Expectations

As a literacy coach and intervention team facilitator, I am tasked with communicating expectations of my administration and the district to my colleagues. It’s a tricky position (correction: these are tricky positions. Plural. Sometimes I feel like Bartholomew Cubbins, wearing 500 hats). At present, my fellow educators are, in the wake of COVID, undergoing state-mandated Science of Reading training while adjusting to new curriculum and new leadership. It all comes with new expectations.

Truth be told, however, many of these expectations aren’t new: Problem-solving as a professional community, finding what we need as educators to give the students what they need. Bridging gaps. Collaborative planning. Collective responsibility. None of these are new; they just feel new if they’ve not been done effectively before…the bottom line being the determination of this is what the kids really need; how do we make it happen?

It’s formidable challenge, in a time where there are many needs, and when educational philosophies, beliefs, and mindsets clash. I recently wrote about endurance (from a spiritual point of view). This new school year follows one of extreme exhaustion. We will not endure without leaning on one another. We will not build our strength in isolation. We will not succeed without stamina. Or vision. Where there is no vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18). Grappling with expectations is, well, expected. Everything, everything, everything rests on one of two beliefs: it can be done or it can’t.

I believe it can.

Yesterday my granddaughter visited. The hummingbird feeder rings I ordered for us had just arrived. Perfect timing. We took them out of the package, washed them, made a tiny batch of sugar water, and filled them. Off to the yard we trotted to stand with our arms resting on the fence near one of my two feeders where a handful of hummingbirds compete for their nectar throughout the day.

You can see for yourself, in the photo, my granddaughter thinking I don’t know about this…yet there’s a layer of hope and fear in her expression: Will the hummingbirds actually come drink from my ring? Will I be scared?

After a while: How long is this going to take?

The secret, my love, is patience and persistence. If it doesn’t work the first time, we will try again, and again. Hummingbirds have come to drink from the rings of other people in other places; they will eventually do so with us. Keep trying. Believe. I will stand with you until it does.

Oh, right.

I started off talking about teaching, didn’t I.

Expression of uncertain expectation. After she left, I went out again when the hummers were more active. A couple of them hovered nearby, considering me and my outstretched, ringed hand (hummingbirds are highly intelligent and curious). If they come to me…they will come to my granddaughter. I will see if can make it happen for her.

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with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge

Hummingbird observations

It all started last month when I saw one hummingbird in the backyard, out by the pines.

She appeared from nowhere, hovering stock-still in the air across the yard, directly facing my son and me as if to consider what manner of beings we are before she darted away—poof. Perhaps it’s just my overactive imagination, but I felt like some sort of message was in this magical appearing. Something the bird wanted…

I bought a feeder.

In a day or so, I had a bird. Or two.

Then there seemed to be three. All females.

Eventually a male showed up with his gorgeous fiery throat. From a distance he looked like a flying ember. He preferred coming early in the morning or around suppertime. It’s almost like His Tiny Royal Highness was letting his Royal Nectar-Tasters go before him to be sure the stuff wasn’t tainted. I cannot say, however, that he was any match for the females in regard to which was most vicious in the dive-bomber approach of driving all others away from the sugar water.

Hummingbirds are contentious creatures. Terribly territorial.

I’ve learned there’s a scientific reason for this: Their metabolism requires them to feed almost constantly. Hummingbird hearts have been recorded, I read, at 1200 beats per minute.

I bought another feeder.

As of mid-August, there’s a squadron of hummers at my feeders, so much so that the original feeder hanging on the kitchen window has to be refilled daily; I had to buy more sugar. I know that ruby-throats (the only kind of hummingbird that breeds in the eastern U.S.) are supposed to start migrating to central Mexico. The males go first, in early August, which explains their current scarcity, I think. Females wait a while longer. I’ve also read that some hummingbirds stay in residence all year. We shall see… I have learned to recognize some individual females by their different markings: one with black speckles all down her pale breast and belly, one with a pure ivory belly and a brighter, iridescent green back, one with a darker head, one with a lighter head and pale stripe on top, and one with a precious, tiny dot of red at her throat, like a lady bedecked in a ruby pendant. When I opened the blinds one morning last week, there was Little Ruby, hovering in the gray dawn; we were so startled by each other that we both froze for a split second in mutual awe (wonder on my part, likely fear on hers) before she zipped away.

