By Laura Moore

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"This is a ball, and it is blue," I told Z conclusively, before realizing, seconds later, it was a lighter blue than the other one several balls away. 

"Oh! This one is also blue, but it's dark blue," I added, trying to figure out why the toy company had to use the same color on a toy that only needed five total options. 

"Darker means it has more pigment. So this is a dark blue because they put more blue color in it, and this is a light blue because they put less color in it. Does that make sense?"

Our nine month old just kept babbling and grabbing at objects. Of course it didn't make sense. He can say three words and he doesn't know what any of them mean. 

"And, well, ummm," I started again, thinking about where I wanted to take this, "we should call this a bead and not a ball. It has a hole in the center and it's moving on a wire bar, whereas an actual ball bounces and rolls. Mommy should not have called it a ball. I'm sorry if that confused you. It's a bead, a dark blue bead, and this one is orange, this one is yellow, this one is red, and this one is light blue..."

Shoot, maybe we should call the blues their actual colors so he doesn't get confused.

I promptly Googled shades of blue and held my computer close to the bead/balls.

"Okay, buddy. This bead is sapphire and this bead is baby blue."

But what about the cup? We've been telling him the cup is blue. Should we figure out its shade or should we just keep calling it blue? Which is more confusing? Will they have to know shades in preschool?

Mid-thought, Z decided to abandon the beads, and his fingers began caressing a panel of doors.

"Look at this buddy," I said rotating one them on its hinges.

"Open, shut, open, shut, open, shut."

He reached for the knob and began to swivel it on his own. 

"Open, shut, open, shut, open, shut," I continued, and after six swings of the door, he finally decided to stop and hold it open.

"Look inside," I told him, pointing to the image staring up from wood. "There's a zebra, and here is the word zebra. Zebra-Zebra. I know it's confusing, but this word says what this picture shows," I explained moving my finger back and forth between the image and the word.  "They both symbolize a real zebra."

He looked up at me and then reached for the knob.

"Hold on a minute," I told him, pressing my finger against the door. "Let's talk about colors too. This is black and this is white," I said, pointing to the stripes, but Z pushed away my hand, reached up, grabbed the wire bars, and dove head first into the side of the wood. 

Bam. Whahh. 

I couldn't blame him.

Mommy went totally and completely overboard. 

"I'm so sorry buddy," I said kissing his head and squeezing him tight. "I know it is so hard. Is it a zebra or is it black and white? Is it a frog or is it green? Is it a bead or a ball? Is it dark blue or sapphire? Oh my gosh. I have totally confused you." 

I tried to keep comforting him, but after seven seconds of cuddling, Z squirmed away, totally healed.

"Mommy will make it clearer next time," I promised, and then I bowed on my knees and worshiped the ground upon which early childhood educators walked. As a high school English teacher, I teach kids how to write literary analyses, how to create believable characters, and how to convincingly make a point, but as tough as that is sometimes, at least my kiddos have some words.  

Z had none. Nada. Zilch. Zero.

He had so much ground to gain. And the distance felt overwhelming. I wondered how anyone acquired words when they started with nothing. When they had to listen to language and collect it like marbles, when they had to ascribe meaning to sounds and string those sounds together to form thoughts. When they had to move next to the page, where letters represented noises that combined to capture ideas, and brains had to follow the curve and bend of a pen as it rose and fell and dotted its i's, spewing out scribbles that melded together like the sounds did, scribbles that formed words and sentences and paragraphs that captured the essence of something real. 

Life suddenly felt so heavy as I looked at him standing there, leaning against activity cube. As I thought about how much there was for him to learn, and how challenging it would be to figure out what was most important. But I had to start somewhere. I had to give him language so he could engage in the world.

Nouns and verbs, I thought, start there. The adjectives can come later. 

"Okay buddy, let's look at the animals," I started to say, but in a sudden swoop, Z reached forward, tightened his fingers around the wires and darted upward with his legs. He screamed at the top of his lungs and started laughing uncontrollably. Glee leaked from every corner of his skin. Standing on his tippy toes, he stretched out his tongue, and he gurgled, and drooled, and giggled like a maniac.

And in a flash--just like that--none of my previous concerns about language seemed important. In a flash, I dismissed all thoughts of zebras and frogs and colors and shapes and actions. And I squashed any remaining urge to explain to him that he was now standing. 

