If I Wrote…

if I wanted to write a really sad story, I might write about someone who was too young to die. I might write a story about a 42 year old mom, who suddenly feels ill, goes to the emergency room with her husband, and dies ….dead from a massive heart attack. I might start at the hospital…code blue, doctors placing paddles on her chest, like a scene from Gray’s Anatomy. I might start in the late afternoon, when she unknowingly kisses her thirteen and ten year old daughters good bye for the very last time. Or maybe I might start at the point when her shocked and bereaved husband, is racing to the church festival, to find their two daughters, who are laughing and riding rides and filled with the joy and anticipation of the summer ahead, to find them and tell them that while they were being typical 13 and 10 year old girls, their world has just shattered into tiny, unrecognizable bits that can never be totally put back together….that there will always be missing fragments and sharp edges and nothing will ever be just typical again. I would surely make the weather  set the tone. So, I might make my setting as dramatic as the event…a warm, breezy evening, exploding into raging thunder, lightning, pounding rain that pummels the windows. I might even throw in a backstory. A Facebook page, where the woman’s mom posts a tribute to her late husband, the woman’s father, saying that even though it’s been 25 years to the day since he died of a massive heart attack, not a day goes by that he is not missed by his family. I could decide whose point of view to tell the story from: the woman, a devoted mom who wouldn’t leave her girls for a weekend, suddenly leaving them forever. Or maybe, the woman’s mother, who is no stranger to loss, trying to physically stand up and hold her two granddaughters and her own hysterical children. Or, maybe from the pointof view of the sisters who thought they endured the worst when they were young girls and lost their dad, now reliving the nightmare, losing their sister and best friend and watching in agony as their nieces relive the hell they survived. I could end end with a scene of the 10 year old girl, clinging to her dad as the storm rages outside and the world…her world is ending, wanting only to be held one more time by the mom by the mom whose warmth and comfort she seeks when she’s scared or feeling alone.

It it would make a heck of a story. I wouldn’t be thrashing around at 1:20 AM, though, because it wouldn’t be real, and I could revise the ending. But, it’s not a piece of fiction. and I can’t rewrite the ending. So, I stare at the clock and pray that even though I’m still wide awake, those two little girls, my friends great nieces, are sound asleep and that they can sleep through the night. I’ll be saying that same prayer for many days to come.

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OLW-Messy

Sophie, newly 2 and proud of it, broke her new/used doll bed yesterday. She flung her mom’s old Bitty Baby on the floor and climbed in, making some “waaa, waaa,”sounds. I was just about to warn her that it might not hold her, when the bottom fell out and she dropped to the floor. “I broke,” she quickly admitted. She hung her little head down. I comforted her and told her I’d try to fix it. She quickly recovered and soon we were covered in finger paints. She had an itch on her ear, and before I could reach over to help, her wriggly curls and chubby cheeks were covered in streaks of yellow, blue, red, green, and the lovely purple shade we’d been mixing. Since I, too, was finger painting, it got messier before it got neater.

Quite frankly, my whole life is messy. I thought when I retired, I might finally be organized and neat. No chance. When going to the zoo with the next door neighbors, we removed Sophie’s car seat, and discovered enough goldfish and Cheerios to feed a small country. I’m a grandma, but my car doesn’t look like my mom’s car looked when she was a grandma. My car still looks like it did when I had a two year old. But, this makes me think…do I want to strive for the perfection or embrace the messy?

Embrace the messy….that’s what I’ve decided. Because no matter how hard I try, I can’t be neat and tidy and organized and learn at the same time. So, if I constantly strive for this image I have in my head of what it “should” look like to be my age, my OLW is going to be frustration.

Everything Sophie does right now is messy….because she’s learning and growing. It’s to be expected when you’re two. Maybe, it should be expected when you’re 57, too. And newly retired, and your life is full of opportunity, each day a blank canvas. I want to follow Sophie’s lead, jump into things, even if they break. Get into stuff even if it spills. Not worry about the mess. I’ll do my best to clean it up, and strive to see the beauty in the mixing, swirling, and blending of colors as they spill onto the canvas of my days.

