Just add salsa

I was still grumpy from school nonsense when I got home. Since the time changed this weekend, I’ve been walking in the mornings, but my husband took one look at me and suggested I should maybe take an evening walk, too. I declined. He backed out of the kitchen, supposedly to go finish some work.

I stewed.
I scrolled.
I texted.
I muttered.

Finally, I had to admit that none of this was making me feel any better at all. And since I was filling the kitchen with my frustration, no one was making dinner, either. Even Mr. 11 – hungry, as ever, 20 minutes before dinner time – had abandoned the space when I glared and said he could not have a snack. Harumph.

At least if I was alone in the kitchen, I could play my own music. My finger hovered over my list – this was not the moment to let some app determine what I needed to hear – and I landed on Dream in Blue by Los Lobos. I heated water for the pasta and smiled at the thought of Patrick – his horror at my unformed musical taste; his insistence that I listen to, well, everything; his eclectic music the soundtrack to our relationship and the fun we had while it lasted and we listened. 

By now I was reheating the chili and cutting the bread. When the song ended, I didn’t hesitate: very sharp knife in hand, I found Carlos Vives and cranked the volume on Pa Mayte. Ah… My feet started moving, then my hips, and despite the fact that I was in the kitchen making dinner for my family, despite the fact that I will turn 50 in two short weeks, I was back in Chief Ike’s Mambo Room with Linda, sweaty and happy as we danced with whichever partner was nearby, danced after-hours until we were so tired that only their hands and the music held us up. I was at the Gipsy Kings concert dancing on the lawn and I was in Belize, with Amy and Janny and no, I don’t remember how we ended up at the club, but oh, we danced until our feet hurt and we took our shoes off and danced barefoot and then…

Well, then the pasta was done and the chili was warm. Andre came in and turned down the volume because he needed to tell me something. The kids tumbled in and we sat for dinner. And it was good, life was good, life is good.

(especially if you can fit in a little salsa)

The privilege of support

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about kids and classroom behaviour. The same week that I wrote it, the same week that I laughingly remembered some of the things my friends and I got up to in 8th grade, the same week that I blithely assumed that my long-ago teachers “didn’t write Michelle off or worry that she would turn out to be a bad one” – implying, of course, that they didn’t write off any of us – that very same week, Matthew Morris wrote something very different in his post What My Teachers Were Saying About Me

Matthew, a Black male educator in an elementary school in Toronto, wonders what his teachers were saying about him and his friends back when they were in school, in part because he hears what other teachers are saying *right now* about the students in front of them. And the conversations he overhears – “(that boy) is gonna’ end up in jail. Kid just doesn’t know how to get out of his own way” or “(that girl)  is going to end up pregnant by 16, watch” – are not the ones that I was imagining in my post.

As I read his post, my heart sank: no matter how many times I encounter it, I am always shocked when I find another way I experience privilege. I never – never – wondered if my teachers said bad things about me. I mean, maybe they got annoyed with me or kids like me, but I don’t think a single one of my teachers ever sat in a staff room and  predicted a negative life outcome for me. Nor did they think that any of my friends – no matter how outrageous – were going to end up pregnant at 16 or in jail. Now, I should be clear that there were no Black students in our magnet program in suburban South Carolina. We were smart wealthy white kids. We were going places. 

Never mind the fact – the FACT – that a boy in the class above me, a nice smart rich white boy, actually *did* end up in jail while we were still in high school. Never mind the fact that I know of at least two girls who *did* end up pregnant while we were still in high school – and I’d bet there were more.

What does it mean to live in a world where you have every reason to suspect that the people who educate you, who are supposed to be helping you create pathways to your future, also think that you are likely to go nowhere? What does it mean to live, instead, in a world where even your bad behaviour is written off as youthful indiscretions? What does it mean that the colour of a child’s skin might be -no, is –  the difference between these two things?

A few years ago I attended a conference that brought together teachers, support workers, and school resource officers – a community of support. One of the keynote speakers that year was a police chief from the States who had transformed the way her department dealt with kids whose parents were involved with drugs, many of whom were Black children. She told a “before story about an officer at a drug bust handing a baby over to a social worker and saying, “Well, I guess I’ll be seeing you in about 16 years.” The social worker nodded in resignation. A baby. A BABY. The very people who were supposed to be protecting this child had already decided their life’s outcome. And statistically, they weren’t wrong.

