She’s a Reader

Picking my daughter up from a sleepover this weekend, I received a surprise…

Gazing at her phone, my wife gave the report from the passenger seat: “Sounds like she stayed up until around 12:15 and then slept until around 8.” 

Okay, I thought, she’s going to be tired. Oh boy.

“Come on, that’s not too bad for a slumber party,” my wife added, attempting to provide meaningful context. Apparently she could read my concern.  At that, I swung the car left into the driveway to pick up my oldest daughter.  Greeting us and waving their arms from the front yard, two ten year-olds happily ran toward the car.

Turning off the motor, I opened the door. “Hi, honey!” I chirped. “Hey, how was your sleepover?”

“Great!” she answered, hugging me around the waist.  All four parents gathered in the driveway, along with our various a-sundry children.  After some brief pleasantries, everyone decided to stroll to the backyard to see the cool rope-disk swing.  My daughter seemed excited to show this off to her parents. “You have to see this swing, Dad! It’s so cool!” she said.

With sun glinting through a dense row of fir trees, I struck up conversation with my daughter as we walked toward the backyard.  “So,” I began, “I hear you stayed up late last night? You must be tired?”

“Yeah,” she smiled.  “We did. We played Battleship until 11:00.  Then I stayed up until 12:15 reading.”

Reading.

At a slumber party.

I realize I am in a sweet spot right now.  She’s only ten.  But she loves to read.  And she picks reading over anything else she could have done… at a sleepover on a Friday night.

Silently, I celebrated.

Black and White: Slice of Life

A little surprise arrived when I pulled off the road the other day…

The call came right on time, which surprised me.  Reaching down, I grabbed my earbuds and fumbled to plug them into my phone.  “Hello!” I chirped, greeting my friend.  Sunlight sprinkling through trees dappled the road before me as I pulled out onto Redding Road.

It wasn’t long before I realized driving and talking just wasn’t going to work.  The friend on the other end of the line was a former Teachers College colleague, and we needed — well, I needed– to talk through some staff development ideas for an upcoming day of professional development I would be leading.  I needed to take some notes, jot some things down.  I needed to pull over.

Glancing around, I studied the shoulder of the road: narrow, grassy.  With a steep drop-off.  Better be careful here, I thought.  Slowing down, I flipped on my left-turn signal.  Gingerly, I pulled the car to the side of the narrow road and activated my hazard lights.  Great!  Now I can get some of this down on paper. Seizing my blue Pilot gel pen, I silently celebrated.

It was perhaps around three minutes later when I noticed it. At first, I wasn’t sure.  But then my peripheral vision began to pull my attention away.  Looking back now, I am guessing it may have been the color scheme of the car that had inched up next to me: black and white.  Maybe that’s what somehow drew my attention from the notepad in the passenger’s seat to the driver’s side window?  Whatever it was, there it was.

And there he was.

An officer of the law, now blocking traffic, lowered his window.  I lowered mine.  As anyone can likely imagine, several thoughts raced around my mind, like fruit-flies suddenly startled off a ripe peach.  Was I doing something illegal?  I actually wasn’t sure.

Then came his words: “You okay?”  he asked.  Not sure exactly how to respond, I explained that I had pulled off the road so that I didn’t have to talk and drive at the same time.  I left the part about taking notes out.  “Alright,” he said.  He seemed to be satisfied with this response.  “Just wanted to make sure you were okay.”  And off he went.

The fruit-flies settled.  Shaking my head, I went back to taking notes.

Out for An Apple: Slice of Life 9/17/19

“Let’s go! Let’s go!  Let’s go!” The urgency in my wife’s voice caught me off guard, unsettling me.  Alarmed, I looked up from the plastic Snow White and seven dwarfs figurines my three year-old and I had been playing with to meet my wife’s gaze.  Both the twinkle in her eye, as well as the one in my 8 year-old’s, immediately  allayed my concern.

“What is it?” I queried.

“Holy giant beaver!” my  wife chirped.

Snatching my little one up out of her chair and away from the dwarfs, I followed my wife and two older daughters hurriedly through the back sliding glass door, onto the deck, and out into the expansive back yard.  Our voices fell to whispers, as my wife quietly explained what she had spotted from our upstairs window.  Skulking up from the meandering Bantam River behind our property, she’d seen a rather large brown creature making its way toward our grape vines.

As quietly as possible, we all tiptoed down the backyard incline, my youngest now walking under her own power.  I’d never seen a beaver in the yard before and wondered a little about their temperament around humans.  Would we be okay getting up close?

Sure enough, at the bottom of the slope, something resembling a small brown bear sat frozen in the tall grass beneath an apple tree.  “Do beavers hurt us?” asked my  youngest, as she stretched her arms upward toward my shoulders, the sign she wanted to be held (right now, please).

“Um, I don’t think so, honey,” I offered with no confidence whatsoever.

Silently we all watched.  Then suddenly the beaver pivoted to his left, sniffed the ground, and picked up an apple in his mouth.  Faces of wonderment turned to face me.  “Papa!  He’s taking an apple!”  Back to the river headed the beaver.

“Guess he was hungry,” I said.  Let this moment soak in, I told myself.  Let it soak in.

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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