Tag Archives: tiger mascot suit

Goodbye, Terra Centre

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After 13 years of near daily walks to our elementary school, it has finally happened. We are no longer part of the TCES community; we have “aged out.”

It started in 2003, when my oldest began kindergarten. My youngest was still inside me; he had a few more months to bake. Save for those early postpartum winter weeks after my youngest was born, and about 30 days to use Kiss & Ride on “weathery days” I walked my kids every day to and from school.

The path to school is gorgeous.

 

It was perfect to quiet the mind and give the body just a little jump start to the day. Often it was leisurely and we did see all the things in the images above. I am not a huge believer in stressing out being late to elementary school. What do we miss? Perfect attendance? Or the little TV show they broadcast each morning which announced the cafeteria menu, the weather outside, TC birthdays, and anything else of note … but … please. All of my kids say no one ever listens to that broadcast. I could often be overheard saying to the boys, “It’s not Harvard. We have time. Look around the path… look around this place…” And we would.

Once the final baby came along, so came the daily use of the double stroller, that godsend and albatross. I remember grabbing the leash of our faithful golden, Maggie, wrapping it round the handle of the stroller and pushing off for school as she would keep perfect pace with me, never wavering from her parade. My middle son who is my mirror, often made the experience more melodious than many people were likely ready for so early in the morning. Because he wasn’t a student there yet, he saw little need in going to school to drop off Big Brother. We disagreed daily.

We had a song for him,

Oh I won’t ride my stroller to school
I told my mommy I’d walk
But now my mommy won’t pick me up
So I’m gonna screech like a hawk.

More often than not, we were just on time.

Our first year at the school, around winter break, it was struck by a Norovirus outbreak. Norovirus is a vomiting illness. I was walking home the first morning back from break and a TV crew was outside on the main road leading to my house. A well-known female roving reporter, Gail Pennybacher, asked me if she could interview me. With her cameras. I was a new public school mom, recently postpartum with Thing 3, and she wanted to talk to me about the outbreak.

“Are you a parent at the school over that way?” she asked, pointing to TC which you could see now the the trees were bare.

“Yes… what’s this about?” I asked, I’m sure.

She talked about her intentions.

I had no clue about the outbreak. It was over. I guess there was some form of communication from the school before it opened after winter break but I was barely functioning.

I noticed that the disgusting low-pile industrial carpeting was replaced by shiny linoleum tiles, but that was all I knew. Gail told me about the outbreak and asked me if she could film my then-kindergartener son and me washing his hands. I said yes, immediately followed by the caveat that my student son wasn’t home and that I had to put my kids down for a nap. It being a Monday, a half-day back then, I assured her he would be home in three hours.

But I felt weird, as though I was betraying the school. Being a new mom and knowing NOTHING about FCPS and Terra Centre from a parent standpoint (plus people can be assholes), I didn’t want to make enemies over there. During the meantime, I reached out to the principal to let her know that the news crews were stalking the neighborhood.

That was my first interaction with that principal. She called me back and asked me for intel. She said I sounded like I was someone who was media savvy. She was gooood. I said I had worked in PR and was a freelance writer. She said I would be helpful to her. She prowled up to her saucer, got down on her haunches and wrapped her tail around her hips, slowly lapping. “Tell me more…” she said. I told her about me, and then she asked me how to handle the news crew.

That night, the news was on and I saw our segment. My jaw hit the floor when I watched that woman OWN that reporter. She played me. I was so naive. Over the remaining nine years, she and I barely spoke. Outside of the Carter administration, I considered her one of the least effective leaders I’d ever witnessed. I learned over the years that parents had tried unsuccessfully to oust her at least twice before we got there.

I made friends through Terra Centre. Some I still know, others have faded away or moved away. But while I have faded some, I have not moved, which is an oddity here, in one of many communities referred to as the Pentagon’s bedroom.

Most families who roost here are military or somehow entwined with the federal government in public service, civil service or as a contractor.

