Whisper 1.42

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Marigold takes over the bedtime story routine.

“I love it, Mom!” she says. “It’s so fun to read these stories that I loved so much as a kid.”

“It’s not boring to you?” I ask.

“If it is, I just make up a new story.”

I hear her with Patches.

“They always tell you to dream. To live! They say ‘magic is in your heart!’ I’m here to tell you that magic is all around us, and dreams are OK, but what’s more important are the feelings they evoke. Rather than ‘follow your dreams,’ I say, ‘follow your feelings.’ Love, inspiration, peace, enthusiasm–let these be your guides! Then your life will be rich.”

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It’s her valedictorian speech. I’ve heard it a hundred times already, as she walks through the house practicing.

“Do you like the message?” she asks me.

“Very much,” I say, reflecting that it took me a lifetime to learn that lesson. I imagine the students sitting in the auditorium. Will they listen to her? Or will they each be so wrapped in the membrane of their own dreams that their ears close while their eyes follow the chimera of all they hope to make real?

The night before graduation, we celebrate Marigold’s birthday. Though frost lies on the ground, she wants to have the party outside.

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We’re all there to celebrate: Annie and Mara Nix, Pip, Bobobo, Patches, Gator Wolff, and more friends.

“Let me go change,” Marigold says. She runs inside and when she returns, she’s dressed like a go-go Greek goddess. “All set!” she says.

And we cheer.

I have lived to see this bunny become a young woman. I exhale the breath that I’ve been holding these past five years. Wish granted.

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That night, I read Patches her story. I don’t know how many more chances I’ll have for bedtime stories.

“Is it true that feelings are more important than dreams?” she asks me.

“They’re both important,” I say. “Feelings lie at the deeper level, at the core. And the dreams, they’re just one of many pointers to the feelings. You can follow the dreams or follow the feelings, Little Patches, whichever feels right to you. Just don’t mistake the pointers for the real thing, OK?”

“Like the moon story?” she asks. I look at her quizzically. “The finger isn’t the moon.”

“Exactly,” I say.

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I live to see my daughter walk out of our house wearing her cap and gown. This is the valedictorian, top of her class. She’s been rehearsing her speech all morning.

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I feel tears of gratitude, pride, and relief as I head out to the cab. This is what I’ve prayed for, that I would live to see Marigold graduate. I’ve accomplished what I set out to all those years ago when she was brought to me, a funny little bunny in a basket, and now, she is a young woman, ready to inspire and lead others. What a miracle.

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I tell Marigold that I’m proud of her, and then we fall into the silence of our thoughts as we wait for Patches and Bobobo to join us in the cab.

I realize that it’s been a long time since I’ve heard the whispering voice.

Maybe you have integrated it into yourself, so there’s no longer a need to hear it as if from without.

Maybe so.

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Patches and I follow the trail of daisies that Bobobo leads into the auditorium.

“Think I’ll graduate one day?” Patches asks me.

“Absolutely,” I say.

“Will you be proud of me?” she asks.

“I’m proud of you already, Patches,” I say, “and nothing will ever change that.”

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Marigold’s speech is received with cheers and a standing ovation. Her classmates vote her “Most likely to take over the world.” Bobobo looks at me and says, “How’d she get that job? That’s supposed to me mine!”

When we get home, Marigold and Patches play chess, and I look out the window, watching Bobobo as he rides his rocking horse, deep in concentration. I will not see him graduate and become a young man, this I know. But I’ve seen him grow into a young sprout, and with his sister, I can trust that he’ll receive the guidance that he needs. She’s got more strength and wisdom than I could ever muster. He’ll be in good hands.

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Whisper 1.40

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Tomorrow will be Bobobo’s first day of school, and I’m still here to see it.

“Will there be kids there at school?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say. “That’s pretty much what school is about.”

“Yuck,” he says. “I should really stay here with you.”

But we agree that he’ll try it. I have a feeling he’ll love learning, even if he does choose to spend recess talking to the librarian to avoid what he calls “the stupid conversations” that kids have.

While Bobobo is getting ready for bed, we notice silence. We have a portable keyboard outside, and some stranger had sat down to play it all evening. We didn’t mind, for the music was lovely–Chopin preludes, which sound amazing on electric keyboard.

But when the music stops mid-passage, I look out the window.

It’s a sight I know all too well.

