The Lost Country

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I like to write about childhood, for different reasons. There were times when everything was perfect, like when I was 7-9 years old and my family lived in a serene (then) and beautiful neighborhood in Santa Monica, California. My best friend lived a few houses away, my piano teacher lived on the opposite corner, my babysitter was just down the street, and my first crush, a blonde, freckle-faced cutie named Linda Coss, lived at the bottom of the street in the only pink house in the whole neighborhood. Flowers perpetually smiled through the white picket fence surrounding her garden, and bluebirds and butterflies circled above her room constantly. (In my memory, anyway.)

We moved fifteen times before I was fifteen years old. Some kids are given the tools to be okay with that. I wasn’t one of them. Perpetually the new kid, and very small in stature (one of my older brother’s nicknames for me was “Pail and Frail”), I got bullied a lot. I resented my parents for disrupting my life every year or two because they were unhappy, and blamed them for everything that went wrong. I was like a sapling getting yanked out of the soil every time I started putting down roots. As a result, I grew more confused and angry as my teenage years came along, eventually developing severe shyness and low self-esteem. The bullies had accomplished what they wanted to do to me.

When I got out of high school and got my first car, I would often drive to that old neighborhood and walk around. Of all the neighborhoods we lived in, that was the one that felt like home to me. It was where my “wonder years” happened. But it wasn’t the same, of course. Everyone I knew as a child had moved. Other people lived in our house. I resented them, even though we moved out over ten years earlier. My brother had become a heroin addict, my father was cut down to skin and bone by cancer, my high school girlfriend had an abortion that killed me spiritually, and I had no college or career aspirations. In fact, I had no idea what I wanted to do or be. This all caused a desire as overwhelming as it was unrealistic – to go back to the time when everything was still ahead of me and my family, when no mistakes had been made yet. I was like a ghost haunting my own life too early.

As I got older and started writing, childhood was one of my favorite subjects. It still is. They say writing is living twice. Maybe that’s why. I’m still trying to find what I lost, fix what was broken, and relive the moments when everything was perfect. Moments of pure joy, like when I saw Santa Claus fly right over my house while laying on my front lawn. I even heard the reindeer bells. Or my best friend Dana and I sitting in trees and rooftops with walkie-talkie’s, pretending the neighbors walking below were enemy spies. Or making gelatinous bugs and snakes in our Mattel Thing-Maker oven, then scaring the girls on the street with them. Or watching Sci-Fi movies in chair-and-blanket forts while stuffing our faces with candy. Or my teenage babysitter Shirley arriving with a handful of toys and puzzles for my brother and I to play with. As the saying goes, “God was in His universe and all was right with the world.” 

While reading a book by Gail Carson Levine called Writing Magic – Creating Stories That Fly, I came across a perfect description of the desire to somehow access childhood again through writing. She wrote:

“I used to think, long ago, that when I grew up, I’d remember what it felt like to be a child and that I’d always be able to get back to my child self. But I can’t. When you become a teenager, you step onto a bridge. You may already be on it. The opposite shore is adulthood. Childhood lies behind. The bridge is made of wood. As you cross, it burns behind you. If you save what you write, you still won’t be able to cross back to childhood. But you’ll be able to see yourself in that lost country. You’ll be able to wave to yourself across that wide river. Whether or not you continue to write, you will be glad to have the souvenirs of your earlier self.”

I’m a father of two girls now, three and six years old. They are bringing the magic back to me. Before I became a dad, I used to be annoyed when parents would say “Really? Wow!” to their young children with false enthusiasm in response to something nonsensical they had just said. But I get it now. Today, my youngest daughter said to me, very excitedly, “Jelly Bean has a tail!” and I found myself saying, “Really? Wow!” Still not wanting to be one of “those” parents, however, I asked her to explain the comment. But her answer confused me even more.

I concluded that saying “Really? Wow!” is actually a very wise admission, a surrender to the fact that children live in a world grown-up’s are not allowed in. As Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet –

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Not wanting to give up so easily, I asked my daughter if I could go with her to her world, to visit Jelly Bean and see his tail. She said, “Yes, daddy!” very exuberantly. We walked across the room, sat down and played for a while, despite the spaces between us – between her innocence and my world-weariness, her perfectly unfettered joy and my comfortless logic. But still, all I could do is watch her in wonder and envy at the delicious irresponsibility and frivolity of her life, a frivolity I encourage and protect. The bubble of childhood will pop soon enough, and always too early.

