Slice of Life Challenge Day 31 #sol18

For the final slice of life 2018, a message of hope . . .

“I started my acting class yesterday!”  The light outside the library windows, still imbued with spring morning color, shone through onto the carpet.  As I stood across from my excited colleague, I observed similar light emanating from her eyes.  Her son, a middle school boy, had recently auditioned for and earned a lead role in a theatrical production.   A few weeks back, my colleague shared this impressive news with me.  In telling me, she literally exuded excitement for him, so pleased that he’d discovered what was for him, a new passion.  Shortly after that, I learned she had enrolled herself in an acting class.  “Just to learn what this acting thing is all about,” she reported.

When she told me this week the class had begun, I immediately thought back to my own theater experience. While working as an eager new teacher at my very first middle school, I had once offered a Thursday theater improv class for interested students.  Every Thursday morning, all teachers on my staff taught an “interest group,” a little course typically outside academics for which they had a passion and an expertise.  Teachers offered such mini-courses as knitting, archery, creative writing, origami, basketball.  I remember this fondly as a time when there seemed to be more time to get to know students, to play a little bit sometimes, to breathe.

As a specialist no longer working in my own classroom, I now see teachers struggling to breathe, struggling to maintain, struggling to balance the many pressures exerted on them.  Teaching is not what it once was, we all know that. We feel that.  Nor should it be, I recognize that, too.  But I am hopeful that the pendulum in our profession will swing back, at least a little.

Chatting with my colleague in the library this week helped me to feel heartened for her.  The brain loves novelty.  And I could see new sparks of inspiration electrifying her in ways I don’t know that I had ever seen before.  My hope for teachers, for all of us really, is that we can find those little avenues in life that not only sustain us, but light us up;  those paths of inspiration that help us come to school rejuvenated and more of who we are.  Because it’s important we stay in this profession.  It is.  This work matters.

And we’ve got to find ways to breathe.

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Slice of Life Challenge Day 30 #sol18

A student reached her goal yesterday . . .

Shuffling the assessment papers, I gently tapped them into a tidy stack and laid them down. The smile was beginning to emanate now, I could feel it, forming itself across my face.  I looked across the small, round table at the young lady sitting on the other side, met her gaze.  “Well,” I began, “you passed.”  And with those words, I quietly closed yet another chapter.

You see, as the reading consultant and specialist at my school, I have the privilege of working with those readers who require “tier three” instruction.  This means, essentially, that I provide specialized reading intervention that (hopefully) brings them to grade level.  Now in my fifth year in this position, I have learned that these students vary widely in their needs, that they have far less in common than proficient readers do; which means curiosity must become my best friend when I work with them.

This particular student was no different.  We had been working together a while now, and, like other students that came before, I had come to know her;  hard-working, ambitious, personable, a delight to work with.  But now our journey was ending.  Sitting at that little table in my office, we discussed her progress, how far she’d come.  “Are you proud of yourself?” I asked her.  She nodded.  Yes, she was proud of herself.  She should be, I thought.

And then she was gone.  Like many others that came before her, we said good-bye and I watched her walk out the door for the last time.  This one is going to be okay, I thought.  Next week I will begin working with a new student.

The journey will start again.

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Slice of Life Challenge Day 29 #sol18

My wife’s grandmother passed away yesterday…

 

My wife’s grandmother passed away yesterday.  Her father’s mother.  And so, predictably, memories of my own mother’s passing came flooding back, like a wave of water finding a crack in a levy.  My wife described her grandmother as gracious and generous, the kind of grandma who went out of her way for her grandkids.  Sitting in darkness last night,  my wife and I huddled beneath hand-crafted blankets.  With the kids finally asleep, we quietly whispered about some of the similarities between her wonderful grandmother and my beautiful mom.  There seemed to be several important and wonderful ones.

