March 21, 2017

sparrow

I walked slowly from the car toward the house. It had been a long day. It felt like it should be at least Wednesday, but it was only Tuesday. As I passed the arborvitae on the corner of the house, I heard the sound of baby birds chirping for mama and food.

A memory flashed in my mind. We purchased our first home in the fall of 1977 just before the birth of our first baby. It was a little yellow house with black shutters, a fenced yard, and a garden plot.

My husband was (and is) a man with very predictable patterns and routines. Every day when he returned from work, he would check for mail. In the spring of 1978, we noticed something unusual with the mail.  Among the letters would be bits of grass, small twigs, and pieces of string or paper. Every day he cleaned it out only to find another collection the next day. Finally, I convinced him to leave the grass in the mailbox so we could see what might happen.

We left a note for the mailman to put our mail inside the screen door instead of the box. Soon the collection of grass was taking shape and in a few days, the nest was complete. Everyday we gently took a peek. Imagine the wonder we felt when we saw four little eggs inside our mailbox! We knew we should leave it alone. Then one day, we heard tiny peeps coming from the mailbox. Because of the placement of the mailbox, I was too short to see in. I remember eagerly waiting my husband’s return from work so that he could tell me how the babies were doing. It was a moment when I saw his tender side and felt happy.

When the babies left the nest and the mother no longer came to visit, we cleaned out the mailbox and missed our little guest.

 

 

March 20, 2017

When I was 16 I fell in love, not only with a boy, but with e.e. cummings, all things piano, wildflowers, and motorcycles.

On this first day of spring, so many years later, I remember clearly one night when I stayed up extremely late finishing a research paper on e.e. cummings. Now that I think about it, I seem to remember that I was writing to compare Beatles’ lyrics with some favorite poems of e.e. cummings. Still an interesting topic to me!

My mother was an excellent typist. She very kindly typed my paper, starting at the beginning while I was finishing the ending. It wasn’t the first or last time we tag-teamed to get my homework done. That was in the day when typewriters had no correction key, so every mistake had to either be erased or touched up with white-out. Fortunately, my mother didn’t make many mistakes. Her piano playing fingers learned the patterns of words easily. Being used to hours of practice each week, she had Stamina (yes, capital S).

She typed on onion-skin paper. It was less expensive than bond paper and mistakes were more easily corrected on it. I loved the way the paper was thin and crinkly. It sounded cool when you turned the pages.

When my paper was all typed, my mom went to bed. I remember reading it over while sitting on the floor of my bedroom.  I was wearing an old navy blue robe that I snagged before my mother could give it to Goodwill. (I loved that robe. It was so cozy and soft.) While reading my paper, I decided that I wanted to make it special. So when the house got silent and no one was up, I quietly got a cup of water and my watercolors . I illustrated each poem included in the text as best I could, knowing that I wasn’t very good at art. But somehow that didn’t matter because I had a teacher whom I loved. I knew she would understand my attempt and not judge me. In the quiet of the night, I felt free to be myself and smiled as I tried to paint “mudluscious” and “puddle wonderful.” (from e.e. cummings “in just spring”)

Listen to e.e. cummings read his poem here:

balloonman

March 19, 2017

On one of my bus trips to New York for events at Teachers College, I had a simple experience. It might not be worth mentioning, but it was at a time when I felt pretty alone in the world.  A stranger, who was totally unaware of the moment, reminded me of the ways just human contact helps. I attempted to get my words to match the feeling and know that they are not yet quite adequate, but here goes:

Bus Ride

We boarded the bus one-by-one

To be ferried to the city.

The seat next to me was empty.

Secretly, I hoped it would stay that way.

At the last minute

a young man boarded

and with ease of youth sat down by me.

He unpacked iPod, portable DVD, magazine, and journal.

We sat then, two-by-two–

as though mates, but not.

In the modern way,

I suppressed my questions,

dutifully avoided eye contact, and

carefully kept to my space.

But

when he slept,

his foot touched mine.

I felt warmth through my shoe

and did not stir.

 

 

 

March 18, 2017

I have only a few minutes to write, but my day at the Saturday Reunion (TCRWP) was so inspiring. It is so powerful to be lifted up by leaders who not only talk a good game, but who are also living it. Lucy’s talk centered on the impact of her dear colleague and friend, Kathleen Tolan. I didn’t know Kathleen personally, but I have been taught by her and changed by her teaching. Today Lucy closed with these words (or as close as my notetaking skills will allow): ” It is an enormous act of LOVE to see POTENTIAL.”

How much we can bless children by seeing potential in them and then having the courage to do something, anything, that might make that potential grow to a reality. She talked a lot about having courage to hope, to see promise, to work very hard, and leave a mark in this world. In my heart of hearts, that is exactly why I became a teacher. I don’t know exactly where or when I might have left a mark, but I hope that somewhere there is a person who has believed a little more in themselves because of their interaction with me.

Others have done that for me. Many of you in this community of writers have left your mark on my life. Thank you.

 

March 17, 2017

I’m excited to be heading to New York for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Saturday Reunion. I was amazed when I saw the number and quality of the workshops offered tomorrow. I don’t know how I’ll decide where to put my learning! But I’m happy I have the opportunity.

My favorite parts are hearing Lucy Calkins, sharing new learning with friends and strangers, walking in the city, feeling stronger than usual, and working on my weak navigation skills. I love watching Upper West Side families with their young children and dogs. I’ve never lived in a city, so imagining life there is fun.

My least favorite parts are getting lost, and the unsavory smells of cities.

My favorite list is a lot longer than my least favorite list, so that’s a good thing.

This time, I’m treating myself to the Lincoln Center to see the Paul Taylor Dance Company. I’m looking forward to some “rapture and bliss.”

