I Am Isabel the Storyteller

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#38. My school (a very out-side-the-box place) has an “inter-grade service” requirement. (In fact, this school is so cool it surprises me that they even use grade-level designations.) Oliver and I team up.

Oliver walks home with the twins and me today. Fall baseball practice was canceled and the two of us need help. We’re having milk and warm brownies in the breakfast nook. Mimi is elbow-deep in the sink, scouring brownie pans.

While I break off the crusty edge pieces, I do a come-over wave to Mimi. MimiI’ll dry later.  I pat the empty space near me in the nook. Come sit. We need mature guidance.

Mature guidance? She chuckles. 

(Then I realize Mimi might be thinking “uh oh, more on explicit lyrics?” She shouldn’t be insecure about handling these grown-up issues with me.  Read her comment to  blog entry #37; it’s SO wise.)  

She fits the last pan on the drying rack and sinks down next to me. What’s up, Isabel?

I tell her about the buddy program. Oliver and I are assigned to this little boy. I look to see if Oliver wants to pitch in, but he and the twins are wolfing down their second brownies.  (They don’t “edge-munch.”) We don’t know if it’s going to work out.

While still chewing, Oliver speaks. (Brownie goo is smeared on his front incisor and canine tooth.) We  think our teachers must have matched Isabel and me deliberately with this little fellow. This sort of pairing is done like this. (Of course he’s read a Pinterest article called “Buddy Programs: Pitfalls and Procedures.”)  The guys who like race cars get little guys who like race cars. The girls who always wear frilly dresses have little girls who have frilly dresses.

Balderdash, I think.

So Isabel and I share this one kid, Arturo.  We’re the only ones who share.

Is it because they had one too many older kids to be mentors?  Mimi asks. Because Isabel registered after they figured out numbers, or something like that?

I answer Mimi. That’s what we thought until we met Arturo.

Mimi! Oliver gulps his milk, swishes it a bit, and swipes his mouth with his kerchief. (The brownie goo is gone.)  Mimi, I think it’s because the teacher knew it would take two smart, exceptional, resourceful, self-starter types.

I smirk, but Mimi nods. Oliver is serious.  Really, he shakes his head. This assignment is difficult!

Why is that? Mimi asks.

He won’t talk, Mimi, I say.

Won’t talk or can’t talk?  Mimi asks.

Won’t, says Oliver.  His teacher said he’s an “elective mute.” That means he’s decided not to talk anymore. 

So, hmmm, says Mimi. Your little buddy–Arturo, right?–something happened to him? A trauma?

ISABEL SCHEHERAZADE (buddy, sister, friend, student, grand-daughter, talker, blogger. And orphan)

PS.   To be continued.  Right now, we’re all going to the twins’ soccer game—even Oliver and Zia. We’ve knit ourselves into one family it seems. I like it: Brother Oliver. We all call Miss Mary “Zia” now too. At the game, Sam and Clyde will make us happy. They race around like swarming bees, sometimes near the ball, sometimes forgetting the object of the game completely. Dear boys. Since meeting poor Arturo, I look at Clyde and Sam with more indulgence or maybe it’s compassion; I’m glad they didn’t “elect to mute”—not that we can understand what they’re saying very well, but at least they’re trying.

While the soccer kids scrum and roll about, I catch Pop up on Arturo.  Does ANYONE have NO problems? I wail.

Pop rubs his chin and shakes his head, Now Isabel, that wouldn’t be very interesting, would it?

Isabelcurlyheadfrombackonchair

#37. I’m not a Bald Eagle but I know all about their courtship and mating rituals: lock talons, flip, spin, and twirl through the air; and hopefully unlock before hitting the ground. Thus, it’s possible to know the “facts of life” of a species and not have had first hand knowledge of them.

You and me, sitting in the back of my memory like a honey bee….humhumhum...Oliver’s learning the words to Long Monday. That why all the “humhumhums.”

