“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.
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.