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My Backyard

Mishpacha Contributors

Playground. Oasis. Hideaway. Magical Kingdom. Twenty-two women tell of sun and swings, treehouses and tranquility

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

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"The backyard was where I reconnected with myself, where there were no demands or rules — only wild indifference, rugged beauty, and endless imagination. There I dreamed stories that became pages of childish handwriting, dog-eared pages that rustled in the breeze, filled with little girls and fairies, pirates and kittens. The backyard was a place that nurtured the writer in me. Miraculously, the writer within stayed as I grew, even when I left the backyard and my childhood far behind."


Treehouse

Rachael Lavon

We are the amphibious creatures of my grandparents’ backyard.

We glide beneath the water in search of secret coves until the chlorine stings and the California sun scorches the spots we missed and we remember that imaginary games are for children. Once on dry land, our necks are inspected. We can’t trust them to put on their own sunscreen, they’re still children, the adults admonish. But I see no cherubic child amid the gangly limbs, teeth shackled with metal, hair that frizzes into a halo around my face.

I find refuge from this disparity on the outskirts of Perfect.

Past the pristine white carpet, plump white couches. Past the humming pool, the light cushioned chaise lounges lined up like lazy summer soldiers. Past the Cabana and expectations, flower beds and requests. We tiptoe toward a dense knot of leafy trees. Pebbles shift beneath us and we hush each other, though we aren’t breaking any rules, my cousin and I, we’re simply disappearing. The quiet slinking away of children who believe they’re no longer children. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 548)

Strokes of Love

Esty Heller

The AC compressor grumbles to life, the turbine’s vanes gobbling fallen leaves, and I squint. My neck is wet with sweat, and I’m tired, bored, lonely.

Summer means death unto the city, houses empty and lifeless. My neighbors splash away in real pools in the Catskills, my siblings cheer their kishkes out in camp. I’m the youngest in my family, too young for sleepaway camp, so I stay home, just me. Afternoons stretch lazily, endlessly. My spirit drowns in the soupy air.

The gate creaks. My mother strides through the grass, balancing a huge art board, an ice cream cone, paints, brushes. I help her spread a plastic cover over our patio table, and we find weights — a bottle of seltzer, stones — to keep the plastic down. My mother clips my hair up, off my neck, and a passing breeze sucks in the beads of sweat.

I lick my cone while my mother squirts paint — purple, silver, fives shades of green — onto a plate, our makeshift palette. A cup of ice water, and then we select brushes.

It’s a paint-by-number, and we start with the trees. My mother shows me how to layer the greens, to lend the leaves texture. We hunch over the colors, two celebrated perfectionists, and shade the microscopic gaps. Time freezes as we work. There are no worries, no heat, no fatigue. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 548)

 

The Little Cowboy

Esther Ilana Rabi

She was thoroughly cowboy.

From the moment she awoke and donned her chaps, boots, two-gun holster, checked shirt, string tie, and hat, she was Old West incarnate. Although she had to shed this second skin to go to nursery school — where girls wore skirts — in her mind, and to her family, she was always “Hoss, Sheriff of Marshal City.”

Occasionally people seemed to doubt she really was a cowboy, and she needed reassurance. “Are you sure cowboys wear dresses to shul?” she asked her mother. But her mother was a worthy buddy who never once let the illusion dim.

“Of course,” she replied. “Hands up! You’re under a dress!”

Except for the nervous babysitter who kept her from taking her rocking horse out to the backyard for a gallop, life had always gone smoothly for the little cowboy.

Until the day the snake came. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 548)


A Classroom Out Back

Chanie Spira 

No one remembers how Zeidy got the three planks and heavy bricks to build our special “perek benches.” But the planks and bricks faithfully do their job week after week, year after year, and by now, decade after decade. And they’re still strong and sturdy.

It may be 2017, with educators lamenting about declining attention spans. But, for one and a half hours every single Shabbos afternoon, close to 40 grandchildren and great-grandchildren sit in The Backyard on three planks of wood forming a ches, listening raptly to Perek Zeidy talk about Pirkei Avos, and then they sing their special perek songs.

It’s a full classroom with children ranging from ages two to thirteen. No visual aids, no moving screens. No one knows how he does it, but when it comes to Perek Zeidy, one doesn’t ask questions.

It took me a while to realize that this 30-year-old tradition has only marginally to do with Pirkei Avos.  

 

It may be 2017, with educators lamenting about declining attention spans. But, for one and a half hours every single Shabbos afternoon, close to 40 grandchildren and great-grandchildren sit in The Backyard on three planks of wood forming a ches, listening raptly to Perek Zeidy talk about Pirkei Avos, and then they sing their special perek songs.

It’s a full classroom with children ranging from ages two to thirteen. No visual aids, no moving screens. No one knows how he does it, but when it comes to Perek Zeidy, one doesn’t ask questions.

It took me a while to realize that this 30-year-old tradition has only marginally to do with Pirkei Avos. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 548)

 

Backyard Pool

Shira Isenberg

I was in Walmart this week, and I saw the pool.

My little boy has been after me to get one. He loves swimming, and it helps with his sensory issues. But I don’t really want a backyard pool. It’s a hazard to leave them full of water so you have to empty them all the time. They get moldy if they don’t dry just so, and they ruin the grass underneath. I’d rather just take him to the JCC, but I’m here at the store anyway; may as well take a look, see how much they cost.

There it was, on the shelf — the pool of my youth. I had forgotten all about it until I saw it again. If you were a kid in the ’80s, you probably had the same one: flimsy sides — white with cartoons or drawings of some sort — that only stood erect once the pool was filled with water, and that bright blue bottom.

We would swiftly change into our bathing suits and run down the stairs, towels swinging, to the patio in the backward. I can picture the five of us girls, some with matching polka-dot bathing suits, some who got new ones, and invariably at least one in a weighed-down diaper, arguing over who gets to hold the hose. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 548)

Rings of Wisdom 

Chaya Glatt

Some of my favorite childhood memories took place when I was all alone in my backyard.

A sensitive child with a flighty imagination, I didn’t need anyone’s help to make magic happen. I knew that if you closed your eyes and squinted at the sun, those bright flashes of color you saw against a black backdrop were glints of magic that were normally invisible. Dandelion flowers were garlands for a princess’s tiara; the old rickety swing could travel through time and space.

To fill a hole under the bush, I gathered rotten leaves and sticks, hoping they would decompose into the soil. That little compost heap became a thriving metropolis of insects that passed an entire season under my tender care. And there was no greater pleasure than running barefoot over the tickly grass and cool moss that covered the yard.

At the edge of the patio, a tree stump with rows and rows of thin, careful rings became my quiet thinking place. I thought its old wisdom could seep into me by virtue of my respect for it. I would sit on it for long moments, watching ants scurrying around the anthill nearby. Their hurried, goal-driven manner communicated a sense of purpose and urgency that immediately won my admiration.

The backyard was where I reconnected with myself, where there were no demands or rules — only wild indifference, rugged beauty, and endless imagination. There I dreamed stories that became pages of childish handwriting, dog-eared pages that rustled in the breeze, filled with little girls and fairies, pirates and kittens. The backyard was a place that nurtured the writer in me. Miraculously, the writer within stayed as I grew, even when I left the backyard and my childhood far behind. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 548)

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