Remembrance: A Tuesday Slice of Life

It’s been nearly a year since I lost my mom . . .


“Why don’t you guys plan on staying for dinner tonight?  I’m making my famous Chinese Chicken dish.”  My mother held her hands out toward me and carefully took my newborn baby from my arms.

“Wow Mom, that would be great.”

The year was 2009, and school had started back up.  After spending a lovely summer adjusting to our new roles as parents, my wife and I needed to return to work- my wife part-time, me full-time.  And we now enjoyed the great fortune of leaving our new daughter in the capable hands of my parents three days a week.

Two years later, another baby came along, and she happily agreed to take that baby, too.  During those days, my mother sang to them, danced with them, saw to a regular nap schedule, fed them, and – most of all – loved them beyond measure.

Yesterday my phone rang.  It was my father.  “It’s been almost a year,” he reminded me.  I  glanced at the calendar hanging on my wall, thought about the date.  Yes, it has indeed been nearly a year.  “I’m going to host a small gathering this Saturday,” my father continued, his voice solemn, “to honor your mom.  I’m asking everyone attending to write a letter to her.  I know you’re too far away to attend, but would you send something?  I’ll read it at the gathering.”  Of course, I assured him.  Placing my finger on the red “end call” button, I paused.  What will I write? I silently wondered.  I could thank her, couldn’t I? I could thank her for taking care of my girls when they were so little.  I could thank her for working three jobs so I could go to college.  I could thank her for inspiring me to become a teacher.  I could thank her for being not only the most wonderful mother anyone could ask for, but the most incredible human being I’ve ever known.  I could thank her for her delicious Chinese Chicken.

Many have told me the loss of a mother takes a great deal of time to process.  They are right.  Later today, I will draft a letter to my wonderful mom.  And once again, I’ll lean on writing- as I have in the past – to help get me through a difficult time.






Perseverance: A Tuesday Slice of Life

My daughters are still working on balance . . .

Placing my hands on the handlebars, I lifted the small white bike from the gravel.  Small whimpers quietly escaped my daughter’s lips, making their way into my ears as I dusted the dirt and small stones from her pants.  “You okay, honey?” I asked, keeping my tone low.  She nodded, gently wiping her nose.  Looking up, I watched as her two friends expertly cruised on their bikes, maybe twenty yards away, around the tree-lined parking lot.  “You’ll get this, baby,” I whispered.  “It just takes time.”  She nodded again.

Meanwhile, I looked on and observed my younger daughter setting up her pedals, getting ready to try again.  For over thirty-five minutes now, the four girls had been biking around the empty bus lot; two girls who knew how to ride, two who desperately wanted to learn.  Living on a road with no sidewalks and on which traffic often traveled at high speeds has not made for friendly bike-riding territory.  Consequently, my girls have yet to achieve that magical milestone of balance.  Unlike their two friends who had come to visit with their bicycles.

But I watched, as time after time again, my girls tried; sometimes alone, sometimes with help from me, sometimes with help from their friends.  “Here, try this.”  “You want me to push you?”  “Try to keep your weight in the middle.”  “You almost had it!” And yes, frustration reared its head on many occasions.  But we celebrated small successes, especially when my girls’ faces turned to look at me beaming.  “Four pedals, Papa, did you see that?!”  Yes honey, I saw it.  So proud.

An hour later, we left the parking lot, my girls still unable to remain upright on their bikes.  But the perseverance they showed…that’s got to be worth something, right?




Another Spring Snow Day: A Tuesday Slice of Life

A very short slice about spring and more snow . . .


The Easter Season typically brings a spirit of new beginnings.  In my mind, this time of year signals the turning of the seasonal clock from winter to spring.  It is a time of renewed hope and eager optimism, as plants, animals, and birds spring to life.

And so, when I reached for my ringing cell phone during the dawn hours yesterday morning, knowing my superintendent would be delivering the dreaded message of yet another snow day, you might imagine my spring optimism suffered a major blow.


Slice of Life Challenge Day 31 #sol18

For the final slice of life 2018, a message of hope . . .

“I started my acting class yesterday!”  The light outside the library windows, still imbued with spring morning color, shone through onto the carpet.  As I stood across from my excited colleague, I observed similar light emanating from her eyes.  Her son, a middle school boy, had recently auditioned for and earned a lead role in a theatrical production.   A few weeks back, my colleague shared this impressive news with me.  In telling me, she literally exuded excitement for him, so pleased that he’d discovered what was for him, a new passion.  Shortly after that, I learned she had enrolled herself in an acting class.  “Just to learn what this acting thing is all about,” she reported.

When she told me this week the class had begun, I immediately thought back to my own theater experience. While working as an eager new teacher at my very first middle school, I had once offered a Thursday theater improv class for interested students.  Every Thursday morning, all teachers on my staff taught an “interest group,” a little course typically outside academics for which they had a passion and an expertise.  Teachers offered such mini-courses as knitting, archery, creative writing, origami, basketball.  I remember this fondly as a time when there seemed to be more time to get to know students, to play a little bit sometimes, to breathe.

As a specialist no longer working in my own classroom, I now see teachers struggling to breathe, struggling to maintain, struggling to balance the many pressures exerted on them.  Teaching is not what it once was, we all know that. We feel that.  Nor should it be, I recognize that, too.  But I am hopeful that the pendulum in our profession will swing back, at least a little.

