November 12, 2010–memories of my daughter when she was very young:

Polly was about 3 years old and one day went out to play in the snow in the back yard of our Cortland house.  She was all bundled up, and since she knew not to stray, I didn’t have to stand there and watch her all the time, although I kept the kitchen door open.  I was in my bathrobe and flip-flop sandals, but when she started howling I was out the door like a shot.  The neighbor’s dog had come over to play—that had happened before, and we never had a problem—but this time,  he had grabbed the tassel on her hat and started pulling it around, and since it was a knit had that covered her neck, she was getting pulled around by the head.  I guess I lost my sandals in the snow, but all I remember is grabbing her and pulling the neck of the hat up over her chin so that damn dog could have the hat and I could have my daughter.  As I carried her back into the house she stopped screaming and I noticed that the floor was slippery.  We got into the kitchen and I helped her out of her snowsuit and fixed some cocoa for her.  After we both calmed down, I realized that I couldn’t feel my feet—and when I looked at them, they were dead white and my toes were cherry red.  It took a while for me to thaw out, and we stayed inside for the rest of the day.  This was 1968.

Sometimes as I drift off to sleep I remember vignettes from years ago when our kids were young.  When we were moving from Carbondale, Illinois to Cortland, New York, we had to get rid of most of our furniture—we simply couldn’t afford to move it.  We sold some things and gave a lot of stuff away—most of it we had bought for next to nothing at garage sales.  One of the things we got rid of was Joe’s desk—a large, magnificent, traditional seven-drawer desk which was so large that it had to be disassembled before it could go through the front door.  Polly was about one and a half, and helped Daddy take the desk apart—even then, she knew the difference between a screw and a bolt, between a washer and a nut, and between a screwdriver, a wrench, and a pair of pliers.  Joe would ask Polly for a tool and she would carefully hand it to him—it was very impressive.  While he was finishing up, we looked around for Polly and she wasn’t in the living room.  It was summer, and we had a screened front porch with a lock on the door, so we looked out there—and there she was, pliers in hand, trying to take her stroller apart.  Later that year, as we settled into our apartment in Cortland, we bought some metal shelving from Montgomery Ward’s, and Polly helped Joe put it all together.  She was not quite two years old.

Sometimes in the evening, after we moved to Cortland, the three of us would go for a walk.  We lived on Main Street, and a few blocks down there was a toy store with a wonderful rocking horse in the window.  No rockers—this was 1966—metal springs instead, so a child could bounce on it.  On our walks down Main Street, Polly would insist on stopping to look at the horse—she would gaze in longing through the window, and we knew it was Heart’s Desire.   Before Christmas, we brought it home and hid it—and on Christmas Eve, after Polly was put to bed, Joe carefully assembled it while I trimmed the Christmas tree.  Christmas morning, when we all woke up, I brought Polly out to the living room—when she saw the tree, her eyes grew wide—”Oh my, Daddy!” she said—and there was Horse, right next to the tree!  She climbed right up on him and bounced to her heart’s content.  She loved to make him gallop, and there were times we were afraid she would bounce right up to the ceiling.  He was her favorite for years, until she outgrew him.  John, born when Polly was seven and a half, inherited Horse and loved him dearly.  When John in turn outgrew Horse, we packed him up and kept him—Horse has come with us through all our several moves.  When Polly’s daughter Sarah was born, Horse moved back to New York State to Four Winds Farm, and Sarah and Josh have both enjoyed him—old and battered as he is, with springs that have been replaced several times.  He is there now, and I hope he will stay—he is a family heirloom.

When Polly was about 5 or 6, I got a call from a faculty colleague—Jim Palmer, the director of the College Theatre and a member of the fine arts department—inviting us to that evening’s performance of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”  After trying unsuccessfully to get a babysitter, I called Jim back and asked if we could bring our daughter—he said that was okay with him if it was okay with us.  So that’s what we did.  Polly sat quietly and attentively during the performance—she always had an uncanny ability to focus—and of course when the play was over we all went home and went to bed immediately.  The following morning over breakfast, Polly spontaneously said, “Mom, those people in the play last night—they didn’t really have a son, did they?”  My jaw still drops when I think of it.

November 8, 2010–a dream:

For more years than I can count, I have lived by my calendar book.  It is enclosed in a leather case, fits in my purse, and has everything I need to make sure I get where I’m supposed to go–appointments, meetings, phone numbers, note pads, and a “to-do” list…all the things that can be so essential.  My work as an AFT union staffer meant a good deal of travel and business meetings at all hours of the day and night, and it was absolutely necessary for me to keep track of where I was supposed to be and what I needed to do.  Since I retired life has become simpler in some ways–I don’t need two full calendar pages for each day, for example, so I downsized to a two-page-per-week calendar, and now I keep my “to-do” lists on my computer and on scraps of paper which I sometimes lose (but that’s another story).  But all this is still in that leather case in my purse.  And the fact remains that I continue to depend on my calendar book.

And that’s why, when I suddenly woke one morning last week with a vivid dream in my head, it has stayed with me.  Picture my calendar book’s leather case, wide open, and with absolutely nothing in it.  No calendar, no notepad, nothing–just an empty case.  It was startling and somewhat scary–my first thought was, “My life is over.”  And the dream stayed with me until I sat out on the back porch with a cup of coffee and my first cigarette of the day and thought about it.  I finally figured out that what it meant was not the end but the beginning of a new day,  and the question my dream was asking was, “What are you going to do with it?”  And then it made sense: what I do with each new day is up to me–I am no longer constrained by the demands of work and a list of things which absolutely must be done today and cannot wait.  Most of the things I need to do don’t have to be done this minute.

So in a sense it was not a threatening dream but a liberating one.  Each day is all I have, one day at a time–and what I do with it involves choices, not demands or constraints.  Of course there are still appointments to be kept, meetings to attend, and things to do–but I don’t have to feel responsible for doing them all at the same time.  Freedom!

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