Death is a strange thing.  Especially in its permanence.  For me, I find my mom’s departure to be something  I must constantly remind myself actually happened.  That yes, it’s real.  That yes, on that terrible day, April 21, 2017, my father and I had to slowly and reluctantly leave her in a hospital bed- because she had passed.  That she would not be calling anymore.  That she would not be flying across the country anymore toting mounds of presents for my children.

According to my wife, her grandma specialized in small acts of generosity that really made a grandchild feel loved.  My mom, too, definitely specialized in acts of generosity that made all those around her feel loved.  During her last visit, she arrived with an entire suitcase filled with gifts- word searches, crafts, stuffed animals, games.  That morning I held my iPhone in video mode to capture the ecstatic joy she brought to the faces of my little girls.  I watched as they climbed like little monkeys onto the guest bed to embrace their “Tutu” (a Hawaiian word for grandma), so happy for this now rare opportunity to see her.  Although she must have been feeling such exhaustion from the previous evening’s travel, Mom buoyantly greeted them, hugged them, asked them how they were doing.

A year now nearly past, I continue to hang onto what there is to hang onto in regards to my mom.   Her lessons.  Her love.  Her generous way with people.  And I feel so sad for my father-in-law, as he is just beginning this journey; and my wife, who begins her grieving process.

I suppose incumbent upon us in the cycle of life is an obligation, an obligation to carry forward the best of what those who came before us taught and lived.  From these two amazing women, I am sure my wife and I will work to emulate their generosity, a crown jewel of their humanity.  They will be missed.

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Slice of Life Challenge Day 28 #sol18

March Madness heartbreak . . .

The odds are against us, and I know that.  But I will admit, every year when I fill out my NCAA bracket, I hope it is my year.  I think it is my year.  I believe it is my year.  After all, who hasn’t been afflicted by the Gambler’s Fallacy at least once in their lives?  For nearly twenty-five years (give or take a few), I have printed out or grabbed a black and white tournament bracket from the photocopied stack in the faculty room; and with hope and a prayer, I pore over the possibilities that will lead me to victory, to the top of a pool of hopefuls.

No, I do not predict game outcomes based on any real knowledge, as time to actually watch much regular season play or develop any informed opinions eludes me annually.  Not that “informed opinions” would help, anyway.  Rather, a belief that my blind selection process will, this year, produce a winning combination always seems to spark a scintillating and seductive hope.  One of these years, it is going to be me, I just know it.  But truth be told, this is a bit like turning off all the lights in an enormous room, throwing a marble, and believing I can walk straight to it.  Yeah,  really not much chance there.

As the kids filed into school yesterday, I saw Mike.  Mike is our man who generously collects brackets and maintains a running score of everyone’s college basketball divinations.  Dressed in his typical sweat suit and sneakers, I noticed him standing in the hallway near my office, further from the gymnasium than I typically see him.  Now’s my chance to glean an update, I thought.  “Hey Mike,” I said, eyebrows raised, hope glinting in my eyes, “how am I looking in the tournament pool?”  Mike turned his head to face me, smiled, and just shook his head. My heart sunk. I swallowed.  “Am I . . . at the bottom?” I asked.  Mike headed toward the nurse’s office.  Over his shoulder, he said, “No.  But close.”

Next year will be my year.

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Slice of Life Challenge Day 27 #sol18

Sometimes someone’s past can surprise you . . .

The night air made me shiver, and it felt good to step into my friend’s house.  The house, actually a remodeled barn, instantly gave me pause with both its beauty and uniqueness.  I hugged my friend, as it had been a while since we had seen one another. I told him I couldn’t stay, I had to get back to my family. But there in the corner humbly sat his piano, a seven-foot Steinway Grand.  Beautiful.  “Try it out,” my friend invited, gesturing in that direction.  So, unable to resist, I did.

Quietly, I began noodling, playing an old favorite standard of mine, “Song for My Father.”  As I played, my friend, who now leaned on the piano to listen, said, “You know, Leonard Bernstein used to love to play this piano when we lived in the city,” he casually explained.  I stopped playing.  Wait, Leonard Bernstein?  I asked. “Yes, he was my father’s best friend.”  Wow, I said, I didn’t know that.  “Let me give you a tour of the house,” he said. “Come on.”

