A blessing for my students

 

Several of my students are in crisis. I feel almost false as I write about everything but them but, though my head is a-swirl with their situations, I cannot write about what is happening. Their stories are theirs; I cannot share them here. Even if I could, I wouldn’t know how to share because the pain, the hardness, it’s too much for me to process right now. I can support, act, think, but I can’t feel this all yet. It’s too much. I am spent, and I don’t know what to write. How do you slice someone else’s pain?


I keep thinking about the Irish blessings people wrote about on St. Patrick’s Day. If I cannot write their stories, perhaps I can write of my hopes instead. Maybe that will lift some of this weight. What can I offer these young people?

A teacher’s blessing

I wish for you…
the strength to continue to speak the truth and to believe that your truth matters;
the understanding that adults are neither always good, right or kind nor always mean, wrong or vindictive;
the ability to continue to believe that the world is generally good, even when that is not your current experience.

On your journey, may you find…
ideas that nourish you;
friends who support you;
dreams that propel you forward into the world.

May you see, as I see…
your friends, who hold you close and support you, even when you are unsure;
your family, who love you, even when you cannot believe this;
your self, who shines brightly, even when you feel unseen.

May the path that lies before you be smoothed by the choices you made today.
May the love that awaits you be deepened by the emotion you experience now.
May the adult you become be shaped by the child you are in this moment.

For all that you think you are broken, you carry within you our dream of the undiminished future.

Oh, my students! Tonight, I wish you peace.

 

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Slice of Life, Day 22, March 2018

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

The first kisses

I had some ideas for today’s slice, then I drove the swim team carpool. Nothing like a bunch of 9-year-olds to throw off your plans. 

Tonight as we left swim practice, one of the little girls kissed the other on the nose. They giggled. Then she came towards my son, the only boy in the group of three.

He said, “Don’t you dare kiss me” but she was on her way over before he even started to talk. She kissed his cheek. He wiped it off. “GROSS.”

She giggled. She kissed his arm. He wiped it off. “GROSS.”

The three of them tumbled through the hallways of the sportsplex, chasing and catching, twisting and turning, giggling and gasping.

She caught him and said, “Your choice: I can kiss you or I can lick you.”
He furrowed his brow, “Gross. I think I’d rather if you bit me.”

I tried not to laugh.

She kissed his shoulder. He twisted away but didn’t go far.

I wanted to be reasonable, to be appropriate, to talk of consent or, well, something. I said, “You know that it’s not ok to kiss someone who doesn’t want to be kissed.” Three sets of eyes looked at me pityingly. “WE KNOW.”

We got in the car. He sat in the middle. They whispered and giggled. As the door opened for her to get out, she kissed his cheek. “I’d rather you bit me!” he yelled after her. 

She just might, at that.

 

This is the first time I’ve seen him act like this. This is the first time he let himself be caught. Later, I reminded him that no one should be touched or kissed if they don’t want to be. He told me he knew. He said he “didn’t really mind.” Oh, my heart!

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Slice of Life, Day 21, March 2018

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

Secure the school

The text message said “Kids’ school on lockdown shooter on the loose” and all the blood immediately drained out of my lips, my hands, my feet. I read it again. The blood pounded in my ears which was odd because I could feel it leaving my face.

I was in my office at school and some instinct told me I was not well, I needed help. I stood up and walked into the hallway. No one was there. Everyone was in class. I weaved towards the stairwell. Andrew found me. Sweet crazy Andrew who last year in Grade 9 English had discovered graphic novels and figured out allegory all on his own. Andrew who brought me that novel and said, “Miss, I really think that this bear and these lions mean something else.” Andrew who could see beyond the page to discover the unexpected. Andrew saw me. He saw beyond the teacher. His eyes widened in alarm and he ran to my side. “Miss, are you ok?”

No. There’s a shooter.

No, I’m not ok. There’s a shooter in my children’s school.

No.

Finally, “No,” I said out loud.

Poor Andrew, gawky Andrew who had grown inches over the summer, put his hand on my arm. “What should I do?”

“I think I need a grown up” was all I could manage.

