UNDAUNTED

I never did finish my thought in my last blog, did I?—when I said, “Arielle made a pair of…” Actually, she had a surprise for me when she came over to decorate the tree, one that also requires a backstory:

When she was a sophomore in high school, she decided she wanted to spend her junior year studying abroad—in Viterbo, a little town in Italy. That Christmas I went for the first time to Baubles and Beads, a store a few blocks from me, to buy the makings of a pair of green earrings for Emma—short for Emerald. (She had pierced ears while Arielle, who hated needles, didn’t.) And that became a springboard for Arielle and me to make earrings together—a new venture for both of us. This was the way she hoped to earn spending money for her year abroad. 

Now, bear in mind that only a year and a half before, she was nearly killed in a car accident. At age fourteen she’d gone on a summer program to Mexico. One night she and her host family were driving through the desert and hit an injured cow that was lying in the road. When I saw a picture of the car, I was astounded that Arielle had survived. As it was, she had a fractured shoulder blade and collarbone, six fractured ribs, a punctured lung, a fractured vertebra, and a concussion. If she hadn’t been handled so carefully after the accident, doctors at Stanford University hospital told her, she would have wound up paralyzed. And here she was (above), happily planning another foreign adventure.

On weekends throughout that spring, she set up a card table in front of her house and offered free cookies to customers who bought her earrings. There were plenty of passersby, since we live on the edge of Berkeley’s “gourmet ghetto.” (Ella even came up with a name for her little enterprise—Ear Candy.) Months passed, until one day Arielle announced she was ready to have her ears pierced. I’ve never worn much jewelry and had had no plans to get my ears pierced ever. Nevertheless, we headed down to Claire’s on Bay Street to do just that—only to discover that the shop was gone So a week later I got my ears pierced at another Claire’s, alone, because Arielle had changed her mind. Fast forward six years to last week—the day she dropped by after her arrival from Chicago. The first thing she did was pull back her long hair to show me the earrings she was wearing in her pierced ears—of her own design, of course.

So after we’d all had pizza and opened presents three days later, I brought out my earring supplies, and she made a new pair before going back to our puzzle. When I belatedly asked if she’d like to take a picture of them for my blog, she said she had already given them to a friend for Christmas, but she brought over a number of other earrings she’d designed for me to photograph.

HEAD ELF

Above is Arielle’s scrapbook page for Christmas 2010. It’s hard to get anything to stick to glitter paper, so we tried various adhesive embellishments to hold photos in place. The captions “Tree Hugger,” “Head Elf,” and “Spiked Eggnog” are hers. The pointed hat is a tree made of Christmas tree sequins I found at Pier I Imports.

ILLUMINED

And speaking of Lake Anza, in A Patchwork Memoir I wrote about another outing with Arielle, after Michael was born.

Leia and I are bundling Arielle, Michael, and all the lake gear into the car (which has got to be 150 degrees)—not a small production. There’s a large tote bag stuffed with diapers, swimsuits, towels, and food—things like rice cakes, sliced melon, and pistachios—a plastic hamper full of beach toys, plus the two inflated floats I bought. Of course, Arielle insists on bringing them both, and, as any parent knows, a two-year-old’s word is law.

But when it comes time to climb in the car herself, Leia can’t find her keys. “What did I do with them?” “I don’t know—I saw them in your hand a minute ago,” I say. We search fruitlessly between the car seats and among the bags until suddenly I spot them lying in the street near the curb. “Oh!” says Leia. “I forgot I dropped them.” Now at certain times of the month, I forget what I’m saying mid-sentence—again and again in the same paragraph—well, actually I don’t know if I’m in the same paragraph because I lose track of the subject I was discussing too, but anyway… I have an excuse—I’m peri-menopausal. Leia used to have one too; now she has two.

At the lake Arielle tries to put on her sunglasses upside down. We sit by a little inlet at the water’s edge that other kids have dug earlier. I bought Arielle some plastic fruit to put in her toy shopping cart, but, worse than a toddler when it comes to delayed gratification, I gave it to her even though I knew we were going to the lake. Now the miniature oranges and bananas and strawberries keep floating off, and one or the other of us has to chase after them.

