Another Wedding Ring

“Just a minute!” I holler toward the tiny fists that are pounding on my bedroom door. This is the standard morning scene: I’ve been awake for nearly two hours and, after getting my kids fed and ready for the day, I’ve finally barricaded myself in my bedroom long enough to put on a bra and host an inner debate about how many days it’s been since I washed my hair.  

I sift through a pile of bobby pins and loose change in my jewelry tray until my fingers close around my wedding rings. I start with the wedding band, a plain white gold ring with thirteen small diamonds dotting the band in a half circle; then I stack the princess cut engagement ring above it. They stop without making it past my knuckle, as they have been all week.  

I’m twenty-five weeks pregnant with my third child, and this is my least favorite pregnancy side effect. I’ll spend the next four months with swollen fingers that leave no room for my wedding rings. I know I get off easy—no morning sickness to contend with or serious pregnancy complications to face—but I still feel a little mournful about the rings. They’re easily the most beautiful thing I own, and wearing them on a daily basis pulls to the forefront memories that might otherwise slip away. 

When I put them each morning, I’m twenty-one again, being proposed to on a dorm room futon in the living room of my college apartment. We were surrounded by plain, grayish beige walls I wasn’t allowed to mar with so much as a 3M hook, and my feet rested on the edge of a blueberry pie stain set into the gritty carpet. There wasn’t a hint of elaborate romantic planning, not a single candle or rose petal, but I couldn’t care less because there in front of me was my future husband, holding up my ring. 

After dinner each night, when I slip both sets of diamonds off my finger and set them on the window ledge before plunging my hands into the dishwater, I think of everything that’s happened in this kitchen. We’ve swayed in front of the window with dinner simmering behind us; we’ve screamed at each other in front of the fridge and apologized by the stove; we’ve put silverware in its place while debating major life decisions; we’ve sat on the steps near the pantry with our heads on each others’ shoulders, sighing after a long day at work. 

Now, the same week as our sixth anniversary, I have to admit to myself that it’s time to put my rings back in their box until spring, when we’ll have another baby to hold and my fingers will, hopefully, shrink back to their original size. I set the rings back in the tray with a clink and make a mental note to find their box later.  

The pounding on the door has gotten louder and is now accompanied by occasional screams, but I ignore the chaos for a few seconds longer, scanning the jewelry tray until I find another ring.  

This one has a thin silver band, topped by an oval sapphire that’s surrounded by a halo of diamonds. The gems in this piece aren’t real. We bought it for less than 100 euros in a tiny town on Lake Como in Italy. It was one of the most expensive souvenirs we could afford on the European vacation we’d scrimped to go on before we had kids.   

We had raced through the shop, past antique end tables and hand-carved chess pieces, trying to see everything before we missed the last boat of the evening that would take us back to our hotel on the other side of the lake. The deep blue sapphire of the ring caught my eye, and I bought it without ever trying it on.  

The sapphire ring never fit quite right: too big for my fourth finger, just small enough to be uncomfortable on my third. It sat on my dresser, a fond but useless memory of our travels, until two months later when I got pregnant with our oldest daughter. Soon enough, my fingers swelled, and the Italy ring fit perfectly. Now with this pregnancy, I’ll wear it again and be visited by a different set of memories. 

I’ll fiddle with the lightweight band, twirling it around and around in my jacket pocket while I tell the kids, “Don’t climb too high!” and “Let’s give someone else a turn on the swings.” I’m absentminded, no longer at the park down the street but at a swing set we stumbled across in the Swiss Alps, where my husband and I laughed like schoolkids as we took a break from hiking.  

I’ll catch a glint of light off the faux sapphire in a stream of sink water while I wash vegetables, and suddenly I’m a new mom again, remembering what it was like to cook dinner while bouncing the screaming baby strapped to my chest. Did she need to eat? Was it a dirty diaper? When was the last time either of us slept?  

It will all flood back to me at once, opposing memories of awe at seeing the world as barely more than newlyweds, and awe at meeting our firstborn baby and realizing we didn’t know what we were doing at all.    