Or not: Perhaps he thinks the lyrics are too “explicit” for me. Does that make sense, though? I was the one who introduced him to the song, well, “the back of my memory” part of the song. As I recollect, I didn’t actually sing it to him top to bottom. Dad learned “Long Monday” to honor Mr. Prine when he died of cancer last year. Oliver surely would be aware that I, of all people, know the “facts of life” hinted at in the song! (Or, maybe a tad more than hinted at: “We made love in every way love can be made and we made time look like time could never fade…soul to soul, heart to heart and cheek to cheek.” I understand: Oliver is shy of me.

He needn’t be. When Mom and Dad told me we were going to have new babies, after all these years of just me and them, they decided to spell it all out.

Of course (!) years before this, I’d already had the First Period Talk, both in school and with Mom. At school, while the girls met with the health teacher and got ALL the details and diagrams, the boys met with the gym teacher. We got the facts, they played basketball. Go figure. I had a booklet from Girlology (excellent) and another called “You Got IT.” At home, Mom drew pictures and talked. It was the menstruation version of the long division saga, but this time we didn’t have oases and dromedaries. “Your body changes so you can have a baby when you grow up. Getting a place ready for a baby to grow is part of this. This place is called the uterus. Every month the uterus wall gears up. If there’s no baby, this wall comes off and bleeds a little, coming out of your vagina.”

When Mom and Dad got pregnant with Clyde and Sam, they explained all over again.

But scientist Mom and word-master Dad were tongue-tied, this time it being them and not me that was prompting the talktalktalking. Our twins being the end result of all that uterus-wall-gearing-up protocol. Seeing them struggle for how to begin, I reassured them. Don’t be bashful about explaining sexual intercourse, I know all about it already.  

I can do a sidebar here because my poor parents were gobsmacked and speechless. An interlude is fitting.

I’m a reader. My old school’s librarian was a liberal humanist in her 70’s with “carte blanche” as she told me to buy any books she thought kids should“have access to.” I’m eclectic. Take a look at what I have stacked on my bedside table: Forever by Judy Blume (very explicit and filled with the wonder of “the first time.”) ; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (fantasy: girl meets dragon); Sign of the Beaver (Historical fiction); Openly Straight (Rafe is gay but wants to be defined as not only the gay guy. It got the Sid Fleischman Award for Humor…and I love Sid); Charlotte’s Web (Pop read it aloud—of course I’d read it tons before—hoping it would be one of the ties that bind). George by Alex Gino (ironically, I listened to the audio of this while Pop was reading Charlotte’s Web!) In George, George/Melissa is trans and proves this to “their” parent by switching with her best friend to play the role of Charlotte in the class play. Miseducation of Cameron Post (Cameron is sent to conversion camp after coming out as gay.); You Against Me (a complicated plot about love. Unflinching is a good word for how I tried to be as I read it.) The One and Only Ivan (gorilla and elephant hatch plans to escape captivity. Love it. Has a sequel!) These Truths: A History of the United States (The Proud Boys and Oath Keepers need to read Jill LaPore’s history books.)

Fantasy, history, classic kids’ fiction, novels dealing with gender and sex. Some really good. Some mediocre. I thought maybe the sex, vodka, and pot in Lock and Key ended up being a little too intense for even mature me, but it was on the shelf in the library. I laughed and worried my way through Lost It. Also, as a writer myself, I emulate E.B White in his descriptive paragraphs—so I keep rereading Charlotte’s Web. I can still smell the leather harnesses hanging in that barn. As for the gender and sex novels,  I am sure, since I don’t have any first hand experience, I don’t fathom it all; I admit to being hazy on how it all works.

But the haze got blown away by my thorough parents and the book pile with titles like this: Born or Hatched?  Mummy Laid an Egg! Where Did I Come From? (Cartoon drawings worked for Mom and Dad and me). If the Stork Didn’t Bring Me, Where Did I Come From? Chicken’s Guide to Talking Turkey with Your Kids About Sex (Mom and Dad read this to gather courage; I found it in their bedside book stack!!) I remember studying the pictures in the Joe Kaufman book How We are Born, How We Grow, How Our Bodies Work, and How We Learn. There was like a center-fold spread of the actual act. Even though I thought I knew exactly how “IT”was done, I had to position the two-pager sideways and upside down, and slant it this way and that. (Very elementary, but it had great drawings of humans having fun with all that borning, growing, working, and learning.)

