Bunny in a Basket

Weather wizards are implying a decent Easter weekend. Warm enough for plastic eggs to be hidden outside amid rapidly growing daffodils while avoiding winter piles of rabbit turds.

My husband remembers Easter egg hunting as a wonderful annual event in Indiana. Every single year while our kids were growing up he was disappointed by rain, or slush, or plain old snow and would tell them about how the Easter Bunny hid eggs and treats outside when he was a child. The stories returned when a grandchild appeared. And we watched her search for plastic eggs and her basket in snow last year. This year will be different.

Now there is a reality check-my husband’s brother and sister don’t have that same Easter memory. They remember wearing winter coats to church on Easter a number of years, other years when sleet froze the daffodils, and maybe one or two years that all came together in the way he holds as the “every year” family happening. One time we took our children to Indiana for Easter and an outdoor egg hunt. Part of the drive included iced over car windows and slipping on icy roads from Indianapolis to his hometown. Not even living bunnies were out that morning.

My father’s parents had a tradition (I was told) of giving us live critters for Easter—little chicks or bunnies or a kitten. There are pictures of me as a toddler with a skeptical face as a real, live bunny sits in a pretty basket next to me. Being rural and practical, my grandparents insisted my parents take these critters home to become future egg bearers or dinner. I never heard what happed to the kitten, but I assumed it went elsewhere because my mother hated cats. And the bunny? It’s fate was settled after biting me on the finger and chin. Again, that is what I was told, and knowing the players I believe it to be true.

One year my mother and father fully celebrated the end of the Easter Vigil with friends. That night they did hide our eggs outside. My mother planted them next to the back porch and set the chocolate bunnies next to the row of colored shells to protect future egg trees. These were not plastic eggs or plastic wrapped bunnies. She was too sick to supervise the morning hunt. My dad did what he could to pull some fun into setting dirty eggs and messed up chocolate bunnies in our baskets. After church, we headed to our grandparents for clean jellybeans and the annual disagreement about taking home live chicks. 

Eventually we moved to a city. My parents changed friends. Easter became safe fun followed by Mass where we squirmed about in new church clothes. Two states south my future husband, a time or two, searched outside for eggs and other surprises appropriately hidden.

May your holiday be peaceful. Peace for our country is all I want in my basket. Save the bunny.

Barbie, Midge, Robin and Me

The father of my best friend Robin owned a tool business franchise which provided two young girls with opportunities to fill bins in his wonderful red truck, to bake cookies he could share with customers, and access to dozens of interesting empty boxes.

Robin attended 95thStreet School and I went to parochial school, but we had matching pencil boxes in our desks. Most kids found a source for cigar boxes, but we had decorated paper boxes not needed in his truck into unique containers with compartments for pencils, color pencils, scissors and such. We didn’t know each other’s school friends, but we shared something deeper: hours of playing with Barbie, Midge, Skipper and Ken in wonderful houses, stores, airplanes and schools constructed out of even more empty boxes.

When the weather was cold, Robin’s basement became a town for an afternoon of play. Her Barbie had a flight attendant outfit, mine had a tailored suit. We shared a plastic pseudo-Barbie car that took one to the airport and the other to an imaginary office. Neither of us knew anyone who worked in an office or flew on planes so eventually the story turned back to all the dolls sitting at little box desks with one Barbie, attired in a skirt and sweater, called teacher.

Robin had an older sister and we both had moms so we knew real women weren’t built like our Barbie crew, but we didn’t know flight attendants, nurses, doctors, brides, or girls who wore wonderful ballgowns. Our parents didn’t buy us Barbie’s plastic house or bedroom furniture, but Robin’s dad shared tape and scissors and boxes to build furniture and a variety of workshop towels to make blankets. We stood next to him in his wood working shop as he made small frames and blocks that could extend our Barbie furniture building. We learned how to sand.

Our Barbie phase lasted less than a year, a simple time when we creatively explored, built and did what kids are supposed to do. Parents helped feed our play then stepped back. And we did okay. And I wish I could say thanks to Robin’s father and all the other parents who stepped out over the years with camping trips or garden planting or an evening at the opera to expand the world beyond the girl toys of Barbie and her crew. And those who do that today as  they parent another generation of kids.

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Are You My Mother?

In the classic children’s picture book Are You My Mother? a newly hatched bird falls from its nest and wanders about asking that question of a kitten, a hen, a dog, and a few inanimate objects. He is clueless about his own identity and terribly lost.

You may have been nurtured by a mother possessing all the perfection of Caroline Ingalls or struggled through childhood with a parent who took lessons from Hamlet’s Queen Gertrude. For most people growing up in Mom’s kitchen fell in a more safe and boring middle ground with measured opportunities to learn about yourself and the world. A place where Mom, trusted adults, books, television and other kids helped answer questions whether insignificant or intense.

