Teachers Make a Lasting Impact

During a 45 minute elementary classroom observation today, I was treated to a theatrical, energetic ELA teacher with an obvious love for what she does.

The children, 23 of them, were dissecting their recent chapter of Treasure Island while learning about character development, building imagery with words, prequels vs. sequels, and how the opinions of others often hold more clout in society than actual fact — such as when authors use a quote from another writer on the cover of their book to gain credibility. Book reports on Roald Dahl and other fantastic authors were also on the day’s agenda.

The teacher, an adept story teller, held these children’s attention remarkably well the entire period as they discussed various English language concepts by sprinkling in pop cultural comparisons the children would easily grasp – such as Star Wars and Harry Potter – and engaging them in laughter, wit, and stories about their own lives.

During a bunny trail discussion of word imagery and the pictures we build in our minds as we read, the teacher told the class a story of how her own Grandmother (a retired, veteran teacher) always encouraged her to read as a young girl.

“I was in elementary when the first Harry Potter book came out,” the teacher told the class. “My Grandmother would buy me the books. And she made sure I read them first before I could see the movie. And I loved reading! And picturing Harry and Ron and Hermione. When the final Harry Potter movie came out in theaters, I was in college, and refused to go see it with my group of friends. Because I wanted to be with my Grandma. It was our thing. What we did together. I finally did go with my Grandma! ….and my friends tagged along.”

Hats off to this beloved Teacher-turned-Grandma who is STILL making an impact in the classroom long after she’s put away her own grade book!

As the children stood for lunch a few minutes later, I hesitantly did too as I had another observation scheduled immediately afterwards. But I didn’t actually want to leave. Can I go back to 3rd grade? I’ll request this teacher.

The Rhinestone Cowboy

Yesterday I took a road trip to Augusta, GA, with my Mom and Dad. And the best part of a road trip with 70somethings? Decades old memories that arise. Especially as we were squeezing through some big rigs doing 80 down I-20.

DAD: “Hey you think those truckers still talk on CBs?”

ME: “Hrmm…. it’s not 1978 anymore, Dad. They probably have apps for that now.”

DAD: “I’m serious! I miss my days of talking on the CB!”

ME: “I….really don’t know if they do or not. Hey, why would a fence man have a CB? You weren’t a truck driver.”

MOM: “Oh CBs were so popular long before cell phones. We had a few of them. Dad use to talk on it every time we went down to Daytona. At first it would frustrate him because nobody would talk to him. THEN he became the Rhinestone Cowboy…. I came up with that handle by the way…. and after that, everyone from here to St. Augustine kept him on the line.

DAD: :::eyes glazing into the very distant past::: “Heyyyy Rhinestone, you got them ears on? Whats your 10-20? How about the Smokey report up there? ….Boys, we just passed a blue light special… wall to wall…. Kojak with a Kodak on the side…. Copy that…”

MOM: “The Rhinestone Cowboy would get so much chatter on the CB we would have to turn it off to take a break!”

RHINESTONE: “I sure miss that. Those were some good times. It was a great way to travel.”

10-4, Dad. 10-4.

Live Together, Love Together

It was 5:15 pm on a cold Friday in early November.
I had spent about 4 hours at the kids’ school that day (2 different trips), with ever present 3 year old Juli by my side.
Kevin had just arrived home from his shift with the power company. I hadn’t seen him since the night before as he is always gone before I wake up at 6:45 am.
All four kids were in the backseat singing along to pop tunes. I heard giggles.
We were on the way to five year old Caleb’s last normal t-ball practice before the playoffs begin next week. The traffic was backed up.
My brain was tired. All of it. I asked him if we had any plans for this weekend besides the homecoming service we were invited to at a local church and Caleb’s Tball game afterwards on Sunday. I couldn’t remember.
“I don’t think so. I was really hoping we could just sleep tomorrow and do nothing,” he said.
“You’re that tired?”
“Yes.” He asked me if I was going to Nina’s house for Moms’ Night Out with some of my dearest friends after practice. He remembered it was on our shared iOS calendar.
I’d been debating that question all day. “No….. let’s stay together. Why don’t we take the kids to the new noodle bar down from the house?”
“A nudie bar? I don’t think those are very family friendly,” he joked.
“Ha! NOOOOOODLE bar.”
“Ok. Sounds great to me.” And then he took my hand in his the rest of the ride.

