Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tuesday slice: I didn't intend to write...

I sit here tonight
trying to count
grains of sand
blades of grass
clusters of stars
All equally hard
to gather
to quantify
to order in a way
that is meaningful

Like the way that
she went to bed smiling
but didn't wake up
with the sun
Like the way that
my friend went to bed smiling
but got the call at school
Like the way that
(I'm guessing)
she bent over
first silently
then with a
to drown
stack of years
she will spend
missing her mom

I sit here tonight
intending to think about
phonics instruction
small group instruction
assessment technology
All equally hard
to gather
to quantify
to order in a way
that is meaningful
right now
that makes much sense

Write on,

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

31: Kiss it...

Yesterday, at Grandma's,
the cousins ran willy-nilly
around the
living room-kitchen-family room-foyer
They shrieked and then laughed
shrieked and then laughed
Grant's little steps took him
just a smidgeon right of the loop and
he met the kitchen desk's
bossy corner
I saw the head-on collision
yet I could barely focus in for a closer look
at my shocked little guy
quiet on the kitchen floor
The top point had bullied his eye brow
the bottom edge had pressed into his
supple cheek
two instant purplish signatures
and a growing goose-egg
he started crying after what seemed like an eternity
"Mommy, kiss it.  Kiss it."

Today, at home,
the little rode the play firetruck
with reckless abandon
and when that grew old
he transitioned into
pushing the Fisher-Price school bus
like a cheetah chasing prey
He powered down the foyer hallway
(its wood floor is fast)
and then hung a right into the carpeted dining room
What he didn't plan for was the new roadblock
-- me --
kneeling beside the buffet
He saw the head-on collision
this time before I did
the bus, my tender right knee
{an imagined YOOOOOOOWWWWWW, followed by a gasp}
"Grant, the bus hurt my knee.  Can you tell Mommy 'sorry'?"

"Mommy, I kiss it.  I make it all better.  The bus make it better.  See?"

{Be still, my heart.}

The power of a kiss...

Write on,

Post-script:  Today marks the end of 2015's March Slice of Life Story Challenge...and while some stories have been big, and some stories have been silly, your comments have kissed their words and made them better.  I appreciate the way you've invested in my writing life this month, dear Reader. From you I've learned, I've laughed, and I've grown.  May we meet back on Tuesdays, maybe even Saturdays, but definitely every March.  Until then...

Monday, March 30, 2015

30: The one and only...

Her wispy, sable curls
sometimes cover her chocolate eyes
She wipes them away
with emphasis
and moves along to find the next
She always does this
like during dinner or
in the car or
at a ballgame or
when she wants more orange juice
in her girly-colored sippy cup
with a straw

Tonight, she picked me to target
Her newly three-year-old self
strides in and catches me
kneeling beside the giant tub
in Grandpa and Grandma's bathroom
as the smaller little 'swims'
She finds a spot to perch
surveying the situation
I know she's up to something
She always is

Me: Do you want to take a bath, too, Emmie?  You can hop in. There's plenty of room.

Emmie: Well, it's not up to me.

Me: What do you mean?

Emmie: 'Is he your kid?' she points at the little's tiny ear half-covered by white-blonde curls.

Me: Yes, he's my kid.

Emmie: I have a booster seat.  Wanna see it?

Me: Hop in the tub.  Taking a bath now will help Mommy and Daddy.

Emmie: But I don't want to get clean.

Me: You can play, though, and that's fun.  Here are some cups.

(She undresses, first tentatively, and then climbs into the tub like the whole exercise was her idea.)

Emmie: But I don't want to wash my hair.  Grandmaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.  Grandma has to take me a bath.

(We wait, with baited breath, for Grandma's swift arrival.)

Me: Emmie wants you to 'take her a bath.'  I hear you are the best at baths.

Emmie: Grandmaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.  I don't want to take a bath.

Grandma: But you already are, Emmie.  And taking a bath is a good thing.  

(Emmie's mom and baby sister open the pocket door and slide into the bathroom too.)

Emmie's mom: Emmie, you're taking a bath!

Emmie: No, I'm not.  I don't want to take a bath.

(Sheesh.  Girl, you're in the tub.  Quit.)

Emmie: But I won't wash my hair.

Emmie's mom: Yes, you will -- that way you won't have to wash it tomorrow night.

Grandma: Let's play beauty shop!  Here's the special shampoo...  

Emmie: But I won't get it wet...

Me: Alright, little guy -- let's hop out and dry off.

Emmie: But I don't want to get out...

And so it goes
just as it always does
with the one and only

Write on,

Sunday, March 29, 2015

29: This blank page...

everything that was
and could
escapes me 
now as I sit down to 
go back to
my favorite topics
stories I'd like to tell
people I love
places I've been
this blank page
and the 
to try again tomorrow

Write on,

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Friday, March 27, 2015

27: The running joke...

My friend and I have this running joke
it pops up anytime someone asks,
"So, how do you know each other?"

