The Naked Ladies Are Out!
“THE NAKED LADIES ARE OUT!”
The first time I heard my grandmother blurt this out, my pre-teen face turned red as a vine-ripened tomato. For one, I wasn’t used to my prim grandmother making any sort of risque remarks. And the mere thought of anything, or anyone, being naked was tremendously unsettling to me.
“Oh, honey,” Grammy said. “It’s just the Belladonna Lilies. Over there. The ones with the leafless stocks and the puffy pink blooms. It means that our California summer is coming to an end.”
Phew! What a relief. It’s just a stupid old flower.
I saw my first Naked Lady of the season last week. I was driving with my daughter. Running pre-collegiate errands. And there she was. Poking her head out from behind a rock, at the side of someone’s yard, next to their parched, brown, high-fire-danger front lawn. Apparently the Naked Ladies come out even in a severe drought.
Much to my great satisfaction, Julia called out, “Ha! Naked Ladies!” No shock from either of us, my being old and all, and her having grown up with me reporting the same at the end of every summer of her life. But this time, the sight of that cotton candy puffball at the end of a light green stem sent a particularly pointed melancholy ache to my heart.
Over the years, the Naked Ladies have had vast meaning. At Grammy and Gramps’s house in San Anselmo, their presence told me my days of lounging around under the fruit trees and helping my grandfather harvest cherry tomatoes were over. It was time to head back to Denver, do some back to school shopping at South Suburban Mall and find out when soccer practice starts. There was nothing too dramatic about the Naked Ladies, just maybe a “summer’s over” sigh or two combined with the excitement of seeing my friends again.
Through my teenaged years, I probably didn’t listen to Grammy when she pointed them out to me. If I did listen, I certainly didn’t care. I was too distracted worrying about the loads of fun I was missing back in Colorado.
Lord knows I had minimal awareness of any flowers during most of my twenties.
But when I had kids of my own and became ensconced in my grown up life in Northern California, those Naked Ladies were a comfort and friend. At each first sighting I again breathed the sigh of summer’s end: sorrowful goodbyes to swimming lessons, sleepovers and Camp Augusta combined with the heart pounding excitement of walking with my kids to their elementary school to check the newly posted class lists to see who their teachers would be. And, more importantly, to see which of their friends were on their same lists. The Naked Ladies meant plenty of “Yays” as well as a few “Boos.”
Now, summer is wrapping itself up once again. The vacation Facebook posts are waning and the neighborhood is starting to wipe the sleep out of its eyes. You’d better hurry up and get your Tahoe trip in lest you miss your chance. (We went last week). But this summer, there is more to it than the usual chores of washing sleeping bags, picking dried mud off of hiking boots and finding the correct type of gym shoes that won’t scuff the newly surfaced floors at the high school. There won’t be any back to school carpool insurance forms to fill out or lunch line schedules to fill in. There will be no mega shopping trip to Costco to stock up on Builder Bars and Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese, and no one is trying out for musicals, choir or basketball. And there better not be any solicitations for Prom Committee or Graduation Ceremony Committee or Grad Night Chaperone Committee or Diversity Day Committee or Field Day Committee or the Committee To Plan For Future Committees Committee. Halleluiah!
In just five short days, the nest will be empty.
This morning, Julia and I dropped James and his girlfriend off at the airport. They’re heading to visit her family before landing on the East Coast for their junior year of college. And Julia and I leave next week to tuck her in for her freshman year. Coincidentally, both kids will be in the same state (geographically speaking), only three hours apart. A bit of comfort for both of them – but mostly for me.
When I got divorced nearly sixteen years ago, I wondered how on earth I would make it through this wild ride of co-parenting. Our goals were pretty standard, I suspect: to get our children launched into college, armed with the strength and character that comes from giving them the best possible childhood that we could. Well, you could have stayed married, you might be thinking. No, I would already be dead. But that is fodder for another essay. Therefore, I hereby give myself an “A” for effort on said goal. It is too soon to know what my final grade will be and my ex can grade himself.
I am not saying that the parenting is over, it’s just that a major milestone has been met.
Regardless of the parenting situation, setting out to raise decent, happy kids can seem like an insurmountable feat when viewed from anywhere near the beginning. It is like a marathon for which we most likely did not train. It challenges us emotionally, physically, mentally and financially. In short, it kicks our butts. But am pretty sure that most parents would agree that the joys by far outweigh the difficulties and the whole thing goes by in a nano-second.