Andrew said, “I think you need to stay with me. Come on, Ms Potts.” He grasped my upper arm and led me gently not to the nearest classroom but, he later told me, to the nearest teacher he trusted. He knocked respectfully and when the teacher came to the door he said, “Ms Potts is not ok.”

I was not ok. My colleague came forward and my legs gave out.

I don’t remember much after that.

I was in my office. My colleague was there. She was giving me water.

I was in one of the good chairs. The principal was there. I was telling him about the shooter. No, he said, no, no shooter in a school. My phone. I showed them my phone. They saw the message.

They checked the computer. Yes, there had been a shooting. Someone was dead. I couldn’t breathe. Near the school, it was near the school.

It was not in the school. I could breathe a little. I took little breaths, I was gasping. “Breathe!” said my colleague. “Breathe.”

I breathed. I could breathe. I could hear. Shooting. Monument. Went towards Parliament Hill. How many shooters? Where were they? Not in the school not in the school not in the school. The voices told me not in the school not in the school not in the school. I could breathe a little. I could hear again.

I started to cry. I am crying as I write this, years later. I cried and then I breathed. My hands were trembling, no, shaking. My fingers were white. My chest ached for breath.

I sat there for a long time as we made sense of what was going on. The reports were unclear, hurried, breathless. But none of them mentioned a school. No shooter was in the school.

Our office was crowded, crowded. I needed to walk. I walked. The Vice Principal, the curmudgeon not the kind one, saw me. “Come in, come in,” he hustled me into his office.

“Why are you so upset?” he barked. He does not like upset; he does not like tears.

“My children,” I said. “Their school is on lockdown,” I said. “A shooting,” I said, “only one kilometer away.”

“Nonsense,” he growled. “None of our schools are on lockdown.”

“But this one is, this one…”

He was impatient. He does not approve of overreaction. He believes in data, in facts. “What makes you think that?”

The text. I told him about the text, the news.

He bristled, “News media.” Harumph, grumble, growl. “Let’s review the facts here, Amanda. There are facts.” He turned his computer screen toward me. “This is the Board’s current status of schools. You can see as well as I can that no schools are on lockdown.”

I was getting a little angry at him. His stupid growling voice. His insistence that he was right and I was wrong.

“I see that, but I actually don’t believe it,” I snarled back.

“Ridiculous.” His pronouncement seemed final. Then he looked at me, almost unable to understand that I would not believe the screen in front of me, “Hold on.” He picked up the phone and called someone. “Are any of our schools on lockdown?” he barked. “No?” He looked directly at me. “Ok, thank you.” He hung up.

“There. Now, use your head. The public, the media, they don’t know what ‘lockdown’ means. They think everything is a lockdown. ‘Lockdown! Lockdown!’ It makes a good story. It scares everyone. Look at you!” He was on a roll. “You know better. We have levels! We have plans! Here, for example, at our school we’re on ‘shelter in place.’ Does a reporter know what that means? No! No, and they don’t care. They write “lockdown” and everyone goes to pieces. Your children’s school is on “secure the school.” They are safe. You need to calm down.”

He paused for a breath. I was getting angry. I needed to calm down? *I* needed to calm down? To calm down! I felt my jaw set. Energy coursed through my veins. I was just about to say something rash when he interrupted again. AGAIN. He is always interrupting. Oooh… that man.

“Now. Have you eaten lunch? Can you teach next period? Because if you’re not going to teach, I need to get someone to cover for you.” He was no longer looking directly at me. He slid his eyes over and sneaked a peek at me. He waited.

I was mad and then I started to laugh. I was still a little freaked out, but I was no longer in shock. I’d seen the school status, I’d heard the phone conversation, I knew he was right – and he’d managed to get my blood pumping again. I thought about my Grade 9 class. I thought about how scared they might be right now – the news had shooters running all over Ottawa, though later we would learn that there was only one. I knew my room would be safe for them, and I knew we could talk about it. I took a deep breath and said, “Yes. Yes, I can teach.”

I stood up to leave, started to walk out, turned and said, “Thank you.”

He nodded, already distracted by the computer screen, “They’re fine, Amanda. They are completely safe and fine.” And he went back to work – and, carefully, so did I.