However, that was five years ago; I was way younger then. Young and innocent.

So, I smolder and hold back with Sir Isaac as Oliver grips the ram’s halter to pull him into a reinforced three-sided stall. He’s feisty today.  Then Sir Isaac helps me gather the ewe, lambs, calves, and cows and herd them into other enclosures.  

Honestly, If I’m old enough to know about rams and ewes—and where Sam and Clyde came from—you can stop censoring parts of Long Monday, Mr. I’m-so-much-more-grown-up-than-you Oliver.

Isabel Scheherazade

#36. I learn Oliver’s theory for why Mom and Dad emerge regularly in the Way-Back seat of my memory. (BTW: This blog is for all ages, um, maybe not 5-year olds.)

Oliver reads my blog.

Just so you know, Mimi and Pop read it too. I’m not TOTALLY unsupervised.

Caveat.*  I might decide to delay posting my write-up about an “incident” until it’s all over and done with, so to speak; that is, until it’s “public knowledge.” After making this statement, if I were Sherlock Holmes, I’d tap the side of my nose meaning we all know what I mean, wink wink. It’s our little secret. 

My “when to publish it” protocol is akin to a Mom “incident” back when she was an undergrad. She wanted to explore the personal side of Elvis Presley at Graceland Mansion, maybe even see Lisa Marie, his daughter. It was part of her thesis topic. So, with her roommates, she drove the yellow Volkswagen Bug (it was still functioning as our second car when it got wrecked by the murderer) non-stop from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine to Memphis, Tennessee, where they got the first tour, didn’t see Lisa Marie, but did get to sit in the Jungle Room and shuffle through the green shag carpets. They drove back, also non-stop, munching granola bars and swilling coke and coffee. And gushing and giggling about Elvis and his police badge collection. (I guess you need to be there to appreciate this.) Later that year, she told her Dad. That’s what I mean by “delaying.”

Now back to the “Oliver reading my blog” paragraph:  Oliver is a focuser. He concentrates and studies and researches until he gets a complete “read” on ideas. He’s like the laser beam on the new bar-code scanner at our library. (Sam, Clyde and I love it; Pop and Mimi are terrified of it.)  Here’s an example of the usefulness of his lazer-focus.

I’ll set the scene:  We’re working at opposite ends of Sir Isaac. Oliver is combing thistle from his tail and I’m patting lineament onto a sore spot where his bridle rubbed him the wrong way.

Isabel, I’ve been thinking about when you found the feather and sensed that your Dad was trying to tell you something.

(Not sure I should have shared that with him.)  What about it?

Don’t think you’re losing it when this happens.

Losing it? What are you talking about Oliver? He’s hit a sore spot with the words “losing it.” I might need some of Sir Isaac’s lineament, this comment bridles me so much.  (I adore constructing puns. Adore it. I can distract myself this way even in the midst of being sore and bridled.)

Oliver drops another thistle into his leather apron pocket and looks along Sir Isaac’s flank at me. continuing connection with the deceased loved ones is normal. (Honestly, can you believe it? He actually talks like this.) The connection gives solace.

Solace? I kiss Sir Isaac’s nose and check the underside of the new bridle for roughness.

Comfort. So when your Dad gets you to reread that quote about the tower and another time pushes you to hop into Four Square? He’s maintaining a connection to you, giving support from afar. Or maybe he’s not so far. I dunno. 

And that’s something your Wikipedia experts say is not losing it?  I’m skeptical, but listening. I have no mental files on this; no prior knowledge that would help me get a grasp; no schemata, as Mr. Grim likes to say.

Absolutely! Oliver nods sagely, or in a manner he thinks is sage.  You can move forward. You can get on with your new life. But you don’t need to let go of your Mom and Dad. It’s great that they’re sitting in the Way-Back seat of your memory waiting for you to tune in to them. Maybe it’s like you’re tuning a radio, twisting the dial back and forth.  And, PRESTO! Suddenly you get “Hugh and Miriam”instead of the local weather on WAMC. 

I ponder this while he mostly hums Long Monday, the John Prine song that inspired the way-back seat imagery.

