At least that’s how I remember it

I read a book when I was a kid called “Homecoming.” The main character’s name was Dicey and she was just a kid, but a grown-up kid and the book was long and paperback and had reeds and water on the front cover.

Or at least that’s how I remember it.

I’m pretty sure fourth-grade me probably didn’t get the entire message that book’s author intended. Grown-up me can’t even really remember what that book I read so long ago was about. But it was called “Homecoming” for a reason and it was about that character Dicey’s struggle to find that direction, amidst all the other stuff in her little-girl life.

I feel that way, some days. That the stuff I never asked for just swirls around in my head, creating a haze I can’t quite scrape away. That the path is right there, in front of me, but some days, someone forgot to clear the weeds away and the thistle and the thorns and it’s just rained a whole bunch so the ground is soggy and the water seeps in through the holes in the rubber of my canvas K-Mart shoes.

And my toes are cold.

But my hair is getting long, so long, though it doesn’t look particularly good, sort of like that third-grade school picture after I’d grown out my bangs.

These days, today’s sort of day, my feet are still dry but my eyes are, too. My sister just shared a link on Facebook to a blog post about betrayal. The worst kind, the author says, is the one where the person you love decides to stop loving you back. Or doesn’t decide actually but just stops caring enough to invest in the relationship and stops loving you by default. Insightful, I said. And terrifying. Yes, to both, my little sister said.

My family drove home for the holiday last week. It was a beautiful homecoming in so many ways, an easy one, a slip-right-back-into-what-life-was-like-there-without-missing-a-beat sort of one. I reveled in the friendships I’d left behind that still existed in the same, pure way they had back then, back then in March when I left them without knowing who’d tend to them while I was gone. Turns out some friendships, if planted correctly the first time, just grow on their own. I am lucky for that.

So back home, I saw those old friends. I drove those old streets. I even peeked at the yellow house in Dundee. I looked through the front window at night and was comforted that the walls, inside, were still yellow.

We went to the bar I thought I loved. The rock star played and he was brilliantly beautiful as always; the love for him in that room was wide and warm. The people were fun and different and the same, all too the same, and… well, the feelings I have about that place, about that night, are part of the tornadic dust still gunking up whatever part of the mind is in charge of figuring shit like that out.

We stayed for a week. I felt warm and cocooned and loved and even more confident in my own skin, back home. I refused to think about leaving until the day before we couldn’t avoid leaving. We left and I didn’t cry. The rock star who I love so much that when I read novels about husbands dying or cheating or both, I start to (irrationally) worry about losing him, looked at me in the car and said, “No tears?”

I agreed it was odd.

But I was trying, see, really trying to convince myself to not feel so much, to not feel everything so passionately, so intensely. Not everything matters, I tell myself, not everything you attach emotion to even exists, I say. In my head.

So leaving home to head home wasn’t hard, at least not right then. Not even now, that we’re home, in our new home, in our home that’s just ours, this little house that if I let my mind run wild needs so much work but if I let content seep in is just fine already, it’s not hard.

But.

Something, I don’t know what yet, in my mind, inside somewhere, is still simmering. Things are shifting down through tiny holes like the sand in the metal sifter I used in the sandbox long ago as a kid in Oklahoma, those June bugs banging against the back patio light as I played past bedtime.

I’m thinking and reading and trying to be the girl I want to be, all the time. I’m trying to remember every single second how beautiful life is, even when it’s not.

Even when it is. Which it is, for us, just about all the time. We are lucky. In love. In life. In blessings and otherwise. Lucky.

Ballots that will count for nothing

Today is a presidential election, a day so ingrained as important in my mind that I get excited just thinking about it.

You’d think a girl who gets so into a presidential race – any presidential race – would have gotten her act together sooner and made sure she was registered to vote.

But she didn’t.

She tried. She tried to register to vote in Colorado online weeks ago, but because she didn’t have a Colorado ID she couldn’t. She and the rock star figured they might have to vote by absentee ballot this year, since they are both registered in Nebraska.

