Down time. And looking up.

The inside-out view from the fort in the woods at the end of the road.

When Stella was three, she was head-over-heels into ballet. She took creative dance classes with some toe pointing and ballet basics woven in. At home, she’d wear her tutu and watch YouTube clips of internationally renowned ballet companies, memorizing the performances. The living room became a stage.

During this little window in her lifetime, I purchased our first tickets to go see The Nutcracker, performed by the Pacific Northwest Ballet. I remember being so excited to tell her, “Stella, guess what? We’re going to the ballet!”

She responded, “BOOM-SHACKA-LACKA!” and pumped her little fist in the air.

Her reaction is still the best thing I’ve ever seen.

And in this time of being sequestered at home, her energy and observations in response to the shrunken world, and the wider one of her imagination, keep my outlook from falling to low places.

Like when she paints a picture with an ongoing (i.e. never-ending) story narrative that includes Elvis Presley, hybrid animal people of all kinds (she’s part wolf in this scenario), and a backstory as Swedish royalty. Or when she says something very wise, out of the blue.

Online school has been an unwelcome presence but there are moments where she engages and shines. I particularly enjoyed one paragraph, with its signature brevity and potency, that she produced for an assignment that accompanied the class’ reading of Tuck Everlasting.

They were required to write three sentences in response to a prompt: ” Why would you want / not want to live forever?”

She wrote, “I don’t think I would want to live forever. Because I’d experience friends and loved ones come and go. And I’d be very lonely.”

Stella’s snail mail correspondence has been a truly delightful glimpse into her relationships with old Seattle friends, now 3,000 miles away after our move. There’s a maturity that comes through in the thoughtful written word, it seems. “I have not forgotten you,” and “The leaning tree has fallen,” reports a younger, very dear friend, the kindhearted, bright spark of a boy who lived next door to us.

Here in our Massachusetts nook, the neighborhood kids keep their distance but some cheerfully say hello upon passing by, on every single lap around the half-mile loop.

An older woman who lives nearby gamely tried out Stella’s zip line. (Mad respect, lady.)

A new friend brought a colorful dozen eggs from their coop just in time for Easter cooking and baking.

Recently I reminded Stella that my birthday comes around next week. “I’ll bake you a cake, mama,” she said.

And right now she is eating lunch. “These are great nachos, mom!” Stella just told me, as she tried to finish quickly before her online social studies class.

I savored her sweet appreciation for a moment until she mused, “Opa once told me that when he was in the military he only had five minutes to eat. They always served corn on the cob but he had never had it so he just plucked off the kernel things one by one.”

Opa is one of her grandfathers, who came to the United States from Belgium when he was a little younger than Stella. Perhaps she now has the space to reflect and connect dots between her own experience and that of others, even with a mandatory zoom call looming. Or maybe this is how she thinks all the time, and I now have the space to notice.

We drive each other nuts sometimes. She hates the sound of chewing, especially mine, for example. But as limiting as this pandemic has been and will continue to be, Stella is a persistent miner of the vast richness to be found in small reflections and living rooms and memories.

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