I’m grateful to Oliver for his explanation. And, I’m sure Mimi and Pop will talk with me about it, once I “post” this entry and they read it. That’s okay. It might spread some solace on our sore hearts. Like lineament.

Isabel Scheherazade

*I love the word caveat! It comes from the Latin word for “let a person beware.” Oliver and I found out about it by way of researching the preliminary hearing challenge. Oliver wonders if we could file a “Caveat Petition.”  Caveat Petitions are precautionary measures a person can take if she thinks some case related to her is going to be filed in court. Oliver thinks it might be one way for me to insert myself into the Preliminary Hearing and alter the murderer’s pleas.

But you don’t actually know if petitioning is what I should do, Oliver? I ask him.

He shakes his head no. Sounds promising though.

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#35. Emotional anguish is anguishing; then a memory from the Way-Back seat helps me deal with a Front-Seat, classroom challenge. Magic again?

Mr Grim asks me to help Joe who somehow didn’t learn long division-with-remainders way back when you’re supposed to. He’s been home-schooled up until this year and, although he can do the “mad minute” drill-and-practice basic division facts sheets in less than a minute, long division is a quagmire for him. This is a problem (pun intended!!) because Joe is going to need it in order to understand our pre-algebra topics such as integer arithmetic, simplifying expressions, and solving equations.

What happens next occurred the morning after Pop told me we were not going to the Preliminary Hearing. I was in turmoil, so much so at first I didn’t think I could push this turmoil aside to focus on Joe.

Suddenly Mom shows up in the Way-Back seat of my memory, or whatever this magic thing is that happens to me now. And I get a crystalline recollection of how she taught me long division:

My teacher’s introductory long-division-with-remainders-lesson was as clear as mud. The whiteboard was a mash-up of arrows and tiny numbers and cross-outs. Her “magic” erase marker ran low on ink early on, causing the digits to get fainter and fainter. And the squeaking! It was deafening. I admit that this squeaky marker distracted me from the lesson. Is the squeakiness from static friction being broken and reestablished as she scribbles more and more feverishly?  I wondered.  Maybe the solvent in the marker tip isn’t working or mixing with the ink so it doesn’t lubricate it enough? Also distracting me was the teacher’s constant calling to us over her shoulder that this was our grand “journey into long division with remainders!” To make matters worse—this is hard to believe because I’m relatively short for my class now—I was the tallest girl in my class that year. (I hope I haven’t had my last growth spurt; you only have 4 in a lifetime.)  My tallness kept me in the back row behind a hefty boy. I couldn’t see very well.

When I get home that day I tell Mom Long division with remainders! I don’t get it!!

No problem, Isabel. She pats the couch cushion next to her and says, Come, sit. I’ll show you a trick. 

She flips to an empty page in her notebook, licks the tip of her pencil, and writes “Dad. Makes. Scrumptious. Brownies.” Remember this sentence she tells me, while underlining the first letter of each word. These first letters will remind you what to do in what order. D for Divide. M for Multiply. S for subtract, and B for bring down. (It’s called a mnemonic.) Watch.

Dromedaries are the main mode of transportation in the desert. (Mom loved exotic places.) They get very thirsty. She pauses to sketch a little pool of water surrounded by Dromedaries and palm trees.  At the oasis, this one-humped animal drinks twenty-six gallons of water in ten minutes, how many gallons can it drink in one minute? This is important for a Dromedary’s driver to know, just in case he needs to jump on his steed after only a minute of drinking.  She points to the words.  Dad. Makes. Scrumptious. Brownies. Divide. Multiply. Subtract. Bring down. She jots the numbers after each word. Answer?  2.6 gallons.

She writes out another problem. She hands me the pencil. Here. You do it. And she sits back and watches me, nodding. 

I write D.M.S.B  on the top of the page, lick my pencil tip, and use it to journey into long division with remainders.

I shake my head to get me out of this Way-Back seat memory into the Front-Seat of my classroom and Joe.

Ahem. Joe. I know a trick that’ll help you. It’s called a mnemonic. I pat the chair next to me. Come sit. He moves over, I begin.