Chatting with my colleague in the library this week helped me to feel heartened for her.  The brain loves novelty.  And I could see new sparks of inspiration electrifying her in ways I don’t know that I had ever seen before.  My hope for teachers, for all of us really, is that we can find those little avenues in life that not only sustain us, but light us up;  those paths of inspiration that help us come to school rejuvenated and more of who we are.  Because it’s important we stay in this profession.  It is.  This work matters.

And we’ve got to find ways to breathe.


Slice of Life Challenge Day 30 #sol18

A student reached her goal yesterday . . .

Shuffling the assessment papers, I gently tapped them into a tidy stack and laid them down. The smile was beginning to emanate now, I could feel it, forming itself across my face.  I looked across the small, round table at the young lady sitting on the other side, met her gaze.  “Well,” I began, “you passed.”  And with those words, I quietly closed yet another chapter.

You see, as the reading consultant and specialist at my school, I have the privilege of working with those readers who require “tier three” instruction.  This means, essentially, that I provide specialized reading intervention that (hopefully) brings them to grade level.  Now in my fifth year in this position, I have learned that these students vary widely in their needs, that they have far less in common than proficient readers do; which means curiosity must become my best friend when I work with them.

This particular student was no different.  We had been working together a while now, and, like other students that came before, I had come to know her;  hard-working, ambitious, personable, a delight to work with.  But now our journey was ending.  Sitting at that little table in my office, we discussed her progress, how far she’d come.  “Are you proud of yourself?” I asked her.  She nodded.  Yes, she was proud of herself.  She should be, I thought.

And then she was gone.  Like many others that came before her, we said good-bye and I watched her walk out the door for the last time.  This one is going to be okay, I thought.  Next week I will begin working with a new student.

The journey will start again.


Slice of Life Challenge Day 29 #sol18

My wife’s grandmother passed away yesterday…


My wife’s grandmother passed away yesterday.  Her father’s mother.  And so, predictably, memories of my own mother’s passing came flooding back, like a wave of water finding a crack in a levy.  My wife described her grandmother as gracious and generous, the kind of grandma who went out of her way for her grandkids.  Sitting in darkness last night,  my wife and I huddled beneath hand-crafted blankets.  With the kids finally asleep, we quietly whispered about some of the similarities between her wonderful grandmother and my beautiful mom.  There seemed to be several important and wonderful ones.

Death is a strange thing.  Especially in its permanence.  For me, I find my mom’s departure to be something  I must constantly remind myself actually happened.  That yes, it’s real.  That yes, on that terrible day, April 21, 2017, my father and I had to slowly and reluctantly leave her in a hospital bed- because she had passed.  That she would not be calling anymore.  That she would not be flying across the country anymore toting mounds of presents for my children.

According to my wife, her grandma specialized in small acts of generosity that really made a grandchild feel loved.  My mom, too, definitely specialized in acts of generosity that made all those around her feel loved.  During her last visit, she arrived with an entire suitcase filled with gifts- word searches, crafts, stuffed animals, games.  That morning I held my iPhone in video mode to capture the ecstatic joy she brought to the faces of my little girls.  I watched as they climbed like little monkeys onto the guest bed to embrace their “Tutu” (a Hawaiian word for grandma), so happy for this now rare opportunity to see her.  Although she must have been feeling such exhaustion from the previous evening’s travel, Mom buoyantly greeted them, hugged them, asked them how they were doing.

A year now nearly past, I continue to hang onto what there is to hang onto in regards to my mom.   Her lessons.  Her love.  Her generous way with people.  And I feel so sad for my father-in-law, as he is just beginning this journey; and my wife, who begins her grieving process.

I suppose incumbent upon us in the cycle of life is an obligation, an obligation to carry forward the best of what those who came before us taught and lived.  From these two amazing women, I am sure my wife and I will work to emulate their generosity, a crown jewel of their humanity.  They will be missed.


Slice of Life Challenge Day 28 #sol18

March Madness heartbreak . . .

The odds are against us, and I know that.  But I will admit, every year when I fill out my NCAA bracket, I hope it is my year.  I think it is my year.  I believe it is my year.  After all, who hasn’t been afflicted by the Gambler’s Fallacy at least once in their lives?  For nearly twenty-five years (give or take a few), I have printed out or grabbed a black and white tournament bracket from the photocopied stack in the faculty room; and with hope and a prayer, I pore over the possibilities that will lead me to victory, to the top of a pool of hopefuls.

No, I do not predict game outcomes based on any real knowledge, as time to actually watch much regular season play or develop any informed opinions eludes me annually.  Not that “informed opinions” would help, anyway.  Rather, a belief that my blind selection process will, this year, produce a winning combination always seems to spark a scintillating and seductive hope.  One of these years, it is going to be me, I just know it.  But truth be told, this is a bit like turning off all the lights in an enormous room, throwing a marble, and believing I can walk straight to it.  Yeah,  really not much chance there.

As the kids filed into school yesterday, I saw Mike.  Mike is our man who generously collects brackets and maintains a running score of everyone’s college basketball divinations.  Dressed in his typical sweat suit and sneakers, I noticed him standing in the hallway near my office, further from the gymnasium than I typically see him.  Now’s my chance to glean an update, I thought.  “Hey Mike,” I said, eyebrows raised, hope glinting in my eyes, “how am I looking in the tournament pool?”  Mike turned his head to face me, smiled, and just shook his head. My heart sunk. I swallowed.  “Am I . . . at the bottom?” I asked.  Mike headed toward the nurse’s office.  Over his shoulder, he said, “No.  But close.”

Next year will be my year.

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