I cried after her talk, but the future chief didn’t bother with crying. She got to work and changed the way the community handled these children. She made sure that children’s futures were not about their skin colour or their parents’ faults. She created a community of support, looked at the systemic problems and made changes.

I’ve been thinking about Matthew’s post for a week now, and I’ve been thinking about that police officer. I’ve been thinking about what my teachers said about me and what Matthew’s teachers said about him. I’ve been thinking an awful lot about what I hear other teachers saying as well as what I say or believe about the children in my classroom and in all the classrooms in the school.

I think it’s time for me to be 100% sure that my students know how much I believe in them. In twenty years when they look back at their schooling, I hope their memories are like mine – full of the certainty that the adults in the school buoyed them up, even behind closed doors – and not like Matthew’s. Every child should be lifted by the adults around them. That should not be a privilege but a given.

PS – You should follow Matthew. His voice is powerful. https://www.matthewrmorris.com/

Post-pandemic classroom chaos

Somewhere in the middle of Week One, I had to confiscate the thumbtacks and hide the Sharpies because some of my grade 9 students were using them “inappropriately”. Yup, they were poking each other and drawing, well, everywhere. During Week Three, someone repurposed a pin as a tiny rapier and surreptitiously attacked their classmates. Someone else found spitballs in their hair. I have had to keep both a basketball and a model rocket (“it really works”) at my desk.

Since then, I’ve reminded people to sit down – and reminded and reminded and reminded – not to swear in class (at least not at other people), not to talk while others are talking, not to throw spitballs (seriously, who does that anymore?) or erasers or anything, really, and finally – and somehow most shockingly – not to tie pencils into their hair and then swing their head around to see what will happen. Sometimes I feel like an ogre, but I promise that I am not: I’m just helping students remember how to interact with a group of people outside of their family, a group of people with a purpose beyond amusement. 

To make school better for them, I’ve surveyed students about their interests, offered them choice in reading and choice of writing topics. I’ve tried to create activities that allow students to move (we’ve only recently been allowed to let students work in small groups – I think – it’s hard to keep up with the rules) and to work with peers (or not, if they prefer). I’ve tried to identify learning barriers in my classroom and begun to work towards influencing the ones I can. I let students leave their backpacks in my room at lunchtime (no lockers), and I chat with them whenever they pop by. I’ve played innumerable games of tic-tac-toe with one student who doesn’t yet believe me that, played properly, it will always be a tie.

We take long breaks outdoors during each 2.5 hour class. We get social breaks during class time and… it’s exhausting. Teachers everywhere – not just in my school or my city or even my province – teachers I know from all over North America are talking about how different the kids are this year, how they are wild or immature or out of practice. We tell each other that they have forgotten how to school. And they have. Some of the stories are wild – a purposely broken finger, destroyed bathrooms, public displays of what should be very private acts. And all around us, non-teachers share their opinions: articles, podcasts, tweets and posts tell us that this chaos is good – let’s get rid of compliance and control! – or bad – learning loss is awful and they will never catch up! – but we’re still left with 26 fourteen year olds in a small space for hours every day.

I want to complain – heck, I do complain – but sometime last week I remembered a story about my friend Michelle. Michelle who teaches elementary school, who’s married to a pastor and has raised two lovely children. Michelle who collects picture books signed by the author and is incredibly thoughtful. Michelle who is one of the kindest people you could ever meet. But that’s not the story. Instead, I remembered that when we were in 8th grade she kicked Ken in the groin – hard. I don’t remember why. I do remember that we girls only vaguely understood that this was profoundly painful. I do remember that a teacher pulled her aside and explained exactly why this was particularly wrong – and that later she told us, astonished, about how much damage this could do. She was terribly chagrined – there were tears – and apologized quite sincerely. Ken recovered and 8th grade continued apace, this action soon overshadowed by someone else’s particularly stupid decision.

