When I think about time and how I spend mine, I think about commitments, like teaching and meetings, and PD. I think about other necessities like grocery shopping, errands, and laundry. I think about the good-for-me stuff like exercise and sleep. And I think about other pursuits like writing, reading and knitting. I think about keeping up with family and friends, over meals or in phone calls and texts. I try to squeeze in as much as I can each week. Sometimes I look ahead on my calendar and think to myself that there is not much open time in the coming week. I worry I may not get it all done. I wish there were more hours in the day. I wonder if I’ve said yes to too many things.
Which leads me to my celebration this week. Last minute gatherings. The kind that you can’t seem to plan for months because schedules don’t line up and we are all too busy, busy, busy.
I enjoyed two last minute gatherings this week. My daughter Frances sent a text to her dear friend Jack, his mom and me late Monday afternoon asking if our families could meet for dinner that evening. Two hours later we gathered around a table at a restaurant in town and shared laughs and stories with our recently returned college children. It was perfect. As we all hugged goodbye, Jack’s mom said to me, “We could never have planned this.” And I replied, “I know. Last minute get-togethers are just the best.”
On Thursday morning my friend Heather asked me if I could walk with her after work. Heather and I live at opposite ends of a four mile long country road. We love to walk from one end to the halfway point and back. We haven’t seen each other in months. She’s been traveling and I’ve been busy. But Thursday afternoon happened to be wide open for both of us. We walked and talked for an hour, catching up about kids and life. When we finished we hugged and both commented how glad we were that a last minute plan to walk had worked for both of us.
This week I’m celebrating last minute gatherings. The love and laughter, the hugs and high fives, the talking and listening. The time. Just the best.
It’s getting a little crazy around here. 10 more days of classes until summer break. The children are getting restless. The teachers are looking weary. The weather is just beginning to improve, but we’ve had a lot of cold and rain and that hasn’t helped anybody. Lots of lasts happening every day. Yesterday we had our last fire drill. Today my third grade readers started their last book.
Everyone is feeling the rush- so much to do and not so much time.
The little things help.
Today, our wonderful art teacher wandered around with a bag full of freshly cut tiny rosebuds from a bush in her garden. She walked into classrooms, popped into meetings, and ventured out to the playground and without a word handed a flower to every teacher she saw. They are small and beautiful. And they smell like heaven. They smell like beautiful soap. They smell like peace and calm and summer. She does this every year around this time, just as crazy is taking over. And we keep our rosebuds close and smell them. I waved mine just in front of each of my third grader’s noses as they walked into my classroom. And every one of them broke into a smile. I could almost see their shoulders relax and their brains reset.
I wish I could share it with you too.
It’s the little things that sometimes make a great big difference.
One of the things I love about growing older is gaining perspective and maybe even a little wisdom. My definition of celebration has shifted as I’ve lived and learned. More often than not, it’s about the small moments. It usually involves pausing and noticing and breathing in and exhaling. Some celebrations are as simple as sitting still and smiling.
As the school year winds down for me and my students (and my college age daughters), our days are full of celebratory moments. A raised score on an end-of-year assessment, a recognition of growth as a reader, a look back through the writer’s notebook, a look ahead at summer plans. The last page of the class read-aloud. The last spell check. It’s bittersweet, but they are ready. I am too.
My oldest comes home from college today. She isn’t just starting her summer, she is beginning a whole new chapter as she leaves the university she’s attended for the last two years and begins her studies at her dream school, which happens to be only about five miles from home. What I love and celebrate most is not that she got into such a competitive school, but that she took charge of her life and learning. That she decided what she wanted and needed and went for it. That she took time to examine where she was in her journey and where she wanted to go next and she figured out how to do that best. Today, in the midst of many small celebrations happening all around me, I’m celebrating Frances who is “braver than (she) believes, stronger than (she) seems and smarter than (she) thinks.”
“Do you want some help cooking?” Julia called from the sofa. Music to my ears. As usual I was not very organized. As usual, I was trying new recipes. As usual I’d left WAY too much to the last day.
“I’d love that,” I replied. A moment later Julia, who just might be my favorite of Claire’s friends, and Claire joined me in the kitchen. I looked around trying to decide what needed doing first. Why, I wondered, had I left the work of pulling together Easter lunch for ten until the day before? Why, I wondered, did I always leave holiday cooking until the last minute? The big bag of potatoes seemed like a good place to start.
The girls agreed to wash, peel and slice the potatoes for the gratin. Julia stood at the sink scrubbing each one before taking the skins off. Claire worked at the counter slicing and dropping the rounds into a bowl of cold water. I continued slicing the rhubarb for the cake. Claire turned on some music and the three of us chatted about nothing important.
I mixed the batter for the cake, and spread it over the rhubarb-sugar-lemon juice mixture I’d already put in the pan. Once I’d gotten the cake in the oven, I turned my attention to the asparagus. Julia searched on Google for tips about shocking asparagus to keep them green and crisp after cooking. Claire gathered ingredients for cookies and the girls made the dough. The three of us moved from counter to sink to stove, stepping around one another and over the cat who’d wandered into the kitchen to see if it was her suppertime. The music played on.