I open the bedroom door to the preschooler and toddler who come barreling in. We still don’t know what we’re doing, of course, not about any of it. But we do know some things, I think, as I watch the two tiny girls now jumping on our bed. We know that we walk side by side with a hand to hold through every moment of doubt or uncertainty, and we know every second will be worth it. 

 

Words by Ashley Brooks.

Stories All Around Us

Tristin arrived in my driveway on a Thursday afternoon to pick up some free junk I had placed at the curb. I waited for him to go away but he lingered even after loading up his car. I could see him making phone calls and looking exasperated from where I stood at the kitchen window. I knew I would have to find out what was going on despite hoping the issue would go away. After all, it could be my kid. 

“Do you need help?” I asked tentatively. He wasn’t sure, maybe a jump start? That sounded easy enough, so I repositioned my van and we gave it a try. But it was no good, his car just wouldn’t stay started. I packed up the cables and asked if there was anything else I could do. 

 “Do you have someone you can call?” I asked. He assured me he did and that as a AAA member, he could easily get a tow. 

We talked about gardening. It was the worm composting bin that had brought him to my house; he and a friend were starting a micro greens endeavor.  

“I wanted to do something since I’m not in school, like something good for the world, you know?” he said.  

I returned to the house, gave my husband an update on what he thought was a possible serial killer or thief when Tristin knocked on the door. 

“Um, sorry,” he mumbled. “So, my phone died.” 

Even though I really wanted to get back to my life and stay uninvolved I asked, “Would you like to borrow mine?”  

I helped him figure out his membership information, our address, and other details, and after fifteen minutes he finally got through to the tow service. While he was waiting, his dad arrived in a shiny Range Rover, and I could see Tristin physically shrink as his father and I chatted about kids, driving and education. 

“I told his mom to send him to military school but he’s an ‘artist,’” the father said. Tristin cringed at the idea of such a structured environment and I inwardly agreed that it would be a bad match for someone more interested in sprouting seeds and keeping his hair long and curly. 

I soon excused myself, and left them to wait for the mechanic. An hour later they were gone. 

*** 

Marcy came by last week from the locally owned home improvement store to measure for window blinds. Friendly and talkative, we were quickly comparing notes on children, college and degree choices, along with pet stories.  

I confessed my worries about my children’s future, as two of them have started the college search, and was grateful to have another grownup to talk to. Working at home, I sometimes go days without talking to anyone outside my family, and I sometimes crave doses of conversation to balance out the solitude.  

Marcy mentioned that after her appointment with me, she had three medical tests to fit in, all before her husband’s health insurance ended. He was let go after a long career with the same employer and the loss has made him scared, irritable, and depressed. I wondered if that could happen to my husband. Could this story become mine? How would I react?  

I keep listening and learned that Marcy has two Siamese cats and a new puppy, and her son took eight years to get a two-year degree, but now he’s got his act together. “It just took the right girl,” Marcy noted. As a mother of a male teenager who hates to leave his room, this was reassuring. 

She worries about her elderly mother who lives alone in Florida and how much longer she will be able to fly to Pennsylvania with her own elderly cat, also a Siamese. 

If felt good to hear someone being honest and sharing her real feelings and concerns. So often we meet people who are wary and closed off. But here in my home, while she measured for window treatments, I connected with another woman – a wife and mother, a daughter, a human being. I was grateful for the chance to be honest and real, grateful for the chance to connect.  

*** 

Yesterday I bought this week’s groceries. My clerk’s name tag read “Jaxsin” and when he asked, “How are you doing today?” I knew he actually wanted to know. He paused, made eye contact, and gave me a smile.  

I returned the question and he quickly confessed that he was “jonesing to get a new tattoo” right after work while he had the money. It wouldn’t be his first (he pulled up his sleeve so I could see the treble clef on his inner arm) and it would be small in comparison with the Millennial Falcon on this thigh. I loved his honesty and nerd pride. 

I confessed that I had just had some ink added to an existing tattoo, my third. I was glad that I hadn’t wasted time on my phone in an effort to just get through the mundane task of buying food. I prefer to keep to myself, but Jaxsin definitely liked an audience. He kept up the chitchat while he scanned my items and it felt good to look him in the eye and really listen to him. 

“That’s cool, you have tattoos. Now you can’t tell your kids not to,” he exclaimed.  

