Thursday, March 24, 2016


The world is still immersed in darkness, 
and the house stands quietly, 
waiting for the day to begin. 

Sitting on the couch, 
sipping coffee,
I soak in the peacefulness of the moment. 
The sky begins to lighten
and I am reminded 
that the impending hustle of the day 
lies just up ahead. 
There are errands to run, 
laundry to wash, 
children to feed. 

But right now, the moment is all mine.

My mind skips across thoughts,
never landing in any one place for too long. 
It doesn't need to. 
Here in the quiet anything is possible.  
The day still stretches out before me, 
beckoning me to make of it 
what I will. 
There is no multitude of demands
pulling me in different directions all at once.  
I am in control of what will be. 

It is an illusion perhaps, 
but that is what makes these morning interludes so soothing.

Here, I can see clearly.  

Here, I am at peace.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Who Is This Kid?

A few years ago, when my husband and I mentioned to a family member that we were going to Disneyland, she commented something like, "Again?" Her disbelief and disdain were apparent. We had been the year before, why on earth would we be going there again?

There are several reasons I suppose.  For one thing, it is fun.  For another, it is truly the Happiest Place on Earth. When I am there I feel like a kid again, and I enjoy having my greatest worry be how long the line is to ride Space Mountain and where I am going to get my next meal.

Since having kids, however, the greatest reason for going to Disneyland almost annually is seeing how it changes from year to year. Each time we go it is a different experience.  I remember when Jared, now 13, saw Lightning McQueen for the first time and, reverently laying his hand on its hood, exclaimed, "See? I told you he was real." I remember the way Jack's little face lit up while watching the parade and how he waved shyly to Mickey Mouse. As the boys changed, so too did their enjoyment.

This year Jack got to experience Disneyland in a way he never had before - as an only child.  With Jared off with his band friends, it was just Mom, Dad, and Jack.  He was giddy with excitement. No big brother dictating which ride to go on next. No cajoling to ride a ride that was just too scary.  The park was his to enjoy.

And enjoy he did.  Pirates of the Caribbean was his new favorite ride. Where once he was terrified of the dark and the drops, now he relished in them.  He held his arms in the air as the boat went down and gleefully exclaimed, "I love this ride!" when we reached the bottom.  No sooner had the ride ended than he we was begging to go again.

With a little convincing from his mom and dad, he did agree to go on other rides. Another one of his favorites is the Finding Nemo ride.  This, however, is not one of my favorites.  Being packed into a small space submerged in water is not my idea of a good time. I did it, though, and I am a little ashamed to admit this, but I used it as leverage to convince Jack to go on a ride that he did not want to go on: Matterhorn Bobsleds.

Jack was convinced that the Matterhorn was scary. He dug in his heels and rejected every plea to go on it just once. He finally relented when I pointed out that the Nemo ride scared me but I went on it because I loved him. (Wrong, I know, but I was desperate!) There were still a few protestations as we waited in line, but no major meltdowns.  We were good to go.  I suspect that there was a tiny part of him that wanted to go on the ride, but he was not willing to admit it. As the roller coaster zoomed around, Jack screamed out, "I hate this" and "This sucks!" When the ride ended, I excitedly asked, "Wasn't that fun?"  His answer? "No. I am never going on that ride again." 

It was the same story with Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, which is one of my all-time favorite rides.  Again, he reluctantly agreed to go on it. Again, when we disembarked he declared he was never going on that ride again.  I didn't get it. How could he not enjoy these rides? They were so much fun!

On our last day in the park, Jared rejoined us. He was determined to take us all on Space Mountain because he wanted us to see the Star Wars additions that had been made to the ride.  Now, don't get me wrong, I love Space Mountain, but it does scare me a bit.  I think it's more the thought of the ride than the actual ride itself.  The hour long wait was also a bit terrifying.  I worried, too, that this ride would be the one to finally put Jack over the edge.  If he was scared of Thunder Mountain and the Matterhorn, how would he react to Space Mountain? I had visions of him absolutely terrified, screaming that he wanted to get off.  Therapy would be needed in order to recover from the horror of the experience.

Surprisingly, Jack agreed without any fuss. He chose me to sit by because I "make him feel calm." Feeling the need to reassure him, I told him, "If you get scared, just hold on tight and scream." As we grabbed onto the bar, I linked my pinky finger over his so that he could feel me beside him as we plunged into the dark. Racing through the darkness, all I could think was how scared Jack must be. "Woo hoo," I shouted over and over again in an attempt to convince him we were having fun.

When the ride came to a stop, I looked over, expecting to see sheer terror on his face. 

"What did you think?" I asked.

"That was cool!" he exclaimed.

"You didn't think it was scary?" I asked in disbelief.


What?  Who was this kid?  This couldn't possibly be the same kid who swore he would never ride the Matterhorn again.  Space Mountain is way scarier.

At least it is to me.  Once again I was reminded that my children are their own people with their own perceptions and their own opinions. 