 

March 16, 2017

My daughter greeted me tonight by saying, “I guess you haven’t seen the news, yet.” I said I hadn’t, fearing another shooting or natural disaster. What she said next was perhaps even harder to hear. She told me of the President’s recommendations for the budget in which he suggest severe cuts for programs that serve women and children, the poor, the arts, education, libraries, and the environment, while substantially increasing military spending. The list was startling and disturbing.

When it comes to politics, I have spent a good bit of my life with my head in the sand like an ostrich. I won’t go into the reasons why, but suffice it to say, I am being pushed to change. While I may not have confidence in my ability to discuss politics and history, I do have confidence in my belief that a society which does not care for its poor and needy is in great danger. Our humanity depends on our exercise of lovingkindness. A society that does not support the arts, education, and forums for discussion will not create a citizenry capable of sustaining it.

I could work myself up into a tirade at this moment. Instead, I’ll remind myself and my readers of these pieces of wisdom from George Washington Carver and Mother Teresa:

 

March 15, 2017

I feel bad

for the pink blossoms

browned by

freezing temperatures.

I imagine

even non-fruit bearing trees

grieve the loss.

March 14, 2017

Mrs. Smith was a formidable woman from Texas. She was slim and about 6 feet tall. Her voice was loud, and she ran a tight ship. Today we might say she had “helmit hair,” but in the 1960s it didn’t seem too unusual.

For most of the year, I was a good girl. I did my work. I played nicely. I stayed out of trouble. Until the day I “followed the leader” in the girls’ bathroom and participated in locking all the doors and crawling out underneath.

A classmate happened to come in the bathroom just as I crawled out of the last stall. She saw an opportunity and took it. “Ohhhhh,” she gasped as she hurried out of the bathroom (without using it). I can still see the skirt of her plaid dress swishing around the corner. When I walked into the classroom, she had a triumphant look on her face.

Mrs. Smith was quietly steaming. Her punishment for me was to write 25 times, “I will not go into the girls’ bathroom and lock the doors so others cannot use it.” She purposely made it 2 lines, she said, so that I would have to think about the whole statement every time I wrote it rather than doing it the quick way. It was customary then to get such tasks done more quickly by writing “I” down the page 25 times; then “will;” then “not,” and so forth. However, the clincher was when she said, “Bring this back tomorrow with your parent’s signature.”

That night I excused myself after dinner and went to my room to complete my punishment. Contritely, I wrote in my most careful cursive with a newly acquired blue cartridge pen. Maybe if it looked good, my mom wouldn’t read what it said. I could hope.

The next morning I got ready for school with butterflies in my stomach. I waited until the last minute. As I walked out the door, I said, “Mom, you need to sign this.” My dad was already gone to work (thankfully). She glanced quickly and signed it without saying a word. I walked to school that bright, spring morning feeling like I had disgraced my family. (I might have been just a little bit sensitive.)

It was many years before I learned how my parents laughed and laughed at the way their good little girl chose to be naughty.

 

March 13, 2017

In 3rd grade Mrs. Magarity, Principal, told my mother that she put me in Mrs. Godard’s class as one of 8 girls to “help” with the 15 boys also in the class. The boys were tough. It was a tough year. I remember being teased mercilessly. It seemed that no matter what I said or did, I became a target for their jokes. Most days I went home and cried. When my mother was exasperated with my tears, my sister would try to help me cope.

Back then girls were not allowed to wear pants to school. It was dresses only. The boys loved to find ways to flick our skirts up, pull our pigtails or ponytails, and experimented with various crude hand gestures. I knew nothing about what those words and gestures meant. My naive innocence just seemed to encourage them. Recess was miserable.

One day this group of boys had broken a mirror. They put pieces of mirror on their shoes anchored between the crisscrosses of their shoelaces. The object was to get close enough to a girl to be able to see up her dress with the mirror. All day was spent dodging their quick feet in terror of a successful attempt and having my underwear be the topic of more teasing.

I remember that some days Mrs Godard would get so angry her neck would turn red. Sometimes the principal would come in and threaten punishment. She was a formidable woman to us. We often had class punishment of putting our heads down for an extended time. It was confusing for me because I was never sure whether I should feel bad or not.

Yet, Mrs. Godard holds a special place in my life. She was tough, but kind to me. Once she invited me and my family to come hear her sing at her church in Arlington. It was not far from where we lived, so my parents took me that Sunday evening. I don’t remember what she sang, but I remember the warm spring air with the scent of lilacs and felt special to be invited. My mom and I dressed up and my dad wore his best suit. I can still see her standing proudly in that colonial chapel lit by chandeliers. Her voice was strong and filled the chapel.

I cried in High School when I learned she had died of cancer.

 

March 12, 2017

baseball)

Now that my kids are grown, I am sometimes not as clued in to the rhythms of sports seasons. But tonight, as I watch The Natural, for the umteenth time, I’m reminded of the way my breath stops while watching a good game. The way I can be moved when the underdog hits that homerun or catches that fly ball. The edge-of-seat anticipation that mothers of pitchers feel.

I remember all the fun with my kids over the years quoting lines from their favorite baseball movies.

“You’re killing me, Smalls!” (The Sandlot)

“Is this heaven?

It’s Iowa.

Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.

Is there a heaven?

Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.

[Ray looks around, seeing his wife playing with their daughter on the porch]

Maybe this is heaven.” (Field of Dreams)

In fact, just as The Natural was ending, my son texted me his favorite line. “Pick me out a winner, Bobby.” His timing was uncanny, for not 30 seconds after reading his text, I heard the same line from Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) on my TV. I smiled so big. That’s part of baseball’s magic. You can’t explain how it binds families. But it does. At least my family.

One of these days, I just may have to walk down the street to the Little League Park and see what’s up.

field of dreams)

 

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