Writing 101 – Day Twenty: My First Piece of Mail

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When I was about four years old, I received my very first piece of mail.  The first that I can remember anyway.  I could read a little by then, so when my mom showed me the postcard, my eyes lit up at seeing my name written in elegant handwriting.  The front of the postcard featured pictures from Charleston, South Carolina, my father’s hometown.  Old antebellum homes, women practicing the ancient art of basket weaving, palmetto trees.  I knew the city well, even at my young age.  We visited a few times a year, always staying at my paternal grandmother’s home.  When we made the five-hour drive, I would sit up front between my two parents (this was the eighties, when car seat laws were more lax) in our huge Chevy.  Even when we were miles and miles away, the windows down on both sides, I would imagine I could hear and smell the Atlantic Ocean.  I knew our trip would include a visit to Folly Beach, a favorite of mine because of the huge waves that I loved to jump.  If you were to ask my parents back then what my favorite part of those trips were, they would most likely say visiting the ocean.  It’s almost true.  It was a close second.

My favorite part was waking up early – I always woke up really early in those days, full of childish energy.  I would race downstairs, knowing my grandmother would already be awake.  I didn’t know what time she woke up, but it was always before me, unlike my parents who I always seemed to have to drag out of bed back home.  I would sit at the table and she would make breakfast, something simple like cold cereal or oatmeal, that I’d usually be too excited to finish.  And we’d talk.  Or I’d talk.  Mostly babbling about whatever was going on in my life at the moment. I was an old soul. She would laugh at my little jokes and anecdotes, then I would get up from the table, leaving most of my breakfast behind, but she’d never force me to “clean my plate” like most of her generation would have.  I’d run out of the front door to visit my cousins who lived a few doors down, feeling very grown up that I got to walk there by myself, not knowing that she was watching from the doorway until I made it safely inside.  Those few minutes every morning were my favorite.  I had my grandmother all to myself.

When I got the postcard that day, I read it aloud with my mother’s help.  It was from my grandmother of course, telling me how nice it was to hear my voice over the phone a few days ago, reminding me to help my mom take care of my brand new little brother.  I smiled and ran to show my dad, who saved it for years and years, until I was old enough to be entrusted with it.  Now it’s framed and sitting on the mantle over the fireplace in my home.  My grandmother passed away a year or so after I got that piece of mail.  I think maybe my most treasured possession isn’t the postcard, but my memories.  Not everyone got to have two awesome grandmothers as a kid.  So I treasure that postcard – that I still take out of the frame from time to time, and the fact that I can still hear her voice in my head as I read it.

Writing 101 – Day Eighteen and Nineteen: Front Porch Exile

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I combined the assignments from today and yesterday.  From a 12-year-old’s POV, free writing, tried not to self-edit, though I couldn’t resist a few times.

Write this story in first person, told by the twelve-year-old sitting on the stoop across the street.

For those of you who want an extra challenge, think about more than simply writing in first-person point of view — build this twelve-year-old as a character. Reveal at least one personality quirk, for example, either through spoken dialogue or inner monologue.

Today is a free writing day. Write at least four-hundred words, and once you start typing, don’t stop. No self-editing, no trash-talking, and no second guessing: just go. Bonus points if you tackle an idea you’ve been playing with but think is too silly to post about.

Mom put me out of the house again.  Says I spend too much time on the computer and not enough time “in the real world,” whatever that means.  Before she started to regale me with stories about her many adventures running through the Pennsylvania countryside during her storied childhood, I stormed out of the front door, purposely letting the screen door slam behind me.  And what is there to do on this boring street?  I muse as I take a look around.  The across the street neighbor is cutting the grass with no shirt on, drinking a beer at the same time.  Doesn’t quite seem safe.  He waves at me and I nod, quickly turning away.  A woman is walking down the street dragging her screaming toddler to the bus stop on the corner – he wanted to stay inside and watch cartoons.  I feel his pain.