Once again, my team is an anomaly of two anomalies. I do not hail from a government family, nor does my husband. His family, I think a third-generation Washingtonian tribe, was in private business and my family was in journalism. I feel confident saying there are not many of us around here, those who’ve been here consistently as long as we have.

We moved into this house in 2000. I met this home when it was under contract.

“It’s under contract and it’s higher than your range. Forget it,” Barb, my ever-enthusiastic realtor said.

“I don’t care. I have to see it. Get me in there.” I said.

Barb used her keypad and we were in. I felt dirty, as though I had to whisper everything I said and thought. It was like breaking into a bank vault.

The house wasn’t well-appointed, but it had my requirements: a fenced flat backyard and a basement. It also had other things I didn’t know I had to have: hardwood floors, a playroom, a main floor bedroom with full bath. It didn’t have what I really wanted: a garage, but I’ve found over the years that those just get stuffed with crap no one uses.

“It’s under contract. You can’t be here…” a little woman whisper-shouted in broken English from the top of the stairs. I remember her to this day: graying hair in a bun, half glasses perched on her nose. A floral quilted housecoat. She thought she was protected by the UNDER CONTRACT sign on the post outside her house.

“I understand. I had to see it. I’m compelled to be here. I have a son, he’s 2 and I’ve got another one on the way,” I said, patting my newly swelling belly with the same hand holding my toddler’s wet sticky palm. He flashed his enormous green eyes, long lashes and deep dimples at her.

Her shoulders softened. Her voice warmed and she descended the stairs to just three from the main floor. She was Filipina.

“My name is Corazon,” she said.

“That means ‘heart?’ I said back, smiling. We nodded.

“If the contract falls through,” I said, “Please call my realtor. She’s leaving her card. Please. I need to be here.”

Corazon gestured to the kitchen and said, “the yard … for him.”

For them, I thought to myself. Peering through the windows, I agreed, “it’s lovely.”

“Shade,” she said.

I continued out the kitchen door on to the “deckette” to look at the flat fenced back yard, feeling a little breeze and cooler air than the front. We were nestled beneath a canopy of Oaks, Dogwoods and Sugar Maples. I tried to keep my composure. I needed to be in this house.

It was August. We were still in our bright and airy seven-year-old townhouse. Well, sort of.

Y’see, we don’t have much luck with real estate endeavors. Long story short, our first buyer was under-qualified. I knew it when I saw him cross the threshold late during our open house. When you’re pregnant, you don’t ignore your gut. They wanted to close within 30 days. They were hot to trot. We hadn’t found a house yet. So we got cooking.

Most of the houses around here don’t last long on the market, but it was a weird time. The ones that lingered were absolutely horrendous, smelly, dark and dreary as though the people in them were having to leave against their will. “Aren’t these people motivated to sell?” I would ask my agent, shaking my head and feeling lost every time we unlocked a door.

After living here, in Burke, for almost 16 years though, I get it. People DON’T want to leave here.

Eventually our townhouse sold. It might’ve even been larger than the house we’re in now. My husband likes to think so. I heartily disagree. Doesn’t matter. The first buyers of each house fell through. Our buyer was a cabbie. I knew it was him and he was a cabbie when I saw him drive by in his work vehicle and slow down in front of the house, indicating to his riders (I think his mother and wife or sister) that this was going to be their new home.

My stomach fell out of my body, My vision honed and I got prickly all over my skin witnessing his gestures and sitting there in front of my house under the hot sun. There was no way they had the money. I panicked. I called my husband, he was certain I was wrong. I called our agent, she was telling me I was pregnanty-nervous. She used to be a nurse. I’m really glad she got out of that gig, she had no empathy skills. She listed “weight lifting” as one of her hobbies.

I knew it would fall through. It did. It fell through likely about two weeks after our contract on this house was accepted. The good news is that I wasn’t nuts and pregnanty-nervous. I pointed at my husband and chided my agent. The bad news is that we were effed.

The first buyers of this house walked on the contract because of a Radon issue. Two days after we dropped our card for Corazon, they walked. Her agent called my agent at night. My agent called me. The next morning we went to put an offer on the house contingent with Radon remediation, which she had a contractor there installing that afternoon. My husband hadn’t seen the house until we wrote on it.

