dear teachers …

First, a confession: I considered homeschooling.

I take the education of my daughter seriously. At five years, she was a sensitive and intelligent child—introverted, artistic—and I figured she’d struggle in a traditional classroom and, perhaps, flourish if given freedom to continue learning at home.

Now, as she launches into summer after three of the best middle school years imaginable, I’m shaking my head, wondering how I could have ever considered education without teachers?

Before you fire off those emails and letters, please understand that I am not against homeschooling. I am simply allowing myself to gush a bit about the educational system I know best. (But, seriously, how could we—children, families, society—manage without teachers?)

Virtually nothing about school is simple. The homework alone gives me anxiety nightmares. And yet … allow me to offer a slice of wisdom from my now-14-year old:

“Mom, just because something is complicated doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to figure it out.”

This, in fact, has become one of her pet peeves—when adults chuck an idea out the window because it feels too complex. When finals week arrives and she has a chorus concert, honor’s night, cello lesson, and a stack of homework that makes her mother want to wail and rend her own clothing, the girl pats the mother on the head and assures her everything is under control.

There you have it. Sometimes, when the going gets tough, the tough serve cheese and crackers with fruit for dinner (all week, mind you) and sit in the audience and cheer. Oh … and drive the car. I still get to drive the car. Maybe school is simple after all.

How do you thank the people who have become your tribe? How do you thank a music teacher for providing a three-year jam session that has made middle school raucous and joyous and cool? A science teacher so awesome that a teenage girl wants him to teach her how to drive? A social studies teacher who celebrates the arts? An art teacher who celebrates everything? How do you thank a poetry-slammin’ language arts teacher, an orchestra genius, math master, quirky gifted ed dude, Spanish maestro (maestra?), band wizard, power principal, compassionate counsellor …

Can I just come to the school, sit on the front step and weep now?

I didn’t send cupcakes to the middle school staff during appreciation week. I didn’t send gift cards or flowers.

I have only this to offer. A story. Because story is what I know.

I’m sitting in my car outside school, waiting for my child to amble out the door. As usual, she’s going to be the last student to leave the building (a topic for another day). I wait, watching all the Whittier kids. This school doesn’t have a “uniform,” I think. No one really dresses the same. There’s no popular brand I can discern, no must-have shoes or bag, no haircut that signifies your belonging. I like that.

The buses pull away, the crosswalk signals flash. A teacher sporting an orange reflective vest remains, standing next to a student I don’t recognize. The boy is holding a football. He tosses it to the teacher. The teacher backs up and throws a tight spiral back to the kid. The kid drops the ball.

Maybe this boy has an awesome dad who throws the football around with him every day after dinner, I don’t know. But it sure looks as if he’s never been taught how to pass and catch. It sure looks as if he really, really wants to know. Without words, teacher guy holds up his hands in that universal triangle position men use when showing sons and daughters how to catch footballs. They pass back and forth for a while. The clock sneaks past four. They keep going.

Another kid jogs around the corner, and he’s a ball player for sure because the teacher launches a long one and the kid snaps it out of the air, and now it’s a game of three-way pass, and everyone’s smiling and laughing, and I’m pretty sure the contract doesn’t cover this kind of after school instruction, but there it is.

I sit in my car with my memories and my gratitude and my tears.

How many times have the teachers here given my daughter—this sensitive, artistic, brilliant human being—something I didn’t know she needed at the exact moment she needed it?

When no one was watching?

When they could have been doing something else? When they probably “should” have been doing something else?

Yeah. How do you thank someone for that?

All I can say is that I see you. I see you and I love you.

when in doubt, hire a muse

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I woke up today in a ridiculously chipper mood, but not wanting to work, like … ever again. Maybe the long winter is making me punchy, but I really just felt compelled to take the rest of the year off. Problem is, it’s February. Taking the year off isn’t really an option.

I goofed off for a few minutes (read: hours) and still couldn’t seem to focus. Finally, I had reached my threshold for shame (surprisingly high, I admit) and I decided I had to do something—anything—to force myself to get down to the business of being a writer.

So,  I hired a muse.

Here she is:

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Cute, yes?

And now, writing seems so much more … colorful.

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Also the muse has little pokey spikes sticking out of her, which I find just menacing enough to force my right-brain into compliance. At my house, we call this her cactus suit.

Some days we all need a cactus suit. For protection. For motivation.

