September 8th, 2014

Turning It Round In the Light

“…the power of taking hold of experience, of turning it round, slowly, in the light.” — Mrs. Dalloway

I make lunches at night now. For six years I’ve resisted spreading peanut butter on bread, pouring goldfish into bags, cutting fruit into bite-sized pieces every evening. I know why.

It feels a bit like torture.

I stand at the kitchen counter and I think about all that is ahead. I think of all the to-dos that tomorrow will bring. The unfinished papers waiting to be graded. The inevitable morning struggle over clothing or shoes. The meetings I’ll have to squeeze in. The groceries I need to buy.

Making lunches at night is supposed to make me feel more prepared. It’s supposed to earn me time and peace the next morning. It’s supposed to make me feel like a responsible adult.

But instead it just makes me anxious and a little bit mad.

Every night lately I wonder why I just don’t go back to the old way. To making them in the morning in a bit of a rush, to accidentally getting jelly on my shirt and having to hurry up and change. To sitting the night before with a blank screen and words and thinking instead about the good that’s passed and not ahead to all the rest that sits undone.

For some reason I keep making the lunches at night.

*****

We are watching My So Called Life. I just watched this one yesterday, I think every time we press play on a new episode. But I didn’t; I watched it 20 years ago. It just seems like yesterday.

Yesterday I was Angela Chase, dying my hair a deep shade or red/purple to stand out and fit in and find myself. Or, at least I tried to – the color never really took. Yesterday I was worried about what I wore and who was looking at me and what if the English teacher asked me a question in class and I didn’t answer it well?

Today I am the English teacher. My hair is my natural color and my natural frizz and maybe one day I’ll have time or care to do something to it again, but today is not that day.

I watch Angela Chase and Brian Krakow and Jordan Catalano and I remember being them and there and slamming my locker and feeling awkward and writing in my diary instead of on a blog.

It’s different now, watching it from a totally new world. I am Angela searching for myself and I am her mother worrying about her and I am the teacher wondering how best to find Ricky help.

*****

I get in the car in the afternoon and it is so hot I feel like my skin might start to melt. The air blowing out of the vents seems like a cruel joke until finally it decides to live up to its name and air condition the space. I wait in the line of cars to leave my parking lot and feel the sweat start to drip. I wonder when the first days of relief will come.

I walk into Miles class to pick him up and he’s always busy. He’s playing with puzzles or blocks or sitting and listening to a book. He’s happy. And as soon as he sees me, he leaves his spot to run at top speed into my arms and hug me with a might I never imagined would feel like the biggest gift of every day. He kisses me on the cheek and reaches up to hold my hand as soon as I put him down.

We walk hand in hand to the hot car and I buckle him in, careful not to let the hot metal of the buckles touch his skin in the process. He talks at me as I buckle, as I close the door and walk around to my side. He’s full of words these days. And with each one he speaks I start to feel lighter.

He tells me he loves me. He laughs at himself as he relays stories of he and his friends being silly. He screams with joy as we pass school buses and city buses and his favorite – the fast bus.

The fast bus is never moving. Ken or I told him a few weeks ago about the new city bus that stops near our house – it is faster and can change the lights. They were running so many buses by our street, training the drivers on the new routes. We must have talked about it and he listens to everything and soaks it in.

“THE FAST BUS!” he screams with pure joy.

“There it is.” I say.

“But it’s not going bery fast,” he points out.

“It’s picking up people,” I say.

“And then it will go fast. It’s learning how. Buses need to learn too.”

Turning It Round In The Light

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September 1st, 2014

And I’ll Trust

On Monday she forgot.

I wrote it down. I spoke it aloud. Clear directions. 10:30 and 2:30. Please give her the inhaler.

She didn’t.

On Tuesday I was still beyond mad. I marched into the nurse’s office and asked how she dared. How did she dare to forget my girl. And her breathing? How dare she make me feel ignored?

She blamed the teacher.

I told her that wouldn’t fly.

She didn’t know what to say.

She didn’t forget again.

But neither have I. I haven’t forgotten the sound of her cough, the one she gets now only every so often. The one she used to get too frequently. The one that led us to doctor’s visit upon doctor’s visit,  that had us sitting on the couch watching videos while she inhaled air through the nebulizer. I haven’t forgotten the way she gasps between breaths when it’s bad, the sounds of her wheezing and rasping. I haven’t forgotten the first time it happened all of a sudden, out of the blue, shockingly fast. The rush for the inhaler and the steamy air of the bathroom with the shower running.

All week I kissed her goodbye at her classroom door, sent her in to settle her things, turned to go and remind the nurse that she must never forget. That she shouldn’t need reminding. That this is indeed her job. I reminded and then I left.

Trusted.

And I worried

All week I went to my classes, my first classes, summoned my best teacher energy, looked at the students in front of me grateful for their smiles and their cooperation and their questions. The distraction from my worry.

Worrying is exhausting.

Tomorrow, rested from a long weekend, I’ll send her off again. Send her off with a cough that’s subsiding, that doesn’t need constant medication. I’ll send her off and I’ll worry less. I’ll remind her to take care of herself, to speak up for what she needs. I’ll meet the eye of the teacher who understands a mother’s worry.

I’ll kiss her goodbye and send her into class.

And I’ll trust.

Worrying

 

 

 

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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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