August 18th, 2014

My Teacher Summer

One family vacation.

More reading for pleasure than I’ve done in years.

Many afternoons at the pool.

Two week-long workshops.

Two professional texts read and annotated.

Many half-days at school

     working on schedules

          and interviews

               and materials.

A week of planning for next year.

 

“Are you sad it’s over?” They ask.

“Aren’t you lucky to have three months off,” they say.

Usually I answer that of course I’m a little sad that summer is over. Aren’t we all?

But I’m also a little glad. Because it is time and just like any other parent, I can think of many many reasons that going back to the routine of the school year is a good thing right about now.

And, really, if you know a teacher, you know that we don’t really have the summer “off” as much as people like to believe. We keep working and learning and planning. We travel and we read for pleasure, yes. But I would argue that time – to simply read for the joy of it and to explore life from some new perspectives – is some of the most valuable professional development I could have given myself this summer.

And this summer? It’s been an amazing one.

 

 

My Teacher Summer

 

Want to help me better inspire readers this year? You can click on over to donors choose and give any amount – large or small – to help some of the struggling readers I’ll teach this year know that reading is so much more than just a chore for a test. (And if you feel so inclined to donate in the next 7 days, enter the code INSPIRE and donors choose will match your contribution!)

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August 7th, 2014

I’m The Mom Who (Still) Cries On Daycare Move-Up Day

“Why are you crying, Mom?” Nora asked as I buckled her in the car seat.

“I don’t really know,” I told her. Because, truthfully, I don’t really know why I was crying.

Today was Miles’ last day in his class at daycare. On Monday he will move up to the next class with a teacher I already know and love. His name is already on her door, I am not afraid of what’s to come in that room, these weren’t tears brought on by a fear of the unknown like I suspected they were my first time through this journey. But even so, I hugged his teacher goodbye and I just couldn’t help but tear up.

Yesterday I sat next to my friend Faith at lunch and assured her that it was normal to be so wary of your first baby moving up, leaving one class to go to the next. I assured her that her tears and her anxiety about her baby growing up and the unknown of the next phase were normal.

“I used to cry at move up too,” I told her.

But, guess what? The truth is that I still cry at move up.

“Why are you crying,” Nora asked again. I had been caught – by another mom friend and two of the teachers – with tears in my eyes as I walked Miles to the car. And now Nora was wondering, just like I did all those many times when my own mother’s tears hadn’t made sense to me, what I could possibly be upset about.

I tried to explain it to her.

I cry on move up day because it is a beginning. A beginning of a new year where he is older, where things will change, where he might stop pronouncing the -ed at the end of words, where he might take interest in his ABCs. It is the beginning of another year where he’ll grow and look less and less like my baby and more and more like my little boy.  It’s the beginning of a new year and they are partly tears of excitement and partly tears born out of the fear that he is growing up faster than I’d like.

I cry on move up day because it is an ending. It is the end of a year with a teacher who loved my baby better than I could have ever asked anyone to love him. The end of a year where he learned to use his words, to share with friends, to use the potty. The end of a year where his teacher embraced his love of super heroes, pinned capes on him for so many days in a row, decorated the tables with superman plates for his birthday, wore her own Captain American shirt on days she knew would be hard for him. It’s the end of a great year and they are partly tears of sadness.

I cry on move up day because as I hand the teachers flowers and gift cards, as I fish for words to say the tremendous thank you that all of their work deserves, I fail. Nothing seems enough. Tears come because I don’t know what else to do, there is so much I’m thankful for and they are moslty tears of gratitude.

I told Nora they were motherhood tears. Tears of pride and love and fear and gratitude and sadness and happiness and anxiety and celebration. Tears my fellow day care moms cry and I understand. Tears Nora will only understand one day when she’s a mother.

I still cry at day care move up

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August 6th, 2014

Six Word Wednesday

hula-hooping

This summer she mastered hula-hooping.