Within an hour we’d made a lot of progress and a big mess. Julia took over dishwashing and Claire found a towel for drying. The preparation for Easter lunch was under control, thanks to two college girls who came to my rescue. Perhaps last minute and disorganized was the way to go.
As I picked up my copy of the picture book Flight to continue reading it to my third grade readers, Alex called out, “Ms. Keeler, Ms Keeler. Wait. I have something to say.”
“Yes, Alex?” I asked, putting the book in my lap.
“My great-grandfather was one of the people who helped pay for the plane.” Alex announced.
“Charles Lindbergh’s plane? The Spirit of St. Louis?” I responded.
“Yes. And he took a picture and we have it and I forgot to bring it in today.”
“He took a picture of the plane?”
“Uh huh. He was there. He was there when the plane took off.”
“Wow,” I thought. I had all kinds of questions and so did his classmates. I’m often surprised by Alex but this may have been the biggest surprise all year. Clearly he’d gone home and talked about the book we were reading together. I loved that. And lo and behold he came back with an amazing story about our story.
It’s nothing that can’t be cured by rest, fluids and medication. But, it’s been a while since I spent almost the entire day in bed. I’ve just relocated to the sofa because it seemed like maybe I should have a change of scene or elevation or something. I’d forgotten that when you don’t feel well it is actually possible to spend most of the day sleeping. The only thing I accomplished was boiling water to make tea. Slug is the word that comes to mind. It was a sluggish day for me. My old cat Lucy was in heaven. She had a napping buddy all day long. Now that I’ve come downstairs, I’m wondering what I missed today, what I need to catch up on tomorrow, and how on earth I will sleep tonight. Okay, that last part… I’m not really worried about that. The challenge will probably be staying awake long enough to catch up on emails and school work.
I had a spare hour earlier today and decided to spend it sorting and shelving books in our school book room. It was all going well, and I was making an impressive dent in the enormous pile- finding tubs, figuring out levels, checking the master list, separating the independent books from those that were part of sets- until I came across several books from the Little Bear series.
I stopped and sat down on the tile floor of the book room and started reading. Memories flooded my brain. Those books, by Else Holmelund Minarik, perhaps more than any others, take me back 18 years to when my girls were small. They loved Little Bear. We read the books constantly. They passed along kisses just like Little Bear. They pretended to snack on bread and jam just like Little Bear. They said “I’m not tired.” just like Little Bear. They tried to help with chores just like Little Bear. They convinced their father to flip pancakes in the air just like Little Bear’s father. They couldn’t wait to read the books again and again.
And then we discovered the videos. Lots and lots of Little Bear stories to watch. Again and again. Sometimes we’d watch together, snuggled on the sofa in our family room. Sometimes the girls would climb up onto a chair and watch by themselves while I fixed dinner or folded laundry nearby.
For a few minutes, when I should have been shelving books in the book room, I was sitting on the tile floor reading, remembering, smiling, reliving, all at once.
On Saturdays at noon and Sundays after church
He’d head to the kitchen
and slowly gather the ingredients
to make sandwiches
on thin bread, or rye.
A modest smear of mayonnaise and mustard,
then roast beef or ham.
A slice of swiss cheese if we had it,
and a bit of tomato in summer- he’d hone the knife blade on the sharpening stone first.
A piece of lettuce, always lettuce.
A grind of pepper and a sprinkle of salt.
I’d stand to the side watching, my mouth watering,
wondering why his sandwiches
tasted so much better than anybody else’s.
I miss those sandwiches that tasted like childhood and love.
As we pulled into her college town yesterday afternoon, I found myself thinking about the first time we visited the school. How she lit up and loved it so. How I could picture her there. How beautiful it looked. How it felt large compared to her high school, but not too large for her.
She’s been there for nearly two years. And she is hoping this will be her final six weeks there. She’s grown by leaps and bounds. She’s outgrown the place that once seemed to be a perfect fit. She’s wants to finish her studies at a larger university where she finds more diversity, more rigor, more opportunities.
We unloaded her bags into her apartment and drove back to the center of campus, to the short block on the edge of campus where there are a handful of restaurants. It’s charming. It’s comfortable. It’s small. She’s grown beyond it. I see it now.
We walked past the restaurant where we’d eaten lunch the first time we’d visited, choosing one around the corner this time. As we waited for our meals, she talked about the things she’d loved and the things she’s seeking now. She’s grown. It doesn’t feel so right for her anymore. I understand.
She’s grown. She’s set a goal. She’s going after it. She’s waiting to hear.
At the start of the weekend I often have grand plans.
Grand plans to deal with the piles of laundry, stacks of papers, clumps of cat fur.
Grand plans to exercise both days.
Grand plans to read more, see a movie, walk with friends, make headway with a knitting project.
Plans to cook enough so there will be leftovers during the week.
Plans to cross off everything on the to-do list.
To spend the morning straightening my closet and the afternoon grading papers in my classroom.
Plans to be with friends and family each evening.
Plans to read the Sunday Times and sneak in a Saturday nap.
My plans don’t account for the fact that the weekend is only 48 hours. They overlook my Friday afternoon fatigue and they pay no respect to my desire to have at least part of my weekend unplanned.
My grand weekend plans are more like lofty goals. I’ll make some of them happen. Others will just have to wait… until another weekend.