I haven’t yet been able to find words—
a sentence for what happens when I brush
my daughter’s hair and divide into thirds
enough hair for a family of four
(one barber said, the rare one I trusted).
Honeycomb-colored braid, she’s out the door
for school (green coat, pink backpack), and rushing
right on time, little Virgo, to the bus.
One-woman-show with harmonies, alone—
amazed, bowed down (deep inhale) O the joy
contained in waves on waves: a shimmering song
my daughter’s hair sings as she floats
each afternoon high up into a tree.
Against the clouds she climbs, far beyond me.
~Megan Buchanan “My Daughter’s Hair”, from Clothesline Religion
She was born with the announcement from the doctor: “we have a bunch of red hair here on this little lady!”
Then as a little girl her hair was straight as could be, until one day she woke up with hints of waves and ringlets which eventually became a virtual thicket of auburn tresses.
No longer could I quickly comb through her hair or even trust myself with scissors. Instead I stood back in awe, with my thin straight hair, marveling at how this could happen to a child of mine. This was her daddy’s hair.
Her amazing mane is but one part of who this remarkable woman has become, these endless waves, yet it is only the surface of a strong light that dwells richly within her. Now, as a teacher of 10 year olds, she floats among children who someday will transform overnight as she did. She is part of determining who they will become, her effect on them like a wave upon wave upon wave.
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Back to school no longer is the day after Labor Day as it was when I was growing up. Some students have been in classes for a couple weeks now, others started a few days ago to ease into the transition more gently. Only a few are starting today: school buses roar past our farm brimming with young faces, new clothes and shoes, stuffed back packs and a fair amount of dread and anxiety.
I remember well that foreboding that accompanied a return to school — the strict schedule, the inflexible rules and the painful reconfiguration of social hierarchies and friend groups. Even as a good learner and obedient student, I felt I was a square peg being pushed into a round hole when I returned to the classroom, so the students who struggled academically and who pushed against the boundaries of rules must have felt even more so. We all felt alien and inadequate to the immense task before us to fit in with each other, allow teachers to open our minds to new thoughts, and to become something more than who we were.
Growth is so very hard, our stretching so painful, the tug and pull of potential friendships stressful. As my own children now make this annual transition to a new school year as teachers, and as I prepare for the new students who will soon be under my care, I take a deep breath on a foggy morning and am immediately taken back to the fears of a skinny little girl in a new home-made corduroy jumper and saddle shoes, waiting for the bus on a wooded country road.
She is still me — just buried deeply in the fog of who I have become, under all the piled-on layers of learning and growing and stretching — but I do remember her well. She could use a hug.
The ten years between these pictures could not possibly have flown by more quickly. Our three children could no longer “fit” in a little cave on our favorite west Vancouver Island beach, but we still could spend a few days together appreciating each others’ company as five adults. The games around the table in the beach cabin were a bit more competitive, the conversation quite a bit deeper, the meals prepared by expert 21 year old hands, and much of the time everyone had their nose in a book. When we all climbed into the hot tub together, we displaced a lot more water. However, we still worked to build a sand castle with a moat in order to watch the incoming tide, much like the tide of time, collapse it with a few swiping crashing waves.
Now leaping forward six years, there are more wonderful changes, increasing the complexity of being all in one place as a family. With the addition of two daughters-in-law with our sons on either side of the globe, we can now gather “virtually” to break bread together. Building a sand castle to watch it wash away has become the stuff of memories.
There is much about our family that remains the same even as we have expanded and now dwell thousands of miles apart. I rest in that knowledge. I’m simply asking for the passage of time to take its time washing us back to sea.
The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the last summer.
The wind blowing, the leaves
shivering in the sun,
each day the last day.
A red salamander
so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily
moves his delicate feet
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go.
Each minute the last minute.
To think that this meaningless thing was ever a rose,
Scentless, colourless, this!
Will it ever be thus (who knows?)
Thus with our bliss,
If we wait till the close?
Though we care not to wait for the end, there comes the end
Sooner, later, at last,
Which nothing can mar, nothing mend:
An end locked fast,
Bent we cannot re-bend.
~Christina Rossetti “Summer is Ended”
As now school buses drone past the farm,
no longer bearing our children away to greater knowledge,
as they each have caught rides far beyond my reach.
I recall each first day of school feels like a day of mourning
each “last” of summer a loss, each ending so bent
I find no strength to bend it back carefree,
and I must learn, once more, with each “last”,
how fleeting the bliss of this life.
And once, for no special reason,
I rode in the back of the pickup,leaning against the cab.
Everything familiar was receding fast…
Whatever I saw
I had already passed…
(This must be what life is like
at the moment of leaving it.)
~Jane Kenyon from “What It’s Like”
Moving forward, looking back at what is already passed.
Our children begin coming home today for their summer visits….