The wonder-filled life of a single older-ish mom.

Archive for the tag “childhood”

The Power of a Potion

IMG_6430Last night Nina convinced me to put dinner on hold so she could show me how to make a magic potion that would strengthen any and all animals that wandered through our yard. I knew she’d been concocting potions with her friends as part of their summertime animal rescue efforts, but this was the first time she had invited me to apprentice. I turned off the stove.

“Let me get my phone,” I said as she headed out the front door with a metal bowl, “in case I want to take a photo.”

“You don’t need your phone,” she said. “You already have a camera built into your mind. That’s the only one you need for this.”

Right. When did I forget that magic cannot be documented?

We placed the bowl on the trampoline—where all potions are created—and as she brought me ingredients I stirred them gently with a stick. Water from the rain barrel. Twelve tiny round seeds from the dogwood tree, which needed to be peeled to the fleshy white center. The innermost yellow nectar of the mandevilla flower. The smallest scales of a pine cone. All summer she’d been discovering a level of beauty that I’d never seen in my own yard.

After she declared the potion was complete, I was required to sit criss-cross while holding the bowl at arm’s length as she jumped in a circle around me. If the potion didn’t spill, it was strong enough. Although she jumped with all her might, I managed to pass the spill test. I followed her off the trampoline and around the yard as she carefully distributed bits of the potion, naming the various types of animals we’ve seen out back—deer, hedgehogs, turtles, rabbits, squirrels.

Tonight I’ll tell her that I did recreate one photo from the potion process this morning—the inside of a torn mandevilla—because it was just too beautiful to trust to my memory. And I’ll tell her that although she didn’t know it, she conjured her potion on the eve of Equinox, when all creatures begin preparations for winter. One child’s faith in magic will surely bring them strength.

— Amy Rawe


Let Her Fall

trainingThis is bike week during gym at Nina’s school, which brought a reckoning. Nina had yet to attempt riding without training wheels — she said she just wasn’t ready. But when we parked in front of the bike drop-off field Monday morning, I looked at her in the rear view mirror and saw her face blanch. None of the other bikes had training wheels.

“Mama! Take off my training wheels! Please, you have to!” she pleaded.

“But you’ve never ridden without them,” I said.

“It doesn’t matter. I’ll figure it out. You’ve just got to take them off!”

As the bell rang and she ran to her classroom, I sat in the car staring at the bikes, wondering what to do. Would I be allowing her to cave in to peer pressure, at the risk of getting hurt? Or would I be honoring her decision, trusting that she’d handle the challenge. Which would be more painful — embarrassment or skinned knees?

When Nina was ten-months old, her dad enrolled her in daycare two afternoons a week. He thought I needed the time, and that she needed the separation from my protective grip. I worried that she would be scared, that she was too young. But he said, “What if she thrives? What if she really loves it, and it’s good for you both?”

He was right. Her gummy grin widened when she saw the other children in a room full of books and toys. Instead of dissolving into shrieks and tears each time I dropped her off, she’d raise her drool-drenched chubby hand and clench it open and closed to say goodbye.

I decided to take the training wheels off. As I was finishing, the gym teacher, “Miss Cookie,” walked over to survey the field of bikes. I explained Nina’s situation to her and she said, “I doubt she’ll be the only one. I’ll work with her in the grass so the falls are softer.” I told her I felt a little guilty that she’d need to give my child more attention because of something I hadn’t yet taught her to do, and she invited me to come back later that day to help.

Anxiety gnawed on me during the five hours until it was time for her class to ride. When the kids finally did run out to the field, I watched Nina struggle to keep her bike steady while walking it towards me. Her bottom lip was trembling and she quickly wiped away tears. “I don’t know how to do this,” she whispered, her voice shaking. I knelt down and told her that I’d talked with Miss Cookie and that we would help her learn in a safe way. And she wasn’t alone. Several other second-graders wobbled on their bikes down the gentle slope of the learner’s lawn.

Nina fell many times, but she learned how to fall away from the bike in the process, and her first small successes with balance and pedaling quashed her fear. “Let go,” she’d say when she was ready for me to stopping running alongside her, steadying the bike. Let go.

