Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Little Camper in the Woods

June 22, 2017

I like the early hours of morning best, when the sun has just risen, gently urging the land awake as it steadily makes its way across the pale blue sky. Every tree, every bush, every body of water both great and small, seem more subdued, as though each is still wiping the sleep from its eyes. Even the air itself is still and calm.

The only sound in camp this morning is the cranky calling of unidentified birds from high up in the towering pines. Perhaps they are scolding the sun for awakening them from sweet dreams. If any human in the surrounding camp sites is up, they are moving undetectably through their morning preparations, regarding the birth of the new day with the reverence it deserves.

Camping has been - for lack of a better word - an experience. My body is covered with bites (so much for bug spray!) and my hair is way beyond what one could call a bad hair day. I have had to overcome my innate squeamishness to shower in a public shower that costs $1.25 for five minutes of surprisingly hot water and to wash my dishes on a picnic table under trees that leave a fine dusting of yellow pollen on everything below them. The curtains I had spent so much time making to pretty-up our old used pop-up tent trailer detached from what I had thought was a clever solution to hanging them on the track, meaning I'll be going back to the drawing board when I get home. The handle broke off the door and we discovered big gaps between the canvas walls and the metal frame, problems that will need to be fixed before our next outing. Yes, our first camping trip in many years and the inaugural trip with our new-old tent trailer has certainly been an experience.

I have loved every minute of it.

Okay, maybe I haven't loved the bug bites, but there have been plenty of positives to outweigh the negatives. My video-game addicted son has spent the last three days surrounded by nature and real life, not a sorry pixelated facsimile. He has hiked and fished and held lengthy conversations with his parents. He's discovered the simple pleasure of making s'mores around a campfire. The public shower has been an adventure for him, prompting him to voluntarily shower when I would have had to coerce him at home. Even though he resisted reading a book, declaring that he doesn't like books in the summer (what??), I see by his bookmark that he is three-quarters of the way through the book I handed him yesterday.

Surrounded by beauty and miles from electronics and the pressures and demands of our jobs, we have reconnected as a family. Everything we do, we do together. (Well, not the shower part; that would be weird.) Hiking up steep, dusty trails, we encourage each other to keep going and congratulate each other on our success, all the while marveling at the spectacular scenery we would have missed had we not exerted the effort and pushed past our comfort zone. At night we gather around the table in our little home-away-from-home to play a game of Qwirkle (which I always lose) and sing out "Six point bonus!" when the first person lays down their last tile. When darkness has settled in for the night and we have trudged to and from the bathroom to brush our teeth, together, we lay in our bunks with our flashlights and books and read until the exhaustion of the day catches up to us.

The sun has now risen high enough to peak through the tree branches outside my window. Today will be our last day here in the woods. Tomorrow will be a repeat of Monday but in reverse, and will end with us back home in the suburbs amidst the clutter and noise and chaos of real life. Electronics will pull my son away. The pressure of jobs and commitments and responsibilities will march in like a dictator taking control of our lives once again.

But that is tomorrow.

Today the sun is gently waking up the land that calls to me to come explore. It demands nothing of me but that I enjoy and respect and experience that sense of wonder that comes from witnessing the breathtaking beauty of nature. I will immerse myself in that beauty and hope that I can carry a piece of it back with me, a piece that will remind me, when the pressures of the world start closing in, what life is really all about.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

My Life in Six-Word Stories

Have you ever heard of Ernest Hemingway's six-word tale? I can share it with you if you are not familiar with it (no summarizing or paraphrasing necessary): "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." Kind of depressing, isn't it?

I wasn't familiar with the story myself until it was brought to my attention by the Two Writing Teachers' Slice of Life Story Challenge last month. Some bloggers used the six-word format during the month. I thought I would try it, but didn't know exactly what to do with it. Six words didn't really seem like blogging, you know? 

Today, the day after the challenge ended no less, I imagined a way I could tell six-word stories. This may be cheating (I prefer creative license myself), but I wrote six-word stories to tell the story of my life, a decade at a time. 

Happy girl skipping, singing, collecting ladybugs.

Moody teenager feeling out of place.

College grad looking for love, future.

Married woman teaching and having babies.

Wife, mom, teacher trying to balance.

Soon another decade. What is next?

What would be your six-word story? If you decide to give it a try, please share in the comments. It's really quite fun!

Friday, March 31, 2017

This Is Not the End

Today is the last day of March, the last day of school before Spring Break, and, of course, the last day of the Slice of Life Story Challenge.

It is not, however, the end.

There is a new month waiting to greet us. There are still several weeks of school in which to teach, learn, and celebrate. There are still many days to write, though the writing will look and feel different, no doubt.

Over the last few weeks, I have had to stretch myself as a writer. Being naturally a planner, I found myself on many occasions having to operate as a "pantser" instead. It wasn't always a comfortable feeling. How many times did I hit that publish button before I felt ready? How many topics did I never write about because I just never had enough time to thoroughly think them through? The pressure of blogging daily kept me writing, but it wasn't always what I hoped for and the end result wasn't always what I imagined. Yet, I am proud that what I set out to do--write every day--was exactly what I accomplished. It isn't an easy task, as my fellow bloggers will attest.

A few days ago, I thought about all the ideas for blogs I had and knew I wasn't going to get to before the end of the challenge. That's when it hit me:  the challenge may be over, but this is not the end.

I can, and intend to, keep writing. Hopefully, on a daily basis, even though that publish button will no longer be demanding to be hit every day. Instead, it will wait patiently for me to decide when it's time. That's a comforting thought. All those topics I never got to, and all the ones I have yet to conceptualize, one day will have the opportunity to come to life on the written page. 