In his song Too Many Angels, Jackson Browne wrote:

There are photographs of children
all in their silver frames
on the windowsills and tabletops
lit by candle flames.
And upon their angel faces,
life’s expectations climb
as the moment has preserved them
from the ravages of time.”

I did not begin to let go of my childhood until I had children of my own. How could I when only my life concerned me? Their effortless ability to save me from endless reminiscing was and still is my salvation. Their future is more important to me now than my own, or my past. I’ll still visit it in my writing, but with far less aching melancholy because now, anytime I need to see what joy is, I just have to find them and watch them play. I will not allow my restlessness to uproot my little saplings. I will not allow any unhappiness I feel to disrupt theirs.

My Girls

They bring out the best in me. They sharpen my focus. They motivate me to pass the point where I stopped before. I want them to be proud of me and the work I do, but they are the reason for all of it. And if I were to fail as a parent, nothing else I ever accomplish would matter much.

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And I Love You So

 

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(My daughter and I six years ago.)
And I love you so,
The people ask me how,
How I’ve lived till now
I tell them “I don’t know”I guess they understand
How lonely life has been
But life began again
The day you took my hand

And yes I know how lonely life can be
The shadows follow me
And the night won’t set me free
But I don’t let the evening get me down
Now that you’re around me

And you love me too
Your thoughts are just for me
You set my spirit free
I’m happy that you do

The book of life is brief
And once a page is read
All but love is dead
That is my belief

And yes I know how loveless life can be
The shadows follow me
And the night won’t set me free
But I don’t let the evening bring me down
Now that you’re around me

And I love you so
The people ask me how,
How I’ve lived till now
I tell them “I don’t know”

(Don McLean)

Innocence Lost – Handgun Safety

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Brooklynn Mae Mohler

March 29, 2000 – June 4, 2013

I was up all night with my sick, five-year old girl. She finally relented to sleep so I got online. I couldn’t sleep anyway. I Googled an old poem I wrote after my brother died. I do that every few months or so just to see where it has traveled, but always dread what I will find because it’s a poem about grieving. I received an email just yesterday from a woman whose husband was killed in a homicide, asking if she could read it as his funeral. The poem is both a source of joy to me, knowing it helps people, and a source of sadness, hearing stories of untimely deaths.

Last night it led me to a woman whose daughter, Brooklynn, was accidentally shot in the back by her best friend because her friend’s absent father didn’t properly secure his handgun. I could barely read the description in one of her blogs of the day it happened, discovering her body, etc. Horror beyond words, and yet this poor, sweet woman said my poem “provided solace” for her in her “darkest, most agonizing moments.” This is why I write. This.

I was feeling frustrated last night not only because my daughter was sick but because I needed sleep so I could work today. Maybe I was led to that page to give me some perspective. My girl just had a little cold. She woke up this morning. I held her a lot tighter last night as she slept, savoring her every breath, while I prayed for Brooklynn and her family.

Hundreds of children are shot accidentally every year in America due to improperly secured handguns. The man who left the handgun sitting around that killed Brooklynn was not punished for the easily-preventable loss of this beautiful, vibrant, 13-year old girl.  Stupidity and bone laziness are not crimes, I suppose, but why he didn’t get charged with child endangerment or involuntary manslaughter is a mystery to me.

One of their main messages is to ask a simple question if you let your child play at their friends houses – ask their parents, “Are there any unsecured guns in your house?” Please visit the site below and do what you can to help her courageous parents as they promote handgun safety awareness, and push for laws punishing irresponsible gun owners for the lives that are lost because of them.

http://justiceforbrooklynn.com/our-story/

Link to the poem –
http://justiceforbrooklynn.com/2016/02/how-we-survive/

A Child’s Grace (poem)

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A Child’s Grace

My father was saying Grace one night.
I looked at our table, covered with food.
I was usually happy at dinnertime
but this time I fell into a serious mood.

He said, “Dear Lord, we humbly thank You
for nourishing our bodies with this meal”
but then he said “while some go without”
and I wasn’t sure just how I should feel.

“While some go without.”
The words rang in my ears.
I thought of what that meant
and my eyes filled with tears.

My mother noticed my sadness
and asked, “Honey, what’s wrong?”
But I had trouble finding words
for a feeling so strong.

Then I said, “Mama, I’m worried
I haven’t been thankful enough
for all the food on our table
and this house full of . . . stuff.”