My children were fine. They were more than fine. Their amazing teachers, a mere one kilometer from a shooting that rocked Canada, carried on without telling the kids what was happening. The kids came home from school saying things like, “Guess what? We got to watch a movie today!” They didn’t have a care in the world. I hope that I can have their teachers’ strength in the midst of a crisis.  I wrote their teachers and support staff a thank you note. It wasn’t nearly enough.

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Slice of Life, Day 20, March 2018

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

 

 

Lockdown

We knew it was coming that day. Fire drills and practice lockdowns are covertly scheduled on the teacher calendar as “Admin days” so that we know not to plan guest speakers or tests on those particular days. And since we’re in a cold climate, we do the fire drills one-two-three in the fall before the weather changes. That means that the remaining Admin Day is for a lockdown. So lockdown practice is no shock: the only question is which period will be disrupted. Since we’d made it to last period, we knew the answer to that, too.

My colleague Margie and I shared a prep period, so we had to decide where to spend the lockdown. The English office is in what used to be a photography suite. The front room where we have our desks looks ordinary enough, but there’s a regular rabbit’s warren of rooms attached to it:  near the back, a little coat closet where we also store our DVD collection; off to one side, a large-ish half-empty room where we keep the printer, extra supplies and the shared Chromebooks; next to that, crowded with books, a refrigerator, a tiny desk and a phone, a mini room, and through the mini-room the former dark room, which now serves as a kitchen. We glanced around as the class bell sounded – the coat closet was too small, the printer room too bare, but the kitchen was just right: far from the door, dark, hard for anyone to access.

We set up quickly, dragging in two chairs, our laptops, and some grading. We made ourselves a cup of tea. After all, lockdowns can take a long time. The admin team goes door to door releasing everyone on all three floors of the school. Classrooms get released first, usually from the basement upwards; teachers’ offices on the second floor aren’t a high priority. Sure enough, a few minutes into our preparations, the PA blared about the lockdown and we went into the kitchen, closing the office door, the mini-room door, and the kitchen door behind us.

We settled in. First, we discussed when we should “get small.” Obviously we were supposed to turn off the lights and be silent for the whole time, but this seemed like overkill; we were three doors away from the hallway, snug in our cozy kitchen. We decided to turn the lights off but chatted amiably in the darkness – her family, my family, our classes, plans for the upcoming break. After a nice long conversation, we realized that we would probably be released soon, so we stopped talking in case an administrator came in. We knew that we shouldn’t have our laptops out but, we chuckled, “better to ask forgiveness than permission,” and opened them up. For a while we worked away in companionable silence. Finally, one of us suggested that since we were already breaking one rule, and since we really were very well hidden, we could probably get away with turning on the light so we could grade. We would keep our ears open and snap the light off before an administrator came in. So we started to grade.

Image result for teacher marking cup of tea
https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/MagnificentMugShop

 

We are English teachers. We had a lot to grade.

I finished up my tea and thought about making another. It was nearly silent all around us. This has been an incredibly productive lockdown, I thought, just as I registered my previous thought. “Nearly silent.” NEARLY? Wait a second. I looked at Margie.

Did you hear a toilet flush?”

“Yes. We’re right next to the girls’ bathroom,” she replied nonchalantly, focused on a creative writing piece.

Wait…Wait… She looked up. “Wait a second. Who’s flushing the toilet during a lockdown?”

My eyes darted around the room. “How long have we been in here? Does it seem like a long time?” I checked my watch. I nearly shrieked, “Margie! We’ve been in here for nearly an hour!”

“But no one has come! There was no-end-of-lockdown announcement. We would have heard.”

“But I heard the toilet flush.”

We looked at each other in complete confusion. “What should we do?”

We slowly turned the handle on the kitchen door. The mini room was still dark, the door still closed, but light seeped through the crack at the bottom. Surely we had turned off the office light? I crept out of the kitchen and reached for the phone. Quick as I could, I dialed the secretary: “Cindy? It’s Amanda,” I whispered, “Is the lockdown over? Margie and I are hiding in the English kitchen.”

