All Four Seasons

I used to thank God for the changing seasons. Balanced on the stool with the sliding cushion in that second floor 4th grade class. I thanked Him when the lake across the street froze, white lines of frost sketching across the iced surface. I thanked Him when my commute to school was an hour longer than it should have been, and the snow and ice pelted my car, slowed traffic to a hesitant crawl. I thanked Him when the sun’s rays could not pierce the heavy cloud cover, when we stomped our feet and breathed painful, foggy breaths into our scarves.

Thank you for all four seasons. Thank you for this pinwheel of temperatures, storms, weather eternally spinning around us. 

I have a video, barely 10 seconds long. Larissa, still sporting her blue coat, the reflective strip around the collar dull in the bland winter light. She stands on the corner, between plaza and fountains, both of which lie empty in the cold. Do you remember, she exclaims into the camera as the wind plays faintly with the wispy hairs around her face, when it was so cold and Laura and me ran in the snow up there? Here she motions with a baggy coat sleeve towards the plaza behind us. The plaza where, weeks ago, the snow blew in icy gusts through the city, and the open expanse of the raised plaza became like a dance floor for the waves and swirls of frigid air and the ice pellets masquerading as snow. Yes, they ran in the snow. And minutes later, unwrapping scarves, hoods, shedding mittens, we also thawed our eyelashes, watching tiny crystals melt off of each other.

Thank you for all four seasons. Thank you for protecting us when the wind is its sharpest, the roads are their iciest, the cold is its most bitter. 

This afternoon, I’m the first one to arrive at the plaza, across from the fountains. There’s a planter, there on the corner, and I let my bookbag slide down my arm, land heavily on the neat white cement. My shoulders are damp with sweat where the thick fabric straps rested. The planter is home to several sprouting trees, and I pull my feet in, lean my entire body into the shade that they provide. The air itself is hot; the breeze is heated, blowing my skirt, my hair askew. In front of me, a group of 10 high schoolers troops down the orange brick sidewalk loudly, yet their noise disappears almost as fast as they do, almost as if the heat itself has swallowed, muted, their raucous voices.

Thank you for all four seasons. Thank you for the freedom we have to live, to explore, to go, during the warmer months of the year. 

We sit outside to eat. It’s too cold inside- the restaurant proprietors apparently having fallen under the false assumption that the intensity of the air conditioning inside must be proportional to the summer heat outside. But the sun, quickly reaching its zenith, is uncomfortably hot, at least for a meal. How can one eat, how can one sit and converse, when the sun is blank, burning, bristling on one’s head, back, shoulders, face. So we sit in the shade, on the edge of the plaza, and eat our lunch. The napkins blow, attempt escape, in the breeze. My hair flies, knots, my bangs sticking to my damp forehead. The drinks in our glasses, lacking ice, are room temperature in minutes. Standing, we’re sticky, sinking, and yet not buried, beneath the cloudless sky. Walking home, cold drinks clutched in sweaty palms drip condensation. Walkers pause to wipe brows, and then seem to shrug off the heat as they set off again. The sidewalk buzzes, and the beach, I imagine, is even busier.

Thank you for all four seasons. Thank you for this pinwheel of temperatures, storms, weather eternally spinning around us. 

~ Natalia

Backyard Blessing

jumprope

May all of your days be as sweet as playtime with two friends,

as simple as barefoot dinner in the backyard,

and as fun as jumping rope.

May you smile even when you trip,

laugh even when the rope hits your head,

and never be afraid to fall in the grass.

Keep your joy,

keep your fire,

keep your eyes wide open,

you funny, precious girls.

~Natalia

Proud of This

skyline

Under us, the concrete is warm, still retaining, exuding, the day’s heat. There are several tiers, like giant steps, leading from lakeside to grass, yards above us, behind us. Earlier, I snaked my car through orange event cones, loosely following the direction of reflective-vested parking attendants. Earlier, I walked, phone clutched to ear, through the harbor, past docked boats still laden with passengers, personal watercraft tied to docks while children paddled kayaks, paddleboards around their unmoving motors. Earlier, I walked along the lake, eyes roving over the crowns milling along the brilliant water, looking for those waiting for me, looking for the ones on the other end of the line.