So, although I am sad to see the challenge come to a close and to lose the daily support of this community of writers, bound together by a common goal, I am also excited to see what tomorrow brings. 

This is not the end. It is only the beginning.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

It Was a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

By mid-afternoon I was ready to curl up into a ball, preferably someplace soft and warm where no one could find me.

Yeah, it was that kind of a day.

Kids misbehaved, and one even kicked a chair, causing it to hit another student.

A spider that the kids have been watching for days, picked writing time, when I had all the kids sitting on the carpet in front of me, to rappel from the ceiling, headed straight for one kid's head. It was up to me, as the only adult in the room, to save the day. Looking at its thick, hairy black body I secretly wanted to scream and look for another adult.

A somewhat disturbing situation with students prompted me to seek out the school psychologist for help. She, too, was disturbed, enough to speak with the students and help me sort out the unpleasantness. I'm still in a state of disbelief about the whole thing, and really wish I could have gotten to Spring Break without it.

The aforementioned conversation with the psychologist led to unpleasant conversations with parents after school. One even yelled at me for not calling later. Or earlier. Or not at all. 

Checking email I found one demanding a phone call. What was one more unpleasant phone call? I was on a roll.

It would have been some comfort had I been able to leave work at a decent hour to be wrapped in the comforting presence of my family (although I'm sure one of them would have found a reason to be mad at me), but tonight was the PTA meeting, which didn't start until 6:30.

Wiping away the two seconds of tears I allowed myself to cry, I headed to the meeting.  Last meeting ended at 6:55. Tonight's went until 7:25. Knowing I had a blog to post by 9:00, I started writing notes on the back of the agenda, worried there wouldn't be enough time to write once I finally got home.

At 7:30, 12 hours after I left my house, I left my classroom. Climbing into the car, I realized I had forgotten my cell phone.  As I headed back, I laughed quietly to myself.  Of course, I had forgotten my phone!  After all, it had been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

But, as Alexander's wise mother once said, there are days like that.

Even in third grade.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Crazy Cats!

Stealing sandwiches off counters 
and dragging them upstairs

Climbing up the backs of chairs

Wrestling at 4:00 a.m.
ramming our bedroom door

Opening cabinets
And sleeping in drawers

Meowing when left alone 
behind closed doors

Sharpening claws on furniture

Chewing on cords

Sucking on blankets and soft pj pants

Chasing each other in a crazed feline dance

Tearing down stairs to land with a thud

Grabbing hold of soft flesh, leaving trails of blood

Sleeping anywhere high that they can go

Chattering at birds just outside the window

Grabbing straws out of glasses unseen

Waiting for the dog to finish his dinner
to lick the bowl clean

Sitting on stairs, lying in wait

Performing death-defying stunts,
tempting fate

Snuggling up close,
purring night and day

Crazy cats!

Wouldn't have it any other way

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Morning Routine

Alarm goes off
and I spend several minutes
in internal debate between
warm bed or
cold kitchen

Knowing that time
is precious
I grab a sweatshirt
and warm, fuzzy socks

I don't look in the mirror
I don't want to know

After a slight detour
to feed hungry kitties
I head downstairs

I make a beeline
for the coffee maker
and set my laptop down
on the kitchen table

I grab the coffee,
pour the milk,
sit down to read and write

Penny appears on cue
jumps on my lap
and purrs
digging her needles for claws
into my leg in
pure contentment

Benny meows
from somewhere upstairs
looking for his sister
no doubt

The rest of the house
is still,
full of sleeping boys

This time is just for us girls
Penny purrs
and I write

Monday, March 27, 2017

Something's Not Quite Right

Honestly, today was one of those days that just didn't feel quite right.

Driving to work, a few raindrops fell on my windshield, reminding me I had forgotten to bring my umbrella.

There wasn't much to take for lunch, so I made a salad that was little more than wilted lettuce with questionable brown spots topped with dressing. It was decidedly unsatisfying.

Only one of my "lunch bunch" math group showed up to practice multiplication facts. Even she was five minutes late, and then took another five minutes to explain why she was five minutes late.

Working with a small group on decoding skills, one of my students informed me she was bored.

Walking past a table group in the afternoon, I caught one of my students hurriedly crumpling a piece of paper, hoping I wouldn't notice. When I asked him to hand it over, he asked if he could just throw it away, a sure sign that I needed to read that note. I discovered that he had written about putting a "rifull" up another student's butt and pulling the trigger. Later I found another note on which he'd written "Why do you want to have sex anyway?" What? I teach 3rd grade. Third graders shouldn't be talking like this.

I received an email from a parent regarding some missing fund raiser money. Seems her son has been telling her and me different stories about what happened to the $20. In her last communication, she said that "his story is different about turning it in." I'm still trying to figure out exactly what that meant.

Finally, after nine hours of everything feeling off-kilter, I left work and headed to pick up my sons. Once I had Jack in the car and we were on our way to pick up Jared at his grandmother's, the world seemed to make a little more sense once again. We listened to Keith Urban and even sang along and talked about our day. Arriving at my mom's we sat and talked, catching up on the latest gossip. By the time I left, I had shaken off most of the not-right feeling that had clung to me throughout the day.

There was, however, one last hurdle in my way. The deadline to post my blog was coming up quick, and I still had no idea what I wanted to write about.

I sat down and wrote anyway.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Wonder Why I Wonder

You think I don't notice
the subtleties
But I do.

You should know me better
And you do.

Perhaps you send them
like a secret code
For me to decipher
And spell it out
So you don't have to.

We stand 
Side by side
But distance
in between.

I'm a flurry 
of activity
Weaving in and out
In a frenetic dance
Set to a primal beat.

