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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Slice of Life Challenge Day 24 #sol18

A powerful speaker visited our school this week . . .

 

I looked at the clock one more time.  Yes, it was probably time to draw this assembly to a close.  For the last hour, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, author of One for the Murphys and Fish in a Tree, had been speaking in our gymnasium.  With mostly rapt attention, students listened as Lynda delivered a speech that included not just her own history as a writer, but powerful messages about life.  Of course, she shared her writing process, highlights of her career as a writer, where her ideas originated from, etc.  But she also devoted considerable air time to weaving a theme across her talk.  Much like a seamstress, Lynda wove threads of power and agency through her words, telling kids to never let someone else tell them who they are, that grit matters in life, and that even though they are in middle school, it’s not too early to begin to think about who they want to be in the world. Powerful, inspiring words, illustrated with compelling personal anecdotes.  Later that day, Lynda would share a story with me about a student who approached her, tearful, thanking her for the words she shared.  “Thank you for letting us know no one can tell us who we are,” the student had told her.

The clock now shown 11:20 a.m. I needed to wrap the assembly up and excuse students to their next class.  But with everything Lynda had said that hour, words that carried potential life-changing effects, I knew I couldn’t just say, “Time to go!”  There needed to be something more, something meaningful to close.  Suddenly, the idea came to me.  I pressed the button on the second microphone I held, and spoke: “Would you turn to the person sitting next to you and tell them what you will take away from this talk today?  What will you hang onto as you exit the gym this morning?  Turn and talk.”  The gym suddenly erupted with excited chatter.

In my ear, Lynda whispered, “You know, in all the talks I’ve done across the country, no one has ever done that.”  I was struck by that statement- allowing students to turn and talk, just for a bit, provides an opportunity to process.  I wonder why speakers and teachers don’t use that technique more often?  I will admit, it was a brief moment of pride.  But more importantly, I hope it was a moment that offered our kids a way to hold onto the messages of empowerment and hope delivered by one wonderful author, Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

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Slice of Life Challenge Day 23 #sol18

Family literacy vignettes…

With the smell of fresh oatmeal cookies filling my nostrils, I could hear the chatter.  I watched as my wife pulled the sheet of baked delights from the oven, while she and I discussed the day’s events.  After a bit, the chatter rose in my consciousness to press my curiosity button.  The chatter emanated from our living room.  What was my two year-old doing in there, anyway?  Peeking around the corner, I spotted her.  There she sat, next to our large brown ottoman, turning the pages of her Baby Body Book, commenting on the various pages, saying words she remembered from the many times that book had been read to her.  By herself. Reading.

Later in the evening, after dinner, pajamas, and little girl storytime, my wife bundled up that chattering two year-old in her blanket and carried her upstairs for bedtime.  My two older daughters, six and eight, remained at the table downstairs. Earlier in the day, my six year-old,  after returning home from an emergency dismissal, had decided to author and illustrate a picture book (not homework, by the way).  Diligently, she sat now, working feverishly to finish it before retiring for the night.

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At the end of the table, my eight year-old continued to write her screenplay, an idea she hatched just a few days prior (also not homework).  “Papa, I’ve already got four pages!” she proudly informed me.  I casually peered over her shoulder.  Stage directions, scene changes, narration…yep, it was all there.

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And the girls worked right through their normal reading time, which was fine.

Many tell me that, “Well, you’re a reading specialist, of course your kids…yada, yada…” However, I know that is not completely true.  Yes, I’m sure I played a hand here, of course.  But I also feel extremely grateful for these precious girls and these moments of literacy I get to witness.

It is no small deal.

 

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