Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

Today, May 12th, 2020, I’m participating in Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Story Challenge.

The sound of the door knocker echoed through the house.  Now such a foreign sound, it almost felt jarring.  But only for a moment.  I poked my head into the sunroom, speaking quietly so as not to wake my sleeping toddler.  “Girls,” I said with exaggerated singsong lilt, “they’re here!”  Excited giggles and rushing feet approached and passed by me with shocking velocity as two girls slip-slid in their socks toward the front door.  In a moment the door stood open.  Behind it stood two dear friends: my oldest daughter’s classmate and her mother.

My two eldest daughters sprang out the door and into the sunlight, so excited to see a friend in person.  Due to the pandemic, we have kept ourselves isolated at home, hardly traveling anywhere beyond walkable distances. This unexpected visit, then, was entirely outside the current norm.  Keeping socially distant, my two girls flitted joyfully about like fireflies, gleefully chattering hellos, talking over one another in their boundless joy to find themselves in the physical company of a friend.

For nearly two hours, outside in the unseasonably chilly May air, the three girls chatted, played, built a fort, while my wife and I reveled in actual grown-up conversation with an outside adult.  How odd that this once-normal experience could now feel so abnormal and wonderful.  Who knew human interaction was so very precious?

Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

Today, May 5th, 2020, I’m participating in Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Story Challenge.

“Well guys, I gotta go.  My family is having dinner now.  Thanks for coming to my zoom party.” My daughter’s voice sounded flat.  Closing the laptop she turned to face me.  “Dad, I don’t know how to make a zoom party fun,” she quipped.

“Honey,” I said, “you tried your best.” I could sense her disappointment.  Even though we had known for weeks that a traditional birthday party was out of the question due to COVID-19, the reality of turning eleven without experiencing the physical presence of friends had begun to set in.  I thought for a moment about the many kids who likely felt the pangs of this let-down.

Time to pivot, I thought to myself.

“How about opening presents?” I offered.  Immediately, my daughter’s face brightened.  As is our normal birthday routine, we had been planning to wait until after dinner to open gifts, but the time seemed right.  The next hour brought much excitement, as my daughter tore open cards and presents from her west coast extended family and her east coast immediate family.  Her favorite dinner – tacos! – was then served, followed by mom’s home-baked six-minute chocolate cake and two types of ice cream.  All five of us then piled into blankets and pillows in the living room to watch a movie, compliments of our new Disney Plus subscription.

Before heading upstairs to bed, my daughter hugged me.  “This was the best birthday ever,” she said.  I watched her as she headed up the stairs, savoring the moment.  And suddenly, the rainy Monday night of her birth popped into my head.  How could that have been eleven years ago? I wondered to myself.  Even in quarantine, time continues to fly.  Switching off the lights, I headed upstairs to tuck my girls into bed.

 

Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

Today, April 21st, 2020, I’m participating in Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Story Challenge.

On this Tuesday, exactly three years after the passing of my dear mother, allow me to tell a story of one of her final hours…

“I don’t think I can go to work tonight,” she said.  I stared at my mom in disbelief, as she lay stretched out on her flowered couch.  It was Thursday, and this had been an unusually difficult day.  Mom had begun to struggle to breathe properly and spent her hours gripped by severe nausea.  The mere mention of her teaching her Early Childhood Education class tonight seemed so out of the question, it almost shocked me.

“Mom, of course you can’t go to work,” I said.  “You’re too sick.”

A beat passed, and I could tell mom was thinking about something.  “Then you’re going to have to go down there.  Tell them.  Tell my students I am sorry I can’t be there for them tonight.  Tell them they deserve better.  Would you do that, please?”  Her eyes seemed to plead with me.

“Of course, Mom.  I’ll go.  But I won’t tell them they deserve better because you already are the best.”

Fifteen minutes later, I entered the Maywood Park Educational Center.  After asking at the front desk, I located my mom’s classroom and opened the door.  Immediately, around fifteen Latina women turned to stare at me.  Expressions of worry and surprise blanketed their faces.  Do they know? I wondered.  I introduced myself and several of them rose to greet me.  One carried a large bouquet of flowers.  “She wanted me to tell you she is sorry she cannot be here tonight, and she will be back as soon as she can,” I announced with as much confidence as I could muster.  Another woman handed me a card, a card that appeared to have been signed by the entire class.  Her eyes met mine.