Until this year, until last week, in fact, I had never thought about what our 8th grade teachers must have said in the teachers’ lounge afterwards. I suspect that they shook their heads ruefully and maybe chuckled a little at the drama of the situation. I imagine that they took some deep breaths and made comments about 8th graders and immaturity. I’m pretty sure they didn’t write Michelle off or worry that she would turn out to be a bad one. I don’t think they decided that we as a group were a particularly mean or immature. I bet they took it all in stride. I bet that they don’t remember the incident at all. Or maybe – maybe – if someone mentioned it now they would have some recollection of it. Heck, I hadn’t thought about this for 30+ years; I’m not sure if Michelle even really remembers this. I mean, we’ve all done some really stupid things.

Now, as I look at my pandemic kiddos who are causing chaos in our classrooms, I have to shake my head. I’m not saying that this year isn’t a wild one – it is wild. I may not bring the thumbtacks back out before Christmas, and I’m not sure I’ll ever trust this group with Sharpies. And yet, when I’m not in the middle of it, when I’ve blinked back the tears of exhaustion and the vice principal has, again, reassured me that this is happening in all of the classes – after all of that, I realize that I had to bite my lip to stop myself from laughing about the pencils tied into the braids. And the kids aren’t the only ones who’ve slipped up on the cursing once or twice; I mean, I’ve been stuck at home during a pandemic, too. I’m pretty sure that the spitballs will dry up over time, and I have a feeling that some of the kids who can’t stay seated for more than about 30 seconds may turn out to be school leaders in a few years. Heck, maybe they’ll even be teachers someday – Michelle is and so am I. After all, pandemic or no pandemic, adolescence is always a little chaotic, right? Deep breaths, a little laughter, and a long-range view are going to help.

Many thanks to http://www.twowritingteachers.org for hosting this space.

The day he was born

I was running back upstairs for something – well, “running” is probably a generous term, let’s go with “waddling quickly.” I was waddling quickly back upstairs for something when my water broke. I had heard that sometimes women can’t tell for sure if their water has broken, but this was unmistakable. Andre was about to leave for work, but instead we called the midwife. “Well,” she shrugged, “statistics tell us that you’ll have a baby in the next 24 hours. Let me know when you’re in labour.” Before she hung up she suggested keeping busy. We decided Andre might as well go to work and get things organized before the baby came. I had a coffee date planned with a pregnant friend – they’re the most forgiving when it comes to last-minute “I can’t come; I’m in labour” cancellations – and she had invited her friend Kate – also pregnant – who she wanted me to meet. I told them my water had broken but that I was still up for meeting if they were. “We can always leave if my contractions start,” I said. They were both game.

I waddled the four blocks down to the coffee shop to meet the girls. Before we went in, we decided to walk a few more blocks to the grocery store to buy a pack of Depends. I immediately put on a pair, then gave the package to Lindsay, who was due in a few weeks. She put two in her bag and gave the rest to Kate, who had a few months to go. That taken care of, we went to Bridgehead. 

We laughed and talked. Kate, my new friend, was delightful. (Our two babies, who met before they were born, are now in the same class at school.) We gloried in the last hot days of August, knowing that none of us would be teaching this semester, that our commitments lay elsewhere. I relaxed into the moment before the beginning, before everything changed, before this new life entered our world. For a few hours, I lived fully in liminal space.

Then the occasional twinge of something that I had been feeling became more clearly a twinge of… maybe a contraction? It was time to go. As we left, I tried to hug Lindsay – whose baby would arrive a few weeks later, bigger at birth than my baby who’d had time to grow outside of the womb. Our giant bellies made the hug impossible and we laughed again. Someone passing by wanted a picture. “When are you due?” he asked as he snapped the shot. I replied casually, “Oh, I’m actually in labour now.”

How I wish I had a picture of his face. How I wish I had the picture he took of us, laughing, our bellies so big we couldn’t wrap our arms around each other. Still, I doubt a picture would have captured the joy of that moment; probably better to hold the image in my mind.

A few hours later, the liminal space was gone, and our second child arrived.

Happy birthday, Mr. 11. You make our world better.

