Ready for routine #SOL19 15/31

Quiet. 10:56 am on the last weekday of March Break and the house is quiet.

I woke up just before 7 and came down to enjoy a little quiet before I wrote today’s slice of life. I fed the cats, put on some water, opened the computer and started to read. I’d read two other posts when the first child joined me and took advantage of our alone time for a long snuggle before he went off to find his ipad. A friend who slept over last night shuffled into the kitchen a few minutes later, bleary-eyed and happy, and was soon followed by my older son, who arrived complaining that a loud noise “like a radio and a crash” had woken him up. I surmised that my husband was also awake.

Before my husband materialized, my mother-in-law came downstairs. She arrived late last night for a week-long visit, and I had been hoping she would be able to get a little more sleep. Unlikely once the kids were up. Hugs and exclamations filled the kitchen. “You’re so tall!” “I missed you so much!” “I’m glad you’re here!”

We settled in for tea and conversation as the children went to play. I adore my mother-in-law and had been looking forward to this morning chat, so we luxuriated a little. Not long later, my husband appeared, dressed and ready to go to coffee with a colleague. More chatting before he left. It was 8.

I made the kids English muffins with cinnamon sugar for breakfast. We finalized the details for a trip to the trampoline park this morning. Our guest’s mother called to figure out when she should swing by with appropriate (and clean) clothes for trampoline jumping. The neighbour from down the street rang the doorbell to ask if he could borrow our ice chopper, and we chatted for a few minutes about the weather, mutual friends, and his impending move to a different apartment.

I called the doctor to set up one appointment and then the hairdresser to set up another. I made a second round of cinnamon toast and harried the kids up to brush their teeth and get dressed. The mother showed up with appropriate clothes and came in for a visit. We double-checked on that whole “brush your teeth and get dressed” request and reiterated its importance as a life skill. Another friend texted to let me know that her son, who recently stayed over, has lice. As I gathered up the sheets from the potentially problematic bed and put them in the laundry basket, I realized that I had not brushed my own teeth; I was already keenly aware that I was still in my bathrobe – I hadn’t been able to get to my bedroom since my husband woke up.

I managed to brush my teeth while checking my son’s head for lice. Looked clear. The other family going to the trampoline park arrived, and everyone tumbled out the door into the minivan. My friend stayed for an extra minute, and we were able to locate her spare keys, which we had recently realized were not hanging on our key rack where they should have been. I transferred them to their proper place, and hugged my friend goodbye.

And then it was quiet. I sat down in the kitchen and looked at the blank document I had opened just before 7 so I could write today’s slice of life. A twenty to thirty minute commitment, more or less. Four and a half hours later, I’m done. I smiled and sighed at the same time: I will find more than a little relief when our regular routine resumes on Monday.  Life just keeps happening, doesn’t it?


The Chase #SOL19 14/31

Some days, being a Special Education teacher is all about the chase.

The classroom phone rings, “Have you seen…?”
A teacher pops their head into the room,  “I’m looking for…”
The Head Custodian texts “I found this kid in Stairwell C. Do you know he’s there?”
The Vice Principal sends an email, “Do not let this student leave the classroom unsupervised” right after I let the student leave the classroom, unsupervised.

And the chase is on. I casually glance under the stalls of the girls’ bathrooms. An EA checks the boys’ locker room. I call Guidance. I look outside that one door and in the hidden alcove under the other stairwell. I walk through the cafeteria then meander into the far back corner of the library. Most kids have preferred hiding places; most of the time we find them.

There must be a million reasons not to go to class. After all these years of teaching, I think I’ve heard them all, but of course I haven’t. And even if I have, my job is to hear the reason behind the reason. I absolutely believe Ross Greene’s idea that “children do well if they can,” so my burning question is always “why aren’t you in class?”

He says, “There’s no point in going anyway.”

And I slide down to the floor of the stairwell, tuck my skirt under my knees, shoulder to shoulder with a child who should be in class but isn’t, who should be passing but isn’t. “Tell me more.”

And he does. So much more. I’ve been listening to him for a while now – years, really – and things aren’t good. Some days I’ve lost my patience with him. I’ve told him to make a choice, to stop blaming others, to just go to class for Heaven’s sake. He’s walked out on me, come back, talked and even cursed. I’ve sat next to him during tests, made him take out his ear buds so he has to listen, even set my hand on his shoulder to help him settle down while we breathed in and out together. I’ve spoken to his father, to his mother, to his teachers. I’ve chased him before.

