Too much of life is autopilot. We do this. We do that. I’m guilty of taking it at cruise control. A skiing metaphor I once heard applies. Something about “just standing on the boards and watching the hill come up toward me.”
Someday I’ll make my last run to the bottom of the mountain. So why do I live that way? A friend calls it mental time travel. Thinking ahead or behind but not seizing the moment, which is why I love little kids and puppies. They live in the present. For them life is about now. Unless something awful has happened, they don’t care if it’s hot or cold, or about being sad, while grownups waste away wanting and waiting for a mood or temperature change.
My role model for present living is Cassity, my second daughter. I find her drifting like all teenagers do, daydreaming occasionally, but for the most part she lives life like it matters. Up all night art projects cover her bedroom walls. She drives her sisters to and from, giggling all the while. It all started as a mischievous, badger of a little girl— into shit, like cupboards, pulling junk apart for the sheer joy of it. I liked her from the start, even though she was constantly in trouble. She’d smuggle toys to her crib to play with at night, and mess things up right after putting it all away. There was that damned toy, the wheeled contraption with the transparent dome full of plastic balls. She’d push it along and the balls would pop inside. Try doing anything that takes concentration with a toddler rolling that thing around while holding your temper. I dare you. Cassity loved it or at least loved seeing the reaction it got from those around her.
Punishment for this and other misdeeds came in the form of “time out” it worked for the most part. We’d put her in the corner for a while, hoping her little brain would process why she was there. As the months wore on, it became a joke. The time-out corner became “prison” and Cassity was “The Convict.”
After ten minutes or so, I’d stroll over and ask. “Is the Convict ready for a parole hearing?”
She’d crinkle her nose and say, “Maybe.”
“Are you going to stop hitting your older sister over the head with the Barbie?”
She’d frown, crinkle her brow and grab her toes. “Maybe.”
Rather than an extended sentence, we’d usually grant her release. Within the hour she’d be back in prison, awaiting another parole hearing.
On Sundays, her mother would curl her hair and put her in a ruffled dress; but in horse-trainer lingo, Cassity was far from “church broke.” She got along fine in the nursery until she turned three. Then she had to go to Junior Sunday school to attend her “Sunbeam” class. They’d try to get her to fold her arms, sit on a chair and sing along reverently. It lasted about five seconds, before she was on the floor rolling around. The wad of gum beneath her seat or the hole in her nylons held her attention until some grownup would scoop her back to her chair. She’d be on the ground before the grownup had sat back down. She bitched about it too.
“I wanna go back to the nursery,”
I couldn’t blame her. Playing with toys, coloring, building stuff with blocks or a game of twister all looked more fun to me. One week we missed church. She must have liked it because she came to me with a serious look on her face.
“When I grow up,” Cassity paused to stand straight and put her hands on her hips as if she had the world figured out. “I’m going to church every other Sunday.”
“But Jesus wants you for a Sunbeam, Cassity.”
“I’m not a Sunbeam,” She giggled. “I’m a convict!”
Most Sundays I’d prefer an hour prison sentence to church so I didn’t correct her. I envied her honesty and still do.
Today’s her eighteenth birthday, a senior in high school, a unique combination of gorgeous and tough. Her boyfriend’s a nice guy. I’d like him if he didn’t know my daughter. I couldn’t have prayed for a better skiing, horse training, and river-running partner. She’s passed three advanced placement tests and usually makes the honor roll.
And she attends church weekly.
A few Sundays ago she played her viola for the congregation, a smile covering her face. I squeezed her mother’s knee as Cassity walked back to sit next to us. Before our eyes the saying goes. All grown up and church broke.