Posts By: Esther Baird

One Closet at a Time; A Mother’s Day Tribute

By Esther C. Baird
First Published in the Tri-Town Transcript

Boxford Topsfield Middleton —
Well, I’m willing to believe that it’s finally spring.   I’m still often chilly but I can sense that soon I will feel consistently warm, perhaps even hot.  So in a fit of optimism, I tackled that spring time task that strikes fear into the heart of any mother:  I switched over our daughter’s closets. 
The horror.  The horror. 
I’m not talking about the mere tedium of weeding out the winter corduroy and sweaters and wool dresses and furry boots.  No, I refer to the state of chaos — the pack-ratty, hoarding, mayhem — that exists at hazardous levels in their closets so deep I need a snorkel to get to the bottom, or at least a stiff drink. 
The socks alone, the impossible way in which plain, white socks bought in bulk never match any other plain, white socks, makes my heart palpitate.  Then there are the fruity smelling lip balms and sparkly fake gems,  the opened markers and wads of silly bands, the favorite rocks from vacation and endless legos pieces that all, for no reason whatsoever, end up in the shoe pile, strewn through the underwear, and tangled up in the tights. 
Nothing matches.  Nothing fits. There is no rhyme.  There is even less reason. 
What there is however, is a bigger force at play.  You see, they come by this naturally.  My own child-hood closets caused my mother anxiety that I thought was ridiculously overwrought.  Clothing only brought me down. I was a tree elf.  A space princess.  A pirate queen.  A scientist saving the world one afternoon in our back woods at a time.    Closets were for hiding my invisible army of talking flying horses, plus, it goes without saying, my time machine and my own favorite [magic] rocks. 
But my mother knew that my closet also represented who I could and would become.  Talking animal armies were fine, but someday I’d need to go to college.  I’d need a job.  I might even get married if she could ever get a dress on me.   
I now realize that she must have agonized about buying outfits for her sap-covered, tomboy daughter. It was up to her, against extreme odds, to plant the seeds of what she knew was possible.   And if she did find an outfit that didn’t have itchy seams, tags, frills, lace, or heaven forbid, the color pink, if she found something cute, possibly even stylish, that I actually enjoyed wearing, to then lose it in the compost pile that was my closet would have been heart breaking. 
I can see that now. 
And to her credit, as I type, I’m wearing clothes.  Nice ones.  Ones that match and which I hang on hangers and try to keep clean.  Sure I’m nearly 40, but her efforts have finally paid off and – – much to her glee — have come full circle.
I spend hours trying to find outfits that say my third grade daughter is confident and beautiful.  Clothes that are classic but with a hint of flair to help her be brave and not shy; cool so she’ll fit in, but not like she’s trying too hard.  For my kindergartner I look for glitter and bright colors and skirts that twirl but that are pretty and not trashy, outfits that say that nothing will squelch her enthusiasm for life but that she is also sweet and kind.
Is it too much to want these clothes, which I buy lovingly considering their individual gifts and dreams, to stay nice?!  Clean?!  Not mixed up with squirreled away gummy bears left over from a birthday goody bag?!  For heaven’s sake!
And so, this Mother’s Day I hope for clothes on hangers and white socks that match and rocks to be left outside.  Happy Mother’s Day to my Mother, and to all of us, shaping and growing children across American, one spring closet changeover at a time.


Packing up the Universe

By Esther C. Baird
First Published in the Tri-Town Transcript

Boxford Topsfield Middleton —
I don’t want to alarm you, but it’s possible that by the end of this column, a hole in the space time continuum may open up and suck us in.  Further, the hole is located in Baltimore in a neighborhood that is, umm, not up and coming.  But it’s perfectly safe because it’s where my grandparent’s house is, and has been, for 72 years. 
Technically their row home (these days it’s called a condo which is just silly) is on the very eastern side of Greektown.  As a child, I could walk out and hear the moms calling their kids in Greek over the din of busses and ice cream trucks and the nearby shipping yard — all thrilling to my young suburban self. 
But the exotic cityscape was no match for the inside of my grandparent’s home, which contains . . . everything.  The bizarre and wonderful things you might find is breathtaking. Nooks and crannies spontaneously come into existence just to contain items in their house.
As I type, I am flying home from a day spent helping to get the home ready for sale.  My grandparents, aged 93 and 92, have decided to permanently move to Miami.    But packing their house?  Digging into the deep corners?  I can’t help but worry.  Like in so many stories where ordinary objects take on powerful properties that keep the universe balanced, their row home or an item within it, may be what’s keeping the very fabric of space and time in check.
It could be anything. Today while standing in one room, I was surrounded by boxes labeled with things like: ‘silver rings – small’, ‘hand painted Ukrainian eggs’, ‘pompom maker’, ‘Looms – a variety’, ‘brushes and glitter’, ‘amethyst chips’, and, ‘shell – rabbit’. 
“Grandma,” I asked, “what’s in the box labeled, ‘shell – rabbit’!?”
My grandmother looked at me like I hadn’t a single brain cell. “Well it’s a rabbit made out of shells!”
Naturally.