Just when I think
I know how this dance will
flashes of light
A spark
A connection

And I wonder 
why I wonder.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

51 Degrees but It Feels like 48

Winter has returned, although not in an entirely convincing way. Thunderstorms Tuesday morning gave way to bright, warm sunshine in the afternoon. The next day I awoke to the gurgling of the drain pipe as a steady rain passed through once again. I could only wait and see what the rest of the day would bring. Checking the weather forecast, I saw that it was currently 51 degrees outside, but "feels like 48." That always cracks me up: "feels like." I wonder how that is determined. Who gets to decide what it feels like? And how could anyone feel the difference of 3 degrees?

I suppose, though, in life we do feel those subtle shifts in temperature. Sometimes, even the smallest change in our perception can make a big difference.

After months of feeling discouraged and restless and considering that maybe I truly needed to find another career, preferably one that didn't follow me home each night, I had an almost imperceptible shift of my own yesterday afternoon. I was standing in front of my class giving a spelling test of all things when it happened. Suddenly, I wasn't so discouraged and restless. Suddenly, I remembered a little of the joy that teaching has always brought me.

This change in temperature stayed with me as I sat after school and corrected the spelling tests. One student, who has a talent for constantly talking and playing around with his classmates (in short, driving me crazy), had written on the bottom of his paper that I could find the rest of his words on the back. I laughed not only at the sheer kid mentality of that comment but the elaborate way in which he had expressed it. A few more tests after that, I found the one from one of my most challenging students and marveled at how neatly he had written his words. There are times he turns in work that mirrors his mood, meaning it is completely unreadable. But here was the work of someone who cared, someone who was proud, someone who wanted to do his best.  These kids, who might not always know how to behave properly, still had so much potential and humor and caring inside them. Had I forgotten that? Had I gotten so caught up in what needed to be taught and what everyone needed to be able to do in order to be considered successful, in order for me to be considered successful, that I had forgotten that at the end of the day, it is only about the kids and creating a positive experience for them? And in my forgetting, had I lost the sense of joy I had had at the beginning of my career?

I don't know for sure what caused me to shift my perspective that day. It may have been having a room full of third graders actually all following directions at the same time or it may have been a casual remark from a friend, who moved from our K-5 school to middle school a few years ago and who is also my son's high school track coach. I mentioned to him that I didn't see how he could do both jobs; I was barely keeping up with one. He responded that he had been overwhelmed when teaching at our school and if he hadn't made the change to middle school, he wouldn't have been able to fulfill his dream of being a high school distance coach.

Overwhelmed. That word struck a nerve. That is exactly how I've been feeling. Overwhelmed. And when I feel that way, everything stops working.

How does one stop feeling overwhelmed? Well, I'm not entirely sure. But I think for me it may begin with giving myself permission to not be perfect, and to accept the fact that I never really could be.

Who decides what the temperature feels like? Ultimately, it is up to us to make that decision for ourselves.  So, today I don't care what weather.com says it feels like; I am aiming to make it feel like a sunny and warm 75.

What will the day feel like to you?

Friday, March 24, 2017

All Is Not Lost As Long As There Is Music

The gym of the high school seemed smaller than usual as we made our way inside. The gleaming wood floors of the basketball court were completely obscured by blue matting that had been laid to protect them from the hundreds of folding chairs occupied by musicians clad in their black and white concert attire and by their shiny instruments. We had arrived early, but the stands were filling up quickly. My husband and I scanned the bleachers for a spot wide enough to fit both of us and our ten-year-old son, who reluctantly trudged behind us, loud concert music not being his thing. I realized belatedly that I should have asked my teenage son, the reason we were there, where he was going to be sitting during the performance. Not that it mattered. With seating being somewhat limited, we had to take what we could get.

We found a length of unoccupied bench and sat down, quickly realizing that gymnasium bleachers are designed for teenagers, not full-grown adults. We had to turn our bodies sideways to avoid pressing our knees into the backs of the people in front of us.  You could hear "excuse me" all around as people accidentally bumped into each other. After just a few minutes, and still 30 minutes before the concert was scheduled to begin, my backside began to scream in mutiny against the hard, wooden bench. I shifted uncomfortably, trying to find a more cushioned angle, but relief was not to be found.

Sound bubbled up from every corner of the room, rising to fill the space. The blare of horns, the oompa-oompa of tubas, and the cry of the violins rose in random cacophony amid the background noise of the audience passing the time with idle conversation.

Glancing around the room, I decided this gym looked like every other gym I had ever been in. The rows of hard, wooden bleachers lined up neatly along the sides. Hung high on the walls were large banners advertising various local businesses, from orthodontists to car washes to flooring specialists. Pennants adorned the walls above the doors, attesting to a long history of athletic feats. Lights blinked on the two scoreboards, hung on either end of the room, although there would be no keeping score tonight.  Musicians and their bewildered parents continued to stream through the doors, filling the room to what I was sure was beyond capacity.

The noise swelled to new levels as the room continued to grow more and more crowded. I wondered how they would ever be able to begin the concert. Finally, the music director picked up the microphone and began to speak. Immediately, a hush fell across the room. The moment we had been waiting for was close at hand.

Then, the music took flight.

It carried us with it, soaring higher and higher before suddenly plummeting back down toward earth, only to rise once more. It exploded through clouds to spin and twirl in dazzling sunlight, followed by another descent into dark clouds. It coasted on gentle coastal breezes and swooped in elegant formations.

Each song took us on a different ride, but oh, what a ride each one was! Not for the first time, I was astounded by the quality of the performances of these middle and high school students. Whether it was the music or being surrounded by all that vibrant youth or the pain inflicted by the bench upon which I sat, I cannot say, but I found myself overcome with emotion.

