All in for the kids

In the interview
the candidate said
we don’t get credit
for all we’ve endured
on behalf of kids
in these past two years

and apologized
for the sudden tears

every one of which
surfaces from depths

immeasurable
a soul subjected
to intense pressure
yet having withstood
high temperatures
beyond describing

the weight of the world
in every teardrop

glittering brighter
and more costly than
the rarest diamond

for they’re evidence
of love resounding
courage rebounding
in five wondrous words:
“I still want to teach”

Eye Don’t Cry. corner of art. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

It’s all about the journey

Flipping through my planner today, scheduling even more things to be done before school is out in June, I discover this quote…

We go through things we never imagined but it may lead us to places we never dreamed.

For just a fraction, a breath, the brokenness of things diminishes…

I could write of this school year’s hardships on colleagues, with colleagues, on families, and on children most of all…

of COVID still rearing its tiny invisible head in the community…

of young and beautiful creatures that have died…

of incomprehensible suffering and loss…

but I will write instead of lush green moments, the “birdiest” spring I’ve ever known, an abundance of wings and chatter and song each day, so many things I’ve never seen before, like a pair of great blue herons flying low over the road from pond to brush…

my son arriving at home, placing his baby daughter in my arms, her tiny sweet hand reaching to pat my face as she drinks from her bottle…

a newness that is more than seasonal, invoking the eternal like shafts of sunlight in shadowed places…

for just a fraction, a breath, I have a sense of undoing, of forests, animals, people restored, rejoicing, the Earth itself laughing, the whole atmosphere charged with absolution, pure, deep, and complete…a bright glimmering, a pulled curtain quickly falling back into place.

It is enough.

I turn the pages and keep writing on my tomorrows.

Write more

I started this blog in March of 2016 because I knew I needed to write more. At the time I was leading writing workshop training for elementary teachers and teaching writing lessons across grade levels; I would go on to co-design workshops for teachers as writers. Although I’ve loved the craft all my life, I wasn’t always an active writer; if I was going to encourage others to write, that needed to change. One must walk the walk… I came across the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Story Challenge too late that year, but I’ve been participating every year thereafter. I didn’t stop writing with the daily March challenge. I kept going on SOLSC Tuesdays. I found other online groups and wrote with them, too… and I kept going when my district moved away from the writing workshop model and stopped providing opportunities for teacher-writers. I kept on going when life took sharp turns. I kept writing because memories started flowing and I didn’t want to turn them off. I kept writing as a means of choosing hope over despair and because I kept coming across interesting things to try. I began recording ideas and dreams in notebooks, all the time thinking about what I might write next…for there’s so much more to write. So many more stories to tell. I love every minute, even when the writing is hardest. I have learned that just beyond that concrete wall is a garden of plenty, if I can just find the hidden door…

I don’t think I would have kept going if I hadn’t been part of a writing community that uplifts, encourages, and inspires one another.

You are the key.

I owe a debt of gratitude to all at Two Writing Teachers.

Fellow Slicers… don’t quit now.

Write more.

When you need a challenge
write more
When challenges are too much
write more
When you need silence
write more

When silence is too much
write more
When you need to know yourself
write more
When knowing yourself is too much
write more

When you need to remember
write more
When remembering is too much
write more
When your heart is full
write more
When your heart is empty
write more

When you are grateful
write more
for you cannot be too grateful
When you are out of ideas
write more
and more ideas will come

When endings come
write more
and find beginnings

My pencil pouch

*******

Thus concludes the daily Slice of Life Story Writing Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. Thank you for thirty-one days of joy.

Tomorrow is the first day of National Poetry Month; I’ll write more in VerseLove at Ethical ELA.

The feather

on the second anniversary of school shutdowns due to COVID-19

Bleak days. A long, rain-spattered, windswept season, gray as ashes, as stones, just as hard, cold, and immovable. Day to day to day the green promise of spring seems like a dream barely remembered; naked tree branches twist skyward as if beseeching the heavens for renewal…

We go through the motions, automatons numbed by a pandemic not quite past and the ripple effect of unprovoked war on the world stage, as if we’ve somehow fallen through a wormhole to eight decades ago… what year IS this?

