Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I was like as a kid.
Something in the air yesterday struck me, and the crisp air sent me back to being seven in Merlin, OR and the old leather swing I fell asleep on, losing myself under madrona trees. Waking up to wander again, my grandpa would be walking around the property in his worn red hat and suspenders, smelling like diesel and Old Spice, and as long as I stayed out of the way, I could watch him work in the garage on his projects. My grandma was inside cooking meat too tough to chew or making collages from old magazines. She was never much of a cook, but if we were lucky, she’d bake zucchini bread, and nothing else mattered except the sticky sweetness of love and food you grew yourself.
Remembering thoughts I used to have and the way I used to have them, I realized something.
I haven’t changed very much.
I like many of the same things. Playing on swings, dressing up like a princess, old George Strait songs, making people happy with a meal.
I want the same things. Performing on every stage I can find, baking for the whole damn neighborhood, challenging myself constantly with the new, a garden like my grandmother’s in the middle of nowhere, to be swept off my feet by someone entirely unexpected.
But some things have changed. I’ve discovered I’m particularly good at sweeping when I want to be. Apparently, I have Keeper written all over me, which may be part of the reason so many men have wanted to keep me in a jar on display on a mantle somewhere. You learn to be careful there.
You learn to be more careful with your heart, too. Despite evidence to the contrary, I still can’t help but think people are good and deserve to be trusted. The problem seems to come up when it turns out they don’t yet know how to trust themselves. I’ve been careless with my heart lately, and it aches just enough it let me know I’m learning something important here. Sometimes, you love the wrong ones at the wrong times, and you can’t help but thinking, “Of course I do.”
You learn to be more careful with other people’s hearts. Sometimes a “no” or “not now” can be the most heartfelt and kind thing you can do for someone, even if they can’t see it right then. Sometimes you try your best, and someone gets hurt anyway.
These aren’t the things we think about as kids. We don’t worry about callousness, because we haven’t experienced it, or about people being emotionally unavailable, because when you’re that vulnerable, how could you? It’s enough to worry about thinking about trying to choke down grandma’s overdone steak with ketchup and canned fruit.
But ultimately, meals heal empty stomachs and and time heals broken hearts. And just maybe, the sticky sweetness of love and zucchini bread can make it all okay again.