Blurred Vision…Owning my Prejudice

I like to write a breezy SOL…a little funny, and hopefully warm, sprinkled with a little analysis. I love to read other slices that fit that description, too. That’s why this slice is a bit hard to write. It exposes a part of me that I’d rather not admit exists. It exposes a part of me that I don’t always understand. It makes me realize that there is such a fine line between fear and prejudice in my life that I step between the two, like a chameleon, blending in wherever I land.

I hold in my arms the most precious gift God has ever given me, my precious mixed-baby granddaughter. She embodies every reason that I don’t want to harbor latent prejudices that I know exists, but refuse to acknowledge. But, she also embodies the very reasons that I know this fear that is at the root of prejudice lives inside of me, right along side the deepest, purest, most unselfish love.

I stroke her cinnamon skin and play with her delicate curls, and see only Sophie…no color, no race issues. Just baby girl.

I love her with every inch of my very being. I want the best for her. I want her to  live  in a world where people are not judged by their skin color, clothes, age, gender, socio-economic status. Of course, I do. Most days, that’s where I live.

But, not every day. Some days I am overcome with a prejudice against all the things I try so hard not to judge. It boils up inside of me like magma, threatening to spew out lava. It’s always…always is grounded in fear.

When my daughter met Sophie’s dad in high school, she exposed my hidden prejudices. He was the star football player, well-liked by teachers and peers, ready to sign a national letter of intent to play college football. But, he lived in a neighborhood that was well-known for violence. I tried to face my fears. I went to his house to meet his family. His family lives a block from a public high school people use as an example of a “bad” school. I drove through the “hood,” past boarded up houses and run down corner markets with iron grates on the windows and groups of young men just hanging out in front. My then 16 year old daughter drove through these same streets to pick up Marcus and take him to school. My stomach twisted into a knot. Guns….violence…crime. I felt so lost and out of control. That’s all I could see. I was afraid for her and my fear was like a volcano that I tried to contain. It spewed bits and fragments of hot embers. My neighborhood, my background, my educational background, my daughter were all better than this.

Over time, I stepped back and forth a million times from the fearful, protective, prejudiced mom, to the outraged witness to unspeakable acts of society’s prejudices. When a football injury kept Marcus from being able to start as a freshman, suddenly his high school credentials were questioned, and an on-line course he took in high school made him ineligible to continue to qualify for his promised 4 year full-ride. When he got pulled over for failure to put on his turn signal 500 feet or yards or whatever the exact number was, and police  surrounded his car car with four cruisers, cuffed him, searched his car without cause, realized they had the wrong young, black male, wrote him a ticket for failure to signal the proper distance and let him go, I erupted with rage. How could they? How wrong!

My baby granddaughter entered the world. Marcus got a job working security for a prominent local group of bar owners. He took classes and got a license to carry a concealed weapon. Fear and prejudice brewed. I gave him articles with statistics. I felt frantic. I forbid him from bringing a gun into my home. But, again, I had no control about what happened in his home, in his car, in his neighborhood. I had to drop my granddaughter, his daughter,  off at his mom’s house….next to the boarded up house and the Pitt Bull, and down the street from the carry out/hang out with iron grates on the windows.

Fear and prejudice roiled in my gut.

His gun was stolen from his car one night while he worked security. He’s living with us right now. So, as I write this, my world is peace-filled. Sophie is tucked in bed after her bath and story. She is surrounded by a family who loves her. My big decision tonight was where to put the Elf on the Shelf. I can read the paper and watch the news from the comfort and safety of my suburban home, and judge other people who seem to be prejudiced.