And evidently for Jack, anything related to Star Wars is too cool to be scary.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Highway Song

I wrote this on the long drive between Sacramento and Los Angeles.  My older son, Jared, was with his school band, traveling by bus while my husband, younger son, Jack, and I drove down in our car. We planned to meet up with Jared after the band competition two days later and spend some time as a family at Disneyland.  It felt strange to make this trip that we had made so many times before without my first-born, and I couldn't help but think about how our lives had changed, and would continue to change, as my son ventured forth into adulthood.


Somewhere on this road, on a bus full of exuberant middle-schoolers, is my son. His absence in the seat behind me tugs at my heart, for I understand that this is only the beginning of his gradual pull away from me.  The journey toward adulthood has begun.

I picture him, somewhere on this road, on a bus, laughing and talking with his friends. It is as it should be. When we dropped him off this morning, I asked him, "Are you happy to have a few days without us?"

"Yes," he replied, laughing.

This, too, is as it should be.

At the rest stop, my husband parks the car facing the freeway.  My eyes scan the river of vehicles stretching as far as I can see. I search for my child, desperate for a sign that, though separate from me, he is there, still within my reach, even if it is only my eyes that can reach him.

No buses appear, and our incomplete party continues on its way, he and I moving in the same direction, yet distinct and separate.

A heartbeat ago, I brought my precious boy into this world and without a thought, I set him on his path. Even though I have guided him along the way - walking beside him, holding his hand, helping him up when he tumbled - the journey has been all his own. It was only the newness of motherhood that deluded me into thinking that I played more than a supporting role.

As the road wanders on, I watch out the window the scenery sliding by. Will he see the same things I see? Will the endless rolling green hills quiet his restless spirit? Will the bird floating on majestic wings bring a smile to his lips? Will he eagerly drink it all in and marvel at the sheer beauty and magic of it all?

Or will he not even notice the world flashing past his window?

It is his journey, so it is for him to decide what he sees along the way. I can only hope his years with me taught him to look out the window out into the world beyond, to see the life all around him and the infinite possibilities it has to offer him.

Later on we will meet up, and my heart will leap with excitement just to have him near me again. I will listen with rapt attention to his stories, stories that are all his own and in which I do not play a part. I will be thankful to simply be afforded a window to his journey through its retelling.  For this is also as it should be.

Our tires hum a highway song as on and on we roll. It is neither happy nor melancholy.  Rather, it is both. It is the song of life.

And somewhere on this road, on a bus, too far away for me to hear, it plays for my son.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Putting Down the Lenses

I recently read several posts about the guilt the writers felt for having missed a day of blogging. Now, here I am, writing after having missed three days. How did that happen?  I had figured it would be easier to write once Spring Break arrived, bringing with it slow, peaceful mornings and unrushed evenings. My experience has been the exact opposite.

With my husband still off from work recovering from knee surgery, we have been running around trying to get a few of our many half-finished projects around the house completed. Once we decided to host Easter this year, we ended up adding even more projects to the list. On top of that, there have been meetings to attend as we prepare for our older son to start high school next year, laundry and packing and forms to sign to get ready for his school band's Disneyland trip, and my younger son's school dance performance to attend. In short, we've been busier than ever, leaving little time to write.

Maybe that's not such a bad thing.

At my son's dance performance last Tuesday, I ended up with an obstructed view of the stage. This isn't unusual, being that I am what some might consider vertically challenged. My older son, Jared, had a better view, so I handed off the camera to him. For the first time, all I had to do was watch my child dance. Every time before, I had witnessed such an event through a camera lens. When the performances ended, I always felt as if I hadn't really seen them, having been so caught up in getting the perfect shot with which to record the moment.

Writing isn't so very different. Events are viewed through various lenses in order to discern some significance in them. We look back at the images we have recorded and reflect on each of them, trying to determine which image captures the moment best, the image we will hold up to the world in hopes that they will be as captivated as we were. The image that will preserve the moment for all time.

And sometimes, in our desperate search to immortalize the moment, we miss it completely.

Challenging ourselves to blog daily about slices of our lives is a challenge worth taking.  It teaches us to view even the most seemingly inconsequential moments of our lives as the valuable building blocks that they are. And ironically, that sometimes means putting the lenses down and simply living in the moment.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Making Room for Change

Change is inevitable.

That doesn't make it any easier, though.

I've been thinking about change a lot lately.  My older son is getting ready to start high school next year.  That is going to be a huge change, for him and for me.  A month ago, my mom moved into assisted living near me, which resulted in change for the entire family. Change is a necessary part of life, to be sure, but it can leave you feeling a bit uncomfortable at times.

Of course, there are also less stressful, less life-altering changes.  A few weeks ago the sofa my husband and I purchased for our family room was delivered.  We were long overdue for a new one. Our old one had served us for over 14 years, seeing us through multiple pets and two young children. It had taken a beating and had gotten to the point that I was embarrassed to have anyone over. When our new sofa arrived, we put it the same spot where the old couch had been.  It was bigger and darker in color, so I was somewhat startled every time I walked into the room, but I figured that I would get used to it in time. We planned to eventually purchase a new entertainment center and a new chair. I was pretty sure a new rug was in order, as well. In decorating, it seems, one thing always leads to another.

