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A parenthetical March and Middle Child

The lamb lay down with the lion these last few weeks, it seems. A spring tease that led us to believe that winter had left a note at the door to not come looking for him; he’d gone for a walk and wasn’t coming back.

In these mornings, my fingers numb with cold but the sun warm on the back of my leather jacket, it feels as though the worst — the bitter cold, the ice — is mere memory, a muddy puddle reflecting blue sky and no longer a frozen reminder of persistent misery. Even the so-called storms that have brushed over us this month haven’t amounted to much: a dusting of snow with temperatures barely above freezing, their minute accumulations dissipated before lunch time.

The traditional Pagosan mutter of “enough already” has given way to “maybe in April, some rain would be good.” Even in the grocery line, ski-bibbed and betoqued spring breakers ebullient over fresh snow no longer bring forth fantasies of them buried beneath a roof’s worth of berm.

There’s not much left of this month and no indication that it will become anything else but the paragon it has been for our dry and mild winter. Still, the space between now and April (“the cruelest month,” as T.S. Eliot told us, “breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire …”) seems like a millennium. An eternity of pensive reflection.

March makes me meditative, a month to pay respect to the dark, cold past as the days grow longer, hinting of endless possibility and renewed promise, a dint of sunlight crossing a mound of snow.

Earlier in my life, March meant little more than another month closer to the end of the school year, the placeholder for spring training in the long run up to opening day. Heaping mounds of snow into the gutter to create a dam, floating sticks in a makeshift pool and pretending schooners were sailing through Arctic ice floes; then kicking down the water wall, thrilled with the imagined damage my Godlike powers had wrought, washing away forests and Eskimo villages and Alaskan fishing ports. Sticks and snow washed down the block, my great little Northwest Passage, built from the new thaw, carried winter swiftly to the storm drain as well as the extent of my presence in March.

Back then, the vernal equinox was an abstraction, the day eggs stood on end (a handy trick around Easter) and close enough to spring break to matter. As such, March was ultimately, no more nor less, the month to follow as much as the one that left, not spring nor winter but the tween time, too much of one season and not enough of the other.

In those days there was winter or something else. I was all too happy to kick some snow down the street if it meant longer days, shorter nights, and the smell of fresh-cut grass on a ball field.

As I grew older, I looked to the trees, sought out the green halo of their limbs, their whispered prayers of becoming. I knew they’d eventually burst forth and that the buds would throw out their leaves but the time they took only added to my impatience, my yearning, my desire to feel that spring had finally spread its fingers across us to lift us off the ice floes in the gutter. Fingers spread and smelling with the leather of a fielders glove and fresh-cut grass.

And here I am, a half century behind me and no less enamored with March and no more enlightened about the mystical allure of spring, still stuck between the darkness from where I came and wondering about the light in which I might shine, stand and bask. On top of that, this month reminds me that, as my limbs groan for new life, new sprouts are grown around me.

March is now, mostly the month when Middle Child celebrates her birthday.

She is like an early March snowflake: soft and delicate, unique and, as I hem and haw and hack my way into the twilight, quietly gliding into her second decade.

“You’re ten!” I said the other day as I kissed her forehead, she putting on her jacket, preparing for her walk to the bus stop.

“I know,” she said unaffected. It reminded me of her six years earlier when I kissed her cheek and told her: “Happy Birthday, Pixie! You’re four-years old today!”

”I’m Four, today,” she replied then, again unaffected, barely taking a moment from the cereal bowl in front of her, happy more for the kiss than for the news of her Big Day.

It hit me then, both at four and ten, as it does every day, how much like me she is like me, how magical our connection is, how she was born on the day I was set to be born on (but I refused to follow doctor’s orders).

My other children are so unlike me, bringing me joy in watching what unfolds in them, the people they move towards being, their capacity to surprise me.

Eldest is bold and bawdy, unafraid, heading into the world with knees and elbows exposed with no concern of scrapes or bumps. Her fearlessness extends to her creativity — not just as an artist or a writer but in her ability to invent herself as an individual.

Mister, on the other hand, has a charisma that is almost dangerous. At the very least, I expect him to be our mayor some day; at the most, our president. He can charm the stars out of the skies and off a general’s shoulder.

Unlike her siblings, Middle Child hides. Beneath the covers and beyond the strain of things, she waits within the wings, waiting for her chance to shine. Much like March, Middle Child is parenthetical — holding a thought outside the noise, the verbiage — and awaiting her moment when she will throw a green haze into the dim of a late winter’s drear.

She is my bluebird, my portent of spring; her energy is emergence, a promise of warmth and a verdant future.

A couple of weeks ago, Middle Child had three friends over for a combination sleepover/birthday party. Really, it was not as frightening as that may sound despite our home being filled with four ten-year old girls dancing, squealing, bouncing, singing, the sound of slapping bare feet on wooden floors as they chased each other in flannel pajamas.

I hoped my acquired single-dad skills would serve me well as far as my ability to organize dinner, cake and ice cream, and keep the inevitable chaos to just a notch lower than a Libyan insurrection. I didn’t need to worry. Middle Child glowed green, her nascent tips of leaves stretching towards the sky.

“We have to be quiet,” I heard her say. “Daddy is in his room reading.”

It didn’t hurt that she’d invited three really good kids to her party but I was surprised at how well she took control. A demure child (as I was at her age), I expected her to demur and that I would have to intervene, exert my power as the big man who owned the joint.

In fact, I went through my book without interruption, setting it down finally and pricking my ear to hear silence. It was apparent that the pajama party had not outlasted my reading but, more importantly, had not disturbed my sanctuary at all and had not compelled me to put on my bear suit and crawl out of my cave to roar with anger.

In her sly, subtle, unassuming way, Middle Child had shown me that she was not just a sprout budding from the March mud but that she had blossomed, Rhizanthella gardneri, completely underground.

To finish with Eliot, with her, there is no “stirring dull roots with spring rain.” Middle Child came into the back end of winter and, “In this decayed hole among the mountains, in the faint moonlight, the grass is singing over tumbled graves.”

She sings, sings, sings so sweetly across silvered grass, scraping the tip of her finger over the last frost on the glass, drawing smiley faces, cats, hearts and arrows. Pointing past where the grass shakes the flakes of winter, where her springtime ascends and my autumn begins.

jim@pagosasun.com

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