Life in Two Columns by Ashley Harper
Photo by Marlinee Iverson
It was good and bad, as all days are. The weather was unseasonably gorgeous, high summer and more than bearable. In Memphis, even October is warm and humid. As a child I went trick or treating in a bathing suit and red galoshes two years in a row– I was Wonder Woman. We never expect the heat to break in August down here, but today the morning glories were full, the ferns brilliant even in plain sun. The sky was blue with fast moving clouds that covered the sun for shady moments.
This morning on the bank of the Mississippi my daughter scrambled over stones in search of fossils, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets tucked under one arm. Shortly afterwards we went to retrieve her little brother from his orientation at school, and ran into a friend picking up his own son. “You know Bob was kinda low this morning, not very enthusiastic to be here, but I think Gus really buoyed his spirits.” I had been anxious about Gus going into kindergarten, so I was proud that he could be a positive influence in the classroom. The morning had been good.
Then the kids began to file out of the door, Gus ahead, pushing roughly past some smaller child to say, “Today was so BORING! They just TALK, TALK, TALK!” He was near tears and red-faced in his effort to not cry. I smiled at my friend, “Tell me again, what were you saying about Gus?” He laughed, “See you tomorrow.” This wasn’t so good.
At the park later, the kids were swinging, reaching hands out to each other and then pumping themselves towards the oak trees, like they were friends! Gus yelled, “We’re taking this to the next level!” A Spy-Kids reference I think. They giggled, I sighed, it was all, as they say, good. Then Gus let go and his swing started to twist a bit. He fell straight backward – still swinging pretty high, but managed to stay on the seat by doing that maneuver with the thighs where you spread your legs out and the friction between the chains and the legs keeps you in an upside-down-land-on-your-head pose. You’ve seen this done at the circus by trained trapeze artists. I fortunately caught him up before his arm – which was dragging along the ground at a horribly unnatural angle – broke. He was okay, and my daughter was laughing behind her hand. Gus was half-laughing, and then I guffawed. I mean, he did look pretty damn funny. So he just up and socked me in the stomach. Well, aside from knocking my breath away, it really pissed me off, so I gave him a swat on the butt.
I know, I know, Never hit a child in anger, though if you hit them when you’re not angry, that’s not really fair is it? No, but I’m not a spanker, in general. Really. So he looked at me as if I had just insulted his mother or slapped him with a glove, as indignant a look as a five-year-old can muster. Then he broke off across the park at a sturdy march; his sister, the mother hen, in close pursuit. I grabbed our stuff and went to the car, muttering beneath my breath as other moms turned and gazed. I threw everything in the car and spun to fetch the kids, when I realized they were now on the opposite side of the street, as in, they crossed it alone. All of this, as you surely know, was bad.
After the situation was resolved, not really to anyone’s satisfaction, I saw another mom I know and her five-year-old daughter. So, we spoke for a long time and the kids made a quasi-clubhouse on the playground set. My friend reassured me and we traded war stories – she had related the whole story of JAWS while on a car-trip – only to turn around to two wide-eyed goose-pimpled girls, terrified in the back seat. Not so bad, but it made me laugh. Then another mother I know came up with her brood of three; she was hollow-eyed with lack of sleep, begging me to tell her that it got easier with older kids. All this made me feel good.
At the grocery store, my son’s threats of dumping out the coffee bean bins – which, mind you, he has done- was bad. Playing Uno with my daughter while her brother slept off his rage, was good. But it was bad when he then wobbled semi-conscious into the bathroom in the middle of the night and stuck the Dr. Bronner’s hand pump soap in his mouth, but it was funny as hell, so it was good too. (I don’t know who says you can brush your teeth with that stuff, but it ain’t so.)
And couldn’t we divide our days as such? All of them? In two columns, the good and the bad. Though like the soap incident in the middle of the night, I bet, and even hope, that most of the things on our lists, would merge.