It’s so hot it’s almost as if I hear my skin sizzle as I accidentally brush against the metal railing.   Sitting on the front step, I take a sip of the sweating glass of icy lemonade and open my book, since all electronic devices have also been banned by my parents.  My tablet, phone and laptop are being held hostage.  My mom thinks I need to make friends.  I have friends, I always tell her.  Real friends, she emphasizes, as though the months-long friendships I’ve fostered online don’t count.  There’s Amelie in New York who shares my obsession with Pretty Little Liars – we watch and live-tweet it every week.  Then there’s Liam who lives in some small town in the UK, we have the exact same taste in books, we can talk for hours.  And finally there’s Kat in Florida, she’s an authority in all things pop culture, we can laugh about whatever ridiculousness is going on in Hollywood at any given moment.  They’re all my best friends.  My mother doesn’t recognize this kind of friendship, but I do.  If it weren’t for them, there’d be no one.  People who meet me in person can’t see past the outside.  Who I am on the inside is beautiful and promising and special, but no one bothers to ask.  I’m not hideous by any means, my mother says I might be pretty if I put forth a little effort.  I don’t want to be pretty.  Being pretty got me in trouble once.  A cute boy, older, that smelled sour, of alcohol, a party where I was too young to be.  Lured to an abandoned room with the promise of my first kiss.  Then pain, white hot and searing, then the dull ache inside that has never left, not since that winter night six months ago.

So I wear dark, shapeless clothing, old things I find in my mother’s closet, things I get at secondhand stores when my mom reluctantly gives me money to buy school clothes, I pull baseball hats down low over my unruly hair.  So I do the things I must do, then I come home, I go to my room, and I talk to my friends.  The ones who only know the parts of me I want them to see.

I see a girl coming down the street.  She’s wearing white short shorts and a t-shirt that says Gotta Secret – Can You Keep It?  She looks about my age, maybe a year or so younger.  She has the most beautiful hair I’ve ever seen, big and voluminous with shiny red curls, skin turned golden by the Georgia summer sun.  I’ve never seen her before.  Her family must have just bought the house down the street that’s had a For Sale sign out front for nearly a year.  She stops on the sidewalk in front of our small yard.

“Hey,” she says shyly.

“Hey,” I respond, trying to sound confident.  She’s on my turf after all.  I sit up straighter,  channeling Spencer Hastings.  “You like PLL?”

She looks down at her shirt and smiles.  “Yep, I missed the last two episodes though. Was gonna watch today, I recorded them but my mom deleted them.  Said I need to meet my neighbors.”  She rolls her eyes.

I chuckle.  “My mom forced me out too.”  A pause.  “Well, I have all the episodes saved.  We can watch them if you want.”

Her face lights up.  “Really!”  She starts up the walk.

“Yep,” I stand and hold the screen door open for her.

My mom pokes her head out of the kitchen when she hears the door open.  “I said that you needed to…”  she starts to shout, stopping abruptly when she sees the new girl standing in our foyer.  “Okay if we watch some videos upstairs?”  I ask.

She smiles, I think I might see a tiny tear in the corner of her eye.  “Sure, that’s fine,” she says softly.

I look at my new friend and we both shake our heads as we head upstairs.  I know we’re thinking the same thing.  Our moms are such pains.

Writing 101, Day Seventeen: Authenticity

Write about a thing that scares you. For a twist, pick a different style from your ownSometimes living an authentic life can be terrifying.  For me at least.  But I’d rather have a few honest friendships than hordes of phony ones.  I usually favor shorter sentences so I tried to elongate them a bit.  Other than that it still sounds like me.  I did my best 🙂
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As I pull into the parking lot on a sunny, sweltering hot day, beads of sweat are already forming on my forehead, even before I open the door of my car and leave the comfort of my frigid air conditioning.  I clutch the letter in my hand as I get out of my car.  With every step closer to her front door,  I can hear my heart pulsating between my ears.  It’s not too late, I tell myself.  I can get back in the car and sped away, tires squealing, never speak of this letter again.  But I can’t.  I’ve decided to live a life of authenticity from this day forward.  I can’t pretend that everything is okay any longer; a talent that I have perfected since childhood.  My story matters; my feelings matter; I matter.  I climb the steps to the front door and knock loudly.  My stomach churns as I hear movement inside, realizing that I’d hoped no one would be home, that I could leave a hastily scrawled note in the door and run away like a coward.  She opens the door a few seconds later and smiles, happy to see me, but a little confused.  She wants to know why I’m here, unannounced, in the middle of her afternoon.  I can tell she was busy – I smell food simmering on the stove.  There’s a bucket  filled with suds sitting on the kitchen floor.  It’s my last chance.  I can say I just came by to say hello, to see how she was doing, lock everything away in the closet in my brain that’s already bursting at the seams.  Authenticity, I remind myself.  I raise the months-old letter still clutched in my hand so that it’s eye level with her.  She looks even more confused.