When she saw the more experienced kids riding laps on the pavement, she declared, “I want to do that.” Within a half hour, she was. I watched her ride past me, singing out loud, while I worked with the kids who were still in the learning area. On the last lap, she saw me and yelled, “Mama! Look!” as she dared to lift one hand — long since grown from being the chubby, drool covered hand of a child who could not yet walk. She waved and gave a thumb’s-up, then rode around the bend, out of sight.

riding video

Summer, A Platform

It’s been three months since my last post. In the past I’ve had seasons when my writing crop goes fallow, so to speak, and I’ve always returned to the business of farming words with heavy regret over how much time I’ve wasted. This time I’m trying to recite a different story — one of acceptance, possibly even celebration. Possibly.

For the past three months I squeezed the juice out of summer with my daughter. We swam, biked, baked, argued, snuggled, and wrestled with boredom. We travelled to make-believe places and real ones. We visited friends who are like family in Maine and dared one another to leap off the “jumping rock” into the lake. We reminded one another to say no when our instincts said not this high. We studied cobwebs and snails and moss, and I grew tired of cleaning muddy footprints tracked in the hallway. We butted heads, wiped tears from our eyes, and mopped sweat from our foreheads. It was mundane and wondrous and everything in between. At the end of the summer, we laid in the grass and said Phew, that was fun. I love you so, so much.

As a writer, I’m supposed to be “building my platform” — slinging my work into the world in hopes that fellow readers will chose to follow me so that someday a book publisher will have proof that I have something other people would be willing to hear. But to be honest, I wrestle with that. When I post something, anything, my hope is more that my little bit of the journey will resonate with someone else — that maybe one other soul out there will feel Yeah! Me too. Keeping track of the statistics about how many “followers” I have and which posts generate the most hits leaves me feeling hollow.

So this time, for the first time, I declare that I will not trade this summer of joy for the stench of shame over what I didn’t accomplish. I’ll focus on the platform that I did build . . . the one for my daughter, the one that’s brimming with memories of a childhood summer well-savored.


— Amy Rawe

Rules To Be A Superhero

I was cleaning out my desk yesterday and found a piece of paper dated 3.19.13 — “Nina’s rules to be a superhero.”

IMG_05161. Never use revenge and stuff — unless it’s for peacocks on a ship, or pirates.

2. Never use your fighting powers for killing flies.

3. Never use your powers on turtles, unless they’re as big as the house.

4. You have to have good balance and be able to walk on the curb, and you have to run fast.

5. You have to be able to kick and save people— even without a cape.

Monday’s Wonder


While creating a photo folder of the past several years on Sanibel Island, I came across this throw-back from 2009. Nina was about 18-months old . . . this is her reaction upon seeing the ocean for the first time.

Of Rice And War

We were tucked into a plush bed long after bedtime in a lodge in the Smokies, and Nina wanted a bedtime snack — which I didn’t have. She whined, asking how I could possibly be so unprepared, reminding me that mamas should plan ahead when away from home.

We volleyed back and forth. She asserted, “You should have packed snacks,” and I replied, “You should have eaten your dinner.”

After we repeated our lines several times, I finally said in exasperation, “Nina, it’s not like you’re standing in a long line at a refugee camp waiting for a bowl of rice.”


Then, in the darkness right next to me she whispered, “What’s a refugee?”

A backup beep-beep signal flared in my mind as I realized what I’d stepped into. I tried to explain simply, and she became quiet again.

Then, “Mama? Why do people have wars?”

Beep, beep. I faltered through that explanation as well, and she was quiet for several minutes. I held my breath, willing her to fall asleep so I wouldn’t have to bluff my way through more simplification of the complexities of the human race.

“But Mama,” she piped up, “Why do the refugees order Chinese food?”

Monday’s Wonder

apple tree seedsWhen Nina was three, she scattered bird seed in the yard so she could “grow birds.”
Here’s hoping the seeds from her Gala apple produce better results.

Some Thoughts On Faith

I was raised in the Presbyterian church and thought I had God and religion under my belt until I went to college at a Southern Baptist university. A particularly hypocritical religion professor and the pervasive belief that all is God’s will — be it a bad grade or a friend’s horrific car accident — eroded my footing. Eastern religions became more appealing, but mostly I just backed away from the whole God-question, which was easy to do during the fifteen years I lived in a small liberal town on the coast of Maine. Although there were the requisite churches for those who wanted to attend, I  didn’t know anyone who did and religion was considered to be a private matter.