I am tired, my colleagues at school tell one another. So tired. Some don’t know if they’re coming back next year. Some don’t know if they’re going to stay in education at all. Our principal is leaving in four weeks.

The children have seemed shell-shocked most of this year. Maybe I seem the same way to them, especially now that masks are optional and I find myself not recognizing some of them; I’ve never seen them without masks before. I don’t know their faces below their eyes.

As I walked the hallways last week, I had a sense of dragging myself over a finish line, except that there is no finish line. Not now, not yet…

But even in the bleakest, rain-spattered, windswept season, when gray goes grayer still, bits of brightness are always swirling. Maybe as tiny as a feather, a soft semiplume shed from a creature with the gift of flight. It might appear to be half one thing and half another… it might have the appearance of dark, wispy, wayward hair as well as a tapered tip dipped in fiery red, altogether like an artist’s brush with which we might, we just might, begin to dispel despair by painting our moments as we will…

So much symbolism in a feather. In the bird that releases it.

It is said that when cardinals appear, angels are near.

I don’t know about that.

I just know a cardinal feather is a symbol of life, hope, and restoration. And courage. And love. And sacrifice…

Falling from the grayest sky
Ethereal, riding the wind
Alluding to nearness of angels
Tiny trace of a nearby cardinal that
Has lost a bit of his insulation
Ephemeral, perhaps, to him
Restorative tincture, to me

Semiplume cardinal feather photographed by my friend,
E. Johnson, 3/11/2022.

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.

Lost and found

It’s a delicate rose-gold chain with crystal bezels. I don’t know its value, but my oldest son gave it to me some years ago, so to me it is priceless. I wear it every day on my right arm where it frequently catches the light and reminds me of him.

The last thing I do whenever I leave the house is pull it out from under my sleeve (if I am wearing long sleeves or a coat, and as temperatures were in the thirties this morning, I was wearing both).

When I reached for it today, the bracelet wasn’t there.

I had a busy morning ahead; I couldn’t stop to look for it.

I had to carry on without it.

In my mind, I retraced steps. I would look for it when I got home.

And so I did.

Wasn’t in the bed (I’d made it, surely I would have seen the bracelet if it was lying there).

Wasn’t on the floor, not anywhere that I could see. I used my phone flashlight so the bracelet would shine in the light…

I checked my closet, checked the sleeve of my pajamas and my warm red robe.

Not there.

Even checked my husband’s car; we went out for Mexican last night.

No.

“Do you think you lost it at the restaurant?” queried my husband.

“No, I didn’t even take my coat off and the sleeves are fastened close at the wrists. I don’t think it could have fallen out.”

It’s just a little bracelet but it’s irreplaceable.

My boy gave it to me.

Retracing, retracing…

I am a pretty good finder of things. I can usually retrace enough or recall what I was doing well enough to locate a lost thing. I ask myself: What makes sense?

Back to the closet.

It made sense that the bracelet might have come off when I changed out of my robe and pajamas, which I left folded on top of a storage box in there. I had already checked, but…it’s what made the most sense.

Shined my flashlight (again) on the closet floor.

Shook out the pjs.

No.

Shook the fuzzy red robe, ran my hand through the sleeve.

No.

Shined my flashlight on top of the storage box…

A glint of rose-gold, there in a crevice.

Found.

It’s safely back on my arm now.

So, I haven’t always been able to find a lost thing. Speaking of my boy, he lost a precious item when he was small. It’s a silver basketball pendant that belonged to his grandfather, who played the game in high school. His name is etched onto the pendant along with the year: 1935. My husband was wearing it on a silver chain when we first met. He explained that it belonged to his dad, who died when he was twelve. He said: “If I ever have a son, I am going to name him after my father.” And so, a few years later, our boy was born. He was named for my husband’s father. And he was given the basketball pendant on a silver chain when he was too young, really, to be mindful of it. One day it disappeared. We retraced our steps, hundreds of times, over the days, weeks, months. We have moved a couple of times since then. The pendant has never resurfaced. It’s silly, perhaps, to mourn for a thing, but such a loss is more than material; it’s for the history and person and love attached to it…I prayed many times that the little old basketball pendant from 1935, lost in the 1990s, might still find its way back to us someday.

