Makeshift Memorial: A Tuesday Slice of Life

We mourned the loss of a small animal yesterday . . .

 

I gazed out the front window at the two girls standing forlornly in my front yard.  Their backs to me, they stood at the faded and peeling split rail fence, gazing at something in the road.  Overhead, above the leafless trees across our road, dark clouds threatened more rain.  I thought about where this moment might be heading, how I might make it softer, perhaps maybe even meaningful in some way.  Still not sure, I grabbed my coat and and put on my garden shoes.  My daughters had now traveled to the backyard, so I exited out the back door.  While outside, I learned a squirrel had been unable to escape an encounter with a speeding auto.  A search had now ensued for a suitable burial location. After a few minutes, I heard my oldest daughter suggest,  “How about here, Papa?” She pointed to a patch of moss in a neglected flower bed.  

“Sure, honey, let me grab a shovel.”

As I dug a small grave for Mr. Squirrel, my two oldest worked together to transport a medium sized granite stone from a far location in our yard, expertly lugging it about 30 yards across the rather pathetic April grass.  “Oh, a headstone,” I commented.  They both nodded.

It was then time for me to retrieve the body from the road, which I did.

After patting down dirt, deep and brown, my daughters began to adorn the site with small, decorative stones. Using acorns, they spelled a single word: “Squirrel.”  I considered the possibility of gathering us all around the site, saying a few words on the animal’s behalf.  But it never happened.

Later, inside the house, I watched the girls cut a daffodil and make a precious sign to place at the gravesite.  And I suddenly thought about other animals lost: my first pet, the first pet I knew, a poodle killed by a passing car.  I thought about other pets.  And other people.  And of course, my mom.

Life seems to have a way of creating strings of connected moments of loss, separated by time.  I felt grateful this one didn’t pull too hard on our hearts.

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Life Paths: A Tuesday Slice of Life

I received an unexpected text yesterday . . .

There were three of them.  Sitting in my office, I looked to my left where my phone sat on a charger.  Lighting up the screen, a text alert had just arrived.  I leaned over and peered through my new spectacles, feeling a sudden and pleasant sense of surprise overtake me as I read the name; wow, the text came from one of my very best high school friends, Matt.  And, I could tell, photos accompanied the message.  Feeling intrigued, I took a brief moment from reading email and slid the message right to unlock my phone.  And there they were, three of them; the message read:

“Grandson and I in San Diego!”

Above the words, three photographs of Matt and a small baby boy, only a few months old, adorned the small iPhone screen.  I felt a smile creep across my face.  “My gosh,” I thought, “he really is a grandpa. Amazing.” 

My mind suddenly jumped decades back in time, and I found myself in Matt’s backyard in Portland, a place we often spent weekend nights in sleeping bags when we were thirteen.  We constantly talked of the future in those days: Who would we marry?  Where would we live?  Would I become a music star someday?  We dreamed together, and, as young boys, we wondered…where would life take us?

Turns out, life took us to different colleges, different countries at times, and down very different paths.  My oldest daughter will be nine in a few weeks, while Matt’s oldest just had her first baby in her mid-twenties.

But gazing at the pictures, at Matt’s face, he somehow seemed the same to me– still the boy I looked up to as a kid and whose friendship I still cherish to this day.

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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.

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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?

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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