At this point I must mention my grandmother. Hummingbirds and cardinals were her favorite birds, perfect symbolism for a woman named Ruby. I saw my first hummingbird by the spirea bushes in her yard one summer. The loud buzz of the beating wings alarmed me—was this a big bug coming after me?—but Grandma Ruby’s childlike delight quickly allayed my fear. And then there was nothing but enchantment for this tiny, dazzling fairy of a creature, glittering like an emerald, my own birthstone, in the sun.

Perhaps that is why I took my six-year-old granddaughter out with refilled feeders yesterday:

The hummingbirds hide in the crape myrtle and cheep at me whenever I take their feeders down.

They do? Why, Franna?

They just want their nectar. They are saying ‘What are you doing with my food!

I haven’t ever heard them cheeping.

Today you will.

And so, for just a moment, I held the favored window feeder out at arm’s length as my granddaughter stood by, very still. Two hummers appeared instantaneously, cheeping competitively before hovering, suspended in the air, eyeing me, uncertain, their whirring wings as loud as electric propeller fans. Each took a tentative drink before whizzing off to the pines out back.

I hung the feeder and my granddaughter said, Quick, let’s go in before all those wings come back!

I chuckled, remembering my first experience with the intimidating sound when I was about her age. We darted for the door. As we entered the house, she said: I heard them cheeping!

And then, before I could reply: Franna, look!

She pointed to the window, where a hummer was perched on the very top of the feeder.

Well, that is something new, I said. I haven’t seen any of them sitting up there before.

My husband, sitting at the kitchen table preparing a sermon, said: That bird was perched on the feeder hanger the whole time you were fixing the sugar water.

I am sure she was one of the two who dared to take a drink when I was holding the feeder.

For the rest of the day, this little bird perched, fed, flew off in skirmishes with other tiny feathered Amazons, and returned. Whenever I looked at the window, she was there, looking in, occasionally fluffing her feathers. I am not sure if she’s nominated herself Queen of This Feeder or if she’s simply curious—hummingbirds are known to be extremely so—and is watching me as I play with my granddaughters and cook supper.

I suppose the ultimate question is who’s observing whom.

And what we are learning about each other in the process.

Didn’t realize, until I reviewed the day’s photos, that I happened to catch her with her tongue extruded. Every minute with hummingbirds filled with absolute wonder. I have christened her Lilibet, the nickname of Queen Elizabeth (since she seems to be reigning over the feeder) and also in honor of my great-aunt Elizabeth, Grandma Ruby’s sister. I wrote about Aunt Elizabeth’s hummingbirds a couple of weeks ago: Solitary existence.

Next goals: 1) Get a good photo of Little Ruby and 2) Invest in hummingbird feeder rings for my granddaughter and me to wear…can we stand still enough for them to come drink from our hands? Will they actually do it?

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with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge

Lion

Look at my mane! Look at my teeth!
I‘m a most magnificent beast!
Only, Little Artist, could you at least
Name me and draw me a body beneath?

“Lion’s Mane” by Scout, age 6.

To me the lion seems quite happy to have been drawn thus far.
Although its expression might be a little sketchy...

Return of the retro pet

My six-year-old granddaughter found the comics section from the Sunday newspaper I recently purchased (first time since I can’t say when). After poring over the funnies, she asked:

“Franna, can we do the crossword puzzle?”

Girl after my own heart…

“Sure, let me get a pen!”

On her own, she figured out ache for ‘Dull pain’ and treat for ‘Dog’s favorite word, probably’.

Then she asked: “What’s ‘Digital pet of the ’90s’?”

“Oh! Mister had one when he was little,” I replied (Mister is what she currently calls my son. This kid…). “I haven’t thought of it in years. A Tamagotchi.”

“Tamagotchi?! What is that?!”

I tried to explain.

Blank expression.

I looked it up and showed it to her on my phone.

She looked dubious.

There was only one logical thing to do….

It arrived today.

She picked it out (yes, they’re still out there; she chose one decorated like an ice cream cone).

She was, in a word, enraptured. Could hardly wait for the egg to hatch so she could figure out how to feed her Tamagotchi. And clean up after it. That was what puzzled her most when I was trying to explain how this thing….er, pet….works.

She’s a quick study in everything: “It wants my attention! Ohhhh nooo…it’s not happy! All its hearts are empty! Help! What do I do to make it happy?”

We tried to play a game with it but apparently we only made it mad.

Fortunately, Mister arrived around this time. With all the expertise of a previous Tamagotchi owner, he fed this digital pet of the ’90s a ton of snacks and filled all its hearts with happiness.

