I was telling my kids about a prized present I received one Christmas. It was an apple bank. You put a coin at the mouth of an apple and a worm would crawl out to grab the coin, bringing it back with him to the apple innards.
It was the coolest!
My kids were like, “That sounds awesome!”
And then we Googled “apple piggy bank with worm.” Up popped the bank I remembered! We saw the vintage faded, plastic apple with the sticker eyes, and the wobbly door that opened, revealing a plastic worm. It wasn’t quite the awesome, magical bank I had described. My vivid memory from childhood had tarnished a little, just like the shiny silver dollars I’ve been keeping all of these years.
But my kids were like, “That is so cool, Mom!”
In the age of everything digital (there’s an app for that), were they just making me feel better?
I overheard my daughter tell her friend about this cool apple bank where the WORM comes out to eat your MONEY and how she totally wants one! And I smiled, because her enthusiasm at 10 years old is the exact same as my enthusiasm at her age. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…
Remember when you were a child and you thought “when I grow up, I can do whatever I want?”
Adulthood. It’s when you get do whatever you want! It’s when get to buy whatever you want!
When my husband and I were newly married, I bought something I had always wanted, because I could. I bought a 12-foot trampoline to go smack in the middle of our yard. To me, jumping on a trampoline = bliss.
When the trampoline was delivered, I was giddy! My husband and I promptly set it up in the yard and we proceeded to jump. And jump. We jumped for two hours straight. And then.
Ugh. We got the worst headaches. Too much jiggling our brains, I guess.
It was the saddest realization: I was too old to jump on my beloved trampoline. We took it down, boxed it up, and shipped it back.
My teen son and I visited my mother in California. While there, I wanted to swing by my childhood home to check it out. For old times’ sake. My mother doesn’t live there anymore.
We drove down the quiet, tree-lined street. Everything was still the same, yet so different. The small, tidy homes with the small, tidy yards. Family homes.
My childhood home was barely recognizable. The new owners had doubled its size by adding a second story. What was wrong with my comfy, two-bedroom home? It was just perfect for my mother and me. Or a hobbit.
The palm tree in the front yard was gone. The tree had helped mark our tucked-in house. “When you see the palm tree? That’s my house.”
The palm tree was also a sign that we lived in California, welcoming guests from the Midwest–my Grandmother–who would ooh and ah at our weather and tropical plantings.
I lived in that home from ages 9 to 18.
It was a neighborhood of young families and old people.
The neighbor kids and I ran amuck. Racing throuh neighbors’ yards, playing Nerf football in the street, rollerskating, hiding-and-seeking at night.
It was a safe town, nestled, protected. It was a town where you let your children walk to the 7-Eleven to buy Slurpees. It was a town where kids could trick-or-treat in packs, without their parents’ hovering.
My street looked the same. And I’ve heard the neighborhood and town are still safe. There were Christmas lights around the windows, trikes in the front yards.
But the old people I knew, are long gone. And the parents I knew, are now old. The then children now have their own families. And have moved on. Everything has changed.
Visiting my old street made me sad. I am no longer part of that neighborhood. But the neighborhood is part of me. Like the deep roots of my palm tree, most of my childhood is rooted there.
The other day at work, a co-worker was describing how busy someone was and said, “He’s up to his ass in alligators.”
Yikes. What a great saying. I can relate.
But that wasn’t what I heard him say. Let me just tell you: it pays to listen carefully.
I thought he said, “Alligators are coming out of his ass.”
Double yikes. Now THAT would be a sight. And something I hope to never see or experience.
This reminds me of playing telephone tag as a kid. Where you whispered a word into someone’s ear. And then she whispered it into someone’s ear. And then she whispered it into someone else’s ear. And so on and so on until it turned into something totally different.
Giraffe => moustache => big ass.
It was hard to hear with all the giggling and whatnot.
If the journey is half the fun, then childhood road trips sitting alongside my sister were a hoot.
Every Summer, we would journey in the family wagon hundreds of miles to see America at its finest: Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore, Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, Yellowstone National Park. If it had anything to do with water falls, red rocks, forests, suspension bridges, I’ve been there.
My Dad at the wheel. My Stepmother navigating. My sister and me in the back seat, with no seat belts. No seat belts meant freedom to sprawl. Only an imaginary line down the middle to “separate” us.
Do. Not. Cross. The. Line.
This was decades before iPods and Nintendo DSs. Dude. This was before the Sony Walkman. Dude! My Dad’s car had an 8-track tape. We’d listen to Ray Conniff’s Bad, Bad Leroy Brown. We’d even sing along. Because that sucker would loop.
There was nothing to do. For hours. Or was there?
We’d play the alphabet license plate game. But when there are no cars for one hundred miles, the game goes a little slow.
