Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

Today, August 18th, 2020, I’m participating in Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Story Challenge.

Sliding the button to the right, I answered the incoming call.  “Hello?” I chirped, making sure to include a friendly lilt to my greeting.

“Lanny?” came the voice. “Did you write today?”  It was my Gram calling.  In October of this strange and terrible year, my grandmother, Helen Abner Callaway, will turn 100 years old.  Yes, that means she was born in 1920. “The year of Women’s Suffrage,” she likes to remind me, so proud of the monumental step that this legislation represents for women’s rights in this country.

The oldest of five girls, my Gram was raised by farmers near St. Paul, Arkansas.  Sometimes I shake my  head in amazement when she tells me stories of her growing up, such as the one about following her mother to fetch water from a well located several hundred yards from the house, watching as her mother carried a large bucket in one hand while a baby rested on her opposite hip.  I have to marvel sometimes at the change my grandmother has witnessed across the last century.  During her childhood, the family did not even own a phone.  Nowadays I talk to her on a small computer I carry around in my pocket.

Grammy still lives alone in her home in eastern Oregon, the small and humble home where she raised three girls of her own, alongside my grandpa. My mother and her two younger sisters would all go on to become teachers, although the youngest would eventually leave the profession to pursue a successful career in law.  Gram always seemed to believe strongly in two things: Get an education, and be a good person.  If nothing else, she will have always imparted those two values upon me, and I shall never forget them. Gram has much to be proud of.

Recently, Grammy told me of a new milestone in her life: “I didn’t go to the grocery store with [my friend] Mary today,” she said.  “I’m having more trouble moving around these days, and plus I don’t think it’s wise for me to be out and about with this virus.”  She is probably right about that.

Over the last couple of years, Gram has taken an interest in my Slice of Life blogging, often calling me and asking if I wrote on Tuesday.  Last Tuesday the question came again.  “Yes, Gram, I wrote today,” I responded.

I bet she will call today.


Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

Today, August 11th, 2020, I’m participating in Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Story Challenge.

One by one, the faces of my colleagues appeared on the computer screen.  While it felt so good to see each of them, I knew our reason for this Reopening Committee meeting carried true gravitas: How to spend the five days of professional development time given to us before our students arrive back in the building at the end of this month?  Several solid ideas were offered by various committee members: Time to unpack and design learning environments (many of us were forced to relocate our classrooms to accommodate decreasing student traffic); professional training on Zoom and flipped classroom approaches (in case we transition to a hybrid model); socioemotional break-out sessions; one colleague suggested a large group discussion to allow teachers to verbalize anxieties.

While these were all sound ideas, I could feel myself shifting in my seat, unable to shake the anxiety gripping my inside. The feeling was tight, uncomfortable. “But I shouldn’t I be feeling good?” I wondered to myself. “Connecticut’s numbers are very low.  Everything will be fine… right?”

Perhaps it’s the uncertainty of how viral breakouts crop up.  But if we all wear masks, it will be fine, right?  Perhaps it’s the uncertainty of how I will teach reading intervention and support the teachers in my building under these conditions. But I’ll figure that out, right? Perhaps it’s the fact my own children will be returning to school.  But they’ll be safe, right?

I have come to realize this is a situation well beyond my control; and despite personal feelings I will need to return to work, follow protocols, and do my best.  I know I am not alone in this realization, as thousands of my teaching colleagues find themselves in the same position.

But somehow. . . I’m not feeling ready. Yet.

Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

Today, July 28th, 2020, I’m participating in Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Story Challenge.

We are currently living through times unprecedented in so many ways.  This being the case, politics is a frequent topic of discussion in our home.  I am nearly certain this is not unusual. Growing up, I remember the word “Watergate” permeating many a discussion in my own childhood home.  Now, nearly 50 years later, I find myself the father of three young daughters, daughters who want to know things, who want to understand the outrage their parents are feeling.  Even my four-year-old wants to understand.  And this can be challenging to explicate at times.

But other times, not so much.

Take, for example, the current administration’s policy of seizing immigrant families seeking asylum and locking them in cages at the southern border.  This particular policy, just in terms of pure cruelty, has not been terribly difficult for my youngest daughter to grasp as reason for outrage (note:  my wife and I do not discuss the fact that many children have been permanently separated from their parents- that detail is left out).  When discussions of politics bubble up, this is an accessible entry point for my youngest.

A few nights ago at the dinner table, current events and politics once again surfaced as our topic of discussion.  My oldest daughters asked, as they normally do, numerous questions, which prompted my youngest daughter to ask why kids and families are  ending up detained in cages at the southern border.  “Well,” I began, “a lot of those families are trying to get away from bad people in their home countries.  They come here because they want to find a better life.”

