I Am Isabel the Storyteller

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Category: learning to do new things with the grandparents who take over bringing up the orphaned kids

#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

#28. The sadness table gets set up in an unexpected place: outside Clyde’s Kindergarten room.

When Dad took me to swim lessons at the YMCA, the first week I was fine. But the next week I hold onto the parking meter and bawl my eyes out. I didn’t know that Going-For-Swim-Lessons was something that happened over and over!  Clyde is confused in the same way too.

Well, Clyde, says Pop. You see, it’s like this. You have to go to school EVERY day.

Clyde’s face falls like a popped balloon. He whimpers; but, what he says next breaks my heart. I want Mommy! I want Mommy!

I’m finding out that my family’s sadness meal is a long one. And the table gets set up in unexpected places. I’m pretty sure we kids have never actually said “I want Mommy” out loud since she was murdered.

It gets real quiet in the hallway.

Just then Sam bursts out of the other Kindergarten room with his teacher, Miss Honey.  (I’m not kidding. Her name is Miss HONEY, just like the teacher in Matilda, the teacher we all loved and wanted, the protection from Miss Trunchbull’s Chokey!) I squint my eyes as they approach. There’s something familiar about the way they look racing up to us, hand in hand. I can’t put my finger on it, though.

Sam lets go of Miss Honey and takes Clyde’s hand. They turn to face the rest of us with that we-twins-against-the-world stance. Clyde already seems braver with Sam next to him.

Good. Well, then. Pop stands up and takes charge. Here’s what we need to do. The principal looks like she’s going to say something, but Pop–this guy is so cool, he could calm a barracuda that hasn’t eaten in a week–he just keeps talking. Clyde and Sam need to be in the same room. 

When Mimi and Pop registered us, the principal said that it would be “inadvisable” to have the twins in the same classroom. “Twins need to learn to be on their own,” she lectured, like we were school kids. Well, I AM a school kid, but Pop and Mimi? I mean, really. They’re old!

Pop clears his throat. He’s got an Abraham Lincoln look about him anyway, but right now he’s awesome, more like the Lincoln Memorial. I’m sorry. I should have insisted on this earlier. Someday Sam and Clyde can be in different classrooms.  Right now, however, right now? They need each other.

And that was it.  Miss Honey takes Sam and Clyde by the hand, and they head back to her room.

And, sigh! I head back to mine.

-Isabel Scheherazade

isabelwithlegupwriting.jpg(sketches by my friend Ryan)

# 24 I like the idea of being a spinner of plates and stories. Here’s a Way Back story about how I got to be a plate spinner; I’m still working on the story-spinning.

Running away ISN’T in my game-plan (right now at least); but, if I did run away, I’d join the circus. I could be a plate spinner. (The Ring Master would announce me this way: Isabel Scheherazade, Spinner of Plates and Stories.)

I can spin two plates on two poles; Dad and I were working on adding one more—three poles, three plates. I stopped breaking plates once I understood how the physics of  how to keep the plate twirling, and…um…also when I switched to brightly colored, glow-in-the-dark plastic spinning plates.

Here’s how it works: Plate spinning, according to Dad, relies on the gyroscopic effect. To help me understand gyroscopic, Dad and I lie on the floor and watch a toy top. It spins from the side, Isabel. When the energy’s on the right side, the top’s heavier on that side and tries to fall over. But! It doesn’t because the weight moves to the left side and tries to make it fall that way. 

I watch so hard my eyes almost crack. I say to Dad,  And that keeps it upright?

Until the friction between the top and the wood floor slows the spin–see, it’s wobbling left to right now?

The top fell over, but I got up and spun my first plate!

Dad was a good explainer.

I tell Pop how Dad’s description of the gyroscopic effect helped me.  We’re watching Clyde and Sam get their tops spinning. Pop tells me he’ll try to follow Dad’s example and explain things.

You could start with explanations about HEARINGS, Pop, I almost say. But don’t.

