Last day

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I decided to wait until the end of the school day to write this week’s slice because it’s the last day of classes and I wanted to write about the last day. I am kind of terrible at last days – Do we prep for exams? Do we play? Do we reminisce? – and I guess I hoped that if I paid attention I would find the perfect slice and suddenly I would be good at last days. It was all going to come clear as I wrote: this is what I do, and this is what we learn, and it looks simple, but it’s really amazing because, as it turns, out I have this “last day of school” thing down.

Instead I’m sitting in an Adirondack chair on my back porch. I’m barefoot, wearing my favourite blue sundress and, while the late afternoon sun still shines on the rhubarb and the mint in my garden, I am luxuriating in the shade. Birds are calling to one another and it’s that perfect temperature when you can’t quite decide if you should call it warm or cool. Sometimes a gentle breeze blows and sometimes one of the cats comes to rub against my legs. My children are playing together and I can hear them laughing.

It was a good day. I brought Timbits* and freezies for a bit of a celebration, and the students and I mostly laughed and talked. There was some drama in the hallways and such – last days can be stressful – but it mostly stayed out of my classrooms. It’s not the kind of day we will remember, I don’t think.

I was a little worried about that when I sat down to write, but now, with the breeze and the sun and the quiet and the cats, I’ve decided that it’s probably ok to let some things slip away without without a fancy farewell. Exams loom, then the flustery excitement of graduation, and then summer. Today was more of a pause than an end. That’s probably enough – and it’s going to have to be.

 

*For all the non-Canadians: Timbits are donut holes from Tim Hortons. Freezies are, apparently, called “Freeze pops” in the US – they’re just popsicles.

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Up again

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He’s up again. I tucked him in, sang him songs, kissed him. I hugged him one more time and promised to check on him later.

But here are the footsteps on the stairs, the pause in the next room, the little blond head peeking around the kitchen doorway. “Mama?”

Just one more kiss.
Just one more hug.
Just one more snuggle.

Up we go. I run through our relaxation routine. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in and make your body hard as ice. Breathe out and melt. Melt your toes, your feet. Your ankles, your calves. We move up his body, melting into the bed.

I melt, too. I move with him into a space of quiet. Our breathing is even. It’s time for sleep.

He’s down. And now I’m the one who has to get up again.

Looking at you looking at me

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We live in an urban area – our neighborhood is called “Centretown” for heaven’s sake – but that has not stopped wildlife from declaring us invaders and insisting on reclaiming their land. Specifically, in my backyard, the squirrels and raccoons are feeling pretty comfortable.

The squirrels have more or less become family pets. They laze on our porch railing, in full sight of our cats, who have decided that they might as well all be friends. Convinced that my garden is just a complex food delivery system planted for their pleasure, the squirrels pause, looking up at me happily, as they take bites of nearly-ripe tomatoes and then toss them aside. They’ve gotten fat enough on what I grow that they don’t even bother eating all of the scraps of food that my children leave behind on their daily rounds through various backyards.

The raccoons are significantly less tame. A few years ago, a BIG one lived in our neighbourhood. This thug was at least the size of a small dog and came out the victor in several scraps with neighborhood cats. I think he might have been a mafia don in a previous life. Evenings, by light of the moon, he nonchalantly climbed over the raccoon-proofing on our neighbor’s fire escape and wended his way upward to his favourite spot on the landing, where he would sit and survey his domain. Unsecured trash cans were regularly mauled at night: not just turned over, but nearly destroyed by scrabbly paws and sharp teeth. I looked both ways before I went out to clean up the detritus, afraid that I would catch the offender in the act and suffer the consequences.

All this to say that I was not surprised to hear a loud commotion in the trees as I read on the back porch on Sunday. Distracted from the page, I decided to look for the source – and there, smack in the middle of the tree hollow of the Manitoba maple, a little face was staring out at me. I looked at her, she looked at me, and we were both still for a minute. Then, motion in her home: a baby – and then another! The babies were eager for mama’s attention. There was a lot of squeaking and pawing. Mama gave up looking at me and turned to take care of her brood. I watched, entranced. She nursed her little ones and, later, gave them both a good clean (to their apparent dismay). Finished, and looking slightly harried, she gazed out of her hollow again.

Raccoons in the tree
The photo is a bit blurry, but there are mama and baby peeking out.

For my part, I made my mother-in-law take a break from cooking to come look. A few minutes later, my children arrived home from their activities and became part of the gazing back and forth. My husband found binoculars. The babies peeked out on occasion. My boys looked back. All the parents supervised.

Mama and babies are active just around the time we get home from school, so my boys and I have observed them for three days now. The raccoons have a clear routine; we do, too. Mama nurses and washes the children. I go in and out, getting dinner ready and settling my own children. Daily, Mama looks at me; I look at her. Then we both go attend to our chores.