Now, though, we’ve found each other. We’ve hugged, exchanged greetings, laughs, and a strawberry paleta that melted long before I arrived; now just a lukewarm bag of pink milk with a stick floating amidst the creamy liquid. We’ve jumped, at least, two of us have. Standing side by side, separated by two yards and my own suspicion of being thrown in, we backed up, set our feet, ran, flew, splashed. And repeated the flight into the rolling blue a second, third, fourth time. There on the lakefront concrete, two of us sit in puddles, water running off of our pants, dripping from my ponytail.

Behind us, so close and yet somehow beyond our collective consciousness, a couple sits on the top level, barely outside of the grass behind them. They must be talking, I tell myself with vague interest, but I cannot hear, and they blend into the background of the scene, no doubt sinking themselves into their own lakefront realm. To our left, eight young hispanics laugh and yell, taking turns throwing themselves into the water, to the chiding calls of their audience of peers. They jump, as we did, in their clothes, and then, after a while, three of them have begun a game throwing another’s wadded t-shirt as close to the edge as possible. The yells are amused, raucous, when the shirt inevitably falls over the side, a white bundle of fabric floating gently atop the rolling waves. Until splash, it’s grabbed, recollected, and the game begins once more.

Beyond them, a young couple listens to hip hop on a radio. Tunes both familiar and new drift across the lake. The lyrics, I know, are raunchy, the heart of the songs entirely opposed to much of what I stand for. Yet the music is not blaring, the intent not malicious, and the muffled lyrics lose their punch as they reach, float, escape harmlessly across the vast lake.

Across from our seat, near exactly in front of us, lies the Chicago skyline. Far to the left, the Hancock and the Sears stand solid, dark and tall against the stretching, then receding lineup of skyscrapers. A professional-grade grid when viewed from above, a concrete and steel tangle when seen from our viewpoint, I gaze at the city, marveling at its beauty, its seeming serenity; the way one skyline, one snapshot view, can contain all the brokenness, all the joy, all the diversity and movement and life of an entire city. My eyes trace the buildings, widening, focusing to encompass the width of the view, and I feel my heart swell with pride, with awe.

I went to school in this city. I rode, and still ride, the trains, the buses, that map the city roads with their ever-repeating routes. I worked in this city, first at the afterschool program, then at Moody, then, finally, in the kindergarten class I so adored. Still adore. I lived in this city, while at school, and I will live there again; my shared apartment a handful of miles from the very cement onto which I’m currently dripping. Living, working, loving, learning, I’ve done a lot in this city. But more than my accomplishments, I’m proud of the city itself. I’m proud of the people of this metropolis. I’m proud of the work that is done in every part of this place every single day. I’m proud of the problems that are faced, the challenges that are tackled, the solutions that arise, all around me. I’m proud of the people. The families, the couples, the individuals. And I’m proud to be one of them.

Living, working, learning, I’ve done a lot in this city, and for that I am thankful; thankful and so very proud to count myself a part of this moving, breathing, chaotic heart of a city.

~Natalia

This is Summer: Season Four {#5}



And this was WOW Camp;

Hard workers and loving hearts, 

And those precious kids. 

~Natalia 

Arms Lengths Away

Please stay two arms-lengths away from the art!

Her rebuke cuts the air, rising above the appreciative hum of the art connoisseurs around us. The only ones remotely close to her, we look up from where we stand, and reflexively take a step backwards, away from the statue that stretches into the air above our heads.

Two arms? He says, next to me, as I spread my arms to my sides, demonstrating with my wingspan the required distance between art and observer. On the other side of the statue, her hands tucked loosely into her pressed black pants, the woman nods.

I’ll tell you a trick, she offers, gesturing with a strong hand in the general direction of the piece. The circle of the spotlight falls about two arms-lengths around the art on each side. So if you’re looking from just outside of the spotlight, you’re good!  She nods again, then, suddenly, she glances around the wide studio space, occupied only by three larger-than-life statues depicting a boy at various ages and stages of development. We step away, moving slowly towards the information plaque on the wall, yards beyond the spotlight’s forbidden circle. Please stay two arms-lengths away! She repeats, this time to a man whose white hair has receded into a half moon around his scalp.

But we’ve barely turned away when she addresses us again. It’s the same boy, she says. He sculpted the same boy at three, at five or six, and then here, in this one, he’s 12. Unsure if we should turn back and fully engage with her, and careful of giving offense by leaving our odd, lopsided conversation, we hover for a moment between the statue and the wall. She tells us more about the statue; it’s clothing, the attitude and emotion the artist intended to convey. We nod, listen, learn from this unexpected museum guard art lesson.

