has a proclivity the other lacks. Other times, the health challenges of one make me see the relative good health of the other as anything but a given. Most often, though, I am humbled by the ways I see the challenges of other children and families. The things I took for granted always, always, reveal themselves to be as symptoms of my own ignorance. I could make the list below almost endless, pages and pages of gifts that no one is guaranteed but that I — somehow, luckily — was given. I will never take them for granted again. Never. Continue Reading…
I hate that my daughter — normally so sunny, so funny and vital and affectionate and bright — asked me to take this photo. She asked me because she wanted to keep a record of her time staying in the cardiac intensive care unit at the children’s hospital, where she was trapped after surgery to move her aorta from where it was crushing her esophagus. She asked me to take this picture — this haunting, heartbreaking picture — because I’d suggested that she keep a journal of each day, mostly so she could see herself getting better each day. I hadn’t anticipated that she’d be awake for the photos the first day. Somehow, though, she pried her eyes apart and did her best to smile, right there, as the sun was beginning to set on day one. Continue Reading…
Several weeks ago, my triumphant, thriving, sensitive and sweet daughter Sammi read from the Torah for the first time.
In the Jewish ceremony known colloquially as a “Bat Mitzvah,” my daughter consciously took her place in her community by chanting three verses of a chapter from Leviticus. Like all children who become a Bat or Bar Mitzvah (literally, a daughter or son of the covenant), she studied for months to learn the melody and the Hebrew words she’d be chanting and all the prayers she’d need to know to share leadership of the service and analyze the chapter of Torah in English. She has a lovely, clear voice, and she spent weeks with headphones on listening to the sound of her tutor’s voice chanting her verses, and singing along. I’d heard her practicing, but nothing really prepared me for the feeling I would have on the day she became a Bat Mitzvah, as I stood next to her at the podium as she chanted in front of the congregation of our synagogue and all of the friends and family who gathered to bear witness. It was not what I expected. Continue Reading…