Thursday, November 16, 2006
Butter yellow picket fences....
She was the most beautiful 3 year old I had ever seen. A strawberry blonde at birth, her now soft white-blonde curls spiraled down her back, while her green eyes flashed with wit and softened with compassion. Our daughter walked, ran and bounced with purpose and it was with purpose that she moved through her preschool world of CareBears, puzzles, and art classes with her talented, and beloved Aunt Lila who introduced her to Monet and Kandinsky.
But her world at three was pretty interior. We lived in a commercial loft above her dad's recording studio and our parking lot was not a safe place for riding her tricycle or creating fairy lands out of moss and twigs...there were none. Students from the University's School of Music, across the street, flew into that parking lot with only one thing in mind...arriving on time for recording sessions or for picking up the results of those sessions between classes. They were not looking out for a towheaded preschooler playing out her role as the heroine from the latest Disney movie in her make-believe world of magic carpets and talking candlesticks.
When I found a perfect little butter yellow clapboard Victorian with a wide front porch and beautiful carved wooden doors that I would soon paint my favorite shade of the most deliciously rich purply dark periwinkle/blueberry blue (do you get the feeling that I love this color....there is a gallon of it with me wherever I move). I thought it would be a dream come true for my little princess. Our new house was just around the corner from her dad's studio and the night after we took possession, he and I walked most of our furnishings over in the dark as I was so excited to give her a yard to play in and a perfect little bedroom under the eaves.
Each morning, once we had moved in, she and I would clean up after breakfast, get dressed for our day and then I would sit down at my desk in the office off the front porch and she would take her favorite toys out onto the porch to spend the morning playing in the sun. Throughout the morning I would look out the window and there she would be, sitting on the porch steps with her books or dolls, but never venturing beyond the bottom stair. Often I would catch her reaching an arm full length to just touch the petals of the morning glories that were spiraling up the butter colored balustrades that outlined the porch, but never stepping off that lowest step. I would encourage her to pop off the porch and ride her new tricycle or play under the tree in the shade, but she would shake her head and remain at her post like a miniature sentinel.
One day I joined her on the steps for a midmorning snack of apple slices and asked her why she didn't want to go off the porch and run around as she was quick to do when we went to the park with her cousins. She sighed deeply in her very grown up three year old way and proceeded to share with me her concerns. She was not sure, she explained, where the yard ended and if the cars on the other side of the sidewalk would always know where her "safe place" began. So, she went on, it was easier to just stay on the porch because she knew that they wouldn't be able to drive up the steps.
I was sad, relieved, and inspired all at the same time. This little girl had just explained for me the reason for boundaries and fences. She had helped me see that freedom comes when we clearly know where the boundaries are. I asked her if a fence, that showed her where her yard started, would help and she said "of course". And that was the end of that discussion. I few days later her dad and I, and a few kind friends, set about digging post holes, sawing lumber, attaching pickets and carefully painting the most charming butter-yellow picket fence with an arbor over the front gate that any three-year-old princess could ever hope for. She helped paint her fence, and put the finishing touches on the outline of her world with a matching birdhouse near the arbor that would eventually trail tiny pale pink climbing roses each spring and summer.
The minute that fence was finished her world expanded beyond the porch to the farthest reaches of our yard. She could often be found at the very corner or the fence building a miniature world of moss, twigs, violets and dandelions. A tiny village any good self-respecting fairy would be thrilled to inhabit after all the humans went in for the night and fireflies, shooting stars, and fairy dust lit the streets of her world with magic.
That yard became the safest place on earth for her. She discovered the freedom of being three and six and eight in the shelter of its boundaries. The click of the front gate helped her know when someone new was arriving or when her dad was leaving for the studio. She and her best friend (who lived next door and had her own soft tan picket fence with which we shared one length as nextdoor neighbors) would meet each summer morning in their nightgowns, each on their own side of that fence to plan out their day's adventures. I would watch from my window or porch, as our preschoolers grew into confident and fearless little girls. They knew they had good strong fences....boundaries that made them feel free.
Our daughter is now seventeen years old and has just returned for a visit home from South Africa where she will be attending school this year and living with her birthparents. I see her moving through her world with confidence...and sometimes with hesitation...and am reminded that lovingly built, strong...but softly painted... butter-yellow picket fences are still the best gifts we can give to this lovely young woman/girl who longs for the freedom to make a difference in her world and see it lit up by fireflies and stardust... on fire with integrity, goodness and compassion.