When Nina and I and my then-husband moved to Knoxville, religion pounced on us like a large hyped-up dog. As we unloaded boxes from the moving truck into our new house during a sweltering July afternoon, two men in sweat-soaked white shirts walked down the street, stopping at each house. As they approached our driveway, my husband and a friend who was helping us scampered inside. I was left, red-faced and dripping with sweat, carrying a box down the ramp of the truck.

“How’s it going?” one asked cheerily, as if I happened to be sitting under a ceiling fan on a verandah doing nothing more than eating bon-bon’s. I put the box down and wiped my sleeve across my brow. They introduced themselves as pastors at a Baptist church up the road, and asked me if I’d been born again. I wanted to say, “I was a believer until I became a skeptic,” but instead I picked up the box, moved past them, and said, “We’re not looking for a new church, thank you. And we’re busy moving in, as you can see. You’re welcome to help unload, if you like.” They walked on to the next house.

Just days later, a proper Southern woman asked if we had found a “church home, for our precious child of God.” And so we decided we needed to find a church, not out of our convictions, but so we had a robe to hide behind — kind of an armor to hold up and say, “See! We go here.” We also figured that if we were living in a place where the topic of religion was on the tip of tongues, then Nina would need have an understanding of it all, too.

We searched for the most liberal options — including the Unitarian church where a gunman had opened fire — killing two — just a year earlier because of the church’s “free-thinking.” Ultimately, we felt at home at the Presbyterian church my parents have attended for more than twenty years. Before we officially joined the church after a year of attending, my husband I met with the pastor, who is a young razor-sharp man with an outrageously irreverent sense of humor. I told him that I wasn’t sure I was qualified to be a member, since I don’t think Christianity is the only path to faith. He said, “Well, welcome to the craziest congregation of druids, Buddhists, Jews, skeptics, and some Presbyterians. You’ll fit right in. We have a labyrinth in the woods just beyond the parking lot, for pete’s sake. At one point, the youth hung Tibetan prayer flags out there.”

Yet on the day we officially joined our new church in Knoxville, my left ear was so clogged that I had a hard time hearing. Surely there’s a sign there, words of welcome falling on deaf ears and all.

After Sunday school with the “super-cool” Miss Mary, Nina said, “I don’t like church. They just talk about God and I don’t like God.” I asked her to tell me more.

“I guess it’s not that I don’t like God, but that I don’t know about God,” she said, “I don’t understand what God is, or where he is. Miss Mary tells me he is a he, like a daddy or something, and he is everywhere but I’ve never seen the guy.”

I tell her that I’m confused about God, too, but that there are a lot of different ways to think about God and no one way is the only right way. I tell her that often when I hear the name “God” I substitute the word “Love.”

“I think that ultimately God is about loving each other and trying to take care of ourselves, other people, and the earth,” I offered tentatively. This is from the mother who feels like a hypocrite even going to church — that I go not to worship a God I believe is my Lord and Savior but because it’s an open-minded, safe place to question faith in general. And because I love many of the people who also choose to be there. They ask Nina about the super-hero cape she often wears and agree with her that God doesn’t care if she doesn’t wear fancy clothes to church. And everyone in the pew doubled over with laughter one Sunday when she attempted to slide a smuggled-in whoopie cushion in my dad’s place as he sat down. As much as I know I should’ve chastised her for such improper behavior, I’ve got to figure that God doesn’t mind laughter, either.

I bought What Is God? for Nina and me to read. It’s a beautiful all-inclusive children’s book, acknowledging that God is a mystery. The colorful pages cover all the versions of God, from the old bearded man in the sky to Mohammed and Buddha, and emphasizes the interconnectedness of us all.

Nina leaned into me on the couch and we’d just turned the page about how people of one religion sometimes fight with people of another religion because they don’t understand that all religions come down to the same thing. God is everything, we read, from the hot wind in the desert to the freezing snow in the winter to the big, yellow moon.

“Are we about done?” Nina asked, “All this God talk hurts my brain.” I skim ahead to the last few pages on prayer and global interconnectedness and said, “Yeah. We’ll finish another time.”

Hours later, while she was coloring a My Little Pony picture and I was making dinner, she said, “I think it’s a force field.”

“What’s a force field?” I asked.

“God. Kind of like when I was at pony camp and learned how to stand on the saddle on Snickers. I didn’t fall because there was a force field all around me.”