But, lurking beneath the surface is the knowledge that I am not prejudiced at this moment because I am an arm’s distance from the fear that blurs the line that separates me from my other side. Lurking beneath the surface is the knowledge that my fear and prejudice will return.

I expose this side of me because it’s real and raw and messy. I expose this side of me in the hope that it causes other people to see how very complicated it really is to truly not be prejudiced and fearful.

I expose this side of me, because I owe it to Sophie, my beautiful, almost two year old miracle girl.

10 Reasons I’d Rather Watch TV Than Write a SOL

it is late Monday night. The wind is howling outside. Today has been the quintessential blustery day. All week, I’ve been mulling over possible SOLs in my head, and now that it’s time to write one of them, I’d rather watch TV. Why? I’ll give you ten good reasons: (in no paricular order)

1) It’s cold..bone chilling, wind biting, get-under-the-covers cold.

2) I tutored tonight and my brain is too tired

3) I can’t figure out which story to write… Some Enchanted Evening( the story of a chance meeting in a bar that develops  into a life-long friendship.or…the vulnerability of a struggling reader reading out loud to a teacher.

4) I’m falling asleep. My eyes are closing.

5) it’s easier. I escape into someone else’s world instead of analyzing my own.

6) I’m home alone. Well, not really alone, but Audrey and Soph are tucked in bed. John is downstairs buried in his office. Annie’s off to a movie. I could control the remote.

7) It’s safer. There is no window into my soul when I stare blankly at a screen.

8) Time. I won’t have to revise or rethink the shows I watch. I’ll just flip the switch and pffff….gone from my mind.

9) The snicker doodle dough in the fridge would smell so good mingling with the scent of the”hot apple toddy” candle. I can picture myself on the couch dunking a warm snicker doodle into a glass of cold milk.

10) Sleep. Watching TV makes me fall asleep. Writing ignites passion. I don’t want to feel passion. I want to feel nothing.

Now, it’s too late to watch tv. My simple list has taken too long. Now I’ve reread it and edited it and am thinking about revision. Should I double my sentences? Reorder them? Analyze that last one?

Now I’m awake and it’s hard to flip the switch to off. But. I wrote. Good or bad, I wrote. Exposing my simple, unliterary self. I wrote.

😴

4 TV  can v

4) ever

Snow Days Still…

I’ve always loved snow. My husband, John,  says it’s because I’m a teacher and I am always hoping it will bring the magical snow day. So, last night, when the forecast for snow, 100% chance, scrolled across the bottom of the TV screen, he pondered aloud,  “Bet you won’t be so excited about the snow this year…now that you’re retired.”

Old habits die hard, I guess. I peeked out the window several times during the night. At about 5:45 am, I saw branches laden with snow outside my window. Experience told me that it wasn’t enough snow for a snow day. The snow had stopped falling, too. Another bad sign if you’re hoping for a snow day. Still, I couldn’t fall back to sleep, even for 15 minutes. Here was my mental shortlist of five things to be grateful for on this snowy morning:

1. No driving in rush hour traffic, while listening in vain to the school closings that were inevitably not going to be mine.

2. A chance to live a ,”someday that will be me,” dream…..a few years back, a recently retired teacher sent an email to those of us who had just plowed our way through a horrendous snowy commute, saying she was having a cup of hot tea, still in her pajamas, loving every moment of retirement.

3. A chance to bundle up Sophie, my almost-2 year old, granddaughter and play. I had planned to take her to preschool open gym at the rec center, but this snow opportunity trumped that plan.

4. A chance to reread favorite books with a cup of hot chocolate…

5. A morning walk. As I cleaned my car and listened to the radio traffic reports for 35 years of winters, I dreamed of this one thing….a morning walk.

