"Heard" Something about Feeling heard Makes the soul sing Makes us feel Like we matter In the world. Softly closing the door on a long day She greets me. “Well?” she asks. I nod And feel my eyes shine. “I felt heard today,” I say. Writing. Literacy. Music. A trifecta. She smiles. Crawling into bed late, I thank the cloud the one that’s been holding me. Sleep now needed, my smiling soul drifts off. to sleep.
Opening my eyes in the darkness, I realize I’ve fallen asleep. Two warm bodies lying on either side of me breathe peacefully. Reaching silently up, I slowly slide my hand along the headboard to locate my iPhone. I check the time. Okay, still time. Later than I wanted, I think to myself, but there’s still time. These early mornings are wearing me out. Making as little sound as possible, I sneak from the room. I’ll carry those two sweeties to their beds later, I think as I exit.
Downstairs now, to the basement. I pull on the old chain and illuminate two keyboards next to a couple sets of headphones. It’s late, but I’ve got a rehearsal this week. And there’s work to do. I’m playing for a fundraiser for my children’s school next weekend, and one of the other fathers (a guitarist and producer) has assembled an incredible band. Only one rehearsal remains before the dress rehearsal, so… I’ve got to learn my parts. I take a deep breath, switch on the power strip, and watch the displays on my keyboards light up.
I can feel the exhaustion in my body. But once my fingers hit the keys, the magic of music wipes it all away. This skill I have to create music– a skill honed over decades of lessons, practice sessions, rehearsals, repetitions, performances and shows- must be honored. Although I am only able to dedicate very thin slices of my life to this part of me right now, now, in the dead of night, I feel grateful. For music has become like a friend I don’t see often anymore. But I am always glad when I do. We know each other so well.
Finding the file on my phone, I press play to hear the song. An original R & B tune written by a local artist. Okay, I think, here we go. Let’s learn this…
Hallways now filled with students passing to their next classes, I ventured out into the stream. There she was. Our eyes met. “Oh,” she said, “there you are. It’s just the person I was looking for.” Silently I wondered what this interaction might bring. Making my way through the throng of book-laden middle schoolers, I approached her, a seventh grade English Language Arts teacher from my building. A colleague. A friend. She stopped, waiting for me.
“Hi,” I said. “What’s up?”
“Well,” she began, “I wanted to tell you something.” My mind raced with possibilities, as likely anyone’s would. I nodded, focusing my entire attention on her. Her face exuded seriousness, but this is her way.
“Okay?” I said.
“You and I have spoken a few times about this year… about how I feel I’ve been struggling in some areas of my teaching, right? Like conferring, for example.” Briefly, she cast her eyes down to the floor, but then right back to mine. “But last Friday, you said something that was so helpful. Remember in our meeting, you mentioned a few specific things that we as teachers could focus on in our conferring? For some reason, when you said that, I felt like I could do it. And now…well, I’m excited to confer in this unit. I just wanted you to know that what you said really helped.” And she was gone.
I stood, silently feeling the smile forming on my lips. I could feel these words taking hold, warming me inside like a hot cup of cocoa on a cold winter day. And although I knew I couldn’t bottle this moment, I returned to my office knowing I could live off of it for at least the rest of today, if not this week.
How much of a difference can a kind word can make.
Every year I complete an NCAA Bracket for the men’s basketball tournament and enter an “office pool” (usually a $3 bet). And every year I come in close to the bottom, never winning. Not even once. For those unfamiliar with Bracketology, this once-a-year tournament typically brings big surprises, with teams that are “favored” often losing to “underdogs.” Over the decades I have been alive to witness the incredible the action, many Cinderella Stories have played out before the watching eyes of millions. It is always exciting.
But I never win.
This year, I thought I would try a different strategy. Over the years, I had heard of entrants in office pools choosing winners by methods seemingly unrelated to basketball strength… like team mascot, team name. Even songs. It seems no science exists to choosing the winners. So, I figured, why not try something new…why let my children pick the teams this year? Could be a winning strategy, maybe?
Last week, my two oldest daughters and I sat down to consider each game. As we deliberated on who would win each match-up, I recorded as the girls seemed to choose based on whatever association they could make with the teams. “Let’s pick Yale,” my oldest said, “I want to go to Yale.” Then, “Oh, Syracuse? That’s where Patrick is from! Let’s pick them to win.” And, “Buffalo?! We love buffaloes! They’re so cute!” And so forth (Buffalo was picked to go to the Final Four, by the way). They looked at me for approval each time. And each time I nodded, saying, “Sure. You girls pick ’em.” Eagerly, they did so.