She usually starts with something like,
"Well, she came to my house trick-or-treating the night before her second son was born.  We were both big and pregnant with our little guys.  And it was warm that night, so we both had pancake feet." She qualifies, "You looked cute in your little jeans and ballet flats; I, on the other hand..."

And rolls into,
"And then when we talked a little more the next summer when we were out for a walk in the neighborhood, she was trying to figure out which house I live in on our street...so I told her..." She reminds, "I wanted to meet you again, so we took walks until you and your boys were outside playing."

And ends with,
"Yeah, then she said, 'Oh, I know where you live.  I drove by a few days ago in the afternoon and saw a little girl standing naked on the living room windowsill.'"

She always blushes,
"I was mortified the day you told me that, B.  Like, who lets their kids stand in front of the biggest window in the house with no clothes on?  I looked like such a bad mom!"

I always laugh, too.
"Who cares?  It was so funny!  And I thought nothing of it.  I mean, little kids are little kids, right?"


One afternoon this week, the winds were just warm enough and the sun was just shiny enough to beckon kids and their parents outside for an after-school playdate. Driving home from school, I slowed down to say, "Hi" as she and her littles spread out from the sidewalk and into the grass.

"B, did you see Clark?!?"

I hadn't.  My eyes scanned the greening lawns...


On tiny, little toddler legs, Clark cleared each blade of grass with big-boy underwear draping from his smallish rear-end.  Over the top fell an even smaller t-shirt.

I doubled over my steering wheel, laughing.

Evidently, that theory holds true.

Write on,

Thursday, March 26, 2015

26: The last Saturday afternoon date...

We bundled up as the golden leaves blew
across the front yard and into the drive
I knew I should go
as if my heart foretold the end
that Saturday afternoon
Grant nestled in the carseat
and I in the front
We headed north, toward the place
that's one stop closer to heaven
In the parking lot I unhooked his latches
he wiggled out and into my arms
The wind still blew
and the leaves still danced majestic in the autumn sky
and the tears still formed
and then falling
and then stopping
the brave face
I put on to go through the
first set of double doors past the nurses
and then the next set into her wing
and finally the single door into her room
that opened like a treasure trove
full of the people I love
all sitting there
all waiting
for the next breath
in the center
Grandma laying
her cornflower eyes hidden
her crown of soft, white curls
danced as she gasped toward
her next breath
I looked in
my heart
buoyed only in knowing
soon she'd find
the bright space,
the perfect place,
her Savior
my grandpa
her mother
her father
her brother
her sisters

I shared Grant and padded in toward the bedside seat
I held her familiar hand and
I nuzzled her wrinkly cheek
Grandma, I love you
years of memories rolled across my heart
as I sat
at the thought of heaven
tearing up
at the thought of this world without her
that my boys would never truly know
the woman
who steadied my slippery baby body
in my parents' kitchen sink that first bath
who lavishly loved her family
who chose to laugh in all circumstances
with determination and moxie
a woman
after whom my heart is fashioned

We bundled up as the golden leaves blew
majestic against the blue sky outside her window
I couldn't stay
yet I lingered
knowing this would be
the last Saturday afternoon date
We held hands
three generations

I kissed her forehead
I'll see you there...

Write on,

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

25: The upside of Wednesday...

4:00 Grant pick-up
Extra time for a trip to Target
Pick up cake pops at Starbucks
Prepare dinner early
Clean up dinner before bedtime

4:00 Grant pick-up
More time to work-out
Start a load of laundry
Sweep the floor
Finish that extra project

Go to bed early

The upside of Wednesday...

Write on,

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

24: Mentors...

I began today's professional development session on mentor texts
with this quote and after reading it aloud inquired
"How do Cynthia Rylant's words strike you?"
There was a buzz that hushed only when I pulled out this excerpt
from "The Book Thief"
letting its words swirl and swing
hang and dance
fall heavy
and then rise up again

Getting to know Hans Hubermann in Markus Zusak's "The Book Thief," page 36.

Those five months were definitely the hardest.
Every night, Leisel would nightmare.
Her brother's face.
Staring at the floor.
She would wake up swimming in her bed...
drowning in the flood of sheets...
the bed that was meant for her brother floated boatlike in the darkness...
it sank, seemingly into the floor...

He came in every night...
a stranger to kill the aloneness...
Trust accumulated quickly, due primarily to the brute strength
of the man's gentleness, his thereness.

Teachers' eyes, 
their hearts
with this text
its song
and basked in the brilliance of Markus Zusak's construction

I said, "When I read this book, my writing made sense:
the sentence fragments
the long sentences
the way I may 'break the rules'
the way I try to fashion word pictures"
I said, "When I write every day on my blog, it's his writing I hear"

And he's my mentor
He shows me what good writing sounds like
He helps me envision what's possible
He empowers me to take risks
He invites me to use my voice to tell these tales

Some of them
I could see it in their eyes
immediately felt the text that had changed their writing landscape
they saw it and remembered it and connected with it 
all over again

I said, "I could teach craft moves with so many books 
but what is special is that this book has my heart; it is mine
I get it; I love it"

And now they love it too
because of our common experience
because of my excitement
because of its lyrical qualities
because of its blessing
because of its possibility for writers

Write on,

Monday, March 23, 2015

23: Drip, drip, drip...

