You grow taller, I get older.
You head out, I let go.
You explore, I believe.
You come back, I open my arms.
You talk it out, I listen.
You take a risk, I remind myself to breathe.
You move on, out, up.
You wish and dream.
I do too. For you.
I heard the back door close and then listened to the clomp, clomp of her footsteps as she climbed the stairs to my bedroom. Home from college just for the evening, she peeked around the corner, talking a million miles a minute like she often does when we haven’t seen each other for a while. I turned off the hair dryer and put it down so I could give her a hug.
“Look,” she said, reaching in her bag and pulling out a children’s chapter book. “I brought this home so you could see how great he’s doing!”
“He,” is the third grader she tutors twice a week as part of her reading development class.
She opened the book to a page where he’d stopped and written a prediction on a sticky note.
“I bought larger sticky notes with lines and look how much more he’s writing,” she said, grinning.
I smiled. It was true. Progress. My smile wasn’t just for him though. It was for her. She was already figuring out ways to support and encourage growth.
She turned to another page in the short chapter book. “And look at what he wrote here!” She pointed to another sticky note. “He’s doing so much better. He’s reading more. He likes this series. I got him some football stickers too,’ she continued. “And the other day, at the end of our time, he leaned against me and just for a second he put his head on my shoulder, and Mom, my heart just melted.”
“Mmmhmmm,” I thought, “she’s hooked.”
A teacher is born.
It all began with a last minute trip to see my mother. I’d been in the city for a conference and my weekend plans had changed, so I caught a train to Connecticut. I arrived late on Friday evening and as we lingered over dinner and wine, I asked my mom. “What needs doing around here? How can I help you tomorrow?” She looked sheepish as she told me that she’d really like to get up into the attic now that the roof has been repaired. Perhaps I could help her sweep? Maybe we could do a bit of sorting? “Of course,” I replied.
And so we did. Sweep. And sort. And before long I was uttering statements like “I cannot believe you still have this,” and “What on earth are you planning to do with Daddy’s clothes? He’s been dead for nearly twenty one years. I don’t think he’s going to need them anymore.” And she laughed and said, “Well, it’s only a few of his clothes…his special clothes.” I sighed and didn’t say anything further.
We flattened empty cardboard boxes and dragged a dusty, broken fan close to the stairs. I carried armfuls of things down to the recycling and trash bins in her garage.
We opened my grandmother’s trunk- the one she took across the ocean when she traveled in Europe in her youth. I imagined it full of stylish dresses and elegant wraps. It was empty now, thankfully.
But the next one wasn’t. It was stuffed with clothes my sister and I had worn forty or more years ago. The grey pinafore and striped tie I wore each day to the British school in Cyprus. A child-sized pair of sweatpants with the logo of the school I’d attended in The Hague. Clothes with memories. We closed the trunk, not knowing where to begin. “That might be a summer project for me,” I said.
Behind the trunks were boxes of books and dolls- mine and my sister’s. When my father traveled, he often brought each of us a doll dressed in traditional clothing, from whatever faraway land he’d visited. “Next summer,” I thought, sliding the box next to another that contained my childhood scrapbooks.
I noticed a stack of boxes labeled “Christmas,” and opened the top one to find it full of recycled ribbon and carefully folded bits of wrapping paper- each piece having done several tours of duty already. My mother does not throw away wrapping paper. Her children do not rip it off packages. You get the idea. These days when we gather to open gifts, we laugh and tell stories about the paper before sliding our fingers carefully between the edges and the tape.
“Can we agree to get rid of the tinsel?” I asked her, giggling. She didn’t commit. “Do you still have Grandma’s copper ornaments? I love those.” “Yes, they’re here somewhere, but I don’t want to get into those boxes right now. Let’s just move them over there,” she said, pointing to the front right corner of the attic. So we did.
We carried a last load down to the garage and called it a day. The attic was swept, and a little bit emptied. The stack of boxes I’d need to tackle next summer sat apart from the rest.
“Well,” my mother remarked, “it’s good we got some of that done. Less for you to do someday when I’m not around.” She often makes statements like that. “Shhh,” I replied. And I always respond like that.
Thank you Two Writing Teachers for the weekly writing nudge.
“You look exactly the same,” Peter said as he opened the door to his family’s home and gave me a hug.
The same. Hardly. So much had changed. Most of it can’t be seen though.
I’d pulled into their driveway just at as the last light was fading from the sky. The lights, pumpkins, and mums in full bloom at the front door, made me feel warm, even as the air was turning chilly.
Mimi appeared in the hallway, smiling and laughing as the words hi-I-am-so-happy-to-be-here-what-a-beautiful-home-you-have tumbled from my mouth. I handed her a bundle of flowers with one hand and hugged with my free arm. Mimi giggled as she glanced towards a room just beyond the hallway.
Her smile and giggle just the same as they were in high school. Her face, her figure, her disposition, the same too.
“The boys are hiding,” she explained. Mimi and Peter have six children- their two oldest are out of college, “the boys” are 9 year old twins. I peeked over Mimi’s shoulder just in time to see a leg slip out of view behind the sofa.