Mama’s Backpack

She giggles and calls herself “Mama’s Backpack”, happy to hop on and tag along wherever I go.
She never complains. Seldom cries. I can count on two hands the number of meltdowns she’s ever had. She’s obedient to the point that it’s humorous. And a tad frightening. Perhaps the universe just took mercy on me after Caleb.
Today is her 3rd year well visit at the doctor.
Tomorrow she has to have a cavity filled at the dentist. First kid cavity of my motherhood experience. I’m not looking forward to it.

Hugs Every Morning

The clock on the microwave read 7:23 am.

Three year old Juli, wearing bedhead and a night tee, walked up and whimpered “Somssing…hurt…me.”
She tried to crawl in my lap. Then stopped.

Dressed in a night shirt, I was rummaging around an overflowing laundry basket hunting pants for my 7 year old because she grew three feet overnight and the khaki pants she’d already selected were too tight. Jack, my scrawny 9 year old beanpole, was yelling that his blue jeans were missing the adjustable waist straps. So he too needed different pants. Caleb, the 5 year old, was begging for school snack while digging for ziplock bags in the pantry. From the top shelf. Somehow. At least he was dressed. The dog was whining to go out and pee. Thank God I don’t have to dress him too.

I was alone.
Funny how “alone” alone feels in a house filled with four kids, a pooch, and a hamster.

I glared at her.

She was in my way! She was taking up precious time! She was preventing us from getting ready for school! She always had to touch me! She never lets me get any work done! She was every reason we were going to be late, the kitchen wasn’t clean, the pants were missing, the bathroom needed scrubbing and toys lay scattered in the hall.

And….she’s only 3. She’s a sweet, tiny little piece of innocence in a mad, mad world we all love to hate on social media. She’s every potential hope we all have when we think about the future of society.

So I took a breath, stopped and pulled her into me.

“Hey mum mum” she whispered, snuggling into me.

So we sat there.
She and I.
And we snuggled.
And we breathed together.
And I rocked her like the baby she still is. She’s taken to rubbing my face lately so her hand went to my cheek for a brief moment. Then she snuggled deeper. She sighed. And I sang her special song to her. The one I made up the day she was born.

By 8 am, they were all settled in school. Dressed. On time. Everything worked out fine.

And it strikes me how differently this sweet memory from this morning could have played out.

When You Give a Mom a Hug

Ten years ago today I was a new SAHM, nine weeks pregnant with my first baby, Jack. I have no idea what I did on Oct. 18, 2007. Probably went to the fair. Wrote a blog post. Cooked baked spaghetti. All of the “firsts” of pregnancy and early motherhood were ahead. It was exhilarating. And terrifying. Especially the giving birth part. (And yeh, birth hurts. If another woman ever tells me it doesn’t and it’s just pressure, four natural births provide me the confidence to argue. Laugh outright even.) The future was a blank slate. All I knew was that we wanted to have four children – boy girl boy girl. Not sure how we were gifted that wish.

Now I’m sitting here with my last precious girl, age 3, asleep in her blue monkey covered footie jammies, sprawled on my chest. And I’m watching all of the “lasts” of early motherhood dissolve day by day.

I think of Andrea Yates and Susan Smith and the pregnant mom who drove her mini van into Daytona Beach and other mothers who crack wide open and fall apart at the seams, committing horrific acts. And I get their breakdowns. I get the darkness that lies dormant when the days are never ending and the nights unyielding. When you haven’t showered in 38.3 days and the laundry pile is old enough to drive. The sudden wish to run away from such depth of responsibility and find somewhere….to just breathe. And then the guilt that encases us for letting such thoughts creep.

Our 5 year old crawls in the bed with us at night. But our 9 and 7 year old stopped a long time ago. When did they stop? I didn’t even take note. It just happened. So we welcome our 5 year old with open arms. At 3 am. Because we understand now that his time too is limited.

I stop and give Juli piggy back rides every time she asks for one now. Because somehow in the past couple years I gave Jack his very last piggy back ride and didn’t take note. He’s almost as tall as I am now.

Time in any adventure is limited.
So so limited.

Mama friends still in the trenches, please know it gets better. I am breathing again. You will too.

And everyone else, if you can, go hug a mom today.
She needs it.

I Regretted Being a Stay at Home Mom

Beyond grief, jealousy may be the darkest emotion to stumble upon. And with furious fighting, faster bleeds the wound.

Sept. 30, 2007: CSD, a national deaf communications non-profit, finalized SC layoffs. The next few days were spent packing up equipment alongside Juli, my boss. “GA to SKSK” she joked, spouting insider slang. Snapping one last photo cheek to cheek, we bid goodbye to a place we’d loved several years. Severance package in hand and baby in tummy, dreams of impacting the world through a career woke to life as a “Stay at Home Mom.”

Four babies & ten years later I reflect on that crossroad.