Instead, I scooted around beside him. 

"Happy," I said, grinning from ear to ear. "You're happy." 

I nuzzled my face up close so he could touch my cheeks and gaze into my eyes. 

"And Mommy's happy," I said, turning him around so I could kiss his cheeks.

"Happy," I said once more for good measure, and he waved his hands and squealed. Then he reached back and took hold of the wires, held himself up on his own two feet.

And as I watched him look up at me--standing proudly on his own--I realized I wasn't saying "happy" so he could hear the sound and test it out on his tongue. I didn't say it because the parenting guides listed it as appropriate, or because one of the characters looked happy on the page.

I was saying it because that's what his father and I want him to be. I was saying it because in that moment, it felt far more important than zebras and frogs and colors and wires and beads. I was saying it because I wanted him to remember how it felt to bask in the essence of joy, to laugh and celebrate, to cuddle, and kiss and dream. 

 
 

By Laura Moore

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My father dropped everything when I asked him to play catch. He put off chores, work, the desire to watch television, and even his hunger when I walked up to him and said, "Dad, can we throw?" 

Night after night, day after day, for nearly 2,190 straight days (from seventh grade through twelfth grade), my father dismissed any possible excuses, and--rain or shine, cold or heat, in sickness or in health--he grabbed his mitt, squatted forty feet away, and caught whatever I threw to him. This number, of course, would be higher if I included early childhood or college, but I choose 7th-12th grade because that time was the time I needed him the most.

During those years, I learned how to find the strike zone. I learned how throw a drop-curve and I learned how to deliver my rising screwball--on call--beneath a right-handed batter's chin. He helped me improve my leg drive. He told me when my release was impure. And he helped me figure out how to position my knuckle ball drop-curve an inch off the plate, six inches off the ground. We talked strategy for hours. We scouted the opposition. And we threw thousands of counts against hypothetical hitters. When he realized I was serious about improving, he drove me all over Central Ohio to meet with pitching coaches, all over the midwest to pitching camps and all over the country so I could test myself against the best of the best.

When I got married, our father-daughter song was Take Me Out to the Ballgame and we did our own dance to that song beneath the lights. My father grabbed his mitt, I grabbed mine, and right there on the dance floor, in a tux and a bustled wedding gown, we stood twenty feet apart, tossing the ball back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth. Dancing the way we had for so many hours, on so many days, for so many years.

This all came to mind last week when I sat my eight and a half month old son five feet away on the floor and reached for an inflatable rubber ball that was virtually half his size. 

"Do you want to play catch?" I asked him and he got excited the way he gets with everything: waving his hands, flashing his grin, babbling like a maniac. 

"When I roll it to you, you need to catch it," I instructed, showing him what I meant with my hands. Then I sent the bouncy ball on a smooth path between his legs. Of course, I didn't expect him to actually catch it given the fact he couldn't possibly understand the exchange, but much to my surprise, when the ball arrived between his legs, little Z smacked both hands on top and held the ball still, looking up to see if I approved.

"Perfect," I screamed, "Nice catch!" 

An enormous smiled spread across my cheeks and the minute Z recognized he did something well, he grew intoxicatingly happy, waving his hands over the ball, belting out "dada," over and over like he does when he gets excited about anything. Once the immediate hysteria simmered down, he began to strike the rubber intentionally, smacking his hands against the surface four or five times, before one of those smacks incidentally sent the ball in a perfect line toward me. When I recognized that he threw it, my eyes and mouth rose; I gasped.

"Oh my goodness," I yelled. "That was so good! You threw it to me!" 

I trapped the ball when it arrived, and then I began cheer-clapping, repeating "Good job, buddy!" until he squealed back, waved his hands, and refocused his eyes. As soon as he appeared ready, I returned the ball in a smooth, straight line, and Z trapped it once more. Like the previous exchange, he initiated an enthusiastic, rubber-smacking regiment and the final smack sent the ball rolling in a straight line back toward me, back toward my fingers waving at him from five feet away. As it canvased the floor a second time--as it bridged the space between our legs--I could hardly contain my joy. Even if Z was unintentionally participating, I couldn't deny what was happening.