This afternoon the plink, plink, plink
of the persistent sleet pelted anything that stood still
My spring disposition led me to 
black pumps with dress pants
no tights, no trouser socks
Walking into the kitchen tonight 
I noticed first thing
the Keurig's stare
and I let it make eyes at me
on account of the 
four hours mine
and that my toes are frozen
Tonight the drip, drip, drip 
of its comforting brew is my pre-dinner lullaby

Write on,

Sunday, March 22, 2015

22: Like a trip...

Sometimes it feels like I'm going on a trip
not like San Diego
rather more like a conference
or a project
or a study group
I made sure to pack extra markers
post-it notes
copied handouts in 10 stacks
small group sets of readers
leveled L through P
guided reading lesson plans
Teaching for Comprehension and Fluency
the Continuum for Literacy Learning
A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop
Day by Day
glue sticks and scissors
chart paper
red napkins for the blueberry bread 
I'll lay across the stacks of materials 
when I am done packing
for the meeting tomorrow
No one wants smooshy breakfast treats
All will be safe in the backseat of the Jeep though
while we sleep for the few hours before its time
wondering about how all the details will play out
Sometimes it feels like I'm going on a trip

Write on,

Saturday, March 21, 2015

21: I almost forgot...

thank-you note
car keys
laundry in the washer
grocery list
zip drive
lunch money
file folder
birthday card
laundry in the dryer
permission slip
show-n-tell tub
after-school meeting
ear buds
presentation remote
this slice

Write on,

Friday, March 20, 2015

20: Surprise and delight...

When I picked up Grant tonight
he ran, he smiled, he gurgled
and as we got into the car
he asked for a "lollipop"
which is really a cakepop
from Starbucks
I'm not sure where he gets that...

We headed south
toward our usual coffee shop stop
but turned one light too early
the screams from the backseat
could've woken a sleeping
baby four houses down

Through our small town
on the way to an errand
we passed yet another
Starbucks on the roadside
like a shiny penny
just begging to be noticed
"Mama!  Coffee shop!"
I'm reticent to support two coffee shop habits...we keep driving

On the way back home
we drove past again
Feeling tired and charitable
I pulled in
"Mama!  Lollipop!  Let's get out!"
So we walk the few steps into the
shop crowded with ten-year-olds
'having a coffee break' after school
We wait in line behind them
Flags of indecision waving wildly
above their mussed hair-dos

I spy the menu of monthly deals
Today!  Free pastry with purchase of handcrafted beverage
I'm persuaded -- one afternoon chai latte
one FREE pink birthday cake pop
I order
"Ma'am, I'm so sorry.  Today isn't March 23.  That deal is for March 23 only."
More rosy than red, I apologize
and pull out a couple extra bills
tucked neatly inside my wallet

He bags the cake pop
the other barista prepares the chai
"You know what?"
My eyes chase his
"You're not expecting a deal, but I'm going to give you one"
Oh yeah?
"I'm going to charge you $3.80."
Nice --- the total should be over $5
"And, as a bonus, here are two cake pops instead of one."

Wow.  And that is why in the book, "The Starbucks Experience" by Joseph Michelli, there is an entire chapter dedicated to one of their chief operating principles, SURPRISE AND DELIGHT.

Write on,

Thursday, March 19, 2015

19: Like clockwork...

I pull up into her driveway
and leave the car running
the twenty steps I make to the front door
successively speed up because
I know who is on the other side
waiting on me
to come
when the nap is over and
school is done and
the sun is shining
I knock on the weathered brown door
because a little scotch tape and a little piece of paper
cover the doorbell to keep morning drop-offs at a whisper
Afternoon pick-ups, though, come with a shriek
"I do it!!!"
as little feet sprint down the wooden hallway
and little hands swing open the door 
I bend down
and he runs, blue eyes blazing
into my arms
like clockwork
I kiss his ear
and my arms squeeze his tiny trunk in 
the hug I've been waiting on
"How was today?"
"He was super; took a good nap; ate a good lunch.  Even green beans."
"See you tomorrow, little guy.  I love you."
I reach the doorknob
and he wiggles out of my arms
"I do it!!!"
and he does I follow him
out to the purring car and 
around to the back passenger side
where he waits by his door
"Mama, help please!!!"
I lift him up, nuzzle him close and
launch into a story to steal his attention
away from the car seat buckles
"Nose kiss, Mama?"
We lean toward each other and gently rub ours before
I walk on air back around the car
and buckle myself in 
We pull out of the driveway

Write on,

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

18: Give in...

