“Come sit with me BB,” she says. We tried many names, “bonus mom,” “b-mom,” “other mom,” but only “BB” (short for Bahar) made me, a member of the auntie-squad, feel comfortable. So it stuck.
I sit with her.
She is restless.
Because of my own lack of confidence in this new role, I typically take his children’s other-than-perfect behavior personally. We sit on the first step of the carpeted staircase and start doing math homework together. When her younger sister asks me a question, she loses her cool. “Car-e-leigh!” she complains. The added “e” after the “r” indicates frustration.
We move to a quieter space.
When I try to answer her question, she responds, “I don’t get what you are saying,” followed by “No! That’s not how you do it!” She tests my patience when she throws her homework on the floor. I don’t pick up the sheets of paper strewn about the sofa, but I don’t leave either. We finish math. She hands me a writing sample to check. As I’m reviewing it, her father asks her to get ready for dance class. She’s not a fan of activity, yet the tantrum she throws is too extreme for her otherwise peaceful temperament. She trudges to her room in tears.
I have low tolerance for excessive whining or lack of respect for parents and usually ignore it until the child is ready to have a reasonable conversation. Somehow today I’m different. Today is not about self-assumed inadequacies. My feet walk me up the stairs to her room.
I hold her.
It’s the day their mother left for her honeymoon. It’s the week after the wedding. That’s enough to make anyone uneasy, much less a nine-year-old.
She’s not one to share feelings.
Today, she doesn’t have to.
“Stay with me BB.”
Bahar Anooshahr is an Iranian-American writer and speaker who left a career in oral and maxillofacial surgery to follow her passion of storytelling. Her works have been featured in The Austin Chronicle, Creative Nonfiction, Whole Life Times Magazine, and the anthology In The Night Count the Stars among others. She was a keynote speaker in Chicago for Failure: Lab—an international movement showcasing the untold stories of failure behind success.
My mother was the only person I’ve ever known who used a pencil down to its end.
Even now, 10 years after her death, I come across these stubby reminders in my kitchen drawer, or stuck in the recesses of an old desk. They all look the same. Yellow wooden pencils, no more than 4 inches long. Sometimes the brand has been sharpened away, and only the #2 stamp remains.
Sitting at the top like an oversize crown, there’s always a thick triangular eraser cap, the kind you push over the end of a pencil when its original eraser is gone, or worn down so much that metal scratches paper when you use it. The only time I needed those was in elementary school, when I bit the erasers off my pencils. I liked feeling the dry rubber between my teeth, and licking the bumpy texture left behind on the eraser stub.
But my mother’s eraser caps were earned honestly. Between her crossword puzzle habit, and balancing her checkbook, she wore an eraser away long before the pencil had earned its keep. She’d sit at the kitchen table, sputtering about 3 cents she couldn’t find on her bank statement. “Why does it matter?” I’d challenge, but the expression of delight on her face when she found it answered that.
“Mom, we can afford a new pencil” I’d tease, pulling a long yellow one from my school backpack.
“But I don’t need it” she’d reply. “This one is fine.”
And so, for her, it was. With its triangular eraser cap, it was good to go until it shrank below three inches, and began sliding off her knuckle and into the crook of her thumb. “OK, I guess it’s time to throw this one out” she’d sigh. Then she’d rescue one I left behind, maybe one I’d chewed, or one I had abandoned simply for the fresh smell of new lead.
I loved the feel of a new pencil, smooth and tight in my grip. I loved its long elegance, rising above my hand, and dancing its own reply to the words I wrote. No bite marks of concentration on its side, it made me feel like I was starting fresh; everything had to be better when I picked it up. A new pencil seemed to carry its own inspiration, its own wonderful creation, just waiting to be released.
I’ve always been good at beginning things. New diets, new exercise programs, new strategies for organizing my life. I am good at starting.
But it was my mother who was good at finishing. Good at following through, at persisting, at seeing things out to their natural end. My mother was good at holding on.
It is not thrift that makes me place these small pencils back in the drawer next to my long elegant writing tools whenever I find them now. It is something else. It’s the chance to hear her gentle voice once again reminding me: “Finish what you start, use what you have, appreciate what is there in front of you.
“Hold on, my dear, hold on.”
Mary E. Plouffe raised three children in beautiful South Freeport Maine, where she lives, writes and practices clinical psychology.She writes essays, memoir and creative non-fiction, and has been published on NPR, On the Issues Magazine, and Survivor Review among others. She is currently seeking a publisher for a memoir, I Know It In My Heart: Walking through Grief with a Child, and a book of essays, Listening Lessons: Reflections on the Grace of Being Heard. Additional information can be obtained at www.maryplouffe.com
My son sorts through grade school papers,
dangling remains of science projects,
eighteen years of collectibles. Picks
up old toys like a diviner, shifts
them from hand to hand pulling out
private dreams with a smile,
as if I wasn’t here or there.
He realigns his history –
short stacks across the bedroom floor
place Legos with baseball cards,
magical dice next to seashells.
Lambie Pie off alone, plastic eyes fixed in space.
He says he wants to be at college already.
Wants this part over. As he raises an old
running shoe with triumphant care,
we both laugh. Then he slips on his headphones and we practice leavings. I go to the window.
Down in the yard the plants assemble themselves
for autumn. Take the temperature of the air.
Count the hours of light left in their day.
Patricia Bollin’s poetry has appeared in print and online publications including: Pearl, The Clackamas Review, The Fourth River, Tulane Review, Oregon Literary Review and Mezzo Cammin. Her book reviews have appeared in CALYX and NW Writers. She is the mother of two adult children.
It is the last day of summer school. He is taking history to get ahead in his junior year. As soon as I wake, he asks me to re-pin the pant legs of his father’s suit. When I am finished, he paces in front of the mirror, back straight. On a normal day, I am sure he never looks into the mirror.
“In the Chinese Army, they used to put pins in the soldier’s collars so they would stand tall,” he informs me.
“That wouldn’t be very comfortable for you.” He has a congenital curvature in his spine that causes him to slouch.
He tries putting his speech notes into the outer pocket of the jacket, wondering aloud why it isn’t a real pocket. I show him the inner breast pocket.
On the way to school, I notice his cheeks, normally a little scruffy even on the days he runs a razor over them, are cleanly shaven. Cued as we pass the vet’s office, he reminds me his cat needs her shots and that she needs more litter. I think about the kind of father he might someday be.
He is still talking as we wait at the last light before I drop him off, regaling me with hockey stats and strategizing about his fantasy hockey line-up. He plans to take his driving test after summer school, and I know to savor every word. He is my youngest, and my days as Taxi Mom are numbered.
“Your group presents first?”
“So in about an hour, you can relax.”
“Yeah, it’s almost over.”
I watch him cross the street in the rear view mirror. He stands tall, gliding across the street in his father’s shoes, while I wait for the tears to subside.
Sharyl Collin practices writing, photography and music. She didn’t realize she was a poet until surprised by the birth of her first poem at the age of 50. She has since completed two chapbooks and a full length collection, Learning to Peel Neapolitan. Her poems have appeared The Intentional, Mason’s Road Literary Journal, *82 Review, Wild Goose Poetry Review, and Lummox.