I am happy to report that things are moving along much more responsibly now. I highly recommend every creative type hire a muse. Particularly one who can give you little puncture wounds whenever you slip off into hapless daydreams …

ouch! … oh, thank you … 

Back to work …

 

 

time as tyrant

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Sometimes, time seems like a tyrant when it should be a blessing. I have three weeks ahead of me that promise to-do lists, deadlines, and, most likely, yet another blast of unforgiving winter.

Even a stretch of lovely hint-of-spring days doesn’t seem like enough when the cold swirls around once again. An evening with a good book and good company pales when morning dawns, too much work penciled into a too small calendar square awaiting. Have a better attitude, I tell myself. Just keep swimming.

In the quest to live more simply, I have discovered rather quickly that a schedule, like an ocean liner,  does not turn on a dime. Things I promised to accomplish weeks ago are now glaring at me, demanding to be done. Unexpected requests wash ashore. The phone rings. Things break and need to be repaired or replaced. Other things just fall apart.

So what?

So … nothing. I have decided to stop and enjoy this time anyway. For the next few weeks, weeks when I have pressing business every single day (often into the evening) I vow to pause. I will use the camera on my phone to take a photo every day. I will take the time to notice life around me unfolding, blessing me with the gift, not the tyranny, of time. I will participate in that life because I am meant for more than just keeping my nose to an imaginary grindstone.

Of course this means I may  fail at one or more of my pressing-business-to-do list-items. I may fall behind on a project. I may miss an appointment.

Enough.

I am allowed to fail. I allow myself to fail.

The photo above is far from perfect. But when I looked up at this ceiling, I was comforted by its symmetry. There might be an order to this, it seemed to remind me, even if you don’t always notice it. The ceiling is white, but I filtered to shade it blue—my small attempt at painting the sky, at stepping out of my chaos and joining in the chorus if only for a moment.

Then today I paused to record this dusting of snow tucked inside last years blossoms. The flowers will be back, I tell myself. As will the rain, the air, the light.

And I will be here as well. Noticing.

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When I am 100, I will play with my dog

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Walking the halls of a local elementary school this morning, I paused to take in the bulletin board outside a third grade classroom. The kids have recently celebrated the 100th day of school and, as part of the commemoration, spent time imagining what their lives might be like when they reach their 100th year.

Each mini-essay stapled to the board was accompanied by an age-accelerated photo of the writer. Some of those photos looked eerily like little old men and little old women were gazing back from the future, ready to impart the wisdom of a lifetime to their younger selves.

One student wrote: “When I am 100, I will live in a nursing home with my friends.”

Another: “When I am 100, I will walk with a cane and play checkers.”

“I will wear odd clothes all the time. Also I will be dead.”  (ah, pragmatic!) 

“I will play on my iPod all day long.” (read: I will do whatever the heck I want to do, thank-you-very-much.)

“I will look like a zombie and scare all the children.” (hmm …)

“When I am 100 I will think about my Mom and Dad. I will play with my dog.”

This last one got to me, I admit. Because this child writer is the sort of child writer I was, and maybe still am. She owns an early awareness that the longer she lives, the more loved ones she will outlive. That’s not an easy thought to tote around elementary school.

She knows she cannot change this fact, so she will honor her loved ones by remembering them. But then she adds this intriguing line about playing with her dog. Maybe she’s imagining adopting a dog in her nineties, but more likely she is imagining herself, in her advanced age, romping with the dog she lives with right now.

Because dogs never age. Dogs are eternal.

Pippin (our family dog, seen above) is starting to show some gray hair. I, as a human, have not yet started to gray, so my dog’s gray hair sometimes makes me supremely uncomfortable.

Perhaps the best kept secret about making your way in life as a writer or artist is that you get to spend an extravagant amount of time with your dog. And I, having long passed third grade, already know that everyone ages. Everyone. All of creation. Even dogs.

Imagine for a moment a grown woman standing in a hallway on a Monday morning trying to press back her tears and not doing a very good job of it.

Why?

Because she loves her dog.

Yeah. That’s pretty much how my day started. Don’t worry. I’m good with it.

The same writer, near the end of her reflection on aging wrote this: “I will tell everyone that I love them.”

This is too good not to share—a prescription for right living, in the present and deep into the cave of old age, all from the pen of a nine-year-old.

You’re welcome.

When I am 100, I will play with my dog. I will sit with my daughter and laugh until I must cease laughing in order to concentrate on catching a breath. I will stretch. I will read. Write. Listen to music. Sing. Dream. Cry. I will tell everyone I love them.

I will do all these when I am 100. I did all these impossible things today, and all before breakfast.

And you? What will you do when you are 100? What will you do today? 

 

 

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