The hodge-podge of plastic placemats
decorated our dinner table like a patchwork quilt
Remainded plates, cups, forks, and pizza crust stubs
were scattered like haphazard jewelry
I sat, in my chair, watching
the littles run around the kitchen yelling
my husband begin to clean up our meal
After a while 
it all
white noise
my thoughts
my eyelids
and I knew
despite all propriety
that the only 
course of action
for me
at that minute
was to 
push the placemat
to the side and 
cross my arms
on top of the 
table and rest
my head and
close my

Write on,

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

17: Before the sun...

Before the sun 
we fly
beverage carts 
we gaze outside 
the moon high 
like a diamond
the sun peeking
dusky orange behind
gracing home
making a day

we fly 
dry desert

shadowy mountains

Sky Harbor and
then the place
between the
cerulean Pacific 

and the
bordering Lagunas

Before the sun
we fly

Five hours

Write on,

Monday, March 16, 2015

16: The gift...

A typical Thursday
I took my place at the table
across from my supervisor
draft documents
pacing guides
blanketed our workspace

"Before we get started with our agenda, I have a favor to ask you."

"I received an invitation to a conference in a couple weeks and with my schedule, it simply isn't possible to attend.  I would like it if you could go."

And somehow despite the gigantic question mark that
chaperoned the party called Details
like missing home, missing work, missing meetings
I knew -- I knew -- they would all fit together

"Where is the conference?"

"San Diego."

Detail #1: I love San Diego.  And that may be selling my feelings short.

Detail #2: I need the sun's warmth.  Call it SAD; I'm running in the red.
Detail #3: I need to feel the beach's soothing sand as my toes dig and emerge; dig and emerge.
Detail #4: I covet the space to breath, learn, dream.
Detail #5: Palm trees. The midwesterner's bellwether indicator of change.

Strike that --- I knew they would fit into the timeliest blessing

"Yes.  I'd be happy to go..."

The perfect gift.

Write on,

Sunday, March 15, 2015

15: Stuck on the Stickies...

I love binders and folders and colored tabs,
but my desk is a mess.
I love building PowerPoints that take into account every variable known to man,
but I do not store them in tidy session folders on my computer.
I love stylish storage crates that fit into my Ikea shelving units,
but the contents spill out over the top and sometimes puddle on the floor because
what I really don't want is to give up another cubical that could be used for professional books for a basket that turns into a catch-all when I'm cleaning.
I love organizing the clothing that hangs in the master closet by color,
but there are remainded shoes, missing their soulmates,
sprinkled around the periphery of my smallish kingdom.
I love curating my favorite resources in topical folders on Chome and Evernote,
but at any given time I have no fewer than 30 of them open.  Why?
I love keeping my Outlook calendar too,
but my flagged items never get touched
once they make it over to the 'To-Do List.'

Because I've yet to find the system that makes my heart sing.
All the time.

So today I discovered this new-to-me Mac Airbook
has an app I've yet to try: Stickies.
A NEW way to organize.
And I can color code: red for urgent tasks, yellow for middle-of-the-road.
And the notes can stay on my desktop until I remove them
And I can quickly revise items, deleting accomplishments
like Pavlov's dog.

Will this new feature keep me, well, organized?
Or, will it be the current intervention for all my other organizational schemes?

Only time will tell; but, for now, it is keeping me focused
on zipping through my now color-coded to-do list...

Write on,

Saturday, March 14, 2015

14: Learning how to write...

My brother is a baseball coach who has decided that this year, my hometown's annual summer festival deserves an update --- an outdoor market for vendors who sell antiques and collectibles, as well as homemade arts and crafts.  He would like this to become an annual fundraising event for his team, which is timely because they are in the process of a massive capital campaign to improve the local baseball facility.  And he would like for vendors who are the best of the best to rent space for the one-day event in July.

So he must invite them.  By mail.  Soon.  With a flier.  And legal information.  And details that entice.

Which is where I come into this slice.

I've spent the bulk of my writing time today working for my brother...on this very letter, employing what I know about argument and persuasion.  About how words work together to paint a picture bigger than the sum of their parts.  About presentation and adding text features.  About negative space and its role in this type of publication.  About which details are most important to this specific audience. An audience of which I have never been a part.

Which makes me pause and return to this question -- the one that has haunted me since starting on my writing workshop journey six years ago -- How did I learn how to write?

Honestly, I'm not sure I ever did.  At least not like students who are lucky enough to be in writing workshops now do.

When I think of writing, I don't think of elementary school, save penmanship and the all-important cursive lessons of second-grade.

When I think of writing, I don't of Mrs. Cook and the Advanced Composition course I took for two semesters during high school.  I remember the course workbooks, pluperfect subjective, sentence diagramming, and the weekly vocabulary quiz, albeit I don't remember any actual composition.

I don't think of Mrs. Minch, either, and the (what I thought was gigantic and arduous) term paper I had to successfully construct before heading off to college. The research -- microfiche, Encyclopedias, and books (real, physical books I checked out at my alma mater) -- that fed the neat, little stack of index cards I used to organize my paper (before my accounting teacher's daughter-in-law typed it) seemed archaic.  And unsustainable.  I wondered, Is this what real writing is?  How many pages did you say it has to be...ten?