Since Dad’s murder, I haven’t practiced plate-spinning—I’d need to practice if I ran away to the circus—but I like using the plate-spinning metaphor whenever I’m feeling burdened with chores, which I’m not really.  For sure I’d never consider emancipating myself. Poor Oliver.

 Isabel Scheherazade

isabelcrossleg2

(sketches by my friend Ryan)

# 22 WorkWorkWork: I’m babysitting the twins and weeding Mimi’s garden AGAIN. And seething about the TV in the closet. Seriously, Isabel? That’s what I’m really fuming about?

Metaphor alert! I’m spinning three plates right now.

Mimi  asks me to keep track of Sam and Clyde while they play in the sandbox. (Each twin counts for  two plates.) AND, while I keep an eye on the twins I have to weed Mimi’s garden. Again.  In particular, Mimi said to  find the weeds I missed yesterday. So. Lots of plates.

Oliver walks down the hill from the barn. Want a hand?

I know he thinks this as a chance to talk Preliminary Hearings, but I’m too steamed to plot and scheme. I yank weeds and blurt out, We don’t even have TV anymore.

Hmmmmm? Oliver murmurs and re-plants a weed I’ve just yanked.

I give him my one eyebrow-raised look.

Wow. How do you do that, Isabel? Then he picks up one of my “weeds.”  Isabel, this is a baby Boston lettuce. It’s a late season crop Mimi started in between the pole beans. He points to a plant that I haven’t yanked. This here, though? This IS a weed. Curly dock weed. See, jointed stems?

I sniff and we work together for a minute, replanting the lettuces. Yikes, I think to myself,  yesterday I must have pulled out a bunch of lettuces. 

Suddenly we’re attacked. The twins crowd into the row with us. We do too have TV!  We do too have TV!

Oliver looks at me for clarification, but, before I can explain the twins do it for me.

They race back to the sandbox, calling over their shoulders, It’s in the closet! It’s in the closet!! Come build roads! Come build roads!

Oliver guffaws—yes “gawfgawfgawf” like some big happy Scotsman—and goes over to the sandbox to play with Sam and Clyde.

Plate-spinning, but I’m not steamed anymore.

Maybe during birding, Oliver can come back to explain what  he knows about Preliminary Hearings. (I’m not sure a big happy Scotsman will know anything about revenge though.)

Isabel Scheherazade, story-spinner

isabelwithlegupwriting.jpg

(sketches by my friend Ryan)

#18. What do you get when you mix socks, underwear, chores, great books, and television? You get one item from this list removed to a closet. Really. The closet.


Socks and underwear, Pop? I bristle like a porcupine. Girls don’t need help with socks and underwear.

Not you, Isabel. Sam and Clyde. You know how they are. 

The guys bounce like Tigger. They think they’re being complimented.

How about “chores?”  I do stuff. 

Tons. You’re a huge help. Pop pats my hand. But I think we can get the boys emptying baskets and setting the table.

I tap the next item. Read aloud? 

We want to read aloud every day after supper. To do it right we’ll need a stack of  good books, so when we finish one, we won’t have a gap before we start another. 

I love the read aloud plan.

Mom and Dad believed in the power of read alouds to tie a family together. Here’s how it worked:  We’d have one book that all of us would lie around and listen to. Dad was reading the “Frances Tucket” series. I’d missed it when it first came out and loved it. We’d gotten to the 4th book. I know the boys didn’t get it completely, but they liked being part of the MomDadIsabel group; it stretched their listening attention span. They’d cuddle up and settle in ‘til the reader said That’s it for now or they fell asleep.  I KNOW they didn’t understand all the plot twists in Toad for Tuesday, but they loved Wharton and George; they cried when they thought George was going to be eaten by the fox. On my own I read other books too. And Mom and Dad also read simpler books to Clyde and Sam when I wasn’t around. If Pop and Mimi read aloud, that will make me happier.

And this supper table one?

No more eat and run. We want us to have discussions. 

We sit and talk already.

