March 6, 2015

Today I read over my posts from last year’s SOL Challenge. I was wondering if I might be able to tell if I have grown as a writer this year. When I look at student writing, I use rubrics to keep a record of their growth as writers. How will I know if I have grown? Using a rubric on myself somehow feels weird. I think that I’m going to postpone any judgment for now.

The important thing is that I’m here again trying to improve. Mostly, I notice that I’m happier because I’m writing. As a person who has struggled with depression for most of my adult life, being happier is a big deal to me. There is something about the act of writing that satisfies a need, turns my mind outward toward the world instead of inward on myself. That seems like a paradox, but even though the act of writing is personal, once written it is part of something bigger than myself. If I’m honest, writing is empowering, and that feels good. (I’m fighting the urge to delete that sentence, but I won’t because it’s true.)

I hope that many of you are also feeling happier just by writing. Thank you to each one who makes this community possible.

Just a little reflection on a Friday night when a story isn’t coming readily to mind.

March 5, 2015

As my daughter, Jill, approaches delivery of her first child, we have had many conversations that have brought back many memories. Tonight we were talking about hospital stays and what she might need to take and what it would be like. So much has changed since I had my first baby 38 years ago. One thing she mentioned is that all new mothers have a private room now. I always had a roommate. Another new mother, a stranger to me, separated by a curtain. Sometimes it was nice to have someone to chat with; other times I nearly went crazy hearing only half of hours of phone conversations.

My favorite memory of being a new mother with a roommate was with my second son (1980). I had been induced and had a fairly easy birth (relatively speaking, of course). He was notorious even before he was born. I remember the nurse shouting out to the other nurses when she checked me, “He’s got white hair!” My Tim had a full head of white-blonde hair. He was beautiful.

My roommate was about 10 years older than I was and was from the Philippines. I was fortunate to have the bed by the window. She was very sweet and quiet as I recall. Early in the morning the day after our deliveries, she peeked around the curtain. She held her baby with his full head of black hair. She said timidly, “Excuse me, may I borrow morning sunshine?” I wasn’t sure how to reply, but welcomed her to the window. She explained that in the Philippines, it was customary to bring babies into the morning sunshine to prevent jaundice. I had never heard of that before, but it made me happy that I got to learn about her ways.

Again very early the next morning, she asked, “Excuse me, may I borrow morning sunshine?”  I smiled. I felt differently about sunshine in the morning. I felt differently about mothering. It was my first time sharing motherhood with someone from another country. I knew she had taught me something important–even though I couldn’t put it into words. Even now, I’m struggling to express why that memory is so dear to me nearly 35 years later. I think perhaps it is just the simple act of love. The mother doing her best for her baby in the ways that she learned from her mother.

As I told Jill the story of “May I borrow morning sunshine?” we felt close. A simple act of love. Perhaps she will bring Maggie into morning sunshine and remember.

March 4, 2015

I’ve succumbed.  I’m grumpy.  It’s supposed to snow tomorrow and they already cancelled school. I only saw students once last week, and now it will be only once this week.  I never thought I would not want a snow day.  After all, snow days are days to read in the morning, to stare out the window, and to make good food.  But tonight, it feels like another snow day is a sabotage of learning.

My grumpiness wasn’t helped when I stopped at the store after teaching my evening class. Long lines. Rude people. Cold rain. I got drenched as I loaded the groceries in the car. There was lots of honking in the parking lot. Why, I’m not sure. I was just trying to get home, be warm, and have enough to eat. Basic needs, right?

I called my husband to come help me bring the groceries in.  It was raining harder, and he was more concerned about my parking job than helping.  After trying to follow his hand signals three times, I gave up and told him to park the car himself. He laughed and brought in the groceries.  I admitted to being grumpy.  He kindly put my bowl of stew in the microwave.

It’s interesting how writing this down reveals how unproductive grumpy can be.  I’m smiling now as I think about the luxury of reading in the morning.

March 3, 2015

This afternoon, while running on the treadmill, I happened to look up just as a commercial was finishing on the TV screen. Every now and then, even a commercial can be inspiring. It was an ad for life insurance. The slogan read, “Life is knowing what you live for.” That gave me a lot to think about as I pounded out the last half mile.

If life is knowing what you live for,

Then I live for the complicated, messy love of family.

I live for messages from my children.