She grabbed the box, causing a trickle of other items to come down, (fortunately I was wearing my Grandfather’s hard hat from his supervisor days at the Esso refinery) and pulled out . . . a rabbit . . . made from shells. Two mussel shells formed the ears. 
Maybe the Shell Rabbit was holding our world together. Or perhaps the Stradivarius Violin was. That’s right.  An old violin, with the authentic mark, and a 1723 date . . . “Oh that,” my Grandmother said.  “Well your grandfather’s father brought it over from Germany.”
Uh huh. It’s probably a copy, but what if it’s not?
The house is a wonder land on three floors, or at least two.  The basement is at the bottom of a dark and dangerous stair case leading to a darker room.  But staying safely at the lit end, we found half a dozen antique cameras, a World War II bayonet, a self-diagnostic medical home shocking device for all your electro-therapy needs, endless vintage tools and every family’s standard bag of hollowed out conch shells with plastic turkeys attached to them … because you just never know.
Lest you think they sound like hoarders, I assure you, these items can all be used for something. I spent my life opening presents (always wrapped in newspaper) and finding that the toilet paper roll I might have foolishly thrown away was now the base of a doll.  The old nylons I thought were gross, could be turned into a braided outdoor rug.  Cherry pits became necklaces, milk pods turned into angel wings and plastic bags could be crocheted into colorful purses.
My grandparent’s talents with stained glass, sewing, model making and all around teaching have benefited and delighted generations of families.  They’ve supported the community for seven decades from their home.   And today we started packing it.  If you suddenly smell Greek food wafting on the air or find yourself staring at a box full of vintage velveeta cheese crates or depression era glass . . . well, I’m sorry. 
I can’t promise that the center will hold when we finally close their door.


Painting until Spring Comes

By Esther C. Baird
First Published in the Tri-Town Transcript

Boxford Topsfield Middleton —
Perhaps by the time this column goes to print, this last round of snow will be a distant memory.  But as I type, it’s an all-consuming reality. We are like so many Laura Ingalls in our very own Long Winter. 
So it was with a panicked need for any distraction, that I accepted an invitation to a ladies night out with The Artist Bar, a business here on the North Shore which hosts a traveling ‘paint and sip’ party.  The owner, Jennifer Clement, is a professional artist who feels that many of us are simply out of touch with our artistic side. 
Of course, Regular Readers will recall in my last column I attended a Pinterest night . . . and ate cookies for my hobby.  Artistic I am not.  But perhaps you caught the tag line about sipping?  I may not be able to paint, but I can sit with friends and sip a glass of wine.   If you want to put a canvas in front of me and stick a paintbrush in my hand, well so be it.
The evening I attended was a “Monet’s Water Lilies” night.  I smiled politely as I entered the room but, just like winter would never end, I would never paint lilies.  Some things just weren’t meant to be.
Jennifer would have none of it. 
She faced our gaggle of cooped-up moms who had the attention span of kindergartners in a bouncy castle, and announced, “Ladies, you CAN do this.  There will be no negativity in this room.  You all have an inner artist and tonight . .  you  . . . will . . . paint!!”
I took a sip of wine and raised my glass.  Huzzah!  But, probably I would not.
“You have to let go of the thoughts that say you can’t do this.  If you can listen for five minutes,” she paused and stared down some women who were whispering and giggling, and by women I mean me, “you will learn exactly what to do.  There is no room for self doubt tonight!”
I smiled.  She was nice.  But I couldn’t paint. 
Then she let go with this, “If you say something that is negative or self-deprecating about your inner artist, I will paint a mustache on your face!”
Well.  That caught my attention.  It was acrylic paint after all and, for once, I’d actually done my hair and makeup.  Ok then, no negativity.  I took my brush firmly in hand, took a sip, and conjured my inner Monet. 
My inner Monet seemed to be on vacation, but something was in there and I began to flutter my brush around my canvas.
“You must cover the canvas, ladies.  Whatever you do will be right, so paint!”  Jennifer said in her North Shore, semi-tough, but laced-with-love voice.
I began to fling some green and blues down and smush it around.  Cover the canvas, cover the canvas.  I could totally do that. Paint! Jab! Swish! Brush!  I was painting!  I was a painter! 
Step one had been exhilarating and therefore exhausting, which Jennifer with her eye for detail, noted.  She promptly insisted that we take a break to let our canvases dry and to refresh our drinks . . . you know, if we needed to.
And like so many wrung-out, artistically spent, stay at home Monets we marched off to comply.  When we returned, obediently refreshed, we learned how to paint the lilies.
“Simply start with a small little ‘v’ and then a big circle.  Look a lily!” Jennifer demonstrated.
Following her steps, lilies began to float across my canvas in striking shades of yellow and pink and perhaps a dash of excitable orange.  They were bright and bold and full of zest, unlike the grey wash that the North Shore had become this winter.  
Jennifer was right, I could paint.  And if I can paint, it’s possible, just possible, that spring will truly come.