So last week, she requested an absentee ballot from the Douglas County Election Commission. She e-mailed. She was told she had to fill out the official request form. She did. She e-mailed it back. She was told they need an actual signature, not an electronic one. So the rock star went to a copy place and got the forms printed. He brought them home for her to sign. She did and he did and the next day, she took them back to the copy place to have them faxed to Omaha.

That was Tuesday.

Yesterday, the absentee ballots arrived.

They were late, but the girl who gets so excited about the right to vote and presidential elections, the girl who proudly took her 3-year-old son and her in-her-belly daughter with her four years ago to the polls — like her own mother did way back then — because she wanted him (them) to feel this excitement, too, figured she’d go back to the copy place today and fax in the ballots. Election Day. No problem.

Turns out you can’t fax them. The absentee ballots that just arrived yesterday afternoon have to be back to the Douglas County Election Commission by 8 p.m. Today. Tonight. Election Day. In Omaha. Today.

Not postmarked today. Not faxed today. The actual ballots have to be there today.

F.

The girl and the rock star considered driving to Nebraska. Pulling the kids out of school and jumping in the car and putting pedal to metal to make it home in time to vote.

But whether they’d actually make it was iffy. Whether it was a responsible choice was iffy-er.

So here they are. In Western Colorado with absentee ballots that will count for nothing, with votes granted to every U.S. citizen that they can’t cast.

The girl called the Obama campaign. She told them she wanted to vote for the president. Every vote counts after all, right? Isn’t that the message people on both sides of the aisle ingrain into our psyches? Isn’t that the lesson we all learned in fourth grade when Michael Dukakis ran against George Bush? Vote. Don’t throw it away. Make your voice count. Make your opinion be heard. It’s a privilege, use it. All that stuff.

The Obama campaign told her there’s nothing she can do. Nothing. Register to vote tomorrow, they said. (She actually did register to vote last Tuesday when she spent four hours at the DMV getting a Colorado driver’s license. But it was too late. Colorado’s deadline to register to vote is 29 days before election day, Oct. 9. That is the day she and the rock star closed on their house. They could not have gotten Colorado IDs before then, you see, because living with friends is technically “being homeless.” No utility bills or lease agreements to prove a permanent address means no ID.)

I understand there are rules to follow. In just about every aspect of life, every part of society, there are rules and regulations and ways to go about doing things. We all learn this as kids, right? Don’t follow the rules? Go to time out. Get suspended from school. Have privileges revoked.

I guess those childhood lessons all hold true in the real, grown-up world, too.

Don’t have a real home? Don’t register to vote in time because you can’t until you have a real home? Well, you, tax-paying, rule-abiding U.S. citizen, don’t get to vote this year.

Sorry! Better luck next time! Thanks for playing!

Yes, I’m bitter about this. I’m sick to my stomach about this. I realize we should have requested the absentee ballots sooner. I wish we had.

But we didn’t, and now it’s now and it is what it is and … all those things. But the fact I just turned 33 years old and will not be voting in a close race for the president of the United States for the first time in my life makes me feel all sorts of things I don’t want to feel: angry, depressed, apathetic, frustrated, hopeless, helpless.

This morning, after learning the election commission back home wouldn’t accept our absentee ballots via fax, I threw my ballot away.

I took the kids to school. Then I came home and called the Mesa County Democratic Party. I left a message: Please help me vote today. The rock star stopped in at an Obama campaign office on our little main street. He asked them: Please help us vote today.

No luck.

I posted on Facebook. I considered suggestions (head to the airport, see if anyone’s going to Omaha; head to a truck stop, see if anyone’s headed east; pay the price and FedEx the ballots). I gave up. I started writing. I tried to accomplish other tasks.

No luck.

A little bit ago, I got my ballot out of the trash.

I can’t throw hope away.