I don't think of the responses written for lower-level literature classes, and how when I took risks, my teacher asked me to revisit standard text conventions, even when I had top-drawer reasons in support of these decisions.  (Close reading wasn't en vogue back then...)

I do think, though, of Heather my English Composition 111 instructor at Miami University my freshman year.  I knew I didn't know 'how' to write.  First semester, my best strategy was fake it until I make it and this 'faking' included the use of a thesaurus.  Multiple times.  Multiple papers.  On one graded piece, she circled paradigm and wrote in the margin, "Do you know what this means?  It doesn't really fit here..."  The thing is, I didn't know.  It was the fanciest synonym listed.  And sometimes when you're faking it to make it, you resort to drastic measures.  My deficits were so transparent; my voice so absent.  She was so learned; I knew this about her.  I wrote to her, or at least I attempted to.  But when you use a word like paradigm and when you're typing it in you say, para-DIG-m, you have no business including it in your paper.  By the end of semester one, I knew this too, and I was ready for a new strategy: write real.

I do think, then, of Judith my English Composition 112 instructor.  We studied authors like Toni Morrison and Sylvia Plathe, Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou.  We analyzed their craft moves and then tried them out in our own work.  She encouraged us, as authors, to find our voice.  To say what matters.  And so I wrote...about my almost-eating disorder in high school and how I ended up the smallest version of myself in so many ways.  I took risks in transparency and the pieces I birthed that semester were of my life in my words in my choice format.  I remember getting one paper back with her comments at the top --- "You should submit this to our campus paper.  Will you consider sharing?"  My heart swelled; I was flattered.  But I didn't do it.  I didn't think I could.  That's a lot of people; a lot of truth.  And what if they turn down my submission?

When I think about learning how to write, I think about reading...as I've always been naturally drawn to "the swirl and swing of words," as James Michener so eloquently describes.  And, I think about listening to people talk...about what words are said, and the ones that lie beneath, unsaid but felt.  I think about reading "The Art of Teaching Writing" by Lucy Calkins at the advice of my new principal six years ago, and how the type of writing instruction she described seemed so real, so Judith from Comp 112, that I could actually pour out what I could do...but couldn't name...into an instructional experience that would've so satisfied my younger self...

And ever since, it hasn't been enough to know, in theory, how to write or even how to teach writing. Learning about writing has become my life's work, and I'm the luckiest girl for it.

But, honestly, it is a messy project...and is rarely cinched with tight and perfect stitches.

What I've learned about writing is what follows: it requires voice and is best when it's true; it requires community that's the sort to encourage and extend; it requires grace for our own work and that of others; it is worth teaching and worth knowing, inside and out.

Because real-life would say that someday there will be a flier you just have to compose, but the truth is that by now, I know otherwise --- there is real-life to document.  To declare significant.

Writing is its own playground.

It doesn't matter how you get there.

Write on,

Friday, March 13, 2015

13: The splinter and the plank...

On using your linguistic prowess for good in all cases, in all places...

While the sickly smaller little napped restlessly upstairs yesterday, I sat in the kitchen beside french doors.  The sun cascaded through, bathing my toes in warmth.  Perched on a chair at the table's end, my fingers pranced from key to key as email after email took shape. As new messages popped up, I peeked at content.  One conversation between a school secretary and her coworkers diverted my attention like a neon "They're hot!" sign flashing in front of a Krispy Kreme donut shop.

From: Sally
To: Staff
Subject: geral notice

To the diligent person who made all the laminated little colored signs/passes: The ones that say 'inquirer' are misspelled.  Sorry, my spelling gene sometimes overtakes my self-preservation one.

Two minutes later...

From: Sally
To: Staff
Subject: omg

"General!  GENERAL!"

So remember writers, when offering friends feedback today, be gracious by offering compliments and constructive by offering suggestions that will help your partner become a better writer.  None of us has it all figured out -- the more we write and the more we work together to look at our writing, the better we'll get.  Now off you go...

Write on,

Thursday, March 12, 2015

12: Summer-tired...

This afternoon
our street
with kids
playing chase
picking up the little chunks of stubborn snow
driving the toys they desperately missed
over the long, cold winter months

This afternoon
our street
with moms
pushing strollers
congregating in yards
chatting with neighbors
watching kids lessen energy stores
putting off dinner prep
running around the block
driving with the windows down
sporting the sunglasses, flip-flops they desperately missed
over the long, cold winter months

drinking in the warmth
all 67 degrees
basking in the sun
delighting in the breeze's promise
of more days full of -ing to come
eating late
heading to bed

Write on,

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

11: Mama, geeks!

