Celebrate This Week: Full

celebrate-this-week

Lights. Sparkle. Laughter. Love. Gatherings. Music. Family. Friends. Food and drink.  Expectation. Anticipation.

December is full. Full of so many of my favorite things. Full of precious moments with people I love. School is full of excited children who are wishing for snow and making lists for Santa. School days are full of happy interruptions- the upper school choir caroling through our halls, holiday concerts, the annual reading of The Polar Express. Our all-school Lessons and Carols service. The mailbox is full of cards from faraway friends. The house is full as my children move home while studying for final exams. The kitchen sink full of their dishes, the fridge stocked with foods they can eat on the run. The calendar is full too.

And while I love it all, there are moments when I find this month exhausting. Moments when I need to take a pause, crawl into bed early in the evening with my book or the next episode in the new season of The Crown and take a break from the full. Last week I wrote about how this season  has changed for our family. I am grateful that four years later it feels more joyful than bittersweet, that we’ve learned how to do it differently.

Today I’m celebrating full. And the moments of fatigue that come because of the blessings of this full month.

Thank you Ruth Ayres for reminding us to stop and celebrate this week.

The Same But Different

slice of life updated

I often refer to it as a left turn. “My life took a left turn, ” I say when referring to this time four years ago. And from the moment things changed, I looked for ways to keep them the “same” for my children. Sort of.

That first year we went to the same Christmas Eve service. We saw the same friends we see during our winter break. I baked the same treats. Put the same ornaments on the tree and the same bow on the wreath at the front door. Even though everything was different. It was different to stay up late on Christmas Eve, just three of us sprawled on the rug in the family room, sifting through photos, putting together an album for the girls to give their father the next day when they went to be with him and his parents. It was different to be on my own watching them slowly unpack their stockings. It was different when Claire said mind-morning, “We need to laugh. Let’s watch Elf.” It was different when I took a Christmas afternoon walk alone and returned to an empty house.

But with each year, what was different became familiar. The girls and I kept alive some traditions our family had created. They continued others with their father. And what seemed almost impossible in the beginning became doable, even good. Things changed too. We’d get the tree into the stand at the end of their Thanksgiving  break. I began giving each of the girls an ornament for their own someday Christmas tree.  We sent out a holiday card that now read “with love from Lisa, Frances, and Claire.” I took that Christmas afternoon walk alone, but each time it was easier. And I looked forward to joining family friends for Christmas night dinner.

Much of it is different. Some of it is the same. All of it is just fine.

 

Thank you Two Writing Teachers for the weekly nudge to write.

So Much for Making Plans

slice of life updated

At my school, we have the whole week off for Thanksgiving. And I always have big plans. Plans to do lots of cooking, plans to finish a knitting project or two, plans to attend my favorite exercise classes, plans to read and write and clean and organize. Plans to take long walks with my girls and mom, and to play paddle tennis with friends.  This year is no different. After a busy fall, full of unexpected challenges, I was ready for a week off. And I had plans.

My plans did not include tearing a muscle in my quadricep the day before the start of vacation. Not a terrible injury, it requires rest and ice and patience. Sigh. So much for the long walks, paddle tennis, and extra exercise classes.  And my plans most definitely did not include falling on the stairs and breaking a finger when that injured leg gave out late the other evening. There goes the knitting, and I’ll need more help than usual with the cooking.

What’s that saying? “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I think I’ll just sit down by the fire, enjoy my people, and live.

A Teacher Is Born

slice of life updated

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.

In the Attic

slice of life updated

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.

There’s Nothing Like Old Friends

slice of life updated

“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. 

Rusty writing muscles

slice of life updated

For one 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.

Yes.

 

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.