She told me, “It’s okay, dear.
That means you have a good heart.
But to show God you’re thankful,
you just have to start.”

My father looked in my eyes,
smiled, stroked my hair,
and said, “God’s listening now.
Will you continue the prayer?”

It was a big night for a child,
moved by such a strange mood.
I wanted to show I was grateful
and for much more than food.

I said, “Thank You, dear God,
for peanut butter and jelly.
I’ve never known how it feels
to have no food for my belly.”

I said, “Thank You for my life
And for my little brother.
Thank You for my home,
and my father and mother.”

“Thank You for water.
Thank You for fish.
Thank You for the ability
to dream and to wish.”

“Thank You for my family
and all our pleasures and joys.
Thank You for my bicycle
and all my other toys.”

Thank You for fruit,
for honey and bread.
Thank You for the fantasies
that dance in my head.”

“Thank You for my books
and the adventures they hold.
Thank You for creativity
and tales yet to be told.”

“Thank You for my health
to walk, run and play.
Thank You for my parents
who show me Your way.”

My brother kept peeking,
worried I’d talk until dawn.
The list of my blessings
just went on and on!

I thanked God for the TV!
I thanked God for the phone!
I thanked God for everything
I was so lucky to own.

I just kept on thanking
and when I was done,
I’d said thank you for
everything under the sun.

For beaches and mountains,
for flowers and trees,
for dogs and dandelions,
for bunnies and bees.

For rainbows and kites,
for clouds and warm sun
for endless summer days
devoted only to fun.

For school and for teachers,
for all the lessons I’d learned.
I thought I’d covered it all
and left no stone unturned.

But I still wasn’t satisfied.
Something still wasn’t right.
We all sat in the silence
and I closed my eyes tight.

Then I found what was missing
and said one more prayer . . .
“Please, Lord, give all I have
to poorer kids everywhere.”

And with those last words,
a great peace filled the room
and a sweet scent flooded in
like a meadow in bloom.

Everyone could feel . . . something,
even my little brother.
“That was beautiful,” said father.
“I’m so proud of you,” said mother.

In giving thanks for my blessings,
I felt God’s loving embrace,
but when I wished for others
I discovered true Grace.

We were all hungry by then
and our dinners were cold
but how full and how warm
were my heart and my soul.

Mark Rickerby (c) 2015

Related story –

http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/boy-5-makes-diners-cry-as-he-says-grace-with-homeless-man/story-fnq2o7hp-1227360850445

My Toddler’s First Fib – And It Is a Doozy!

My 19 month-old daughter has not only started fibbing but fibbing in the biggest way possible – blaming Mickey Mouse for damage she intentionally caused. She has a little hobby when she can’t sleep of picking the leather veneer off the backboard of the bed. Below is the video of her interrogation before being taken downtown and booked for vandalism.

https://www.facebook.com/mark.rickerby/videos/10153629711931350/?pnref=story

UPDATE: Turns out she was telling the truth! Mickey Mouse confessed, has taken a few of the seven dwarves hostage, and barricaded himself inside the whale on the Pinocchio ride at Disneyland. Fortunately, he is unable to fire a weapon because of the giant, white gloves he wears, so his only defense against the SWAT team is to throw lollipops. One officer was struck in the neck by one of those giant ones they sell at the gift shop, causing a small welt. I will keep you posted as the situation develops. I feel terrible for not believing my toddler, but who would have guessed? Mickey Mouse, a common criminal!

Upon further research, I learned that Mickey Mouse actually has a rap sheet as long as the monorail. Here are a few of his past mugshots –

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What Did the Baby Just Say?

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Can some explain this mystery? When I accidentally say a sentence containing a word I don’t want my 18 month-old daughter to know or use, why does she always notice that word the most? For instance . . .

Example 1:
Mommy: “Hi, honey. How was your day?”
Daddy: “Great until some dummy almost killed me on the freeway.”
Daughter: “Dummy. Ha ha.”

Example 2:
Mommy: “The contractor won’t finish the work until he gets another thousand dollars.”
Daddy: “What? That turkey said his price was final.”
Daughter: “Turkey. Ha ha.”

Then, of course, I get “the look” from my wife. (Also known as the Stink Eye.)

I already gave up the most satisfying bad words when my first daughter was born 4 1/2 years ago. I’m not sure if I can live without less satisfying ones like dummy and turkey.

I think I’ll just stop talking. My wife won’t mind.