Thanks to the generous hosting of Two Writing Teachers, I write a slice of life every Tuesday. You’re invited, too.

Grief #SOL21 6/21

The first time I understood someone else’s grief was the second time I fell in love with a poem. The day after our beloved Calculus teacher, Doc, died of cancer, the principal announced her passing over the PA.

Doc loved teaching and, I think now, loved us. After her diagnosis, she had taken a summer trip and then decided to keep teaching for as long as she could. We would be her last class – not something we understood at all.

Sometimes, when we were struggling with a concept or deep into a problem, she’d order pizza to be delivered to the school’s back door & sneak it up to the classroom. We’d stay in and do math through lunch. No one ever complained.

Once, when my home life was falling apart, she asked me to come to her house and babysit her granddaughter. I still remember the long quiet afternoon away from home, swaying with the baby as Norah Jones sang “Don’t Know Why.”

After the principal’s dry announcement, Mrs Jackson – 9th grade Algebra – came on. In a voice that quavered at first, she began: “Do not go gentle into that good night”

With each line, each verse her voice grew stronger, until the end: “Do not go gentle into that good night./ Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Was there silence then? It was high school; experience tells me that most of the students went right back to talking. But that’s not what I remember: I remember silence. I remember Dylan Thomas’s words reverberating through homeroom, through the hallways, through the school. I remember knowing that I would cry when I got home.

I had no idea that a poem could stop the world like that. I had no idea that grief could echo in empty spaces. I know now.

Now I know.

Thanks to https://twowritingteachers.org for hosting this annual challenge

I do believe… I do. I do.

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h“The word ‘believe’ is rooted in an old English word meaning to hold dear, esteem, trust; it has the same origins as the word ‘love.’ To ‘believe’ is not to agree with particular ideas or concepts, but it is make a commitment of the heart.” – Rev. Bryant Oskvig

 

Last year, I overheard a colleague complain that “everyone” has autism these days. My first reaction was disgust – how could they!? – but my second was compassion. After all, haven’t we all had times when we didn’t believe?

I was teaching 7th grade math. Math! Of all things. And middle school. I had wanted to teach either 3rd grade or high school English – middle school was on my “never will I ever” list. But here I was, in an oddly-shaped room with creaky wooden floors in an old house in downtown Washington, D.C. The school had as much  personality as its location and the students, well, they matched their surroundings.

To be fair, the teachers were equally unconventional. I was one of the few teachers with any formal education credentials, and all of us were impossibly young and unmistakably dedicated to teaching well. We used to joke that we should just put beds in our offices and move in: it would save us the charade of having a life. I was trying to learn the craft of teaching, but 7th grade math in a quirky little school was a far cry from anything I had studied or practiced in grad school. So I was reading a lot about teaching and doing a whole lot of thinking on my feet.

My classroom was full of squirrelly 12-year-olds, and I was full of crazy ideas. We kept math journals, created math skits, and learned statistics with M&Ms. My fellow teachers and I shared successes and failures daily. We dissected education trends and talked about various ideas for hands-on learning. And we complained. Not a lot, but plenty. Often we complained about how “all the kids” had “some diagnosis” that prevented us from using our fancy, researched techniques.

One of our favorite targets was ADHD (though it was ADD at the time). We were virtually all single 20-somethings, but that didn’t stop us from harrumphing about “kids these days” and speaking knowledgeably about parenting trends and over-medication. I can’t speak for my colleagues, but I firmly believed that ADHD was a fad and that most medication was just to settle down normally active children.

In my classroom, students sat in a semi-circle. That is, when they sat. Memory tells me that “a bunch” of them were boys, but I can’t vouch for that. I can say that they lacked a certain focus every day after lunch. They were sweaty, talking, moving, tapping, crazy creatures who occasionally learned some math almost as if by accident. And then there was Alex.

Alex was in constant motion. He talked a mile a minute and had incredible eyelashes that framed big hazel eyes. He could make me laugh in about half a second, and I was pretty sure that he actually wanted to learn math. That said, he had physically fallen out of his desk more than once… Oh, and he “supposedly” had ADHD. He was pretty much always in some sort of trouble.

