It wasn’t dolls, nor barbies, not horses, nor my mama’s high-heels that held my fancy as a small girl, but a puppet, a black, felt, hand puppet with a red mouth that begin to talk as soon as my dad slipped his hand inside. We named it Bull Taco, although it barely resembled a bovine.
I loved it.
As I grew, my collection of puppets did, too. My passion peaked around age nine when I produced neighborhood shows where my friends and I wrote the plays, printed the tickets and charged our parents ten cents to sit through our masterpieces. But with time the theater warped, the puppets grew ratty, and all were discarded. All but Bull Taco, who was carefully folded and placed in a cardboard box that held baby slippers and fair ribbons and high-school yearbooks.
When my daughter was about two, I found Bull Taco again. The felt was matted and fuzzy. The mouth had a hole through which my fingers poked. I wanted her to love him, but she left me to converse with Bull Taco alone.
I didn’t give up.
When I had three small children, I wrangled my husband into building a replica of the theater I had as a child. We spent the nights leading up to that year’s Christmas sanding and painting. The gift was elaborate, more my wish than theirs, yet they played with it — with encouragement. We’d take turns: First they would slip behind the curtain and put on a show, then they’d watch as I entertained them. The moments I knelt inside the theater, I forgot I was a mother. I was just me, happy and flushed, my mind whizzing with possibilities of how the story would unfold.
Time passed. My children’s theater is tucked behind a bookshelf, forgotten. And although I still have one child young enough to play with puppets, his passion is in swords and light sabers, and I’m either tired enough or wise enough now to let the puppets remain covered in dust. That was until spring when volunteer work for my youngest’s religious education class sent me searching through the basket for a puppet to use as a model. My challenge: to design and create six animals (weasel, otter, scorpion, crab, turtle and woodpecker) plus King Solomon for a story told in Sunday School.
I love puppets for what they aren’t: They’re not plastic, they’re not branded and they’re not hard to make. When I visited my sister and her family in Alaska, my nephew grew interested in the otter puppet pattern I was designing and decided to make one of his own. When I returned home and began to sew, my littlest put down his weapons and picked up scissors and pins to create a queen to go along with my king. Neither boy, I believe, saw their projects to completion. And my own puppets are not without their problems: The crab’s claws are too tight for a man’s fingers and the woodpecker’s beak is hard to manipulate. I complained excessively about the amount of time I spent on them, but in the end, it’s the act of making art, as well as the possibility of kindling a puppet passion in another young soul, and not the final product that matters to me.
Last month seven puppets were carefully folded and placed in a cardboard box and given — lovingly, happily and hopefully, regretfully, sadly and reluctantly — away.
After all, it was a lot of work.
And puppets are dearest to my heart.
Penned in the car as we drove through rush-hour traffic to the hospital:
It was the second of four laps
when Max ran and fell flat.
The coach had no ice,
but firefighters were nice,
setting bones that had snapped.
Before injuring himself in the 1600 race at the city’s middle school track championship meet, Max ran the 800 and placed 8th. Sam placed second in the relay and fourth in the 400.
This was the third and, here’s hoping, final broken bone (Max — 1, Sam — 2) in one year for the family. Max’s cast came off last week, just in time for summer!
I write at stoplights. Two minutes.
I turn over the vacuum to my 5-year-old, who lays it flat on the floor and sits atop it as if it were an airplane. The motor’s drone is loud and soothing. I get 15 minutes out of this.
Another five as he puts the vacuum away.
I set the alarm for four in the morning. I crawl out of bed at four-thirty. The sky is white. There is no noise. Minus the time it takes to make coffee, pee, pour a cup, find my slippers, refill a cup, I get in about an hour’s worth of sleepy, shitty writing. I count it anyway.
I write at the grocery store after checking my kid into its free daycare and before buying food. Forty minutes.
A math problem to be solved with pennies by a child who wants to use half of his day’s screen time to play computer games yields fifteen minutes and the correct answer.
Flying Fairy School, SesameStreet.org. 30 minutes because he decides to use the entire time after all.
I lock the bathroom door and write. Ten minutes without subtracting the time it takes to flush, wash hands and tuck the notebook under my shirt so no one will suspect I’m using the room for alternative purposes.
I bring my notebook into the kitchen and write as I cook. The page is flecked with bits of food, splashes of grease. I write around the outline of a ladle, placed there by accident, and silently thank God for whomever invented ink that doesn’t bleed. Twenty minutes with distractions.
Total time: 197 or about 3 hours, 15 minutes.
I’m surprised. I have more stolen moments than I realized, and I’m under-utilizing them. Tell me, how do you make time for yourself, and what do you do inside those turnip days?