Beautiful child

At a recent meeting of educators, I heard a woman speak of her child’s transition to a new school. The child came home bubbling with excitement on Day One:

“Mom, my teacher looks like me!”

This is the first time her child ever had a teacher of the same race, the woman said. In fact, she went on to say, with quick finger quotes for emphasis, her child was “the only ‘beautiful’ child in the class last year.”

I understood what she meant: Her child was the only one of their race in that classroom.

I’m a mom. I know the protective, fiery love for one’s own, above all else. A proverb comes to mind: “There’s only one beautiful child in the world and every mother has it.” This mom didn’t say there’d been a problem at the previous school but as an educator I know that a sense of belonging and identity are vital to learning. I know that every school and classroom should strive to value, support, empower, and celebrate each child (as well as the adults). For that is how children learn to value, support, empower, and celebrate each other. That’s humanity at its best.

Which is why, as a human being hearing these words from another, a mother and educator, I came away with one heavy, lingering question:

Aren’t ALL children beautiful?

Tell me something good

Don't believe everything

Image: John D. Fisher, street photographer. CC BY-SA

When I found this photo of a man reading the newspaper, I noted that his pet pelican has grabbed a corner. I imagined the bird saying to the man, somewhat dryly as it peers at the page, Tell me something good.

It just so happens that a teacher colleague recently wore a shirt to school bearing these same words. Tell me something good.

“Well,” I said to her, “This is something good: Summer’s almost here.”

She laughed. At the time she was was returning her end-of-grade testing materials. “I hope people tell me something good all day.”

I began to think about how different a day could be if people continually heard something good from others.

Vacation’s almost here.

The test is over.

I enjoy working with my colleagues.

I admire your work.

I found twenty dollars in the pocket of a coat I was about to throw out!

Systems and society can make us pretty acclimated to the negative. Deficits, grievances, outrageous behavior, all that’s broken, all that’s not working. Things that beat down rather than build up.

But good stuff’s always happening out there.

All the time, everywhere.

A stranger stopped to change my tire this morning. He was tired, on his way home from working the night shift, but he said that being able to help someone is a blessing. 

I got a well-written thank you note from a young person.

Another Triple Crown winner!

It’s all about hope, really. A reminder that there’s much to keep striving for in the hard grind of life. And that it’s worth it.

Tell me something good.

Please.

Why I Write 2017

The Light is On

The Light is on. Susanne NilssonCC BY-SA

Write the things which thou hast seen and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter.

Revelation 1:19

I write to celebrate the strange adventure of life.

I write to relive moments too precious to forget.

I write to light the way for the children, so that they will find their own writing paths.

I write to clear the clutter in my mind, to ease the ache in my soul – and to encourage others to do the same.

I write to set my imagination free, to create worlds, to discover what happens there.

I write because characters pop into my head and need a place to be.

I write because mental images materialize, insisting that they have meanings, and that their meanings matter.

I write because I am a warrior. I will defend what I believe.

I write because I believe writing is a transcendent, transformative force.

I write to celebrate having loved and been loved

because love and words never die.

I write because words are in my life’s blood, always flowing, arranging, rearranging, singing a story

that really has

no end.

*******

 Another celebration: This is the 100th post on Lit Bits and Pieces.

So we beat on

fitzgerald-grave

In the summer of 2013, my older son and I embarked on what we now call The Dead Writers Tour. The Great Gatsby film, newly released, was creating a resurgence of interest in the novel and F. Scott Fitzgerald himself. My son had just completed his second year teaching high school social studies, his favorite portion of which is the Jazz Age; he had even begun coordinating his history lessons with the English classes’ reading of Gatsby and teaching his students how to dance the Charleston.

Perhaps it was our shared loved of literature and writing, or the joy of the whole summer lying before us, teachers on the loose, that beckoned us like the green light beckoned Jay Gatsby. Perhaps the movie was the impetus for adventure, capturing the zeitgeist and ending, as the novel does,  with my son’s favorite literary quote:

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Fitting, indeed, for a young history teacher who was born by a bay (albeit one in Virginia, not New York).

“You know, Mom,” said my son, as we left the cinema, “That quote is on Fitzgerald’s grave.”

“Is it, now,” I mused. “As much as you love it, you ought to go take a picture and put it up in your classroom.”

The light in his eyes was instantaneous. Out came the phone to research the grave’s location: Rockville, Maryland. How far is that from home in North Carolina? A quick check in Apple Maps: Right at four hours.

“That’s a day trip,” I said. “I’ll come with you. It will be our summer celebration kick-off.”

So, on a mid-June morning, we left long before daylight. We ate breakfast while it was still dark, chattering about our teaching accomplishments that year and our dreams about writing, lamenting the constraints of time in the daily grind of making a living. The hours passed quickly, despite the epic traffic snafu of D.C. Once on the other side, however, we sailed right into Rockville.