“Tell her we love her,” said the woman.

 

My mom never returned to teach her students.  Unbeknownst to all of us, the cancer had mercilessly advanced to a point beyond treatment. She passed away three years ago today.  The story of this final errand I did for my mother has always served as a poignant reminder to me of who she really was:  Dedicated.  Loving.  Generous.  Courageous.  Always thinking of others.  A truly special and amazing woman: Donna Rae Callaway Ball, 1942-2017.

Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

Today, April 14th, 2020, I’m participating in Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Story Challenge.

I buried our family cat this week.  It happened this way: I had just sat down at my desk and switched on the light.  A few minutes earlier, my wife and I had spoken briefly, softly in the early morning light.  “I’m a little worried,” I’d said. “She wasn’t at the back door this morning.”  The moon had been full the night last, and I had been unable to coax our cat, Melon, back inside for the evening hours.  Not unusual, though.  She had spent many an evening gallivanting.

“I’ll look,” my wife had said.

Opening my laptop, I had barely settled into my chair when the frantic tapping from outside my home office window began. I looked up.  The look on my wife’s face through the glass, tears streaming down. She pointed to the yard below. I knew.  I burst outside, following my wife’s direction, moving wildly through the grass, toward the little orange heap.

And then I found her. Head on her front paws, she could have been asleep.  I placed my hands on her striped fur and met my wife’s pinched, questioning gaze, as she stood at the top of the yard.  “Is she?” she asked, sobbing.  I nodded.

Once inside, telling my little girls felt almost harder than finding Melon.  We all wept together.  My oldest daughter wrote a letter to say good-bye, we will miss you.  The rain began to fall outside.

It is April.  The month my beloved mother passed away nearly three years ago.  Loss. I know many are experiencing unspeakable loss right now, as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.  As I dug a makeshift grave in the garden for my deceased pet that morning, I tried to keep things in perspective. Aside from this sweet animal, we remain healthy.

And for that, I am grateful.

Loss, a poem

Loss

Now a familiar
stranger
pushes on my 
chest with
gentle hands
Leaves indelible
images, meaning
to ponder.

Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

Today, April 7th, 2020, I’m participating in Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Story Challenge.

Laughter spilled upward from the basement.  Like the scent of fresh cut flowers, it rose softly, filling the kitchen where I now stood.  “They seem happy,” I said, looking over at my wife.  “Don’t they?”

The sun had now worked its way across and now downward, gently marking the end of another day of shelter-in-place.  Today had held its fair share of challenges – tears shed over online math tests, tempers tested as three young children competed for the attention of two working adults.  These days can feel hard, I thought to myself.

I shook the water from my hands into the sink, now devoid of dirty dishes, and reached for my glass of white wine.  The laughing emanating from below had now turned to singing.  Imaginations had been turned up to high, I could tell, as the voices of three young sisters swirled and blended below.

I’m not sure how many days have now passed since COVID-19 has forced us, and all families, to spend literally every waking and sleeping hour together. Maybe three weeks, perhaps? But the precious music floating up the stairs and into the kitchen, and the wine in my hand, reminded me of all we have to be grateful for.  Yes, social gatherings have come to a halt.  No, we have not enjoyed time with friends or family in person for awhile.  But stories of cruelty on the school bus and teasing in classrooms have also halted.  And as spring has arrived, imaginary play between sisters is in full bloom.

I watched as my wife took a sip of her wine.  “Yes,” she said, “they do seem happy.”

Slice of Life Story Challenge 2020 Day 31

Today, March 31st, 2020, I’m participating in Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Story Challenge. Today is the final day!

Droplets seemed to dance in the air, misting my windshield as I crossed traffic and pulled into the parking lot. Immediately I spotted the woman standing in the drizzle, just outside my neighborhood grocery store.

Something had changed. I could tell right away.