What if, I wondered,  we put moved the t.v. to the corner and put the couch on the opposite wall? It was an idea that I had been kicking around for a while, so yesterday afternoon, when we should have been cleaning and getting ready for my mom's visit for Sunday dinner, we started moving furniture around.  When we were finished, we took one look at the room and said, "I think I like this!"

Suddenly our room seemed more open and spacious.  That shouldn't have come as a surprise, I suppose since we had taken out a large entertainment center and a chair. I was excited about the new look, and maybe even more excited that with this new arrangement we weren't going to need to purchase a new entertainment center and chair.

But as my husband and son moved the chair and the entertainment center out into the garage, I felt a tug at my heart.  My husband and I had bought the entertainment center when we were newly married, living in our first house.  The chair had been bought when we moved into this house nearly 15 years ago. I felt sad watching these pieces of furniture that we had carefully and lovingly picked out as we started our lives together being removed, knowing they would be eventually discarded.

Change, even good change, can be hard.

But I realized that I had a choice.  I could focus on the loss and feel sad, or I could focus on the positive that resulted from the change and feel happy.  Change necessitates the shedding off of at least part of the old.  There is no change without loss of some kind.  We get to choose, however, how we look at change, good or bad.  We can look back and dwell in the loss, or we can look ahead and embrace the new.

I choose to look ahead.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Too Many Choices

I want to paint my house.  I'm not talking about the outside (although that needs painting, too) but the inside.  And not just one room.  All of them.  Okay, I do have few rooms that have already been painted and are not in urgent need of a fresh coat.  But the living/dining room, the hallways, the laundry room, the kids' bathroom, and the game room are still dressed in 15-year-old boring builder beige.  It's definitely time for a change.

After spending too many hours on Pinterest looking for just the right color, I decided to order a fan deck from Benjamin Moore.  That would make the job of picking out coordinating colors for all my rooms easy!  It even says so right on the fan deck: "It allows you to easily and quickly pick the ideal colors for your painting projects." 

Yeah, right.

I've had it for a couple of months now and I am no closer to deciding. There are over a thousand colors on the thing.  I forget the exact number.  It doesn't matter.  There's too many.  I mean, how many shades of beige does the world actually need?  Yes, I know. I said I wanted to get rid of the beige.  But really I want to replace the boring builder beige with a pretty beige.  There's a difference, I swear.  Actually, there are many differences.  Red undertones. Blue undertones. Green or yellow undertones.  There's beige and then there's greige. I find colors I like, but then I hold them up against a piece of furniture or the stair railing and realize that whatever undertone the color possesses does NOT look good with whatever undertone the wood has.  Then I'm back to flipping through the fan deck in search for a color that contains the correct undertone, whatever that might be.

Right now I have several strips spread out with colors I like and think will work. I suspect, though, that some of them I chose simply because of the name. "Sierra hills." I live near the Sierras; that would be a good one!  Or, "sandy brown." I love the beach; that would be good, too!  Of course, I have also pulled out "moccasin" and "blanched almond" and their names aren't quite as exciting, so perhaps I haven't completely lost my mind.  Yet.

The number of choices is simply too overwhelming.  I will confess that I have perhaps crossed the line into absolute insanity a few times, thinking, "Maybe I should order a different fan deck."  Uh, no. Definitely not. More choices will only lead to even more confusion.  If the right color isn't on this fan deck, then it just doesn't exist. Period.

At some point I am going to have to make a decision.  It's either that or resign myself to living for the rest of my life with boring builder beige.  At least that's a fairly easy choice to make.

Friday, March 11, 2016

A Slower Pace

Today is going to be a long day.  It's Friday.  It's the last day before Spring Break.  There's a 100% chance of rain, and we all know what that means: indoor recess.  

To further complicate matters I was at a PTA meeting until 8:30 last night.  When I arrived home, my husband was just getting ready to leave to pick up our older son from his band concert at the high school. So, he and my younger son hopped into my car and off we went.  Since none of us had eaten, we stopped to pick up a quick dinner on the way back home.  Nothing like eating at 9:30 p.m.!

So, it was well after 10:00 before my head hit the pillow.  For some people, that may seem early.  For me, that's late.  Especially since I awoke at 4:30 this morning and dragged myself out of bed so I could try to get some writing in before I had to get ready for work.  I am a person who needs her sleep and six hours just doesn't cut it.

A rainy day Friday and a lack of sleep is a deadly combination.

I am hoping that the beacon of light that is Spring Break (and perhaps an extra cup of coffee) will get me through.  Less than ten hours to go!  I will be the little engine that could, chanting, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can."

Children coming into the room screaming? "I think I can."

Phone ringing, interrupting my lessons?  "I think I can."

Student complaining that someone looked at them funny? "I think I can."