“That’s like Babar,” interrupted my youngest.  For a moment, we all sat, silently processing her statement.  What was the connection? I wondered. She continued, “Babar was trying to get away from a hunter who got his mom.  Remember?”

A beat.

“Oh my goodness, you’re right, honey.” I suddenly caught onto the connection she was making to Jean de Brunhoff’s book, The Story of Babar: The Little Elephant.  “It’s like Babar! Babar fled from the hunter to a city where he found someone who was kind to him.”

I never cease to be amazed at the way children can connect, the way stories help them make sense of their world. Kissing the top of my daughter’s head, I affirmed her, “Great connection, sweetheart.” But inside, I felt so saddened by the context of her connection.

Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

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

“Oh no!  He lost his jacket!” Even with the rather noisy window air conditioner busily breathing cool air into the room, her words were clear, concise.  I shifted my gaze away from the illustrated pages of Beatrix Potter’s classic The Tale of Peter Rabbit to look upon the face of my four-year-old daughter.  Her eyes meet mine.  With her brows pulled downward, she pointed to Peter’s little blue jacket caught irretrievably in Mr. McGregor’s gooseberry net.  “Look!” she implored.

“Yes, honey,” I replied.  “I see it.”

Lying in bed later, I thought about that tiny moment of worry, the distress my little daughter exhibited for a character in a book.  A character, by the way, arguably undeserving of worry or distress.  After all, Peter does knowingly “disobey” the authority figure in the book, his mother.  And yet, my daughter expressed her fear for Peter’s fate anyway.

I recognized the emotion: Empathy.  And I thought about how reading is the way we build our capacity for this essential emotion. In my mind, Empathy might reside at the top of the emotional hierarchy. As author and scientist Maryanne Wolf writes and wonders in her book Reader Come Home (2018), “What will happen to young readers who never meet and begin to understand the thoughts and feelings of someone totally different?” She chronicles studies out of Stanford University that show a precipitous decline in empathy taking place over the last ten years or so in our country.  Wolf also describes a discussion between novelist Marilynne Robinson and then President Barack Obama during which Robinson expressed lamentation for what she perceived as a “political drift among many  people in the United States toward seeing those different than themselves as the ‘sinister other.'”

As I look around at what is happening in our country, I sometimes wonder what I can do to make a difference, especially as I watch the actions and repercussions of persons in power who exhibit no empathy for those different than them at all. But then I remember the young girl who was lying next to me earlier in the evening, her eyes glued to the pages of a book I was holding. And I remember I can make a difference for her.

Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

Today, June 23rd, 2020, I’m participating in Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Story Challenge.

This past Sunday was Father’s Day.  A few days prior, I called my father, now 82 years old, and ashamedly informed him that I had gotten his present in the mail a little too late.  He would likely be receiving it the week after sometime.  In a forgiving tone, Dad said that was alright.  And he began to reminisce a bit.

“I remember a few months after you were born,” he began.  “It was sometime around my very first Father’s Day . . . I put you and your mom on an airplane bound for Portland, Oregon.  You both flew all the way there from Oklahoma, where we were living at the time.  I drove an old truck to meet up with you guys a few days later.”  Apparently, while waiting for my father to arrive, mom and I lived in a tiny apartment with very little in the way of worldly possessions.  I’m not even sure there was furniture.  But Dad, having just graduated seminary school, had applied for and received his first ministerial position at Lynchwood Church in East Portland.

The year was 1968, a year when civil unrest, the Vietnam War, and issues of social justice dominated the social and political consciousness of the country.  Dad told me one of the very first things he did upon arriving as the new minister of his church was to organize groups of Black churchgoers from North Portland, inviting them to his nearly all-White church in East Portland.  Apparently, this did not sit well with some of the congregation of the Lynchwood Church.  Dad recalls vividly being questioned for his integrative efforts on several occasions.  “We’re White here,” he remembers one woman venomously spitting out at him one day.

Over time, my father eventually began receiving invitations to preach at some of the all-Black churches in North Portland, the very community in which he would one day, after leaving the ministry, finish a hard-earned career in social work.  In my father’s recollection, he was the only White person to preach in some of those churches during that tumultuous period.

“What I’m watching on the news now,” he told me, “reminds me very much of the struggles for social justice we saw back then.”  Dad told me he was eventually fired from his first job.  Folks didn’t want to work toward social justice.  They didn’t want to protest the war.  They wanted to go to church on Sunday. So Dad went on to search for other ministerial positions.  After all, he had a family to support.

As I listened to my father on that sunny day last week, I could hear sadness in his tone as he lamented the fact that there was never any recognition or awards for the kind of work he was trying to do back then.  But then, I thought to myself- feeling so proud of my father- that is likely not why he did it.