The water is much clearer now than it was. It’s October and not many people are coming to the lake, though we’ve been having the hottest spell of the year. So it’s easy to see things lying on the lake bottom. It could be because the water isn’t so roiled up, but it could also be because the algae has died back. Yeah, come to think of it, my hair hasn’t been smelling so foul lately.

We go looking in the shallows for whatever we can find—leaves, stones, twigs, eucalyptus “acorns”… When I first plucked one of these out of the water last month, Arielle started to shriek. I think she thought it was some sort of big bug. Even now, I have to pick up each one first—she has to see that it doesn’t bite me, I suspect—before she’ll take it and throw it as far as she can, maybe three feet. This is the age kids start developing fears, Leia tells me.

When we took Arielle on the little steam train in Tilden Park last Sunday, she cried out “Mamia!” and shrank against Leia, keeping her face averted, her eyes as low as possible without actually closing them. Whenever the engine belched steam, she whispered, “Fire!” and refused to be reassured she was safe. Now I ask her, “Do you see any fish?” “No.” “Do you see any turtles?” “No.” “Do you see any crocodiles?” Serenely, “No.” There are fears and there are fears.

I ask her if she wants to build a castle. Again, “No.” She’s very definite about what she wants and what she doesn’t, her noes emphatic, her yeses as musical as birdsong. Bedeviled by indecision myself, I envy her her clarity.

“Hmmm…well… what else can we find?” I muse. “Hmmm…well…what esse can we find?” she mimics my intonation exactly, crouching down just like I do, my little shadow. If we all stayed as good at imitation as we were as toddlers, I think to myself, Robin Williams would be out of a job.

Leia snoozes for a while with Michael on a blanket in the shade, but when she brings him down to the water, a slender little blond girl comes near to peer at him. Possessively, Arielle rushes at her and pushes her away, then plants a kiss on Michael’s forehead like a flag, claiming him as her territory. “I’m not going to take him away,” the little stranger explains reasonably. Whereupon Arielle, mollified, lets her approach and watch Leia breast-feeding.

In Balinese culture, I’ve heard, they consider babies still so close to the divine that for the first six months they don’t even give them names; they don’t consider they belong to their parents or to the earth yet.

And that’s how Arielle appears to me—still brightly illumined by the divine.

ENERGIZER BUNNY

Rummaging through more of my boxes the other day, I came across a baggy with fold-dye—as opposed to tie-dye—art I made with my godkids when they were younger. Actually, I cautiously introduced Arielle to the technique when she was only two. That was the year I was busy writing A Patchwork Memoir—and just as I made a point of chronicling my outings with Earl, I described all my play dates with her:

When I arrive, two-year-old Arielle is napping on the sofa, so Leia and I talk a while to let her sleep. I tell her I’m going to give a presentation about my father at my second grief group tonight—and how nervous I am about it. Arielle’s still groggy after Leia rouses her—and looks disgruntled about being awakened.

“Did you have a dream?” I ask.

She shakes her head, rubbing one eye with her fist.

To reanimate her, I whip out an envelope with more stickers for her—cats, fish, and birds. It’s then that Leia brings out a book with waxy pages that’s already filled with every kind of sticker imaginable.

Luckily, I’ve got another ace up my sleeve. I cut paper towels into quarters, then fold the squares into different shapes, letting Arielle dip the points into bowls of food coloring—red, yellow, and blue. “Les see what’s inside,” she lisps, carefully unfolding each one so as not to tear it—a tricky business because once they’re saturated, they glom together. I don’t know if she can see that each bright kaleidoscopic pattern is different, but she’s properly enthusiastic, taking my word for it, I have a hunch, that they’re beautiful. One day she’ll have her own opinion, I think, but for now she’s satisfied to share mine. Each time I start to fold a new square, she politely asks, “Is that mine or yours?” though I invariably assure her, “It’s yours.” I was worried that this project might be too sophisticated for her—well, it is and it isn’t. Pretty soon I catch on that I’d better be the one to dunk the squares—sparingly!—into the blue dye, or by the time she gets done with all the unfolding, they’ll be murky brown messes. She loves to use her hands, I muse—I wonder what she’ll be? An artist?… musician?…surgeon? Already I’m look forward to bragging, “I knew her when…”