“This really made me angry,” I say, my voice unwavering.  The words are finally out, and I am afraid.  Afraid of losing her friendship, but I know it has never truly been real.  This is our chance to change that, begin again, to have a true relationship based on honesty instead of a lie.  I stand on the front step staring back at her, waiting for her to let me in.

Writing 101, Day Sixteen: First Love

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Imagine you had a job in which you had to sift through forgotten or lost belongings. Describe a day in which you come upon something peculiar, or tell a story about something interesting you find in a pile.

The day has finally come.  Mom and Dad have retired; they’re moving to the coast.  It’s been their dream for as long as I can remember.  My brother and I are both in town today, to go through our old stuff in the attic before the junk haulers come and take it all away.  I’m sure most of it’s trash.  Old homework assignments and toys that I’d lost and forgotten about long ago.  When I climb the stairs I see my brother is already there, covered in dust, knee deep in childhood mementos.  He holds up a golden trophy with a big smile.  It’s the award we both won in the talent show back in elementary school.  We’d performed a choreographed Michael Jackson routine that had brought the house down.   I go to give him a hug before heading to my side of the attic.

It’s just as I thought, a lot of junk.  There’s a few hilarious diaries from my tween and teen years that I’d like to save.  They’re dripping with nostalgia.  I open the last diary I ever kept, from my senior year of high school, and start to read.  Every entry is about the boy across the street.  The one I’d been in love with since I was five but had only gotten the nerve to speak to the summer after graduation, when I’d finally come out of my self-imposed shell when it came to boys.  I could get up on a stage and sing and dance for a packed theater, perform a monologue during an audition for a room full of strangers, but when it came to the opposite gender, for some reason I clammed up, my knees melted, I couldn’t seem to open my mouth to say anything remotely coherent.  My best friend had been telling me for years that he liked me too, but I never believed her.  I always avoided him at school, ran in the house when I saw him coming down our street.  It was almost as if I loved the fantasy him so much that I just wanted to keep things that way, didn’t want to ruin the relationship of my imagination with unpredictable reality.

But on the first day of that bittersweet summer, I was in the same attic; it was the best place to spy without anyone noticing.  I saw him step out of his shiny new red Acura, a graduation gift.  I’d leaned against the glass and sighed, thinking about how I’d wasted the past 12 years.  He’d be moving away soon and so would I – I was going to New York City try my hand at performing.  He was moving to Boston for college.  But then I realized.  We had these next three months.  There were three more months before everything changed forever.  I wasn’t going to waste anymore time.  I ran downstairs out the door and across the street.  I stood in front of him, breathlessly.  He smiled at me.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

We stood in a not so awkward silence for a few beats, then I said, “Would you like to come in for a soda?”  Not quite the over the top romantic first date of my dreams, but it was the first thing that came out.

He nodded, took my hand and led me across the street to my front door.  Twelve years as neighbors and it was his first time inside our home.  It was the first of many dates; we were  inseparable that summer.  We fell in love quickly, in a scary, all-consuming way, but the feeling was irresistible.

Then, inevitably, the summer ended and we moved to separate cities.  We tried to make it work, Boston and New York weren’t that far apart after all.  But we were both so busy, the distance was greater than we imagined; we mutually decided to end it.  I’d heard through the  grapevine that he was successful, had moved back to our hometown, working as an attorney at a small boutique firm.  He’d been engaged but had called it off a few months ago and had just bought a house in town. In contrast, I still lived in New York but was thinking about making a move. I’d gotten a few parts here and there, but 10 years later, I was still waiting tables and doing other odd jobs to make ends meet.  My counterparts were buying homes, getting married and having babies, and I still lived in a cramped roach-infested apartment with roommates, waiting for my big break.  Being a successful stage actress had always been my dream, but sometimes dreams change.