 

 

Click here to watch a video of her hooping (she told me “video this for your blog!”): hooping movie

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August 5th, 2014

Conversations I Thought I Was Done Having

She was trimming my son’s hair when we struck up conversation. It was the forced kind of talking you do when silence is somewhat awkward and you think since you are two adults standing next to each other for the next thirty minutes you might as well talk to each other.

First we talked about our summer vacation. She also had been to Maine once upon a time to a town she couldn’t remember the name of. She was older, grandmotherly. She said she loved the beach and the mountains and how beautiful Maine is in the summer. Once that topic was exhausted we started talking about summer and pools and our favorite spots around town. Somehow we got to the fact that summer was ending soon and I said I would be going back to school.

“You’re a teacher?” she asked.

“Yes. I teach 9th and 11th grade and I’m the department chair at a local high school.”

“So you work?”

I thought I was done having this conversation. I thought it was a silly question, given what I had just told her, but I obliged.

“Yep. I’m a teacher.”

“Do you have to work?”

I hesitated. I wanted to pretend that I didn’t hear her or that I didn’t understand what she meant. I didn’t want to wade through this conversation with a stranger as she held scissors over my three-year-old’s head.

“I guess I do. But I mostly work because I love my job. I wouldn’t want to stay home.”

“Oh,” she observed quietly as she snipped away more of his overgrown curls. “Most of the moms we get in here are stay at home moms. They don’t work. They’re just always with their children. You know, because they’re little like this,” she concluded as she pointed to my own little one.

“I work.” I said, matter of-factly. No apologies.

“I stayed home when my kids were little,” she added. She said it nonchalantly. I couldn’t tell if she was wistfully remembering her stay-at-home mom days or wishing she had made different choices.

She wasn’t being mean, or at least I don’t think she was intentionally being mean, but these are sensitive questions. There’s a whole lot of subtext and assumption in the “Do you have to work?” question.

“I work,” I said again.

It’s been a long road to that confident declaration. Had I stood in that same spot four years ago, had she said that to me when I was still struggling with my own motherhood identity, I would have held in tears until I got us all buckled safely in the car. I would have thought about her words, let them seep into my consciousness, let them force me to question my choices, undermine my confidence.

But here I am, six years into this working mom thing, and I can say with confidence that this is who I am. This is how I like it. This is how it works best for me. I can listen to her questions and read her subtext and walk out of the store surprised by her boldness, but no worse the wear for her tacit judgment.

Maybe I should have called her out on her subtle rudeness so that when a mom less far along on her journey unknowingly steps into this trap she’ll think twice before judging. Maybe I should have asked her personal questions about her financial situation or personal happiness. Maybe I should have ignored the comment altogether and not let her bait me further into the conversation.

Or maybe I should have told her what I’ve come to realize over the six years I’ve been a mother: we all make the choices that fit our families best. Those choices don’t look the same. They don’t feel the same. I’m a mother doing the best I can. Don’t we owe it to other moms just to assume they are doing the same?

Conversations I Thought I Was Done Having

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August 4th, 2014

Ordinary Truth

“…and now and again some chime (it might be a motor horn) tinkling divinely on the grass stalks-all of this, calm and reasonable as it was, made out of ordinary things as it was, was the truth now…” –Mrs. Dalloway

He’s three and he makes up his own truth.

He can fly.

He’s a good guy who spots bad guys around every corner and he fights them with homemade fire shooters or pinwheels that miraculously blow the bad guys away.

He runs and runs and runs and hardly seems tired. He can run to the moon and back in about ten minutes.

I tell him that humans can’t fly.

He keeps trying.

I tell him that good guys don’t shoot.

He keeps aiming.

I tell him that it’s a long long way to the moon.

He doesn’t care.

He’s three and the truth is relative.

*****

He’s three and the truth flies out of him. One minute he’s eating grated cheese for dinner, the next he’s standing on the bench, looking down at me with a smile so subtle and real.

“You’re my own mom,” he says.

“I am.”

“And Nora’s too. But you’re my own.”