Another student telling me that they don't have their report ready to present and explaining why it's not their fault? "I think I can."

Students fighting over who gets to spin the spinner on the Twister game? "I think I can."

The final bell of the day ringing?  "I did it!"

I'm not sure who will be happier at the end of the day, the kids or I.  It's not that I don't love my job, I do. My class has the ability to drive me crazy, but down deep (sometimes it's really down deep) I adore them.

But I need time to breathe.

I need some time to move at a slower pace.  I need time to think, time to plan, time to dream, and time to just do whatever I feel like doing in the moment.  When school is in session, there is never enough time. It seems like I am always rushing from one thing to the next, leaving a trail of unfinished projects (and a huge pile of papers needing to be filed) behind me.  There is no time to catch up as there is constantly something new that needs doing.

After Spring Break there will be that final mad push to the end of the year. State testing is just around the corner.  Open House looms ahead. Field trips. Assessments. End-of-year parties. Final report cards.  The list goes on and on. It will be crazy.  It always is. A break is definitely needed to re-energize before that last dash to the finish line.

Nine more hours.  Can I make it?

I think I can.  

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Karate Class

My husband has been off of work for the last few weeks, recuperating from knee surgery.  I must confess it's been rather nice since he has taken over many of my normal tasks.  I no longer have to rush around in the morning, trying to get myself and two boys ready and out the door on time.  In the evening, when the clock reads 5:00, I am no longer forced to abandon the piles on my desk and dash to my car to pick up my younger son from after-school care and then head home to cook dinner.

It sounds lovely, doesn't it? But it's come with a price.

I had suspected as much, and my suspicions were confirmed last night.  My husband had the opportunity to go to dinner with a friend, and he asked if I would mind picking up the kids from their karate class.  Not a problem.  I figured I would stay a little later at work, since class didn't end until 6:30, and try to knock off a couple of the million items on my to-do list.

I made it to 5:30.  That's when it hit me. I just didn't want to be there any longer.  I was tired, Spring-Break-can't-get-here-fast-enough tired.  I stayed a few minutes longer to straighten up a few things and to make sure I was ready for the next day.  Then I grabbed my bags, turned off the lights, and walked out the door.

It was early enough that I thought about going home first, but as I neared the turn-off for karate, I steered that direction instead.  Usually, when I take my boys to class, I bring with me papers to grade or a book to read.  Last night, I walked into the building empty-handed.

For 30 minutes, all I did was watch my boys kick, punch, and perform escapes.  And I loved every minute of it!  If felt so freeing and relaxing to do nothing but sit and watch my boys.  It seemed they had grown stronger and more sure of themselves during the weeks I had missed. Jack's kicks seemed steadier and Jared's punches sounded more powerful each time his fist met the pad. I beamed with pride. Really, I think I literally beamed, or at least I wore a goofy smile on my face. I felt so happy to just be there, to be spending time with my children, to be fully in the moment with them.

Yes, it's been nice to have fewer responsibilities.  But it turns out that when those responsibilities involve your children, it's a loss, not a win.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Rubber Duckies

If you work in a school, chances are you have dealt with fund raisers at some point.  Usually, my school ends up having a couple a year.  Recently, our principal decided to put together a fund raiser to raise money for 35 Chromebooks and a cart.  Definitely a good cause as right now we have a student to Chromebook ratio of 3 to 1, and there are times, especially as we get closer to Open House in the spring, that we are all scrambling to use them.  No fights have broken out, but I figure that is just a matter of time.

This particular fund raiser involved selling cookie dough.  Expensive cookie dough.  $17-a-tub cookie dough. The kind that will be delivered frozen and parents will have to come and pick up.  The kind that always gets me worrying about food safety.

To encourage the kids to actually sell the over-priced cookie dough, fabulous prizes were dangled in front of them.  The most enticing turned out to be rubber ducks on lanyards.  For every three orders, the kids received a duck.  These weren't just ordinary yellow ducks, mind you.  No, they were superhero ducks. They were designed to look like Superman, Iron Man, Batman, and others.  Sort of. If no one had told me what they were,  I never would have guessed.  The kids absolutely went crazy for them.

At our staff meeting on Monday, we learned that our quick one-week cookie dough fund raiser had netted us $16,000.  Never underestimate the power of rubber ducks! Yet, somehow I found that troubling.  I began to wonder, what are we teaching our kids when the only way to get them go participate is to bribe them with prizes?  Here we were raising money for computers that they would use, that they love to use, and that benefit their education.  This fund raiser was a chance for them to do something for their school, a chance to feel that they had made a difference.

I can't help but feel we took that away from them.  We told them we didn't think they were willing to contribute to their community.  We told them that you should only participate if there is something in it for you. 

I am sure many will disagree with me.  The ducks were incentives. They simply encouraged the kids to put effort into the cause.  They can feel proud of all the money they raised.

