Whenever Olive draws our family, four stick figures standing in a row, she draws canes for Elias.
Whenever Elias draws himself, he is cane free. His canes are a part of him, and therefore invisible in his artist's eye.
Like an accent, noticed by all but the speaker.
Or the way I quietly hum when nervous, and didn't know I did, until a friend I squabbled with over a boy back in high school, pointed it out.
We all can be blind to our own quirks. Our own light.
Elias walks with one cane now, ever since the Atlantic took one for a ride-- before spitting it back to us days later. A gift from the sea: As nothing we said could convince Elias to release his grip from two canes to one.
We all carry crutches of some kind. We all see ourselves as we want to be seen, whether the light is too muted or too bright. We can be our darkest critic, our peppiest cheerleader, the backstabber, the promotor, the one who silently disses us or stands by our side.
"Everyone's going to hug me when I come back," Olive told me, as I dropped her at school, after missing two weeks for our family vacation in Florida.
That afternoon, as I worked on starting a fire in the wood stove to warm up the cabin, I asked, "So did you get lots of hugs?
"No," Olive said quietly, as she pulled a blanket around her shoulders. "Only one kid did. Everyone else was like--" she shrugged.
Oh, haven't we all been that kid? Just wanting to be loved. To be missed. To be wanted. To be welcomed back home.
I lit a crumpled piece of the Seward Journal, and closed the door to the stove, before joining Olive in front of the electric heater. I wrapped my seven-year-old girl in my arms, sad too that she wasn't received the way she expected to be, the way she'd seen her classmates welcomed after weeks away, sad that she is not (yet) as beloved by her peers as those with more years together in this small town.
She went on to tell me that one of the girls in her class didn't even want her to play hide and seek.
Hide and seek, the quintessential game of childhood.
"So what did you do?"
"I played with someone else."
Yes! No following around the pack leader like a sad-eyed pup, no crying alone in the corner. Just walking away and finding someone else to play.
"Olive, there will always be kids who like to exclude others."
Even grown-ups. Elected officials.
"But I don't."
And I want this to be true-- but I can't say Olive is beyond leaving someone out. In preschool her teacher told us that she didn't always include everyone, hurting kids' feelings by choosing some children over others. She was the leader of the pack back then.
And so we talked and still talk often about kindness--the most essential of human traits-- and I know Olive likes to help others, and wants everyone to get along, and can only hope that, both now and in middle school, she doesn't get too caught up in the female cycle of exclusion.
Oh the games we women play.
As a child, I fell on both sides of this line, both leaving girls out of "my club" and standing outside a closed door longing to be asked inside. I was not always kind, using my perceived power like a sorting hat, a secret handshake, a brand of loneliness and injury.
I would have mocked my son, Elias, with all his awkward ways. Scooched away if he sat too closed, rubbed his touch on my grass-stained pants, rolled my eyes, laughed at him when he turned away.
I never would have considered that he could hear me, process the rejection, and store the experience alongside countless others in a back chamber of his injured heart.
I never would have considered that his heart could hurt like mine.
Oh how I'd love to take that young me for a walk, to shake her shoulders and hug her all at once, to tell her she's enough, we're all enough, she doesn't need to rank flaws to feel accepted, to confirm to a contrived sense of coolness over kindness, to mute her own light in the process of dousing others, as she chases a beam of fluorescence, not nearly as authentic or warm as sunshine.
"Olive I'm proud of you for walking away and finding someone else to play with." She leaned her head on my shoulder and we sat in silence, mother and daughter, two girls side by side.
I pressed the off button on the heater as the wood stove crackled, with kindling cut from Spruce logs, from trees that never stoop to judge, never vie for acceptance.