"You got it, kiddo!  We're playing catch!" I told him, grinning and glowing. 

"Grandpa and Mommy used to do this all the time," I explained, and though he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about, much less what was going on, I recognized the magnitude of our "first." I recognized the transition between playtime involving me watching him swatting and smacking random objects, to us actually engaging in an activity. I recognized that our little baby was on the path toward becoming our little guy, and the joy I felt over that moment--over our first shared exchange--caused tears to summit my lower lid and streak my face like eyeblack.

We went back and forth eleven times before he got distracted, rolled over onto his belly and army crawled toward his squeaking caterpillar. And in those eleven exchanges, my childhood flashed before my eyes. In those eleven exchanges, I thought about family games of whiffle ball in the back yard. I thought about all of the miles my parents put on their cars to watch my brother and me compete on travel teams, to take us to camp, and to watch us play in college. I thought about my brother's football games, basketball games, and track meets. I thought about my mother opening up concession stands and sewing our outfield fence. I thought about both parents on the sidelines, and my brother racing from his track meets to cheer on my final pitches.

But mostly, I thought about all of the time I spent playing catch with my dad.  All of the time I spent several feet away from him, learning. Learning how to succeed on the pitcher's mound, but learning even more about how to succeed at life. Learning how to set goals, script dreams, and pursue opportunities. Learning how to overcome fear, insecurity and failure. Learning how to persevere through injuries and manage my time. Learning the value of sacrifice, hard work, and resilience.  And learning, above all, to say yes to the people you love. To prioritize them, to support them, to be there for them, to ensure they know--without a doubt--that no matter how defeated, how lonely or how heartbroken they feel, they will always have a catcher behind home plate, they will always have someone there waiting to receive them, to support them, to help direct them back into the zone.

As I watched my son bend and squeak the caterpillar, I thought about his first game of catch. And then I imagined his second and third and fourth, and I hoped, that even if he doesn't grow up to like baseball, he would still find his own form of exchange, his own way of reaching out, his own way of finding a sliver of life where he could comfortably learn and grow and imagine. Where he could feel strong enough to deal with pain and insecurity and fear. Where he could connect with us, his parents, and be certain of how much we love him. But mostly, I hoped that when the time came for me to pick up my mitt--be it figuratively or literally--I would have enough intuition to shout yes, to be standing there, a few feet away, ready to receive the ball.

 
 

By Laura Moore

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Instead of enjoying a cup of coffee, or a few extra moments with my husband and son Monday morning, I rushed through my routine and darted across town at 7:15 am, in an effort to retrieve my wallet (which unfortunately, I, as the last customer of the night, left at a battery store Sunday evening).

I realized I had forgotten it as soon as I double checked my purse prior to picking up the pizza, and that realization led to a flurry of searching on behalf of my husband and myself: in the diaper bag, the stroller, the carseat, under the seats in my car, anywhere we could possibly think to look. 

But the minute I realized it wasn't in my purse, deep down, I knew I left it there, at the store; I could picture exactly where I set it down, and--because I felt guilty for being the jerk who came in ten minutes before close--I knew I left it in that spot because I was mindlessly hurrying out of the store so the employees could log out and enjoy the night.

Despite knowing no one would be there when I returned, I rushed back to the store just in case, hoping that maybe someone was waiting for a ride, or got a last minute phone call, or had some other reason to remain well beyond closing time. When I pulled into to the empty parking lot though, I knew it was hopeless. Nevertheless, I gazed through the window anyway--just to see if it was there--and sure enough, propped up on the counter exactly where I left it, I saw my wallet, sticking out like a butterfly on asphalt.

I wanted to vomit. 

Why didn't anyone see it and lock it in the register? I wondered

Then I proceeded to scare myself: Someone is going to break in. My wallet is so OBVIOUSLY there. The window doesn't seem that thick. The lights are so bright. 

My abandoned billfold looked terribly tempting, bulging with the thickness of my life, hovering beneath spot lights, ripe with a vulnerable identity waiting to be stolen. Frantic to retrieve it, I knocked on every window. I left a message for the manager.  Heck, I even called the emergency door line listed on a sticker at the top of the door.  Nothing I did, however, produced results, and so I sat there, defeated. 

Before giving up entirely though, I called the police.

