(This is the serial release of my book Hello, My Name is Phillip. It is available here on Amazon. We begin here on the day after Phillip’s 6th birthday. Enjoy and share these posts!)
As I get up the next morning, I look out the window. It is raining and I am so excited for the day. Today I can play indoors with my new presents! Me and Skye walk downstairs, me in my fuzzy, dog-face slippers and bathrobe, and him just himself. I let him outside and walk into the living room. There they are. The mountain of gifts! The watercolor painting set from Susanna. The Chronicles of Narnia set from Maggie and Henry. The U.S. tablecloth map to color from Trudy. The football from Kevin. Nemo had brought the clay you shape and bake. Nana and Papa gave me the backpack and school supplies. In just about a month, the lady has said, I get to start school! And then Rosie brought me a finger-painting set with big sheets of waxy paper and jars of paint. So many colors!
I pick up Susanna’s set of watercolor pencils, paper and the paint brush and take them to the kitchen table. I let Big Skye in, feed him, and then sit at the table. I open the colors and just sit looking at them. Colors are so beautiful. I count 42 different colors. I’m happy just looking at them. I love colors. There are seven different blues! I begin to create.
“Oh, look at you!” says the lady as she enters the kitchen a bit later. “You are already up and creating beauty.” She ruffles my hair and says, “Wow, my little man. Good thing we have wall space; I can tell I am going to want to frame and hang the pictures you create.”
We look at the painting. Again, I am painting the scene I see when I play some of my songs, the mountains behind the lake, with trees and the beautiful sky. I don’t know what the paintbrush is for, so am just trying it when the lady came in. If I squeeze the small plastic tank in the body of the brush, water comes into the brush. I run the wetted brush over the color pencil of the sky, and color explodes. I gasp. I take the brush away. It was good before, but now the brilliant blues swim together. I paint some more. Again, purples and greens come to life. It’s like the painting itself is a living thing.
The lady places a hand on my shoulder and says, “That’s beautiful.”
I nod. It is. For the water in the lake, I had used different colors because water reflects the sky and things around it, just like Miss Jeanne said. There were all kinds of colors in the sky and mountains and trees. Now, painting over the water, it takes on depth, shows a reflection of the mountain and trees, creating beauty. This is the best gift!
I paint throughout the morning while the lady makes breakfast—eggs, bacon, toast, sliced cheese and a cut-up apple—and we eat. I finish two paintings and then get dressed. The only thing scheduled today is my piano lesson with Maggie. I decide to take the painting of the mountain and the lake to her.
Upstairs, I take down my button-up shirt with the leaves on it from my light blue closet, pull on jeans out of the dresser, and the checkered socks. And my blue shoes. Downstairs, I hear the lady vacuuming. She had said Sylvia is coming to clean today. I never get why she cleans before the cleaning lady comes, but she often does. I pick out Charlotte’s Web from my bookshelf and walk downstairs. I don’t know if the lady will want to read, but I like looking at the drawings in it.
Skye likes the vacuum. He finds it a game to play with it. He immediately leaves my side on the couch, and playfully bounces over in front of the vacuum as it comes toward him. He gets down on his front belly, front paws out, with his butt up positioned in front of the vacuum as it comes towards him barking away. It is as if the vacuum is another dog and Skye wants to play! Then as the lady gets closer to him, he leaps back, and then comes closer in, and barks again. The cleaning lady Sylvia doesn’t like it that much when he plays with her, when she is working, so, Skye and I stay in my room usually. Today, I laugh watching his antics. The lady is laughing too. Watching Skye often is better than anything. They continue working together to vacuum and I begin to look at the drawings in the book.
After she is finished, Skye returns to my side as if to say, “Did great, didn’t I?” The lady comes and kneels on the floor in front of me.
“So, the only appointment we have today is your lesson. But I was thinking…you’re going to start school soon, and maybe we can go get you some new clothes for the first day of school. Would you like to do that today?”
When she says it, the idea feels scary, going to school. None of my other friends will be there and I will meet new people. What if they don’t like me or understand me? I really can’t get words to come out my mouth, other than the ones I’ve told you, and so talking is out. I don’t want kids to be make fun of me. But I will get to learn to read—that sounds good. But, as these thoughts careen through my head, I begin to rock back and forth, my hands cup my ears. I am still just sitting on the couch. She is on the carpet in front of me. I forget she is even there. As if in my closet, I begin to whisper my colors again and again.
“Oh, little man,” she says. “Here.”
And with that she climbs onto the couch next to me, wraps her arms around me and holds me while I rock and whisper. Sometimes it doesn’t take something bad like a fight. Here, just a scary idea causes my world to dissolve. This is like the third time in my life she is holding me, I think. I lean in, stop saying colors and she holds me more tightly.
“Okay. I see. This school thing feels scary.” She pauses for a long time, and then says. “Can I tell you a story?”
“I remember when I was heading to school for the first time when I was a little girl. We lived in McMinnville then, and my mom, Grandma Faith, drove me to school since we lived a long way out of town. That first day, I felt like my heart would beat right out of my chest. I was so scared. I was excited, too. I wanted to learn to read and write and do math and meet the new kids there. But what would the kids be like? I was kind of pudgy then and was afraid of being made fun of.”
