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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Our dog is madly in love with the girl next door.  

When he sees her, he makes noises I've never heard before.

"I think Finn's hurt," I said to my husband the first time I caught wind of his moan. It sounded unnatural, sort of like a saxophone in labor, and I was genuinely worried that a coyote hopped our fence and indulged him in a brawl. My husband came in from the other room and peeked into the backyard.

"He's running with the dog next door," he said, laughing.  "I think Finn's fine."

Once our baby finished eating, I carried him to the back door and peeked out myself. Sure enough, there was our dog, scaling back and forth from one end of the fence to the other, slicing through branches smashed against the wooden posts, traipsing through flowers and thorns and sweet gum ball spikes. He didn't care what poked the pads of his feet, or prodded through his hair and pinched his skin. He wanted to run with Nina and so he ran, bounding through our yard, yelping and panting, pausing occasionally to slip his paw under the posts in an effort to reach the dog playing hard-to-get on the other side.

This happened a few times before I finally decided to invite our neighbor's son and his dog over for a play date. Finn's ardent quest for love just seemed too sweet to ignore, and I was hoping he would burn some energy running around with his new friend. My neighbor's son was equally as hopeful about the exercise, but admittedly--given the strange moaning emerging from Finn, and Nina's attempts to run away from the fence after a few trips up and down the wooden barrier--we were both a little nervous about how they'd play together. 

Hoping for the best, he leashed his little lady and trekked across our front yard so he could walk through the side gate. Finn followed their progression, squealing in anticipation like a baby pig. When he saw her disappear from view, he ran to the other side of the house, and sat by the gate with perfect posture, his heart racing, as he awaited her arrival. 

Once she crossed the threshold, she dropped her guard, and the two of them tussled immediately, tumbling through tomato plants, knocking down unripe spheres and loosened leaves. They rolled through patches of mud and bumped into the split rail fence around the patio, before finally making it to the grass, where they chased one another, running and pawing and panting and barking.

At one point, Nina rolled over onto her back, belly up, and instead of taunting her to keep playing like he does with every other dog, Finn rolled over with her, and the two of them rested there, side-by-side in the center of the yard, gazing up at the sky, fully exposed and defenseless. As sweet as it was, it only lasted a few moments before the two energetic adolescents eventually hopped up, lapped the water bowl a few times, and then proceeded to begin the chasing and tussling all over again. 

Every day since that day, our dog has looked for Nina. On a daily basis, he runs to the fence, peers through the cracks, and barks a few times just in case she happens to be visiting her grandparents. On two or three occasions, he has serendipitously run outside at the same moment Nina has emerged for a bathroom break, and when that happens--when Finn finally catches sight of his love--he wails, sprinting up and down the fence with glee. Amused, my husband and I venture outside and invite her over, and the two of them light up the yard with flying shrubs, clumps of mud and belly rolls in the grass.

This has been going on for eight weeks--which according to my novice math skills is something like fourteen months in dog years--and the sweetness of their interaction never fails to delight me.  Our dog looks absolutely foolish each time: out of breath, vulnerable, pathetic, even. But as he runs, moaning and cooing, I can't help but admire the purity of his pursuit. I can't help but smile at the fullness of his commitment to throw caution to the wind and broadcast his desire to the world. 

He doesn't care who sees. 

He doesn't worry if his efforts fail. 

He doesn't mind scratches and bruises and thorns along the way. 

He chases after his love with reckless abandon. He calls for her, cries for her, makes himself vulnerable for her, and as I watch him bound through the yard, I can't help but feel inspired by his shameless, raw pursuit of love.  I can't help but hope to be exactly like him, figuratively of course. 

See, far too often, the world narrative tells us to hold back, to be reserved, guarded, composed, patient and realistic. But when it comes to love, I think we need to be real. We need to surrender ourselves and be willing to look silly. We need to cast aside our pride, and disregard social games. We need to wade through weeds, triumph over thorns, burst through doors, chase after our hearts, and let ourselves get out of breath, surrounded by the swell of out-of-tune saxophones souring the wind. 

We need to risk failing wildly, so we have the chance to love completely. And if we fall flat on our face, then we need to get up and move on. What we don't need to do is change, compromise who we are, proceed cautiously, expect less or behave according to some pre-scripted list of directives. We need to be ourselves, our vulnerable, messy, beautiful selves. Our run-out-the-back-door and trounce on spiky balls sort of selves. And if we are, then the people who are meant to be in our lives will eventually come over to play. They will eventually enjoy every minute of running around and tussling in our yards. They will eventually lie by our sides belly up to the sky, basking in sunshine and joy.

Happy anniversary, J. 

 
 

By Laura Moore

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Glancing at my social media pages this morning, I couldn't help but be inspired as I gazed at the beaming mugs of children posing for first day pictures, showing off spiffed up threads, eager grins and signs bearing the name of their teacher and the grade they are about to enter.

Those images always wet my eyes when I consider the significance of the moment they capture, when I think about what the next 186 school days will hold for the children smiling for the camera.

As those kids stand on their front porch, or in the hallway, or on the lawn of their school, each of them is hovering on the precipice of a new beginning, a new chance, a new set of rules, a new batch of challenges and a new well of opportunities. They are poised for adventure--for the next leg of their journey--toes propped and ready to carry them forward where they will engage in work and play that will help them build, rebuild, create and recreate.

Over 186 school days, they will embrace new skills as they learn how to assign words to ideas, manipulate numbers, ask questions, create beauty, generate sounds or connect their present to the past. And their experiences will press them to widen and deepen both their minds and their hearts each time they are called to unearth their sometimes sturdy, sometimes wavering, sometimes strangled conviction to stand up for what is right. They will grow through their experiences, they will learn the bounds of their own strength, and they will discover how courageous and powerful they are each time they make themselves vulnerable.