The non-emergency line operator told me to wait in the parking lot and she would dispatch an officer. Relieved and hopeful, I sat there, staring through my windshield into the store window, focused painfully on what I left behind. I sat there praying that the police officer would have the solution. I sat there inventing a thousand scenarios where authorities would arrive with a skeleton key, or a manager or some other magical means of opening the door and handing me back the container that allowed me to conduct the business of life.

It took about ten minutes for the officer to arrive, and while I waited and invented my stories, I looked around. Observing my surroundings, I sized up the risk of my wallet camping out in plain sight. And when I spotted an over-served man with a blonde, scraggly beard, unkempt clothes, and ruddy red cheeks stumbling back and forth behind me in the parking lot, for the first time, I grew afraid. I watched him lumber in uneven strides, falling one way and then jerking back to correct his movements, and when he neared my car and split his gaze between my rearview window and the well-lit store containing my wallet, I grew terribly suspicious. 

Was this man dangerous? Did he want to get into my car? Would he break into the store and steal my wallet? Was he going to ask me for money?

I turned the key in my ignition and placed my hands on the gear shift. A slight wave of ease came over me as I realized I could dash off if he approached my car. With my adrenaline on high alert, I cued 911 on my iPhone, and I kept checking my mirrors, studying him, eyeing him, waiting to see what he would do.

Moments later, he passed me, and as he wandered north up High Street, I rewrote his narrative in my mind. My fear now gone, I was free to be rational. And from a safe distance, I no longer saw him as a singular creature of suspicion--he was no longer a dangerous drunk who was looking for the chance to threaten some part of my life--he was just a man, with a thousand possible reasons for why he just so happened to stumble through a parking lot at the same time my personal crisis (that in the grand scheme of life was not a big deal at all) happened to unfold.

Maybe he was looking at me because he wondered if I was in trouble.

Maybe he self-medicates because he can't afford medical care.

Maybe he wasn't impaired, and just suffers from vertigo.

Maybe he is taking care of his sick wife and didn't have time to shower.

Maybe he was helping a friend with yard work and had one too many celebratory drinks.

Maybe he isn't well, and is forcing himself outside to find food.

Maybe...

Of course, since I had idle time to think, the maybes continued. And the more they continued, the worse I felt about my initial read, about my gut instinct to start the car, cue the authorities, and plan my escape on account of the way he looked to me. 

My train of thinking broke seconds later when the police arrived, and I turned my energy to the situation that called me there to begin with. The officer who was dispatched to my location greeted me with a smile, and when I explained my dilemma, she peered through the store window at my wallet and then searched her records for emergency numbers. Even though she didn't have to, she took the time to call the contacts she had. Unfortunately, they didn't answer, but her response helped me feel better about the circumstances. She wrote notes about our interaction, and told me that if anything happened to my wallet, there would now be a police record. 

The officer and I parted ways once our exchange was complete, and I spent the entire ride home thinking about both the man in the parking lot and my pleasant encounter with the officer. I wondered what the man's real story was. I wondered how he perceived the distant intersection of our lives. Despite thinking that he was looking at me, perhaps he didn't even notice me there, perhaps he didn't give me a second thought, but perhaps my presence made him just as nervous as his presence made me. Perhaps my presence caused him to fear an altercation with the police, or with whomever he imagined was meeting me. 

Despite giving him the benefit of the doubt later, I wondered why my initial gut reaction was fear. What was it about that man that made me afraid? Would have I been afraid under different circumstances? Or was there something about him that would have always triggered a high alert setting? And if there is something about seeing certain people that triggers an innate, survivalist response, where does that response come from? Is our fear the byproduct of a deeply ingrained instinct toward self-preservation or is it something we learn, something culture teaches us over time? Perhaps it is some combination of the two, and if so, when is fear good and when is it bad? And how do we draw the line in such a way that we can keep both ourselves and our respect for humanity safe?

The police, of course, were on their way, so in my situation Sunday evening, the promise of seeing blue and red lights calmed me. If anything happens, they will arrive and stop it, I thought.  And the mere fact that my view of them as an ally, as a helper, as a beacon of justice made me wonder about all of the people who would never think to call authorities when they were scared, or desperate, or in need of a small outpouring of help. It seemed so natural to me to pick up the phone because that's what my narrative tells me to do: Call 911 when you're in trouble. The police will help you. When cop cars pull onto the scene, you can relax. 