A gaggle of them congregated
using their gangly, sticks of legs to scratch around
the barren fairway that backs up to my parents' yard
These wild turkeys looking for an afternoon snack
were much bigger than I expected as they
pawed around animatedly and
moved bit by bit down the treeline

We watched in wonder from our warm perch
in their east-facing kitchen
Each voyeur taking a slender window as
we closely read each movement and shrieked when they ran
across the fairway as if playing chase
We talked about wild turkeys as
color commentators would a big game
The smaller little excited, added his two cents

No worries my child,
I see one peering out from the mirror each day and
I'm OK with that

They skittered out of clear view
while we laughed
with tears
and a few well-placed nuzzles
to his still-babyish cheeks

Write on,

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

10: Made for it...

At 97 years, 91 years
70 of them married
they were made for it
a crown of white hair next to hers of chestnut brown
giggling about the 'old folks'
living down the hall in their retirement complex
they just didn't want to admit
that they had slowed down too
from the rocking chair by the garden sliding door
he said, "'Mother,' when I die check the clock."
and I'm sure, from the kitchen, she didn't turn to look
he said, "There's a piece of paper stuffed inside."
and I'm sure, from that day on, she didn't check
not ever
because she wouldn't
until that Friday morning when
she woke up in their apartment and
he woke up in heaven and
there were people to call and
plans to make and
she read his 1920s cursive
"Bless this House"
"My God and I"
"Happy Trails"
opening it was admitting
that they had become
the 'old folks'

Even if they were made for it

Write on,

Monday, March 9, 2015

9: Neutral...

I sit at the table next to them dreaming; words swing and swirl through my mind and then tap out of my fingers and onto the screen. Earbuds full of instrumental hymns nestle my heart and soul as I sit amidst the hubbub at my neighborhood Starbucks on a Sunday afternoon.

A gruff and insincere "Thanks for meeting me here this afternoon" climbs up and over the peacefulness I use my volume toggle to maintain.

I peek over my left shoulder at the two burly men who just sat down and they continue. For a second, I eye the table across the shop and consider moving. After all, I'm here for a reason -- there are no kids, no dishes, no laundry fresh from the dryer to fold -- and there is a to-do list a dozen items long attached to my laptop.

"Are you aware that..."

"Did you know that her boyfriend..."

"I'm not willing to pay more than 13% of that..."

"Is that before taxes or after?"

"I'm not sure about that. Does she know about this?"

"I think we should use a different lawyer in mediation. Not ours, not yours."

"He's really struggling in school. Have you seen his grades?"

"You know, college is coming up..."

"I think we should tell her..."

"Maybe they could rent, but I won't buy something. I won't."

I marvel at their conversation, the pleasantries stuffed into camouflaged overcoats.  I marvel at their engaged disengagement, from discussing people that they claim to know...but not really...and from looking at details instead of hearts.  I marvel at their rough agreement, that aligns their interests without the luxury of emotionalism and reduces the family's decisions to an attractive bottom line.

I think back to conversations with my friend...who's had the same coffee shop meetings with her husband, his ex-wife, and her family friend.  Over and over.  And, it's always reduced to numbers, really, under the guise of doing what is best, you know, for the kids.

And these weighty decisions -- the ones that impact someone else's kids -- today they're constructed by the men who play 'Telephone' at the coffee shop.

Only because they are neutral.

Write on,

Sunday, March 8, 2015

8: The variables...

The day had been bright and warmish....snow melted, socks were put away in favor of ballet flats, and after church Saturday night we found ourselves at a local pizzeria with a handful of other parents with other littles.  As the sky turned from cool to warm and then all the way to black, we chomped on the dinner we called ahead to order.

We thought we were being responsible; hungry kids and little wait time should make for a happy family.  And smooth meal.

But, somehow, that simplistic math...with no variables...ended up including a few.

Like the fact that our five-year-old sighed and grimaced while waiting for the hot pie and breadsticks. A grand total of five minutes.  But that wasn't quick enough to suit his exacting standards.  Luckily the pie arrived before his grief came full-term.

Like the fact that the pizza joint has arcade games and they were just a few feet from our table. "Mommy, can we PLEASE play the game now?" and "After we are done eating, remember?" composed the bulk of our dining banter.

Like the fact that I was lucky enough to have the exact change for him to play 'the claw' game with my husband --- just once --- after stubby pieces of crust were all that remained of the once grand pie. But then that wasn't enough because the elder little only won two Tootsie Rolls instead of a big, glamorous prize from the display case.  

Like the fact that he doesn't even like Tootsie Rolls today, so he stood beside our table crying, throwing his hands, growling, and then hurling a wadded up napkin at an unsuspecting dad engaged in casual conversation at the next table.  His kids were playing arcade games while their pizza baked. They kept running between table and game, table and game, delivering their candy winnings. In good spirits; laughing.  The parents laughed, too, as they talked about all things --- trivial and important.

Like the fact that when the elder grew increasingly upset, so did the smaller little. And they were both crying.  At our small four-top table with one high chair shoved in the back corner.  Beside the games. And everyone turned around to look, sometimes sheepishly, sometimes with rapt engagement.  We were the only entertainment; everyone else's kids talked, ate, giggled, smiled, and stared.