“Of course,” was all I could muster to say, admiring her conviction with a tad bit of envy.

I read this poem, posted by my writing instructor, out loud to Nina:

God Says Yes To Me
by Kaylin Haught

“I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes”

After I finished, Nina looked at me with furrowed brows and I prepared myself for her question about the “she” issue. Instead, she said, “Can you be a little more like that, Mama? I mean, with your yeses?”

My friend Monique arrived from Asheville with her five-year-old daughter, Tessa, who would be staying with me and Nina while Monique attended a Biblical-Counseling workshop. I met Monique after she and her husband moved into the house four doors down from us in Maine. Because their house was on the corner of a four-way-stop sign — and because they hadn’t put up blinds or curtains in their kitchen yet — I stole glimpses of them in their kitchen as I drove by and guessed they were about our age.

Having been the new kid on the block a couple times when I was younger, I have an internal welcome-wagon setting that kicks into gear in a situation like this. On the morning of Super Bowl Sunday, I stopped at their house after running to the grocery store, knocked on the door, and invited them to join us. They did, and we’ve been friends since despite their move to Asheville and ours to Knoxville — and our differences in faith.

Monique and her family are Seventh-Day Adventists, and were somewhat of an anomaly in our small liberal town. They had a bible on the side table, for godssake, which dinner guests placed their drinks as far away from as possible. But Monique and her family persevered, and never in an obtrusive way. They would only talk about how their faith worked for them — “We prayed about how to strengthen our relationship,” for example — and never suggested to their friends that they do the same.

Now that she’s back with family and her familiar church, Monique has been studying to counsel others from a Bible-based perspective. Shortly after she left for her workshop, Nina and Tessa got re-acquainted, beginning with age and grade. Nina eagerly showed Tessa one of her addition worksheets from school.

Tessa, who attends a private Christian school, replied, “Do you pray in school?” Nina screwed up her face as if to say “are you crazy?” and said, “No. Well, we say the Pledge of Allegiance and that has God in it.”

“No,” Tessa said, “like you have church while you’re at school. We do. Everyday.”

Nina flipped her hand in the air and said, “No way. But we God-it-up on Sundays.”

“Tell me a story about God,” Nina said, sitting on the toilet in her 1960’s green-tiled bathroom while I filled the bathtub. My mind went blank. “A story about you and God,” she prodded. I didn’t say, “Once we were good friends but I didn’t like some of the zealots he was hanging out with so we haven’t been in touch for awhile.”

She answered my silence with, “Well, I know a lot about God.”

“You do?” I asked. “Where did you learn so much about God?”

“I just know,” she said. “I was born knowing. Kids come out knowing about God and all that stuff. God’s inside us.” She looked out the bathroom window at the trees that were beginning to drop their leaves and said, “And he’s in the trees and the leaves, and…” She trailed off while her eyes scanned the bathroom, landing on the bubbles in the bath. “He’s even in the bubbles, definitely in bubbles. Oh, and God’s ok with tantrums,” she added.

I can have faith in that. And for right now, that’s enough.

— Amy Rawe

Monday’s Wonder


Snow day #2. Nina and her BFF juiced every clementine and lemon in the house, then wanted to haul the lemonade stand out of its hibernation in the garage. I protested, pointing to the snow and explaining that lemonade stands are for summer. “C’mon,” Nina finally pleaded, “Give us a chance. How do you know it won’t work if you’ve never tried it?”

True, I nodded. Plus, my brother and I manned our lemonade stands on a dead-end street and our mother never pointed out the doomed marketability of our business venture. So, we set up the stand. The girls served six customers — including our neighbors across the street and Nina’s Grampy who was requested to come. Although very few drivers passed by, most stopped. One young man hopped through the snow with a foot cast to buy two cups. No one, oddly enough, had just the requisite 25¢. They all happened to be carrying only $1 bills, except for the mystery customer who tucked a $10 behind a folded $1. Within an hour, the girls sold out and earned $15 to split for their spring-break spending funds. I earned a slightly more open mind.

Monday’s Wonder

Photography is my hobby. Every now and then I am lucky enough to capture a moment of beauty, whimsy, or grace. Mondays usually need an extra bit of wonder, so I’ll post one of my photos here each Monday . . . and maybe any other day of the week I need a dose.

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