But this isn't a natural response for everyone.

As I drove home from the battery store Sunday night, I thought about how different my narrative looks from the narratives of those who have been raised to avoid authorities, from those who have seen or experienced police brutality, from those who have endured tension, violence, profiling and fear. I thought about those who spend each day hoping to avoid conflict, because they have learned that there are few voices standing up for them, standing up for all forms of justice. 

I wondered how many other narratives were out there: not just with our justice system, but with every facet of life. Narratives that are not only shaped through a lens influenced by race, ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation, but also through lenses influenced by drug addiction, physical impairments or mental illness. Lenses that alter the way human beings experience and are experienced in the world. Lenses like the one I looked through when I feared an unkempt, middle-aged white man stumbling through the parking lot behind me.

Monday morning, I went back to the store, got my wallet and headed home. Everything resolved itself in a fairly uneventful way, but my brain was still alive with thoughts when I sat down at my computer. Uncertain how to make sense of them all, I smiled when I opened an email from my brother: "Here's your Monday morning writing inspiration," he wrote, and within the body of the email, he sent me David Foster Wallace's 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College. Of course since my brother knows me well, he sent the transcript rather than the video, and when I read Wallace's words, I found myself stopped dead in my tracks.

Fully aware of his liberal arts audience, Wallace discusses the value of a liberal arts education (and not the typical "it teaches you how to think" defense, but a meaty defense that explores the idea of losing your arrogance, of learning how to be aware). He talks about how two human beings can experience the same story and derive different truths. He discusses how a true education takes a lifetime, that we will always be working to sharpen our mind and open our eyes. And he talks about the routine of daily life, what we worship and the options we have for how we choose to see our world.  

If you're in need of thought about thought, I fully recommend reading the whole thing, but in the interest of time, one idea in particular stuck with me. One idea brought me back to the man in the parking lot, to the idea that we all have a choice about what choose to see or not to see, about what sort of narratives we write. Wallace talks about how we instantly judge the people around us, but that true freedom is taking a step back from our initial read and being open to alternatives. True freedom is about accepting that our view of the world is not absolute, that the things that happen around us are not always about us. True freedom is deciding not to accept the mindless default, and instead it is about choosing to be thoughtful, aware and conscious.

In other words, true freedom is about deciding to give people the benefit of the doubt, and in so doing, releasing ourselves from the grip of negative assumptions, from being absolutely positive that our world is miserable and ill-intentioned, and deciding instead, to see it as multifaceted, to see it as having a variety of truths, a variety of complexities, and a variety of narratives. 
 
My brother had no idea what I was thinking about Monday morning when he sent me that speech, but reading through Wallace's thoughts helped me sort through my own. It framed the way I reflected on my experience, on the questions and curiosities, on the line between instinctual self preservation and irrational fear. I have no answers about any of things I pondered or saw or felt. I still don't know if it was good street-smarts that led me to judge the man who walked behind me, or if my fear suggests a form of calloused cruelty, but I do know that the experience made me think. It made me stop. It made me see value in the process of considering why my default setting was to issue judgement. It made me take a step back and consider various narratives, realizing that though I might see the world one way, that man might see it differently. That while my lens shows me one side of the world, it is no clearer and no better than anyone else's lens; it's just different.

Of course the idealist in me hopes that one day we can arrive at a place where fear isn't so rampant, where more of us can can hear and accept the various narratives around us, and where the police-as-protectors concept is accessible to all people, but I don't want to sound naive. I'm not sure how such change can happen, but I do know that before it is possible, we must first see and admit a need for progress. We must first open our eyes and recognize that we all have different lines of sight. We must choose to dislodge ourselves from the default, and instead, decide to be open to the multiplicities of life.

 
 
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In the midst of rusty reds, burnt oranges and golden yellows, it's the green leaves I can't stop thinking about. The unchanged ones--the ones holding on until the last minute--resistant to trendy shifts, draped in drab garb, waiting.

Waiting for others to have their moment first, for bare branches to open around them, for cooler winds to ignite their senses, for time to dangle longer, for the chance to move slowly, to think longer, to speak without all the noise, to observe, to learn, and to gather the courage to fly.