All that is true.  It just seems to me that we are more and more, as a society, conveying the message that the only things worth doing are ones that result in personal gain.  Instead of looking at how actions can benefit others and one's community, we seem to always to be asking, "What's in it for me?"  When we pay our children for good grades, when we offer trinkets for books read and AR tests passed, are we not trivializing the true accomplishment?  Are we not teaching them that the reward is the money or the prize and not the learning? Are we denying them the opportunity to see themselves as contributing members of society and part of a much bigger picture than just themselves?

Maybe I'm overthinking all this.  The kids got ducks and we got Chromebooks. It's a win-win. Right?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

To Make Sense of the World

Inspiration can be so elusive at times.

I awoke this morning and raced around in my head to find something to write about. I replayed my day yesterday, starting with the discovery of dead, dried up worms on my classroom floor, followed by an email from my parent volunteer that said she wouldn't be coming in, leaving me with a large stack of papers to copy before my students arrived.  It seemed like a warning that the day ahead was going to be a rough one.  It was Monday, and raining, and the start of the last week before Spring Break, so my expectations were already pretty low.  The teaching part of my day, however, proceeded pretty much like it always does: a few phone calls to interrupt lessons, constant reminders to stay focused, repeating directions until I wanted to scream. (I didn't.)  It was all exceedingly ordinary. Nowhere in the shadows of the day could I find a glimmer of inspiration.

Even though I really wanted to stay under the warm covers a little longer, I made myself get out of bed when the alarm went off.  After making my cup of coffee, I sat down to peruse Facebook before settling down to the business of writing.  There in my news feed was a post by Kate DiCamillo in which she shared an email exchange between her and Rebecca Stead.  Their conversation focused on shared interests in books and on their personal writing processes. (You can read their exchange here.)

One line in the very beginning jumped out at me.  Kate DiCamillo, responding to a question about where the impulse to write comes from, wrote, "it is a *need* to tell a story, to make sense of the world through story."

"To make sense of the world through story." What a wonderful way to explain why writers write! That is, I believe, what drives me to write.  That need to explore the world through words in hopes of gaining a greater understanding. Posing questions and forming hypotheses to make sense of the truly nonsensical. During some of the more difficult times in my life, I have found that writing was the one thing that helped me make it through.  

But the need to "make sense of the world through story" is also what stops me from writing at times. Too often I sit down and start writing, only to abandon the piece when I discover I have no idea where I am going.  Instead of reaching some profound conclusion, I find myself mired in questions and incomplete cogitations. If I don't have the answers, how can I make sense of the world? If I can't make sense of the world, what's the point in writing, then? Realizing I don't have any answers, no incredible insights to add to the situation, I stop dead in my tracks and walk away.

I wonder, though, if maybe you don't always need to know where you are going. Both Kate DiCamillo and Rebecca Stead revealed in their conversation that neither one of them are planners, carefully outlining their stories before they begin.  Instead, Kate Di Camillo states that "writing is the only place i have learned to be patient. and it is also the only place i have learned to not to try and control things."  

I know there will be many days ahead when inspiration will run dry or I will question my ability to put my thoughts into words. There will be numerous occasions when I will think that I simply cannot make sense of the world. I will try to remember on those occasions that sometimes wandering aimlessly leads to exciting places. And sometimes, just the wandering itself is enough, no grand destinations needed.

And, it would appear, sometimes that glimmer of inspiration sparkles just when you were sure there was none to be found.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Role of Mother

"You should write a book or something.  The imagery is real!" my son exclaimed after reading my blog yesterday.

I thought that was quite the compliment, coming from a 13 year old boy. While I was proud that he knew what imagery was, and more than a little flattered that he thought his mom's writing was good, I couldn't help but notice the astonishment in his voice.  Was it really so difficult to believe that I could write?

I'm not taking it personally.  I am, after all, his mother.  Truth be told, I think we all have a rather distorted vision of our mothers.  Or at least an incomplete picture of who she is.  My son may know things about me - what I do, things I like - and he may have heard some of the stories from my past, but to him I am simply Mom, the one who fulfills a particular role in his life.  Nothing more and nothing less. And I am perfectly fine with that.

I think things get more complicated, however, as you get older and roles begin to change.  My 84 year old mother recently moved into an assisted living facility ten minutes from my home and two and a half hours from hers.  While my brother, sisters, and I (and to a certain degree, my mother) all believed it was for the best, I can't imagine just how difficult it must be for her to make such an abrupt change to her life.  How do you give up everything you've known for the past six decades? What effect could that possibly have on your own sense of self?

The other day she told me that she had told herself that she wouldn't complain, but we had to expect there would be days when she would be depressed. While I get that, I have to fight the urge to try to make everything okay for her. Perhaps it's my own mothering instincts kicking in, wanting those I love to always be happy, even while I recognize the futility of that desire. When I was a kid I remember seeing my mother upset, but I don't think I ever really questioned what was upsetting her.  That didn't seem to be my job.  It was her job to take care of me. It was her job to understand me, not the other way around. Like me with my own sons, I suspect she was perfectly fine with the role, too.  It's a role she has played for over 60 years, and one she has played well.

And she continues to play it.