Well, we need to PLAN to sit and talk. Right now we jump up because a game or show’s on television. Pop circles the word TELEVISION. We need to cut down. He scribbles tiny numbers in the notebook margin.

We mostly watch Sesame Street, ball games, The Great British Baking Show, ball games, The Electric Company, ball games, Rachel Maddow,  ball games, Carmen Sandiego, ball games, Wild Kratts, ball games.

Which shows?  I ask. I’m hoping it isn’t Little House on the Prairie. Crazily enough, I grew up without knowing this series. With Pop and Mimi, we’re binge-watching all the seasons. (Mom would have disapproved; but all five of us love it.) Also I’m addicted to Earth to Ned: Picture a four-armed alien hosting a talk show with human guests, postponing his invasion of Earth. Think puppets, silliness, irony, attitude—good for adults and kids. (Of course, Mom and Dad never had us watch TV, but I don’t think Pop and Mimi know this and I didn’t think I needed to tell.)

Well, we can’t cut Wild Kratts but still watch the Red Sox. Mimi is shelling peas and has a mulling brow on her.

Cut the Sox? I was just getting into them, too.

In fact, Pop leans forward like he is gearing up for a big hill on his bike. Let’s get rid of it. He sits back, relaxed. Games tempt me, but not if the TV’s gone. He looks at the numbers. I’ve added it upIf we eliminate that hour a day during the week and the games on weekends, we’d gain 10 to 15 hours. 

So, that’s what we did. The TV went in the front hall closet. Anytime I open the door to get my jacket, I can see it behind the vacuum cleaner.

Signing off, or should I say, sighing off–

ISABEL SCHEHERAZADE

Isabelcurlyheadfrombackonchair

 

#19 Adventures in hollowed out trees, beside spider webs with words in them, inside a secret wardrobe, and down by the river with a Trumpter Swan. One of Pop’s rules is a sure-fire winner.

(Way-Back-Seat Story) Once, I traveled with Dad and a swan to hunt down a trumpet. He (this swan born without a voice) needed a real trumpet so he could win over the love of his life. (The Trumpet and the Swan)  Before that adventure, Dad and I make friends with this kid named Sam who lived all alone on the side of a mountain with a weasel and falcon in a hollowed-out tree. (I really like this Sam, but now that I don’t have my old, regular family, I’m bewildered as to why he ran away from a perfectly good family just because it was crowded in their apartment!) (My Side of the Mountain)

(Front-Seat Story) Now, with Pop, we’ve wandered through the door of a closet (called a wardrobe) and emerged in  a place called Narnia. (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) Before Narnia, we witnessed a spider save a pig by writing words in her web. (Charlotte’s Web)

Get what I’m talking about here? The rule about doing lots of read-alouds? It’s is a sure-fire winner.

For hours and hours I lie on my stomach on the rug or grass, or I curl up on the couch or chaise lounges. The twins too, but usually they’ve got their Lightning McQueens with them. In the beginning, they move their trucks around, but gradually they’re hypnotized by Pop’s voice and the story. Cool.

Pop readsreadsreads. We decided to get into the listening-to-great-books habit by doing it all day for a few days in a row. We DO take short breaks to hike the woods around Bull Pond and swim in Rock Brook right under Pop’s bridge and go to the playground for some adventure-swinging, but the rest of the day we listen.

And I’m not sad while I’m listening. Except at the end when Charlotte dies. I keep swallowing the lump in my throat. The twins cry.  Mimi weeps. Pop blows his noise and tells us a story about the author, E. B. White. A recorded-books company asked him to be the reader for their Charlotte’s Web audio book. But even he had to read that last part three times before he could do it without crying. Mainly though, about not being continually sad? Who could be sad with friends like Wilbur the Pig and Charlotte.

ISABEL

cropped-isabelcrossleg2.jpg

 

#17. I, Isabel Scheherazade Describe the Meaning of The Preliminary Hearing (or rather I DON’T describe it, because Mimi and Pop aren’t talking about it), and we get ready for (sigh) school. Which I USED to love.