It hasn’t yet.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t…

Anniversary of twelves

On the twelfth day of December, back in the Great Depression, my grandparents were married. My father was born the following October in a tenant farmhouse.

That’s my grandmother’s wedding band in the photo. It’s not the one she received on her wedding day. That ring was thin; it wore “clean through,” Grandma said. Broke in half due to overuse, in the days when washing machines had wringers, in an era of canning and preserving, in the time of sharecropping cotton and looping tobacco.

This is Grandma’s replacement ring. She had her initials and Granddaddy’s engraved inside, along with their wedding date. A wide gold band, made to last.

It is my ring now. I wear it every day.

Often thinking of December 12th.

For it’s not the only anniversary.

Almost thirty years after my grandparents married, their youngest daughter got married. On the same day.

She was eighteen. A senior in high school.

Her husband, my uncle, was going to Vietnam.

I went to that wedding. In utero. I wasn’t born for another five months. My presence was obvious; my mother couldn’t fit into the dress she planned to wear. She had to rush out and buy a new one that day.

My young aunt mailed black-and-white baby pictures of me to my uncle on his tours of duty.

He brought these pictures back home with him.

Fast forward three decades…

On December 12th, exactly sixty years to the day of my grandparents’ wedding, my husband and I learn that we will have another child.

A second son. Our last child.

My grandparents lived to see him and know him. To tell him they loved him, like they always told me.

It is a day of remembrance for me, December 12th. A deep and quiet knowing, a dark-blue glittering gem that I carry in myself in the middle of the holiday season. Meaningful. Valuable. Priceless.

I think of the long-ago Decembers. Family gatherings, celebrations. Layers of blessing. A blanket unfolding again and again to encompass the next generation.

I am a grandparent now; the mantle is passed.

It is one comprised of faith. Of courage and commitment. In it lies the story of persevering against unknowable odds. The Depression. Vietnam. In it I find strength for living now. I know that what keeps us pressing on is having someone to press on for.

Numerologists might wax eloquent on the significance of the number twelve, in all its powerful associations. We mark our time by twelves on the clock, by months in the year…there are ancient connotations such as twelve Olympians, twelve disciples, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve of days of Christmas… twelves go on and on. Twelve is considered the number of perfection, cosmic order, completion. Just now I recall that our second son was born in our twelfth year of marriage. I am not a numerologist, only a poet contemplating patterns. Not a mathematician, just a wonderer. A believer. Pythagoras is said to have said: “There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres.”

I sense a geometry in dates and a musicality to years…a song of life and the living of it. For me, this is the lesson of 12/12. There’s something of eternity in it.

Which makes perfect sense, if twelve is God’s number.

The song is love.

*******

Many thanks to Two Writing Teachers and the Slice of Life Story Challenge community.
And to readers…you’re all part of the story and the song.

March 13th

Friday the 13th of March, 2020, when school dismissed,
we had no idea we wouldn’t be returning.

Not to the building.

Not to life as we knew it.

Not to teaching as we knew it.

We left mountains of work undone behind us.

We faced mountains looming before us, the likes of which we’d never seen.

A mountain of my masks

In the maelstrom of so much change, we learned.

We learned we could.

We learned that some things, the important things,
never change.

Message from a student on my link

Saturday the 13th of March, 2021: Most of us have had our first vaccination and are getting the second.

We are preparing for all students to return to campus
on Monday,
except the children of parents who have opted
to keep them virtual until June.

Last March 13th, we thought it would only be for a week.
Maybe two.

It’s been exactly one year.

Today, March 13th, let us celebrate:

We did enough.

We had enough.

We were enough.

We are enough.

It is enough, knowing our why.

The children. Always our why.

Just sayin’. This was shared via text among my colleagues.

*******

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 13, I am writing around a word beginning with letter m. Just so happens to coincide with the anniversary.

What’s in a word

Perhaps you have taken part in the “one little word” tradition for the New Year as a means of living more intentionally and reflectively, maybe letting it guide your writing. At the beginning of 2020, I had a word in mind for the year.

Reclamation.

Here’s what I wrote, ten weeks before COVID-19 shut us down:

Moving forward becomes an act of will, a revised determination to do what you can, what’s most important, for that given day. Recovering ground, inch by precious inch.

