The Tree

Today, November 26th, 2019, I’m participating in Two Writing Teachers’s Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge.

Gazing out the window, I spotted the small, scrubby tree on the hillside.  But then the train crossed a metallic bridge, and the tree disappeared from sight.  Returning from the incredible NCTE conference on Sunday, I found myself identifying with that tree.  Trees grow.  And I had grown.

One of my favorite authors, Donna Santman, once taught me that if at the end of a conversation we are thinking more, thinking differently, or have more words to say about what we thought already, then that conversation was good.  NCTE 2019 had felt like a conversation.  A conversation about equity, about inquiry, about representation.  And about growth.

Staring out the window, I felt like I had outgrown myself. Which felt good.  And fleetingly, I wondered if trees ever felt good when they grow.  Maybe not.

Unless they’re a Wishtree.

I thought about the insignificance of the tree.  After all, it was only one tree on one hillside.  And not that big or remarkable.  Among 8,000 teachers this weekend, I felt that way.  A little.  There were so many larger, more remarkable and knowledgeable trees there.  But then I thought, ‘I’ll bet that little tree might host a nest in its branches someday.  Or maybe it will help someone to think something important.  And those two things alone could make a difference in the world in some way, for some reason.’

Chuckling to myself in my gray Amtrak seat, I realized… well, that had just happened to me.  Hadn’t it?  Not the nest.  But the thought.  I also realized that even small trees like me can make a difference, too.  And that should be what life’s about.

Shouldn’t it?

A Rich Reading Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge today, November 12th, 2019.

“Time for lights out, honey,” I whispered to my oldest daughter, now ten years-old.  I could see that the pale light emanating from her flashlight was now luminescing the room beyond her bedtime.

“Aww, Papa…but I only have four chapters to go.”  Her words were more a question than a statement.  A veiled request for more reading time.  Although for the sake of her rest and cognitive regeneration I should have insisted she extinguish the light and go to sleep…I didn’t. I relented.

So the light stayed on.

Exiting the room, I found myself thinking about something author and keynote speaker Stephanie Harvey said last week at the Connecticut Reading Association Conference: “All readers deserve a rich reading life.”  I would venture to say refusing to turn out the light so that the last few chapters of Louisiana’s Way Home may be read by flashlight is perhaps the mark of a rich reading life; a mark for which I, of course, feel great pride.  But I worry about all the kids for whom the joy of a rich reading life has not yet been their reality.  The kids for whom that light is not yet lit.  And I worry about what Maryanne Wolf has written about in her book, Reader Come Home (2018) in regards to readers growing up in this digital age.  In discussing the dearth of research conducted around the formation of the reading brain “while immersed in a digitally dominated medium,” she writes, “There will be profound differences in how we read and how we think depending on which processes dominate the formation of the young child’s reading circuit” (p. 8).

But I suppose this worry gives meaning to the mission of a Literacy Specialist.  How can we ignite the light inside all children? I wonder. I travel to work each day with this question before me, knowing it is not an easy one to answer.  But nonetheless a worthy mission to pursue.

I’ll also travel today knowing the light for my own child still shines brightly.  And that’s something.

Kids Say the Darndest Things…

Closing the front door behind me, I breathed a silent sigh. I had reached the end of my workday.  From the kitchen, I could hear the voices of my wife and youngest daughter wafting into the entryway in which I stood.  Quickly, I removed my shoes, hung my coat in the closet, and shuffled into the kitchen.  With my oldest daughters not home from school just yet, I wanted to soak up a few minutes with just my youngest (now 3.5 years old).

“Hey, baby!” I chirped happily.  Leaning against our kitchen counters, my wife held our sweet cherub in her arms.  I thought about how sweet and innocent my little one looked.  “How was school today?” I asked, kissing the top of her head.

With deadpan seriousness, she responded, “Mark and Chris said ‘sh–‘ today.”

Wait, what did she just say? Did I hear that correctly? Yes, I’m pretty sure I did, I thought.  The digraph and closed syllable were quite clear. My wife and I made eye contact, and I could spot the laughter welling up in her visage.  I felt it, too. Contain it, I thought. Remain calm.

Then it came again, “Yeah, Mark and Chris said ‘sh–‘.”  Again, clear as a bell.

My mind raced, working to form a response.  I needed to strike a tone of casual disdain for such language used in preschool, but not overreact.  So, “Oh my gosh!  You’re kidding?!  That’s terrible!” was definitely out.  I couldn’t say that.  I also found myself desperately fighting the urge to laugh hysterically, which could send another unintended message that swearing is funny.  Couldn’t do that either.

“Hmm…” I said.

* The names of the pre-school offenders have been changed in this story to protect the innocent.

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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