I look up, surprised. The lady is slender not pudgy, certainly. Nana is pudgy perhaps.
“I know. I really was. But I grew out of it.” She laughed and continued, “So, when we arrived at the school my mom stopped the car and said, ‘You know honey. Everyone is scared. See that little girl over there, I bet she is scared too. You see how she is looking around as she walks toward the building? She might be nervous about what others think of her. It is the most normal fear in the world. I want you to remember, okay. You are not the only one feeling afraid.’
“After your grandma had said that, my heart slowed down a little bit. ‘Everyone is scared,’ I thought to myself. It helped. Then mom said, ‘The other thing is that no one is going to be at the same skill level. Your own ability is going to be different than someone else’s. So, as you get into class, you will be good at some things and those around you will be good at other things.’
“‘Okay,’ I thought as that little girl. ‘That means we are all on the same page, really, just in different places.’ Then my mom said, ‘Dorothy, do you remember what it was like when I was baking that cake for that contest at the fair last year?’ I nodded.
“My mom, your grandma, had entered a contest for which she had to bake a cake and she really was nervous about doing a good job and possibly winning a prize. Everyone in the family remembered that week because your grandma baked cakes day after day. We ended up with so much extra cake around, as she tried one recipe and then another, that we began to slice them up onto plates and share it with our neighbors. None of them had a clue how they had benefited from this experimental baking!
“We took some to church that week for the potluck supper and everyone there thought they had died and arrived in cake heaven! And how we benefited at home. We tasted so much great cake that week. Grandpa Harlie said it was one of the most memorable weeks of his life apart from when he and Grandma got married! Now, Grandma was nervous, but she never took out her nerves on us. She just kept practicing recipes until she found the one recipe she would use for the contest and then she made that one and took it to the fair. Remember that framed blue ribbon that hangs on the wall in their kitchen in Pendleton?”
I nod. I do remember that.
“That’s the ribbon she got for winning first prize at the fair! That and a new set of cookware. Grandpa Harlie was so proud of her he framed the ribbon for her and hung it on the wall saying she now had a ‘prize-winning kitchen.’
“Your grandma continued to talk in the car, ‘Okay. You remember how I practiced and practiced and practiced cake recipes until I found the one recipe I wanted to make?’ I nodded again. ‘That’s what school is about, honey. You are learning new things and will practice them, but everyone around you also is practicing. All school is, is the chance to practice with others.’
“When your grandma told me that, it helped. Then she shared one more thing with me: ‘Another thing to remember is this, you are never alone.’ Here my mom, your grandma, took my hand in hers, and looked me right in the eyes and got close to me and said, ‘You are never, never, never alone. As you are walking up to the front doors today, I can walk with you if you wish, but Jesus is the one with you. He is always with you. No matter what you might face, remember that. He’ll take a chair near you. He will stand with his hand on your shoulder. He will help you dust off if you trip on the playground playing with the other kids. Jesus is always, always with you. So, perhaps you can imagine him right next to you now, holding your hand.’ My mom was holding my hands at that point in time, and it was easy to imagine that her hands could be Jesus’ hands as well.
“So, after grandma said that, we prayed together that I would practice that very fact that Jesus was with me. And that first day I took my lunch bag and backpack with my school supplies out of the car, and walked from the curb where we had parked, up to the front door of the school. Jesus was walking with me and just when I reached the front door another girl came up too. Her hair was pulled back in a blond ponytail, and she wore a blue dress with a purple sweater over it. She was smiling. I opened the door and let her go in front of me and said, ‘After you,’ to her as she entered.
“I don’t know why I did that, actually. It was what my dad, your Grandpa Harlie, always did. He was always opening doors for people and saying that. And since I had just opened the door, and saw her, the words popped out of my mouth. And then she turned around to me after she went in and said, ‘Hey. You’re nice. My name is Molly. What’s yours?’
“That’s the day I met Molly. You already know she is still my best friend. We were in the same first grade class and sat next to each other all that year and every year of school after that, as much as we could wrangle.”
I look up. That was the most amazing story she has ever told me. She met Molly at school and that long ago? Wow.
“Yes. That’s amazing, right? So long ago!” she laughs having guessed what I am thinking. “So, I wanted to tell you this because for a long, long time I lived my life practicing the fact that Jesus was right next to me. Then, I made some really bad choices, and stopped practicing that Jesus was with me. I didn’t practice His presence, but practiced the presence of anger and hurt, of rebellion and pride, of old rejections and bitterness, until the night you ran away. Jesus used that night to bring me back and has been working on my heart. But that first day, was an important day.”
I hug the lady.
“Perhaps that helps, and maybe we can go get some clothes for your first day?” she asks.
I nod and she hugs me again. “You are going to be okay my little man. You are going to find your way in this life. And you and me and God and love, we can handle anything. Right?”
I smile. I like that idea. That day, we will go to buy school clothes. But first, a knock comes at the door.