Silence speaks when words can’t got spray-painted on a broken fence picket near my old school. The principal called an all-school meeting to talk about what it meant. Not too productive. But I get what it means now: Because Pop, Mimi, and I can’t seem to find the start-up words to talk about the hearing, silence speaks instead.

I don’t know what a Preliminary Hearing is. I don’t have enough background knowledge to make sense of the newspaper story.  One of Dad’s favorite songs had the line I could fill a book about what I don’t know.  I could write that book!

That said, it’s unbelievable crazy that except for this one, big, silence-wrapped topic—this elephant in the room—our house is full of chatter and action. And it’s all about school.  

Clyde and Sam, you’ve outgrown everything! Mimi says. When they come back from Kids’ Klothing, they’re loaded with bulging bags of little boy outfits.

Pop pulls Dad’s backpack out of his closet. It’s his high school teacher pack. Want to use it?

At first I think no way, but then I flipflip to loving the idea.  It has high corners so I can pack all of my textbooks and notebooks back and forth each day. No dog-ears. If I ever get an iPhone it even has a special pocket and USB port for an external charger. The back is padded; so, very comfy. Hmmm. I think it has a built in headphone jack too. And it’s Dad’s.

Mimi finds some neon laces to spruce it up a bit.  Isabel, do you want to go clothes shopping? She asks while she laces the pack.

I shake my head. No Thanks. I don’t want NEW.

Okay, everyone. Pop clears his throat.  Family meeting!! He sounds just like DAD did right before he made announcements, or gave out new rules, or handed down minor scoldings. Pop taps the side of his coffee mug with a sugar spoon. Mimi. Isabel. Clyde. Sam.  Come sit. I’ve got things to say.

I’m shocked when I have this rebellious thought: You’re not the boss of me, Pop. 

Wassup, Pop? Wassup, Pop?  The twins like to mimic one of their favorite Saturday morning cartoon characters. Bugs Bunny, I think it is. Or, maybe Roadrunner?

We slide into the breakfast nook. Clyde and Sam sit on either side of Pop. I sit across from them with Mimi.

I’ve got a list here.  Pop has his notebook open to a non-recipe page. Yup. Your Mimi and I have made a school list. Ready? He looks at us and gives a big inhale-exhale. Okay then. Here goes.

The twins yell, School! Yay! School! Yay! They toot imaginary train whistles and jump up and down like popping corn.

Pop looks at me. I guess he can figure out why I’m not so excited. It’s scary, once you know what school’s about. New kid. New school. 7th Grade.  These little guys? What do they know?

Pop reads the list. 

  1. Get more socks and underwear. (The twins giggle.)
  2. Make a chore chart.  
  3. Read aloud.
  4. Don’t hurry through supper. 
  5. Rethink the television.

Grrrrr. First silence; now lists.

ISABEL

isabelinchair

# 16. I, Isabel Scheherazade Solve the Mystery of the Missing Paper and Another Mystery Pops Up in It’s Place.

Is it possible that the papergirl hasn’t come yet? Not likely. I’ve just arrived at the breakfast nook for breakfast. Something’s up. The paper isn’t spread out in the usual messy, comfortable manner. It’s weird to see Pop and Mimi without a “table cloth” of newsprint under their elbows. No comics for the twins. No editorial or quirky story under discussion. 

It’s unusually silent too. The twins look from me to Pop to Mimi and up to the bookshelf at the window end of the nook.

As I pour Cheerios I spy the paper out of the corner of my eye, HIDDEN, sticking out a bit from between a cookbook called How to Cook Everything New and Revised and Pop’s notebook, also new and revised, of the recipes he’s creating for the five of us.

I can just make out the top part of the headline and the date.  (Okay. Okay. I know my blog-readers are probably saying, Right, Isabel, how can you read the print on a paper that’s been hidden? Easy. I bet you can read a sentence even if all the vowels are removed? Or the letters are scrambled in the word? Well, me too. Only difference is I’m reading the TOP half of each word. Put a card halfway through the headline below.  See? You CAN read it!)  I make some guesses and see that the headline says:

                            Preliminary Hearing Scheduled for Traffic Fatality.

