Secondo in the park

In my mind, Secondo is still little enough to be entitled to a generous dose of playing hookie.

Most days, after crabbing for 20 minutes about school, she suddenly becomes ecstatic about going. When I pick her up in the afternoon, as she sits with her classmates listening to a story or quietly playing with her backpack on, her joy radiates. As we walk to the car, dark clouds form and she’s suddenly furious at me – both for picking her up and ruining her fun and that I don’t immediately have a glass of warm milk and a delicious snack ready to shove into her plump little hands.

She’s a Gemini and built that way.

Sometimes in the mornings when her protestations are furious and my resolve is weak, I let her stay home with me. This is one of the advantages of being a freelance writer and free of the rotten old 9 to 5.

I let Secondo stay home one Friday recently when Prima’s school was out on spring break. They could keep each other company, I thought, and play cheerily all day long together.

By 10:30 a.m. they were at each other’s throats and I was about to report myself to CPS, when I realized we had received a last-minute invite the day before for a birthday party in the park. I had dismissed it at the time, thinking my little darlings would be much too engaged in the sublime spirit of sisterhood to pry themselves away.

“Get your shoes on girls!” I hollered a little too loud. “We’re going to the park!”

Mrs. Bailey used to dream of the meaningful talks she would have with her Zuzus, over a cup of tea at the kitchen table -- errr on the playground with sand in her shoes.

Prima is getting to the age – who am I kidding? – Prima is at the age where bringing your adorable and charming younger sister to a birthday party is not a very good idea. But I figured Secondo and I could while away the time on the playground a respectable distance from the party. That is to say, in true Mom fashion, I thought I would take care of a few loose-end thank you notes and sundries, while Secondo distracted herself on the playground with another random and clean-looking kid her age.

But that was not to be. Five minutes into my ideal scenario, Secondo bonked her head on a low-slung bar and was crying in my arms. We regrouped, went and bought a smoothie, and came back.

But the vibe had changed or I had dismissed my earlier misgivings about prim multi-tasking.

“Play with me,” Secondo begged, “push me on the swings! Watch me on the monkey bars.”

A cool smoothie coating my stomach, I happily agreed.

We fooled around on the monkey bars and then Secondo dashed over to a smaller play structure with those new-fangled metal telephone-like horns popping out on either end, so that you can play telephone across the playground. This will be fun, I thought, AND stationary.

“Secondo!” I called to her, “put your ear to that blue horn over there and we’ll have ourselves a little chat!”

“OK!” she called out, loving the suddenly engaged interaction.

I smiled at the thought of what her 4-year-old mind might invent to whisper to me.

She galloped over to the horn and leaned in, her face disappearing into the blue funnel.

“Moommmy,” she chirped, playfully, then her tones dropped, “Why did Zsazsie die?”

ZsaZsie was my mom, who passed away from pancreatic cancer almost a year ago. My heart sank a little, I paused for a second and smiled, knowing what I thought I understood about the day, the mood, the mind of my little ingénue was woefully inadequate.

“Well,” I started, trying not to pause too woefully, creating a sunny, matter-of-fact tone. “She had cancer.”

“But how did she die?” Secondo asked from across the playground equipment, the other kids’ shouting, playful voices just a backing track.

“Her heart stopped beating, and she went to heaven.”

“But Mommy, where is heaven?”

“I’m not sure,” I answered craning against an awkward twist of my neck to speak into my horn.

“Mommy, we can’t see heaven. Why can’t we see it?”

And on and on it went in this vein for several minutes, until Secondo grew bored of talking about the crux of our human existence and ran off to find other fun.

I sat back down in my parent’s playground corner and watched her, and Prima, off in the distance, subdued. I wondered if I should worry about this exchange. Should I engage energy in contemplating just how deeply my mother’s death has wounded or confused or unsettled her? I felt like I should worry, but somehow the impulse seemed to float above my mind, vagrant, and numb.

It’s funny how kids think, I thought, and felt myself become a little bit delighted in Secondo’s boldness, proud of her apparent comfort with asking me the tough questions, and duly impressed by her sheer aplomb. My heart and mind validated her, and envied her, too.

Children have such expansive minds, with brand-spanking new neural connections popping up everywhere, all the time. Thoughts of playing with your mom on a school-free day on a brand new playground dash between synapses at the same moment as the concept of death and heaven are unloosed and make a break from left hemisphere to right.

