My childhood hit me in two significant ways this past week. Once unexpectedly bitter, and one just as surprisingly sweet.
My son is 11 months old going on Olympic sprinter, but he has a newly walking toddler’s dislike of shoes. We let him run around barefoot simply because it’s easier than insisting on shoes, and creates less laundry than socks. He spends a lot of time on the deck, which has unfortunately not worn smooth in its years of service, but instead has prickly patches poking up from the knots in the painted wood. We’ve been lucky so far, but the day finally came: his first splinter.
It wasn’t a big one; in fact it was hardly a rectangular speck on the sole of his left foot. He hadn’t noticed it, but his nanny pointed it out to me in her daily rundown of scrapes and bruises that come with newfound mobility.
“It doesn’t seem to bother him,” she said, “so I just left it alone and thought you could deal with it.” She loves to say that, leaving me tough tasks such as giving him Tylenol on my lunch breaks or wrestling him to trim his fingernails.
“If it isn’t bothering him I’ll probably just leave it in there and let it work out,” I told her. She agreed, but sometimes I think she’s secretly thinking I have no idea what I’m doing; she’s raised two wonderful children of her own, so she may have been chuckling on the way out the door.
She left, and kiddo and I moseyed about the living room as we tend to do in the afternoon; him exploring, me fascinated just to watch him and trying to guess what he’s thinking. I did poke the sliver in his foot once, just to see if he flinched or otherwise indicated it annoyed him.
I tickled his foot and he giggled, giving me a toothy grin, then turned back to banging his fancy wooden Montessori toys together in “not” the way the directions said he should. But that’s rather the point of the whole Montessori idea, isn’t it? To not play by the rules? If that’s the bar, this little clone of mine is destined to be a genius.
As he played with his blocks, equally drooling and giggling over them, it hit me that slivers played a big part of my childhood, but in an oddly sentimental way.
An older couple moved in next door to my parents when my sister and I were little. They had raised their own kids, and had one in late high school that was a convenient babysitter (who would go on to give me a tattoo a couple decades later). Ron and Linda were pretty close to surrogate grandparents, if I’m completely honest, and I don’t know if I had realized that until recently.
Ron was the tall, quiet, stoic type, but still warm and inviting. He coached the track and basketball teams for the school a town over from us, and every day coming home we’d see him walking along the road getting his exercise. Linda — or Mimi, as we called her — was a tough lady who didn’t take crap from me or my siblings, but still always smiled and laughed at whatever newest antic we had to share with her. As a child I spent a lot of time at their house, and my memory says we were there just because they wanted to hang out with us (aren’t kids great?) when the reality is they did a great deal of watching us after school when my parents both worked full time.
There were two ailments we always went to see Mimi for, whether we liked it or not: hiccups, and slivers. The first she cured with a gleeful smile and a solid pinch of the cheeks; it worked, somehow. Not unlike the idea of scaring the hiccups out of someone, I think.
Slivers, however, were a process. I remember opening their back door and yelling up their stairs to ask Mimi if she was home. When she said yes, I would come up to the kitchen and explain I needed her to remove another sliver.
“Go sit on a chair,” she’d tell me, while she pulled a sewing needle out of the curtain above her kitchen sink. I have no idea why she stashed it there; perhaps simply because it was close to where her smokes were, convenient for the second step of sterilizing the needle. She’d hold the needle in the flame and rotate it a couple times, then shake it out to cool.
“Hold still,” she’d say, as she held my finger (or knee, toe, palm — wherever I’d managed to get a sliver this time). I don’t recall the actual extraction, but I do know I was quickly out of her kitchen and off making mud pies or mucking around in lilac bushes. I always went back; I knew Mimi would take care of it for me.
The memory stuck with me particularly hard in this instance. For one I hadn’t thought about it in years, and two, Mimi passed away last year. She had been to see my parents last summer, and I had thought to come visit but didn’t make the time. Closer to the end, my son was wearing an outfit she and Ron had bought him, and I took a picture and meant to send it to her.
I would have been in time had I sent it as soon as I took it. Even a day or two.
Waiting a week, however, turned out to be too long. It’s one of those things; never fail to tell people what they mean to you, never wait to say I love you —
Never wait to tell someone you’re thinking about them.
Another place I spent a lot of time as a kid was a daycare called Tina’s Toddlers. The place doubled as our town’s skating rink on the weekends, so you can imagine how many kids could pack into the place. I often wonder if my recollection of how few adults were there most days is accurate; if it is, I have other questions.
For a large daycare center, snacks had to be cheap and easy to serve to dozens of kids in a short amount of time. We had a lot of fruit cocktail that came in those cans that require an industrial can opener, plenty of cheap pretzels that taste like cardboard no matter how “fresh” they are, celery and carrot sticks, and the like.
I hadn’t thought about them probably since we stopped going to daycare. I have honestly never bought pears myself, but recently my husband started buying them to slice and give to our son. I’m sure there’s a blog or article we read somewhere that says pears are the fruit guaranteed to make your child smarter or faster or whathaveyou. They’re rather unassuming, I can’t really picture where they reside in the produce aisle.
As I was peeling a knobbly pear the size of a tennis ball and cutting it into slices easily grasped by pudgy toddler fingers, the texture of the fruit caught me a little off guard. Pears-for-snacks day was always my favorite at daycare, but they were the canned-in-heavy-syrup kind, not fresh like these. The flesh was the same, which was unexpected. Soft, juicy, but with a subtle graininess my fingers immediately recognized.
I don’t have many good memories of that daycare. Some of the most present are laying on my thin foam mat on the harsh concrete floor during nap time just willing my mom to walk in the door and take me home. Funny to think now that I hated nap time, but isn’t that the irony of growing up? I remember mom letting me take my favorite blanket with me to placate my angst about naps. The ladies working there helped me find a spot to store it until nap time, but then other kids would try to take it when I’d lay it out on my mat. It’s memories like that that make me want to wrap my son in his baby blanket and never let him leave the house.
The pears, though, took me back to Tina’s Toddlers in a happy, rode-in-on-a-sunbeam sort of way. Surprising, especially since I’ve spent a lot of years repressing dark morning drop offs and sad nap time memories. Repressing might be harsh; I guess it’s more choosing not to dwell there than forcefully pushing memories away.
Loathing daycare was probably more about me being an introvert and wanting to be home in my space. I’ve never been a good social butterfly or one to make friends easily. I’ve made a lifelong habit of making friends with my sister’s friends, and even in my thirties it suits me.Perhaps becoming a parent has shed some light on the fact I have more good memories than bad. Or maybe it’s all a bunch of nonsense my “I go to therapy now” brain thinks is clever — I’ll be sure to ask our therapist.
Either way. It seems life has at least one thing to say lately; slow down, savor the moments, and say I love you.