Funny thing is, nothing has made me miss my teaching days as much as a picture  in a recent blog I read. I can’t find it to give credit to the blog post, but it showed kids looking out the window at a first snowfall. I loved those days! I loved making them special…making hot chocolate during independent reading, letting kids leave slippers in their cubbies for days when it snowed and every other school district was out, making paper snowflakes and taping them to our windows, reading a special read aloud like Snow Day, celebrating the unbridled passion my kids and I shared for those magical white crystals that blanketed the world in beauty.

So, as I crawled through the space in the fence behind my house that leads to the field and woods,  it was like entering Narnia. My own magical world. Bundled in boots and Gortex,  I tried to follow the path I always took, but a fallen tree blocked the path and I had to find a new path. A metaphor, I thought, for my life right now. I sat on the fallen tree, listening to the muffled sounds of this newly blanketed world and staring at the exquisite barren branches, heavy with snow, that created art no man could duplicate.  I thought about how lucky I was to have this time. The possibilities of new snow day traditions abounded. I had a little snow globe and a Daniel Tiger book for Sophie, my little granddaughter, hidden in the closet for Christmas….a gift from the snow fairy? Why not? Paper snowflakes cut and taped to all the windows? She’d love it. Of course, a  building a snowman followed by hot chocolate. Read alouds…I knew right where Raymond Brigg’s Snowman was. Music and dancing? Hmmm….that Frozen CD with the song, “Do You Want to Build A Snowman?” Oh, and a little baking, maybe? Yes, those handy new gingerbread dough sheets I founf at the grocery.

I stared in wonder at the blank slate, the world of white, untouched and ready for me to make my mark on it. What a gift….time, space, a chance to play, and create, and dance, love and learn and share my love of snow with a child.

Yes, John, I still love snow days. Maybe because I’m a teacher. Or, maybe , just maybe, I’m a teacher because I see the wonder in snow and want to share it with my little soul mates. Snow days will continue to stir my longing to play….but now I don’t have to wait for a telephone call to grant me an “official” snow day. They’ll just fall from the skies, like a gift from the heavens.

Just Do the Hokey Pokey

I could still see stars in the sky and the flickering lights from distant jets last Thursday morning, when I smelled the first pot of coffee brewing. The rhythmic snores of my husband assured me he was still fast asleep. The aroma was not accompanied by the chatter of my little granddaughter’s morning observations, so that left only one person who could be rising at this ridiculously early hour….Annie. My oldest daughter, a May grad school graduate, waitresses and bartends at an upscale restaurant, but just to keep her hand in her chosen profession and maybe make some valuable connections, so that she can find a job this spring, she subs, too.

i snuggled deep into my covers for a moment, grateful that after 35 years of teaching, I didn’t have to get up. But, then, a wave of guilt rolled over me, and I decided to get up and see if she needed anything.

“Where you off to today?” I asked.

“Half-day first grade/then half day second,” she mumbled. I tried to mask my horror. Instantly, I grabbed a few favorite picture books and shoved them into her bag. Who, I wondered, had prepared my recently integrated- social studies-7-12-certified-daughter to teach 6 and 7 year olds? Admittedly, last year I admired the way she confidently handled and enjoyed the antics and of high school junior and seniors during her student-teaching. And was impressed when she returned home from high school subbing jobs saying she’d had a great day. I’d be lost in that world. Likewise, though, confidence in the world of 16 and 17 year olds, didn’t qualify a person to be in charge of such little ones.

“Dress warm. You’ll most likely have recess duty. Teachers tend to be out on the days when they have duties and no planning time,” I added, now putting a bag of Goldfish crackers in her bag. ” Take these for kids that don’t have a snack.”

She started to look worried. Oops,  I thought. I wasn’t trying to scare her. I knew she’d be competent and kind.

“What if they have to go to the bathroom. Do I let them go?”

Now she was thinking first/ second grade.

“Find the little girl or boy in the class who seems ready to take over and seek advice about routines and procedures. But, when in doubt, let the child go….with a buddy and let them go. But, write it down so you don’t forget they’re out. Keep counting. You don’t want to lose kids!”