For a while, I had tried putting students who misbehaved into the center of the semi-circle. Only belatedly did I realize that a) I was shaming them, and b) many of the boys took complete advantage of having all eyes on them. I needed a new plan. One of my books suggested a “three-strikes and you’re out” policy. I went with it.

I’ve forgotten the lesson that day, but I know it was a fun one. I know this for sure because Alex really wanted to take part. He was leaning forward in his desk, straining and stretching, tilting the whole thing at alarming angles. He had mentioned that he hadn’t taken his meds that morning, but since I didn’t really believe he had ADHD, I didn’t take much notice. I gave him his first warning about 5 minutes into class.

He looked chagrined. “Sorry. I just can’t focus.”

I gave my best stern look, “Well, give it a little more effort.”

He did. I could see he was trying to watch only me. But he just couldn’t. He was trying to watch everyone in the whole class at exactly the same time. Sure enough, minutes later I gave him his second warning and sent him to cool down in the hallway.

He came back in quickly. He was so excited to be in the room. He sat on his hands. He held his beautiful eyes wide open. He squirmed and he wiggled. And he fell out of his desk. Somehow, this time, I knew it had been an accident. But the whole class was laughing, and I had this three strikes policy.

“Alex,” I said, “you have to go to the office.”

“I know,” he replied, and his little head hung low. His whole skinny little body was the picture of despair. “But I was trying to be good.”

My heart broke as I asked the question: “But were you good?”

“No,” he said, so softly I could barely hear him. He looked up through his long lashes as tears started to fall. And he went to the office.

Because, you see, he had ADHD. And he hadn’t taken his medication. So he couldn’t focus, and the whole exciting classroom was one giant distraction for him. I knew it in that moment as surely as I knew anything.

I wanted to shout after him, “Wait! No! I was wrong! I believe!” But I didn’t. And since I wasn’t the only non-believing teacher, that wasn’t his only trip to the office. Happily, we had an incredibly kind principal and a deeply connected community. I taught Alex again, and I was privileged to watch him grow up. Today, I see him on Facebook and I marvel at the compassion he has for his own students. He was an outdoor education instructor and now he teaches science. He seems to be a fantastic teacher, but I could be a little biased.

And I believe. I believe in ADHD and autism and so much more. I worry sometimes about labels, and I know that these things are complicated. But mostly, I look at the children who come into my room and I think, “I believe you. I believe in you.” And I wish for my non-believing colleagues a moment that helps them believe, too.

 

Whisky sour, please

As I navigated the cobbled streets on the way to the hotel, I hoped that would be less awkward than I had been at 13. I was 20, on my way to meet a charming British gentleman at his hotel in Strasbourg, France.

I was studying abroad and my aunt’s father-in-law was attending a meeting not far from my temporary home. My aunt, always interested in strengthening the ties between the people she loves, had insisted that we get together. So here I was, teetering precariously through the ancient streets on brand new heels to meet a man I barely knew.

The last time I had seen Bill – the only time, in fact – was at my aunt’s wedding 7 years earlier. I had been an awkward 13 who fell hard for a handsome blond British boy who’d flown in for the wedding. He was one of my very first crushes. We had spent a lot of time gazing and each other and dancing. There is a distressing amount of photographic evidence of this. Bill, the bride’s father and the 15-year-old’s great uncle (I think), apparently found me charming, though looking back I did not recollect feeling charming in anyway. ‘Self-conscious’ would have been my choice of description.

I was definitely self-conscious now, as I walked into the lobby of a fancy hotel on the River Ill and glanced around for a man who was 44 years my senior. Ah, there he was, crossing the room with a welcoming smile. I can’t remember if he kissed me on my cheek or placed a comfortable hand over mine, but I’d bet he did both. He embodies graciousness, and his kind presence calmed me as we said hello.

He immediately suggested an aperitif, and naturally I agreed, but as we walked across the lobby to the elegant bar, I was suddenly aware that I had no idea how to order a drink. Of course I had been on dates before, and I’d been to college bars, but I wasn’t a big drinker, and since I wasn’t of legal drinking age at home, I’d never ordered a drink in a fancy restaurant. What was I going to do?