We wandered into the kitchen, the conversation moving easily beyond our hellos to bits about each of our Saturdays, sprinkled with references to the years and gaps since we’d last been in close touch. Mimi reached into the fridge for a bottle of wine and poured each of us a glass, while calling out to “the boys,” “Come meet Lisa.” “Yes,” I added, “I would really like to meet you two…”
Ryan emerged from behind, or maybe under a chair, not exactly smiling, walking slowly towards me. I extended my hand, telling him how happy I was to finally see him. I couldn’t help but notice an enormous bulge under the right side of his shirt, but I kept a straight face as I added “Looks like you are ready for something…” He raised his shirt up just enough to reveal what looked like a water gun with all the bells and whistles. By then, John joined us in the kitchen, and I told the boys that the last time I had seen them they were barely five- it was a Saturday morning- on a soccer field. They were too shy to speak to me when they’d come over to grab their water bottles from their mom’s hands. That day, I’d stopped by to say a quick hello to Mimi, on my way through the town to which she had just moved. Not a visit. More like a sighting.
So much was changing for each of us then. Too much to get into on the sidelines of a soccer field.
Annie, Mimi and Peter’s 17 year old, came down the back stairs to join us in the kitchen. The last time I had seen her, she was a baby. Mimi, Peter and I couldn’t quite remember where that had been. Maybe in Great Falls? Maybe around Halloween? It had been a long time since we all had been together.
We laughed as we stood around the kitchen island, piecing together a few distant memories from when our children were small, our careers were young, and our houses were modest works in progress, furnished mainly with baby equipment. Our reminiscences didn’t hold the twins’ attention for long, so they headed off to find a movie to watch. Before long, Peter joined them, and Annie headed upstairs to do some studying before dinner.
Mimi slid a lasagna into the oven, and our conversation turned serious as she began to ask about my last few years.
So much had changed. I shared bits and pieces. She asked more questions. She offered kind, caring responses. We sighed, paused, laughed some more. I brushed away a tear or two. The smell of lasagna filled the kitchen. Mimi refilled our glasses. We talked some more- about our kids, our faith, our work. Everything and nothing.
So much between us was just the same.
Thank you Two Writing Teachers for nudging those of us who teach writers to make and share our own writing. Every Tuesday- be there.
reason excuse or another, lately I haven’t been writing. I’ve fallen out of the habit. It feels hard. I have no ideas, or I have ideas but no words. What I want most to write about is too personal for a public space. So I choose to write nothing at all. My writing muscles have grown rusty.
Last night I read Cory Taylor’s Questions for Me About Dying from the July 31st, 2017 issue of The New Yorker. These two sentences have been rolling around my brain ever since:
“It is my bliss, this thing called writing, and it has been since my school days. It isn’t just the practice that enthralls me—it’s everything else that goes with it, all the habits of mind.”
Writing, like the lap pool on a sunny afternoon, or the dinner table with good friends on a Saturday evening, is a happy place for me. I miss curling up with my notebook and a favorite pen, or opening my laptop to start a draft.
Over the years, writing has helped me find my joy, reflect on my gratitude and push through my grief. When writing I capture precious moments and take risks. And yet, over the last few months I slipped out of the habit with shocking ease and not very much remorse.
Recently though, reminders,-or maybe nudges- to write pop up every time I turn a corner. It’s like like the good-for-you-friend who knows when to say, “Enough with the excuses. Get back to it.” It’s time for me to end the slump.
“Writing, even if, most of the time, you are only doing it in your head, shapes the world, and makes it bearable.” said Taylor, as she wrote about her own dying.
Thank you Stacey, Beth, Betsy, Melanie, Deb, Lanny, and Kathleen for providing a space and a nudge to write every week at Two Writing Teachers.
In early August, my town was still a place many didn’t know. They had heard of it, maybe, or they had fading memories of visiting Monticello as a child. Some had friends or family who’d attended U.V.A. But usually, when the subject of where I live came up, people would say, “Charlottesville? I’ve never been there. Where exactly is it?” Or, “I’ve heard Charlottesville is beautiful.”
On August 12th all that changed. The ugly, angry mess that unfolded in my town left three people dead and meant that Charlottesville became a hashtag trending on Twitter. Charlottesville seemed like the most frequently spoken word on every media outlet.
Charlottesville. We aren’t the headline most days now, though we’re usually buried in the story. We are the same but different. We are scarred but standing. We are raw and we wrestle with the reality of what remains, what to do next, how to move forward.
My town is Charlottesville. It’s a town full of thought leaders and problem solvers. Moms and dads and singles and sisters and brothers, loners and leaders, artists and performers, brick layers and bread bakers and bold thinkers. It’s small in scale and big in vision. It’s a town surrounded by rolling pastures and beautiful mountains. We are more than August 12th. Charlottesville.
Thank you Two Writing Teachers for hosting this weekly writing community.
Does it feel sometimes like we live in a world where words are shared without much thought to their consequence?
