Slice of Life Story Challenge, Day 27 #sol19

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.

Oh well.

Slice of Life Story Challenge, Day 26 #sol19

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.”

Slice of Life Story Challenge, Day 25 #sol19

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.

Slice of Life Story Challenge, Day 24 #sol19

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?” 

“No!”

“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.

Slice of Life Story Challenge, Day 23 #sol19

I looked up from my notebook, as the office door burst open.

“Good news!” she said.

“Oh yeah?” I answered, watching Danielle (not her real name) scurry into my office.

“You’re never going to believe it,” she continued, slumping her enormous backpack down onto a chair.

I felt my lips stretch into a smile.   “Okay,” I said, “I’m ready, try me.”

“I read to page 110!” she burst out.  Her eyes sparkled, her face beaming.

“Wow, really?!”  I said, working hard to try and match her joy and enthusiasm.

“Yeah!”

“Wow, that’s great!” I responded.

“And remember, when I was here last [day before yesterday], I was only on page 20, or something like that.”  Fishing in her bag, she pulled out her book: OCDaniel, by Wesley King.

“That’s wonderful,” I said.  “Look at you…turning into a reader.”

Slice of Life Story Challenge, Day 22 #sol19

“Are there any questions?” she asked.  Craning my neck from the back, I glanced around the crowded gymnasium.  A few young hands shot up into the air, some perhaps more eager than others.  Visiting author Jo Knowles, award winner and writer of ten published books, had just finished giving her prepared talk to our students. Quietly, she now surveyed her audience of seventh and eighth graders from the front of the gym.  Who had a question?

Jo had told her story, an unlikely story of a girl who had struggled in school but who had also been somehow able to find her voice as a writer.  I had listened raptly from the back, as she wove in small bits of her life that had inspired her across her formative writing years– the strength of her parents’ relationship, the encouragement of a college professor, the happenstance brush with Robert Cormier.  She also described the pain of witnessing her brother, one of her heroes, being tormented as a young man for being gay.  Among other reasons, this dark part of her past had inspired her to write about, as she described, “hard things.”

Pointing to a young woman in the fifth row, Jo stepped forward, moving in closer.  “Yes?” she smiled.  “Did you have a question?”

“Why do you write about ‘hard things’?” came the voice of the inquisitive seventh grader.

I watched as Jo gathered herself, looking down at the gymnasium floor as she did so.  Having read a few of her books, I knew the answer to this question would be important.  My blue Pilot pen and notebook in hand, I leaned in slightly to hear her answer.  “Why do I write about hard things?” she repeated.  “Hmm… I write about hard things because bad things happen to kids.  These things are happening.  Good things are happening, too…but if we don’t tell everyone’s stories, stories of these bad things happening…” She paused for a beat.  “Not writing about them won’t make them not happen.  Telling these stories is how we can begin to make change.  It’s how we can build empathy.  In fact, not telling these stories– I would argue– actually makes things worse. “  Jo went on to describe being a frequent member of the banned books club.  She told stories of librarians who “liked the book, but… well, just couldn’t put it in the school library because… well, the community wouldn’t want kids reading about those sorts of things.”

I left school that day inspired by this writer, this writer who has the courage to write about ‘hard things.’

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Slice of Life Story Challenge, Day 21 #sol19

Quietly excusing myself from the meeting, I hurried down the deserted hallway to go gather my things.  I wonder if sometimes the lockers chuckle to themselves-  “There he goes again, running late.” Coat donned and bag now over my shoulder, I pulled my reading office door closed and rushed outside the school into the chilly, not-quite-spring air.  Oh right, I parked over there.  I swung an unusual left toward my parked vehicle and began fumbling with my phone.  Just need to double-check that my dentist appointment is today.

Finding the text I’d been sent, I silently confirmed: yep, today’s my cleaning.  I remembered the phone call I’d received in January.  “Oh hi Lanny, since it’s supposed to snow later we are canceling and rescheduling all our appointments.”  When is the next available appointment?  Mid-March?!  Well, okay, I’d said.  See you then.

What I hadn’t calculated was the fact that my children would be on spring break in mid-March, and that going to the dentist would mean my wife would be home with them not only all day but into the evening (since my dentist appointment would last until well after 5 p.m.).  Not many natural dentists exist in my state, so I drive an hour for dental care.  And I didn’t dare cancel; who knows when the next appointment would be available.  Looking down at the floor, my wife had shaken her head.  “Okay,” she’d said.  “I’ll put a pot roast in and we’ll see you for dinner.”

Finally, after 57 minutes of driving, I made the final turn onto the quiet street.  Something wasn’t right.  Peering through my windshield, I wondered why the office looked so dark.  A sinking feeling began to set in as I placed my car in park.  I circled around, approaching the front door.  But I didn’t pull on it.  I didn’t need to.  Through the dusty windows, I saw heaps of trash, boxes, mail.

Shuttered.  My dentist’s office was shuttered.

Quietly returning to my car, conflicting emotions and thoughts began springing into my mind.  Why hadn’t someone called me?  When did this happen?  Those poor people.  So sad.  Turning on my blinker, I pulled back into the road.