What Mothers Remember

Her mother died late in the summer before her second-grade year. The cancer had spread quickly; four months was about all she had to say goodbye.

Goodbye to her small daughter and devastated husband.

And in that time of finishing photo albums and tying up loose ends as only a mom can, she forgot to remind her husband of the little things that matter to a girl.

The right hair bow to accent her ponytail. The same charm bracelet that the other girls were wearing.

Donuts on her birthday.

To the casual observer, one who doesn’t spend a lot of time at an elementary school, it may appear to be just a donut. An occasional treat, possibly covered in frosting or sprinkles.

Maybe a cruller to dip in a steaming hot cup of coffee on a wet spring morning.

But to a young child celebrating a birthday?

That cumbersome white box with the window on top is a trophy.

A banner that shouts to the others on the playground, “It’s my birthday! My parents let me bring donuts for the entire class! I’m a hero!”.

They love me.

So the excitement surrounding the acquisition and handing out of the donuts often begins the week before the actual birthday.

By the time the actual day arrives and the birthday child appears at the classroom door with two dozen donuts and a stack of napkins, it’s official.

She’s a rock star.

Several months had passed since her mother died, when her birthday came in January.

A birthday to be celebrated without her mother; with her father still picking up the pieces and trying to move forward when all he really wanted was to have her back.

When her father dropped her off at my house that morning it was still dark outside. The cold January mornings felt too much like night but teased us with the possibility of daybreak at any moment.

We said our quick goodbyes, all three anxious to leave the cold behind. She looked small and tired; she didn’t make eye contact with me when I wished her a Happy Birthday.

I led her to the playroom where she could distract herself while my daughter got ready for school.

And I stood in the kitchen and wept for the missing donuts.

That little girl needed her rock star day. She needed to be able to feel that someone cared enough to remember a little thing that was actually quite big.

I wasn’t about to let her go without them.

This post is for The Red Dress Club weekly writing prompt. This week’s assignment was to write a piece, fiction or non-fiction, inspired by this picture of a donut.

Sands of Time

Gravity and weather haven’t been kind to it.

Years of a life spent outdoors have taken their toll; sun-damaged boards warping just a bit more with each summer that comes and goes. Boards that smelled of the forest when we first brought them home now smell distinctly of mildew and rotten leaves.

The ladder is still sturdy enough to hold the five year-old boy it was built to support.

I wouldn’t recommend that same boy try to scale it now.

The sand inside is full of slugs and cobwebs, each rainy season bringing a few more. No mom with any common sense would let her toddler play anywhere near it now.

The hinges are rusted, and the heavy doors that cover the sand to keep the cats out (but apparently not the slugs) have warped together and are almost impossible to budge.

Scattered sand toys and plastic army men lie half-buried and cracked, long-forgotten playthings that don’t matter to anyone anymore.

Except for me.

There used to be a steering wheel up top; a place where a pirate captain could man his ship or a dump truck driver could shout directions to the workers below.

We decided my husband would build the sandbox/fort when our son was almost 5 years-old and our daughter was just a baby. It would be the perfect addition to our yard, which was already littered with enough Little Tikes toys to start a preschool.

Our son “helped” his dad build it, as much as a little boy can. It was finished just in time for his 5th birthday party, and we transformed it into a pirate ship for the party complete with a huge white sheet for the sail. Six or seven little pirates took over our yard that afternoon and declared the ship their own.

Twelve years later, it still stands in that perfect spot under the huge Chinese elm tree.

Looking incredibly weathered and saggy, like someone’s ancient aunt.

We talk about taking it down each spring, to make room for some chairs under the big old tree, or maybe a fire pit. A place where a family with older kids might spend some time.

There’s no reason to keep it there.

But how do you measure the life of an object that’s been both rocket ship and fairy hideaway? Garbage truck and “Girls Only” club? Pirate ship and quiet reading spot?

A place where treasures have been buried by a child, but where a mom has discovered that the real treasure is in these quiet times.

Fingers tracing the sand….plastic dinosaurs buried and excavated…..buckets of water hauled from the faucet to form sand castles worthy of a king….blankets and pillows hoisted up top for books, popsicles, and girl time.

It takes the prize as the ugliest thing in our whole yard.

But the memories alone make it beautiful to me.

Who needs a fire pit, anyway?

This post is for the Red Dress Club’s weekly writing club, Red Writing Hood. This week’s prompt: write a piece about something ugly – and find the beauty in it.