At first there was dumbfounded silence. Then hysterical laughter. When Cindy caught her breath, we learned that the lockdown had ended about 40 minutes earlier. Our new vice principal didn’t know about the crazy English office layout. She checked the main room then moved on. And there’s no PA in the back rooms, so we missed the announcement, too. We just hung out in the kitchen and graded right through it all, uninterrupted by the normal hurly burly of the high school. The VP apologized over and over; the principal stopped by to apologize, too. Our colleagues were vaguely horrified: “You were stuck in there for an hour? Oh, how awful!” Margie and I tried to be graceful, to look appropriately put out, to pretend that we had been bored or worried, but really, that was the best – and only – productive lockdown I’ve ever experienced. 

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Slice of Life, Day 19, March 2018

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

 

You’ve got mail

Image result for emailDear Amanda,

I love you, but girl, never make the mistake of thinking you are unique. After all, a name is just a name. And an email address? That’s only barely yours at all. Let me tell you, I got another of those emails tonight: “Confirm your Twitter account, Amanda Potts. It’s easy — just click the button below.”

Don’t worry: I get this message about once a month and I never click the button…but I’ll tell you what, I think Amanda’s trying to get pregnant. I know she lives in Arizona and I live in Ottawa, but there are some obvious signs. I mean, first of all, let’s talk about the BabyCenter emails. They’re all about when to have sex and how to prepare your body for pregnancy. By the time I got on BabyCenter, I jumped straight to the “your baby is now the size of a insert small fruit or vegetable here” emails, so I’m guessing she’s still trying – but she could absolutely be pregnant even as I type. Shh – if I find out, I won’t tell anyone.

I *will* share a secret with you, though: I can’t tell anyone who knows her because I’ve never met her. You see, there are these other Amanda Pottses out there and they keep accidentally using my email address.

Which means that I know that Amanda Potts is probably on her way to Portugal by now. Her “Ocean and Yoga Leadership Retreat” sounded great when I found out about it last month. I bet that the hosts, Fernando and Eva, are lovely, and I kind of want to meet Max, the surfing instructor. It’s really too bad that I have to, you know, work and watch my children in Ottawa during that scheduled retreat – I would love to go. And I missed out on those Sandals retreat points last year, too. Such a shame.

Still, I can’t say I’m sorry I missed the “Bare-assed Silverado Stay” a few years ago, back when she was trying to make a go of things as an actress. I kind of admired her daring, but I’m just too old for that kind of thing anymore. Apparently Amanda lost her underwear? Possibly in at a ranch somewhere? Though she was definitely living in California at the time and, really, it’s not like her to vacation where she lives. Anyway, according to her therapist, who believes all things happen for a reason and suggested that perhaps I should be part of her on-line therapy group… but wait, that’s private. Well, sort of. I mean, she accidentally emailed me instead of, well, Amanda.

Now, I’m pretty sure that Midwest Amanda Potts, who has registered for several conferences that sound so incredibly dull that I can only assume that she is going for work, would be horrified if she knew everything I know about her. Because, I think we can all say it’s obvious that she’s a somewhat private person. And possibly she’s a workaholic? Odds are increasing with every passing email. Perhaps when I finally figure out her actual email address I should put her in touch with Arizona Amanda? Because I’m pretty sure that Surf and Yoga Amanda is just a *little* too wild for midwestern Amanda. Not that I would know. But those emails give me more than an inkling.

I do worry a little. I mean, maybe it’s the name? Maybe there’s a secret truth about Amanda Potts that means that I, too, give oodles of people the wrong email address on a regular basis. Maybe there are emails meant for me  that are actually somewhere in cyberspace randomly arriving in another Amanda Potts’s inbox.

I assure myself: this is not possible. I’m the one with the good email address. Too bad for those other Amanda Pottses that I am older and was the first to jump on the email thing all those years ago. Age has its privileges. They’ll just have to deal with my email superiority – or, well, I guess I just have to deal with all of their email.

For now, I’ll just keep forwarding the messages to the Amandas I’ve found and looking for the ones I haven’t – and I’ll consider the trove of absolutely crazy messages I’ve received as fair payment. Oh, and I’ve got to go find the Amanda Potts who’s publishing on Academia.com. I would love to share my email with her.