This thought strikes me again as I see him pull up in his parents’ driveway through the attic window.  I get that same feeling I did ten summers ago.  Now or never.  I race down the stairs and out the front door, not stopping until I’m standing in front of him in the driveway as he’s slamming the car door.  I’m restless and excited, 18 once again.

“Hi,” I say with a smile.

“Hi.”  He smiles back.

Writing 101, Day Fifteen: Your Voice Will Find You

Think about an event you’ve attended and loved. Your hometown’s annual fair. That life-changing music festival. A conference that shifted your worldview. Imagine you’re told it will be cancelled forever or taken over by an evil corporate force.

How does that make you feel?

Today’s twist: While writing this post, focus again on your own voice. Pay attention to your word choice, tone, and rhythm. Read each sentence aloud multiple times, making edits as you read through. Before you hit “Publish,” read your entire piece out loud to ensure it sounds like you.

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For me, the Atlanta Braves have always meant summer.  Every year between April and October, my family and I have always made a point of catching a few games at the ballpark, watching from home or listening on the radio when we can’t be there in person.  Since the late-1990’s, we’ve been disappointed every October, the team seems to only get so far before the inevitable collapse, never quite recapturing the glory of the early ’90’s.  But, the loyal few among us, the Atlanta natives, never lose faith, returning every year to support our boys of summer.

As kids, we went to Atlanta Fulton County stadium, which was torn down in the late ’90’s.  I had seen the games on television before, but I’ll never forget my first time walking out of the tunnel into the blinding sunshine and seeing that bright emerald green field, almost too real and spectacular for my little eyes to take in, so close it seemed I could touch it.  Those were the days of Dale Murphy, the only player whose name I knew at my young age.  That first game, with my family and a big group of my childhood friends, that’s when I fell in love with baseball.

Now we go to Turner Field, which is, at least in my eyes, a beautiful state of the art ballpark where there’s no such thing as a bad seat.  There’s nothing like watching a game under the bright lights in the early evening on a clear night, singing along to the Tomahawk Chop, tens of thousands of arms chopping the air in unison.  I love the terrific crack of the bat hitting the ball in  that perfect sweet spot, when you know even before the ball sails into the air and out of the park that it’s a home-run, the feeling of elation as we all rise to our feet, raise our arms in the air and jump up and down like excited children. It’s the best natural high.

But now, the Braves are leaving Atlanta, moving to Cobb County, a snooty suburb north of town.  The move is not without controversy.  I’ll spare you the details. By 2017, my beautiful Turner Field will be torn down.  All who support the move say the team will be the same, only the location is changing, but I’m not sure I agree.  It almost feels as though they won’t be my Braves anymore.  They’re moving away from my city, the place where I fell in love with them.  Maybe I’ll make the trek to Cobb after the move, at least once per year, maybe I won’t.  Who am I kidding, I probably will.  I won’t want my future children to miss out on the surreal, magical experience I had at my first game.  Even though I’ll always be disappointed about the move, one day I know that I’ll look down at my children and see the wonder on their faces and I’ll feel such joy and satisfaction, sharing my love of the Braves with them.  But I’ll always know that they don’t really belong to me anymore.  In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy these last few precious summers while they’re still my Braves.

Writing 101 – Day 14: To Whom It May Concern

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Pick up the nearest book and flip to page 29. What’s the first word that jumps off the page? Use this word as your springboard for inspiration. If you need a boost, Google the word and see what images appear, and then go from there. 

Today’s twist: write the post in the form of a letter.

 

I have a  Bible with an introduction that lists a series of scriptures that have practical application for everyday life.  And this was on pg. 29:

“Make sure of the most important things.”  Philippians 1:10

 

Dear Nameless Man Three Beach Chairs Down From Me On Vacation,

Have you noticed what a perfect day this is?  I don’t use the word perfect often, but today it’s appropriate.  Not a cloud in the sky, temperatures in the eighties, a soft, gentle, salty breeze blowing off the ocean.