Today I’ve found him. Today he can’t see any way out. Today he can’t imagine that things will change. Today we talk about his dad and his mom and his brother and rehab and rehab and rehab. I tell him what I know – which is not much – but I know that things are always changing, that six months from now will not look like today. That he is changing, that life is change and that sometimes crisis leads us to new opportunities.

I’ll chase him again another day, I know. And if not him then another student, another child who needs to be found and needs to be heard. Because I’ve learned that the trick to the chase is not to know where a student is going, but to recognize where they’ve been.


Radiation Playlist #SOL19 13/31

When the radiologist told her she could choose her own music during the treatment, she immediately wanted American Pie. Her mother said no. Don McLean’s classic is about nine minutes long, and each treatment will only last three minutes. She suggested that the doctors could just leave her in the machine until the song ended. Her mother pointed out that they might need to treat other people after her, so she could not stay three times as long as necessary simply to hear the music. She was unimpressed with this logic. She is 5.

When they came by my house after this particular visit to the hospital, she was in a good mood, despite her American Pie plans being thwarted. She actually ate some lunch – a good thing because the last round of chemo left her unwilling to eat and far too thin – and let me kiss her a million times. She likes being kissed a million times, but sometimes her skin is too sensitive and sometimes even kisses hurt.

We snuggled up on the couch while I heard all about the music disagreement. She was back to arguing for American Pie. She may be thin and fragile right now, but she is not easy to push around. I suggested that we create a “radiation playlist,” and we began perusing the music on my phone. She has twelve rounds of three-ish minutes ahead of her. She has to lay completely still so that the radiation hits the exact right spot because, like so much of the treatment, killing the cancer has to be balanced against damaging the rest of her body. If she moves, the radiation might harm her one remaining kidney.

I aimed for quirky. She listened intently – you should see how this kid can concentrate! – and her mother and I laughed to think what the radiologists will make of her choices. Riptide by Vance Joy earned an immediate yes. The line “all my friends are turning green” made her laugh. I don’t think it means the same thing to her as it does to me.

We went through a lot of music. She rejected Adele’s Hello as “too slow”, and I didn’t even bother with typical kids’ songs because she’s not a typical kid. Luckily, we have mostly similar tastes in music. Her current playlist includes

Cantaloop: Flip Fantasia by Us3
Royals by Lorde (because who doesn’t want a tiger on a gold leash?)
Shake It Off by Taylor Swift
Demain by Les Nubians
Dream in Blue by Los Lobos
Banana Pancakes by Jack Johnson
Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves
I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) by the Proclaimers

I woke up this morning thinking about her, and I immediately knew we should add Cecilia by Simon & Garfunkel. It will have to meet with her approval, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got her number. We’re still two songs short of the dozen we need, so I’m working on some options. My bet is she’ll make her own decisions. That’s just the kind of kid she is.

Photo by her mom; outfit the result of falling into a mud puddle on the way into the hospital; attitude all hers.

PS – Her mom reports that she was a little scared to go alone into her CAT scan today, but  she requested Shake It Off and aced it.



Listen – grrr #SOL19 12/31

We have a multi-part problem in our house and it is driving me crazy.

Part 1: I am sensitive to noises. I can’t stand repetitive music from the on-line games the kids play, music played on a loop in a restaurant, or slow drips and other ongoing pings and dings. They make me a little nuts. I also startle easily at loud sounds, a truth which delights both my children and my students.

Part 2: Our adorable cat Tippy *loves* drinking from running and fresh water of any sort.



Part 3: I believe that we should be conserving resources of all sorts. You know, environmentalism and all that.

Part 4: My husband, in particular, is a sucker for making creatures happy.

He even takes care of the hamster.

This is generally a wonderful trait, but…it leaves us, all to often, with this:

And now it’s March break, so we’re all home together and it’s happening all the time. Help! We need a solution asap.