This morning, after Julia and I did the airport drop-off, she and I went to our very last volunteer shift at the East Bay SPCA. We started there when she was a seventh grader. We started as Feline Companions, where we just played with the cats, and eventually graduated to Feline Photographers. Julia developed an interest in photography during high school and parlayed that into a sweet job at the SPCA, snapping, sorting and uploading pictures to the website in order to help with marketing the adoptable animals. Not only did it become a big part of her teenaged identity, but also, it gave the two of us a joint mission that was outside of ourselves, outside of school, outside of custody issues and beyond the myriad of average every day parent/child conflicts that are inevitable in life. The East Bay SPCA was neutral ground. Every week.
“Ess Peace, tomorrow?” she’d say, sometimes looking right at me as I sat at my computer, other times brushing past me, nonchalantly, as I chopped vegetables at the kitchen counter.
“Yep,” I’d reply, smiling inwardly at our abbreviation for the SPCA and carrying on as if I had no reaction at all. But I had a reaction, that of comfort and gratitude at this exchange with my daughter, knowing that we would spend two hours together the next morning with the cats and kittens, doing what we do, all the while chatting about life and love, friends and foibles, drama and dreams. Thank God for that time.
Today we took pictures of “Stellaluna.” He was the only adult cat that needed photographs, and we didn’t bother to snap pics of any of the kittens. They usually don’t need any help finding new homes because they seem to fly right off the shelf. Instead, we just played with them. Over the years, we’ve almost adopted hundreds of the little buggers, but have shown restraint, reminding ourselves that our house is already a giant fur ball with the two we’ve got.
We packed up the cameras and lint rollers, took off our volunteer aprons and logged out for the very last time. And as is our routine, we went to Peets Coffee for post-SPCA mochas. It was bittersweet (Pun!).
As soon as we got home, Julia changed clothes and headed out to go garage sale shopping with a friend and then out to dinner and then to a birthday party and then to hang out with whichever other friends had not yet left for school.
I didn’t see her for the rest of the day.
I took a short stroll to the dog park on our street and sat on a bench in the shade. I looked up at the hazy sky, reminded that the wildfires are still out of control. The winds must have shifted because the smoke hadn’t previously been hanging over our part of Northern California. I am pretty sure I could even smell our great state burning.
There was a little boy on the bench next to me. He was sitting by himself playing a game on his phone. His head was down – like most of them are. At least he is outside, I thought. I looked around at the enormous eucalyptus trees and the ever hearty redwoods. It was quiet, with the exception of a few grunts and beeps from the boy and his device. I closed my eyes for a minute and prayed for a soothing breeze, any type of breeze, and wondered how hot it would get in the afternoon.
As I opened my eyes and looked out across the park, I saw them, standing together in the ivy. They were a group of five or six. Peaceful. Content. I stood up and walked over to them and studied their stocks, like thin sticks of rhubarb, and their pink trumpet-like petals, perky and proud.
Suddenly, I am back in San Anselmo with Grammy, picking apples.
I am sitting on a picnic blanket with my toddlers watching Toy Story at “Movie in the Park.”
I am meeting new parents on the first day of pre-school.
I am shaking sand out of beach towels.
I am pulling stinky socks out of the bottom of torn sleeping bags.
I am rushing to get to walk-through registration on time.
I am standing in the background, watching the senior portrait session.
I am sitting awake in bed waiting for them to get home safe and sound.
I am at Bed, Bath and Beyond ordering dorm room necessities.
I am counting how many days are left.
The Naked Ladies stood perfectly still at my feet. They didn’t even lift their puffy pink heads to acknowledge me. They were focused, it seemed, on something very important. Endings? Beginnings? Accomplishment? No. Just the plain old forward motion of life itself.
If those Naked Ladies could speak to me, they would start by telling me to quit with the drama already. Stop your fussing, they would say. We will keep coming back. You will see us again. Now go on, Lisa. Get on with it.
I gave those Naked Ladies a smirk, and, in the infamous words of every teenager I’ve ever known, said, “Fine,” and marched back up the street to my house.
Yep. Summer is just about over and it’s time to make way for a new season. We have no choice but to embrace the change.