Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Back Seat Book Club

"Good to see you!" my son Jack greeted me cheerfully when I went to pick him up from after-school care.

"Good to see you, too, my son!" I leaned over and kissed his forehead while simultaneously trying to find the right page to sign him out. I consider myself fortunate that at 11 years old, Jack still doesn't mind displays of affection.

"You are exactly one hour and three minutes early," he declared, looking at the clock.

"I'm glad you feel that way," I said, steering him toward the door. "I was feeling a little guilty that I didn't pick you up earlier."  I was already on Spring Break, so there really had been no reason not to pick him up. 

"I'm sure you were busy," he magnanimously replied. 

"Um, yeah. I was busy reading."

"Then I totally forgive you," he said.

Thank goodness he's a fellow reader! 

Knowing I had a receptive audience, I proceeded to launch into a detailed description of the book I was reading that lasted all the way to the car.

"That sounds like a good book," he said once I finished.

From there, our conversation naturally led to a discussion of the Harry Potter series, which is what he is currently working his way through. As I drove to the high school to pick up his brother, we continued to talk about books, one reader to another. Who needs to join a book club when you have your very own personal book club in the back seat of your car?

We arrived at my older son Jared's school early, so instead of circling the parking lot until he appeared, I pulled into a spot to wait. I handed Jack his copy of The Goblet of Fire that was sitting on the front seat and pulled out The War That Saved My Life from my purse. There we sat, two readers lost in two very different worlds, yet bound together by our love for each other and the magic of reading.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Failed Compassion

I saw you 
sitting there in your truck
in the middle
of the empty parking lot.

We were there
by chance,
switching drivers,
my son taking the wheel
for the short drive home.

You didn't notice us.

I sat still in the passenger seat,
watched you
rub your face
and wipe at your eyes.

Were you in pain?
Were you trapped in a memory
that would not let you go?
Were you waiting for a sign
of better days to come?

I longed to be
the kind of person
to get out of my car,
to reach out,
to ask,
"Are you okay?"

But I am not courageous like that.

Instead I sat 
and watched
and wondered
and felt.

We drove away,
leaving you there
my heart silently breaking
for your untold suffering.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Dinner Party

I said I didn't want to go, but I did. 

We arrived at my son's friend Michael's house on time and walked resolutely to the front door, trying not to think about what the next two hours might hold in store for us. We rang the bell and immediately a cacophony of children's voices rose up from the other side of the door. Michael opened it, and we walked in. Not an adult in sight. Hmmm. There was still a chance to turn around and make a run for it. 

Subconsciously, we must have decided to play nice because our feet carried us further into the house. Michael's mom appeared at last, greeted us, and led us to the kitchen where her husband was busy with dinner preparations. He was standing at the sink, back turned toward the room, and he remained that way for quite some time. Even my introverted self thought it was strange that he did not turn around and greet his guests, especially when he was meeting us for the first time. But who was I to judge? I hadn't really wanted to come; perhaps he hadn't really wanted us to come.

The evening had all the earmarks of being awkward at best, downright painful at worst. We stood around the kitchen island making small talk about I don't know what with the wife as the husband did his best to ignore us. It was going to be a long two hours.

Then Alex appeared.

Michael's family thankfully had invited another family to dinner. More people meant less burden on me to carry on a conversation. We learned rather quickly that only the dad and son had been able to come as the wife and daughter were sick. (Or were they? It's not like that excuse hadn't crossed my mind.) It didn't matter. With Alex's appearance, the evening was saved.

While introverts may not be great at talking, they are rather adept at listening. Put an interesting person who likes to tell stories in the mix, and the introvert is going to be put at ease. At least that's how it works for this introvert. And Alex filled the bill.

Turned out he was an artist. Not just an "I like to paint in my free time" kind of artist, but an actual painter who made his living selling his artwork. He told of many of the places he travels to selling his art and showed us pictures of his paintings on his phone. Born in France, raised in Canada, he seemed to have an unlimited supply of fascinating stories, which took the pressure off of me. All I had to do was listen. And listen I did.

Fortunately for me, our conversation filled up our time, and the game playing that had been threatened in the invitation was successfully avoided. We all had children to get to bed at a reasonable hour before school the next day, so we said our thank you's and murmured "we had a lovely time" before bidding adieu and scurrying out the door.

So, the evening I had been dreading turned out to be a pleasant one. Sure, I felt a bit inadequate after listening to Alex's stories, but I had enjoyed the stories nonetheless and appreciated being in the company of someone whose life experiences were so different from my own. At one point in the evening, someone mentioned being in awe of people with his kind of talent, to which he replied, "Everyone has a talent. It's just a matter of finding it."

And, of course, recognizing it when you do.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

But I Don't Want To

I don't want to go.

I feel terrible, even just typing the words. But those words have been circling around in my brain every since I accepted the invitation.

I don't want to go.

It wasn't like I didn't know the invitation was coming. There was that offhand remark made when she came to drop off the Girl Scout cookies I had bought from her daughter.

"We should get together for dinner and games some Sunday night," she said.