I’m pretty sure her partner is the mafia don of raccoons, whereas mine is a civil servant, but for now, I’m enjoying this bond with another mother.

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I didn’t take this one, but look at the cuteness.

The doctor is IN

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I was sitting in the English office, staring at the computer, chin resting awkwardly in one hand when she came in with two dozen eggs. Two dozen farm eggs, collected this morning before school. “I HAVE YOUR EGGS!” She is always this enthusiastic.  “WHOA! YOU DON’T LOOK SO HAPPY!” She is even this enthusiastic when she is being empathetic. She pulled out a chair and plopped right in. “WHAT’S WRONG?” Even this enthusiastic when she is asking questions.

What’s wrong? Well, nothing and everything of course. I’d been sitting at that computer, staring it down, wondering what to write for today’s slice. I usually write my slice on Mondays, but that hadn’t happened because I was distracted by a thorny issue. Okay, thorny issues, plural. Today I’d had a meeting before school, another at lunch and one more was scheduled for after school. I’ve been running like crazy, and I’ve had no time to breathe much less think. I’ve been so caught up that I haven’t even replied to the comments on my last post, haven’t even started reading today’s slices. In the moment of quiet before she came in, I’d been mulling things over and trying to sort the public from the private. I wasn’t so worried about what to write as what not to write, and what not to write had been weighing me down.

Though I hadn’t thought to seek her out, I couldn’t have asked for a better sounding board than our chief custodian. She is amazing. I swear I can tell she’s coming before she opens the door. She laughs so loudly you can hear her a hallway away. She curses freely in French. She sells us farm eggs and Epicure cooking spices. If you report a spill, a clogged toilet, graffiti, a broken window… anything, really, she will have it fixed, sometimes before you manage to tell your office mates you’ve reported it. She dressed as Super Mario for Halloween. She posts all the funny results of her goofy Facebook quizzes. Everyone in the school talks to her. I’ve threatened to put a picture from Peanuts where Lucy plays Psychiatrist  – The doctor is “in” – on her door. She is a force of nature.

Five minutes after she sat down, five minutes after I just spilled all the things that I haven’t been able to talk about with others because of that whole public/private issue, five minutes after she focused the whole of herself on me, I was done. “OUAIS,” she drawled, her English peppered with French, “YOU HAVE A PROBLEM, FOR SURE.” She nodded, thoughtfully, considering her next words: “YOU ARE FRIED. GO HOME.” I told her about the meeting after school. “WELL THEN, GO HOME AFTER THAT. YOU CAN HANDLE IT.”

And you know, she wasn’t wrong. I am fried. I did need to go home. I can handle it. And now, thanks to her, I’ve written my slice, too.

She turned around as she left the office, “ALSO, YOU OWE ME EIGHT DOLLARS FOR THE EGGS. YOU CAN BRING IT TOMORROW.”

 

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More than Meets the Eye

 

It’s Poetry Friday! Join me in this Friday’s round up at Reflections on the Teche.

 

Last month Margaret Simon over at Reflections on the Teche dreamed up the idea of inviting people to participate in a photo exchange she called “More than Meets the Eye.” The idea was that we would send a photograph from our area to an exchange partner then each of us would write a poem about the other’s photograph. I was paired with Catherine Flynn (who blogs at Reading to the Core); she sent me beautiful pictures from in and around Bridgewater, CT.

I get nervous about writing poetry – even though I’ve watched my blogging friends write a poem a day for all of April and I’ve popped in to the Poetry Friday round ups to read and occasionally share – and when I’m nervous about writing… I research! The first thing I stumbled upon was Trip Advisor where a found poem leaped (haha) out at me. So… just for laughs…

Lovers Leap Gorge
Trip Advisor Found Poem

This is a simple roadside pull-off with a nice view.
Great photo op.
No facilities exist.
Daylight use only.
Overnight parking prohibited.

But the stories, legends and history of the area deserve more than a tongue-in-cheek found poem. I was entranced by the sounds of the names, the newspaper articles from when they flooded the valley (covering over the Barnum house – yes, related to the circus) to create Lake Lillinonah (named for the young Pootatuk woman who, according to legend, leaped off the gorge with her lover). I learned that Still River runs into the lake and so much more. I wish I could have worked it all in.

And then… well, I tried free verse and a mask poem. I tried a little of this and a little of that and I couldn’t quite get what I was looking for. I wanted the circus (the sound of the calliope) to weave into the legend into the idea of man-made creation (because I’m assuming the legend is at least partly created and I know the lake is). It was the idea of weaving things together that led me to write my first-ever pantoum. It’s got my own twist – I used a refrain – and I tweaked the lines a little, but close enough.

Catherine, Margaret, here’s a Bridgewater/Lovers Leap Gorge/Lillinonah pantoum. Thanks for the inspiration!