Yours,

Amanda

slice-of-life_individualSlice of Life, Day 18, March 2018

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

Swimming in words

I’m not sure the formatting will work everywhere, so at the bottom I’m trying (for the first time!) to embed the document as I wrote it. Read the version that works for you – but no need to read both because they are the same.IMG_4345.jpg

Swimming in words

Alewives

Decorated warbonnet

Mosshead warbonnet

Penpoint gunnel

My son is dyslexic. Longfin sculpin Sailfin sculpin

Letters and words swim around my child

Crescent gunnel

Pacific spiny lumpsucker

Strawberry anemone

Northern ronquil Northern clingfish and he can’t always make the letters

Scalyhead sculpin

Match the sounds.

Like today at the aquarium when Cabezon Kelp Greenling Banggai Cardinalfish

Swim before me, and everywhere are the Estuarnine stonefish Frogfish Polkadot batfish and

I search for the Stocky anthias Square spot fairy basslet Sea goldie French grunt but

My head swims and I cannot make the names match the Saucereye Porgy

Sergeant Major

Blue tang

Lookdown

Ocean Surgeon

Blue striped grunt

Koran angelfish

When Smallmouth Grunt and “Look, a Red Lionfish!” and my boy reads those words.

The sounds are starting to match the letters.

I begin to be able to name the beauty swimming around us.

So we are patient for the Red Irish Lord Jewel damsel Fire goby

And together we see the 

High-hat

Moon jelly

C-O sole.

It’s an early draft, for sure, but here I am, publishing it anyway.

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Slice of Life, Day 17, March 2018

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

I can’t write today because…

the credit card company called and told me that someone is using my credit card (to buy from UberEats, of all things – clearly they do not have any clue about how to disguise their usage) and now I have to get a new one and I won’t have it for 7 days and even though I don’t think I use my credit card a lot I actually do and this is going to be a problem.

I have to fight with both of my children to get them to learn their math facts. This will take at least an hour for approximately 10 minutes of practice. Each

the batteries in the wireless keyboard are running low and I don’t know if any of the other batteries are charged and it’s too much trouble to go check.

I promised myself I wouldn’t write until I was done grading and I’m not going to be done grading until I die, which is going to make it really hard to write.

the cats are asking to be fed. Again.

and speaking of cat food, we are running out and someone needs to go buy new and you just know that’s going to be me.

I’m driving the swim team carpool.

I’m pretty sure that my writing posture is giving me carpal tunnel so I probably need to take the day off.

I’m not supposed to go on the computer before bedtime and bedtime is definitely near.

I’m on vacation and too many things have happened for me to choose just one to write about.

I told my family about my blog and now I can’t write about them so my source of inspiration is gone.

I’m just too tired.

(I’ve been keeping this list since the beginning of this challenge. Not gonna lie – I was hoping to save it for later in the month, but we’re on vacation and I am exhausted – go figure. So, here it is. And hopefully tomorrow I can process intense family time and great fun in a way that makes sense.)

 

slice-of-life_individualSlice of Life, Day 16, March 2018

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

 

 

 

Passenger

I am a terrible passenger. I am writing this so that I will not look at the road and

snowy trees.jpg
Look at all that snow! Too much for March – terrible driving weather.

involuntarily wince as my husband passes trucks. It’s terrible driving weather – snow falling, temperature hovering near freezing, road deceptively black and mostly (hopefully) wet rather than icy. He’s a good driver, but I still can’t comfortably watch.

So far, to keep my eyes off the road and my hands from gripping the armrest, I have played Sudoku while listening to an audiobook, read an entire book aloud to our children, and scrolled through my phone (supposedly to read the newspaper). Now I’m writing. We’ve only been on the road for two hours. We have two and a half to go.

I wish I were a better passenger. I wish I could settle in and allow someone else to be in charge without second guessing, well, everything. When I think about it, I can feel myself sitting back and admiring the scenery. I can almost hear myself chatting breezily with my husband and not holding my breath as we round a curve. I relax because I’m not trying to hide by my ridiculous reactions. I imagine the mundane joy of showing someone how much I trust them by simply remaining calm.