Cautiously, I eased into the crowded lot, slowing to allow an elderly man to pass in front me.  I watched him as he proceeded across my path, beneath the new blue tent now stationed outside the entrance, and into the store.  Rolling down my window, I strained to eavesdrop on the conversation between the woman, clearly a would-be shopper, and an unfamiliar man wearing a brown jacket and holding a clipboard under the new tent.  “But all I need is gelato,” I heard her say somewhat pleadingly.

The man in the brown jacket, clearly stationed as a sentry to provide information on revamped store hours and policies, pulled his clipboard close to his chest.  He then politely explained that this time was for ‘seniors only.’  No one under the age of 60 would gain admission until 10 a.m.  “But . . .can’t I just grab that one thing?” the woman insisted.  Brown jacket man, steadfast in his courtesy, told her he was sorry, but they needed to keep the rules consistent- for everyone. Even her. I heard him say that this is how it had to be.  The woman pivoted and left.

On this final day of the 2020 slice of life story challenge, I am left wondering if some people really get it? Do they understand the magnitude of what we are dealing with in this global pandemic? All you need is gelato? Really? Forgive me, but that sounds like a comment from our old lives. Our old “ 21st Century“ lives, in which we dreamed up artificial “needs” and were able to fulfill them instantaneously. Right now that world is gone. And until people face up to that, we will remain sheltered in place.

It is my great hope that next year’s Slice of Life Story Challenge will reflect only a distant memory of this crisis. People will have followed government issued precautions. Our curve will have flattened. And COVID-19 will be nothing but a memory. That is my great hope.

Thank you to all of you who have participated in this challenge. It has been an honor to write with you. Comment with you. And receive your gracious feedback. Everyone stay safe. Stay well.

We will get through this.

Slice of Life Story Challenge 2020 Day 30

Today, March 30th, 2020, I’m participating in Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Story Challenge.

It was a bit of a challenge to figure out how to do it.  I looked at the five faces on the screen.  Everyone seemed thoughtful, trying to figure this out: How do we play “Balderdash” on Zoom?  Bigger questions would have to wait tonight, questions like, ‘When will we get to be in the same house with each other again?’  Tonight was game night.  And all of us, my wife and three daughters, as well as our friend Jami and her two daughters, stood committed to finding a way to make this work across two houses in two separate towns.

Finally, a solution surfaced.  “I’ll be the moderator,” Jami said, “so everyone can set the chat ‘private’ to me and send me your definitions.  Then when I have them all, I can read them and you girls can pick the one you think is the real one.”

“How about I pick the word, since I have the game cards?  I can text you the word and true definition?” I offered.  This work-around seemed like it could work, and the chatter amongst the girls suddenly brightened.  We all decided not to worry about rolling the dice, moving game pieces, or even worrying about the winner or score.  Since we only owned the older original version of the game (the newest version includes categories and other features), the fun would be had listening to the funny words (like “syrt” and “bumclock”), inventing fake definitions, and trying to bluff others into choosing a phony definition.

After determining our “rules,” playing ensued.  Several other challenges arose later: Our “free” Zoom calls ended multiple times.  Feedback echoed throughout the house.  New codes had to be generated and sent.  Several times.  We had to switch over to FaceTime.  But through it all, laughter did find its way into both houses.  And silliness.  Familiar elements of our old lives, the ones that featured human connection, improvised togetherness, and an undefinable warmth of humanity, seemed to briefly reappear.  Somehow, these familiarities found a way to penetrate the isolation, the fear, and the anxiety that characterize our current life situations.

Later, the girls moved on to playing charades. Even my little four-year-old, who had previously been running back and forth amongst the three devices (rooms), tasting cookie dough from the stainless steel bowl on her way, now found a way to join the game.  Adults faded into the background, checking our phones for the latest Coronavirus updates.  But to look up and see the joy in my daughters that night- these children of the pandemic- even though that joy sprang across social distance, somehow a new kind of hope seemed to alight in the house.

Closing the laptop at the end of the night, my eldest daughter remarked, “That was fun!” And it struck me that I had not heard those words delivered in that way for a while now.  It felt good to hear them.