"Sure. That would be fun," I responded. I didn't really mean it, but what else was I going to say? There she was extending an offer of friendship. Who was I to shoot it down? Besides, people say things like that all the time and fail to follow through. 

Then the text came. We didn't have plans, no valid excuse to say "Sorry, would love to, but we can't." There was nothing to do but accept. 

But this is sooooo not my thing. A friend posted on Facebook yesterday "6 Things Introverts Hate." Every single one of them - crowds, talking on the phone, noise, social gatherings, being told "you're too quiet", small talk- described me perfectly. Yet, here I am now gearing up for an evening filled with noise and small talk at a social gathering of people I don't know well. That's pretty much the definition of hell for me.

So, why am I going, you might ask. The answer is pretty simple. I am going for my son. The woman who invited us is the mother of one of his friends. He has had several play dates at her house, something I've never been good at setting up (see the list above), and they seem like a nice family. My son enjoys spending time with his friend and seeing his face light up when I told him we were having dinner with Michael's family made all the anxiety worthwhile.

I don't want to go. But I will. 

Two hours of extreme discomfort seems like a small sacrifice for my son's happiness. And who knows? Maybe I'll surprise myself and have a good time.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Small Victories

The email was just one line long. Sometimes that's all you need. One line to attest to the fact that what you are doing is somehow making a difference. 

The desire to make a difference, after all, is what prompts most of us teachers to go into education in the first place. It's easy, though, to feel like you're missing the mark on most days when you live in a world that measures value only by test scores. Some of the most profound progress a child makes doesn't show up anywhere in their precious data.

Sometimes it appears in an email from the speech teacher:
A. told me he would like a different speech time because he doesn't like missing writing...
It was just one line long, but it felt like a victory nonetheless.

Friday, March 16, 2018

I Could Have Stayed

I could have stayed
and watched those two ducks 
swim across an impromptu lake
bathed in sunshine too weak to chase away the cold.

I could have stayed
under pale blue skies bordered with menacing gray,
your warm hand tucked comfortably in mine,
content just to be.

I could have stayed
wrapped safely in the moment,
the rush and noise of the outside world
dimmed to a quiet hush.

Yet, obligation called
and dutifully my footsteps carried me away.
Oh, but how I wished
I could have stayed.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Day of Frustrations

It was a day of frustrations. By the time I left work, I felt like I had been pummeled from all directions.

The morning had started with a bit of a bump. My husband took offense at something I said in jest, and rather than telling me that, he turned his back and walked away. Not exactly what I needed when already dealing with feelings of rejection. After writing my heart out each day for the last two weeks and posting it for the world to see, I clearly wasn't making connections. On a good day, I was lucky to get one or two comments. My frustration stemmed from more than what I interpreted as daily affirmation that my writing was lacking. It was further evidence that I simply couldn't connect with other human beings. I tried to tell myself that I didn't care and thought up reasons why people might read my blog and not have anything to say. Sometimes I was successful in believing it. This wasn't one of those days.

It would have been nice to find solace at work, but that wasn't about to happen. Maybe it was the rain that brought out the worst in my students. Maybe it was the close proximity to Spring Break. Maybe it was a combination of the two. I couldn't be sure, but whatever it was, it was a struggle to maintain control all day. I finally got to the point yesterday that I started my lessons when it was time, whether they were listening or not. It actually worked for the most part. Until we got to the end of the day, that is. By then I was exhausted and I had had it. 

When I had been prepping for my social studies lesson earlier in the day, I had come across some charts we had made the first week of school, listing behaviors that showed how we show respect, solve problems, and make good decisions. We spent the last 15 minutes of the day going over those lists. I pointed out all the ones they didn't follow (there were many) and how I was concerned that it was their behavior, not their intelligence, that was getting in the way of their success. They were quiet for the most part and seemed to be taking it all in. One of my more troublesome girls was vocal in her agreement that we should make decisions that would add positivity to the class and not negativity. So, of course, when we were cleaning up and getting ready to go home, it was her voice I heard shout out, "Ew, and I touched it," before she ran over to the hand sanitizer. Upon questioning the kids at her table group, my suspicions were confirmed. What she had touched was another boy's white board. I pulled her aside to talk to her about it, but all she could talk about was why she was in trouble and not another girl who had done it, too. I tried to explain she wasn't in trouble, but she wasn't hearing it. Didn't want to hear it. When the dismissal bell rang, she left in a huff. 

In the silence of the classroom, I questioned for the millionth time what I could do, what I clearly wasn't doing, that was going to make a difference in the lives of these children. How could I convince them to be nice to one another? They are only third graders, for goodness sake. Certainly, it can't be too late. But once again, I felt helpless, unsure of what more I could do.

It was a day of frustrations, indeed, a day that made me want to give up.

And yet. . .

Here I am, up at 4:45 a.m., getting ready to face a new day. My husband and I are still talking and the tension of yesterday will slowly fade away. I will walk into school this morning and greet my class with the same warm greeting and optimism I do every day. In a few moments, I will hit the publish button and send yet another piece of my writing, another piece of me, out into the world.

Brave or foolish? Only time will tell.