It was trial by fire. Ongoing isolation stirred unanticipated regret. The corporate world grew foreign as IKEA instructions. Earning power, assurance of a better life for my kids, evaporated as my employment gap widened. As a lineman’s wife, widowhood baring four babies haunted my sleep. Daycare alone cost more than I could net solo. “M I S T A K E” flashed like a neon bar sign at last call, and the rise of Facebook set it abuzz like hornets. As time crept, I felt less than and foolish scrolling The Feed of Female Success. Who would ever hire ME? I was an American Failure.

Life blurred into a Sesame Street parody, brought to you by the letters…N and O. NO perks. NO shopping. NO kid-free travel. NO business networking. NO 5 o’clock relief. NO access. NO gain. NO indication if past choices were right ones. Selfishness battled Guilt in civil war while currency from a Big Boss gave way to time with Little Bosses who pooped on me.

(Dang, raising kids is hard as heck, y’all.)

Thankfully, time spins its own gold.

Hindsight shows the honor of tending a childhood moment by moment. What a gift to be hugged at 3 pm pickup and curled upon at 3 am by trusting souls who know me only as “Mama”! I love them so! They are the only ones to whom my presence matters. And Kevin, my best friend and most amazing father in the galaxy, has been lock step this entire way.

All four babies were healthy and nursed well, snuggling against my breast all day and snoozing by my side all night. I joined a million playgroups. Reading Circle at 9 am, child on my lap. Art in the Park at noon, paint on my nose. Riverwalk at 4 pm, big hand on small. Witnessed every new tooth and every midnight fear. Caught every puke. Dried every tear. Present for all doctor and dentist appointments. Morning drop off? Afternoon carline? Evening practice and weekend games? Been there.

Because, Time.

And lessons taught long ago draw full circle. They are compassionate and respectful. Their smiles, sincere. Their affection, authentic. They receive compliments in restaurants and they behave at school. Intentional memories, family dinners and impromptu talks on tough issues bond us. During a six month 25 hour weekend stint at Uhaul my absence weakened everyone under our roof. The experience reassured I could be who I once was. But at what cost? It was a powerful reality check nicking the core of who I am.

At 14, I began work.
At 24, I left. A baby.
I am 34 now. Still a baby. Just grayer hair.

Today, Sept. 30, 2017, finds me with no regrets. My last baby turns 3 years old today. The next few days will be spent picking up toys alongside Juli, my daughter. Our final box of Luvs lay as empty as the trenches of early motherhood I leave behind. Bring on the next ten (adolescent charged) years! Because I can finally say…. I’m happy with this path. It was certainly the right road for us.

Ten years from now, I will only be 44.
My youngest? High school.

Time is funny like that.

Now, for the first time in forever, I feel AMAZING. Letting go is incredible. (Hey! That’s what the Disney song tells us!) To mark the occasion here are acutely personal, and downright painful, Life™ Lesson summaries pulled from my diary of private writings. I’m thankful for rear view mirrors revealing a purpose far more sovereign than our own.

Maybe my babies will read this someday and know me as more than Mama. And perhaps… those who battle the dark side too won’t feel so alone. Because you can survive whatever you face.
And you will.

————————————

DEAR JACK, MAGGIE, CALEB, & JULI:

Time beside those you love is never a mistake.

Choices today mark you tomorrow.

Don’t fear human touch. The world aches to be hugged. Start with the person beside you.

Handshakes speak volumes. Be the first to extend a hand. Last to let go.

Touch isn’t by hand alone. Eye contact is the most potent touch of all.

We all have three dimensional lives with multilayered subplots.

Facebook is fun. But it is not real.

The opinion of one person can’t define you.

Relationships are organic. Some crash & burn. If mending fails, honor good memories and move on.

Moving on sucks. Not always possible.

A friendship’s end doesn’t make it a failure.

Ghosting hurts both parties.

Seek out people who seek out you.

Those who like you will respond to effort. It’s what us humans do.

Someone speaks directly to you? Acknowledge their words. This includes text, email and PM.

Pass someone you know in public? Acknowledge their presence. Always.

Intentional Face to Face time bonds us.

At the end of life, a few best friends will put you ahead of the game. Your spouse MUST be one of those.

Initiative is the first step to success. Showing up the second.

Wherever you land, act like you’ve been there. No one will know any different.

Accepting who you are is nearly as potent as acknowledging who you’ll never be.

Make commitments. Keep them yesterday.

Head up, shoulders back. Feet know what to do without eyes micromanaging.

Smile. Broadly. Note people’s response.

Superficialness sucks. Screw that garbage.