I lick the tip of my pencil and write “Dad Makes Scrumptious Brownies.”  Remember this sentence, Joe.

While I underline D M S and B, Mom’s words flow into my head as if through  invisible Bose Open Earbuds (The MSNBC ad says you can talk with your friends or hear traffic while at the same time listening to music if you use them. Dad used to watch a little Morning Joe before school. This is how I know some current culture.)

These first letters remind you what to do in what order. D for Divide. M for Multiply. S for subtract, and B for bring down. Watch.

Dromedaries are the main mode of transportation in the desert.  They get very thirsty. I pause to sketch a little pool of water surrounded by some one-humped desert creatures and palm trees. At the oasis…

I become Mom. The same script, word for word. Even my voice dips deeper like hers used to when she was being ultra-patient.

My student looks back and forth between me and the paper, putting two and two together, if you know what I mean. Mr. Grim is listening from where he’s perched, helping another student nearby.  So, let’s do another one together, okay? 

A caravan of six Dromedaries  is carrying 348 pounds of exotic rice to Egypt. (I do six stick-figure Dromedaries with bags draped in front of their one hump. As I sketch, to keep it informal, I tell Joe Dromedaries are the Arabian, short-haired camels that withstand the heat better than their two-humped cousins, the Bactrian camels.) The rice has been divided equally. Each animal carries the same amount of rice. What size is each  load? I tilt the paper towards him.

Joe licks his pencil tip, gets a grip, and writes out 348 divided by 6.  He whispers Dad and divides 34 into 6; makes and multiplies 5 times 6;  scrumptious and subtracts 30 from 36; brownies and brings down the 8. He stares at the 48 and says Dad Makes Scrumptious Brownies, and starts the process again. I watch and nod. He writes 58 and looks up, grinning.

We do a few more. Joe’s launched. He thanks me. Mr. Grim thanks me.  And I thank Mom.

isabelwithlegupwriting.jpg(sketches by my friend Ryan)

#33. Mimi and Pop’s Answer to My Question. (Don’t read this if you want to stay calm.)

Isabel. Pop points to the nook bench. Sit down. Now.

I cave.  Okay.

And Pop begins.

He uses his deep, serious lawyer voice. I never saw him during one of his trials (he took early retirement when we came to live here), but I picture him as an Atticus type, as in Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird? That Atticus? (After my school reading group did the book, Pop took me to see the Broadway play last winter.)

He places his hands palm down on the table and smoothes the surface as if flattening invisible documents.  I want to explain what a preliminary hearing is, Isabel.

I give a whatever shrug*. 

Oliver has already described it to me, The preliminary hearing is when the judge listens to the police tell what the guy is accused of doing. While we curried Sir Isaac the other day, he explained how he’d gone to the library and read all the articles about the murder. He looked up preliminary hearings on Google and Wikipedia. He even watched old Court TV shows. Of course he has extensive personal experience from the emancipation court hearings.

But come to find out, Oliver doesn’t know the half of it. I sit straighter and lean forward when Pop says,  During the preliminary hearing the person accused of a crime pleads guilty or not guilty. It’s called “entering a plea.”

A plea, Pop? It sounds like “please,” so I make some guesses. Like he’s going to beg? My voice wears a sharp edge. Like he’ll say, “Please. Please. Don’t put me in jail and throw away the key just because I murdered two people.”

Pop raises his eyebrow. He hasn’t heard me talk tough before. Well, it’s new to me, too, but I’m glad.  It gives me courage,

No, it’s not like that, Isabel. Pop says. It’s when the judge tells him what he’s been charged with, and the man has the opportunity to say whether he’s guilty or not guilty.

Hit me with a brick, why don’t you; I’m that stunned. Like there’s a question? This guy is GUILTY. I grab Pop’s hands and shake them. Mom and Dad are dead, Pop. Or did you forget? 

As soon as I say this, I wish I could hit the delete key.

Isabel Scheherazade, tough-girl in training

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*PS  This shrugging business? Mom and Dad didn’t like it. They said shrugging is a form of non-verbal violence that doesn’t contribute to the conversation in a positive way. (They talked like that. I miss it. Well, I miss it now.) Mimi and Pop haven’t said anything to me about my shrugging. Yet. We’re still too new with each other.