We sat down, and my increasing panic must have shown. A glass of wine? Surely not a beer? I didn’t even know the names of most cocktails. My eyes darted to the bar as the waiter approached. Then, quietly but with a sparkle in his eyes, Bill leaned towards me and said, “If I may. I suggest a whisky sour. In my experience, the ladies enjoy the sweetness and the men are always impressed by the whisky.”

I ordered my first whisky sour that evening, and I kept ordering them for years. Bill was right: I impressed many a date with a confident, “whisky sour, please.” Their sweetness accompanied by the complex undertones of the whisky always brought the echo of a lovely evening in Strasbourg, France with a charming older gentleman who saw me as I could be.

Bill turned 90 this week – my aunt, still connecting us all these years later, has been sending me pictures of the celebrations –  and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him a few more times in the quarter century since that evening. To me, he is the epitome of graciousness. So today, I raise my glass to Bill, and to his clever recommendation and simple kindness to a young woman he barely knew in a restaurant in a foreign country 25 years ago. I’ll have a whisky sour, please.

Late Night History

It’s late and the long weekend has begun. My mother and my aunt have arrived. The kids are asleep, my mother too. Me? I’m exhausted  – sleep has eluded me several nights this week – but up late trying to write my slice for tomorrow. I am overwhelmed at the thought of this month ending, overwhelmed by the supportive community here, overwhelmed by what I’ve learned and what I’ve experienced. I have changed, and I had planned to write about it. But I’m sitting in at the kitchen listening to my husband and my aunt, deep in animated conversation. Honestly… how can I write or reflect when they are talking history?

For my husband and my aunt, history is alive and fully present. They are teary while talking about Uncle Pete (my great uncle) finding a baby during WW2 and carrying it with him through France until he found a family to care for it weeks. My aunt has a picture of the baby on her phone, but no one knows what happened after Pete gave the baby back. As Pete was dying, he wondered about that baby.

UPDATE: Here’s the picture of “Pete’s baby”
Pete's baby.jpg

And now my aunt is telling another story… and there are more tears – for a soldier who died at 19, for his buddy who lived and married his friend’s widow, for his revelation 50 years later that he had been living his buddy’s life for him and, after all that, he was afraid if his wife died first she would meet his buddy in Heaven and he would lose her forever. He died minutes before she did. These men, their stories, they are real and important right now in this kitchen.

And now they are laughing through the tears – for Uncle Pete who probably would have been diagnosed with PTSD and swore to God on a battlefield that if he ever got home he would never leave Rte 27 again. How he RSVP’d for a wedding by writing on the back of the invitation “Sorry, can’t leave Rte 27 yet.” How he really thought that Eleanor Roosevelt and Churchill were having an affair. And about the seemingly endless keg of beer in his basement…

And now they are on to Band of Brothers. And Saving Private Ryan. And Frederick Forsyth’s “The Shepherd.” Movies and stories and books that have embodied the stories that move them to tears. Their passion, the way they build on one another, their fully focused presence in this kitchen, far from any battle – it’s absorbing.

And here I sit, listening, writing, and marveling at their passion, at how stories bring these men into our kitchen, at how important the stories are. Tomorrow, I’ll mourn the end of this Slice of Life Challenge. Tonight, I’m listening to two of my favourite people discuss their passion like it is alive. What could be better?

slice-of-life_individual

 

Slice of Life Day 30, March 2018

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for this wonderful month of inspiration.

 

For D’Arcy: a list

If you are reading my blog regularly or semi-regularly this month (thank you!), you may have noticed that I’ve had a tough week. I know this makes several heavy posts in a row, but I suppose some weeks are like that, and these are the moments that are resonating with me. Thanks for hanging in there with me. I’ve been noticing plenty of sunshine even through this gray; I promise to share it soon. 