It may be fruitless. It may be silly. But I’m filling out the ballot. I’m voting for president of the United States.

It may not count, but my ballot’s getting to Omaha. On time or not.

I can’t not try.

Sort of a big deal

His teacher handed me the note at our conference last week, saying it was a surprise for Rye.

Well, 7-year-old, nothing-gets-past-him Rye was with me, with us, and when our little family got to the car, he wanted to open the envelope.

He did, and I read.

“Dear parents, your child will be honored at a special assembly next Thursday, Nov. 1. Please join us to celebrate your child’s accomplishment. Please do NOT tell your child …”

Er.

Well, having that at the top of the note might have been helpful.

At any rate, we were excited our son was receiving an award, no matter what it was for, which still remained a mystery. I marked our calendar.

Today was Thursday.

Today I was crunched for time, overwhelmed with getting both kids fed, dressed, groomed and to school on time, as well as my morning full-time (paying) job work done before being back at Rye’s school by 9:45 a.m. for the awards assembly. I managed to semi-groom myself, too (I spent 12 minutes – that included a shower. Not even kidding).

The rock star was waiting on the street outside his art gallery and I slowed the car to pick him up.

We walked into the elementary school gym late by five minutes. Kids’ names were being called off and they stood from their position on the floor to be honored. I had no idea what they were being recognized for.

Rye turned around to wave at us. We smiled and waved back, bemused at the goings-on more than anything else.

His name was called. He stood up. He sat back down.

A few minutes later, the principal, who was doing the name calling, said something about having another shot next quarter at perfect attendance if your name hadn’t been called this time.

Oh, perfect attendance, I thought. Well, at least he was recognized for something! Anne Lamott says 80 percent of life is just showing up…

I thought the assembly might be over, but the school principal switched to a different award.

Excellence in P.E.

After a few other students were honored, Rye’s name was called! This time, he got to walk to the front of the gym and be honored with the 10 or so other students who received the Excellence in P.E. award.

Wow, I thought. Cool. I was proud. There’s something about seeing your baby up on stage with an award in his hand.

Rye sat down and the principal moved on to awards in other categories: Music, Computers, Library.

I glanced at the clock, figuring the assembly had to be over then, happy our son had been honored twice(!).

But it wasn’t over.

They saved the best for last.

Every quarter, each teacher gets to pick ONE student from her classroom to receive the Super Citizen Award. This is the student who embodies the ideals of the school; they try hard, they work hard, they listen, they show respect, they’re a good friend, a model student.

The principal talked about the attributes of each student using pronouns before announcing the winner by name.

I watched one mom and her two younger children clap and wave and react how any mom would when her child wins this sort of award. And I smiled. I was happy for that family.

A small handful of other students were honored.

The principal announced the winner in Rye’s class last. This student “is a wonderful example of positive thinking and actions,” the principal said. “He is kind, helpful and always has a nice word for a friend. He has quickly become a positive member of our classroom and school.”

That sounds like my kid, I thought. I kept listening.

This student’s “commitment to follow Shelledy expectations shows he is an honest person,” the principal said. “He is a model for other students to follow. He always completes his work. He listens during directions so he knows what to do, and then gets right to work on a task. He always tries his hardest and his work reflects his dedication to learning.”

Is Rye dedicated to learning? I thought. I hope so.

And then.

“This student is new to our school but has quickly become a bobcat. He is proud when he gets a PAWS and enjoys our school. Congratulations, Rye Stickney.”

I turned to the rock star, mumbled something unintelligible and then quickly looked back toward the front of the gym, where my first baby was walking to the front of the room, where he was getting an award called “Super Citizen.”

For a few minutes, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to turn the water works off.

A dad I’d met at the class Halloween party the day before came up to congratulate us. He said, “Wow, this is a big deal. Some kids go their whole time at Shelledy without ever getting this award. You should be really proud.”

I was. I am. So proud.

So can’t-stop-smiling proud.