“I’ve been trying to talk her out of it for the last half-hour,” she confided. “I said, wouldn’t you rather be a princess, sweetie? How about a fairy?”
I nodded sympathetically, holding my tongue. I couldn’t relate to her plight, but neither did I want to be impolite.
Captain Daddy had no such similar nagging inner voice. “She wants to be a snake,” he said, pointing at Chicken Noodle. “I think it’s awesome.”
I thought it was awesome, too. I take it as a sign of victory that in this princess-saturated world, my five-year old chooses of her own free will to have a gigantic blue snake painted on her face. She climbed up into the hot seat after the tiger was led away by her mournful mother. Ten minutes later Noodle had a life-sized reptile winding from her forehead to her mouth. Then she got up on stage and learned to belly dance with Rasha. It was beautiful.
My father was the sort to haul my sister and me into the woods and expect us to love it. We did. Mostly. If we complained, he told us that hardship in the outdoors built character. It did.
Now I want the exact same thing for my daughters.
Yesterday, we took a big long walk in the woods. There was dirt and discovery and rain and crying and running and falling and exploring and laughing and bugs. When we got home, Chicken Little put a fairy and a snake in a chariot. They were on their way to the ball. The fairy’s name was Rainbow Butterfly and the snake’s name was Lola Rose. They were best friends.
After the ball, everyone went to bed happy. Especially me.
On Monday, I walked to a meeting. The route was a stretch of Nye Beach in Newport, Oregon. The destination was a local pub. The person I was meeting was my publisher. On my back, I carried 160 pages of paper—my book manuscript, completed last week and fresh from the printer.
The sun shone brilliantly, there was barely a breeze. I was all alone. Two miles of packed sand, open Oregon air and exercise lay between our rented beach house and my fate.
Of course, fate doesn’t work like that. There isn’t really one defining moment that sets a course of everlasting glory in a regular life. Glory comes and goes, is persistently fickle. Every happy ending is interwoven with the beginning of another new challenge.
I thought about a lot of things on that two-mile journey. How much outside validation I need from my writing, and if I can learn to just enjoy its creation and appreciate the successes that appear. My family, and what really matters. How rooting around in your past and trying to craft it into something salable is as dangerous and messy as my friend Jessica said it would be when I started this project. And, just what the heck might happen during the next two hours.
But when I quit thinking and looked up into the stunning sky, at the powerful surf, breathed the sea air, I thought about how lucky I am. How incredibly metaphorical this walk was! My story about growing up on the Oregon Coast was literally on my back as I marched down the Oregon Coast to deliver it to someone who would decide its worth. Sort of like the pearly gates, but with kites and sandcastles.
Judgment is still to come. But on the walk back, after a great discussion, with a pint of Oregon ale in my belly and my backpack much lighter, when the beach glowed even more marvelously and I felt like skipping over the sand, when I located my chickens chasing seagulls and Captain Daddy ready to hear my story, I simply chose to revel in the glory for however long it lasts.
I knew the true worth of that paper-bound journey, and almost didn’t care what anyone else thought of it at all.
Anyone heard of angel cards? They are a product of the woo-woo culture, a novelty I’ve kept by my bedside since college (which was a long time ago, btw). Like a deck of cards, you draw one to take as your daily inspiration. They each read one word—Strength, Healing, Purpose etc.
I don’t pay the angels much mind anymore, except to poke fun at Captain Daddy when he’s grumpy. Nothing like selecting a card reading “Peace” and thrusting it under your over-stimulated spouse’s nose to drive him completely off the dock. And sometimes I use them as bookmarks. And sometimes the chickens use them as confetti, as in, to throw a ticker tape parade for their Groovy Girls.
Anyway, I was at Powell’s Books on Sunday selling off some old reading material. The clerk pulled an angel card from the pages of “Blindness,” a book I started like eight years ago and never finished. (I thought it was depressing and unforgivably bleak, but what do I know, they made it into a movie last year). The card read “Freedom.”
“Thanks,” I said to the clerk, smiling. I felt downright gifted with my own personal allotment of freedom. So that’s where it’s been. I stuck it in my back pocket and went on my merry way.
Flash-forward to yesterday, when I pulled clean laundry from the dryer and discovered the shredded remnants of “Freedom,” washed to destruction before I could even enjoy its blissful sweetness. Drat.
I had quite the little self-pitying episode there in my laundry room, mourning the freedom I’d have to live my entire life without (as well as my inability to master the art of laundry), before truth smacked me in the head. Duh. You don’t need a small inspirational card in hand to stake claim on a little freedom, or any other longed-for life state, for that matter. These things are yours for the taking. Don’t you get it yet? Make them yours, for God’s sake. You’re almost forty. It’s about time.