For D’Arcy – a list

I remember

  • You walked onto the frozen canal wearing only a thin – but very fashionable – shirt and a light jacket. Your mother muttered to me, “He runs hot. He has always run hot. I worry about him.” I thought it was sweet that she worried about a nearly-grown man. Surely you knew if you were cold?
  • The nurse called from the hospital, “He said to tell you he is fine. He told us that you are pregnant. He’s worried that you’ll be upset.” I was at work. You were not fine. I was upset. I still don’t know why you asked them to call me and not your brother. I was worried, you hot-headed boy.
  • We stood just outside the movie theatre near those stairs, the hot sun shining through the big windows, illuminating us. You said, “It must be so incredible to be growing a life inside you.” I was heavy and hot. “Not so incredible, just exhausting,” I grumbled, but you still had a look of wonder on your face. Or maybe I’ve added that.
  • Andre hung up the phone and momentarily filled the doorway, saying, “My brother is dead.” And then he crumpled. It was March. It was cold.

I can no longer remember

  • The last time I saw you.
  • What you cooked that night we came over for dinner.
  • What happened after that first phone call from the hospital. You stayed with us, right? Surely you stayed with us.
  • If you ever came inside our new house.
  • If you ever touched my pregnant belly.
  • If you ever felt your nephew kick.

It’s been 10 years. Even the most solid things are melting away. Is it a memory or a photograph? A story someone told? A detail I added to comfort myself? I can’t remember anymore.

I can’t remember.

slice-of-life_individual

 

Slice of Life, Day 23, March 2018

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for this wonderful month of inspiration.

Learning to love again

Once, when my older son was about 3, not long after his brother was born, he started a list of all the things he loved. He was inspired by the large roll of paper we were drawing on and the urgent need to capture the incredible greatness of everything. He dictated; I wrote. He had a LOT to share, and I had trouble keeping up. At one point he stopped to take a breath, looked over at me and commanded: “Mommy, you do it, too.” Good idea: next to his list, I wrote the heading “Things Mommy loves” and underlined it. I wrote 1. Then I hesitated.

“Love” is such a big word. There are many things I like, but things I love? I wanted his expansive, all-encompassing list, but I could only think “my children, my husband” in the most common and inane way. I wanted to feel his urgency, but instead I was mired in uncertainty, unwilling to commit, unable to generate even one thing. I rejected everything: yoga? I mean, I really enjoy it, but love it? Maybe ice cream? How silly is it to start with ice cream? Teaching? I love teaching, but what does it say that my list of things I love starts with my job? I got tangled in my own head and couldn’t get myself unstuck. My toddler loved THE WHOLE WORLD and I couldn’t write anything. I was exhausted and I was nearly in tears. My child had no interest in my existential crisis.

“Mommy!” His little voice was imperious. “Do you like fudge?”

“Well, yes,” I hesitated.

“Then write that down.”

And my love blew the world open again.

—-

This memory returned to me when I saw Elisabeth Ellington’s 12 things I love slice. I was inspired. (She, in turn, was inspired by Margaret Simon who was inspired by two others.) With a nod to those who came before me, and special gratitude to my son, who continues to teach me to love, here are 12 things I love.

12 Things I Love

  1. I love fudge. (Because even though if I stopped to think about it, I would probably list it under “likes”, it counts. Everything counts.)
  2. I love chai tea, creamy with milk, in the morning
  3. I love the way my 7-year-old hums and sings as he goes about his day.
  4. I love reading a book that’s so good I stay up past my bedtime or sneak paragraphs in the car before picking up the children.
  5. I love breakfast. I love that we eat breakfast together as a family. I love that we make big elaborate breakfasts on weekdays and then laze around and eat dry cereal on the weekends.
  6. I love when the phone rings and the caller ID tells me it’s one of my sisters or one of my best friends. I love that sliver of time before I press “talk” when I’m already smiling.
  7. I love ice cream. I especially love Breyer’s vanilla ice cream with real vanilla beans. Because that is the best.
  8. I love starry nights at the beach.
  9. I love teaching. I love being in the classroom, getting to know the kids, trying to figure them out, trying to show them why I love literature, helping them find their own voice and their own love.
  10. I love yoga. I love feeling my body stretch out and my mind pull in to focus on body and breath, breath and body.
  11. I love baths. Long, hot baths are one definition of luxury.
  12. I love.

 

Day 13 of the Slice of Life Challenge