It’s a warm, overcast Saturday, and the creative writer in me longs to play with words, trying to sculpt poetry or prose out of whatever inside me has not found its way into words yet. My daughter Elizabeth, however, is a bundle of restless, enthusiastic energy, an adventure waiting to happen. There isn’t a question of whose agenda is going to win out here. Surrender, Dorothy — your writing is going to be postponed again today.
I resign myself to the fact that I have errands to run, and Elizabeth is happy to co-pilot. We venture forth on a series of obligatory jaunts to the grocery store, the pharmacy, the post office. At the end of it all, as we’ve started heading home, we both see it at the same time: the telltale collection of cars on the side of the road signaling: Yard Sale.
“Mom!” she cries.
Yard sales are a newly discovered passion for her, a heady combination of varied and unpredictable treasures, miscellaneous people she can try to engage in conversation (for my daughter, a natural extrovert, this is an activity unto itself), and prices low enough to perhaps elicit a “yes” from Mom. What could be better?
Walking alongside her, surveying an assortment of items I don’t need, I try to look on the bright side. A year or two ago, even something as simple as going to a yard sale together would have required a level of vigilance more exhausting than relaxing, required me to speed around after her saying “Don’t touch” and “Be careful”. This yard sale could be enjoyable, I know, if I let it.
But I want to be writing…
She spots it before I do and points it out with breathless enthusiasm: a wooden boomerang. It has a kangaroo painted on it with pencil-eraser-sized dots. Elizabeth, a passionate artist who has just finished studying Australia in school, looks it over with enormous eyes. “Is it real? And is it actually from Australia?”
Its owner, a scrub-faced young woman who has twisted her blond braids into Princess Leah buns to keep her hair off her neck in the afternoon heat, winks at her. “It’s real, alright. And that painting, that’s an Australian art form called — ”
“I know, I know! I made one with paper in school! Mine was a kangaroo, too! I made it with those same little circles.”
My daughter is literally jumping up and down.
The owner and I exchange smiles.
I touch the boomerang’s surface, then lift it with one hand. It is much lighter than I expect. Have I ever actually held a boomerang before?
“This is so cool!” Her eyes meet mine, and they are pleading. “I could bring it to school for Share day.”
Her excitement is compelling. Our recent years have been a struggle, marked by job changes, financial troubles. It is easy to get caught up in something that makes her joyous. Even something I admittedly know nothing about.
“How much is it?” I ask.
She smiles at my daughter. “For you? Free.”
I hesitate. We are already purchasing a few other small things from the yard sale, and we have accumulated too much stuff over the years, our tiny home with its minimal storage already bursting at its seams, an illustration of Ani-Minimalism.
But free is hard to argue with, and she is already skipping to the car, boomerang in hand, singing.
“We should hang it up for decoration,” I suggest at home.
“No way. I’m playing with it.”
“But the artwork will get all mucked up.”
“I don’t care. I’ll re-paint it.”
“We could put it on a shelf –“
“No. She gave it to me, Mom. And boomerangs are supposed to be played with.”
And off she goes.
World Authority on Boomerangs.
I want to be the cool mom who lets her play with it as soon as we get home. Instead, daunted by images of windows smashed or car doors dented by wayward boomerangs, I make my daughter watch a YouTube video on how to throw a boomerang before she actually uses it. I also make her bring it to an open area outside, a safe distance from our condo complex. The last thing I need is an angry neighbor and a broken something I can’t afford to replace.
When she finally gets to try it out, poor thing, the throwing part proves not as simple as it looks on TV. I watch as she tries to master it, her mouth a tight line of concentration. She throws it like a Frisbee and it behaves like one, whirling in the air, but traveling in a straight line. I watch her throw and retrieve, throw and retrieve. She looks undaunted and determined.
So, I sit nearby with my writing journal in my lap. I vow to get some writing done today, even a little bit, but the afternoon light is fading, and all I have managed to do is write half-sentences, only to cross them out. Eventually, I abandon my efforts and go to my daughter, tousling her hair.
“May I try?”
“Sure,” she mumbles, and now I see that discouragement has crept in; she is staring down at her sneakers.
I reflect on the YouTube video demonstration.
“I think you’ll have better luck if you hold it vertically before you throw, like this, see? And with the painted side facing you.”
I throw, and after it spins away, it makes a feeble attempt to come back, only managing to make the initial curve before it plunks to the ground far away.
We look at the boomerang in the grass for a while.
“Want to take turns?” she asks.
Neither of us throw very impressively, even after we practice. Never does the boomerang make it back to where it started. But we laugh, we give each other encouragement, we take turns fetching. And it turns out to be kind of fun. I wouldn’t have thought so, but it does.
Here is the worry I sometimes have. I worry that I will die before I have created a body of writing that I am proud of. That my unfinished stories, poems, and essays will amount to ash, as I will. That I’ll be remembered as the cautionary tale of a would-be writer who had potential.
Soon after our mother-daughter boomerang adventure, my daughter gives me a coupon book she’s made for me of things she agrees to do. I read the coupons she’s made and smile.
“One long hug.”
They’re illustrated and painstakingly written. She has put a lot of time and effort into this.
Being a parent, especially a single parent, is so tough.
Being a parent, especially a single parent, is so rewarding and meaningful.
When I come to the last coupon, my breath catches in my chest.
“Mom can write, and I will let her.”
The tear is almost down my cheek before I feel it.
Today, the boomerang rests on a small table in her bedroom. Will it fill other hours and other afternoons? Will it ever learn to come back after it’s thrown?
It might, or it may join the ranks of other forgotten toys, replaced by something flashier or more complicated. Maybe, by something easier to master.
For me, that boomerang is a reminder of our time together, a time I met her halfway with something that excited her, and was later assured that my passions matter to her, as well.
Today, I have taken a few hours off from work to write. Elizabeth is at school, which gives me the ability to really focus. And today, words are happening. They’re lining themselves up on the page.
I haven’t had the heart to cash in the writing coupon yet, but someday I will.
I often used to feel like there were two of me, the writer me and the mother me, the former with a quiet voice, easily outdrowned, and the latter one always responding to need or the possibility of need, in a role which seemed to demand everything of me.
These days, I drive Elizabeth to school, I help her pick out dress shoes, I watch her practice for her dance recital. And then at other moments, there are first drafts, late night revisions, writing workshops. Life is full and busy, but it is also vast.
Sometimes you think you’ve let go of something for good, and it finally comes back to you, after all.