“I am your own mom,” I say as I let him climb over to my legs.

He sits down on my lap and kisses my cheek. He’s affectionate, this one. He hugs and kisses and wins me over again and again each moment that he lands his truth on me.

He’s three and he’s discovering the truth every minute that unfolds.

And I’m happy to discover it right along with him.

Ordinary Truth

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July 30th, 2014

Book Shelf Stories

Rooms filled with books feel the most like home to me. Many of my books are marked up, filled with sticky notes and marginal notes and underlined phrases. They tell the story of who I was and what I was thinking when I read it.

Ken finished the new shelves for our front room yesterday. He installed them and I started one of the only processes of organization that I love. I filled the shelves back up with books.

Some people organize books by color (that’s what Ken suggested), some by genre, some by author. I organize by the story they tell about me.

book shelf

I organize by Bread Loaf summer. The summers I spent studying and writing. The summer of the short story. The summer of poetry. The summer in the southwest. The summer of 19th century novels and philosophy. Those summers I spent on green mountains in Vermont, the stark mountains of Santa Fe, wandering the streets of Oxford, those summers are still so much a part of who I am. The books on my shelf remind me of that.

I first read Mrs. Dalloway during my last Bread Loaf summer.

I organize by what the books mean to me. The gifts friends have sent. The books I reference on days that the words stick and I want them to start flowing again. The books I read just for the sole pleasure of getting lost in stories.

I add photos and kid art and now all of the many many many kid books we own.

These shelves tell stories – the stories of the characters, yes – but also the story of me.

book shelves

 

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July 24th, 2014

Gifts From A Mother Who Remembers

I was feeling overwhelmed. By the return to reality from a long vacation. By the quick return to work, putting in longer hours than I do during the school year. By the mess of still unpacked bags. By other people’s actions I wish I could control, other people’s hurt that quickly became mine too. By thinking too much about all of this and not enough focus on the this here now of enjoying time with my kids.

I was trying to be easy on myself. Not to let myself lament my letting them watch too much TV or skipping out on a trip to the pool. I was trying to be gentle with myself and remember the amazing month we’d just shared, a month where I wasn’t distracted by stress or work or phone calls. A month where it was just us.

I was tired and unfocused and standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes, listening to the water run and to them begging me to do something with them, play something with them.

And just as I was about to suggest reading or coloring or please let’s do something quiet, I remembered. In my bag, tucked into a side pocket, I had water balloons.

“I found these when I was cleaning out my closet,” my friend had said the night before. “I was going to throw them away and then I remembered I was going to see you!”

She knows, this friend. This friend who has been a mother many more years than I have, this mother who is almost an empty-nester. She knows that these little gifts from one mother to another are the key to sanity some days. That a secret stash of water balloons, already open and half of them used, is just the ticket through the hard days. So she saved them and she passed them to me.

“I have water balloons!” I announced, suddenly feeling like I could save myself from the downward spiral of our day.

“WATER BALLOONS!” they both screamed in a simultaneous chorus of joy.

Within minutes we were all wet. The hose sprayed me as I filled each one. They took turns throwing the balloons and popping them on their own heads. Our green grass soon was littered with the confetti of exploded balloons, little pieces of joyful color splattered around as reminders of our fun.

The balloons ran out, but our fun did not. They ran around the yard in patterns as I sprayed the hose at them and above them, as I made it feel like rain and mist and flood. She smiled as she skipped and cartwheeled through the water and he deep belly laughed at her silly faces when she let him spray her right in the face. I listened to him laugh, watched her smile and felt better, felt lighter, felt like I hadn’t totally failed for the day.