#32. Mimi and Pop and I have a confrontation. A confrontation with a long fuse, that’s for sure.

Their reaction to my question is Immediate and Dramatic. A tear leaks out of Mimi’s eye.  Pop pats her back and grits his teeth.

I cross my arms and swallow down the lump in my throat. I’m not a crier. That is, I’m not a crier NOW.  I used to cry upon occasion. Like, when I was a baby. Babies cry. Or when I’d fall and scrape my knees. Or if something sad happened in a book or to the twins. Or if Mom scolded me and put me in time out. Regular crying that you do in regular times.  No more.  Sometimes I FEEL like crying. My heart gets tight and empty. I can hardly bear it.  I wrestle with the lumps in my throat. But no tears.  I’m like one of those coals in Pop’s grill. One of the coals that gets pushed to the side and isn’t part of the big clump that’s really cooking the chickens. It just glows over there, unnoticed.

I don’t want to cry. I want to get even.

This all goes through my head while I watch Pop and Mimi calm each other down.

I remember something Oliver told me about them. Having kids around after all these years is something Mimi and Pop aren’t used to yet.  I have no idea how he knows these things, but he’s right. Oliver also said that it’s the same with Zia, but different. She knew him well as his nanny up to age 7.  She’s had to get used to my being a grown-up now, he says. Hmph! For sure she needs to get used to his living at the farm, but not because he’s a grown up!

I’d say it’s different for you, Oliver. My parents are dead. Forever.

Right, and mine are dead to me, even though they’re alive. 

Back to the Preliminary Hearing question that’s making Mimi cry and Pop grit his teeth.

Sorry, Isabel. Pop tugs tissues out of a box and splits them between himself and Mimi. More time passes. (A few seconds, but they’re heavy seconds.)

Mimi says, Isabel, what happened to your Mom and Dad is terrible. Then she seems to notice how I’m standing with my arms crossed.  She pats the space between herself and Pop and starts to get up, Sit down, why don’t you? 

I shake my head. Just tell me. ARE. WE. GOING?

 ISABEL

Isabelcurlyheadfrombackonchair

#34. I, Isabel Scheherazade, am sorry I talked so tough to Pop and Mimi; but, um, I don’t think they get what’s at stake here, as they say in the movies.

I’m sorry, Pop. I shouldn’t have said that.

Although, I think they DO forget; not that they’re dead, but that they were murdered.

Murdered by this guy.

Pop gets up from his side of the breakfast nook and comes over to my side. Even though I’m not wanting him to hug me, I let him. I think it makes him feel better. I wriggle away after a bit. I don’t want to get softened up.

Pop says, We’ll get through this, Isabel. Don’t worry.

Get through this? I think. I don’t want to get THROUGH this. I want–what is it I want? I know. I want to GET this guy and put him in jail. Forever. I hate him.

I probably should say this out loud to Pop, so he understands where I’m at. But something holds my tongue, and all of a sudden I feel tired. My sad heart takes over for my mad heart. Mad gives me energy. Sad makes me tired.

Uh, Pop? I’m muffled because he’s hugging me tight again. I think he’s weeping. Pop? Er, I told Oliver and Zia I’d curry the mule for them today. Got to go.

As I run by the nook window, I see Pop consoling Mimi again, neither one remembering that  Zia and Oliver had told them I needed more tutoring before I could curry Sir Isaac by myself.

Isabel Scheherazade

isabelinchair

#31. I yank the preliminary hearing from where it cowered in secrecy between notebooks and cookbooks.

Remember a while back, I spied the paper that Mimi and Pop had hidden in the bookshelves at the window end of the breakfast nook?  In that blog piece, I demonstrated to you readers how I could read and comprehend even if I saw only part of each word? Well, I decided I would wait for Mimi and Pop to bring up the preliminary hearing.

But they don’t.

So I take charge.

They’re finishing their breakfast tea—Scottish Morn: “so strong a teaspoon will stand up in it.” The half-done daily crossword is in front of them. They do it in tandem. This is one of those things I didn’t know they had the habit of doing.  I never used to be here early in the morning. You know how it is when you visit with your relatives? You don’t know every single thing they do—all their routines and that sort of stuff.