Our agent was all “this school and that school… and oooh and shopping and oooh metro… and banks and conveniences…” and I was all, back yard. Shade. School? What do I know of schools… It turns out we landed in a really good school district.

I remember when my husband first stepped on to the tiny deck, “Land!” he said. It’s not a lot, but it’s ours. The kitchen is modest. When my children were very busy and smaller, it was manageable. We did finger painting and conducted general mayhem in the kitchen. Now that they’ve grown, it’s a little tight a lot of the time, even after our renovation. They “eat” (it’s more of inhaling and grunting) at the breakfast bar. We don’t have as many family dinners as we used to. I have two man-childs and another one, the one who just left elementary school, burgeoning. Soon though, the biggest man-child will be off to college so it will be less man-childs.

I’m not sure I’m ready for that either. It feels like it’s all happening so fast.

Terra Centre used to be underground. Well, not really underground, like sub-level, but it was covered in grass. We used to call it the EduCave. But it’s been renovated and that renovation came with a new principal who is leaving…. TC teachers are strong, many of them have been there for at least 10 years and despite the administration being yet again in flux, I have very few reservations about TC’s promise. The class sizes rarely hit above 28 because our neighborhood is 30+ years old; all gross residential development is over. It’s a good school. It’s so good that it’s hard as heck to find a house in this ‘hood.

The other day a realtor came to talk to me about the house next door to me that sold in 4 hours. I had met her clients when I was staring down my sprinkler. They asked me questions about drainage and the walk to the school. They didn’t win the bidding war and the husband was in tears. They loved the house. They loved me too.

The walk to Terra Centre, for me, was part of my routine too. It is 1/3 a mile door to door. Going there and back twice a day ensured I saw other people. It meant exercise, community, sisterhood. I volunteered at the school to assist the teachers, absolutely, and to help the children, no doubt. But I also volunteered to improve my life. To not feel like a failure for not having a job, and for not sitting on my ass eating bon-bons.

I’m not a nostalgist in the least. I’m a “GSD” (Get Shit Done) person. But I am sort of taking my time here. I think that makes people nervous: when someone like me, who’s normally driven, Type A and a go-getter, decides to sit, feel and write and emote… it can be off-putting. Luckily for me, my boys know how I value feeling the feelings so we can process them and get through them. They know I’m not going to run off to the basement with a bottle of vodka and deny myself into oblivion.

The fact of all of this is that I’m a little blue. I feel like I’m losing a part of myself. And I guess I am. Will I get over it? No, I will get through it. I don’t want to “get over” anything; I want to process things.

Undoubtedly, people tell me to think of the happy memories. That change is good! That I should remember to concentrate on the tremendous growth the boys have achieved. It’s hard to witness it all, frankly. There was a time when I felt that their growth meant I stagnated, but I see it now, we’ve all grown.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: EVERYTHING and EVERYONE we encounter is our teacher. Sometimes they are teachers reminding us to hold our ground, and other times, they are teachers telling us to get our shit together. Terra Centre taught me about service, friendship, neighbors, boundaries, and duty.

I remember early in my volunteering that it had occurred to me that I wasn’t much of a volunteer. I sort of got down on myself a little about that. I grew up in a largely narcissistic environment, so I was conditioned to deal with and for myself because, well, that’s how a kid survived narcissists. You had to be a narcissist… When in Rome…

But I also gave myself a pause. How do we change? By changing. So it was at Terra Centre. It was the first time I was a mom of a student somewhere. At the preschools, they’re all about getting moms out of their houses and out with others: shopping, doctor appointments, taking care of themselves. They are purposely short days 3-4 hours apiece so the kids don’t get antsy and the moms can maybe get a nap.

