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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June 30th, 2014

Even The Places

“So that to know her, or any one, one must seek out the people who completed them; even the places.” —Mrs. Dalloway

We packed up and left. Uprooted ourselves for a month. Said adieu to routine and predictability, the comforts of home.

More than once, we’ve wondered if this was the smartest choice.

We drove for a week. Through the south, the heat and humidity, places and landscapes different from our own. We kept the kids up way too late, arrived at our stopping points well past our intended time, carried in luggage and sleeping bags and familiar pillows and hoped everyone would sleep.

photo

She gets car sick. TV and audio books and reading don’t help. She stared out the window, looking at license plates, billboards, noticing how the height and density of trees changed over the course of a day. That’s the way it should be, really. Staring out at the world moving past you as you are whisked away from the familiar.

We stayed with friends and family after the first two nights.

Old friends who always feel familiar, feel like home no matter how long it’s been. Three babies and five years can pass and it still is the same smile and the same hug and the same friendship. There are new houses and jobs and cities and still it’s the same. It’s better, even because our children can share popsicles on the back porch, dance until they’re sweaty, tell each other that they will miss each other.

photo(1)

Family who makes your favorite foods, buys batteries for the new remote control car your kid brings to their house. Sends you off with your favorite cake that you find yourself eating for breakfast every day – not sharing because who knows how long it might be before you eat that cake again.

We drove and drove and wondered if we were as crazy as so many people told us we were.

We drove to New Orleans, Auburn, Raleigh, Richmond. Washington DC, to Philadelphia and New York City.

We drove and they watched and talked and adapted. We showed them places we’ve talked about and people who make us who we are.

And suddenly it really didn’t seem that crazy at all.

photo(3)

 

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June 17th, 2014

The Sky Is Blue

“…wrapped in the soft mesh of grey-blue morning air…” –Mrs. Dalloway

The patter of small feet down the hall and then to my bedside each morning is always followed by an announcement.

“The sky is blue,” he says most mornings.

Other days it’s “The sky is blue and grey.”

Yesterday it was “The sky is yewow and yewow and blue, Mom.”

He wakes up and declares the start of the day. He looks at the sky, examines its hue, walks down the hallway, drags his blanky behind him and tells me what color the sky is.

I’m never ready to get up. Especially now that it is summer and sleep calls loudly to me. I want the sky to stay dark for just a few more minutes (maybe hours) so I can rest. Before I was a mother I was a late sleeper. Weekends called for staying in bed as long as I liked, catching up from a week of early mornings.

Every day is the same for him, though. Toddlers don’t understand the concept of sleeping in.

6:45. He looks at the sky. Decides on its color, declares it a truth in a still sleepy little-boy voice that I know I’ll hear echoes of his entire life.

The Sky Is Blue

 

Linking up with Heather for Just Write.

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June 13th, 2014

Awesome Chapter Books For Beginning Readers

Summer is for reading. Sure it’s for the beach or the pool and a break from school and ice cream and lemonade, but really, to me summer just means time to read. Time  I can’t come by as much as I’d like during the school year.

Summers in my childhood meant books. Stacks of books. Reading books in cozy places, in the back seat of the car on road trips, on the beach, on the top bunk in my brother’s room.

So as I planned my daughter’s first official summer break, I knew that books had to be a big part of it. And thankfully she loves to read, so she and I have already accumulated quite a pile for her.

She’s a beginning reader – a first-grader who reads above grade-level, but who still is just learning. She likes to read chapter books most of all since they are what she knows I read, they seem more grown-up to her and we’ve managed to find some pretty loveable characters in our first year of venturing into chapter books for her. We’ve found books that are just below her level, just at her level and some that are a bit of a stretch.

Here are our favorites (in order from easiest, independent read to more challenging, might need assistance):

beginning chapter books

 

First off, Princess Posey. The books in this series are absolutely perfect for a beginning reader who wants to jump to chapter books. The chapters are exceptionally short, the words all at an accessible level, and somehow the story still manages to be engaging. My daughter read these books multiple times this year as she grew as a reader and she loved the character and the ease with which she could get through a real chapter book.