A Rustle In The Garden

A Rustle in the Garden
BY ESTHER BAIRD
Published in RevelantONLINE on APRIL 5, 2012

Last year, after we celebrated Easter, our first-grade daughter, who was suddenly on a story-writing tear, decided to write down an Easter account she could read to our family. She wrote seven pages full of great detail: Jesus on the donkey, Jesus in the garden sweating blood, Peter cutting off the guard’s ear, etc. She peppered her account with editorial comments such as, “Now, this is where it gets very sad,” or, “This is the last part,” and, “Now we can be happy because …” But otherwise she stuck closely to the biblical version.

I listened to her read it multiple times to various family groups, and I became used to her cadence and tone. But the last time I listened, as she got to the to resurrection part and read, “Mary heard a rustle in the garden. She thought it was the gardener, but it was Jesus,” I stopped her….
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Everyone Geneva in 2007

OK, time for New Year’s resolutions. Hmmm, let me think while I eat these double-stuffed Oreos. Oh . . .sorry, I didn’t mean I was thinking about resolutions for myself. I plan on eating whatever I want and wearing my most comfy clothes, but then I guess it’s time to let you all know that I’m pregnant again. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that my health and fitness levels are just as, if not more, important in my child- carrying state. But my 2-year-old keeps me moving plenty. As for nutrition, back away from the Oreos. They are mine.

I do have one New Year’s resolution that doesn’t involve food or exercise. This year I want to learn how to program my sports watch. You know the sort: They’re cheap plastic; come in an assortment of colors; and have big faces with easy-to-read, digital displays. I never pay more than $15 for one and I always require that they are totally waterproof — for ‘tubby-time’ soakings with our toddler, have back-lighting — for sneaking into said toddler’s room to check on her at night and at least two time zone options — because we travel a lot.

In addition, these watches often include about nine trillion other things like stopwatches, calendars, pedometers and intergalactic spacecraft positioning. But they only perform these various and potentially powerful functions if you know the secret code of holding, pressing, and releasing one of the four buttons that operate the entire watch. Cracking that code — technically called the instructions — is always my undoing. Instead, when simply trying to program the time, I consistently manage to set the alarm for the hours between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.

My first sports watch, a conservative black one, had an alarm that, in successively louder beeps, propelled me out of bed at 1:15 a.m. After a week of jangled nerves and half-awake hunts for the watch, I finally remembered each evening to bury it in the medicine cabinet — and to close the bathroom door — and to close our door.

Eventually I threw the black one away and bought a new, pink one. This time I was ready. I folded up the instructions and tucked them into my daytimer ensuring I’d never be without them to guide me through the complexity of the four buttons. That is until, on a long, boring flight, in a fog of parental malaise, I handed the pink watch to my toddler. She managed to set it to military time in such a way that no amount of instruction consultation would return it to the 12-hour clock. Here is a basic fact about me: I can’t process military time. Please don’t send me tips on ‘easy techniques’ to remedy this. My brain is not wired that way. The pink watch was done.

Finally, I bought my latest and most exasperating sports watch to date. It’s purple and has upped the anti by dedicating a full, single button to just the backlight, leaving only three buttons to operate the watch. I could probably run every appliance in my house if only I could push and release the right buttons on this new watch but instead all I’ve done so far is to, yet again, set the alarm for 3:02 a.m. For a month the purple watch lived in the medicine cabinet until I finally sat down to crack the code. But it was not to be.

Here are the actual directions for setting the alarm: “In normal time, push S3 twice to get into alarm mode, digits will flash. Geneva [sic] through depression of S2 button. . . hour digits will flash and Geneva as above . . . month digits flash and Geneva as above etc.”

The instructions continued like that for the entire watch function repertoire. And, no, you didn’t read incorrectly, the main action verb given was to “Geneva”. As in the Swiss city? As in the prisoners-of-war accord? As in what!? My husband, normally suspicious of my ability to follow instructions, even sided with me. He was sure it was a typo, a weird one, but a typo nonetheless. I’m not convinced. I think it may be the next evolution of sports watch powers. What secret technological action might these watches complete if only we, mere humans, could Geneva?

And so that’s my New Year’s resolution. To program my sports watch. To sleep soundly — and alarm-free — through the night until March when the new baby comes. To eat lots of Oreos. And to Geneva. Here’s to 2007!

Esther Baird is a Beverly writer. Her column appears regularly in the Citizen. Please contact her with suggestions or comments about The Baird Facts at: esther@estherbaird.com, or visit her Web site at: www.estherbaird.com.