The kids are back in school, whether I think it's too early in the year or not, and yesterday the Official Adopted Grandmother of Prince Elementary School (that would be me) made her first lunchtime appearance. Dressed in my coat of many colors, I had stickers in my pocket and a smile on my face. After an hour, there were fewer stickers, but many more smiles.
"Do you remember me?" they asked, and "Of course!" I did even if I didn't. I have very few of their names in my permanent memory bank, though I recognize the usual suspects by sight. They are all a little taller... "nearly as tall as you are, Granny."
"Can we sing the Jingle Bells song?" a big boy wondered, and I shrugged and started crooning. This is the only audience on the planet which appreciates my vocalizations. We're working on learning the second verse, especially because it ends in kerplop! That is a very funny word, especially if you speak Urdu at home. I don't know why, I just know that it is. His face told me so.
The newly minted third grade girls and I sat in the shade, on the square bench closest to the boys playing soccer, and caught up on our summers. "My other grandma..." and I lost the rest of her story because I was overcome. I'm in her life. I'm her school grandma. She wondered why I hugged her, but she snuggled in and kept on talking.
We shared staple scars on our bellies - hers from an appendectomy and mine from bullets. The conversation wasn't about the discomfort or the fear, it was about the shape of our belly buttons after the surgeons were finished with us. We were peeved. Both of us.
Some moments are just perfect, and so, as the conversation turned to thinking about their next birthdays, when they would be turning nine, I decided not to remind them that Christina-Taylor was nine, too, when bullets stole her away from us. That's the wonder of PTSD; it rears its ugly head right in the middle of a sunny afternoon, daring me to turn away. But really, what purpose would it have served, right then and there, to tell them that they are vulnerable, that very bad things can happen when you least expect them, that hardly any place is safe.
I kept my mouth shut and focused on the moment.
"All those boys do is play soccer. See the one in the striped shirt? He chased me." and yes, they knew exactly why he'd been chasing her. He liked her, she nodded with glee. It was a game. It was more tag than spin-the-bottle. It was nine.
I tied lots of shoe laces, pink shoelaces on sparkly pink shoes... even on the boys' feet. Hand-me-downs, even from your sister, are beautiful if they are all that you have. Most of the kids in this school understand that.
Of course, it is entirely possible that he just liked the ones with the pink and purple sparkles. I didn't judge, I admired, tied, and moved on.
We talked about eating vegetables last year. "I remember that day," was accompanied by a wrinkled nose and a smile. Spinach that tasted like dirt. Carrots that were too crunchy. We reminisced and laughed until one of the soccer boys came over and interrupted.
"Where are your sticks?"
Oh. I'd left the car, walked through the parking lot, the lobby, around the playground, into the cafeteria, and I never once considered bringing an assistive device. I used to carry a hiking pole in my car. I can't remember when I stopped, but I haven't looked for one in a while. Trekking around the school's campus was exhausting; I planned my journeys to minimize distance. At least, I used to do that. It seems that now I have graduated to walking and taking a rest or two, but walking without help.
My poles, my walking sticks, but never my cane.... I knew, then I hoped, then I despaired that they would ever leave my side. Yesterday, I realized they were gone. Like PTSD, rehab and recovery seems to sneak up on me, too.Sometimes, it takes a Prince Mustang to point it out.
"Life just gets better and better, doesn't it?" I wondered. "I'm healing and you're helping." After all, it takes a village......