Like the fact that I quietly ushered both boys outside to wait on the sidewalk while my husband paid. You know,  to avoid any other unsightly fits, outbursts, etc.  Even as we exited, I felt their eyes fixed on our little troupe.  We caught our breath in front of the floor-to-ceiling window that canvassed the narrow storefront.  I knelt down.  In a calm, quiet voice, I talked with the elder little about the napkin situation. He listened, his chocolate eyes melting into mine.

Like the fact that in full view of everyone inside the pizza restaurant and a couple two feet away getting into their car, he snipped my comments down to a more palatable proportion by winding up and smacking me on cheek.  Hard.  Before I could even see it coming.  Underneath the eye that squints a little more when I break into a smile.  That side of my face smarted, as did the inside of my cheek which I chewed to avoid the ugliness that my flesh wanted to spew all over the sidewalk and anyone who would listen to my hurt and empathize with my embarrassment.  Like a statue, I stood staring out at the passing cars bumping along the brick street.

But none of this compared to the wound festering inside my heart that seems to grow a little more each day.

We've tried praise.  We've tried sticker charts.  Programs.  Incentives.  Rewards. Yelling.  Not yelling.  Taking toys away for a period.  Time-outs.  Time-ins. Time-outs downstairs.  Time-outs upstairs.  No trains.  No TV.  More time with mommy. More time with Daddy.  Fall soccer.  Winter soccer.  Explaining.  Not explaining.  

I always think, Are we the only ones dealing with this brand of pervasive inflexibility and impulsivity?  Because again at the restaurant beside all the happy kids, I felt that way.

After the shortest bedtime routine ever for the elder, I googled it.  We can't be alone in this.

And most assuredly, the first article I read described my son perfectly...and this one led to a string of others.  The formal search term, five-year-old tantrums.

It is a real thing.
And we aren't alone.
And we can get past this.
And he is still one of the neatest kids I know.
And he's fiery, but what his passion could someday accomplish...

Maybe another variable for the list above is that the other kids and other parents were just moments away from their control dance...

Write on,

Saturday, March 7, 2015

7: Saturday...

I lay there
half-expecting it
in the thoughts that lie partially buried in a murky sea bed
I get restless, shifting to the right side and
then back to my favorite left
But it's quiet
there's no buzzing,
no dancing-vibrating thing
clamoring toward the very tip of my nightstand
threatening the end of tonight's journey
I snuggle in again
albeit the smallest part of me
still waits for the other shoe to drop
as if this too-good stretch of slumber could go
at any time
and the really luxurious thing is
that it doesn't
no, it doesn't

It's Saturday

there are padded footsteps
hurrying toward my bedside
and the buttery-soft hand
of a little
reaching out
touching my cheek
inviting me to the day ahead
his velvet voice whispers while
climbing up
blankie and friends in tow
nestling in
blonde shocks of babyish hair
cushioning my chin

It's Saturday

Write on,

Friday, March 6, 2015

6: Thursday night...

Thursday night
Chinese take-out
cozy sweatpants
countless yawns
shuffling slippers
sorting laundry
cuddling up on the couch
sipping hot peppermint tea
watching one episode of "Selling New York" 
heading toward an early bedtime
dreaming of Friday and everything after
Thursday night

Write on,

Thursday, March 5, 2015

5: Word play and the girls...

Last night, after bath duty, footie jammies, and stories, I jumped into the Jeep, made my way past four houses -- no judgment: it was snowy -- and parked in front of Francie's house for small group Bible study with some of my favorite girls.

Inside the three of us melted into her gigantic brown leather sectional tucked into a sprawling corner of the family room.  Sunny overhead light cast a warm glow on the newest member of our group --- teeny-tiny Baby Maggie --- who now attends with her mommy; you know, so she can cluster feed before bedtime and we can jockey for who gets the next turn to snuggle her between snacks.

(I waited.  Patiently.)

As always, our 'let's settle in' conversation meandered through myriad topics and then landed decidedly on lactation.  Exhibit A was stealthily stowed under the mod-patterned hooter-hider her mommy wore on the other side of the couch...while Exhibit B (my other friend's baby) slept soundly in her crib at home.

Babyless me listened.

(And, remembered.)

F: "Maggie looooves to cluster feed.  Every night.  Time after time.  Seems like she's never full."

C: "I know!  Emma does that too!  Except she is LOSING weight.  My supply just can't keep up!"

Me: "So, what about lactation cookies?  Have you tried those to boost your supply?  I've had school friends say they really work."

C: "Lactation cookies?!?  I've never heard of such a thing!"

F: "Yep.  Those will do the trick.  I also bought some supplements on QVC -- and wow, they work. Like, I-M-M-E-D-I-A-T-E-L-Y.  If you know what I mean."

(Like taut beach balls...ouch.)

C: "Right now nursing is absolutely exhausting.  My doctor really wants to know how much milk Emma is getting, so he asked me to pump first and offer her bottles for measurement's sake. To do that, I'm pumping at least three times a day."