Whether life is suspended, or stagnant, or spinning out of control, we still have choices. Maybe it’s resting more. Writing more. Reading more, singing more. Praying more. Maybe it’s seeking help. Maybe it’s restoring relationships, or releasing them. Or creating something beautiful, meaningful. What we want to do and what we’re actually able to do in a day, a week, a month, a year, may be vastly different, but reclamation doesn’t happen all at once. It happens in determined, consistent bits by bits. It is deliberate and intentional.

At the end of 2020, I have to reflect on what my original vision of reclamation was, and what it became.

Life suspended, stagnant, spinning out of control. At the time, those words were mirroring 2019, when my husband was recovering from cardiac arrest and two heart surgeries. We spent weeks at the hospital in late summer. I never imagined the pandemic lying just ahead…moving forward becomes an act of will, a revised determination to do what you can, what’s most important, for that given day. Caring for my husband took precedence over returning to work when school resumed that fall. When I did return, I fought a daily battle to catch up, to hit any kind of stride, as 2020 dawned. In February I broke my foot. In mid-March, the governor closed our schools due to COVID. In May, George Floyd was killed. America erupted. COVID continued erupting across the world. The election…really, one runs out of words. Life suspended, stagnant, spinning out of control…moving forward becomes an act of will, a revised determination to to what you can, what’s most important, for that given day.

Reclamation, I wrote, involves choices. Both large and small. Every day.

One of my original intents for the year resembled a true environmental reclamation project: repairs and improvements around the house. Did I succeed? As I was home a lot more than ever before, thanks to the pandemic, yes, I accomplished a good bit. There’s just always more to do. One thing (don’t we know) often leads to another.

In 2020 I meant to write more. Did I? Most definitely. It wasn’t the type of writing I envisioned. I thought I would finally complete some things I started in years past. My blog post productivity increased. I ended up writing a lot more poetry than I have in decades. What does that say about the power of poetry in coping with powerlessness, inertia, darkness, even despair? Psychologists avow its therapeutic benefits. Poetry-writing invokes calmness, healing, strength. It calls to the spirit in a unique way. There’s something about the rhythms and breaks, something in the metaphor and imagery, in the cadence, the musicality, that soothes the soul and brings release. Not to mention the good old-fashioned value of hard work in trying to hammer a thing out, especially if there’s a desire to create something beautiful, meaningful.

Perhaps the most interesting take I had on “reclamation” in January 2020 had to do with teaching—before the scramble of completely reinventing it:

I write this not only for myself, but for other educators and instructional coaches struggling for clarity and a foothold in an ever-changing, shifting field: Beware the great chasm between theory and application, between programs that are packaged as “the magic bullet” and cost a pretty penny, but fail to deliver. Be aware of the great gulf between data that’s visible and the stories of human children, not so visible. Push back all that encroaches on growing the children, that which would inhibit their love of learning. Reclaim that for them. Know them and their families and their stories. Know your colleagues and their stories.

—I bolded the part I find most haunting, in retrospect. When I wrote those words I had no clue that children would be learning from home for months, that families would be scrambling to manage it, that devices and hotspots would have to be distributed on a massive scale, that people would lose jobs and loved ones to COVID, that food insecurity would become so widespread, that crisis and survival would keep some students from their learning, let alone a love of it.

What remains true, more so than ever, is that data can’t capture it all. We do need to know families and their stories. We need to know each other’s. From what else are compassion and empathy born? How else will we move forward, together? Reclamation in this sense involves pushing away whatever encroaches and consumes. It involves building something new, taking back what is being lost, reasserting rights…I am thinking of teachers now as much as of students, submerged by systems, structures, checklists, machinery. Of reclaiming a sense of humanity from processes, protocols, and programming which are, in the end punitive. When, if not now? Was a time ever “riper”? I wrote: It’s hard daily work, reclamation. Progress is slow to see for a time. The point being, start.

I also wrote: We reclaim the very heart of our humanity when we share our stories.

