Sunday, August 8, 2010


Last week B got his first splinter. "My foot HURT," he said. I was washing dishes, cooking dinner, sipping wine, and trying to explain the concept of infinity to an eight year old who is pretty sure he already knows everything anyway. "Poor foot," I answered. I bent down and brushed the top of his foot with my lips; usually a Mommykiss is the best first defense. But no. "MY FOOT HURT!" he calmly explained again. I took a better look and there it was, a sliver of wood piercing the tender skin of his still-new arch. This called for tweezers. B was patient. He likes tools, and tweezers count. As a reward for patience and stillness he got to play with them and thus they are missing. Our new porch, not yet two years old, delivers few splinters. Our old porch was infamous for its poor treatment of bare feet; I got quite adept at pulling out bits of it from the pink skin of sleeping babies. The roof of our garage has gone the opposite way, rougher instead of smoother. Ten years ago M threw several pieces of stale bread onto the shingles for the birds - that bread has decayed into patches of lichen in which the birds show no interest. Enough grass grows up through the cracks to make me think of mowing and those asphalt shingles sport more and more jagged canyons every year. We all do. Some parts grow smooth, some rough. Smooth: finding a hot cup of coffee on the kitchen counter made by the man who got up earliest. Rough: being woken several times during the night by two different children. All we can do is be patient and still and hope we can find the right tools.

Years ago I worked for a short time at a small publisher. I was there over the holiday season and I remember a co-worker telling us the story of shopping with her boyfriend for a present for his children who were now living with his ex-wife. They decided upon a rock tumbler for the boy. Turns out that a gift such as this is quite loud and it runs continuously. (This part may have spoken with the teensiest hint of glee.) Needless to say, the toy was relegated to the garage where it could do its work in solitude. I often think of it out there, tumbling and tumbling, making the rough edges smooth; only to be opened later to reveal a tiny treasure. Come to think of it, the loudness shouldn't have been such a surprise; making something smooth is never simple or even quiet. Rough hands, rough drafts, rough patches - they all take hard work and discipline to get through. There is much construction in our town at the moment, most of it involving the creation of a sidewalk that spans most of downtown. It's a project that has been going on for quite a while, from idea to sketch to near-completion. I'm longing for the day when I can ride my bike from the library to the park, the smooth, unbroken surface under my tires stretching out in front of me clear and unobstructed. If only difficult times in our lives came with warning signs. Caution, rough patch ahead. It wouldn't matter for some of us, we'd just keep plunging ahead. It's true: often the only way out is through.

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