(I remember being hooked up at all hours to my pump.  Undeniably a labor of love.)

C: "And, I'm nursing.  Wherever; whenever.  I'm so tired of it all.  It sucks."

Me:  "Literally."

(Crickets.  Really.  Crickets.  Then, finally, a giggle.  And, a stare.)

Me: "Hey, that comment was low-hanging fruit.  Just waiting to be picked."

C: "Does your husband get your sense of humor?"

Me: "He has a degree in English."

C: "Ooooooh...."

Write on,

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

4: She said...

She said, "I was just taking my little sister to the basketball game in Geneva that night."
She said, "He was sitting up on the top row of the bleachers with his friend from church."
He said, "She's the one -- I think I'll marry her."
She said, "He got my number and called me on the phone after that. For a date."
He said, "Will you marry me?" just a few months later.
She said, "Yes, I will."
She said, "That's how our family started seventy years ago."

That's what she told me, over coffee in Fellowship Hall, the snowy January day we buried him.  

I said, "Beautiful, Grandma..."


Write on,

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

3: The stairway message...

We had gotten up late that Friday morning
There were shirts to be picked and put on wriggling bodies
There were pants to be matched, too
And tiny socks with small shoes
There were cups of milk to warm
And a 'Curious George' episode to que

The phone buzzed, jiggling across the creamy vanity counter
I stared into the mirror applying eye liner,
first on top lid and then on the bottom
My mom and I always talk on the phone once I jump into the car,
And all is calm

Another buzz.  Voicemail.

Another buzz.  Text.

With make-up compacts jammed back into their rightful compartments
I glanced at the text

"Did you listen to my voicemail?"

Quickly,  "No.  What did it say?"

"Listen to it.  Then call me."


I pulled on pants; picked a shirt; pushed on boots; prepared to listen to her voicemail
as I bounded down the stairs to dress the awaiting littles in the family room
Darkness passed through the second-floor stairwell picture window,
dimming the steps
Mid-flight, I stopped; the morning din gone
In its place the bossy silence of shock
Her words, heavy

"I just wanted to see if I could catch you."
"Grandpa...died this morning."

They clunked around first in my mind,
and then in my heart,
and then fell out in a puddle of tears
while I stood on the tred fixed
half-way up and
half-way down
as I remembered
his smile
his laugh

"Tom," I mustered

His footsteps understood and padded toward me
I hid myself in the solace of his warm eyes
Before the shirts,
the pants,
the socks,
and the shoes

And there
in the hours since
I've stayed

Write on,

Monday, March 2, 2015

2: Preface...

Since we met last March, new writing territories have emerged -- some invited, some invaded -- while familiar ones have grown deeper, more specific.  The darkness of some has made the space for blessing even brighter.  And, while it isn't my hope for this month's stories to lie heavy upon you, my reader; I'm keeping my writing honest.

Because I'm using it as a tool for healing.
Because I'm using it as a wedge to highlight places where 
the fullness of hope and love have shone bold and true.  

Since we met last March,
  • My former job dissolved and a perfectly thrilling new opportunity emerged
  • I've navigated the waters of a new position, a new educational community, a new district, a new schedule, and new materials
  • I've traveled to places like Atlanta, Georgia; Columbus, Ohio; San Diego, California to learn from consummate reading and writing professionals
  • I've struggled with five-year-old behaviors that have consumed my marriage and most of my sanity
  • I've watched my smaller little's health thrive
  • I lost my maternal grandmother and two months later... 
  • I lost my great-aunt and two weeks later...
  • I unexpectedly lost my paternal grandfather
  • I've witnessed changes in my extended family because of loss...my parents' hearts break and then mend, break and then mend

It's like Lucy Calkins says, "I write to hold this life in my hands and declare it significant."  

I write to learn.
I write to know.
I write to heal.
I write to celebrate.
I write to remember.  
I write to share.

So, tomorrow, dear one, come back for a new story...a new moment to learn, know, celebrate, share.

Write on,

Sunday, March 1, 2015

1: Where I'm From...

I am from coffee breaks,
from baseball games and sweet corn
I am from lazy summer afternoons
in a small town like Mayberry
I am from the church directory
and the family cookbook whose recipes
grew me up and 
grew me strong
I'm from ham loaf and pies
from Carol and Jim
I'm from the gigglers in the back row
and joyful workers who serve
from "It's a long way from your heart"
and "Brennie..."
I'm from Nuts & Bolts* out of the baggie in the basement freezer
and homemade 7-Up punch
I'm from Gorman and Lorraine
and Clarence and Helen
from "forenoon" and "How was school?"
From the furniture factory and the canning factory
the bakery and the appliance shop
In the spare bedroom closet photo albums 
gather to share memories 
black and white, and Kodachrome
of faces I never knew and others I love to nuzzle
I am from these moments--
all the places
where yesterday
encircles today and 
births tomorrow

Write on,


*Nuts & Bolts: regional term ('country-ism') for homemade Chex mix

Mentor text: "Where I'm From" by George Ella Lyon