When I’m cleaning out my closets years from now, when my children are grown and the occasion for water balloons has long passed, I’ll think twice before I throw these relics away. I will remember when my friend gave me a bag of small wrapped gifts to help us survive our first road trip as parents. I will remember the way she pulled out stickers or special pens or just the perfect interesting trinket every time my kids visited her classroom or her home or ate with her in a restaurant. I will remember her and how she remembered me, remembered us, the mothers of young children for whom a bag of water balloons might mean everything one random Wednesday evening.

crazy

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July 21st, 2014

Children On A Beach

“And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning – fresh as if issued to children on a beach.” –Mrs. Dalloway

He lost his shovel. It was bright blue, plastic, purchased at a hardware store on the way to the beach for the sole purpose of digging in that sand on that day. He discovered quickly the way that sand works. The way it sneaks in between your toes. The way it covers your feet if you tilt them just right, allowing you to sink in deep enough to almost lose your balance. He discovers that it moves, that it hides treasures, that shovels can fit all the way under if you push at them just right.

blue shovel

He pushed the blue shovel into the wet sand until he couldn’t see it any more.

“Where’s the shovel, Mom?” He asked, looking up with a joking grin on his face.

“I don’t know,” I said.

And then he dug down with his little hands, hands still dimpled in the way that toddler hands are, and he revealed his hidden shovel.

“Here it is!” He bragged. It was shovel hide and seek.

Until it was gone. Until he buried it and then forgot in the vastness of the sand exactly where it was. It was in a puddle. Maybe near the middle. I searched with him, burying my foot down in lines as straight as a beach allows, covering the whole puddle with my search. But it was gone.

He didn’t really mourn its loss. He ran and ran and ran and made the water in the pool ripple as his legs and feet passed through it. As the tide changed around him, as the pool shrunk to a puddle. He ran back and forth and back and forth and he never got bored.

beach pool

******

When she was one she was at the beach. She doesn’t remember, but I do. She was so small on that huge expanse, on that beach that can’t help but remind me how small I am in all of this. She will remember this time. She will remember the sound of the waves crashing and the way her heart would race as each cold bit of water made its way closer and closer to her ankles, the way her father lifted her above each one in a game they played at the water’s edge.

She’ll remember the sand. They way it stuck to her even as the water dried. They was it was shaped like tiny waves as the tide moved out. The way she could create.

She made castles out of overturned buckets of sand. She dug a moat with a garden shovel playing a different role for the day. And then she had a big idea. The puddle and the castle should connect.

Her dad and I helped for a while. We started to dig a channel across the beach – the castle was not close to the puddle – with buckets and shovels and feet and hands use as tools to move sand, we tried to help. The water would start to flow and she’d squeal in excitement. We can do it, she’d assert. She was sure.

The adults gave up. It was too much work. The castle was too far away. The water was just sinking back into the sand anyway. But she kept on. Determined.

beach digging

I watched, admiring her perseverance. She switched tools, went back to perfect. Enlisted her brother’s help when he finally quit running back and forth. The world was hers to mold for the first time in her memory. She could create rivers and channels and streams, choose their path, their depth, their origin.

“I’ve never worked so hard on anything!” she said, proud of her own determined spirit even after we told her it was time to go.

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July 16th, 2014

Transition – The Telling and Living and Writing of Stories

I spent the last month telling them stories. Stories of places. Of people. Of summers when I was the child and not the parent.

I told them these stories as we drove or as we hiked or as we sat and listened to the rain.

I spent my days trying to make sure they too have these stories to share. Of running in the green grass, walking up to vistas that make you realize how small you are and how big and beautiful the world is. Of farm animals and tractors, hula hooping and reading in the summer breeze.

I’ve been living some pretty amazing stories with kids who were so much more adaptable and adventurous and easy to be with for a month away from home then I ever really thought possible.

But I haven’t been writing. I haven’t been taking the living of the stories and transitioning it to the writing of the story. In a way it’s been nice. But I miss it. I miss this ritual of words. Yet, when I sit down, hands on the keyboard, I’m not sure quite where to start. What story to tell first. I’m out of the writing practice so I’m just starting here by admitting that. And sharing photos. Because I wasn’t writing, but I was documenting. Too many pictures later, I have captured so many stories.

For now, they will have to start the telling of my stories.

