Forgiveness and Scrambled Eggs

Childhood... full of uncomfortable, awkward moments.

Childhood… full of uncomfortable, awkward moments.

Miles run Wednesday: 10

Near-maimings by a golf cart while on 10-mile run: 1

Miles to be run today: 4.5

I had a great childhood.

This is not a popular thing to say if publishers are, say, wanting to publish a memoir about someone’s years addicted to heroin or how someone’s parents drove them out into a field to be raised by wild dogs.

When I hear my peers talking about whether kids benefit from staying at home or being in daycare, I can speak about both: I had a stay-at-home mom for a while, a part-time stay-at-home mom, went to daycare for a few years and spent time as a latchkey kid. All pretty good, all things considered.

During the daycare years, I spent time at four different daycares; five if you count the hippy-dippy one I enjoyed for one week while we were living in an apartment just after a big move.

There is enough material for several posts about My Time in Daycare. For today, let me tell you all about the week-long, hippy-dippy one.

We had just moved to Atlanta, and we were living in some kind of new job-subsidized apartment until our house was ready. The apartment seemed cool to me, but my mom said that roaches the size of Rottweilers came out at night after my sister and I were already asleep.

While my mom and dad were working, or whatever they did during the day, my sister and I went to this daycare inside a large house in Buckhead.

There were lots of old-growth trees shading the house, and the lighting inside left a lot to be desired.

The kitchen took up the entire center of the house: a large, open, galley-style kitchen staffed with good-natured counselors who had big dreams of teaching 9-year-olds to cook long before the Food Network was even a gleam in a hungry executive’s eye. We got to help cook scrambled eggs and toast, and we were treated like short adults.

The outside area of the house was blessedly shady, unlike most daycare playgrounds of the era. July in Atlanta is not known for being cool. There was a chain-link fence around the small perimeter and swings and climbing equipment. The ground throughout was reminiscent of the Dust Bowl.

As a rising fourth-grader, I was one of the big kids, and a few of the older kids made friends with me right away. We hung out near the playground equipment, but we were too old and jaded to actually climb on it.

We also went on roller-skating field trips and took a turn at bowling.

Everyone was perfectly nice to me.

But I had a secret weakness. One that made my mom shake her head in agony.

I forgot to ask people their names.

Then, months later, it was too late to ask. It was horribly embarrassing, and every time, I would coach myself: remember to ask their names. But in this peaceful, commune-style setting, the scrambled eggs had thrown me off my game.

And one tall kid who had been kind to me… well, I wasn’t sure if it was even a boy or a girl. He/she had short hair, either a Dorothy Hamill cut or a boy bowl cut. Which was it? It tortured me in bed at night while the roaches were having their way with my mom and dad.

You would think that hearing the other kids call his/her name on the playground would be a good clue. But here was the problem:

It was either Jane or Jame(s). Which actually sound incredibly similar in kid parlance.

I had two more days of daycare before we moved out to The Burbs. It was time to find out, once and for all.

We were standing out on the cement patio, the dusty red clay swirling around us. Kelly, a girl who was clearly a girl and who I had trusted to be my friend for lo, these three days, was right there. And Jane/James was turned away.

So I leaned over and whispered to Kelly, “Is the name Jane or James?”

Kelly leaned back and looked me over, then grinned.

“Jane! Jane! Anne thinks you’re a boy!”

Awkward.

Jane turned around, and I studied her face as she studied mine.

I felt sorry for her, that she would be stuck here with Fair Weather Friend Kelly, who obviously didn’t have Girl Jane’s best interests at heart.

Poor Jane, embarrassed by the newcomer (me), unprotected by her so-called friend, and still, as far as I could tell, devoid of any gender identity.

We eyed each other carefully. “You thought I was a boy?” she said.

“No!” I choked out. “I couldn’t understand what people were calling you. Some girls have boy names; I don’t know!”

Jane turned out to be a forgiving sort. “Yeah, it’s Jane. Now let’s go make some lunch.”

I breathed out.

And I made a pact with myself to learn the names of every kid at my new daycare, a place unlikely to serve up forgiveness along with scrambled eggs.

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Backseat Navigation, Eyes Closed

You can only imagine where you’ll end up.

Words written in novel so far: 14,696

Miles run yesterday: 4.5

Days of school until summer: 2 1/2

I can’t lie and say I never got bored as a child, mostly because my mom would shout to the world, “LIAR!”

But even with all of the free time in the summer, I remember being bored less during those long, lazy days.

Some years, I was in daycare, roller skating to Kool & The Gang and The Beatles. I was all about the disco ball but unfortunately never mastered skating backwards with proficiency.

On hot afternoons, we sat under trees on the playground and French-braided each other’s hair.

When I got a little older, I owned time. Time had no value or boundaries, and I rolled around in it, let it spill over me in an abundance I would never know again.

I love the pool; we used to spend hours there and never got bored. I love to read; just lying on my bed with nothing to do but read The Once and Future King was my idea of heaven.

But one of my favorite things was when my friend and I would say, “We’re bored! What can we do?” and her mom, who looked like a Skipper doll and often burst out into “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To,” would say, “Get in the car.”

She had a little white car (make and model unknown; see why here), and we would stretch out in the hatchback section and close our eyes.

“Here we go!” she would sing out.

My friend and I would pay attention to each turn: left on Emory, right on Holt, right into the high school parking lot… no, maybe that was the next right, into the church. Dangit!

Once you got off track, it was impossible to salvage the Navigation Game. But we tried. Oh boy, did we try.

Summer is here again. I want those fun memories for my kids. And I also want to write my novel and see its progress… I want happy memories of this summer for me, too.

As a fiction writer, they say there are two types of writers: the Outliners and the Pantsers (as in Seat of Your Pants).

I’m a Pantser for the most part. I have an idea of where the plot is going, but I’m always sad when I see that something bad has to happen to one of my beloved characters.

I’m in the backseat, eyes closed, visualizing the left on Emory, right on Holt, driving, driving… but we didn’t turn at the high school like I thought we might. Oh? We’re still driving? Wow. All the way to Lower Roswell?

With writing and with summer break, the most gratifying part is that there are still surprises around every corner.

This summer, there will be the pool, there will be lazy afternoons of reading, but if my kids give me a precious few hours of writing time each week, maybe one day, I’ll say, “Get in the car.”

They will climb in the minivan, close their eyes and get ready to play the Navigation Game.

This time, only I will know where we end up.