As the music played, I thought about all the negativity these days that gathered like storm clouds just outside the doors. Story after story carries news of those in charge who seem to not care about taking care of our planet and the people who inhabit it. So many angry and biting comments fill social media from people who have forgotten that insults and put-downs and name-calling were all supposed to have been left on the playground long ago. But here were these young people, 600 of them, gathered in this one room for this one purpose: to make music together. Six hundred young people committed and willing to work hard to create music. To create beauty. To create magic.

Suddenly I was filled with hope. Certainly, all could not be lost if there were still people willing to do that. Each individual played lovely notes, but it was when they combined their notes together that true magic was made. The fact that hours had been sacrificed to practice for this performance was not lost on me. This, the making of music, had been important enough for these teenagers to set aside their smart phones, their tv screens, and their computer monitors.  Something inside urged them to create light in a world that is often too dark.

They ended the evening with all 600 musicians playing "America the Beautiful." And in that moment, they made it so.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Small Slice of Success

I awoke at 3:30 this morning when my husband got out of bed to use the bathroom. I had that small moment of panic that I wouldn't be able to go back to sleep and would have to face the day and 23 third graders on too little sleep. Fortunately, this was not the case. The next thing I knew, the alarm was going off at 5:00.

I dragged myself downstairs to make a cup of coffee and to complete my morning writing as has been my ritual for the last three weeks.  As I sat down at the kitchen table, I glanced outside the window and caught sight of a crescent moon hanging low in the sky. I had an idea of what I was going to write, but was feeling a bit discouraged and wasn't entirely certain that I had the words or even the desire to tell my story.

Then I thought about the boy in my class, the subject of today's slice. I wondered how many times he felt discouraged, too.

At the beginning of the year, my principal asked each teacher to identify two students to "spotlight." These were kids we were concerned about and would focus efforts on to help them progress to grade level. I had immediately thought of the boy I'll call Diego. He was a sweet, quiet boy with an adorable smile. In class, however, he seldom seemed to pay attention, needed constant reminders to stay focused and on task, and moved at a perpetually slow pace. I have no problem giving kids the time they need to complete tests and activities, but Diego moved so slowly that he fell farther and farther behind.  Added to that, he had a habit of asking to use the restroom every day, swearing it was an emergency that couldn't wait until recess, and then would disappear for 5 to 10 minutes, missing even more class time and falling even farther behind.

I tried everything. I sat him up front. I provided additional prompts to keep him on task. I sat him next to students who could help him. I worked with him in small groups and one-on-one. I held him in at recess to work on tasks he had missed during his trips to the restroom. Nothing really seemed to make much of a difference. This was Diego and there seemed to be no changing that.

Until yesterday. Diego suddenly piped up from the back of the room where he was working on practicing multiplication facts during lunch recess.

"Mrs. Regan?" he said. "Can I stay in at recess?"

I was confused. It was recess.

"I mean the afternoon recess," he explained.

"Oh. Why do you want to stay in at recess?" I asked, expecting him to tell me he wanted to play games on the Chromebook.

"Well, I finished writing my Who Would Win paragraph, and I want to put it in Google Docs."

My jaw just about hit the floor. We have been working on this project for quite some time, and not surprisingly it has taken Diego a while to write his paragraph stating who would win a battle between a panda (the animal he studied) and a cheetah (the animal his partner studied). Earlier in the day I had been closely monitoring his progress and noted that he, in fact, was doing a good job of taking information off his graphic organizer and writing his paragraph, using complete sentences and even transitions. A couple of times I had to ask him what sentences begin with, and with his adorable smile spreading across his face, he would answer, "Capital letters." I praised him for doing a good job before wandering off to work with my other "spotlight" student, who requires even more constant supervision than Diego.

Diego did come back at recess to work on his paragraph. He grabbed his Chromebook, sat down, and on his own, opened a Google Doc and began writing his paragraph. A few short months ago, none of that would have been possible. A few short months ago, he wouldn't have remembered his password let alone how to get to Google Docs. Now here he was, working completely independently on  his own time to complete his assignment.

I imagine Diego felt good yesterday. He had the words he needed to write and the encouragement from his teacher. I imagine he was powered by a sense that he was perfectly capable of doing what had been asked of him.

I know today I will have to prompt Diego to stay focused and on task. That isn't going to change. But I am going to hold on to yesterday's small success as a reminder that Diego has made progress. It may not translate into scores of proficiency on the upcoming SBAC test, but it is progress, nonetheless. I hope he holds on to that moment as well, and as he faces new assignments, remembers that he is capable.

And if Diego can overcome discouragement and keep plugging away, then certainly I can, too.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

An Impromptu Slice

I thought I knew how my evening would go, as my evenings are usually just variations on a theme. I would leave work, pick up my son, Jack, and then drive across town to pick up my son, Jared, from track practice. We would then head home, and I would fix dinner while simultaneously trying frantically to meet the 9:00 p.m. deadline for posting.

That's how it was supposed to go anyway. Then I got a text from my husband telling me that Jared hadn't found a ride, so he was going to leave work to take Jared to his track practice at 3:00. Jokingly, I texted back that since it was so late, there really wasn't any reason for him to go back to work.  The only response I got was a "Hmmm. . . ." I figured that meant he thought that was a good idea but was going back to work anyway, so I left work and headed to Jack's school as I had planned. To my surprise, as I pulled into the parking lot, I heard again from my husband. He was home!

Usually, my husband doesn't get home until 6:30 or later. Some nights, after picking up Jared from practice, I'm just rolling in around that time, too. Everyone being home before 5:00 felt like nothing short of a miracle. I decided to take advantage of this rare occasion of everyone being home early and suggested we go out to dinner. Strangely enough, this seemed to raise some suspicions, probably because I am not known to be particularly spontaneous, but everyone played along. After waiting for what seemed a ridiculous amount of time for the hostess to simply appear at Red Robin, we were seated.