 

Princess Posey is cute and well-written. The next on the list is not really. My first-grader, like most first-graders, LOVES Junie B. Jones. I don’t. As an English teacher, her incorrect grammar just rubs me the wrong way. She uses words like stupid and dumb, words Nora’s kindergarten teacher rightly told the class aren’t nice words. But, nonetheless, I let Nora read these books because she finds them HILARIOUS. She will run out of her room or stop in the middle of a page just to tell me the silly plot twist or the crazy things Junie B. just said. I’m not one to censor books, so we keep Junie B. around. These are also really accessible in style and word choice for a beginning reader.

“Click,” says Cam Jansen every time she wants to take a mental image of the scene she’s experiencing. She is a kid with a photographic memory who uses her ability to solve mysteries. I love these books so much and Nora does too. All kids seem to love mysteries –  and it’s a great way to draw a young reader into a book. Cam and her best friend (a boy) are quite likeable and, unlike Junie B., speak in correctly conjugated sentences and don’t call anyone dumb or stupid. We just bought two more of these books to take on vacation with us.

Another favorite has always been Magic Tree House series. I’ve been reading these aloud to Nora for a while now, but this year she started to be able to read them on her own. They are about the same level as Cam Jansen and, though the chapters are sometimes a bit on the longer side, they are accessible in their storytelling. I also love how these books use Jack and Annie to teach the reader about some really cool time in history or a really popular legend. These stories have so many layers and they are great read-together or read-independently books for kids just beginning their reading lives.

 

Next is another series of books that is definitely on the more girly side (Cam Jansen and Magic Treehouse are definitely for anyone). The Rainbow Fairies are great books for kids who love magic and fantasy. We love fairies around here, so these books were a big hit. There are multiple series within the series – color fairies, candy fairies, music fairies – so if your child likes these, the reading possibilities are really endless.

 

 

These last two are slightly more difficult to read but they are Nora’s favorite. We’ve read all 11 of the Ivy & Beanbooks together and she’s reread many of them on her own, at least in part. Ivy and Bean are wonderful characters – just mischievous and creative enough to be funny and endearing to a six year old without the language issues I have with Junie B. These books remind me of an updated Ramona ( I can’t wait for her to be able to read those on her own!). Ivy and Bean search for fossils in their back yard, start their own detective company, participate in a spooky ballet, hunt for ghosts and cause their teacher just a bit of trouble. These books are just awesome.

 

And lastly is Stella Batts, a second grader who aspires to be a writer. As if that alone didn’t sell me, she also is the daughter of a candy-store owner and someone who manages all sorts of crazy social situations that I know kids (and adults too…) can identify with. Stella Batts is just above Nora’s reading level so we read it mostly together, though she does try to read some of it on her own. Stella Batts and her sister are candy testers, pet sitters and good friends. We really like this series.

 

We are always looking for new books to read! What are your favorite chapter books for beginning readers? What did I miss here? And since these are pretty girl-centric since I have a daughter who likes to read this stuff, what are the great beginning series for boys? I’ll need those one day too!

Want more suggestions – especially some that are maybe more boy friendly? Check out this awesome list from Michelle at So Wonderful, So Marvelous! 

**All links are affiliate links. I have to support my book habit somehow!**

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June 10th, 2014

In the Hands of Young Men

“The future lies in the hands of young men like that, he thought.” –Mrs. Dalloway

He was picking up puzzle pieces – the oversized ones that fit together to create a scene almost the size of the rug. He brought them, one by one, to my mother, piling them up  next to her while she finished her dinner. On his third or fourth trip from the place he spilled the pieces to the place he was bringing them, he took a piece, held it in his hand so that it was pointing forward, and pretended it was a gun.

He doesn’t say the word gun. It isn’t a part of our family vocabulary, really. He called it a shooter and my mother quickly pretended that they were shooting water out of their puzzle pieces at each other, giving him a paper towel to dry the pretend water from his brow. He went along with the charade, continued to shoot pretend water out of the puzzle-piece turned water sprayer.

I watched and wondered how much time I have before he insists his puzzle piece is something more powerful.

I was in labor with him, my second child, when I was first confronted with the idea that having a boy meant discussing the idea of guns, of weapons and violence. In one of the lulls between contractions, while my OB took time to chat, we somehow talked about little boys and their penchant for guns, their ability to fashion a weapon from a stick or a leaf or a set of legos (we did not imagine the possibility with puzzle pieces). She told me a story of a friend who banned toy guns from her home only to find that her boys made them for themselves anyway.

I had the girliest of girls. My then three-year-old was more herself in princess outfits than in anything else.