Then, with pure delight, my granddaughter cleaned up after it.

“When I am busy, you will have to Tamagotchi-sit,” she told my son, with authority.

I wonder if I am enjoying this too much…and if he remembers there’s an on/off switch…maybe I should remind him…

—Nah.

My granddaughter, waiting for the egg to hatch. By the time they left this evening, Tamagotchi had grown quite a bit and remained happy with all the attention it was getting (have fun with that, Son…).

Lingering

with thanks to Ruth for the inspiration at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog:
“Invite the reader to linger and feel unexpected emotions.”

There was a time, before COVID, when we lingered. Not endured, not withdrew, not withstood…lingering did not mean an unshakeable cough, unshakeable fear, unshakeable uncertainty.

We lingered because we wanted to make the moments stretch and last. With purpose, holding onto goldenness before it melted away in lengthening shadows, desiring just to be, to savor, to breathe, without words for naming the why, unaware except in the deepest part of subconscious self that everything is temporal. Everything is always imperceptibly changing. We change, the people and creatures we love change. They leave us, in one way or another. In certain moments before the leaving, be it theirs or our own, we linger, suspending the faint ticking of the clock on the wall of our existence.

Tonight, I lingered.

I discovered that winter lingers even on the cusp of July. Not like the witch’s enchanted Narnia (“Always winter but never Christmas; think of that”). My granddaughter wanted to watch a Christmas movie. Why not? And so we did. The hour was already late but in summer bedtimes do not matter as much (for her, anyway. I fight the good fight). Winter scenes rolled across the screen before us…an era long past, row houses standing dark in the evening, nightfall coming early, deserted streets coated in ice…for a few seconds, I was in that place, feeling the bitter bite of frigid air, the crunching under my feet, the barrenness settling into my bones. I remembered being a child in winter, walking outside, wondering at the stillness, the delicious desolation. Winter has a scent, a taste. A cleanness. A sharpness, unlike the crispness of fall. Both bracing and tiring. A paradox. Winter is halflight, chiaroscuro in gray, white, blue, and black. The stars shine crystal-bright in winter, nearer than ever.

—all this in a few seconds watching a Christmas movie on a lazy, balmy night, the last of June, when rabbits are sneaking from the woods into my yard to nibble their fill of fresh clover.

My granddaughter remained wide-eyed throughout the movie while I lapsed in and out of dreams. Then with the going-to-bed ritual of my reading her a story, she just so happened to choose a book in which the word lingering appears on the last page…

That is the magical way of that word.

Both beckoning and reminding.

For memories linger far longer than moments…

A winter night. Mourner. CC BY 2.0.

Imagination

When you are six
and visiting your Franna
you always check the candy dish

today you would find
miniature Reese’s Cups

and when you are tired
of playing Connect Four

you and your Franna
might build a tower
out of the checkers
in an ABABAB pattern

and you might fashion
a tiny crown
out of the gold Reese’s foil
and turn the licked-clean
ridged brown candy paper
into hair
that you place on top
of the checker tower

The Tall Queen,
you would say,
just as she falls
and splatters her checker parts
across the table

The Tall Queen
has fallen in battle!

you would exclaim

(methinks that may
be the influence
of your reading
Narnia books)

but at any rate,
a Shorter Queen seems to do
especially when you ask your Franna
for eyes and a mouth
and she gives you labels
and pens
so you can make them yourself

and in answer to your question:
No, I do not think her crown looks
too much like a Viking hat
although surely the Vikings
had queens,
just saying

(to me she looks like she stepped
right out of Wonderland)

but above all
I think the whole moral
of the story here
is that everything which enters
your realm
when you are six
has a purpose
and is
never wasted

Patch of earth

Sunny afternoon
visiting my son

my granddaughter
walks me out
to a patch
of dusty gray soil
shadowed by
the old live oak
not far from
the swingset

here, she says,
is where
we saw the turtle
laying eggs
then she
went away
into the woods

that is the way
of turtles, I say
she will not
come back

my granddaughter nods
and I recall
that her first word
was turtle

my son has placed
fluorescent stake flags
around this patch
of incubating earth

for the benefit
of his expectant
child

Not sure how many eggs are hidden here in this patch of earth so near my granddaughter’s playground.

Empty box turtle shell discovered by my son’s basement. The turtle died some time ago. Not the mother, but apparently she was also an eastern box turtle. Under good conditions, the eastern box turtle can live over a hundred years. It’s a symbol for patience and is also the state reptile of North Carolina.