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?
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.
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.
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
Now a familiar
pushes on my
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.”