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I’ve been here for hours.  I’ve gone for a swim with my friends, devoured a delicious juicy burger from the Shake Shack across the street, the best I’ve ever had, finished a great book, gotten tanned lying here just marveling at the scenery.  And what have you done?  I’ve heard you make multiple, very loud business calls (I hope you close the deal with the potential client by the way), ignore your children’s constant pleas to play or build sandcastles, yell at one of your kids for making one of those requests one time too many, and brusquely demand your wife return to your hotel suite to bring you yet another electronic device without a please or thank you.

So the question is – what’s more important?  Your children are beautiful.  I’m not a parent myself, but even I know how quickly time passes.  Soon they’ll be slamming their bedroom doors in your face, rolling their eyes and releasing elongated annoyed sighs when the time for family vacation rolls around.  I think maybe then you’ll think back on this day with regret, wishing you could go back, build a sandcastle, frolic in the waves.  But there will be no time.

The day is nearly over.  It will be dark soon.  People are starting to pack up to leave.  I’m going to lie here for a while with the people that are the most important to me in the world and watch the sun set over the water.  It’s a glorious sight.  I would tell you to go stand on the pier with your family and watch it with them.  You’d get the best view from there.  But I know it’s pointless.  Your wife is packing up your children’s things alone, your children are already lugging their toys up the beach toward the resort.  Have you noticed they’re leaving?  Probably not. If you’ll be here tomorrow, and I hope you will be, put the phone and the tablets down, and look up.  Look into your children’s faces.  Record their sweet laughter in your head for future reference – they’re only that sweet for so long.  Look at the ocean.  Feel the salt air on your face.  Tell your wife you appreciate her.  Remember what’s really important. And for goodness sakes, build your kids a sandcastle.

Sincerely,

Jenn

P.S. Since you have your tablet handy already, head over to iTunes and download Cats in the Cradle, I hear it’s a great song!

Writing 101, Day Thirteen: Finding Quinn

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On day four, you wrote a post about losing something. Today, write about finding something.  Today’s twist: if you wrote day four’s post as the first in a series, use this one as the second installment — loosely defined. 

I decided to take on a new subject instead of adding to my last “serial killer” post.

It had been one of the most difficult periods of my life.  After years of not asking for help, not crying when I needed to cry, screaming when I need to scream, I broke.  The anxiety took on a life of its own, in dramatic fashion, it took over my body.  I collapsed to the ground, paralyzed, my body seizing, tears flooding my eyes.  I didn’t know why.  I was confined to my bedroom for weeks, not able to go out into the world without the sensation taking over my body again.  My head feeling like it was going to explode from pressure, my legs going to mush, my entire body overheating, my breath quickening to the point of hyperventilation.  It was misery.

With the help, love and support of my family, my sweet doctor, plus my hope and faith, I was able to go back out into the world again, taking slow tentative steps into the sun.  It wasn’t easy at first, and I still felt empty inside.  I found myself up late at night, searching online for a new member to add to our family, someone to give me purpose.  And then I saw her.  The shelter had named her Quinn.  A sweet baby girl with big brown eyes as sad as mine, an adorable brown spot on her ear and her side.  I knew she was mine before we even met.

The day we went to pick her up, I knelt in front of her cage, and she wagged her tail and smiled at me (yes puppies can smile, despite what my husband says). She seemed to know I was her mom. The days that followed were sleepless and a lot of work, but I loved every minute of it.  I had a reason to get up in the morning with the sunrise, usually awakened by a sloppy kiss on my cheek.  I walked around my neighborhood with my new baby at my side, a smile on my face, a greeting for the neighbors, some of whom I hadn’t seen in months.  I started to remember what happiness felt like.

I’m healthier now, almost a year later.  I’ve found my voice once again, and I’m vowing never to lose it.  Quinn is still a handful, though she’s calmed down a lot.  I give her a lot of leeway, maybe too much some might say.  When my husband asks me why I don’t get angry when I find another shoe destroyed or a throw pillow torn apart with the stuffing strewn all over the floor, I smile as I clean up and tell him it’s simple, she saved my life.  And that’s worth more than anything.