Though they certainly arrive with the baggage of previous years: an armful of mistakes, a handful of doubters, and a stretch of road littered with bumps, the fact remains that on this day, their slate is strikingly clean.  The grade card is clear, the sketchbook is blank, the pencils are full of graphite, the call lists and team rosters are empty and the possibilities are endless. When they stand for that picture, they have no idea who might cross their path, which future thoughts might fill them with wonder, or who they might become.  They have no idea which adventures will shape their hearts or which challenges will make them shine.  

All they know is that today is the beginning. The scary, exciting, highly anticipated beginning. The line in the sand, the start of the race, the dawn of a new chapter.  The date on the calendar they don't want to think about until it is finally here, waiting for them, begging for them to arrive.

But once it comes, they do too.

And so should we.

See, in my opinion, we should all arrive--figuratively, of course--and celebrate on the first day of school. Regardless of how many years have passed since we stood smiling on our front porch, once a year, we should all dig down deep and discover the same courage we ask our kids to find. In honor of them, we should open our arms and embrace our fears. We should hype up our hopes and wonder what's possible. We should set new goals, anticipate new joys, meet new people, inspire new dreams, explore new opportunities, defend justice, reset, re-begin and re-imagine.

Today, we should bare our teeth, hold up our chins, dance to our own little tune, swim within a fresh wave of optimism, and tell our feet to march forward, onward, upward toward a renewed, reinvigorated version of ourselves. Today, we should try--just like them--to learn how we can make the world just a little bit better, how we can sift through the injustice and sadness, the oppression, violence and despair, and push through to the other side.  How we can crack open our hearts, steady our voice, and brace our legs to stand up, to reach out, and to reach in.

Happy first day of school, everyone. Go get 'em.

 
 

By Laura Moore

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At first, we couldn't figure out what he was doing. 

Each time we'd put him down, he'd flip onto his stomach regardless of how difficult it was to turn, which toys were in the way, or how impractical such an act might be in those precious seconds between diapers. And steadying himself on the outer-most part of his belly, he'd quickly locate his center of balance, lift his legs, and spread his arms.

"Are you swimming?" I would ask in ernest, trying my best to hop inside his six-month old brain and view the world through his eyes. Being the chatter he is, of course, he'd answer with a series of haas, ahhhs and baahs and a few high pitched yells for good measure.

"Ohhh, you're going to love swim lessons," I'd say to him in a friendly, high pitched voice. He'd smile his trademark smile in response--the one that turns my heart to melted butter--and then he'd return to his task: wobbling around like a top, his feet either clipping the foam arms of the Safari Gym, or catching the edge of my knee, or spinning around enough to cause him to collide face first into the broadside of our dog. 

This continued for a few days, but as I watched him closer, I began to doubt my initial read. His actions didn't really look like swimming anymore; they looked more like floating or scooting. Maybe this is just an early effort to learn how to crawl, I thought to myself. And I let it go. 

But later that evening, when my husband came home from work, I watched him pick up our baby boy and send him sailing through the kitchen. Up and down, weaving around in patterns, the little guy canvased the air with his arms outstretched, his legs arched, his mouth agape and his eyes peeled wide.  And seeing him like that--seeing him actively engaged in flight--I realized exactly what he was trying to do all of those minutes on the ground: he was trying to fly.

Day in and day out, he keeps trying: working up a sweat, ignoring his other toys, holding up his body like Superman.  And despite any obstacle in his way, the entire time he endeavors to lift his body, he maintains unflappable focus: pinching his lips, slanting his eyes, bracing himself for the moment when the earth will inevitably fall beneath him, and he will rise up and sail through the air like a seagull skimming the ridge of the sky. He wills his flight with everything he has in the deepest boughs of his imagination, and I have grown drunk drinking in every possible moment of his beautifully pure determination to make the impossible happen.

He falls asleep with his wings outstretched, he sends them outward the moment he wakes up, and I have no doubt he uses them throughout the entirety of his dreams. Every night when his father comes home and lifts him up, he emanates a sort of joy I have never before seen in anyone: squeals fill the room, drool pools on the floor and his eyeballs push through the slits in his face. 

"One, two," my husband begins, and our little guy spreads his arms. His entire body rises with a nearly transcendental jolt of anticipation, and his unwavering faith is virtually palpable, a faith that trusts the number three will send him up high, where the air breaks across his face, and tickles his tummy, as he climbs and falls, and climbs and falls through every corridor of our house.

As soon as he comes back down to the floor, he wobbles on his belly again: holding his arms parallel to the ground, lifting his chest with every ounce energy bustling in his body. When that doesn't work, he tries to stretch his neck upward, straightening his arms and turning his eyes to the ceiling. Still grounded, he falls downward again, arching his back, lifting his legs, sending his arms out, this time, at right angles. And when that, too, fails to lift him from the floor, he begins moving his wings up and down just enough to spin into a spiraling whirl.  This goes on and on until one of us picks him up and rockets him through the air. 

It never gets old, and he never stops believing.

Each time I watch him, I yearn to capture his joy. I wish I could tap into his vivid imagination. I wish I could siphon out just a small bit of his innocence and pour it into jars, so that when he gets older, and the practical word edges it out of him, we will still have some saved up in the cupboard, we will still be able to make him squeal with delight, to push out the rest of the world so he can revel in the sheer ecstasy of small pleasures. 

I wish I had those jars, so even when he realizes he can't lift himself off of the ground--even when he knows it is impossible for his arms to send him flying around the world--he might still have enough innocence to believe in magic, enough innocence to keep trying regardless of how high the sky might seem, enough innocence to know, deep within him, that he does possess the strength to rise.