The maker of peanut butter sandwiches, enforcer of daily tooth brushing, comforter of physical or emotional injuries, was just a woman who happened to be older than you. She wasn’t gifted by the gods with amazing knowledge, a graduate of a secret parenting program, or anywhere near perfect. She didn’t know why 9/11 happened, how to stop social injustice, who to call about global warming. Her job was to make sure you felt loved and protected, often difficult work in an imperfect world.

Discovering that your mother has a masters in labor economics, hides a bag of bodice busters in the closet, holds strong feelings about mutual funds versus annuities, was married before she met your father suggests a richness in this woman’s life that has nothing to do with your existence. This is the school where she learned the mirepoix that flavored every scold, joke or counsel.

Even when the person who mothered you becomes too old or fragile to cook a really good dinner or read a favorite author without help, there will still be unknowns to explore in the woman who taught you to fake burp, to connect cables on a sound system, to ask your boss for more responsibility, to speak in many voices so your child giggles as you read Are You My Mother?.

 

Reprinted from cynthiakraack.com May 9, 2015

Pomp, Circumstance, and the Power of Possibility

Hearing “Pomp and Circumstance” always makes my eyes water a little. The music cues a range of emotions—often a bittersweet sense of endings and fresh starts and occasionally, inspiration.

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High school graduations carry the most emotional freight.

Between 14 and 18, teenagers learn and change so much in the intense, sometimes toxic, sometimes wonderful environment of high school.

If asked how they feel about leaving high school, many seniors would speak of boredom and escape: Can’t. Wait. To. Get. Out. Of. Here.

Often sadness is also mixed in, especially for students who thrived in high school. Their friends are scattering. The jokes, heartaches, and triumphs they shared in the classroom, on stage, in sports, during study hall, and in the lunchroom will never happen again in quite the same way.

Whether or not they admit it, most graduating seniors are also uncertain about what’s next. They may talk the talk, “I’m going to the U in the fall,” or “I’m looking for work,” or “I’m enlisting,” but deep down they’re scared of the unknown even if they welcome the change.

These emotions are common and expected, but no less important because they are familiar.

Every year, there are people for whom high school graduation means even more.

I recently read about a student in Florida who graduated at the top of his class in 2014, despite being homeless much of his senior year. His mother died of leukemia when he was 6, and he, his father and older brother were frequently homeless. Despite that, he was determined to succeed

I am also reminded of a student at my youngest son’s high school graduation. The evening was stormy, so his class of nearly 900 and their families crammed into the school. My husband and I were exhausted after being up most of the night with my elderly parents, who’d fallen and injured themselves the prior evening.

The gym was hot and we were sweaty. “Pomp and Circumstance” played over and over and over as wave after wave of graduates crossed the stage. I was proud of our son but also preoccupied with my parents’ health. Getting to the “S’s” took a long while. I tried to keep my eyes open.

Shortly after our son got his diploma, a roar went up in the crowd. I focused my grainy eyes to find the source of the commotion. A dark-haired boy who had always used a wheelchair stood up and walked across the stage unassisted. I didn’t know him, but his determination and accomplishment brought tears to my eyes.

These stories have such sweetness and power to inspire. Whenever I hear the first notes of “Pomp and Circumstance,” I’m reminded of the power of possibility.

Do-Overs

September 9th 477Picking up flowers for Crystel’s 13th birthday I realized how true it is for me that I live my past through my kids.

I don’t remember my 13th birthday.

I don’t remember my mother ever buying me flowers.

Of course, she had 12 children and buying flowers wasn’t on the top of her grocery list. Even remembering all of the birthdays was challenging for her.

That’s why Antonio and Crystel get a birthday week with a gift each day. It’s my do-over.

Two years ago, Crystel traded in her birthday week for an Amazing Race birthday party complete with clues, drivers, and unknown destinations.

All of us had so much fun that I didn’t even wait for her to ask this year.

I started planning an Amazing Race birthday weekend nine months ahead of time at Briggs Farm in Winona for both Antonio and Crystel. Their birthdays are only six weeks apart. The surprise Mankato Mud Run the next day was declared the highlight of the race by the participants.

Mankato Mud Run

Mankato Mud Run

This upping the ante started when their first tooth came out. It wasn’t a quarter under a pillow. It was a treasure hunt with clues written by the tooth fairy that led to a final gift. Some people warned Jody and I that once you start big you have to keep it going. That never bothered me. I didn’t want to stop. Perhaps I was doing a do-over for the tooth I lost on Christmas Eve one year. I figured that the stuff under my pillow was the same stuff that was in the other kids Christmas sock.

Not to say my mom didn’t try she did.

My favorite birthday was when I was 4 and I got a gun. It wasn’t a real gun but still my four older brothers wanted it and took turns shooting at the target across the room. Finally when they went to school I got to use it. Probably good it wasn’t real because when I did get my hands on a BB gun I shot one of my brothers just above the eye. Later when I was 12 and received a 20 gauge shotgun, I shot the pickup two brothers were sitting in. Accidentally, of course.

As I carry the flower bouquet to the car I think of how some things don’t require a do-over. Guns, for example. I’ll take them to a shooting range for that.