Which probably explains more accurately than any other explanation I could offer how she ended up in an assisted living facility.  There, she has people to take care of her.  People who are not her children.  People who did not grow up being taken care of by her.  She is there, not because her children don't love her, but because we do.  We love our mother, and this way, that is who she remains. Our caretaker. The strong and wise one who will listen to our problems and offer words of comfort or sage advice. 

Our roles remain intact.

I hope that my mother finds a measure of comfort in knowing that a core part of who she is remains even when so much of her life has changed.  As we all sat around my kitchen table last night for what has become our routine Sunday night dinner, I felt what a blessing this change is, for my children and me at least. My children get to spend more time with their beloved grandmother, and I get the opportunity to get to know my mother, the woman she is outside that role, a little bit better.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Surviving the Storm

Last night brought a storm like the ones that were promised when talk began about El Nino months ago.  Wind whipped around the house, howling as it tossed our two large redwood trees back and forth in a frenzied dance. Pounding rain assaulted our windows, at times sounding like a fire hose had been turned on them.

Somehow my husband, children, and I managed to fall asleep to the sound of this wicked battle being waged outside our home.  When we awoke this morning, we found the world bathed in calm.  Pale sunlight seeped between the gray clouds that still lingered, cautioning us that another battle could be on its way.  Puddles of water littered the yard, reminders of last night's assault.  Other than that, everything appeared once again as it always had.  Everything was still.

Looking out our bedroom window, my eyes immediately were drawn to the two redwood trees by the back fence.  I had worried last night that one, or both, would come down during the violent dance forced upon them by the wind. I feared that they had been weakened by the last four years of drought and that the buckets of rain that had fallen in such a short amount of time had deprived them of firm ground in which to stand.  But there they stood. Tall. Upright. Proud.  They stood as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred just hours before.

I suppose nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.  Wild storms are a part of nature and are to be expected. Rain is going to fall.  Winds are going to howl and lash at everything in their path.  Storms come. 

But they also go. 

When the next storm comes - and come it will - I will think of those trees, relentlessly battered by wind and rain.  I will picture them standing still and strong in the morning light.  And I will hold on, firm in the knowledge that this storm too will pass.  

Saturday, March 5, 2016


Quiet, slow-moving mornings.

Warm, little bodies pressed up against me.

Hands that reach for mine.

Pinks and  yellows and oranges scattered across newly green landscapes.

Gentle winds blowing through swaying tree tops.

Deep blue waves rushing to soothe the shore.

Brilliant red and orange sunsets.

Full moons and crescent moons standing watch in the night.

Stars that dance and sing.

Warm, soft blankets and crackling fires.

Dark burgeoning clouds full of winter warnings.

Wild pounding rain raging against my window.

Mournful train whistles off in the distance.

Snow-capped mountains rising high above green valley floors.

Dirt paths winding aimlessly through space and time.

Moments that stop me in my tracks and fill my heart with wonder.

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Friday, March 4, 2016

Toothpaste: The Tie That Binds

One of my favorite movies is When Harry Met Sally.  I'm a sucker for romantic comedies and that movie is one of the best.  I think my favorite part, though, is the interviews with couples about how they fell in love. (Did you know those were all true stories? I just read that Rob Reiner interviewed couples to prepare for the movie and hired actors to recreate those interviews.) I can imagine my husband Dan and I as an old couple telling the story of how we met at the grocery store and how our love story began with a conversation about Drano and clogged drains. Not very romantic perhaps, but true.  And if they should then ask what the secret to a long marriage is, I know just what I'd say.

Toothpaste on toothbrushes. 

Yes, I know, that doesn't sound very romantic either.  It probably sounds downright strange, so let me explain.  One night many years ago, one of us went to brush our teeth, and when we put toothpaste on our toothbrush, we also put toothpaste on the other's.  I am certain it was Dan who started this.  It doesn't really sound like something I would do, and he is the one after all who, on our first date, took the wrapper off my straw and put the straw in my drink. (Incidentally, it was this act which led to my accepting a second date!) 

This year we will celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary, and every night whoever gets to the bathroom first puts toothpaste on both toothbrushes.  I'm not going to lie.  There have been more than a few nights over the years when I have been so angry that I had other thoughts about what Dan could do with that tube of toothpaste.  I am sure he's had many nights when he had similar ideas.  Yet, we still manage to summon up the strength or the decency or whatever it is we need to squeeze out a little extra paste for our partner. Sure, it may come out a little globbier than usual.  We may even slam to the toothbrush down on the counter.

But we do it.

It doesn't sound like much.  It certainly doesn't sound like the secret to a long, happy marriage. If you look a little deeper, though, beyond the superficial act, then that is where I believe you will find the secret.  It isn't about toothpaste at all.  It is about commitment.  It is about going through the motions on days when even that seems like too much.  It's believing that the past is also your future. It's knowing that marriage is about more than just temporary moments.