In a way, it felt like a celebration. We all sat around the table, talking and laughing, free from the distraction of phones, computer screens, and television sets. Although we talked about our days, the stresses and hassles that might have occurred lost their potency. We felt relaxed and content, feelings that have been in short supply for quite some time.

It was a glorious way to end the day:  together and focused on each other.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

For All the Times

For all the runs to Starbucks for early morning lattes

For all the nights you put toothpaste on my toothbrush

For all the days you stayed home with sick kids, so I didn't have to scramble to write sub plans

For all the hours of manual labor that bring my designs to life

For always loving our boys, teaching them how to become good men

For all the times you haven't gotten mad when I yelled, "Brakes!" while you're driving

For loving my mom as if she were your own, taking her to doctor appointments and changing her bandages, all the while acting as if it were no big deal

For taking out the garbage and doing dishes

For making it possible for me to sit at this computer and write

For forgiving me my moments of stupidity

For  always believing I'm smart, sexy, and funny - and almost making me believe it, too

For letting me be who I am, the good, the bad, and the ugly

For all the times you hold me when words aren't enough to take away the pain

For offering assurances when my anxiety rages out of control

For opening my car door and for holding my hand

For all the times you've held on even when you wanted to let go

For all these times and so much more

Thank you

Monday, March 20, 2017

Monday, Back So Soon?

Once again Monday has arrived much too soon. Upon hearing the radio come to life at 5:03, I responded like the reasonable human being I am - I hit the snooze button and sank down deeper into the blankets, like a child hiding from the monsters waiting to emerge from the closet. Resistance was futile, of course. Monday was already here and demanding to be reckoned with.

It is going to be one of those there's-not-enough-coffee-in-the-world kind of days. The week stretches out before me like an endless tunnel with just the faintest glimmer of light at the end. I am tired. I am spent. I need a break.

Spring Break, however, is still two weeks away. Ten more days of getting up early. Ten more days of taking my younger son to school before dashing off to school myself, all the while reviewing a mental to-do list and kicking myself for not getting work done the night before. Ten more days of reining in 23 students who have gotten a whiff of impending vacation.

Ten days can be an eternity.

But, as I said, resistance is futile. There is nothing to do but move forward and plow through, making the most of the days in front of me. I pray there will be moments of laughter and learning and inspiration to keep me going.

And coffee. Lots of coffee.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

"I'm Hungry"

Knock, Knock.

No, this isn't the start of a really bad joke. Or maybe it is. I was in my bedroom, frantically writing lesson plans for the week (nothing like procrastination!), when my son knocked on the door. He has started knocking (a good thing) because he's terrified that he will catch his mother in a state of undress. 

"Come in," I called out. 

"Where's Dad?" he mumbled, stepping into my room.

"He's at the store," I answered, imagining that would probably be the end of our conversation.

"Shouldn't he be making French toast? I'm hungry," my teenage son replied.

"Are you serious?" 

I'm still stupefied by his response. Apparently, it has become our job to make sure that there is food ready for him when he emerges from his cave of a room. Poor kid. It must be rough living in a house with such poor service.

I tried to explain that in order for us to make him breakfast, we have to actually have food with which to make it.

"But he's been gone forever," he told me.

"He's buying groceries for the week," I explained. And really, his dad had not been gone forever. It was more like 30 minutes.

"Why?" my child moaned.

"Why? Because we need food." Somehow that seemed quite obvious to me, but then I'm not a teenager stumbling out of bed at 9:00 in the morning.

Heading back toward the door, apparently unsatisfied with the answers I was giving him, my son threw back over his shoulder, "I'm going to the store to get some food."

"Jared! That's what your father is doing. What is the matter with you?" 

"I'm just hungry, I guess." And slightly irrational, I wanted to add.  But that probably wouldn't have been entirely fair, as I have been known to get a bit irrational myself when I need food.

My son closed the bedroom door and slunk off to who knows where. I'd like to believe it was to his room to clean it or to the computer to complete his homework, but I am not that delusional.  

Ah, teenagers! Thinking about our exchange, all I can do is shake my head and laugh. And write about it, of course!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Things That Make Me Happy (In No Particular Order)

Winter has apparently decided to make one last ditch effort to assert itself. The sky is gray, the air has turned colder, and big, fat drops occasionally burst free of the clouds and mercilessly dive-bomb those below. Since weather like this can put me in a melancholy mood, I am resisting temptation and making a list of things that make me happy.

-chips and salsa with a good margarita (on the rocks, with salt)
-reading a good book on the shores of Lake Tahoe
-doing anything on the shores of Lake Tahoe
-watching the waves crash along the California coast
-playing Sorry with my boys
-wandering the aisles of Green Acres Nursery, marveling at all the beautiful plants
-listening to Keith Urban
-the fact that I once actually touched Keith Urban's hand
-freshly painted walls
-a purring cat on my lap
-weekend getaways with friends
-a good book, any time, anywhere
-hiking along beautiful trails
-unexpected kisses
-fresh flowers
-blue skies and warm sunshine
-good food
-fond memories
-holiday gatherings
-candlelight and sparkling glasses of wine
-long drives along twisty, mountain roads
-Disneyland (it is the Happiest Place on Earth, after all)
-holding hands
-a good night's sleep (I'm guessing on that one)
-Spring Break (still two weeks away!)
-furniture shopping
-quiet evenings with those I love

So, go ahead, Winter, stick around a little longer. It won't bother me. Even on the darkest days, happiness is all around, just waiting to be found.