It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? #SOL10 11/31

imwayr2b2015Elisabeth Ellington over at The Dirigible Plum introduced me to “It’s Monday, What Are You Reading” or #IMWAYR. The idea is that people share the children’s and young adult books that they are reading right now and include a short review or reaction. I followed it for a while but eventually had to stop for my own mental health. Seriously, these people read SO MUCH that I started to feel a little badly about myself; I could not keep up at all – which is crazy because I read more than anyone else I know in my day-to-day life. If I read more than Elisabeth’s post every week, my “to read” list and my hold list at the library get a *little* out of control. (Ok, truth: even if I read only Elisabeth every week my hold list gets a little out of control. Also, it may be true that I max out my monthly acquisitions recommendations to my public library every month. I was a little embarrassed by this until a librarian friend told me how much she loved it. Whew.) And finally, I teach high school and, many of the books sounded amazing but were not ideas I could pass on. (That said, I’ve kept my dyslexic 8-year-old knee deep in graphic novels because of the recommendations, and I’m convinced that this is the support he needs as he moves into more word-based chapter books.)

All of that to say, I love the idea of #IMWAYR, though I rarely participate. Last year I even incorporated it into a grade 9 class I inherited part way through the semester. Every Monday we started class by talking about what we were reading. This discussion became almost mini book-talks and morphed into some writing. Eventually one student participated in a CBC (Canadian equivalent of NPR) book contest, defending I’ll Give You the Sun as a book that all students should read. (That, by the way, was all about her. I’ll acknowledge providing the initial platform, but she found the contest, prepared, entered and did the whole thing by herself.) Clearly, #IMWAYR has some legs!

And today I cannot resist: I just have to tell someone about the book we just finished reading out loud in our house and some of the other amazing books in my life right now. Guess what, dear reader? You win! You’re the one!

First, The Great Brain Does It Again by John D. Fitzgerald


If you don’t know The Great Brain, you are in for a good time. I like to think of him as kin to Tom Sawyer with a money-loving heart and an observant little brother. This book is number 7 in the series (originally the last book, but one more was published posthumously from the author’s notes). You can read the books in any order and each chapter stands more or less alone.

The stories are narrated by JD, the Great Brain’s little brother, and they all take place in a small town in Utah at the end of the 19th century. JD’s older brother, Tom D (or TD), is constantly plotting ways to get rich, mostly by swindling kids out of their money and then convincing them that what he did was acceptable. What I love the most is that while we are laughing at yet another swindle (JD will acknowledge that he has literally never won a bet with Tom even as he shakes his hand on one more sure thing), the books don’t shy away from complex issues like poverty, religion (the family is Catholic in a majority-Mormon area – but no insults here, just acknowledgements), Indigenous peoples (respected!), and even depression (in an earlier book) . This particular book includes lots of belly laughs along with a chapter that brought tears to both my eyes and my 10-year-old’s. We talked about family expectations, chores, who has responsibility for their actions, why Indigenous people were placed on reservations… You get the picture.

We’ve been reading the books out of order (because I couldn’t find them all), so we’ve got two or three left, and we can’t wait to get to the rest of them. Also, we are clearly going to love Tom Sawyer when we get there.

I also just finished Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson


There is much to love about this coming of age novel. First, the language is gorgeous. But my favourite thing is the narration by Jared, the protagonist. He is gentle and thoughtful and narrates his life without self-pity. His voice is so strong that it took me a while to see him as others must: a druggie, alkie, Indigenous kid who is going nowhere. He does not see himself that way – who does? – and his actions make complete sense when we are inside his head. In fact, what I love about this book is that as I read, I believed that Jared’s responses were the only real response available to the world around him. This is first person narration at its best.

I have two reservations about this book, and neither is enough to prevent me from highly recommending it. First, the trickster stuff really picks up right at the end. This is the first book of a trilogy, but I would have like more trickster earlier from a plot perspective. Second, I’d have to think about various reactions if I were to teach this book. Though the violence, drugs and alcohol are all filtered through Jared’s narration, there’s not really any repudiation of these things. So, in terms of *teaching* the novel, I’d want to be thoughtful. In terms of reading it, I’d say “have at it!”

And finally, a mini plug for Ben Clanton’s books Rot, The Cutest in the World and It Came in the Mail.

rot-the-cutest-in-the-world-9781481467629_lg and  81rqrq7hy1l

We found these because my kids wanted more Narwhal books. We’ve finished the Narwhal books (to date) but we found Ben Clanton. Both of my boys – ages 8 & 10 – giggled their way through these and the older declared that It Came In the Mail was “a really good book” even though he’s supposedly done with picture books.

