Thursday, September 27, 2012

Holding on

It’s interesting what we hang onto.

I am not much of a collector. I’ve never been one to amass scrapbooks or photo albums so it surprised me when I reached into the closet the other day for a towel and found one old and full of holes. I looked at it for a moment before returning it and choosing another of respectable shape.

Later, I thought about the towel. What was it that prevented me from tossing it into the rag bin at that moment? I knew the answer. It was the last relic from a set of towels bought for our first home. As silly as it sounds now, I spent considerable time agonizing over the choice of color and how it felt in my hands. It needed to be the perfect towel set, because we were beginning our perfect lives.

Perfection. Isn’t that what we are all taught to strive for? Perfect home, perfect lives, perfect kids. Perfection. Nothing less.

For a moment or two I held in my hand one of the very few remaining items from the year of those lofty ideals. And was full of holes, mocking the naivety of my younger mind.

Suffice to say I didn’t achieve any of the “perfection” I’d hoped for. Few people do. But with maturity I hope I’ve achieved in its place an appreciation for the exquisite beauty of the perfectly imperfect that lives and breaths within my home. 

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

11:30 PM and all is not well.

I begin to doze off as Sam abruptly enters my room and plops loudly on the bed.

“Tickle Daddy. Push Daddy.” Translation? Trouble.

With agility he leaps up and runs down the stairs.  I quickly shake the sleep off and follow. I find him in the kitchen, stalled for a moment. “Sam sit,” I say. “I can help you.” I look for something to distract. For a moment he sits angrily and scribbles harsh lines on paper. He exudes pain and frustration.

I search his body language for the source of his distress without success. I try to formulate a plan. For what I am not sure.

Sam leaps up and stares through me. I wait for the pounce. It doesn't materialize.  He eyes the door instead. I prepare for the bolt. I ask him again to trust me. “I can help you.” I say, projecting a calm that belies my inner turmoil. He glances at the door, then eyes me carefully before running to another room to confront a very startled Tony. I feel everyone’s blood pressure escalate.

I motion to Tony to remain motionless and he complies. Sam moves to strike Tony but lets out a loud screech instead. His eyes fill with tears. I carefully step in between them and watch Sam desperately try to maintain control of his emotions.    

Sam's eyes dart about the room, looking for a release of some sort. It's not there. He looks for something to throw. Instead he hurls himself to the floor as more tears flood his eyes. His anxiety penetrates the room. I am at a loss how to help.

We eye each other like two caged tigers, each wary of the other. I ask him again to trust me. “I will help you,” I promise. I move slowly toward him. He scrutinizes each step making each feel like slow motion frames.

And unexpectedly he takes my outstretched hand.

“Tissue,” he finally says, “wipe your Sam eyes.” “Yes, I can help.” I say with the smallest of smiles as I wipe his eyes. And slowly, ever so slowly, I watch him calm. “It’s OK,” I say. “It’s OK.”

He did not push.
He did not hit.
He did not harm.
He did not run.
He trusted.

He hung on to thin threads of self control, giving me a small measure of hope for tomorrow. 

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Take me out to the ball game

Me: Sam I have a surprise for you.
Sam: What is it?
Me: You are going to see the Red Sox play on Friday night.
Sam: Yes. Red Sox.  
Me: Do you know what the Red Sox play?
Sam: Yes.
Me: Tell me. What do they play?
Sam: Basketball.
Me: Oh Sammy. 

And this brings me back to a similar conversation from a different loosing season:

It was the final game of the season. The Sox were out of the race for the pennant, so the game meant nothing. But it meant everything to us. Sam had recently discovered baseball and on this beautiful fall day he was about to experience his first Sox game ever.

On the drive out to Boston, we reviewed the plan: "Sammy, where are we going?" "Boston!" he responded. "What will we see?" I asked. "Red Sox!" he answered. "What do they play?"  I asked. Sam quickly replied, "Basketball!"

"He has your sports acumen," Tony replied. 

"I know my baseball. Don't get all technical on us." I defended. "Maybe it explains why they didn't win the pennant this year. Sammy, another ball. It begins with b..." With that Sam correctly identified, "Baseball. Baseball bat. Hit the ball. Run." 

Sam loves baseball. Don't let his word retrieval cloud that fact. It was time to find out if Sam would still love the game after experiencing the sudden crowd eruptions, tightly cramped seats, unfamiliar sights and smells of Fenway. We entered to a packed stadium. It was the Sox against the Yankees after all. Sam looked around with an apprehension that slowly turned to delight as a ball player headed up to bat. At the crack of the ball the crowd roared. Instead of his usual startle reflex, his face lit up as he yelled an elongated, "Yeeeeaaaah!" in imitation  of the folks to our left.

From there everything got better and better: He loved the food vendors (peanuts and Fenway  franks in particular). He watched the "wave" make its way around to him, joining in  flawlessly. He sang "Take me out to the ball game with gusto and beamed through Sweet Caroline. He stretched like Gumby at the seventh inning. Finally he cheered enthusiastically when the Sox won. He was the near perfect fan. 

His only stumble?  "Booing the Yankees." He tried to imitate this from a nearby guy. Sam interpreted his “boo” as a “moo” and much to the delight of the folks sitting next to us, he produced a sound that would have made Elsie the Cow proud. We can work on that.

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

The door to a heart

Working on the latest creation.
Sam chooses a thick pastel and examines it carefully. Is it the right color? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no and a different color is selected in its place. He confidently places his first, rich splash of color. The color is so intense  it almost startles the white paper. He leans back and smiles, pleased. It is good.

I watch him repeat this process many times over in the next hour or so. Working with unusual focus, he still manages to erupt into laughter or song. Sometimes even a quick dance before returning to the project at hand. I see before me the soul of an artist. 

Sam and I have made a practice of drawing together in the last month. I’ve come to treasure those nights. Sometimes I suggest a subject or set up a still life. Other times Sam creates from his imagination. Still other days Sam defaults to windows, doors, houses and roofs. I wonder about his fascination with these subjects, but he isn’t one to explain.  

With the help of Sam, I hope to find my soul as well. There was a time when I was more prolific, but life got in the way. I didn’t know then a day would turn into a week and just as quickly a year. You don’t know those things. 

These nights are happy times, doing what we both enjoy together – even collaborating despite our differing styles. I am confined by the structurally correct while Sam creates with abandon. I envy the way he confidently approaches an empty sheet; his freedom from technically accurate colors and shapes. I love the energy and passion of his work. I wish I had Sam’s assurance as I struggle to shake off the cobwebs of my former ability.

Today I throw a different twist and request, “Draw love.” For this assignment Sam draws a big heart. To that he adds lines and colors and shapes. What do they mean? I accept I will likely never know. I watch something emerge in the lower left corner. “What is it?” I ask. That answer, I know. “Is a door,” he confirms. Of course, one of his signature doors. After working on this drawing for a few days he finally he pronounces, "Is done" and hands it to me. 

Oil pastel: Door to Sam's Heart.
Tell me about the drawing I ask. Sam points first to the door, then to the heart: "Is door. Is Sam's heart. Door to Sam's heart." I pause, wondering if I heard him correctly. And then I put my curiosity away. Sometimes it is best to accept a gift, no questions asked. Today I am satisfied knowing I have an open door to Sam's heart. Sometimes it is as simple as that.