Two hours later we’ve got designs laid out on waxed paper all over the dining room floor. “When they’re dry, you can pick your favorites and hang them in the window,” I say. She continues to ignore even the Dutch crepes with honey that Leia has made us, though I’ve already wolfed mine down between foldings, and like the Energizer Bunny, she just keeps going and going.

OUR SCRAPBOOK

One of the things I’ll be featuring on my website is activities that kids and grownups can do together—like scrapbooking. The page above is from the scrapbook Arielle and I started when she was in elementary school, chronicling our favorite pastimes. “Us, Livin’ the Life” she titled the front cover we made out of bright poster board.

I designed the page above to celebrate our first play date, which Leia had arranged. (When I’d arrived at Live Oak Park, two-year-old Arielle was about to climb into a play-structure tube. Scampishly, I peered in the other end of it—and she waved me away with a scowl.)

At the start of our project, I took her to Scrapbook Territory on 4th St. down by the bay, which has to be the best scrapbook store ever—or should I say had to be? (I’m still not reconciled to it going out of business.) It had aisle after aisle after aisle of papers arranged by color, texture, or theme, an astonishing array of ribbons I still use for the doll clothes I make, fanciful adhesive letters, and every kind of—flat—miniature you can imagine.

Besides poster board for the covers and colorful papers, you and the child in your life will need:

Two metal rings, scissors, a hole punch, a ruler, glue dots in different sizes, a glue stick, adhesive letters, assorted stickers, colorful brads, ribbon, and, if your kid likes bling, also glitter, sequins and stick-on gems.

I would also recommend you buy a plastic 14” x 14” scrapbook bin for storing everything.

MY MUSES

Three more major players in my life are my godkids: Arielle, Michael, and Emma (for Emerald), as I mention in my long bio. From the beginning they’ve been a family of globetrotters. Maybe I should also mention that my friend Leia, their mom, is Dutch, and their dad, Manny, is Peruvian? Besides multiple trips to Hawaii, South America, and the usual European cities tourists visit, they’ve been to Sydney, Cairo, and Istanbul. And I’ve had the great good fortune to know all three kids from birth, since they live only three blocks away in a house Leia bought and renovated years ago. In A Patchwork Memoir I wrote a vignette I called “Movie Star.”

Leia says this time she’s going to have a water birth, that she remembered what I’d said about the documentary I saw—how the babies delivered this way sometimes smile at birth. So she’s rented a tub and installed it in the master bedroom.

We’re sitting on towels at Lake Anza, eating bite-sized chunks of watermelon. Arielle, just turned two, is wearing psychedelic sunglasses, feather ponytail bands, and a neon Minnie Mouse swimsuit. “She’s a little movie star, isn’t she?” says the woman on the next blanket. Oh, she’s way beyond cute.

Leia says when they’re out walking and come to an intersection, she tells Arielle, “Stay close!” And Arielle takes her mother’s hand and presses her cheek against it as they cross the street together.

I tell her how my friend Marcia’s two-year-old, Wesley, makes his little plastic action figures kiss and made up after a skirmish. When he thinks he’s done something wrong, he announces he needs a time-out, then goes into his playhouse and whimpers to be let out.

“Callie, come!” Arielle calls back as she trots down to the water’s edge. I obey.

“You’ve made a cake!” I exclaim when she pours a little pile of sand out of a plastic cup. “But it needs in a candle.” So I stick in a twig I find. She starts to rock from side to side. “Happy Birsday to you, Happy Birsday to you…” she lisps in a soft, sweet voice. Marilyn would have eaten her heart out.