I wished him good luck and walked past more strangers on my way to the car, each of them with their own story. Not everyone is open and willing to share with a stranger, but when we take a risk and listen, when we share a little of ourselves, it can be powerful. We all want to be seen and heard. How can we step out of our comfort zones? Make eye contact? Really listen to someone who might need it? After all, everyone has a story to share. 

 

Words by Megan Fraser.

In the Classroom and the Snowy Wood

The student stands in front of the class panicking. She is a finalist in our school’s Poetry Out Loud competition and Robert Browning’s words seem to be stuck in her mouth.She is unable to move on from certain linesstarting and stoppingand it’s her third attempt to get through the poem. The room feels heavy with the weight of sympathy and discomfort.

I, too, am aching, remembering my many moments of agonizing during speeches. I can distinctly remember that feeling of having no air to breathe, the irrepressible shaking spreading over my body, the sensation of being outside of my own head. I know I’m not the only one feeling her pain and desperately rooting for her to succeed.

Suddenly, the student’s head drops. I‘m worried she might burst into tears and I brace myself, setting down my pen and scoring card. Instead of the sound of crying, though, I hear fingers begin to snap. Snap. Snap. Snap. It fills the room.

In my classroom, I have my students snap for each other after they share a piece of their writing. It’s a joke-y, cheesy thing a nod to Beatniks’ poetry readings in coffeehouses but something I hope will help them to support one another. I hope it’ll make the vulnerable act of sharing their own writing into something heartening or, at the very least, not traumatizing. Over the years, it’s become more than that.Sometimes it’s a way to express the profundity of someone’s insights; other times I catch students using it for each other as they nod in agreement.

But this? This snapping is the choice of one student to lift up another on the brink of personal defeat. It is the choice of the others to join in and raise her out of this moment of humility and despair. This is magic I couldn’t have anticipated. It’s heartwarming, golden, like the moment in a movie when the music starts swelling joyfully.

The snapping spreads through the room.”You can do it!” they call, joining together in their snaps. “You’ve got this!”

I think about this moment from time to time. How can I choose to put my fingers together and snap for someone to pull them out of a dark moment? How can I look around me and choose to reach out instead of turning inwards? It’s a choice I can make nearly every moment of every day. Lift up. Give your snaps.

—–

The inspiration and magic abounds in the day to day, too. I remember my parents telling me teasingly when I was younger that I wouldn’t like snow so much when I had to shovel it and drive it in, but my inner child continues to triumph. Snow is magic.

My favorite snow is the kind that falls in fat flakes and sticks to the branches. The beauty doubles when the snow is everywhere, and quadruples the next morning when the sun comes out and suddenly everything is glittering and golden.

We have a path that leads out of our backyard and into wooded acreage that is not ours and yet, I suppose, not not ours. On those rare mornings where the sun is glimmering through the snow-laden boughs, there is nothing I like more than to walk back into my own personal Narnia. 

The tracks of deer lead the way and it seems like every new view makes me pause in wonder. The evergreens seem more regal in their snowy dress. The gleaming ground shows tiny evidence of all of the abounding life, and the deadened sounds give me the same feeling of being in an ancient, empty church in Italy.

Today I am stopped in my tracks by the sunlight pouring through an oak leaf.

There’s a Native American story that was told to me as a child, the details of which I don’t really remember but think of often. A man was told he would die when the last leaf fell, but that last leaf never fell down, an explanation for why the oak never loses all of its leaves. It’s stuck with me but I don’t know why; maybe because I always choose stories over science.

Today I see that surviving leaf. It is resplendent in its resilience. The sunshine’s glow seems to mark the moment with extra significance and I stand here paying my homage.

I feel buoyed by its presence, by the transformation of something ordinary and plain into something dazzling and significant. This leaf persevered through fierce winds and brittle cold while every leaf around let go. It chose to battle on, even when all was hopeless, even through the hardest nights.

In the stillness of the snowy woods I am brought back to that special moment of snaps filling the classroom. It’s a moment that could be just like any other that has been made extraordinary.  My heart feels full with the sight of this glowing leaf, with the echo of those snapping fingers and cheers of encouragement.  Make the choice: hang on, persevere, lift up.

 

Words by Erin Smith.