Here’s the drill:

Mimi and Pop sit next to each other on one side of the breakfast nook and fold the paper so just the crossword is showing. It’s face up in front of them.  Mostly they stare-a-while-jot-a-word-maybe-make-a-little-noise-pass-the-pencil-sip-the-tea.  Sometimes I hear something like this, “Four-letter word for swear?” “Hmmmm. Aver?Avow?” And usually, but not always, they figure out all the acrosses and downs in the one sitting. But, the puzzles get harder as you go through the week, Pop says.  That means that the weekend puzzle will have a few stumpers and they won’t be able to finish it in one sitting. They leave the paper in the breakfast nook or on the counter, and, during the day, one or the other pencils in a word.

Like I said, tandem. It’s how they do everything.

As I study Mimi and Pop, I glance over at Clyde and Sam. They’re in sight but not earshot of what I want to say. They’re setting up a drama of their own with Lightning McQueen, Cruz Ramirez, Jackson Storm, Cal Weathers, and a Cadillac Coupe DeVille I can’t remember the name of. They love little cars. They sleep with them! Since they don’t have Dad to “do cars” with them anymore, I play with them sometimes. At first they got frustrated that I didn’t do it like Dad. I understood, so  I didn’t mind. They don’t say this anymore. I hope it isn’t because they’ve forgotten how Dad “did” it.

I lean across the table and yank the hidden newspaper from between the cookbooks.

Why Isabel! Pop and Mimi startle. What’s up, sweetie?  Recipe cards for mac and cheese recipes cascade out along with the paper.

I lift the mac and cheese cards off the headline and tap it.  Are we going?

 Isabel Scheherazade, question-asker (finally!!)

Isabelcurlyheadfrombackonchair

#30. I’M OUTSIDE AT SCHOOL, THEN THE FOUR SQUARE INCIDENT HAPPENS

Our school credo says recess is a planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks. Nobody gets punished by depriving recess. (We have “Opportunity Room” after school to provide kids the “opportunity” to learn something they didn’t because maybe they made unwise choices.) Although all 200 students aren’t outside at one time, it is always a multi-age group. (All non-academic time is multi-aged BTW: lunch, gym, music, art, special projects, community outreach.) At recess students are encouraged to rest, play, imagine, think, move, socialize, or loiter; for me this means sitting on a bench near the Four Square Games area. 

The Clyde episode is all solved, and I’m  worn out; non-emergency times show me how much I’m powered by the fight or flight chemicals. (I know. I know. This is not healthy. Mayhap, as Dad would say, corrosive to your innards.)

Back to the Four Square game in progress nearby. I used to like four-square, but now I slouch on this bench, hiding behind my curly “wild” hair. (I forgot to scrunchie it today.) Each time a player hits the ball to another square, this player exits the square, and the partner jumps in.  I’ve been half-listening to kids yelling Outside! Inside! Outside! Inside!  Four kids stand in the four squares, and a line of kids, ready to jump in when a player goes out, wait outside the squares.

I haven’t played since coming to Mimi and Pop’s. I’m not sure I could stand it.  Bench-sitting is better.  (If you believe that, I’ll sell you a bridge in the Sonora Desert.) Dad showed me the tricks with the game. In the morning before school, we talk tactics. What’s the Four Square scheme today, Isabel? he says.  In Four Square it’s a rule that you can make up rules during a game. And it’s a rule that you can’t violate any of the rules. At breakfast Dad and I sketch the game court in the margin of the newspaper and diagram some tricky maneuver or rule.

Suddenly Oliver is in the game. His “Upper Grade” class has just come onto the playground. Most of them are hanging around the climbing wall, trapeze bar, belt swings and gym rings. Not Oliver. He’s in the Four Square game! I’m not sure how he finagled it. Hey! Wanna play, Isabel? The kids watch to see what I’ll do, not because Oliver is an Older Guy, but they’re looking to see if I budge, Isabel, the non-verbal, passive new kid. 

I step into square one.