As we sauntered from room to room, I learned that my friend grew up on the upper west side of New York City.  His father, now deceased, worked as an actor in the city.  The neighbors in the building included not only Leonard Bernstein, but also John Lennon, Paul Simon, and “Betty Bacall”– “Well, Lauren Bacall to you,” he said with a wink.  He named a few others, too.  Needless to say I was stunned at the list.  I was also struck by the fact that I had known this friend for over three years now, working with him in different musical capacities (he’s a producer and guitar player), with him never mentioning such facts.

At the end of the house tour, I thanked him and reminded him I needed to go.  Back out in the night air, I thought about not just the content of what my friend had said, but the way he said it.  He was just a kid, he had explained, and those were his neighbors. How different each of our life paths are, I now thought.  Like the families that lived on my street where I grew up in Gresham, Oregon, those families were just his neighbors. A small boy, socializing with some of the most influential musical minds of all time.  How cool.

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Slice of Life Challenge Day 26 #sol18

New apartments and parental decisions . . .

The sign read, “Mom, look in here.  It’s cool.”  Yes, my curiosity was piqued.  I watched as my six year-old stood at my wife’s desk, her eyes aglow. “Come see, Mama!”  Standing in the dining room, I observed as my wife rose from her seat and followed our young daughter skipping into the kitchen, brushing her growing bangs from her eyes.  Reaching the lower cabinets, both of them stopped and read the sign.

At this point, I could no longer regard from afar.  Casually, I decided to join them, although keeping a short distance; after all, this surprise wasn’t meant for me.  Slowly and methodically, my wife obeyed the sign, pulling the old, not remodeled kitchen cabinet open.  Inside, we all gazed at the quilt, pillow, and stuffed animals carefully positioned inside the cabinet.  What the heck? I wondered.

Then, from behind me, I heard my oldest: “Papa, I have one, too!” she chirped.  In the cabinet across, my oldest daughter pulled open another door to reveal, yes, a blanket and pillow “decorating” the inside of the cabinet.  “See?” she continued excitedly.  “I put all the pots and pans and stuff down here.”  Bending down, I saw that all of our cooking pots, lids, barbecue utensils, and crockpot had, indeed, been relocated, a bit haphazardly, to a new location.

I considered being annoyed.  I considered asking them to get this stuff out of the kitchen cabinets right now.  After all, this is our kitchen, for Pete’s sake!  I considered reminding them they have a playroom, they could construct forts in there. There’s plenty of room in there! I considered crushing their creative little spirits.  I know parents that would have, for sure.

“So,” I began, “are these your new apartments?”  They beamed. “Yeah!” they responded.

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Slice of Life Challenge Day 25 #sol18

New apartments . . .

“The March is today,” my wife reminded me.  I looked around at everyone at the breakfast table: my eight year-old, my six year-old, my two year-old…my wife.  Suddenly it occurred to me…yes, that march.  The one in D.C.   “The March for Our Lives.”  The March organized by students from Parkland, Florida.  Silently, I watched as my beautiful little children nibbled at their pancakes, totally oblivious to this horrendous reality, this reality now a mainstay in American headlines: school shootings.

I can recall a time when those two words sounded so foreign when juxtaposed.  I mean “school” and “shooting” just didn’t…well, they just didn’t belong in the same sentence.  Ever.  Now the two words, well-acquainted with one another at this point, have over the past several years, welcomed a friend to their sentence: “Latest.”  Because it just happens so often, too often.

And my children know nothing about this.

Their ignorance, I will admit, results from a purposeful and calculated shield my wife, our community, and I have decided to fabricate around them.  The idea of educating them on this topic has yet to occur as appropriate to us.

And yet, they attend school.  All three of them.

So what is the right answer?  I took a small sip of my coffee.

 

 

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