Your words must contain authenticity and sincerity.

World peace calls for individuals who are at peace. With friends. With spouses. With themselves.

Real love determines if someone’s issues are tolerable.

Most conflicts are Good vs. Good.

Apologize sincerely. State your wrongs. Using “if” or “but” voids attempt.

Don’t guess someone’s private thoughts. You’re likely wrong.

No one gets shot for saying “I was wrong.”

Examine motives. Forgive readily.

Integrity still matters.

Defend yourself. But avoid belligerence, respecting the human before you.

Defend others. Silence as someone weeps degrades all.

Words breed life or death. Communicate well.

Make original mistakes. Not same old ones.

Don’t speak ill of yourself. People will believe you.

Existence doesn’t justify likability. So offer value.

Feed that baby. Bottle. Breast. Who cares. Just feed that baby. Not in the bathroom stall.

Also, hold that baby. You get three seconds before they outgrow your arms.

Baking homemade treats together is the tesla of childhood.

It’s ok to change. Consider it leveling up.

Improve your craft.

State what you want.

Appreciate others daily.

Complaints without solutions attached make you look petty.

Avoid Topper Traps. No one cares who has it hardest.

“Yes” and “no” is law of average. Aim for high volume, you’ll get both.

Ignore “Team No”. There’s always a way.

When given a secret, keep it.

Hold your heroes to a higher standard.
But apply it to yourself.

If upset when typing, stop. Delete. Rewrite. Delete. Rinse & repeat until anger washes away.

Confidence notes it’s ok to fumble. Just stand back up.

Private assumptions breed raw emotion. Don’t screw up reality crying over misperception.

Unearth hidden expectations. Burn ’em.

Write your own eulogy. Revise daily.

Say what you need to say.

Sob when you need to.

Breathe. Deeper.

Say I love you.
Now show it.

My Talking Quaker Parrot has Died

My Quaker Parrot Petrie died.

You know those moments in life that freeze and replay on loop over and over in our heads, causing our hearts to yearn for a redo?
Last night was one of those for me.

After Kevin fell asleep, I began the nightly check on our animals and kids and the house.

Petrie had entered the egg laying stage a few days ago which has happened only 4 times in the past 15 years so I was worried. I had a bad feeling too as I entered the living room at 11:15 pm. As if the room itself had stilled.

I called out and received no response.

I hesitated. And approached the cage in the dim light. And there was my bird. In the bottom corner of the large birdcage. I ran to wake Kevin, ran back, opened the cage and pulled her lifeless emerald green body out. I sat in the middle of the floor holding Petrie, crying, for nearly an hour. Her bottom was bloody. Egg stuck, halfway in, halfway out. Claws already stiffening. Eyes dulled. Kevin sat in the middle of the floor holding me. As I held my bird.

Petrie, named after Rob Petrie on the old Dick Van Dyke show, came to live with me on August 23, 2002 as a sweet baby bird, around 10 weeks old. I was 19. And had just started college. I was still 3 years away from meeting Kevin. The bird breeder didn’t have Petrie sexed so we just made the assumption Petrie was a he. For four years Petrie was a “he” to us. And then he laid eggs for the first time. We all laughed SO hard the moment we discovered Petrie’s eggs.

Even Petrie laughed. “Jokes on you!” his eyes seemed to twinkle.

We never changed the pronoun. Petrie was (and forever will be) a “he” to us. So bare with me as I tell his feathered story.

I loved this silly emerald green bird dearly. “He” was obstinate. Hilarious. Chock full of life. Chatty. Overbearing. And ohhhh so smart. I taught him tricks. He learned to say “step up” the very first day I had him and climb a finger ladder. He would blow raspberries, give kisses on demand and stick out his tongue when I stuck out mine. He would wave hello with his tiny foot. And shake hands. And whistle. And laugh loudly at the world.

I had a male Yorkshire terrier in college named Banjo. Petrie would ride on his back. If I asked Petrie “Where’s Banjo?”, Petrie would perk up and reply “Banjo? BANJO? Ruff ruff!” Petrie associated barking with dogs all by himself. Such a smart bird.

My mom had a tiny parrotlet for a few years named Little Bird. Petrie would blow raspberries and call her. “Little bird! Oh Little bird, COME HERE!”

My Dad had a female yorkie named Prissy for a long time and she would whine a lot. Petrie mimicked her wines perfectly. So perfectly that we often couldn’t tell the difference in who was whining.

Banjo, Little Bird, and Prissy all passed away years ago but Petrie never stopped calling out for his friends. Sometimes his cries for them would break my heart. Why do we humans have to love animals like we do? It really messes with us at times.