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If you live in the Atlanta area and are looking for a new friend, please check out Dekalb Animal Services:  http://dekalbanimalservices.com/adopt-a-pet/dogs-for-adoption.  So many sweet animals that need homes!

Writing 101, Day Twelve: (Virtual) Dark Clouds on the Horizon

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Write a post inspired by a real-world conversation.

Today’s twist: include an element of foreshadowing in the beginning of your post.

I was exhausted.  A ten-hour workday, then a long evening running errands.  And now, as if the day hadn’t been terrible enough, it began to thunder overhead.  The sky seemed to darken completely, the sun blocked by one enormous dark cloud.  And then it began to rain, in near-biblical proportions.  I ran to my car, sans umbrella, of course.  As soon as I slammed the door, taking in the condition of my rain-soaked clothing and hair, my cell began to ring.  It was my boyfriend.

“Yes,” I answered impatiently as I backed out of my parking spot, headed for home.  All I wanted was a long hot bath, a fattening meal that I didn’t have to cook, and my soft, warm bed.

“Well, hello to you too,” he said with a chuckle.  “How are you doing?”

“Horrible.  Having the worst day.  Just ready to get home.”

“Can you stop by here on the way?  I need to see you for a sec.”

“Really, Jay?  I feel terrible, I’m starving, exhausted.  I just want go home, order some take out and go to bed.”

“Come on, just for a little while.  I’ve got dinner.”

I sighed.  “I’m going home, Jay, sorry.  Eat alone. Bye.”  I hung up the phone and threw it on the passenger seat, feeling aggravated.  He never listened.  How many times did I have to say how I felt before he got it?  Almost immediately, the phone began to ring again.

“Yes, Jay.”

“Did you really just hang up on me?”

“I said goodbye.”  I was nearing Jay’s neck of the woods.  “Look, since you don’t seem to understand English tonight for some reason, I’ll come by, I’m close anyway.”

“Gee, thanks.”

I hung up, this time without a goodbye, and turned into Jay’s neighborhood.  A few minutes later, I was opening the door to a darkened corridor, lit only by candles.  A small table beautifully set with a delectable looking meal sat near the window with a view of the dramatic thunderstorm.  Despite my horrible attitude that day, I normally love rainy days.  They’ve always been my favorite.  I shut the door and smile, walking over to the table, when I heard soft footsteps behind me.  I turned to see Jay standing there, tiny black box in his hand. He opened it to reveal my dream ring, a band of white gold encrusted with tiny stones, a round cut diamond.  Classic and traditional.

“Despite the fact that you are a completely infuriating pain in the neck,” he began as I started to laugh,  “I still want to spend the rest of my life with you.  Will you marry me?”

He slid the perfect ring on my finger, already knowing my answer.

Writing 101, Day Eleven: My Backyard

Tell us about the home where you lived when you were twelve. Which town, city, or country? Was it a house or an apartment? A boarding school or foster home? An airstream or an RV? Who lived there with you?

Today’s twist: pay attention to your sentence lengths and use short, medium, and long sentences as you compose your response about the home you lived in when you were twelve.

Cozy is the word that comes to mind.  The home I lived in from infancy through adulthood was cozy and warm.  A sturdy brick home in suburbia with white shutters and a big porch that ran the length of the house.  The best part – the  backyard.  It seemed to go on for days.  A gentle sloping hill, great for riding anything with wheels.  Trees lining the fence on both sides.  And a two tall pines standing next to each other smack in the middle.  My dad used those trees to make a tent for us in the summer.  We weren’t allowed to sleep there overnight, but we’d stay inside it all day sometimes.  Pretending.  The backyard was many things to my brother and our friends during those days.  An obstacle course.  An Olympic course. An undiscovered planet.  A crime scene.  A cattle ranch.  A zoo.  A strange country where monsters and other furry creatures lurked everywhere.  It was all ours.

Sometimes childhood can be lonely.  You’re always full of stories and energy  that the adults in your world don’t always have time to entertain.  And your peers are all too eager to leave childhood behind prematurely.  Maybe school had been a disaster that day.  Maybe our parents were too busy to listen. Maybe our classmates were being jerks.  But we always had the backyard, spread out in front of us like a magical faraway land, where just being a kid was always okay.