But this is beyond my conscious control, and my subconscious desire to be in the driver’s seat comes with a cost: my reactions can make others less confident (or sometimes even angry); I end up doing the lion’s share of the driving; and I struggle to let go. And then there’s the emotional toll of trying to hide the irrational panic that grips me as we pass another truck.

I am a terrible passenger. It’s something I am working on.

But… after we arrived, I asked my husband to read this because I was feeling like a heel. He agreed with every word (harumph), but he swears that he only barely noticed me holding my breath once on this trip, and he says I need to add that I am a great driver. I’m pretty sure he’s not placating me. In case you’re wondering, he’s a fantastic passenger.

Slice of Life, Day 15, March 2018

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for this wonderful month.

Mini-slice, no pie

It’s pi day and this year I’ve been trying to explain to my kids what that means. We’re on vacation right now, and I suggested pie for dessert in honour of pi day. I was imagining cutting it and talking about diameter. So we went to the grocery store, where they chose Oreo ice cream and ice cream sandwiches. I said, “What about pi day?” They said, “Mom, we want ice cream.”

So we had ice cream.

Another drop in the bucket

We all know about the proverbial “drop that made the bucket overflow.” My husband sees this as a negative – who wants their bucket to overflow? – but I think I confused it with the biblical “my cup runneth over” so I have long seen it as a positive – who doesn’t want a full bucket?  For me, when someone’s bucket overflows, they are full and they are ready for the next step. What next step? No idea – I’m the one mixing metaphors here. Maybe they’re ready for a bigger bucket? Hmm… Either way, when I’m working with students, if I’m really lucky, there comes a moment when everything clicks and their bucket finally overflows, everything is suddenly different, even if the difference is small in the grand scheme of things. I’ve been privileged to experience some of those moments in my career, and those memories, those little floods will sustain me for a long time. I know that there are children for whom I have made a difference.

But here’s the thing: it takes a lot of drops to fill a bucket before it can overflow, and sometimes we don’t count all those drops. The work can seem endless and daunting. Most days, teaching isn’t about the wonderful overflow; most days, teaching is about adding drops to the buckets with no guarantee that they will ever be full.

Let me be clear: I do not think my students are vessels into whom I pour learning. As I tell them, “Sorry guys, you have to work a lot harder than that.” Nor do I believe in the teacher as savior who swoops in, fills up the bucket and changes lives. It’s not that easy either. But that doesn’t let me off the hook: I am still responsible for putting drops of love and learning, confidence and questioning, into my students’ buckets. And I need to work especially hard to help fill the leaky ones.

So I fill them as best I can: I say thank you to the students; I comment on their writing; I listen to them; sometimes I bring brownies in just because; I encourage students to sing happy birthday to each other; we talk about things that happen in the world, things that are on their mind; I acknowledge that the work they are doing is hard, and I am overt about telling them that I think they can do it; we use the word “yet” a lot; I try to apologize when I need to and to admit what I don’t know; I call home when things go well; I follow students into the hallways when they leave, and I tell them they are not broken. They are not broken.

Last week, when I finally leaned down next to M, whose head has been on the desk for days, who has stopped taking off his jacket or his hat, who just gave up football to concentrate on school but who hasn’t been concentrating on school at all… last week, when I whispered, “I’m worried about you,” I was not under the impression that I was going to change anything, but I really wanted him to know that I see him and that I care. I am only his teacher and only one of four and only this semester. I don’t understand him (yet) or even always like him (yet). He turned his head away from me and grumbled, “I’m worried about YOU.” I laughed and said, “Fair enough.”

And let me tell you, nothing changed. But M’s bucket is leaking, and I’m going to fill it with as many drops as I can because somebody needs to. In fact, more than one somebody needs to. If we’re lucky, we’ll see a change before he graduates. But we may not. This is the second year I’ve worked with him, and I can’t say that things are looking up for him…yet. But they might. And they surely won’t if we decide he’s too hard to work with, too far behind, too defiant, too tired, too tough for us.

Me? I’m just going to keep adding drops to that leaky bucket of his because someday he’s going to be an adult, and his bucket needs filling. When the time comes, I hope his bucket is so full that he is  ready to overflow. I hope his cup runneth over.

 

slice-of-life_individualSlice of Life, Day 14, March 2018

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for this wonderful month.