After the first round of games, we checked our bracket. The girls had picked 23 out of 32 games correctly. Many of them upsets. Hmm, I thought…that doesn’t seem too bad, does it? But the next round brought some key losses.
Yesterday, walking into a crowded teacher lunchroom, I located the standings of our staff pool on the wall, near the door. As usual, it looked like around 25 or so entrants had tried their luck this year. Names were listed in order of most points to least. Scanning the list, I searched for my name. Then I found it.
Second to last.
The doors of the grocery store slide open in front of us. Since our list holds very items, I grab one of the smaller carts. Not the large, oversized cart…we wouldn’t need that one until later in the week. “I can push it,” comes the voice of my nine year-old. “Okay, honey,” I say, letting her take control of the cart.
Inside now, she takes the lead, pushing the cart forward, then to the right toward the well-arranged section of bananas and oranges. She’d wanted to come with me tonight, alone. Just her. At home, the seven year-old had protested; she wanted to come, too, she said. But the long expression and pleading eyes of my oldest had made the argument final: this trip would just be us. Once inside the car she’d even said it out loud, “I wanted this to be time for just us, Papa.”
I watch her now as she expertly maneuvers the little grocery cart around various displays. Wow, she’s gotten taller, I think to myself. Her hair swishing at the middle of her back, I notice and silently measure where the top of her head now reaches on me. It seems higher. She seems…well, older.
And suddenly I am transported back to Portland, Oregon, in the house where she was born. She’s only a few minutes old, a precious bundle swaddled in a blanket. She only weighs around nine pounds. I hold her in my arms, so fragile and innocent, gazing at this wondrous child newly in the world. Now images of soft light on her newborn face suddenly flash into my mind, as I remember the Native American music my wife had requested playing quietly in the background.
Where did almost ten years go? I wonder. Where did they go?
“Do we need peppers?” she asks. She’s turning around, looking at me now. I hug her quickly, for no reason. Well, for a reason.
“Yes,” I answer. “Let’s grab a couple.”
Upstairs. Bath water still running. “Want to play mermaids in the tub?” she says. Sure. Then the voice downstairs, “Dad! The game’s on!”
Back down the stairs. “Look Dad, Michigan’s winning!” I look. She’s right!
The voice upstairs, “Daaaad, mermaids?!”
Back up the stairs. “You be Ariel,” she says. I kneel down beside the tub. Sure. Then the voice downstairs, “Whoo hoo! Dad, come watch!”
Back down the stairs. “Dad, look now!” Wow! I put my hands on her shoulders, take a moment to stand behind her chair and watch with her.
The voice upstairs. “Daaaddy! I need a cup! Can you get me a cup?!”
Back up the stairs. “Here you go, this one should work, honey.” I kneel down. Then the voice downstairs. “Dad, commercial’s over!”
Back down the stairs. Back up the stairs. Back down the stairs. Back up the stairs.
Parenting: Who knew? I feel so fortunate. And maybe tired.
Gripping the steering wheel, I hung my head. Heartrending sobs from the back of the car filled my senses, as I watched my wife and seven year-old daughter drive away in the other car. “I want Mama! I want Mama!” came the sobs. Turning around, I noticed my three year-old’s face had now taken on a reddish hue, glistening with wetness. She looked back at me through angry tears. “I want Mama!” she repeated.
“Maybe you could take her for ice cream?” my wife had suggested just before pulling away to take my seven year-old on a special outing to a movie. My oldest had gone to a sleepover with a friend. So I now sat in the driver’s seat, facing down three hours of alone time with this precious three year-old.
I tried reasoning, turning the tides. “Hey sweetheart, we are going to have special ‘Papa time!’ Want to go for ice cream?”
“No! I want Mama!”
So much for that idea.
Putting the car in drive, I slowly pulled into the road and swung out of the rendezvous parking lot. My mind raced, and as we drove, a voice tried to explain things to me: Remember, said the voice, you don’t spend a whole lot of alone time with her. It’s usually family time. She’s upset now, but she’ll be alright. More sobs emanated from the back. I wondered if we would be alright. And I was struck by the fact that even though I’m the father of three, I still feel these moments of intense angst. “Come on,” I thought silently to myself, “Get a grip. Of course we’ll be alright… won’t we?”
We drove on. I tried again, “Hey honey, how about we go to dinner?”
“You want some fries?”
Suddenly the sobbing ceased. A beat. “And chicken!” A pause. “And ice cream!” came the sweet voice from the carseat.
“Okay,” I answered. “That sounds great, honey. Let’s do that.”
We’d be alright. And we were.