As I listen, it occurs to me to wonder if the museum staff rotates throughout the building. I vaguely question my assumption that each post, each doorway-standing personnel, changed throughout the museum each day. Does she know this much about each piece here? The question forms in the back of my mind. And then, further, If not, what is it about this particular exhibit that so captivates her? 

Even though the afternoon has been spent in the time-suspended hush of the art-laden halls, I know that barely three minutes have passed since we inadvertently stepped inside the spotlight’s forbidden glow. Three minutes and we’re three people here, separated by a ten-foot statue of a 7th grader, and strangely- but not uncomfortably- disarmed by the guard who teaches, who speaks. Yet even as she speaks, monologuing her presentation with gentle intonation, she glances around the room, interrupting herself, almost apologetically, to tell others to step back, move away, don’t get too close.

And then, as suddenly as the interaction began, it ends. Something beyond this gallery, something or someone in the space beyond the doorway, has caught her attention, and she excuses herself, smiling almost regretfully, and steps out of the room.

The echo of her steps tap purposefully, but not harshly, out of the cavernous room, and we’re left there, reading a plaque of information we already know, and thinking about the way there are a million rules and a million reasons to stay two arms-lengths away, but every person here, every heart around, just wants to speak- and to be heard.

~Natalia

This is Summer: Season Four {#4}



I’d go a long way, 

And I’d drive a long time, too

To come back again. 

~Natalia 

I Saw That

I’ll start right off by saying that my least favorite thing about driving is that I lose the opportunity to enjoy the scenery, take in the sights and sounds, and generally study the hundreds of people that I drive past every day. I count this as a great loss because I am not oblivious to the vast amount of interesting interactions that can be subtly observed from behind the safety of tinted windows, and I am acutely aware of the road hazard I would become were I to choose not to focus on the road itself. No matter how boring the road may be.

I became aware of this when, while teaching me to drive several years ago, the only time my father came anywhere close to raising his voice was when watching a middle aged couple rollerblade up Sheridan Road interfered with my ability to brake, as well as my awareness that the car was indeed, still moving.

Nothing happened, of course, other than a rather forceful braking. But after that, I tried to be more like a horse with blinders and less of a sightseeing people watcher while driving.

But rear-view mirrors are a gift to mankind. Especially mankind who drives more than 30 minutes each way to work and spends much of that in traffic.

That’s how I saw you.

I glanced into the mirror as I slowed, as my daddy taught me, and caught a glimpse of your face, your left hand resting casually on the steering wheel. Your brow was pulled down, ever so slightly, in the concentrated why-is-there-traffic-the-sun-is-shining-in-my-eyes-let’s-just-drive kind of expression that I imagine I wear rather frequently. My rear windshield and your front windshield worked together to tint the color right out of your face, but your short, scruffy hair rested at odd angles around your head, making you appear pleasantly approachable.

Eyes back on the road (where they always should be) I let my own car roll forward to fill in the gap that the infinitesimal advance of traffic had created in front of me, before glancing back to the mirror once more.

And that’s when I really smiled.

I saw you dancing.

In the time that I had driven those two yards, a worthy song had come on, and I couldn’t help but grin as I watched you move, bop your shoulders, swing your arms, and sing the lyrics to a song I could not hear. I felt the joy of your freedom expand in my chest, my traffic-heavy commute suddenly glinting with the silver lining of your personal dance party.

You couldn’t see me, didn’t know I saw you. But, in the few seconds that I watched, you happened to glance up, towards the bus in the lane beside us. The driver level with me, your own headlights stood next to the near back of the bus. I couldn’t see, but someone in that tall city bus must have caught your eye, because I watched your body still, watched the lyrics die, there on your lips. The dance was over.

The light, several cars before us, changed then, and I had to accelerate to stay with the flow of traffic. You switched lanes, sank into the blur of cars behind me, and I never saw you again.

But in those rear-view moment, I saw your dancing. I saw your goofy, your joy, your movement, and it really was the best thing that happened to me that day.

So please, don’t lose that. Keep dancing at stop lights. Keep yelling those lyrics out. Keep letting the small things be the silly things, because then, the big things start to become not so very big, not so very scary.

And we can all use a little spontaneous car dance party in our lives.

~Natalia