The Color of Fresh Air

I picked up my 10 year-old visitor on Friday afternoon.  Our initial meeting was a bit awkward – me, holding up a welcome sign and Starr looking tired and a little lost.

She surprises me with her questions on the way home. Passing a cemetery, “when do people write what’s on the markers?”  and “Are there shootings in your neighborhood?” I surprised myself with what I share with her. That 5th grade (which she’s entering in September) was my favorite  – because I had a wonderful teacher, because we studied poetry, and because I got glasses and could finally see clearly. 

She marvels at my dishwasher and automatic garage door opener, and I wonder at her grace and self-possession, well beyond her ten years. 

The cats sleep with Starr her first night. Pets are wonderful ice-breakers.  

On our first full day, we head up to Bobby’s Ranch for a trail ride. Starr is wide-eyed at all the animals. “It looks like a real farm,” and then, “It smells like one, too.”

A lot more new experiences for Starr…first drive-in movie, mini-golf, lake swimming and lobster dinner.  Also her first menstrual period.  Starr, embarrassed, speaks with her mom on the phone, then hands the phone over to let her mom, Aisha, tell me the news.  Aisha says she wishes she could be there for the occasion of Starr’s first period, and I do too, though I do my best to fill in.  

My niece spends a few days with us, and we three develop shared rituals. Afternoons are spent splashing in the local reservoir and eating cookies. The girls demonstrate their athletic abilities while I take pictures.  At the end of the day, I upload the photos onto the laptop, and Starr posts them on twitter.   On the evening before my niece goes back home, we sit on the hill and watch the sky light up from an electrical storm so far in the distance we can’t hear even a rumble. 

While sitting in traffic yesterday, Starr told me she read somwhere online about a way to change your eye color. “You just light a candle in the color you want your eyes to be, and concentrate (but not too hard), and your eyes will change to that color.”  Starr wants to buy a blue candle, or at least a lighter shade brown.

There are many things I’ve wanted to change about myself over the years, but never my  blue eyes and blonde hair. They’re part of the ‘free pass’ I’ve relied on to gain access to opportunities and to avoid having to explain or justify myself in the world.                          So, in response to Starr, I  clarify that eye color comes from genes and not candles, but  trying to convince her that her  beautifully dark brown eyes are perfect just the way they are feels a little disingenuous.  

Today is our last day together, and we talk about staying in touch through twitter.  Starr has logged her memories in the journal she brought with her, and is glueing some of her photos onto the pages.  She mentions that she’s heard other kids come back to visit again, and she hopes she can, too. I tell her I’m looking forward to it.  This has been a week of firsts for me, too, and I’m grateful for the gift of Fresh Air this ten year-old girl has brought to my life. 

Starr’s farewell gift, a painting, is hanging on my fridge to dry. It’s riotously colorful, with glitter glue, sparkles and markers.  I tell Starr that it makes me happy to look at it, and she nods. “Oh yeah,” she answers, singsong, “you gotta have color.”

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