I was nudged by a neighbor to volunteer at Fun Fairs (think mini carnival populated by  drunken toddlers). She is a child of service members and married to one. I learned that Fun Fair isn’t my jam. So she suggested a dance. Tried it. NFW. Movie night. Nope. I realized eventually, while jumping through the proposed hoops, serving on the PTA, presiding over the PTA and other involvement that I’m more about GSD than telling kids to stop running or to “put that down” and getting other parents to see me as a performer.

While I’m an extrovert, when it comes to getting shit done, I’m a silent partner. I bought a tiger suit for the school mascot. Either they hadn’t had one in a decade or they never had one (since the present principal at the time arrived). So I bought one and the PTA paid me back. I’ll never forget the first day I wore it. It was after school. The Friday before Columbus Day in 2008 and a young teacher was walking the halls and I was in the tiger suit. She screamed and JUST ABOUT passed out. She almost fell down running away. She left the school after that year. I want to say TC Tiger had nothing to do with it but … phobias be powerful… The story is that got engaged and moved to Ohio…

I had no idea she actually had “masklophobia”: a real phobia of people in costumes / mascot suits. She told me about it later. She wasn’t around to see me when I took the tiger head off my head and said “It’s OK! It’s ME! It’s Molly!”

I wore that suit for school events for little over a school year. It didn’t fit me. I looked like a malnourished fake tiger. “TC Tiger” was the mascot name and the kids simply could not get enough of TC Tiger. I was ready to pass the baton despite my obsession to make sure TC Tiger was well-handled: you can’t see less than 4 feet in front of yourself in a mascot suit and so accidentally mowing down a kid is entirely too possible.

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This is me in the mascot suit the day it arrived: the Friday before Columbus day 2008. It’s from an album titled, “TC Tiger Visits School and Molly Loses 4# in the Process.”

The funny thing about being inside that suit is that you’re smiling but people can’t see you. So when tiny children run away traumatized but you’re in there cooing and making “It’s OK Toodles, it’s just me, Molly,” faces, they can’t see that. All they can see is a giant head, fangs and a stupid smile and huge hands trying to hug (NOT GASH) them.

The principal at the time wasn’t too thrilled with the PTA being so “school spirit-y” she felt that was her job. Sitting in her office, hiding most of the day, biding her time until retirement. She was lukewarm to TC Tiger. Or maybe it was me she was lukewarm to. It was most likely me… By this point, I think all three of my kids were in the school and she and I had cooled from that first encounter when she gaslighted me after Norovirus. Often she was content letting the school be “cleaned” by employees who’d rather be hanging out smoking at Starbucks across the street… Truth. We had issues with that. Hence, the Norovirus.

I learned that exercising my talents: writing, public relations, empathy, awareness of our connection to others, art, rallying for a cause to benefit all, enthusiasm for other people, their right to live on Earth and their promise, is really what works for others and what makes me hum. Doing all the volunteer stuff I was talked into doing didn’t further anythig of any value, for me or them. I learned to advocate and get the attention of the County on important matters such as hygiene, safety and communication.

At Terra Centre, as in any school environ nestled in Power Play central, the real work can be in dealing with adults.

Now I’m talking about the parents… persons with multiple degrees, fancy letters or abbreviations before and after their names, ranks, and connections. I also learned about projection, inadequacy and self-esteem issues, drama, need for excitement, and the predilection for some of those parents to stand on the narrow shoulders of or behind the gentle chests of their children.

The children? They taught me kindness and patience. They taught me boundaries. You have no choice when a little girl grins at you through her gapped teeth, “I GOT IT I GOT IT” when you try to help her with her milk carton.

In May, my youngest banished me from the walk because he wanted to walk alone to school for the last three weeks. A helicopter parent, I am not, but the kid seldom gets out on time, and I like the exercise. We also use that time to chat about stuff. He banished me from the walk home back in November, “I’m 12 now…” so … yeah. There was no excuse / little brother onto place my interest. He was the excuse. He was the little brother.

So we made a deal: he gets out of the house by 8:27 and he could walk by himself. He did alright. But on the last week, I pulled rank. I told him I would be walking with him on the last day of school. To and From. He didn’t balk. I think he got it. For 6th graders, the last day is traditionally a “recognition” ceremony. The kids get “certificates of achievement” of being a student at the school and passing 6th grade. Other awards are given out — it’s lovely actually.

