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Brown Paper Bag

We were fighting. It involved poor time management, general sass, a tense night before school with multiple trips to the printer. It was late and we were both tired, which was not a good excuse the ugly words I spewed as I left her room.

I went to my room and sat in the dark. I felt awful. My Kindle was near, so I opened it and flicked apps and book titles from side to side until I settled on Our Daily Bread. I downloaded it last winter in a cloud of nostalgia. My mom read them every day. The little books arrived in the mail for years and they were a fixture of her mornings. I tapped it open.

At the top of the screen, the words, “What’s At Stake?”

The author spoke about staking new trees. She was advised by the salesman it was important, so strong winds wouldn’t blow it over. But her neighbor disagreed, saying the sapling wouldn’t grow deep roots if not challenged. It was hard to know what to do. Likewise, it’s often hard to know how to help people—stake them, but risk making them weak, or let the wind build strength and roots. She asked, “What does love do, and when does it do it?” I finished reading and closed the cover, thinking about my girl in the next room. A lot of our fight had been about how much to help her. I tried pointing out a clunky word choice in an English assignment and she balked. Ultimately, it was her name at the top of the page and I had to let it go and let her learn. I needed to apologize.

I said I was sorry. She said she was too. And then I noticed a brown paper grocery bag lying on her bed. My husband brought it home so she could cover her Pre-Calculus textbook. She protested she didn’t know how. We always bought the stretchy cloth covers, but didn’t have time to get one before it was due.

“I can show you how to cover your book. It’s how we covered all our books in high school. It’s easy.”

“Can you?”

Of course, I told her. I cut one side of the bag along a fold, then I cut the bottom off. It created a long strip of thick paper. I showed her how to place the book in the center and fold the paper around like a jacket. We snipped away the paper on both ends of the spine, then folded them in. But it seemed wrong. Clunky, bulky, not at all like I remembered. It would need to be taped to work, but I remembered there was a way to do it that didn’t involve tape. She said she had something to do downstairs. I sat on her bed and tried to remember. I unfolded, refolded, snipped the bag more, folded, folded, stewed. How could I forget how to do something I did multiple times at her age? What else have I forgotten? How much does that memory loss contribute to problems, head-butting, slammed doors?

Slowly, I realized where I went wrong. I was folding the paper over the side edges first, when I should have folded in the bottom and top edges, then the sides. It made a handy pocket. I slipped the book into the cover and it fit, but only after a fight. She returned from downstairs with edited English homework. I handed the book to her. She thanked me.

Later, I realized I didn’t show her the pocket book cover method. I’m glad. On some future night, we’ll put our heads together and I’ll show her something new.

3 comments to Brown Paper Bag

  • sonja lange

    I love pretty much everything you write, but the ones about the big kids really get to me. I am just beginning to navigate the waters of teen/pre-teen angst and they are some rough waters.

  • Mom

    I read my Daily Bread on Monday, too. I have found those nuggets of wisdom to help me many times. I glad you were able to settle it in such a positive way.

  • amy

    Great writing, Gretchen. It is so hard, the knowing how much to help/criticize/demand.

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