Are we there yet? No.
When will we get there? We’ll get there when we get there.
I would look into the rearview mirror and check out my face. Any new pimples?
Dang. What to do now?
Rock, paper, scissors. We’d play it over and over and over. Being seven years older than my sister meant I knew how to change my rock to a scissors at the last minute, for the win.
Are we there yet? No.
When will we get there? We’ll get there when we get there.
Then finally, time for lunch. We’d pull over at a rest stop and my Stepmother would spread out a feast on a picnic table. Vienna sausages! Pringles! Spray cheese! Wafer cookies with icing! Fruit cocktail! The kind with the awesome cherries pieces and heavy syrup.
Then it would be time to distribute the HANDI WIPES.
You know those wipes that come in little packets? The kind that are folded in a little square, that smell like alcohol? The kind you get after eating fried chicken?
Our fun was unfolding those suckers into a big square. And check this out. Rolling down the window and letting the hot Summer air dry them out. I mean, this could stretch out five minutes. At least. Then when the handy wipes were all dry, you could stick out your hand and “hand surf” through the air current until our Dad yelled, “The air conditioner is on! Roll up the windows. You’re letting the cold air out.”
We’d get excited when my Dad would stop at a gas station to fill up. We’d beg for a quarter. I’d buy a Hershey bar. My sister would buy something fruity and sour and hard. Something that she knew would last a long time. Like Gobstoppers.
I’d gobble mine up in five seconds. And her candy outlasted mine. Always. Dang her.
Then she would nap. And I’d have no one to chat with and bicker with and play with for a few hours. Silence. Except for Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown.
I’d stare out the window. How many more miles until the next rest stop? I had to pee. How many until Mesa Verde?
Are we there yet? No.
When will we get there? We’ll get there when we get there.
By evening, after driving all day, we’d arrive at our Best Western. Always with crisp white sheets. Tiny, rectangular soaps. And a swimming pool. A glorious pool! Finally, something to DO!
The funny thing is, I don’t really remember the monuments, the sights, or the National parks that much. Faded pictures in a musty old photo album remind me that I’ve been to all the places.
Instead, what I remember is the endless driving, sitting alongside my sister. The idleness and how we’d try to pass the time. Ah, the simplicity of childhood.
And I kinda wish I could sit in the backseat with my sister now, to talk. Laugh. Bicker. And play rock, paper, scissors. But she lives an ocean away.
Being an adult is busy and complicated. I haven’t sat idly in the backseat of a car with nothing to do except air out our handy wipes….well, since childhood.
I do not own a Goofy t-shirt. I am not a wearer of Disney pins. My vehicle does not sport a sticker with our family members in Mickey Mouse ears.
Yet I know the songs to The Nightmare Before Christmas. I own the majority of Disney movies on DVD. Even Blu-ray. Watching Cinderella with with my daughter makes me happy. On Sunday nights as a child, I watched The Wonderful World of Disney, cuddled in my jammies. I rode It’s a Small World 30 years ago. And again last week.
See? I’ve been drinking the Disney Kool-Aid since I was a child.
How can you NOT? In our culture, it’s almost force-fed.
As an American family, you “go to Disneyland.” This part was sorta nagging at me since my two youngest kids, aged seven and 10, are the perfect age and we hadn’t been in five years. Down the line, my daughter may not want to go. Or, she may not want to go with me. The time was NOW.
It was my Mom duty to go to Disneyland.
So, I planned a surprise trip, with my husband’s stealth encouragement. The suspense of keeping this secret for two months! On my daughter’s 10th birthday, we sent her to school and promised we’d pick her up a little early to do “something fun.” Maybe a frozen yogurt treat? She’d like that. That’s the kind of girl she is.
On the way to the airport, I nearly peed my pants, I was so excited. Excited to head to sunny California for a few days. But mostly, excited to share the magic with my children. This video shows my daughter’s I-don’t-believe-you reaction, as we announced the Disneyland plans while pulling up curbside at the airport, with her bags secretly packed in the back. You can hear the giddiness (Kool-Aid) in my voice. I don’t think it quite sank in with her until we were actually walking through airport security.
And here we are spazzing out on the airplane. Giddy with excitement! I was extra giddy. I was about to be a kid again and see “the magic of Disney” through their child eyes.
And when the flight attendant asked what we would like to drink, we answered:
They say a tween is the age between middle childhood and adolescence, usually between eight and 12 years old. I have one of those. She turns 10 today.
She is full of life. She is radiant. She is blooming.
In her room, you’ll find her surrounded with 52 stuffed animals that smile down on her. Bunnies, a leopard, dogs, elephants, owls, an alligator, monkeys, bears, dragons, even a sloth. An “animals of the world” wall poster takes up half her room. Where do pygmy marmosets live? Ah, now I know.