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We race out.  We’re crushed, having to witness this yet again. No matter how many times I’ve seen a reaping, it never gets easier.

Bobobo stands behind me and giggles.

When I turn to look at him, he’s chanting, “One down. Six billion, nine hundred million, and ninety-nine one thousands to go!”

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I worry about him sometimes.

The next day, he and Marigold hop on the school bus together.

“Have fun!” I call after them. I’m hoping that Bobobo will be decent, at least, to the other kids.

With the kids gone, I have no distractions for my grief. I’m still mourning Frank. I have witnessed so many passings. I’ve lost so many old friends and a lover. And no reaping has hit me harder than this. I feel that I never realized how I’d counted on Frank’s support and the warm way he made me feel. And now he’s gone, and I can’t thank him.

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We have so many angels in our lives–do we even recognize them when they are here?

I make a mental note to tell the kids how much I love them today, before they go to bed, and to let them know how grateful I am to have had a chance to care for them.

When school’s out, Marigold calls to ask to go over the Wolffs, and Bobobo asks to go home with a new friend. That’s wonderful! He made a friend!

When they come home, I ask them how it went.

“Did you do your homework?”

“First thing,” says Marigold, trying hard not to roll her eyes.

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“I played video games first,” says Bobobo. “Get the brain-juice pumping, you know!”

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“I played video games second,” said Marigold. “The Wolffs have awesome games!”

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“I did my homework second,” said Bobobo. “It is very stupid.”

“Did you finish?” I ask.

“Of course!” He says. “What’s the point of half-stupid when you could have whole-stupid! Duh!”

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“As long as it’s done,” I say. “Then what did you do?”

“I talked to Patches. I had to tell her all about school. She thought it was silly to be at someone else’s house.”

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After supper, Dante joins us. It’s the first time we’ve been together in the living room, all four of us.

“It’s a picture postcard of the perfect family,” I say.

Dante chuckles.

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“Mom, I’ll read Bobobo his bedtime story tonight,” says Marigold. She’s looking at Dante when she says that, so I figure she is being considerate, letting us have an evening together.

While she selects Bobobo’s book, I come up beside her.

“I’m so proud of you, Bunny,” I whisper in her ear. “I love you the whole moon over.”

She giggles. “Mom! Your whispers tickle!”

I kiss Bobobo. “I could eat you, little Sprout,” I say. “I bet you’d taste great with ranch dressing.”

He makes a sound like tiny explosions in his mouth.

“I love you, Mischief,” I tell him. “You are a miracle and an amazement, and I’m so lucky to be your mom.”

“Same, same,” he says. “Green Tea.”

I stand at the door and watch them while Marigold begins the story.

“Every story starts with magic,” she says, “for that’s where we can find what is true!”

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Dante stands behind me, and I can feel the pulsing of the red light of his heart.

“How did we get such kids, sweet?” he asks.

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“We must have dreamed them,” I say, and he wraps his arms made of red light around me and I feel on the outside that same warmth that spreads through me inside. I’ve lived another day.

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Whisper 1.37

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One afternoon, in early spring, the sun comes out. The valley is brighter than I’ve ever seen it. I hear geese honking and I look up to see a V flying west. I remember that afternoon back in college, a whole lifetime ago, when a flock of geese flew in formation through a rainbow. That was a moment when I felt connected to everything and life fell together for me. Remembering that moment, reflecting on how much life I’ve lived in between then and now, it all comes together again. I feel, just for this very moment, in step with destiny.

When I come inside, Bobobo marches through the bedroom. He leaves a trail of flowers, but he has a scowl on his face.

“What’s wrong, little sprout?” I ask him.

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“I want Dino Croc!” he says.

I follow him into the living room where he grabs his crocodile dinosaur toy and tackles it in a squeeze of a hug.

“Baby!” he says.

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Later, I find him playing with blocks at the activity table.

“Green!” he squeals, rolling the green block between his palms. “Green, green, only every green!”

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When he plays the xylophone, I notice that he mostly hits the green note. Every time he does, he laughs and calls out “Green!” But on the rare occasions that he hits red or blue, he says, “No! Bad red! Bad blue!”

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That afternoon, while Zoey watches Marigold finish her homework, Bobobo plays with the peg box toy. Once again, he favors the green blocks.

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While we’re reading, I point out all the colors. “Look, it’s a red cat. There’s an orange house. See the pink flower?”

“Stupid,” he says. “Green is best.”