I can only imagine how I felt the first time Dan performed this simple act of kindness. I believe that by continuing to perform this act night after night, we honor and build on that feeling.  We honor each other and the marriage we have created together.  It is always said that it's the little things that count the most. It is a little thing, but it means much more.  So much more, in fact, I have honestly had the thought that I would know my marriage was over the night one of us neglected to do it.

I guess in a way it is fitting that a relationship that began at a grocery store is symbolized by toothpaste. And I am certain that there are many other facets of our relationship that make it an enduring one.  We have had our ups and downs and our zig-zags and wild whirling around.  But at the end of the day, we know just how it will all end up.

With toothpaste on toothbrushes.  Together.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Holding On Before Letting Go

Last night I arrived home just in time to say goodbye to my boys as my husband whisked them off to karate class.  I was a little disappointed that the one night I come home semi-on-time, they have some place else to be.  There was a part of me, though, that was thankful for a little quiet, a little time alone without anyone expecting anything of me.

I grabbed my laptop and sank gratefully onto the couch.  After a few minutes of perusing social media, I turned to my email.  My eye landed on one email with the subject line "Important Information and Dates for 8th Graders" which had been sent by my son's middle school.  Upon opening it, I discovered that the important information and dates didn't really have anything to do with middle school.  It was all about high school.

I'm fairly certain my heart stopped for a brief moment.

High school.  Why, in my few moments of peace and quiet, did they have to remind me that my baby would be starting high school in the fall?  I wasn't ready to face that reality.

My mind wandered back to that day that couldn't possibly have been more than a couple of years ago when the nurse walked my husband and me out of the hospital to our car and helped us strap our newborn son into his car seat.  I remember vividly the frantic voice screaming in my head, "Are you crazy?  You can't leave him alone with us!  He's just a baby and we don't know how to take care of babies! We are completely clueless!"

I was a nervous wreck the whole way home, watching the cars around us suspiciously.  When I was in college and would have to make the drive between Santa Clara and Santa Barbara, my father would always warn me to watch out for the other idiots. I was convinced that I was now surrounded by them and one was sure to cause harm to my baby.

That, of course, was only the beginning of my fears.  The first days were filled with me running to my mother and asking her if the noise Jared was making was normal.  It took him a while to catch on to the whole breast-feeding thing, so I was worried about that. As he got older there were new worries.  I hated taking him to the park because I was certain he would fall off the play structure and get hurt.  I worried (and cried!) the first day I dropped him off at day care when I returned to work. Every day there was something that caused me at least one anxious moment.

I thought it would get easier as he got older, but I realize now that even bigger fears lie before me.  In a couple of years he will start driving.  There will be dating and friendships and heartbreak and tough classes and temptations I don't even want to think about.  When he was a baby, the mistakes were all mine to make.  Now they are his. What little control I had before has dwindled into next to nothing. It's pretty much all up to him now. I am all too aware that some mistakes are unforgiving and offer no second chances. Therein lies my greatest fear.

When the boys returned from karate last night, Jared came and sat beside me on the couch. Together we viewed online some of the course descriptions for electives.  I asked him if he was excited, and he said, "No." I don't really think that's true.  He certainly was eager to share with me the packet they were given to plan their four years of high school to prepare them for their life beyond. He also seemed very interested in a couple of the classes we looked at and talked about his plans to take AP classes.

Perhaps, like me, he knows the next four years will come and go faster than a tear travels down a cheek.  Perhaps, like me, he is a little afraid of what happens next.

But I've been where he is, so I have a pretty good idea what happens next. As he continues to grow into the young man he is becoming, he will grow farther away from the baby that was mine.  The one I was so scared to take home, I now am so scared to have leave.  But leave he will.  That day is coming, and all too quickly, when once and for all, he will let go of my hand and make his way through this world without me by his side.

I hope he understands if I hold onto him just a little more tightly while I still can.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The "Have Done" List

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My observation yesterday by four district administrators proved to be a bit eye-opening.  For me.

I was determined not to do anything out of the ordinary when they came in for their ten-minute observation.  I've been teaching for 20 years, I told myself. I don't do dog and pony shows.  What you see is what you get.  If they didn't like what they saw, well, that was too bad.

I will confess that I did rearrange my schedule a little to accommodate their arrival in my class 30 minutes after school started.  I may not do dog and pony shows, but who really wants to watch 24 third-graders correct their math homework?  So, we did that first to get it out of the way and so we would be involved in the daily read aloud when our visitors arrived. After that, since it was "Trailer Tuesday," I planned to show the book trailer for Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate, who also wrote The One and Only Ivan, the book I was currently reading aloud.  My class was loving Ivan and one of my students had actually recommended Crenshaw to me, so it all fit together nicely. I had purchased a copy of the book, and I knew my students would be eager to get their hands on it. Plus, the time I spend reading aloud to my class in the morning is my favorite time of the day, and I felt that I would be most comfortable having strangers in my room watching me do something I feel passionate about.