I pretend I don’t see the paper, sprinkle blueberries on the toasty o’s, slice in a banana, add the milk, sit down, and dig in. I’m halfway through when Mimi and Pop say they’re taking the twins off to get their teeth brushed. (We have to go to Dr. Moon for shots and school checks.)  Teeth-brushing will take a while, so I reach up to the bookshelves and yank out the paper. I spread it out after pushing my bowl to the side. No more appetite for Cherrios. The Killer’s picture is above the fold in the center of the page. He still has that dusty,  jean jacket look about him.

The article says the Killer’s “Preliminary Hearing” will be in two weeks.  At the courthouse on Main Street. Right down the street from the school. Right after school starts.

Could this be my chance to seek revenge? I must go to this hearing and, er, well, I don’t know what I’ll do. What’s a hearing I wonder?

And why did Pop and Mimi hide this important information?

Isabel Scheherazade

Isabelcurlyheadfrombackonchair

(My sketches are by my friend, Ryan.)

#13. I have another thought about the daily treat at Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe

I’m piling up a small stack of things I never did with Mom and Dad.

The stack sits in sun and shade. When we do something new with Mimi or Pop, it reminds me that I never did this with Mom and Dad, and that reminds me that they’re gone. Sort of like a chain reaction.

I explain this to Mimi, while I stir my pumpkin latte. I watch her face.

She sips her hazelnut coffee. Isabel, she takes a breath, after a while? Well, after a while, I hope that when we do new things it won’t always come with the sad thought…She hesitates.

I finish her sentence, With the sad thought that Mom and Dad are dead, you mean?

Mimi nods.

I think, THAT will never happen. But I don’t say this to Mimi.  Instead, I gulp the top froth; it gives me a milk mustache that gets the twins laughing. I’m about to say, Mimi, we’re not there yet, but then I just can’t help it; I start laughing too when the twins give themselves chocolate mustaches. Then Belle, who was drinking a Blueberry Smoothie, comes over with a blue mustache.

Like I said: sun and shade.

ISABEL

cropped-isabelcrosslegsmaller1.jpg

#12. A funny story that acts like that splash of cold water that primes the pump (metaphor alert)…

Every morning Pop says to the twins, Did you put on new underwear, boyos?  (He doesn’t call them dudes like Dad did.  That’s good. It would be confusing.)

The twins salute and say, Yes siree, Pop. Yes siree, Pop. (We think that because they’re twins they repeat their answers.)

But you know how little boys can be smelly? Well, Clyde and Sam REALLY smell on this one morning, so Pop brings them into the bathroom, thinking maybe that they didn’t wipe. Or something like that.

Mimi? he calls out. Come here a minute, would you, Dearie?  Mimi and I do question marks eyebrow wiggles at each other. I give her the I dunno shrug. (I am so not the expert on smelly 4-year olds. Geez.)

She goes down the hall to the bathroom. I hear lots of  Pop-Mimi-Murmur-Murmuring and Little-Boy-TalkTalkTalking. Mimi goes upstairs and comes down with two pairs of Elmo underpants.

After a while they march back to the kitchen.

Pop says, Now remember, Sam and Clyde. “New underpants” means that you take OFF the old ones. You don’t just add a new pair.

And we start to giggle.

Giggle! Gushing Giggles. Like that water that whooshed out of the well after we primed it. And we get active: The twins show me their new Elmos and drag me off to play Tonka Trucks and Matchbox cars with them. Mimi stuffs smelly underpants in the trash. (Guess she’s not going to try to recycle ’em which is very unusual for her.) Pop calls to her to come sit outside with him for a while.

It takes giant, big minutes for all the chuckles and activity to subside.

Neato. Or sort of neato anyway.

ISABEL

Isabelcurlyheadfrombackonchair-sketch by my friend Ryan

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