Educators have the opportunity to teach students just how powerful their words can be. Now more than ever we want our children to know that words matter. Words can build up or tear down, and every speaker has the means to make the world a better place. Our list includes a few of our favorite books to help children find their voice and begin to learn the power of words.
Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words by Karen Leggett Abouraya
Malala uses her voice to speak up for what she believes, even when it means risking her safety.
Desmond and the Very Mean Word by Desmond Tutu
Desmond learns early in life that two wrongs don’t make a right, especially when it comes to hurtful words.
The Honest-to-Goodness Truth by Patricia C. McKissack
Telling the truth doesn’t mean sharing all of your thinking, especially if it might hurt feelings.
Little Bird’s Bad Word by Jacob Grant
It’s important to learn that some words shouldn’t be repeated.
Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss
“I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant’s faithful one-hundred percent.” Horton’s mantra reminds us that giving our word is meaningful, and that our promises matter.
Andrew’s Angry Words by Dorthea Lachner
When Andrew’s sister knocks over his pile of toys, he lets loose a stream of angry words that he immediately regrets… but it’s too late. His words are out there, and their effect is much bigger than Andrew ever imagined.
Max’s Words by Kate Banks
Max wants to keep up with his older siblings who collect things. Max collects words and soon discover that he doesn’t just have a lot of words, he has the ingredients for a story.
Thank You Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
A few encouraging words from a kind teacher make all the difference for a girl who struggles to learn to read.
Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport
If anyone knows the power of words, it’s Martin Luther King.
Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae
A tiny cricket shares encouraging words with a clumsy giraffe who thinks he can’t dance.
This list was created in collaboration with Sarah FitzHenry, for the PB10for10 Google community. Sarah is the Learning Village Librarian at St. Anne’s-Belfield School. See her post on her blog Fitz Between the Shelves. See more PB10for10 lists here or follow along on Twitter at #PB10for10.
Yesterday I wrote my weekly Slice and linked up to Two Writing Teachers. As I often do for that weekly writing challenge, I wrote about an aspect of my life outside the classroom. My goal was twofold… I wanted to try working with a simile in my writing and I wanted to capture in words the lovely ordinariness of my summer so far. I write in the summer because I enjoy it, but also because it helps me sharpen my thinking about teaching writers.
But, after I published that piece to my blog, I started thinking about all of the teaching related
things opportunities that I make time for seek out in the summer. And I thought about how I am not alone in that endeavor.
Summer… How many times has someone who isn’t in the profession said to each of us, “Oh, you are so lucky. You have the summer off.”
Yes, it is true, many of us who teach are not in the classroom every day. We’re not facilitating Morning Meetings, conducting running records, conferring with writers and sharing read alouds with our students. We do have a bit more “me” time in the summer. But, I’d be hard pressed to come up with a list of teachers who don’t also stay busy during the summer doing things that will strengthen their practice and benefit their next group of students.
Because here’s the thing…we teachers are learners. And summer provides us with time for learning. We attend conferences, institutes and workshops. We take classes- in person or online, like the amazing Teachers Write! hosted by Kate Messner, Jo Knowles, Gae Polisner and Jen Vincent. And when we can’t be physically present for the gatherings we know will be rich with ideas we want to know about, we follow the tweets generously shared by those who are there. I for one am guilty of ignoring my family for days at a time as I sit glued to Tweetdeck , following educators like Fran McVeigh and Julieanne Harmatz during TCRWP’s week-long writing and reading institutes.
We read books- books that will help us teach more effectively. My summer stack includes Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst, The Importance of Being Little by Erika Christakis, An Ethic of Excellence by Ron Berger and Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading by Vicki Vinton. And we connect with other educators in person or through online communities like #cyberpd. The faculty at my school have a Summer Reading Google Doc, where we share titles and make plans to get together to talk about the professional books we’re reading.
We participate in or follow along with Twitter chats, like Mary Howard’s Thursday evening #G2Great, that we don’t always have time for during the school year.
We read children’s books- books we know our students are currently reading or might like to read, so that we can have meaningful conversations with our readers about those books. We scour used bookstores and fill our Amazon carts with titles we wish to add to our classroom libraries. We read reviews on blogs like Nerdy Book Club to find out what’s new in the world of children’s literature. We plot and plan for the annual August 10th Picture Book 10 for 10 when teachers all over the world reveal their lists and plans for 10 picture books they will use in their classrooms in the coming school year.
And we find ways to supplement our income… by tutoring, teaching summer classes, running summer camps, or house and pet sitting. Some of us present at conferences for free, just for the opportunity to share ideas and connect with other professionals.
We facilitate amazing volunteer programs. My colleague Sarah FitzHenry and her team spend time each week biking through town handing out books and popsicles.
We teachers are a dedicated group. Dedicated to growing readers and writers and scientists and problem solvers. Dedicated to doing our best in the classroom. Dedicated to learning and growing along with our students.
So yes, we are so lucky. We are “off” in the summer. But really, we’re not. We’re oh so on. And that makes us both lucky and amazing.