My PAUSE button unpauses. The line re-forms, and that’s it; I play the rest of recess.

Walking home, it’s just me and Oliver—the twins have half-days for the first month. He asks me how long I’ve been playing.

It’s hard for me to gather the words to answer Oliver’s question. I get the Dad-is-Nearby feeling, maybe cupping his ear to hear me and placing his palm at my back to nudge me. I do not want to tear up. If Oliver goes all sympathetic and googoo-eyes, I might lose it. And then I’m going to want to be outside again.

I make a throat-clearing noise, checking my microphone to see if it’s working. My Dad taught me how to play when I started Kindergarten. We used to talk Four Square every morning.

Before, huh? Every day. Wow. 

Yup. Before. It was one of our rituals.

Tough.  Oliver’s been kicking a rock as we talk. Now he kicks it on the slant. I take it overWe make a plan to meet at Zia’s barn the next morning. Oliver, the twins, and me. We decide that walking along the pasture fencing will be more fun than the road. It’ll give us a chance to say hi to the calves, lambs, and Sir Isaac. (I’m getting “trained” to curry Sir Isaac on my own when Oliver has Fall baseball practice.)

Think we can figure out a new rule? Oliver asks.

Sure, I answer. Then I make my voice bigger.  Hey, we might even sketch it out.

I’m in.

isabelinchair

ISABEL

#29. What It Is About Miss Honey? It DAWNS ON me. Warning: this entry contains a pun, some Shakespeare, and a memory from the way-back seat. All good. I guess this COULD have been a PS to the Kindergarten Troubles entry, but it seemed to need its own space; it’s that important to me. Plus, Pop guessed it in his looooong comment on the last blog piece. (Make sure to read the comments, people!)

In my new bedroom (Dad’s old bedroom here in Pop’s house), my dormer window faces East, and every morning, after the sun clears the hemlocks, it beams into my window and floods me and my quilt with its rosy-fingered light.  I’m bathed in sun. I get a cozy bit warmer.

I’m dawned-on.

(Do you get this? Dawn is morning’s first light? OK. OK.  Of course you get it. Right. Sorry. So, you know what I mean.)

I’m working on a comparison. Stay with me here.

It’s just dawned on me why Miss Honey seems familiar.

She acts like Mom. She bends like a gentle, sweet queen to hold each twin’s hand. She jog-skips like a marathon-gymnast-ice-dancer. And she smiles down at them all at the same time.

Dad used to say Mom was an Earth-treading star with the power to make light the dark. Dad liked to quote Shakespeare; he said this is one of the many ways Mr. Shakespeare describes beautiful ladies. It was one of Dad’s many ways to describe Mom too.

So, Miss Honey brings my memory of Mom out of the shadows. And, like the dawn’s early light, it warms me up. I’ve worried that I might forget Mom. Not forget-forget her, but forget what she looks like. Now I know it’s not gonna happen.

Back to Miss Honey: I’ll come right out and say it: I. Am. Happy. About This.  Or a version of happy. I’ll be able to scramble into the way-back-seat of my memory where Mom’s sitting, just by taking Clyde and Sam to Miss Honey’s classroom every morning.

Isabel Scheherazade (The dawned-on version of Isabel, that is.)

PS. Hmmmm. I might even reveal this to my very compassionate and sympathetic teacher, Mr. Grim—can you believe it, a teacher named “Grim?” It’s like having a surgeon called “Cutts!”  Mr Grim. Mr. Grim! Please excuse me from pre-Algebra.  I need to gaze at Miss Honey. I’m lonely for my Mom.

I never used to be capable of irony. I wonder if all the tragedy in my life is making me more inclined to indulge in it? I  have dabbled with it. Last year I started putting air quotes into my talk, maybe to throw shade on an idea or person? Dad warned me to beware the pitfalls of irony. It’s probably a good idea to say what you mean most of the time, Isabel. Is it because he worried that if I got into irony I would become fierce and bold…and carefree? Oh Dad. I miss you scolding me about using air quotes. I wonder: Is it possible to put the opposite of air quotes around the word miss?

isabelwithlegupwriting.jpg(sketches by my friend Ryan)

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