Phone, texts, emails, cards, memories of laughter.

Especially snap chats.

I live for “I love you, Grandma.”

If life is knowing what you live for,

Then I live for Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, and Rachmaninoff.

In any order, day or night.

I live for sister time.

I live for learning new words and word origins.

I live to learn about new discoveries in science.

Especially brain science.  Or the universe.

I live for wildlife sightings and natural surprises.

I live for poems, memoirs, and Chapter 13 of East of Eden.

I live for Stephen who didn’t get to live past 22.

I live for my parent’s hands which blessed me.

If life is knowing what you live for,

I’m pretty sure I know.

March 2, 2015 Remembering Kindergarten

As the youngest child in my family, my experiences were different from my older siblings. This included the fact that I went to public school Kindergarten. My sister had gone to Naomi Thomas’ Kindergarten, held in the basement of her Falls Church, VA home. Naomi Thomas was a master teacher, mostly due to her firm, soft-spoken ways and her love of children. An oft-repeated quote from Naomi (I heard it from my mother many times.) was, “The happy child knows his limits.” Another way of saying boundaries help children feel safe, I guess. My sister remembers going there and falling in love with Allen Burt Christensen, as only kindergarteners can do.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure I was conflicted about Kindergarten. On the one hand, it meant I got to come home on the school bus with all the big kids in the neighborhood. I would get to go to Tuckahoe Elementary School, a school held in high esteem in the community, at least that was the impression my family gave me. Tuckahoe had an awesome playground. But it meant that I didn’t get to go to Naomi Thomas’ kindergarten. I had always thought I would get to go to Naomi’s. Once Kindergarten was offered in the public school, Naomi closed her little school. That must have been a sad day.

Another reason I was conflicted about Kindergarten was that my best friend, Richie, who lived across the street, was not allowed to be in my class. Whether it was the parents or the teachers who decided we were too dependent on each other, I’m not sure, but it was decided that we needed to be in separate classes. We had played together everyday of our lives since we were able to toddle. So Richie went in the morning and I went in the afternoon. I didn’t understand that. There were a lot of things I didn’t understand about Kindergarten. Such as the time Mrs. Huff had us sitting in a circle and a classmate yawned. So I yawned, but I got in trouble for it. Mrs. Huff was beautiful and I really didn’t want to disappoint her, but I didn’t understand why a yawn offended her so. I think I get it now. Maybe that yawn was just a little dramatic.

I don’t remember much else about Kindergarten, except that we had a May Day celebration and the fifth graders got to dance the Maypole. That’s how we always said it, “dance the Maypole.” It was always beautiful with colored streamers and flowers on top. The students did an intricate dance which ended with them weaving in and out until the whole pole was covered with a braid of colored streamers. Every class did something on the program. I think the Kindergarteners wore big flowers on their heads and danced to Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers.”

A little nostalgia on a Monday night. I wonder if any proofreaders out there noticed that I’m trying to break the two spaces after a period habit. I wonder what others think about that.

March 1, 2015

My baby girl is having a baby. I feel the parallelism of generations. I had my first baby at 22. She is 22. I was born prematurely (29 weeks) and she born at 29 weeks. When she passed her 29th week with this pregnancy, we both felt a special relief. She calls me often and shows me her growing belly and asks how much it will hurt. I honestly can’t remember the childbirth pain. Other pain through the years has been more indelible. This baby will be my 7th grandchild, but she is the first of my daughters to have a baby. I don’t know why that feels different, but it does. Maggie could be born any day now. I’m so distracted (in a good way).

My one-little-word for this year is remember. As this month of focused “slicing” approached, I found myself scanning memories and wondering which ones will come out in writing this month. I’m never quite sure where my writing will take me, but I remember the growth I felt last year as I worked to write every day in March and am looking forward to more growing this year. I remember the first response I got to my first post last year. I was so excited–it meant so much to me that someone cared to read my words and write back.

As I read Betsy Hubbard’s post the other day where she mentioned that “close reading” is really about what you believe in (Chris Lehman), the cymbals crashed, the drums boomed, and the trumpets blared as I experienced a clarifying moment. It is our beliefs that make us stop and notice a turn of phrase, a shift of perspective, or an affirmation of our own thoughts and experiences. I think that is why I am participating in this challenge. I’m hungry for the experience of reading others’ words and finding myself in them.