Lillinonah
“I feel sure bits and pieces of the old valley will come bubbling up to the surface of the lake for years.” Mrs. Sewell Montgomery in the Connecticut News Times

Lillinonah:
Bits and pieces of the old valley
Bubble to the surface.
A lingering lilt of calliope
Ripples through the water.

Lillinonah
Bubbles to the surface.
A lover, she leaps and her echoes
Ripple through the waters
of the man-made lake.

Lillinonah:
Did your lover leap? Do his echoes
Glide like a canoe over
The man-made lake
Where Still waters cover legends?

Lillinonah,
Glide in your canoe over
The lingering lilt of calliope
Where Still waters cover the legends and
Bits and pieces of the old valley.

-Amanda Potts, all rights reserved

Accept the fluster*

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I am looking for my sunglasses. Again. I’ve been planning lessons – poetry broadsides for the 9s, I think, to emphasize the connection between word and image, but what will I do with the 10s? – and I’m not fully focused. I walk back into the kitchen and check the table. They still aren’t there. And they’re not on top of the shelves near the phone or next to the printer or even in the TV room near the lamp. They’re also not in the cubbies by the front door or on the stairs.

By now I have a blanket over my arm and a glass in my hand. I head upstairs to put the blanket in its bedroom and then downstairs to put the glass in the sink.

Four kids are already in the car. We’ve gathered our children and some neighbour kids and we’re heading to the Arboretum for a “romp.” This mostly involves tree climbing, but will also include looking for frogs, finding very large sticks and rolling down hills. Even though I will likely not do any of those things, I would like my sunglasses.

My husband has moved into the hallway, waiting patiently near the front door as I check the kitchen table one more time. After putting the glass in the sink, I’m here. The sunglasses are not by the refrigerator either.

He is nonjudgmental, my husband, whether because he understands my fluster or because he is used to it by now, I do not know. He usually helps me search for things for a minute or two, then moves to the hallway and eventually, quietly, into the car, leaving me to search for whatever I’m missing.

My sunglasses are not next to the refrigerator, but I do locate some sunglasses left over from my cousin’s wedding last fall. Or last spring? I should remember this. Let’s see… the baby is 7 months old… so….

These sunglasses are not the ones I’ve been looking for, but they are going to have to do. I pick them up and take a few steps toward the front of the house. I’d like to go meet that baby this summer. If I see my friend from college… when is that?… well, whenever it is, can we then get down to see my cousin’s baby? And when is Beth visiting? I should probably send her a link to “things to do in…”

I hear the door close. My husband has moved out of the front hall and into the car. I spot another pair of sunglasses – where were they hiding the last time I looked here? – on the bookshelf, but still not the right ones. Why do I suddenly have so many pairs of sunglasses? When did this happen? Nevermind. I have the wedding sunglasses. Good enough.

I move toward the front door, nearly stopping to pick up some nerf darts – no! I move on. I am thinking about the lessons for my 10th grade class. Again. Is the work actually “applied” or am I fooling myself? I grab my keys from the hook we installed so I can easily find them. I put on the sunglasses and head out the door.

(In case you are wondering, my sunglasses were on the shelves over the TV. I found them at 9:30 pm. While I was doing something else.)

*the title is taken from Elizabeth Bishop’s poem One Art

Tie, tie again

 

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My son is learning to tie his shoes. It is not easy. It’s not easy to teach and it’s not easy to do. Learning to tie shoes, it turns out, requires desire, patience, persistence and no small amount of fine motor dexterity.

I watch him carefully cross the laces. He does not pull them tight before racing to form the first loop. Bunny ear. He pinches it together, hard, high above the shoe. Too high, I think, but I say nothing because he is already on to the next step, the one that gets us both every time. He takes the second lace, loops it around the first and… randomly stabs it through a space. He pulls. The maneuver does not work. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. So far, neither he nor I can figure out what makes the difference. I’m guessing it’s luck; he thinks it’s magic. Same same.

The bus will arrive in a few minutes. Does he have time for another attempt? Before I even finish the thought, he is pulling and pinching, looping and stabbing again. Without looking up he says, “You do the other one.” His focus is unbroken. Nope, it doesn’t work again.

He scooches his foot towards me, “Your turn.” If he is disappointed this morning, it does not show. This is just part of the routine. How many times has he tried this? How many more before he will be able to do this automatically? How many before he is teaching his own child, trying to remember the steps that elude him right now?

When was the last time I worked like this to master something? When did I last work through failures, secure in the knowledge that eventually I would get it? When did I last believe practice would lead to inevitable success?

Today, my son stands up, shoulders his backpack and skips out the door. His shoes don’t fall off. He knows that eventually he’ll be able to tie those laces. He’ll try again tomorrow.