The cemetery is at a Catholic church in the midst of bustling city streets. After navigating such noise and chaos, I was not expecting utter silence on entering the graveyard. It was like a cosmic mute button was suddenly pressed, or that I had passed through a portal from one world to another. The city receded at once; all I could hear was a faint shivering of tree leaves overhead in the breeze, oddly cool for June, and the occasional flap of little American flags, remnants of Memorial Day, at the graves of veterans.

How incredibly peaceful, I thought.

“There it is,” whispered my son, pointing.

Fitzgerald was easy to find; his grave was the most adorned. As we approached, a brown rabbit hopped out of our path to a more remote patch of sun-dappled grass where it could nibble, undisturbed. At at the foot of his grave a flag commemorated Fitzgerald’s World War I service. On the headstone, the author’s full name signifies an even deeper connection to the flag: his famous cousin wrote the lyrics to the “Star-Spangled Banner.” I reveled in having my own first name in common with these writers and Fitzgerald’s daughter, buried nearby. A pot of daisies had been placed by the headstone, a nod to the love of Jay Gatsby’s life. Most interesting of all is that Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, who was at least part of the inspiration for the character of Daisy, is buried with him in the same grave.

Any student of F. Scott Fitzgerald knows his struggles, that he was always teetering on the brink of financial ruin, that he and Zelda lived a frenzied life, that both of their deaths were sudden and tragic, him with a heart attack in his forties and her a few years after, in a fire at the mental hospital where she was a patient. Fitzgerald never knew The Great Gatsby would become the beloved American icon that it is.

We stood there in the stillness, my son and I, drinking in the sight, lost in our own thoughts. After a bit, we took the pictures.

One or the other of us sighed. I am not sure which.

“What do you want to do now?” asked my son.

I looked up at the sky. The day was golden, still young; we had time, perhaps, for another adventure.

“You know,” I grinned, “Baltimore is only forty-five minutes farther. Poe is buried there.”

My son chuckled. He took one last look at the final Gatsby lines etched on the weathered granite slab. “All right, Mom. Let’s go.”

So we beat on.

Reflect: What literary works or quotes strike a deep chord in you? Why?

-Happy Birthday this week, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Lit legacy

 

 

Kobo

I love words because of my grandmother.

It’s a simple thing, really, to gather a child on your lap with a book open for the little eyes to see,  and read aloud as if time and duties and all the other business of life do not matter. In truth, none of those things matter more than creating a literate legacy for a child.

Did Grandma know the far-reaching effects these moments would have? She wasn’t a teacher. She just loved to read, and I caught it from her long before I ever started school. Over and over she read The Squirrel Twins to me, the adventures of Chitter and Chatter, immortalized in rhyme:

There were two little squirrels, who lived in a tree

As happy as two little squirrels could be…

She chuckled at the illustrations every time. Cozy there in her arms, enveloped in the light fragrance of her Avon sachet, the cadence of her voice seeped deep into my brain. One day I surprised her by taking the book from her hands and reciting every word on every page:

And this is the song they sang on the way,

“What a hippity-happity-hoppity day!”

“My goodness!”

“What, Grandmama?”

“You memorized all the words!”

I knew what was coming because of the repeated readings, connecting the visual story with the simple pattern of the rhyme before I could actually read the print. It’s such a simple thing: What was poured in came pouring back out.

She poured in so much more than words – the love of words, the love of story, eventually the love of writing. My grandfather retired when I was five years old. He and Grandma moved “back home” to eastern North Carolina, leaving me behind on the Virginia peninsula. “It was the hardest thing I ever had to do,” she said years later. Determined to stay connected, she began writing letters to me. I was soon old enough to write back, and when I told her that my dad (her son) complained about my using up his postage stamps, Grandma promptly sent a letter containing a book of stamps so that “you can write to me whenever you want.” I could almost see the defiant twist of her mouth when I read that line. Every summer when I came to stay for a few weeks with my grandparents, the first item on Grandma’s agenda was taking me to the tiny, musty town library where I checked out more books than I could carry. Nothing was ever deemed off-limits or inappropriate. I was completely free to read what I wanted, as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted.

When Grandma died, I inherited her piano, which now belongs to my musician son, and twenty-five years worth of diaries in which she recorded the minutiae of her days. In those pages, all those we loved and lost are still alive, the grievances of the time are now hysterically funny, almost sitcom-worthy, and her prayers for my teenage self are yet another heart-wrenching reminder of the lasting power of words.

She was a gift, my grandmother. A priceless jewel. Her name, in fact, was Ruby. Of all the things in life for which I am thankful, one of the greatest is that Ruby read.

Reflect: How are you helping light the literate way for the children in your life? Who lit the way for you? How might you return thanks?