The rusty reds, the burnt oranges and the golden yellows get the attention. All sorts of people converge in the mountains to admire their peaking colors. Passengers gaze out their windows along northern highways, pre-schoolers tape fallen treasures on classroom walls. 

But it's the green ones we really should watch. 

The ones that teach us about patience.

The ones that remind us to be ourselves.

The ones that give us our last bit of hope--our last flare of color--before gray skies bleed through empty branches and blankets of snow cover the dark green blades of grass.  

 
 

By Laura Moore

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I battle two seemingly opposite personality traits on a daily basis. 

A very real, living, breathing part of me is imaginative, creative and free-spirited, while an equally real part of me is driven, rigid and focused on production.

The creative side of me wants time to reflect, opportunities to play with ideas, and permission to be free from timelines and schedules. She wants to theorize and philosophize, imagine, ponder, brainstorm and create. But the task-master side of me wants efficiency, purpose and prolific products. She wants to make lists, check off items from that list, and be able to point to tangible, visible or readily discernible results.

Much like they are in the outer world, those two sides of me have been engaged in an epic internal battle for as long as I can recall. One side postures as superior; the other side rolls her eyes. One side creates something beautiful; the other side points to a sink full of dishes.

When strangers ask me to choose, I feel like a sell out. Type A often seems to be the most desirable response because it suggests that I am a hardworking girl of high ambition. But the intuitive, creative type B persona often feels more comfortable, like the outfit I want to persistently pull up and over my skin. 

When I take the online tests, I get mixed results. Dr. Meyer Friedman's test reveals a 4/10, barely landing me in Type B territory. He is the doctor who officially coined the phrases to help people determine whether or not they were at risk for heart disease, but he only asks 10 questions. This test modified by the Jenkins Activity Survey, asks 20 questions and scores me at a 262, securely placing me in type A territory. And this one, by PsychTests AIM Inc., asks 73 questions. Similar to the first test, my answers navigate me pretty darn close to center, but with this one, I lean a little more to the A side.

The results tell me what I already know: I am both feisty and reflective, competitive and collaborative, fast and slow, driven and imaginative. I am a talker and a listener, a planner and an impulsive responder, a striver and a helper. I am, as my friend Anna always says, in fifth gear or park. And because I am all of those things, I do not land squarely anywhere.

When I read personality descriptors, I find myself spread between a lot of spaces. The only way I can choose a box is by compromising my truth. No one place feels decidedly me, so I often look for hybrid narratives. The Myers Briggs Test seems to offer more gray space than the Type A/Type B test, but even then, sometimes when I take it I'm a "P" and other times, I'm a "J."  Sometimes I'm an "I" and sometimes I'm an "E."  And generally speaking, I'm an "N" and an "F," but depending on my mood and the circumstances in my life when I answer the questions, I occasionally find out that on that particular day, I'm an "S" or a "T."

So when I read my results along side others, and I hear them say, "wow that is sooooo me," sometimes I feel lonely. Society has trained all of us to find solace in easy-to-follow answers, clear-cut descriptors and identifiable labels, and I suspect this is because crisp clarity is easier to manage, easier to explain and easier to understand than chaos. Our mind works better in boxes, even if our hearts don't fit inside, and for that reason, we tend to tuck the nebulous, complicated things into the back left corner of life's little closet. 

But I know there are many other people, like me, who don't always fit into labels.  There are many other people who battle opposing forces. Who feel the compulsion to schedule and the desire to be free, who set measurable goals and get lost in lofty dreams, who call forth the artist in their free time, and the task master when they go to work. People who are sometimes happy to shoulder the pressure on the ball field and sometimes happy to hide in a corner and read. People who don't fit into any of the options we give them, and consequently find themselves with a foot in many different worlds. 

And so today, I raise my coffee mug to the non-boxers. To the people who write their own rules. To the people with checklists and easels. To the people who smell the roses and walk like New Yorkers.  To the people with pink hair and pearls. To the people who forge their own path, invent their own truth and skip to the beat of their own drum. 

You may not be able to determine whether or not your personality puts you at risk for heart disease, but on behalf of chaos lovers everywhere, I urge you to keep flaunting your sassy, un-boxable self.