The morning of the last day, it rained, so his dad drove us. The walk home though… I was not giving that up. I would NOT make the day before my last walk home from school. I did not give up a career in corporate communications and PR to miss this moment.

Here’s how it went:

If you watch that video until the end, you’ll see he turns around to look at me. The fades in the video were not my doing, it was the light coming in as we left the shade of the path. The house in my comments is not mine.

At first I was self-conscious about doing it but I quickly put that away. As you will see, our walks to and from school are Rockwellian. I’m good with the video now. I didn’t discover his backward gaze until I watched it last night. That it’s 1:43 in length, “143” being our code for “I Love You” makes the capture all the more lovely to me.

In a sense, I grew up here at Terra Centre. I learned that persistence overcomes resistance and that a gaggle of noisy parents who give a damn can effect real change on a busy over-traveled street. I learned that school principals are just people too and they come with their own dreams, fears, alliances, and hesitations. I learned that rational people can run a school and that kids needn’t be afraid of principals.

Most of all, I learned about myself. I learned that it’s ok for me to miss the school. After 13 years, I felt like family. To my kids, it’s a place they where they learned to tie their own shoes. To me, it’s a place where I liked to walk. I always appreciated my walks to Terra Centre.

I will miss it very much, and so I get it when I see moms of kids in high school or college or medical school or living in Manhattan on their own with a family walking their dogs with the moms of kids in third grade… just to see a little kid again or to mosey beneath the shade on the way to another day to ourselves.

Thank you.

Angry Rain, OldMan Car, and Tiger Mascot Suits

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I’m so excited that many of you (who might be new to my blog) came by this week to see what Sharyn and Kelly expressed about breast cancer and the beauty of fall earlier this week. Those posts have been shared a LOT (like more than anything I’ve ever written, which leaves me scratching my tilted head’s furrowed brow…), so if you haven’t seen them, please check them out — other people were clearly impressed and you’ll see why if you didn’t read them yet.

I’m not gonna talk about the debate last night other than to say this: Obama needed coffee and Mittney needed a collar. I’ve never seen a sitting president look so uninterested in repeating his term and I’ve never seen an opponent so hard pressed to take it from him.

Tuesday it rained most of the morning here. And I don’t mean the morning that required sunlight. I mean the morning that began at midnight and ended at noon. Most of the rain was average, normal lovely rain. In fact, the rain we woke to was that kind. When it was time to leave for our daily walk to school however, the rain had asserted itself into a demonic and dominating death rain. The kind of rain that makes you afraid it will personally injure you when it makes impact on you. The kind of rain that mocks umbrellas as it shreds them. Yeah, that kind of rain. So the kids were reluctant to walk in it; the Murph definitely was not interested and because we were all standing inside the house yelling at each other about the rain and looking out the storm window at its fury, the BreadWinner said he’d take the boys to school in his OldMan Car.

Phew!

The OldMan Car is a Toyota Avalon. He loves it because it’s massive, larger than a BMW 7-series (and boy, nothing like spouting off that statistic impresses the hip-replacement population, if they can hear you). I say, why wait? Why not get the most popular vehicle for all post-cardiac ablation patients while you’re still in your 40s? Let’s just go ahead and shop ourselves crazy for canes, triple-strength reading glasses on chains and glucosamine. No matter. It’s what he drives. And he likes it. Truth be told, it’s very comfortable and surprisingly quick and nimble. Like Geriatric Jack-be-Quick on a juicer binge.

Here is an OldMan Car in its natural habitat: tropical golf resort. Note: the graying temples on the man walking in and the slight middle-aged paunch and obligatory short hair on the aging woman before him, who must be resort staff or his great aunt. Our house looks nothing like this and our OldMan Car has scratches from errant trash cans, bicycle handles and scooters.

