Tammie held our old, battered, but still serviceable badminton birdie in one hand and her racquet in the other. There was a look of concentration on her face. Taking a swing, the taunt strings of the racquet made contact with the little orange rubber belly of the birdie. The contact produced a very satisfying, resonant, ‘Thunk!’
The birdie flew wild, far outside of my reach. I strolled over to where it landed. The round, white, plastic tail was in surprisingly good shape. When did I buy it…ten years ago? I remembered once finding it crushed on the bottom of a toy box. Then there was the year Penny, a dog that we had, always tried carrying it off to chew on. The round, orange rubber end had a small crack in it.
Before delivering my serve, I cryptically asked, “What sort of ‘bird’ do you suppose this is?” ‘Thunk!’ Tammie swung and missed.
Picking up the birdie, she looked at it thoughtfully before answering, “I guess it’s a vinyl robin.” ‘Thunk!’ The bird gracefully flew high overhead to me.
‘Thunk!’ I returned it. ‘Thunk!’ Tammie sent it back. She had a happy, satisfied look on her face when she commented, “I love the song of a vinyl robin. You know, the ‘thunk-Thunk!’ sound?”
I enjoyed her fanciful flight of imagination. It was as unique as the way we play badminton. In our games, no one wins or loses. Our goal is to achieve as many consecutive returns as possible, without missing. Tammie called out our score in Spanish. “UNO, DOS, TRES, CUATRO!”
Beside the driveway, I saw thousands of pretty pink petals shower out of the flowering crab tree. Gentle breezes washed us with the purple scent of freshly opened lilacs. A bright red cardinal in the small apple tree tirelessly sang to its mate. Under my feet, the lawn became trampled. Each bruised grass blade released its own green, earthy perfume. This happy time spent playing with Tammie burned itself into my memory.
How crystal-clear my memory becomes at times when I am doing something for the first time. Or the last time…in this case guiding and loving Tammie to the end of her childhood. Tammie…our youngest daughter…our handicapped baby…the one we worried so much about at birth…is eighteen years old. On the last Saturday of May this year, she will graduate from high school. In September she will move out to attend college. My little bird is flying away from the nest entirely too soon!
In the beginning…shortly after Tammie was born, Arnie and I wondered if our daughter would ever manage to live on her own. When she put her fingers in her mouth for the first time at six weeks of age…we stood around the baby swing clapping. I said, “Well, at least she’ll be able to feed herself!”
Getting her fingers into her mouth was the first hurdle of many. Some hurdles were too high. In daycare she wanted to use the slide. The locked knee leg braces she wore made it impossible to climb the ladder. Tammie seemed to know she could get through life without sliding. She told me, “I don’t really want to slide anyway.”
In first grade Tammie discovered that her short arms made reaching the top of her papers impossible. Her remedy was to learn how to read and write upside-down! Luckily, her wonderful teacher helped Tammie find more acceptable remedies to the problem.
Tammie learned to conduct herself in a way that invited respect. The few times anyone teased her, the unkind remark seemed to miss its mark. One night on the bus, a sixth grade girl kicked Tammie and told her that she was ugly. That night my daughter said, “Mom, she was uglier. She had frizzy red hair…and a mean disposition!”
Reading far beyond her years, Tammie tried to use all the big words she could. Untutored pronunciations earned her frequent good-natured teasing from her big sister, Niki.
Tammie went into high school with the goal of belonging to as many extracurricular activities as possible. She enjoyed cheerleading, forensics, working as stage crew, FBLA, managing girls soccer, hospital volunteening, and being a lector at church. All this was done while earning straight A’s on her report cards!
It took a lot of determination for her to achieve all this amid the stares that people often give her. But my little bird is a tough fledgling…like the vinyl robin. I know that life will be difficult for her at times…it is for everyone…but I also know that she can bounce back from problems with a satisfying, ‘thunk!’
Graduation day is like the opening of a birdcage. With each diploma, a birdie is released. To my birdie I say, “Fly high little vinyl robin! We love you!”