 

 

skipping rocks

 

Stories of all they saw and learned. Skipping rocks, tadpoles, the way a rock makes ripples on water when it lands just right. Miles loved the ripples, could have thrown rocks for 10 days straight it we’d let him.
napping

 

Stories of how struggles at home became less of a struggle when the routine didn’t matter as much. How he slept and napped and was really the most pleasant three year old we could have asked for. How he asked most days where we were sleeping that night and he took it as an adventure and not a struggle. tractor

tractor

 

Stories of a farm. Tractors meant for pretend driving. Animals meant for petting. Fresh milk made for drinking. And fields upon fields, green upon green for them to run in and through and over.

running

 

log

 

Stories of how he wanted to sit on every log we passed after this first one where he sat to learn about the red tail hawk. I just want to sit a minute, he’d say. And she’d plop next to him and sometimes they’d hold hands.

hiking

 

So many stories of exploring. Of discovering what was up the hill or around the corner. Stories of black fly bites on her neck and feet too tired to walk anymore and views worth walking for. Even for a six year old.

cartwheelingAnd stories of cartwheels. So many cartwheels. Cartwheels everywhere there was green space and soft grass and a reason to cartwheel. And apparently there is pretty much always a reason to cartwheel.

 

 

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July 1st, 2014

They Attach Themselves To Places

“…for women live much more in the past than we do, he thought. They attach themselves to places…” —Mrs. Dalloway

It will be ten years in August. Ten years since we stood on the lawn of the Inn and said our vows in front of family and friends who had traveled there to be with us. A plane flew overhead as we quietly exchanged vows – neither one of us much for being the center of attention – and later I was told the plane was good luck. A signal that we were on the start of a gratifying journey.

Ten years ago it was sunny and bright. I had spent summers at the top of the mountain, reading and writing, finding my way on my own before I jumped into the journey of together. I read more 19th century literature than I had ever thought possible. I pondered philosophy and wrote pages and pages in a brand new library in a town that somehow felt like home even though it never really was. I wrote fiction seriously for the first time, blending what I know and what I imagine, typing it all on a too small desk in my room at the top of the Inn stairs, baring my writer’s soul and self in a way that made me vulnerable and exhilarated all at once. Bread Loaf

At the bottom of that hill, we got married. Held hands under the bright blue sky and said I do to this life of ours.

Today we went to celebrate.

We took the kids for their first real hike on a trail marked with poems. Fitting really.

We stepped over roots, crossed over bridges, looked up at the mountains. We brushed off scraped knees, looked for bathrooms, held hands, picked up a toddler who just couldn’t walk anymore.

Frost Trail

Frsot Trail

We threw rocks into the river, ate ice cream at tables covered with red umbrellas, bought t-shirts because we traveled there.

Nora asked why we were going all the way to this town in Vermont. I explained.

It’s just down the road from where my parents  lived when they were first married. It’s where my dad first taught. It’s where I went to school a few summers. And it’s where we got married. Where the story of us began.

She reveled at all the connections.

Rocks

inn

We ate dinner in the pub at the Inn where we were married. The kids drank their water out of goblets and fancied themselves all grown up. I worried they’d spill all over the place and cause a scene. We ordered a drink and special salads and ended up sharing french fries and chicken tenders. Miles brandished his sword at us and spent some time laying on the floor under the table.

I looked across at Ken and wondered if it wouldn’t have been better for us to celebrate alone.

And then we all stood in that same spot. All four of us. The spot where we said I do.

And I realized that we weren’t there celebrating the past, the people we were ten years ago. We were there celebrating who we are today. The two of us and the two of them. The four of us. The chaos of this life that’s filled with beauty. I wanted us all there because the story I tell about this place I’ve known has to include them.

It’s just down the road from where my parents  lived when they were first married. It’s where my dad first taught. It’s where I went to school a few summers. It’s where we got married. Where the story of us began. It’s where all four of us went to walk through a path filled with poetry, threw rocks into rivers, had ice cream in town. It’s where we celebrated this. here. now.

us

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