When I’m driving my tank around town with the Things, we see endless varieties of silver foxes barely visible above the steering wheels in OldMan Cars of all vintages. Just one more: the Toyota Avalon is usually the car your dead great grandmother leaves you in her will because her husband left it to her when he died. On the golf course. In his madras shorts. And the white kilties.

Unless… you’re the guy who picks one out in the parking lot of the local dealership when you’re 40.

Anyway, the kids piled in and enjoyed the ride in the massive back seat which reclines, which is a great feature for when you get a case of the vapors and you need to lie down when your smelling salts bring you back. HAY! I’m not ageist – I’m just sayin’ let’s give this middle-aged thing a shot before I have to go shopping for lace doilies, stacked heels and loose stockings, k?

When it was time for me to go to yoga, I maintained my fear of the intense rain. When yoga was over, it was still raining although it was more of an agitated rain than rage rain. So I braved it and went to Wegman’s where I love to shop and I bought food that makes me feel like how Jesus used to eat: hummus, pita, veggies, fruit and olives. Note to self (which I’ve ignored plenty): don’t shop when hungry.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

Yesterday was National Walk to School Day (NWSD). Our school started participating in the event back in 2008 when RICK! was PTA president and I was her major-domo. Our school mascot is a tiger. The school didn’t have a tiger suit, it spent its funds on education. Whatever…. I thought that was a crime, so with our PTA budget in hand, I proposed we spend $150 to buy a cartoony tiger suit and giant styrofoam tiger head I saw on eBay from an anonymous woeful factory in China. Proposal approved, suit arrived in less than 10 days. The children love “TC” the tiger and filling the suit with a living human has usually been easy. TC is a main staple of the NWSD event. He meets kids at the top of the hill, high-paws them, waves and poses for pictures.

This is me in the mascot suit the day it arrived: the Friday before Columbus day 2008. It’s from an album titled, “TC Tiger Visits School and Molly Loses 4# in the Process.”

I’ve been in that suit a dozen times. When you first start out, the craziest part about it is that when you’re in it you make all these “Hey, friend!” and “Hi little guy, you’re so cute!” smiling faces which is intentionally lovely yet practical idiocy because your own human, emoting, compassionate and understanding face CAN’T BE SEEN by the children. And some kids are freakin’ terrified of that cat and so when you crouch down and purr with your soft human face saying, “It’s OK! I won’t bite! I’m a nice kitty… here: pat my paw, touch my tail or play with my whiskers!” a small child thinks you’re growling, crouching to kill, taking a swipe, trying to whip him with your tail or prepping to dig your 3-inch teeth into her face.

You also have to hold your head inside the head a little off kilter, sort of like you’re Thurston Howell III or another stuck-up jerk because you can’t see what’s directly in front of you from your face to about 4 feet ahead of you. Conveniently, other than the possibility of passing out from inhaling its own carbon dioxide, if a person in a mascot suit wanted to tie one on just before appearing and ended up bumping into things he could easily blame the obfuscated line of sight as the problem.

I remember the day it arrived. RICK! and I couldn’t wait to go up and show the principal. School had already dismissed for the weekend. So we were cruising around, I walked into some books in the library and almost doubled over a couch in the reading zone… After we left the library, this very young teacher came around the bend of our school and encountered me head on. She SCREAMED. I was all, “What’s wrong? It’s me! It’s Molly Field! PTA Vice Prez… Hey… Hey! HEY!!!” and waving my paws, reaching out to her and trying to reason with her… she actually ran away. RICK! was behind me and she had to calm down the teacher who was nearly in tears and I ended up walking down a ramp into a pile of books and chairs that the custodians were moving because a pencil sharpener exploded all over a classroom. That teacher since left the school. Not that day, but, you know, that year.

Some people.

Typical of me, I took this mascot role very seriously: I Googled “how to be a mascot” and watched YouTube videos about it, but it never worked out. I ran out of gas because I didn’t have an occasion to really perfect the craft nor would the PTA cover costs for me to go to San Diego to learn how to mascot like a boss. I was the mascot in that suit for most of its first year and I enjoyed every minute of it, even though I sweat like a … well, like a 41-year-old mother of three in a $150 Chinese-made polyester mascot suit. It has been a while since I turned over the reins for TC and many people have worn it. I’m in no rush to return to that suit: You will find me robbing a bank to pay for a Slurpee addiction the next time I wear that suit.