“What do you like about green?” I ask.

“Plant!” he replies.

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In the morning, we see that the snow has melted overnight. It’s raining, and the air smells fresh. After Marigold goes to school, Bobobo and I take a trip to the bookstore. He laughs at the rain. “Grow! Grow!” he giggles.

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“Look!” I say. “There’s Arkvoodle’s space ship!”

“Arkvoodle green!” says Bobobo. “Arkvoodle is good.”

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“Mom,” Marigold says while she’s working out. “I think my brother is obsessed.”

“You mean with green things?” I ask.

“Yeah,” she says. “He’s nuts.”

“It’s normal for smart children to have strong interests and preferences,” I say. “Do you remember how you felt about Lamber?”

“But that’s different!” she says. “Lamber is a lamb! Lambs are cool! What’s so good about green?”

“Plants!” says Bobobo.

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We laugh.

“OK, Sprout,” says Marigold. “You’ve got a point there! And just to show I agree, I’m doing my homework outside. In the garden. With the plants. Because, you know, plants are smart.”

“Yup,” he says. “Grow smart, green!”

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It’s the night of Spring Prom. After Marigold finishes her homework, she puts Bobobo to sleep.

“I’ve got to go out, little brother,” I hear her say, “so you be good for our mom, OK?”

Marigold has started looking out for me, helping out more around the house and encouraging me not to work too hard.

“I’m not decrepit,” I protest.

“No,” she replies, “but you’re ancient. And I want you to become even ancienter.”

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She grumbles when the limo pulls up. “I really did petition for a Prius after last prom,” she says. “I’ll be riding the bike back again when it’s over.”

“Call me when it’s done. And we’re expecting snow again, so ride safe!”

“OK, Mom,” she says.

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The baby’s asleep, Marigold is out, and Dante comes.

“How’s your day, sweet?” he asks.

“Good,” I say, “and even better now.”

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We talk about the weather. It’s snowing again.

He looks at me with tender concern.

“What’s wrong?” he asks. “Are you tired?”

I know that I can’t cheat fate, and that there’s a timing to everything, but I admit that I’ve got a special wish.

“Bobobo and Marigold, I want them to be able to stay kids as long as they can. I’m worried that if I leave soon, they’ll have to grow up and they won’t get real childhoods. I’m getting old, Dante.”

“You’re right that fate has its own calendar,” Dante says. “I never expected to go when I did. I can’t say that I regret it, though, when I think about what’s come to pass. With you, and everything, here at your home.”

“Our home,” I say.

“Our home.” When we finish talking, he takes out the trash and looks around to see if there’s anything else that needs doing.

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Bobobo wakes.

“Story!” he shouts from his crib.

“Which one?” I ask.

“Giants!” he says.

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Marigold calls as we finish the Giant book.

“I’m on my way home!” she says.

“It’s icy!” I say. “Ride safe!”

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We’re on the alphabet book when she comes home.

“How was the dance?” I ask.

“Same old,” she says. “Chet ignored me, I got rejected for a dance, I got in a fight, I got voted Prom Queen. Everybody looked really great all dressed up, though!”

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We look at her prom photo.

“You look like some kind of kung fu Prom Queen,” I say.

Everybody was kung fu dancing!” she sings.

“Magic Sissy!” says Bobobo. We look again and agree. She does look like a sorceress casting a spell.

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The children are asleep when I wake early the next morning. The ground is blanketed in snow, and the mountains to the south begin to glow with the sun’s rosy light. It’s dawn, on a snowy spring morning. I feel young inside, the same way I did when I was a child, and I feel hopeful. Every shard of hope brings a slice of pain–what if the hope doesn’t hold?

But as I gaze over the valley, in the silence of the predawn moments, peace descends, and it’s a peace that stills the chatter of hope and its promises, leaving behind something more real: acceptance. Fate is greater than the boldest hope. And in this long life, I’ve learned that fate, or destiny, or that-what-is, when met with acceptance, leads to the mystery which contains the seed of joy. Let it be, whatever it will be.

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Whisper 1.36

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It’s winter, and we throw a gift exchange. The pile of presents stands taller than Bobobo.

Mike Nix cheers. “Maybe I’ll finally get a guitar!” he says. I hope so, though I don’t spy any guitar-case shaped boxes.

We invite Chet again, and he continues to ignore Marigold. “That’s OK,” she tells me. “Let’s think of him as a family friend, not my particular friend.”

