A quiet sadness settles into the garden this morning,
A forlorn, end-of-life grief.
Roses once entwined in the trellis,
Their crimson petals peeking through the openings,
Now stripped of their beauty.
Impatiens with their salmon, deep rose, and pale pink petals
Have  thrived all summer in the shade under the pines,
Now close to gone,
Green leaves hiding a few lingering blooms.

But there, anchoring the edge of the garden,
There in the corner remains the glory of the coleus–
Painted nettle–
Its burgundy, velvety foliage outlined perfectly in pale green,
Determined, strong,
As lovely now as in its summer beauty,
Surrounded by a blanket of rusty brown pine needles.
No need for colorful blooms,
Its foliage all the show.
Not ready yet to let go,
Like the way we all hang on at the end,
Reluctance within our veins.

The coleus will die with the first frost.
It most likely knows that will come.
But for now,
For today,
On this cool October morning
Mid the languishing remnants
Of summer heat and cooling rain showers,
The coleus brings a moment of hope
Into the dying of nature.

© Barbara Flass 2011


Autumn Visit to California: A Lesson in Today’s Frantic Parenting

The week we just spent in California was different from a week at home in New York in ways too numerous to mention completely.   The weather was definitely better since it apparently rained in New York every day we were gone.  When we walked out of the Burbank airport, heat hit us immediately, the bright sun and pure blue sky replacing the grayness of New York.

I love the beauty of California, but I knew we would be returning to cool autumn mornings and the brilliant oranges and reds of falling leaves.  Still we managed to experience a bit of fall during our visit in California.

While we were there, my daughter and her husband threw a birthday party for their oldest daughter who had just turned six.   Sixty-two guests came to the event at a local farm where there were hay rides, pony rides, corn mazes, and an animal feeding area with goats and sheep and other farm animals.  There were games and bouncy houses and the never-to-be-forgotten cow train.  Late September and early October in California has a lot in common with New York.

What is very different is the pace, a pace that is a challenge for retired grandparents whose days are more leisurely.  My daughter’s schedule is frenetic.  She has to drive her oldest daughter to school every day and pick her up.  Her two-year-old has music class one morning, Gymboree one morning, and a mommy and me class two mornings.  Her six-year-old has dance class once a week, karate twice a week, gymnastics once a week, a religious education class once a week, and soccer every Saturday.  Every day is a mad dash somewhere.

While I was rushing around with my daughter, I tried to remember how I managed with my own two daughters when they were the same age.  I know they had swimming lessons, dance classes, piano lessons, religious education classes, gymnastics, t-ball, Indian Princesses, and Brownies.  I obviously ran around just as much.  What I remember now that time has passed is not the fatigue and frantic need to get somewhere on time but the way the activities helped my daughters develop physical strength, coordination, discipline, and confidence.  I think the sacrifices I made to get my daughters to all these activities helped them become successful, mature adults.  The goal of parenting for any generation seems to be to offer to our children as many opportunities for success and fun as we can cram into each day.  It’s a lofty goal.  It was probably more fun for me to watch my granddaughters at these activities than it was for my daughter who was most likely thinking of errands she still needed to run and what she could make for dinner.  Still, watching my oldest granddaughter play soccer and excel at karate and watching the little one play with Play-Doh and paint at an easel for the first time lifted my heart and also made me sad that these moments are all too rare.   California is just too far from New York for many visits.

Parenting today seems so much more stressful than when my daughters were young.  I had my parents, grandparents, and sister nearby to help when I needed it.  My daughter has no family nearby.  She and her husband are on their own, and every day is exhausting for them.  Maybe grandparents become even more special when they are seldom seen, at least that is what I am telling myself.  I can still feel my youngest granddaughter hugging my arm as I sat next to her in the car and coming up behind me in the kitchen, wrapping her arms around my leg, and resting her head on me.  I can remember the way it felt to lie next to my oldest granddaughter and read to her every night, giving her a hug and kiss before bedtime.  I remember how she ran into the house the day we left and threw herself on her bed crying hysterically because we had to leave.

There may be miles and miles between California and New York, but there is very little distance between my heart and the hearts of my granddaughters.  Our visits may be far apart, but love knows no distance.  I love autumn in New York, but I was so grateful for the chance to experience the same season in California, even if there wasn’t an orange or red leaf anywhere to be seen.  And the best part of all was experiencing a California autumn with my grandchildren by my side.

September Blues

September blesses us with autumn colors–vibrant reds, oranges, earthy browns- that energize and elevate us, as long as we try to think of autumn as just a different kind of beginning, not really an ending.

All my life September has meant the start of school.  First as a student and then as a teacher, the sadness of the end of summer was mollified by the excitement of the beginning of a new year.  Ah, the fun of it all.  Notebooks, packs of lined paper, Bic pens, No. 2 pencils, text books filled with all kinds of wonderful information.

I particularly loved September as a teacher.  All those new faces, all that potential, all that fun and laughter and those serious classroom discussions, all that writing, all that reading, all those videos and recordings and computer searches.  Everything fresh and new.