Friday, March 17, 2017


Sophie's gone.

An endless loop playing in my head
over and over and over.

Sophie's gone.

So many thoughts,
so many feelings,
so many tears.

But today this is all I can write.

Sophie's gone.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

All the Things I Cannot Write

So many thoughts crashing
Tumbling like waves against the shore
But I must hold them back.

These are the things I cannot write.

The fear

and the doubt
and the wondering why.

How did I get here?

Where do I go now?

The pain 

and the hurt
and the sense of betrayal.

How could you do this to me?

Am I so easy to forget?

The anger 

and the frustration
and the desire to scream out loud.

What are you doing?

Why are you such a bitch?

The failures

and the misery
and the cold hard truth.

Why can't I do this?

How can I make things right?

All the inner turmoil,

the ugliness
that no one must ever see.

These are all the things I cannot write.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Fifteen Days

The coffee has finished brewing and sits waiting for me. All I have to do now is go get it.

The computer sits in front of me, blank page expecting. All I have to do now is fill it.

Some days that's harder than others.

It's not that I don't have ideas. I do. Maybe too many. The problem is days of unexpected emergencies and too little sleep have befuddled my brain, making it difficult to find the right words to bring to life the stories swirling around in my mind like nebulous clouds. Each time I reach out to grab one, it slips through my fingers, eluding me once again.

But that's all right.

At least I have the stories.

I know they were there all along, but for a long while I ignored them. Too busy robotically making my way through hectic yet uninspiring days. Uninspiring, perhaps, because I simply wasn't paying attention.  I wasn't living the life of a writer.

For the last 15 days that has all changed. Driving in my car, walking across campus, sitting in my classroom, I'm writing, albeit in my head. Sometimes a line will come to me and I will curse the fact that you can't write while driving 50 mph. (There's no actual law that states that, I don't think, but it doesn't seem like a good idea anyway.) There have been times when I have repeated lines over and over and over again, trying desperately to hold on to them until I can safely capture them within the lines of the notebook I carry in my purse.

Fifteen days ago I realized how silent I have been. And in the silence, life slips away.

So, I write. Even when I'm not sure what to write or how to write it, I write. Through my words, I try to catch moments and feelings and make sense of a world I do not understand. 

Through my words, I live.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Walking Man

I'm not sure when I first noticed the Walking Man.

I imagine my subconscious mind first noted him, and then one day nudged my conscious mind and said, "Hey, have you noticed that guy walking down the street? He's there every day."

Indeed, he was. Every day on the last main thoroughfare to work, there he would be, slowly making his way down the sidewalk. The first thing I noticed about him was that he seemed to walk as if each step was laborious, but he was confident that if he just kept going, he would get where he needed to be.

The next thing I noticed was that he always dressed the same way: black baseball cap, dark sunglasses, black jacket with the strap of a black bag cutting diagonally across, and light blue jeans. The dark colors of his attire made his white facial hair more pronounced.

It wasn't long before I began looking for him each day. Who was Walking Man, I wondered. Where was he going every morning? It didn't look like he was just out for a casual stroll around the neighborhood. Was he on his way to work? To meet someone? And why did he walk slowly? Was he unwell? Had he suffered an injury? Or perhaps he simply wasn't in a hurry?

I wanted to know what his story was. It was more than just idle curiosity. Seeing him every day made it feel like we had some sort of connection. When I didn't see him for a few days in a row, I worried that something had happened to him. I sighed in relief when he reappeared, although I did wonder if he had switched his black jacket for blue because of the spring-like weather. (He was back to black the next day, so I guess that wasn't it.)

It's kind of funny, I suppose, that someone I don't even know has become such a part of my landscape that his absence was noted and fretted about. I am certain that he would never suspect that an occupant in one of the many cars that passes him each day was concerned about his welfare or that she had even noticed his slow progress up the street each and every day. Certainly, he would be surprised to learn that she wondered what his story was and one morning sat down at her computer to write about him.

That's the way it is, though, isn't it? We never really know the impact our lives have on others, even those who are simply passing through.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Not Today

"Should I take her to the doctor today?" my husband asked.

"Not today," I murmured, willing back the tears flooding my eyes.

It was a coward's answer.

It was such a beautiful day, one of the first days of spring. The sun had already warmed up the air that wrapped itself around us and the sound of birds invited all who were listening out to play. I looked down at the gray muzzle of our Sophie, the 15-year-old lab mix who had been our child since before the arrival of our human sons. She stood awkwardly, her joints stiff with arthritis. The tail that always had seemed to be in motion, hung limp behind her. I looked away, not wanting to see in her eyes what I was afraid to see.

I wasn't ready to let her go.

How could 15 1/2 years go by so quickly? I remembered the darling little black and white puppy she had been when we got her. She had actually been adopted by an employee of my husband, but her apartment didn't allow dogs. Why she had adopted Sophie, I couldn't say. Maybe it was fate. I was dubious when Dan told me about the dog and asked if we should take her. We had only moved into our new house four months earlier and were trying to have a baby. A dog really wasn't part of the plan. Then, he showed me a picture, and that was that.

We fell in love with Sophie immediately. She grew quickly from tiny puppy to strong dog, full of energy. She loved fiercely and made me feel safe on nights alone, knowing she would alert me to danger with her deep, ferocious bark. Strangers had no way of knowing that that was as far as her ferociousness went.

I honestly couldn't recall living in this house without her. Sophie was part of what made this house a home. And here we were, cautiously contemplating life without her.

"Sophie's not doing well," my husband repeated, continuing our earlier conversation as he walked into the bathroom where I had sought refuge from reality in the shower. There had been no refuge. My time alone hadn't done anything more than allow me to feel even more heavily the weight of what my husband was asking and to cry in private.

