Whole Hearts

“Artichokes,” she answered, when we wondered what she would like to eat before facing five days of camp food.  “Buy four, so we each can have our own heart.”

Extravagant, sure.  But Sunday’s family dinner would need to hold us until she returned Friday afternoon.  By all means, buy the artichokes.

Perhaps she knew we needed reinforcement – one or two meager artichoke hearts broken into pieces was not enough.  We each needed a whole heart to steel ourselves for the week ahead.

“I can’t do it, I’m not going,” she said as we filled her suitcase, following packing instructions to the letter.  “Of course you can,” I countered, wondering if my heart would be the one to crack first.

At bedtime we whispered tales of adventures and friends and how fast five days would pass.  Both of us agreed this was too big an opportunity to let slip away simply because we were scared.

Sleep arrived reluctantly, lightly.  We could hear each other from across the hall, rustling in beds, hearts racing in anticipation of the morning’s events.

Daylight brought brave faces and forced cheerfulness.  But the bus, looming impossibly huge in the parking lot, cast a shadow over our tenuous sunshine of happy thoughts.

A couple of false starts and then it was truly time.  Kids, suddenly looking like kindergarteners with oversized backpacks, filed past clumps of parents offering casual waves and “see ya laters.”

She runs ahead, straight to me, for one last hug.  Fighting tears but losing the battle, we squeeze tightly.

It isn’t easy living with such a soft shell —  experiencing emotions as if they were distilled and intensified, almost too bitter or too sweet to endure.  But as we held each other I realized that I’m in good company, our small club of sensitive souls.

With a salty kiss planted on her cheek, I send her on her adventure, embarrassed by the misty eyes but also confident that the only way to navigate our world is by feeling every moment with a whole heart.


We bobbed in the water, heads peeking out expectantly as our swim coach walked the length of the pool casually tossing something to each swimmer.  I felt like a dolphin at Sea World waiting for a sardine to be dropped into my open, slightly smiling mouth.

Instead of sardines, we were given small beepers to tuck into our swim caps.  The beepers emitted an annoyingly cheerful chirp as we attempted to set a pace that matched our strokes to the beeps – kind of like a metronome for swimmers.

Beepers are awful.  But they’re also kind of awesome.  They make me work hard and pay attention.  I’m pretty sure that Michael Phelps’ mind doesn’t wander while in the middle of a workout, but it is amazing how many things I can think of during 25 short yards.  To wit:

Ow, that stroke kind of pinched my shoulder.
My son said his shoulder hurt last night.
Is it because he practiced pitching yesterday?
Maybe nine year olds shouldn’t be pitching yet.
Should I have given him Advil this morning?
I probably should make something anti-inflammatory for dinner.
Like a nice big salad.
Oh, wait, the NCAA basketball championship is on tonight. 
Everyone will want to eat dude food in front of the TV.
Ha ha, that’s funny: duuuuuuude foooooood.
Sounds like something Guy Fieri would eat.
I bet his car smells like stale farts and Axe body spray.
Ew.  Un-think!  Un-think!

I reach the wall, flip, and start the dialog all over again.  I don’t know what makes me more tired, swimming or the hamster wheel my mind runs on while I swim.

But the beeper changes all of that.  My mind can’t wander while I’m trying to keep pace with the nagging chirp in my ear so I end up focused and faster.  I left the pool today feeling like I accomplished something – and wishing that I could wear a beeper the rest of the day.  I certainly could stand to be focused and faster on land as well as in the pool.

Sadly, without the beeper, I’m a disaster.  I sit down to write but then jump up to put a hunk of meat in the Crock Pot as soon as I type “dude food.”  I Google Guy Fieri to see if he seems like the type to hold a grudge.  I write a paragraph but then notice a squirrel scaling our screen door. He looks like a tiny, furry flasher exposed against the glass, so obviously there’s only one thing I can do: grab my phone and attempt to snap a photo that could be used for next year’s Valentine’s Day card.  My husband is a lucky guy.

I try to summon the lesson from this morning’s workout, turning the cheerful beep into a scolding buzz with every wayward thought: dinner, buzz; Guy Fieri, buzz; squirrel junk, buzz.  Squirrel Junk.  That would make a great band name.  I wish I played guitar.  Am I too old for lessons?  I should take guitar lessons.  I wish Sting taught guitar lessons.  We could sing Roxanne.  Roxanne is a nice name.  I wonder whatever happened to that band Roxette…  Buzz.