When they play, what does Secondo think about?

The beauty of it is that it’s done without fuss, or worry, or over-analysis, which is what our grown-up minds are forever doing. My Secondo and other children, do not fret over these wild intersections, don’t seek to master the inner chaos that begets, “monkey bar-hand-monkey bar-hand-drop” and then suddenly “why did my grandmother die?”

I sigh a little, of course, and felt a bit weary. But not at all worried.



The Precious

I’m not sure about the original George, but my Mr. Bailey is more of a spender than a saver.

My Mr. Bailey dreams about buying, too, just like George did.

I, on the other hand, am a saver.

I have come to learn neither is better than the other. Especially after more than once egregiously fretting over how to spend a generous gift certificate for so darn long it expired, and rejoicing over money well spent (think: a comfortable home purchased for a reasonable price before the real estate boom – and bust). Thankfully, both Bailey impulses have balanced the other now we’re past the first decade of our union.

Recently a funny thing happened.

Mr. Bailey often shops for the Bailey Building & Loan at Costco. His favorite part of this setup is he racks up business purchases throughout the year, and receives a modest “reward” check at the end of the year.

This year, he spent so much at Costco, he was pleasantly shocked when he received a rewards check in the three-digit range. He immediately was overburdened by the weight of The Check in his pocket. I, on the other hand, was cozily reassured by the impulse to shove it under my pillow for all eternity.

“Great!” I said, anticipating the bursting of his bubble, “Let’s save it for a while!”

Modern Mary considers how long she could save The Check.

He sighed and hung up quickly.

Several days later, he called me back.

“Soooo,” he intoned, drawing out his question in a sugary voice. “I’m at Costco. You know we got that check?”

“Uh-huh,” I answered suspiciously.

“Well, there’s this sound system here.”

I felt something deep in my gut twist. For though I know Mr. Bailey is a spender, I adore him so fervently I find it difficult to deny him the small pleasures in life. He works so hard at the Bailey Building & Loan, at being a dad and being a husband. Pushing past my discomfort, I found my voice.

“Really? I mean, we need to be smart about this. Maybe we should just hang on to The Check a little while longer. Be practical. We may have some rainy days coming and it would be nice to have it in our back pocket.”

Recognizing the wisdom in my buzz kill practically, he dejectedly agreed.

Once salvaged from the clutches of a guilt-inducing quick spend, The Check began to take on a mythical importance in our lives over the next few months.

Every visit to Costco brought new temptations, which Mr. Bailey and I both had to resist.

Modern Mary had to pull Mr. Bailey away from a flat screen TV and a sound system.

“Should The Check yield a new vacuum?” I wondered aloud one day.

“No,” was Mr. Bailey’s abrupt response.

Another: “What about if we get a new flat screen TV to replace the one in the bedroom?” he offered.

“Absolutely not,” I rebutted.

Finally, from me: “How about a new rug for the kitchen?”

Down in flames.

For months, we hemmed, we hawed, and we dreamed about what The Check would yield. Yet, in uncharacteristic-of-us twist, we didn’t spend it.

The Check became our Gollum-like Precious.

We set up rules to protect it.

Mr. Bailey couldn’t spend it without me (frustrating) and he couldn’t lose it (next to impossible). I couldn’t allocate it for something as banal as age-defying face cream and groceries; Mr. Bailey could not blow it on a weighted fitness vest and matching weights set.

Last week we returned to Costco, The Precious in hand.

We had negotiated a settlement. The Check would buy a new set of state-of-the-art pots and pans, which we sorely needed after 10 years of learning how to cook as a family with our original, chipped, handles missing, peeling pots and pans.

It was the perfect blend of practical and splurge and came after we had delayed our gratification admirably.

We approached Costco check out, The Precious and pots and pans in hand.

The clerk looked at The Check, scanned it, and put her eulogy for The Precious like this:

“Wow!” she said, “Somebody loves shopping at Costco!”

Once we got home, we flirted with the idea of buyer’s regret, then Mr. Bailey and I boxed up the old cooking set and replaced it with the shiny, heavy, new skillets and pots and saucepans, soon to be steaming with nourishment for our family, sure to be present at life’s best moments of togetherness and connection.

And we were happy.

Post-Precious bliss in the Bailey house.