Thursday, February 10, 2011

Up in the air

A new highway is under construction near our home. It's a massive undertaking that bridges over or tunnels under every southbound route out of our part of the county. We've watched it carve across the familiar terrain for more than a year. The first section will open soon. Where heavy construction vehicles were, now stripes are being painted and new signs installed.

For weeks we've been passing through the construction zone and L has been talking about the new chairs. The two new chairs. The chairs for her and her sister; did we see the chairs? It took some crazy traffic incident this morning that brought us to an extended standstill at exactly the right place in the road, but L was so excited to be able, finally, to show us the chairs.

Look, E! Our chairs! You can sit in one and I can sit in one!

Now, you either know me in real life or you don't, but if you've been reading here for any length of time you know that E would never consider sitting in chairs way up in the air like that (never mind that those aren't actually chairs; they're some kind of apparatus for attaching traffic lights, I think, that aren't yet attached). But L doesn't have E's compunctions. And I do believe, if shown the ladder, L just might climb up there and enjoy the view.

One of my favorite people from high school had a grandmother we liked to visit who lived in a great Victorian home on a little country road just off a four-lane highway. We would spend summer afternoons there because her grandparents had a pool, but also because her grandmother baked her own bread and liked to feed it to us. There was always a butter dish on the counter, and we were always in it. When we were swim-tired and butter-filled, we'd take a walk down to where the street crossed over the four-lane highway. Sometimes we'd climb the outer truss of the bridge. I'd never go further out than over the grassy downslope that led to the highway pavement. Sometimes my friend would go much further. I'd watch the cars pass below and feel their speed in the air currents that rose up to us. The universe below us was just concrete and gravel and bits of broken grass, and a grassy downslope and contained units of other people's lives, but not other people -- just their bubbles, passing under us with their own conversations and fears and thoughts and cowardices -- and disappearing, never looking up, never noticing two girls sitting on the outer truss of a bridge.

That was my up in the air, but I stayed over the grass because I could never feel blithely confident to go further. I was never untethered from worry.

L doesn't understand the full implications of falling through gravity through concrete, but she's not tethered by worry. She could sit in those chairs.

E is too tethered by worry. She wouldn't even climb the ladder, if there were one.

I have seen L do three things this week that were small, ordinary things, but that would have been big, scary things for her big sister:
  • while having lunch at Noodles&Co., L dropped her fork on the floor. I sent her to ask the cashier for another, and she walked the length of the restaurant on her own, asked politely, and came back with a new fork.
  • after she had her hair cut, I handed her a few dollars and asked her to walk back to the stylist and give them to her. L did, with a smile.
  • when she had pink eye and I had to spread medicine goo on her eyelashes, all I had to do was ask her to close her eyes. The sensation of the medicine didn't bother her; nor did the idea of it in advance of the actual application.
In graduate school I worked in an art gallery with moveable 12' walls, and a 24' ceiling. We showed new exhibits every three weeks, so every three weeks I moved walls. Every three weeks I climbed in the cherry picker and changed 24' high lightbulbs; I pointed them in new directions.

We used tools like graph paper and CAD software to lay out the walls for each exhibit. But the gallery preparator, my professor, he'd just place a ladder against one and climb on top. The walls were four inches thick. He'd walk across them like the orangutans on the high wire at the zoo. None of us ever felt sure-footed enough to walk on 4" wide walls twelve feet above a marble floor. But he did so daily, and always said, "it's only risky if you fall."

He believed he would not fall, and he did not fall.

Like the overpass by Granny Mc's house, I've never been able to believe that completely, nor, on the other side, to stop worrying about the fall. L could believe in not falling, and E could be consumed by the worrying. It's one of the only ways they're very different.

None of those three moments this week was a criticism of E, of course. But each of those moments was a revelation about L. I've needed reminders to let her be bold. I'll have the memories of watching her speak casually to strangers, but even better, every day, I'll have the aerial chairs of Georgia Avenue.  Pin It


SmartBear said...

Oh Miss L...I could sit up there with her in those chairs and we could have ourselves a blast! LOL! My oh-so-cautious tot has been surprising me with baby steps of boldness lately too. But as usual, he's most comfortable holding my hand.
P.S. Name the date girl...I'm off all summer. :)

a li'l bit squishy said...

I would be up on those chairs in a minute. What a view! Allowing L to be bold in her own ways will only benefit the dynamic of your whole family. Even E may learn to approach the world with slightly less caution if only from the small inspirations of her little sister. We are so blessed by the dynamics of these beautiful relationships.