Pretending the streaks down my face had been caused by the shower, I replied, "I know." That was about all I could manage to say.

"Jack is going to take it the hardest," he said.

"No," I answered. "You will."

"But I'll hide it better."

And he would. He will. For as much as I want to deny it, the time is coming when we will have to face the truth that Sophie's time has come.

I just didn't want it to be today.

I wanted her to enjoy the gentle warmth of a lovely spring day. Maybe I was hoping for a miracle. In those few quiet moments of solitude, I had sent out a prayer that I would be forgiven for my cowardice and that she would go peacefully on her own in her own time, here in her home where she has loved and been loved.

I'm not sure how much solace that will bring. Somehow, as tragic as it is to lose a pet. this feels like we are losing even more, that her passing will bring an end to an era. An era I'm not ready to see come to an end.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Beautiful Day

The sun is shining,
birds are chirping,
green leaves have burst
out of hiding,
cloaking branches
in newness.

Pink and white fireworks
explode up and down the streets
brilliant blue skies,
not a cloud in sight.

The day sparkles
in glowing invitation.

It's too beautiful a day
to be wasted on
grocery shopping
lesson planning
the correcting of papers.

It's a day
made for

It's a day
to be enjoyed
lived to the fullest.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

To Know a Ladybug

Standing in the backyard, soaking in rays of golden sunshine and contemplating landscape design, a small flash of red against the white and gray gravel caught my eye. There, fluttering among the delicate green blades of grass that insist on growing where I don't want them, was a tiny red ladybug.

Instantly my mind traveled all the way back to when I was in first grade. I don't remember if it was for Mother's Day or some other occasion, but my teacher one day had us make ladybug magnets. I believe all the kids really got to do was paint black dots on the "wings" of an already-painted wood ladybug. I was excited anyway because if there was anything I knew it was ladybugs. There were always copious amounts of them to be found in my front yard. I would delight in the tickle of their minuscule legs as they scurried across my bare arms and legs. Small margarine containers filled considerately with grass and with lids carefully punched with air holes became their temporary homes, cradled in my loving, child hands. 

When it came my turn to paint, I carried images of these fascinating creatures with me. I knew exactly how I was going to make mine; I would scatter tiny black dots randomly across the bright red wings. Happily I picked up my paintbrush and began to bring my vision to life.

It soon became clear, however, that my vision of a ladybug didn't match the vision of the adults in the room.

The project instructions were to paint three circles vertically on each wing, with the center circle slightly larger than the other two. Even though I had painted what I knew to be true, I had done it wrong. 

My days of warm sun, scratchy green blades of grass, and the gathering of ladybugs gradually slipped away, and over time I began to doubt myself.  Maybe they had been right. Maybe real ladybugs didn't match the vision I had held in my mind.

Today, standing in my backyard, almost 44 years later, bathed in warmth and with the mile-long to-do list temporarily forgotten, it suddenly occurred to me.

I want to know ladybugs again.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Early Morning Panic

Eyes pop open
4:00 a.m.
I'm wide awake
or at least more awake 
than I want to be.

Mind starts whirling
in a state of panic.
Whatever will I write?

Should I write about yesterday's Fun Run
and the 20 students covered in
shaving cream?

The mom who brought her son to school
then disappeared with him
without saying a word?

The moment of studious quiet
that seized my students
as they worked on
writing Who Would Win,
catching me by surprise?

Perhaps I should reflect on
the little girl
who always
sits and stares
never completing her work.

Or the boy who does the same.

Maybe I should write of the late day memo
telling about next week's staff development
in which I discovered
my room will be filled with TK teachers.
My messy little room 
absent of Pinterest posters.
One week to make it 
picture perfect.
Or clean and organized 
at least.

Talk about panic.

Or should I write of finally coming home,
cooking a late dinner
all the while spewing endless stories about my day
as my husband pours a glass of wine
and helplessly listens?

Too few ideas?
Or too many?
Whatever will I write?
It was just an ordinary day 
filled with 
extraordinary moments.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Return of the COB

I was sitting at my desk listening to the pounding beat of music and the screaming of third graders coming from the dance party next door, and all I could think was. . .

She's baaaaaack.

Yep, my alter ego, Cranky Old Broad, had returned.

Sure, it sounded like they were having a ton of fun next door.  Kids should have fun, right? And yes, I was happy that they were able to raise enough money for the Fun Run fund raiser to earn a dance party. But did it really have to be while some of my students were writing and others were trying to finish up a difficult math test? I mean, this music was LOUD. It might as well have been in my room.

All I could do was sit there and look at my poor students, many of whom were now bopping their heads to "It's Raining Tacos." They have a hard enough time concentrating in a perfectly silent room; this certainly wasn't going to help. A little voice inside my head told to go next door and demand they turn the music down and for goodness sake stop screaming.

And just when I had been doing so well.

Honestly. I had. Two days ago I laughed when a mom had to cut the drop-off line at school in her over-sized Yukon, her rear end jutting out, thus blocking the exit lane as well. I didn't even whisper, "Can't you read?" at the parents dropping off in the No Stopping zone. Parents teaching their kids to dart across the street instead of using the crosswalk? Why not? I said. It's their choice.

Really, I felt like I'd turned over a new leaf. Then this had to happen.

I found more things to complain about (at least inside my head) as the afternoon progressed. Kids who kept finding excuses to get up instead of read. The girl who argued that she hadn't been talking after I said three times not to, she'd only been asking her friend a question. The boy who took home his Fun Run t-shirt, even though I had said explicitly they were staying at school and everyone else's was still on their desk.