And this doesn’t even touch on how occasionally Petrie would perk up and suddenly call out a friends names as if he were actually seeing them again. “Banjo? Oh! BANJO! Hi! Ruff!” or how chilling it would be to hear Prissy’s ghostly whines long after she had passed.

Petrie held to a strict bedtime.
By 9:00 pm at night he could be found curled into his cloth blue hanging Hidy Hut, making soothing bird noises and grinding his beak like an old man with teeth. If noise disturbed him he’d ruffle his feathers and yell out a very annoyed “GO TO BED.” I have one memory back in college where he was playing on his bird toy tray in the living room and I lost track of time that evening. Next thing I knew Petrie was marching across the floor towards his cage yelling out a super indignant GOODNIGHT! GOOD. NIGHT. !

He also liked to chat. If you weren’t paying enough attention to him he would let you know. “Hey. HEY. WHATCHU DOIN?! Come here!” he would say.

Oh and don’t you dare try to eat a chip around him. He would go nuts and squawk at you. He wouldn’t shut up until you handed over a morsel of your food. Birds are flock eaters so of course if his family was eating he expected to also. He loved chips. And crackers. And popcorn. Fortunately he was also mannerly and would say “THANK YOU!” if given a treat. Nothing like a polite pet showing appreciation.

And the sweetest thing he would say was his name. He would sing with me – “Petrie… ohhhhh Petrie… Petrie oh Petrie oh… PETRIE BIRD!”

Petrie went on our honeymoon in 2006 with us to the mountain cabin in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. And he traveled to Kevin’s hometown in Upstate New York the first time I ever went to visit.

Petrie saw me through College. My working years at Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD). Falling in love and subsequently marrying Kevin at age 23. The purchase of our first Little Blue House. And he moved with us to our current White House in The Avenues.

He was there when we brought baby Jack home. And Maggie. And Caleb. And Juli. And he learned to mimic each of their infant cries. My children have never known a life without our parrot injecting quirky humor into our day.

He defined my entire 20s decade and the first half of my 30s. He saw me through every major life event a young adult can possibly pass through. And now he’s suddenly packed in a tiny coffin, wrapped gently in a white wash cloth inside his blue hidy hut, surrounded by all of his favorite toys.

Awaiting burial.

Stupid, glorious, indignant, territorial little spitfire of a bird. Died laying a stupid egg. “Petrie….Ohhhh Petrie! Petrie bird!”

He’s not supposed to be dead. Quakers are supposed to live 30 years. This wasn’t supposed to end like this. He was supposed to grow old with me. Biting my finger, blowing raspberries and pooping on my shoulder as he nibbled my hair.

The kids aren’t awake yet.
They don’t know yet.

I’m about to wake them.

And I have to tell them about Petrie all by myself because Kevin is at work.

Farewell, Petriebird.

He Can’t Read Yet

I’m standing in Walmart having a slight panic attack.

I’m looking at an array of thick, glorious workbooks for preschool and kindergarten children. I love workbooks. Seven year old Maggie does too. Nine year old Jack, not so much.

But Caleb. Hrmmmm… He starts kindergarten in four weeks. Awwwwww they’re so cute. I should get a workbook for him! He’s never had one!Then I start flipping through them.

And I see the pages through the filter of Caleb’s eyes.

Oh. Wait. He doesn’t write yet. Does he? Hrm. Not really. He can spell out his name. His sister’s name. Mom. And a couple letters….maybe. I haven’t actually paid attention. He loves cutting paper and drawing. But it’s all self-initiated. He doesn’t read yet. I don’t think. I haven’t paid attention to that either. Oh heavens. I’m not even sure if he knows his whole alphabet. When’s the last time we sang the song??!

OMG….How high can he even count nowadays?

Wait.

He’s entering Kindergarten in 2017 and his mother hasn’t actually paid attention to any of this? We all know kindergarten is the new 2nd grade.

:::cue panic attack as I flip through a work book filled with things my third child doesn’t care a rip about:::::

I try to calm myself.

He’s completed two seasons of U8 soccer. Three seasons of competition swim team. He does flips off diving boards. And tricks on his bike. He plays basketball with his big brother. Speaks very well. Can beat Castle levels in Super Mario World. Knows his way around technology. Can hack my passwords. He spends his days flipping on the trampoline. And finding bugs. Digging in dirt. And playing in muddy puddles.

Isn’t that what childhood is for? Isn’t that what I set out to accomplish when I first had children? To give them hands on life experience as taught by early childhood educational masters Maria Montessori and Charlotte Mason?

So why does this workbook thing bother me so?