At the end of my visitors' observation, they all tossed a note on my desk and filed out of my room. A quick glance at the notes assured me that no one had written "That really sucked. What were you thinking?"  When I finally had a chance to review the notes more carefully, I discovered that they were all complimentary and each one noted the excitement my students displayed for both the book I was reading and for the one introduced with the book trailer.  "What a great idea!" one of them wrote.

That's when it hit me. 

I have spent quite a bit of time this year beating myself up over all the things I haven't done.  So many things I wanted to try but never got to.  So many things I tried but didn't quite work out the way I had envisioned. I was so busy looking at all the things I hadn't done, I forgot about all the things I had done. Because I had started Trailer Tuesday years ago, I didn't give it much thought anymore. It was just part of my routine.

Routine.  Merriam-Webster defines routine as "a regular way of doing things in a particular order; a boring state or situation in which things are always done in the same way."  I had been doing Trailer Tuesday for so long that I had stopped seeing it as something exciting, even when I could plainly see the excitement on my students' faces.  It was simply something I did, and over time I had developed the idea that everyone else did it, too. In short, it was nothing special.

Several years ago I attended a GATE training by John DeLandtsheer.  I remember he suggested highlighting completed tasks on a to-do list instead of crossing them off.  At the time that made no sense to me.  I loved crossing things off.  It gave me such a sense of accomplishment.  Now, however, I finally get it.  Highlight your accomplishments.  Don't just cross them off and forget them. Put the focus not on the things you haven't gotten to yet but on the ones you have.  Celebrate them.

I have a long to-do list, albeit a mental one, that haunts me.  I am sure many of you do, too. What if instead of a to-do list we made a "have done" list? What if we highlighted all the things we have accomplished, however small or routine they may seem to us?  How might our outlook change?  And what if we had our students do the same?  

Focusing on success rather than failure.  Not a new idea, certainly.  But one I all too often forget. Maybe it's time to change that.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Call to Shine

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There was no need for my alarm clock this morning.  I awoke at 3:30 a.m., eyes wide open and brain already whirling around at full speed. I knew instantly that I was not going to go back to sleep.

Which is rather unfortunate as today is my day to "shine."

You would not be wrong to suspect there was a bit of sarcasm in that last statement. A few weeks ago, the staff at my school was informed that district personnel would be visiting our school today. They were going to form teams that would go into classrooms for ten-minute observations.  It was our chance to shine as a school.

I don't shine.

I have never been the type of person to call attention to myself.  I don't crave the spotlight.  So, when the call for volunteers went out, I did not answer. Besides my natural aversion to public performances, I had more than enough stress in my life at the moment.  My husband had had knee surgery, my two boys were both sick, and my brother and sisters and I had just moved our mother into an assisted living facility near me.  This was on top of the normal stresses of being a wife and mother with a full-time job and a class that sucks the life out of me on a daily basis.  No, the added stress of having strangers come in and watch and judge me was just a bit more than I could handle. Honestly, I was stretched as thin as I could go and hanging on by that proverbial thread.  I was sure one more thing would make me snap, and I didn't really want to be held responsible for the ensuing disaster.

So, you might wonder, how did this end up being my day to shine?

Last Friday at 4:30 p.m. an email was sent out to staff with the final schedule for the district's visit. And surprise, surprise, my name was on it.  What?  Had I suffered a seizure that was misconstrued as an eagerly raised hand?  Had I sent an email in my sleep demanding that my principal pick me? 

Nope. Nothing of the sort had occurred.  It had just been decided that I would participate whether I wanted to or not.  Evidently, I didn't even merit advance warning.  

Surprised? Yes.  Shocked? No.  I couldn't even muster up the energy to be mad about the situation.  I understood that my boss was in a difficult position.  He had a couple dozen district personnel coming to see his teachers put on a show and his cast was decidedly lacking.  He had no other choice but to draft additional performers.  

My objection was the way in which it was handled.  When did I become such a nonentity that one didn't even need to have a conversation with me when decisions about my life were made? Where had professional courtesy disappeared to?  Was I really thought so little of?

And it put me in an awkward position.  In addition to avoiding the spotlight, I also avoid conflict whenever possible.  But what I don't do is allow people to walk all over me.  Therein lay my dilemma.  This was my boss and confronting him put me in danger of being branded a bitch.  All weekend I thought about what I would say.  I was determined not to let this go but to deal with it head-on.  

Yesterday, I did have a chance to speak my mind to my principal.  I have no delusions that my words made any real impact.  But my words were not for him. They were for me.  They were my affirmation that I am deserving of respect and that I will not tolerate anything less.  I am not a fighter by nature, but I will stand up for the things I believe in.  And if that makes me a bitch, then so be it.

So, today I will have a team of two or three people, most likely individuals who really don't know anything about teaching or life in the classroom, come into my room for ten minutes and determine . . . I don't really know what they will determine.  It doesn't actually matter.  I won't be putting on a show for them. Instead, I will be doing what I always try to do:  I will be doing the best I can for the students in my room.  Maybe in those few minutes I will shine.  Maybe I won't.  In the end, I will let my students be the judge of that.