After school, I discovered my Helper of the Day hadn't been a whole lot of help as he had neglected to sharpen the pencils.  I grumbled to myself about what kids do to pencils as I sharpened the pathetic remains. Fortunately, I had picked up a new box from the supply room; the ones in the cup weren't going to be around much longer. I figured I might as well sharpen those, too; maybe we would actually get through the day tomorrow without running out.

Then, lo and behold, a miracle happened. My brand new pencils were pre-sharpened! Well, hallelujah! That was enough to make this cranky old broad mend her ways and turn into a decent and kind human being once again.

At least until tomorrow anyway.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Little Gratitude for Mom

I don't know what I'd do without my mom.

That thought popped into my head yesterday as I eased to a stop at a red light on my way to her place. I was picking up Jared, my teenage son, who walks to his grandmother's after track practice. If it weren't for my mom, I'm not really sure what we would have done about the crazy busy schedule of high school sports that I wasn't really prepared for.

I was actually the one to encourage him to sign up for cross country before the school year began. I thought it would be a good experience for him, and the coach was an old colleague of mine, who I knew was really great with kids. I hadn't really thought about the daily after-school practice that would mean missing the only bus home. His high school is too far away for him to walk home, especially alone. The only solution would have been for me to leave work early each day so that I would have enough time to pick up both him and his brother.

That would have been the only solution had my mother not moved into assisted living right across the street from the high school.

So, for the first time in my children's lives, after my older son had turned 14, I had someone I could count on to help my husband and me out with the kids.  My husband and I moved to the Sacramento area sixteen years ago, back when we were blissfully ignorant of just how hard it is to raise kids. That move put us two and a half hours away from family. We loved our new home and excitedly welcomed Jared a year after we moved and then his brother Jack four and a half years later. What we quickly found out, however, is it is tough not having family to help you out. There were few "date nights" and when one of the kids was sick, there was always a mad scramble to figure which of us would take the day off to care for our child. There was no one else but us.

Of course, we managed. I sometimes thought about my siblings and how they had had Mom and Dad to provide child care whenever they needed it. How lucky they were! And how lucky their kids were, to be with their grandparents, sometimes on a daily basis, developing a close relationship with them. My kids only got to see them a few times a year. But my situation was of my own making, so I had no right to complain.

I didn't really anticipate needing child care at this point, especially for my teenage son. I'm pretty sure my mother didn't anticipate providing it when she moved here. I think my son had different ideas, though. Last January, when it was decided that his grandmother would move into the residence across the street from what would become his school in the fall, he immediately began talking about going to Grandma's house after school.

It makes me happy that at last my son has the opportunity to spend time with his grandmother on a regular basis. I think it makes her happy, too. I know moving to assisted living wasn't something she really wanted or planned on, but I hope those evenings with Jared provide a bit of a silver lining.

And hopefully she knows, I don't know what I'd do without her.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Story of Penny and Benny

Once upon a time there was a little boy named Jack, who loved cats. He had been seriously heartbroken the day he found out the family cat, Adele, had passed away. He cried and questioned when she was coming back. It saddened his family to see his tears and to have to explain that Adele was never coming home again.

Days passed, months even, but Jack thought about that cat constantly. Every day he asked, when would he get a new cat? He checked out books at the library about how to care for cats and put a picture of Adele in a frame so he could keep it by his bedside.

His mom, who had always had cats growing up, understood his pain. She, too, missed the quiet companionship of her feline friends. Over time, however, she began to realize that with fewer pets there were fewer messes to clean. less fur to vacuum up, and it was a lot easier to plan trips out of town.  And so, even though she missed the cats she had had previously, she realized she was content, for now, to live without them.

His dad, however, didn't really like cats. (Or so he claimed.) Although he wasn't exactly happy when Adele passed on to Cat Heaven, he wasn't sad, either, to no longer have to deal with the meowing at four o'clock in the morning or with the litter box that just never seemed to stay clean. He had no intention of ever owning a cat again.

Then, one day a funny thing happened. No one is quite sure why, but Jack's dad made a deal with him. If Jack could keep his room clean for 30 days, his dad would get him a cat. See, Jack was not a very tidy boy, and his dad was certain that there was no way on Earth that Jack could keep his room clean for an entire month. He was so certain, in fact, that he helped Jack clean up his room to get him started.

Jack's dad underestimated just how badly Jack wanted a cat.

Jack, though not the neatest of children, was however a clever boy. Days passed and Jack's room remained clean. Unbeknownst to his dad, he had worked out a plan: he would simply avoid going into his room as much as possible. He even took to sleeping on the floor in other rooms, just so his bed would remain neat and tidy.

Each day he gleefully reminded his dad how many more days until he got his cat.

And that is how Penny and Benny became part of Jack's family. After fulfilling his end of the bargain, there was nothing left for Jack's dad to do but to fulfill his. His dad graciously accepted defeat and Jack's greatest wish was at long last about to be granted.

One day, while Jack was at a birthday party, Jack's mom and brother went to PetSmart where they were hosting cat adoptions. There, cuddled up in a cage together, were brother and sister, Benny and Penny. They were adorable and fluffy and impossible to resist. They were also impossible to separate. So, after the birthday party, Jack's mom and brother took him to PetSmart and surprised him with not one, but two kittens to call his own.

Now, Jack's mom realized very quickly how much she had really missed having cats in the house. Yes, these two were full of energy and mischief and caused way more damage than she was happy about, especially to the leather couch they had just recently purchased. Yet, when they cuddled up and purred those giant purrs that were ten sizes bigger than their bodies, she knew that they had made the right decision.

And Jack's dad?  How did he feel about these new fur babies? Well, he might not admit it, but he, too, fell in love with those cats. And it has become very clear that the feeling is mutual.