Now as a retired teacher I look at September in a different way.  I am entering my third year of retirement and the sadness and emptiness is just starting to soften a little.  I can go into Staples or Target and pass those aisles of school supplies with just a hint of sadness.  I still want to buy everything.  I go into Michael’s and see displays for teachers of bulletin board borders with their patterns of apples and textbooks and pencils curving around the sides, posters to inspire the most reluctant students, attendance logs and storage containers.  I still want it all.  I still long to pack up my tote bags with classroom supplies, create colorful bulletin boards, decorate the walls of my room with informational posters, arrange desks and bookshelves, and stand at the door expectantly, waiting to see new faces and hear laughter in the hallways, the sound of young voices eager to be with their friends again.

I know retirees who are happy to finally go to the Cape in September with its lower rates and fewer crowds, walk the beaches, eat seafood, take the ferry to Nantucket, breathe in the cooler fall air, and relish the peace.

Not so much for me.  Not that I don’t love the Cape, and the first year my husband and I were both retired we spent a long weekend on the Cape in September.  But Hyannis was a little too quiet, too boring.  The sun still had a little warmth, but not enough to lie in the sun smothered in sunscreen and listen to the waves and the gulls, radios, and indistinguishable voices.  In fact, it was downright lonely.

Twenty-five years ago September came with excitement and nervousness for my family.   We had just moved into our new house in a new school district.  Our daughters were in the sixth and ninth grades.  The morning of the first day of school I watched doors open, cars move, the exodus from homes begin, and children of all ages walk to the end of the road to get the school bus.  It was almost magical.  A few weeks ago on the first day of school, I watched the older kids leave about 7 a.m. and at 8:45 the younger ones began their slow walk to the end of the street accompanied by a few mothers and dads.  The parents were carrying their cameras and the photos began.  One dad stood at the end of the road long after his child was on the bus still taking pictures as the bus drove his child away from his protective arms.  Mothers cried, then slowly walked back to their empty houses.

Now it’s not until October that I begin to enjoy the colors of the leaves, the cool air, and the crops of apples and pumpkins and squash.  The first week of September is the hardest when there are beginnings for children and parents as school begins, when other teachers enter their classrooms with enthusiasm, and I watch from my window as the children begin a new school year.  Three years into retirement I still feel the loss.  I am wondering how many years it will take me before I truly feel relaxed and happy that I am not heading off to school myself, and instead I am looking forward to the beaches of the Cape.  September blues linger for me still.

Why should I buy chrysanthemums in August?

Why should I buy chrysanthemums in August?

This morning dawned chilly, the air no longer feeling like summer, more autumn-like with dawn coming minutes later each day now.  How does it happen that mid-August often signals the end of summer instead of mid-September?  I like cool mornings, but I prefer those steamy summer mornings with bright sun poring through the windows instead of the filtered sunlight of August.

Mid-August signals summer’s end in other ways, such as the ads for back-to-school clothes and supplies, articles on healthy kids’ lunches and how to manage frantic school morning routines.  This morning’s ad from Lowe’s featured mums on sale.  Mums!  Aren’t they a fall flower?  Why do I need to buy them now?  Actually, I rarely buy mums.  They make me sad, signaling the coming of winter, and with a brief growing season, they hardly seem worth the effort or the money.

During the summer months, I know why I live in upstate New York.  I can even find wonderful moments in September and October, with the glorious colors of autumn leaves and pumpkins and squash at the farmer’s market.  But I know on the heels of autumn will be the first winter snows, exciting only in the first few flakes.  The cold, biting winds and icy roads now seem too much to bear, and I often wonder how I have endured these northern winters for so many years.

Good Morning America is doing a series on the ten most beautiful places in America.  I voted for Sedona, Arizona.  I think I long for Arizona at least ten times a day, remembering the colors, the majesty of the buttes, the pure blue of the sky, and the cleanness of the air.  There are seasons in Arizona, depending on the part of Arizona you visit and the time of the year, but the snows are short-lived, the cold temperatures replaced quickly by sunshine and warmth, the incredible scenery making anything glorious.  The June morning my oldest daughter graduated with a Master’s Degree from Embry-Riddle University in Prescott dawned sunny and a little cool.  Sitting on folding chairs on the athletic field on campus waiting for the ceremony to begin, we began to notice ominous dark-gray clouds boiling up above the mountains rising in the distance, and before the diplomas could be given out, hail was upon us, pelting down on heads and the bare arms of those of us expecting a warm day.  Within an hour it was over, bright sun and comforting warmth in its place.  Arizona is like that.  New York is not.

Maybe the day will come when I can leave the certainty of cold and snow in New York for the impulsive storms of the southwest and the glory of the aftermath.  Until then, I will breathe in the diminishing warmth of summer, take in the beauty of the few remaining roses, soft-blue hydrangea blossoms, and rosy-pink impatiens still flourishing in the gardens, and reject those ads for chrysanthemums a little while longer.