A bookshelf with Dork Diaries, Judy Moody, Judy Bloom, A Secret Garden, and old favorites Pinkalicious, Fancy Nancy, The Giving Tree, Goodnight Moon, and Curious George. Dusty soccer trophies since she was four.
Posters with horses galloping in snow, in water. One white horse smiles with a pink rose in her mouth.
A red horse stable in the corner with Breyer horses of all sizes sits next to her cash register for playing store.
On her desk is a bin with 200 markers and thick drawing pads, Origami papers for new birds to form, and a sewing machine waiting for new creations. She has mastered purses and animal tails. Tails? To pin on her skirts, of course.
Her dresser spills over with earrings. Her ears were pierced on her ninth birthday. Cute penguins, hearts, butterfly earrings. Trendy dangly feather earrings.
Her iPod is docked by her bed. My alarm skills are no longer required. Adele songs fill her playlist. She knows all of the words.
Drawers are filled with cheetah-print leggings, polka-dot miniskirts, and t-shirts with puppies. She is a colorful being with her own sense of style.
She plays with her puppy every chance she gets. She shops for new earrings. She jumps rope at recess. She draws fanciful dragons. She wears adult-sized shoes; we are nearly the same size. She bakes cookies with me. She likes to cuddle up by her Dad to watch volleyball. She dresses up in capes, wings, and tails and flies through the house with her little brother. She watches The Simpsons with her big brother. She could easily stay up past midnight on weekends if we let her. She plays an aggressive game of soccer. She makes fairy houses out of twigs.
My girl-child-tween-tween is 10 today. This is just the beginning of her blooming.
Being the youngest grandchild gave me pampering privileges.
My grandfather, with his Einsteinish hair–crimped, like white cotton candy–would sit in his La-Z-Boy chair, with the cracked seat cushions, letting me pet the whiteness. But only for a few minutes. Too much giggling.
He would let me sit on the armrest while he did his crossword puzzle in the daily newspaper. I loved how he would straighten the newspaper out just so—crackle–and fold it back into quarters, and then into eighths. A perfect rectangle. He was always with pencil. If not in his hand, then one tucked behind his fluff. The heavy black Webster dictionary was by his side. He would look up words as he read and pontificated. And he would put a check mark by the words he looked up with his pencil. Proof that he had been there. Over the years as I would flip through the wonton-thin pages of the dictionary, I was amazed at how many words had been studied.
As I sat by his side, balancing on the armrest, I was encouraged to watch, but not talk too much. He liked my company but he didn’t like distraction. Except for the hefty bowls of Butter Brickle ice cream my grandmother would bring us. The brown sugar toffee crystals would dissolve on my tongue and I’d let the ice cream pool into liquid—savoring and prolonging the moments.
I would sprawl out on the orange-gold shag carpet that smelled a little wooly, a little doggy. I’d spread pillows onto the floor, to make a nest.
His soft pencil scribbles usually lulled me into a nap.
Sometimes, special memories don’t hit you until it’s too late.
I want to go back to that living room on White Oak to hear the newspaper crinkling, smell the carpet, taste the toffee, and fall asleep in my special nest, pampered in the love of my grandparents.
The little boy pulled away from the crowd of children. The other kids were romping around the playground, chasing, skipping, playing tag. Laughing loudly, hollering.
The little boy was humming, smiling, quietly playing on his own. He balanced on the beam, climbed the play structure, did spins on the bars.
“Mom, look what I can do!”
His mother would look up from her book, “Oooh, cool! Great job, honey!”
The exchange of words and support made him smile. He continued to hum and meander.
The other eight children were tearing through the park: a colorful, loud mass.
The little boy climbed silently, slid peacefully, smiling and humming.
The kids invited him to join in. He didn’t want to. He knew them; they see each other every week at their older sisters’ soccer practice.
No. He was content to play on his own. To have his own space. To do what he wanted.
He sprawled out at the bottom of the slide and gazed up at the clouds.
The little boy’s mother sat alone on the park bench, separate from the cluster of soccer Moms who were huddled on the sidelines watching the girls practice. The mother was enjoying the late afternoon sunshine, with her book How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, looking up to smile and acknowledge her son. She read; she tweeted on her phone. She was peaceful and quiet. She, too, gazed up at the clouds.
She was content to read and tweet on her own. To have her own space. To do what she wanted.
After all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the monkey bars.
If you didn’t catch the little boy’s mother on the park bench, you can catch her on Twitter here: @PeskyPippi.
I energetically mother three children: 14, 10, and 8, am married to my college sweetheart, and have two dogs. My life is full of laughs. eye rolls, love, and laundry. I'm friendly and genuine and blog about my bumbling life.