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When the holidays are over, I settle in to a regular routine with teaching Bobobo. I learned from my experience with Marigold, and so we follow set times for activities and set times for bed. I’m hoping that maintaining a schedule will make it easier for him when he starts school.

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He’s so quick, and he masters walking within an afternoon.

I have a hard time keeping his attention while practicing talking with him, so I just start rambling on about articles I’d been reading.

“And so it does seem that some plants benefit from toxic radiation,” I say.

“Toxic radiation,” he repeats, saying his first words.

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“Bobobo! You said something! I love you!”

“I love it.”

“What do you love?”

“Toxic radiation!” He giggles.

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I’m guessing he doesn’t know what the words mean and he just likes the sound of them.

When it’s story time, he asks for “Plant Book.”

I find a picture book with drawings of ferns and flowers, and I make up a story for him.

“The fern said, ‘I will shade your bed,’ and the little brownie piled up the leaves into a nice mattress and fell sound asleep, with sweet dreams of clover flowers.”

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While he plays, he likes to hear me sing the barley song.

“Oats, peas, beans, and barley grow.
Oats, peas, beans, and barley grow.
Nor you, nor I, nor any can know
How oats, peas, beans, and barley grow.”

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When I finish, he sings his own version.

“Toxic radiation, oh!
Sky is blue, the clouds are go.

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“Nor you nor smile
Nor any go-go

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“Goodbye go go
Toxic oh!”

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“What are you singing about, little sprout?” I ask.

“People bye-bye. Plants grow sky high! That’s toxic ray-dee-ay-shon-Oh!”

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I feel a little alarmed. He doesn’t really understand what he’s saying, does he? He’s just a baby.

I watch him later when he’s sleeping in his sister’s arms, like an angel. I’m sure he just likes the sounds of the words, without comprehending their meaning.

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Whisper 1.35

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We invite Marigold’s “mutual crush” to one of our parties.

“Mom, I think I’m over it,” Marigold says. “He never talks to me or even looks at me. I sort of want a crush who at least acknowledges I’m alive.”

“Maybe he’s shy,” I say.

But when he takes a spot in the middle of the dance floor and spins a move, I think he’s not shy after all.

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He is very cute. I wonder if he’s showing off for Marigold, hoping that she’ll make the first move.

Bobobo has become a toddler.

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He makes the funniest faces.

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I call Shea now and then to check in and give him updates. I still feel a little unsure of caring for a plant baby, and I want to do the right thing.

“Sometimes he’s cross-eyed,” I tell Shea.

“Always?” Shea asks.

“No, just sometimes.”

“He’s probably messing with you,” Shea says. “No worries!”

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Shea assures me that all he really needs is love and attention.

“Plants are easy,” he says. “Love us and we grow.”

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Marigold takes him from me as I wrap up the phone conversation.

“He’s sleepy, Mom,” she says. “Let me put him down for a nap.” She’s such a good sister.

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I look at our friends gathered at our party. Arkvoodle, dressed like a 19th Century gentleman, reminds me how old we’ve become, this circle of friends and I.

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Every night, I wish on the first star that I’ll make it until Bobobo enters school and Marigold graduates, and longer, if possible. But at least if I make it until then, she won’t be strapped caring for a toddler while still in high school. Mara Nix has agreed to be the children’s guardian, if anything happens to me before then, but I know Marigold. She would take the bulk of the family responsibilities–that’s just how she is.

I look up from my revery to see Frank and Hetal slow-dancing. Now that’s a surprise. Frank still regularly sends me love notes and asks me out, even though he knows I’ll regularly ignore the notes and decline the dates. I think he’s long accepted my decision to be faithful to Dante, in spite of the spark of attraction and deep friendship between Frank and me. I can’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy when I see him looking deep into Hetal’s eyes, with the smallest, sweetest smile. But I shake it off. It’s good to see him happy.

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“Thanks for a great party, Mrs. Tea,” says Chet as the guests are leaving.

“It’s Ms. Tea . Or you can call me Cathy,” I say. “Would you like to stay for supper, Chet? It would give you and Marigold a chance to visit.”

“No, thank you, ma’am,” he says. “I best be getting home so I can do my homework. But you thank your daughter for opening up her home for me.”

“Ok, Chet,” I say, thinking what an usual mutual crush this is, indeed.

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