Leaf Jumping

October 14, 2010 at 5:31 pm (Uncategorized)

Andrew and I were hanging out in our new back yard this weekend. The thick covering of leaves drew his attention from the protracted imaginary game he’d been enforcing on our afternoon. He was Jango Fett from Star Wars and I was Asajj Ventress, and we were trolling through the universe looking for good guys we could make wicked.

I was ready for a break from being Clone Wars villains. There just aren’t many good female roles. Ever since Andrew started first grade, he’s become almost hysterical about maintaining “proper” gender roles in our games. As a girl, I should stick to playing girls. Sometimes I’m willing to pick a major fight for gender equality, but if I do, I have to be willing to shut down the game altogether and get an earful from my all-knowing six year old. I just wasn’t up for a throw down on Sunday. So, while Andrew got to flit between his incarnations as Darth Sidious, Darth Mal, Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku, General Grievous, and the morally-complex Jango Fett, I got stuck—as usual— being the uber-wicked Asajj Ventress—and there’s only so many times I can cackle maniacally without getting a sore throat. It doesn’t help—or maybe it helps a lot— that neither of us actually has seen the Clone Wars movies (and I’d like to keep it that way for another good ten years). This has somewhat inoculated us against the crassest aspects of the movies, though it has limited our awareness of minor female characters I might impersonate when I’ve had enough ghoulish giggling for one day.

The day was splendid. We’ve been blessed with a mild autumn this year. The sky was a bottomless blue, and the light was golden and lush. The breeze kept the afternoon from getting hot, but didn’t blow off the warmth. However, it has been getting cold at night—or, at least, cold enough to turn the leaves on the trees yellow, orange, brown, and red. They have been accumulating in our yard, the brightest leaves falling on top of a base of crumbling brown ones.

Andrew noticed them as he was running across the back yard, mid attack in a battle against a clone army. “Look at this,” Andrew said, holding up a leaf almost the size of his head.

I was instantly and gratefully distracted by anything that would get me out of the Slave I (or was it the ARC-170?) we were pretending to be riding in. My first idea was to collect the brightest and biggest leaves. That evening we could iron them between waxed paper and hang our preserved leaves inside.

The last thing Andrew wanted to do was start yet another of his mother’s god-awful boring craft projects.

“Nah, let’s jump in ’em,” he said. He found his kid-sized rake in the collection of toys and tools stashed under the house and raked up a decent pile of leaves in the center of the yard. “Now watch this,” he yelled, as he sprinted toward the pile of leaves and crashed into the center of it on his knees.

“See how I did that Mommy?” he asked, as he brushed himself off and then went back to work re-fortifying the leaf pile.

“Of course!” I said. “I used to love jumping in leaf piles when I was a kid.”

Andrew looked up at me dubiously, as if I’d just told him that I’d been a Jedi warrior a few years ago, or that his shabby backyard fort really was Cad Bane’s Speeder.

“Help me rake,” was all he said.

With the two of us working, it only took a few minutes to get a giant pile of leaves. The particular smell of them—of dust and damp earth—immediately brought me back to the autumns when I was a kid in upstate New York. I am lucky to be the daughter of unfussy parents, who would only occasionally corral us to do yard work. Once every other year, my Dad would make me help rake the yard, and he never got peeved when I used this chore as an excuse to jump in his giant piles of collected leaves and re-scatter them to the far corners of the property. I’ve read somewhere that our sense of smell is the most specific and evocative of our senses. It certainly is for me. One whiff of a baking apple cake or a moldering pile of leaves brightens corridors of my memory I’d forgotten existed. The scent of something holds its essence. In this case, the leaves bore with them the experience of leaf-jumping, much like dried spices still bear the tang of the soil that grew them.

“Now, watch how I do this, Mommy,” Andrew instructed, once we collected a suitably large pile of leaves and pulled aside the sharp implements that might impede his path to them. He ran in calculated slo-mo into the pile, almost as if he were picturing his strides and the arc of his leap as clips on Sports Center.

“It’s your turn now,” he said. Along with irritating little habits like inflicting girly parts on me, school has also enforced sharing into Andrew’s attitude to a degree hitherto unimaginable in my much indulged only child.

“Oh, no,” I said.

“Why not? Do you need me to show you how to do it again?”

“I told you. I’ve jumped in a lot of leaf piles in my time,” I said, with a snappish edge to my voice I neither expected nor intended.

I felt old and fat. My feelings are based in reality. I can’t seem to lose the many pounds I gained on high doses of prednisone and stress. Although I’ve been carrying an extra eighty odd pounds for several years in Chronic Town, I haven’t adjusted to a body that handy BMI charts in magazines classify as obese. In my mind, I am still an athlete. Yet when I think of using my body in anything resembling athletically, the bulge of my belly and heaviness of my thighs catches me up and saddens me all over again. I’m not old quite yet, I know, just middle-aged at 39. But my body seems older than its years. I have been confronting the damage that two years of chemotherapy did to my reproductive function. Without giving too much icky information, let me summarize that I might, if I’m lucky, not be permanently in menopause. But I won’t know until I travel to Spokane, Washington, to consult with a reproductive endocrinologist—another medical subspecialty I had been glad not to know existed—and endure a battery of tests I’m pretty sure I’d also like to remain ignorant of.

Of course, I wasn’t go to say any of this to Andrew. So I settled on this first excuse I could think of. “I don’t want to get dirty,” I said.

Andrew scoffed. I was wearing stained and frayed sweat pants. Even a 6-year-old can sniff out a lie as bad as that one.

“C’mon, Mommy. You’ll like it,” he said again, this time with a note of pleading.

I hesitated, lurking in the shadow of the fort. But I couldn’t get away from the purity of the autumn air, the glint of gold that shimmered on everything, as if the glow of my memories had leaked into the present and cast our yard in Montana with the beauty of all my autumns.

Fuck it, I thought, in a blur of rage that started with my shriveled ovaries and dimpled thighs and grew to encompass all that I cannot do and have not been able to do because of sarcoidosis.

Without intending to run, I ran. Without planning to jump, I jumped. I was the running and the jumping, and then the falling down into the crackling pile that kept me from sinking into the cool dirt of the yard for just a second or two—until the leaves released me and set me down.

“Isn’t that awesome, Mommy?’ Andrew said. He joined me in the leaves, stomping and twirling next to me.

I have no sense of how long this golden globe lasted. A minute? Five at the most. We laughed and jumped and collapsed into the pile. We were Jango Fett and Asajj Ventress. I was 39 and 9 at the same time. We were Andrew and his Mom.

However, there are some limits—even in the midst of a limitless, timeless love fest. I was not allowed to be Darth Vader to Andrew’s Darth Mal or even boring old Qui-Gon Jinn to his Yoda. The best he offered was Padme Amidala.

“Please,” I told him. “Who could manage her hairdo?”

I decided to stick with being Andrew and his Mom for the rest of the day. This was more than enough.

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