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.
I walk upstairs to the hallway outside their classrooms each day before the start of reading and language arts class. The three doors open and children spill out into the hall, some- books in hand- weaving their way from one of those rooms to another, others making a quick trip to the restrooms. Those in my group gathers against the low wall of the common area, but usually not before approaching me with an update about their reading or a question about a book or a quick brag about how long they read the night before. Sometimes several speak at once, anxious to share a tidbit about their reading life since we’d parted after class the day before. It’s happy chatter. A little chaotic at times. I encourage them to take turns sharing reading news. My reminders are gentle and my smile is big as I listen to these third graders talk the talk of dedicated readers.
Tomorrow Kwame Alexander will be in the house. Yup. You read that right. He’s coming to my school. We are hosting a county-wide gathering of fourth and fifth graders. And he’ll be talking about Out of Wonder; Poems Celebrating Poets.
Confession. On the eve of an author visit, I sometimes have trouble sleeping. I so love hearing them speak, listening to them talk about their ups and downs, the process, ideas and dead ends. Most of all I love scanning the audience, watching the children’s faces as they soak it up. These writers- who have books our students read and love- they have a huge impact on our kids. I think they know this. I hope they do.
I wish Kwame could know that one afternoon I stopped class and read my students a page from one of his books- and I read it one way, then another.. I showed them how he crafted his verse (0r so I thought) so that it could be read two different ways. Both beautiful. And all they could say was, “Whoa.”
Tomorrow there are going to see him in living color.
Tomorrow is going to be amazing.
They leave the nest, but they come back- often. That is what I have learned since August. Last summer I wasn’t sure how it would be… the emptiness… the quiet… But seven months later I’ve learned that this new chapter is nothing short of beautiful. They are happy and growing and independent and loving school. And, they come home often. They call regularly. They bring their friends and their joys and their problems. And I’m still a mom. I may not be on duty every moment of every day. But, once a mom, always a mom. I have two amazing girls who are spreading their wings and finding their way. The nest isn’t empty, it’s just different. And we are all enjoying this new chapter.
It usually happens like this:
“Ding” goes my phone mid-afternoon on a Sunday.
“Can we come home for dinner?” Claire asks on text. “We” usually means Claire and two to four of her friends at school.
Claire attends college about five miles from home. I have a self-imposed rule that I don’t ask first if she wants to come home for dinner. I want her to feel as if she is hundreds of miles away. But, I’ve learned to have something on hand that I can pull together quickly (or pop into the freezer) on Sundays.
Tonight she walked in the door at about 5:20, bags of laundry in hand, two friends in tow. One of them happens to be Melanie’s daughter. And Melanie’s daughter happens to have a birthday today.
The girls are piled on the sofa. Basketball’s on the tv. A fire is in the wood stove, and a chicken’s roasting in the oven. Impromptu Sunday suppers have become one of my favorite moments of the week.
Rarely do I open my eyes on Saturday mornings before the sun begins to rise, unless old Lucy gets restless and begins to meow and wander on my bed. And I usually linger there once I begin to wake, listening to the birds, looking out at the tree just outside the window closest to my bed. I try to ignore the stack of clean laundry on the chair and the pile of mail on my dresser as I pull back the covers and hurry to find my robe or a sweatshirt to ward off the chilly morning air. Lucy and I walk downstairs with purpose. I’ve got coffee on my mind, she is hoping for a scoop of cat food. She never used to get that in the morning, but she’s just too old to argue with, so once I’ve started the coffee I usually give in and add a scoop of canned food to her bowl.
I pour a small glass of grapefruit juice and search for my favorite mug as I wait for the coffee to finish brewing. Lucy, satiated, begins to purr and circle my legs. I add a little half and half to my mug and fill it with coffee, wrapping my hands around the warmth, watching a little steam rise from the surface.
Lucy and I climb back up the stairs and onto my bed. She settles near my left hip as I pull the covers over my legs. The light streams in the window on the right now that the sun is higher in the sky. Today there is a mist that filters the sun, and I notice fog blanketing the field below my hill.
This morning I open my computer first, to write my slice. But some Saturdays I read, or knit, or gather my notebook and pens and write there. Sometimes I listen to a podcast or Ted talk. And I always head back down for a second cup of coffee, but return to bed to read or listen or write for the first hour of my Saturday.
I wish every moment in my classroom could be one of those magical moments when everyone seems busy and engaged and happy to be doing what they are doing. When there is a quiet hum and students are taking charge of their learning. When I feel almost unnecessary. When I’m moving through the room from individuals to small groups and back to students working on their own, asking questions, offering encouragement, nudging forward the learners in my presence. Today was one of those days in my fourth grade reading group. We’ve been reading non fiction picture books. After reading, discussing and reviewing a few together, each student chose a book to read and review on his/her own. And each student chose the format for his/her review. I looked around the room today and saw some sketchnoting, others creating Keynote presentations on iPads, still others working on Animoto or iMovie. A few were writing poems and creating posters. Everyone was into what they were doing. Every.Single. One. I wanted to pinch myself. I wanted to clap for them. I wanted to take pictures. I couldn’t stop smiling. We were humming along and it was beautiful.
Sometimes when I am struggling to write a slice, I start by reading pieces posted by others in this writing community. That experience often takes my breath away. I read posts about courage, and loss, and hard days in the classroom, young children, grown children, grandchildren, empty nests, and full plates.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the reasons why it matters that we write and share our stories.
It matters that we teach our children, those we raise and those we teach, that discovering and capturing our stories and the stories of the people we love, is meaningful work.
Community begins with connection. Connection matters more than ever right now. Through writing we connect.
Every time we write and share, every time we teach and celebrate writers, we strengthen connection. We understand ourselves and others a little bit better.
Reading and responding to stories in this slicing community is one of the best experiences I’ve had as a writer and teacher of writers.
So let’s stick together and keep slicing!