Would my son be equally the stereotypical boy we both  wondered aloud.

Maybe he will, I thought. And I’ll let him just be him the same way I’ve let her just be her.

But it’s not that easy.

At three, he now loves books and superheros, sword-fighting and dragons. He’s gone through a phase of wearing a cape attached to every shirt he owns and I reveled in the innocence and cuteness of a toddler superhero. And while I’ve tried to push him towards a love of cars or trucks or dinosaurs or art or bikes, or anything that doesn’t portend violence, his first love is pretend-fighting.

I took him to Target about a month ago to buy him the rescue-bot I had promised him as a reward for a few nights of good sleeping. I pushed him down the aisle, took the bots off the shelf, but he insisted that he’d changed his mind.

The first thing he ever begged me for was a toy sword.

I bought it for him, a tiny plastic sword and shield. He ran with that sword out into the world and imagined fighting off dragons that inhabited our backyard, the bad guys he imagined hiding around every corner. He slept with his sword so that he may fight off the dragons hiding under his bed or lurking in his closet.

Isn’t that so cute, I thought, as I listened to him conduct imaginary conversations with imaginary bad guys. As I listened to him insist that he was the good guy, as he posed in the sunlight, sword extended. My little boy. The good guy.

Swords are tools of the imagination, I can tell myself, of times past and creatures of myth. He plays with his sword and I see him weaving stories.

This part of his little boy self I can embrace. I can see beyond the violence.

But he makes a gun out of bristle blocks or turns his puzzle pieces into a shooter and I just see evil.

I had no trouble ignoring all of the anti-princess rhetoric and just letting my girl be a girl. I didn’t worry about her self-esteem or her body image or the possibilities of a lasting sense of entitlement. I just let her be her. I let her wear her gowns and her tiaras and twirl in the mirror without worrying about her place in society.

I can’t do that with him.

I can’t do that with guns.

The news headlines today announced the 74th school shooting since Newtown. Another article says 39 of those have happened in k-12 schools.

It keeps happening. Again and again and again and yet we do nothing. No laws change. No arguments change. It just keeps happening.

There are still guns in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. In places they should never be.

The future lies in the hands of young men. And I don’t want guns in those hands.

In The Hands Of Young Men

 

 

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June 4th, 2014

Six Word Wednesday

Six Words

 

What are your six words this week? I’d love to hear them in the comments.

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May 28th, 2014

Six Word Wednesday (sort of)

 

My Voice

This year I discovered my voice.

Tomorrow night I will help name Austin’s next Teacher of the Year. It will mark the end of a year that has taught me more about what I am capable of, a year where my voice has been valued in arenas I didn’t even know existed before I was invited in. This year I have been asked what I think. Asked what I value. I have been invited to speak to crowds that would have daunted me just a short time ago. I didn’t know a year ago that being named Teacher of the Year would end up meaning so much more than just a title and a plaque and a bit of attention.

I have been challenged and valued and put in a spotlight that I would have previously shrunk away from, wary of any great attention paid just to me. I’ve learned that I may like the spotlight every once in a while.

I have found my voice.

This year I started anew. Renamed my writing space and started fresh. I read what I’ve written here and I’m proud of it. I ignore (or try to ignore) the fact that I have so very few readers now. Instead I write here the words that matter to me. And sometimes they matter to other people too and that makes them feel so much more special.

I took the stage at the start of this month to share my story as a part of Listen To Your Mother. And there, on the stage, with a cast of amazing women, I felt it. I felt my words and my voice echoing out into the world in a way that mattered. It was nerve-racking and adrenaline-producing and cathartic. It was, as I’ve said, one of the first moments where I’ve confidently claimed to be a writer.

And even though they seem unrelated – Teacher of the Year and writer of motherhood stories – there is a connection.  A connection in the confidence I’ve gained to share what I know to be true.

This year I discovered my voice. 

I knew it was there all along. It peeked through cracks and windows and let itself through every once in a while. But, maybe ironically and maybe not, winning an award that had only little to do with my writing gave me the courage and opportunity to use my voice in ways I’ve always wanted to, ways that challenge me and push me beyond my comfort zone. Ways that help me to change and grow – and hopefully help others do the same.

Tomorrow I pass the title on to someone new. I hope their year is as full of discovery and growth as mine has been.

Photo credit to our amazing Listen To Your Mother Austin photographer, Casey Chapman Ross. 

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