I have never been more grateful for the outlet of writing and the writing communities that feel like home to me. Writing taps an inner strength we may not realize is there; sharing the stories knits us to one another by our heartstrings. In a time of distance, isolation, stress and anxiety, with spiking mental health issues, connection is ever more vital. Therapists say that one of the best things a person can do to reduce stress is to write or journal (writing therapy and poetry therapy are real things). In the action of framing thoughts, or facing fears, we collect emotional resources, resilience, and creativity lying dormant or hidden as we wormhole our way through. One more line from my pre-COVID January 2020 vision of reclamation: In this day of restorative practices and social-emotional wellness, why are people not writing more? Here’s a point to ponder: a study by the National Literacy Trust in the UK (June 2020) says that children are turning to imaginative writing more than ever as an outlet for self-expression, creativity, and well-being, now that they have time and freedom to do so…

Life is, after all, writing us. In the words of Albert S. Rossi, clinical psychologist and Christian educator, which I’ve read before and rediscovered this week: We don’t live life. Life lives us.

As the page turns from 2020 to 2021, we’ll see where life leads. It may be in charge of the story, but we are in charge of the craftsmanship.

On that note, I am thinking twice about choosing a word for the new year. Maybe I’ll just see what it wants to say for itself.

In the meantime, resting more, reading more, singing more, praying more absolutely helps. Seek more help when needed. Be more gentle with yourself (a lesson I am still trying to learn).

Keep on writing alongside life.

*******

with a debt of gratitude to Two Writing Teachers and the ongoing Slice of Life Story Challenge which is, above all, a joy

and to the gathering at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog, a divining rod of inspiration

December dawn

I wake
after having slept
without rest
mind weary
of turning, turning


I throw off
the heavy blanket
of night
of darkness
to stand shivering
on the chilly cusp


there is no sound
just hush


and my heart grasps
before my eyes glimpse
the glimmering

before I know it
I’ve thrown open the door
to stand
barefoot in the frost
still nightgowned
as birds glide high above
round and round
tracing infinity signs

against rose-gold clouds
in silence
in ceremonial welcome
of day


first light, ever bright
parts the pink veils
a sun so, so old
yet so golden-new

peeks through

and I think
of beginnings
not endings
of possibility
not inadequacy

of movement
not stasis

there are no words
only the distant
occasional rustle
of feathered wings
from on high


and in that

I rest



*******


with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life invitation to write
and to all who gather here to encourage one another
on the writerly journey

Trees know

Yesterday they came back.

Just a few of them.

The others will have their turn, soon. For now they wait in the wings and on the screens…

In a month when masks are normally worn for celebrating, they came masked for protection—of others.

Several of us stood as sentinels in the misty gray morning, waiting, also masked. Gloved, thermometers ready, when the first bus rolled up and its door opened to release three children.

Another bus carried only one.

But when the first child passed inspection and entered the building, the gathered staff cheered. Applauded. Like welcoming a hero home.

They are heroes.

These kindergarteners, these first, second, third graders in their colorful masks, quietly navigating the building, sitting socially-distanced (alone) at lunch… I suspect these images are etched deep in my brain for the remainder of my days.

I saw this verse on a StoryPeople print by Brian Andreas (1993):

When I die, she said, I’m coming back as a tree with deep roots & I’ll wave my leaves at the children every morning on their way to school & whisper tree songs at night in their dreams. Trees with deep roots know about the things that children need.

I think about how trees

help us breathe

cleanse the air

provide refuge

absorb storms

soften hard edifices

beautify

welcome

are calming

are cooling

change with the seasons, yet remain constant

color the world

Tree leaves do whisper. Trees talk to each other (they do). They live in groups and look out for one another.

They carry the stories they live within them. You can read them, in their rings.

I cannot decide which is best, to be the tree with deep roots, waving my leaves at the children on the way to school, singing in their dreams…or to be the child, asleep, hearing the tree-song…

I stand, a sentinel in the gray silence of the empty bus loop, masked, gloved, thermometer in hand, watching bits of red and yellow and fiery orange swirling through the air as if stirred by an unseen hand… tree confetti, celebrating life, letting go in order to hold on through the coming winter, who knows how dark or cold, and I’m seized by the sudden desire to run into those dancing colors…

—I am bits of both.

*******

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the invitation to share on Slice of Life Tuesdays and for also knowing about the things that children need. They, too, carry their stories within them…

Photo: Donnie Ray Jones. CC BY