NWSD weather has usually been sunny and crisp.

This year’s weather was an exception in that it was foggy, but a wonderful morning.

They say of Washington, D.C.-area weather, “If you don’t like it, give it an hour…” as storms come up randomly sometimes. It will be hot some days and a crisp 50˚ the next day in October . This is what autumn means to me, it’s “summerpause” in that the season is all about transition, slowing down, decomposing and resting to gear up again. So the walk to school was foggy and although I didn’t bring my camera, I did get to experience the visual gift of the fog when the Murph and I walked after dropping off the Things.

I encountered a gorgeous spider web, thankfully nowhere near my intended path, occupied by a robust auburn-toned arachnid whose leg-span made it about the size of a silver dollar. (Shaking off the shivers I still get when I think about it…) Had the rivulets (isn’t that a great word?) not formed on the web I would have never caught the image. The moisture accumulated enough to outline a perfect and massive 2’x2′ web perched about 6′ high from the dewey grass below. Spiders amaze me: they build every day, sometimes several times a day. I know that when I look at a spider like that they know my misery when I have to fold laundry.

After taking that in and saying a small prayer in gratitude that the gorgeous, industrious thing was nowhere near me as spiders normally make me run for Indiana screaming, I continued on our stroll. As we crossed a wooden footbridge, I saw a small conference of recently fallen red maple leaves in striking contrast to the blacktop ahead on the path. They had seen an early spring, a powerfully hot summer and were now turning their shop signs to “Closed for the Season” and were clearly ready to retire. I have come to think of autumn leaves falling as nature’s confetti, “Party’s on! We’re done feeding you humans clean air for a while… you’re good ’til spring. Just don’t screw up the ozone layer any further, k? It was hotter than you know what last summer…”

After that, we cruised by some ponds in our ‘hood (I will acknowledge that where I live is pretty idyllic once you forget about the massive 7-lanes of careening traffic about 100yards from my house) which had been cleared of their overgrowth. We saw more frogs, turtles and ducks hanging out and doing their slowdown thing. One painted box turtle we saw was in a shell that was turning yellow … do turtles change their colors too or do you think this one was ready to pack it up and call it a life? I’ll have to look that up.

These images are not things I take lightly or consider glib. In my sage maturity I’ve been socked with an almost aggressive case of EWYLDSCD:  “Enjoy What You Love and Don’t Sweat Crap that Doesn’t Matter to You” syndrome. That means that sometimes the best parts of life are the quiet things; the things that don’t talk back, that don’t “be mean” to me, the things that don’t cause chaos. I love my team, I wouldn’t change a thing in my life, but if I didn’t have nature and her blessings around me, I’d not be nearly as copacetic as I am. Nature and her beauty has softened me. (I know… that’s tragic.)

One of the best and most heart-warming images I also didn’t photograph yesterday was the moment when I saw the parent who’d volunteered to be TC meet his wife and their dog around one of the ponds after NWSD duty. Of course he had the head off, or else he’dve ended up in the pond or on a random tot-lot along the way. He was carrying the giant TC head under his arm, like a massive basketball. They have a big fluffy dog. He’s an army officer, the dad. He recently returned from a tour overseas for the past year defending our freedom. I believe he was in Afghanistan. His wife is a very funny and kind woman. Their dog noticed him first, in the odd get-up and started to bark happily at his master’s approach. The fog was just starting to thin by this point and I was on another footbridge about 150 feet away, across the pond’s glass-like stillness with their reflections dancing on the surface. He bent down to pat his dog and embraced his wife. I was quiet and Murphy stood still with me and I thought, “Holy Sweet God, whatta guy. He came back from hell on earth wearing a uniform every day for my country only to come back and shortly don another uniform for his kids and their schoolmates.” TC never looked better or meant so much to me than at that moment.

Thank you.