Currently reading:
Read aloud: Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
YA: Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart
PD: Book Love by Penny Kittle
Just for me: Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine by Alan Lightman


Describe Joy #SOL19 10/31


He copied the phrase
into his agenda
Wednesday, February 6
“Décris la joie.”
Describe joy.
After Math.
Before Reading.

Décris la joie.
Describe how wonder is suddenly more necessary than air
when I check on him before I sleep.
The silk of his hair
The satin of his skin
The even slip of his breath.

Décris la joie.
Describe the way my heart seizes and jumps
when they bound in after playing outside.
The whirl of the air
The whoosh of their hugs
The carefree wildness of their laughter.

I ask
Have you done your homework?
Yes, he says,
It was easy.

Reflection on my process:
I originally jotted this exchange down when the assignment came home. I kept coming back to it, and tried to write it as a humorous piece because it made me laugh out loud when it happened. It sort of worked as a funny bit, but there wasn’t much to it.

I hesitated to turn it into a poem, but decided to take the plunge because Slice of Life writing is, in part, about learning to become better writers. If I can’t try new things in this supportive community, when will I try them? Also, it’s the weekend, so I had some time to work on this if I wanted.

The first and last stanzas came easily because they are what literally happened. I nearly published the poem like that, but I know I tend to cut my poems off at the knees by not offering enough development. The middle two stanzas then, were my attempt to show how hard it is for me to describe joy. I made some of the lines longer because I wanted them to reflect the complex nature of the task. I let the sensory details be shorter because, in the end, they seemed to me to be the essence of the feeling.

In the end, I don’t love it, but I like it. I’m still a nervous poet, but I like how this combines the humour of the initial situation with the complexity of the thought behind it. I’m not sure I love the middle two stanzas, but I’m glad I pushed myself to add them. And hey, maybe I’ll try another poem or two this month. We shall see.



It’s just a scratch #SOL19 9/31

Today, Humble Swede over at FiveHundredaDay wrote about a dramatic situation that ended with having to call an ambulance. Suddenly, I knew I wanted to write about one of the times I’ve placed that call.

My sister and I were living in a tiny studio apartment in Portland, OR. I was in graduate school and she was working nights as a social worker in a group home for girls. We had bought a second-hand bunk bed, pushed up against one wall and draped a dark blanket all around to make a sort of sleeping cave. Most of the time, we both slept in the bottom bunk – me at night and her in the daytime. Along with that, we used the room’s built in dresser and a tiny patio cafe table with three chairs that my friends’ grandmother had loaned us for our table. Our kitchen was mostly dinged up pots and pans that we’d found when we bought the bunk bed. We were young.

We saw each other most afternoons when I got home just before she went out. In the precious moments that we were home at the same time, my sister talked almost non-stop. Apparently even a very quiet introvert needs to talk to people sometimes, and her night job provided little interaction with others. In fact, I had threatened to hide a tape recorder and record her talking so that the rest of the world would hear how much she talked when given the space. She was not amused.

So, it wasn’t as unusual as you might expect for my sister to walk into the bathroom while I was taking a shower and start talking to me. I struggled to hear her quiet voice through the stream of water, and had only just made out the words when she fainted.

“I think I cut myself quite badly.”

The water was still running when I called 911. Water puddled and dripped on the white tile floor of the bathroom where I had glimpsed the blood leaking out between her fingers. Water soaked a trail into the old gold carpet from the bathroom door over to the cafe table where the phone perched precariously on some books. Water pooled around my feet as my naked body shivered and I said to the operator, “It’s my sister. She’s cut herself. She’s bleeding and she’s fainted and I don’t know what to do.”

The ambulance arrived in minutes. I don’t remember when I put on clothes – just sweatpants, really, just enough to be decent – but I was on the floor with my sister, holding her while she squeezed her wrist and hand and we held our breath. The EMTs took over, and I called her work to say she wouldn’t be in. I heard them in the bathroom, telling her that she had to release her hand, she had to let go so they could see. They were gentle, but she was trembling, crying.

When she finally released her hold on her wrist, lifting one finger after another, holding her breath to see what damage had been wrought, everyone let out a huge sigh. The knife she was using to cut brownies – the dinged-up, second-hand, dull old knife – had cut her, scratched her, really, a scratch so negligible that an EMT smiled, wiped the blood off and put a band-aid on her wrist.

Then the EMTs left, assuring us that we should always call 911 when we think there’s an emergency, and though we were both embarrassed and relieved, that night we slept in the bunk bed together.