So so much to say. So little time. She needed to get on the road.

“Oh, remember this. One, two, three, eyes on me. Then they’ll say…one, two, eyes on you.”

“What have I gotten myself into,” she replied, grabbing her coffee, no longer smiling.

My mind raced. She needed to smile. 35 years of teaching and I was down to less than twenty seconds to give her one sage, profound piece of advice to instill joy and a love of learning to two groups of tiny learners…

“If all else fails, do the Hokey Pokey!” I blurted as I handed her a box of Kleenex and the last of the Halloween candy.

She arched her eyebrows, opened her mouth as if starting to ask me to explain, sighed and drove off into the first rays of light.

I blew her a kiss and muttered to myself in disbelief…”Do the hokey pokey. Seriously. That’s it. That’s the best you have to offer? 35 years and those are your words of wisdom?”

All day long, I revised and rewrote that final piece of advice in my mind. I considered texting her with my more profound and inspirational words. Maybe, after months of spending countless hours with my almost two year old granddaughter, I’d really started to think like a preschooler.

Yet, as the day wore on, I realized it was a pretty good little piece of advice. Yes, I could have told her to treat each child as a hidden gem, full of unpolished promise. Or, I could have told her to think of each child as her own, and think what response she hoped the question, “How was your day?” would elicit. Or I could have told her to make read aloud like each child were her own little niece tucked in her lap. But the fact was, if she did the Hokey Pokey with them, they would dance and smile and laugh and feel joyful. She would laugh and hug and spread smiles like melted butter.And they would feel loved and warm inside. And as the moon rose in the night sky and the flicker of distant jet lights blinked,  they’d drift into the kind of deep sleep that happy thoughts invokes. For they had a sub who gave them time and space to celebrate the joy of being a kid.

One Little Word…Dance

I am an incurable romantic, because my mom and dad danced. They danced at weddings, of course, and at New Year’s Eve parties, naturally, but I  remember  them dancing at home….my mom in a  Grace Kelly-glamorous  red dress that hugged her waist and poofed out all around her, or in a woolen skirt that had seen better days, or in p.js. Dancing didn’t require anything, but a good song and each other.

I spent the better part of my dating- years looking for a dance partner. Someone who could cup my right hand inside his, my waist in the crook of his left arm, and my face so close I could feel his breath without ever touching lips. This was difficult because dancing went through a bit of a rough patch in the seventies when peace, love and Woodstock ushered in an era of slow dancing that resembled partnered sleep walking.

As I grew older, tiiredness suffocated the dream to dance like a flicker of a candle being extinguished with a snuffer. Unless you count the endless hours I sat watching my daughter, Annie, dance at ballet recitals, or the millions of Nutcrackers I endured, or the comical attempts to alter dance costumes, dance just wasn’t part of my life…at least not the “dance like there’s no one looking kind of dancing.”

But, now, I’m thinking of the challenge of finding “one little word” at this bend in the road, and the one little word that keeps popping in my head is…dance. Because, when we dance, we live in the moment, freely, embracing life and breathing it in….not waiting for the moment, but making the moment happen.

So, I’m dancing with my husband, grabbing his hand and feeling his breath close to my cheek, dancing with my sister at Bruce Springstein concert like I wished I hadn’t been too shy to do when I was 19, dancing with my little neighbor girls on the Thursday night before the first Bar Mitzvah. dancing with Sophie, my precious little granddaughter and my 87 year old dad on a Sunday night, because my dad is playing Nat King Cole’s Stardust and it’s twilight in so many ways.

And this dancing, I think, shouldn’t just be limited to the dance floor, but to the way I live each day. Open to possibilities, looking for moments to celebrate, seeking joy, and leaving space to imagine and create and move through my days, romancing the ordinary.

“If the neighbors look in the windows, they’ll think we’re nuts,” my dad said on that Sunday night.

“No. Well, they probably won’t think our dancing is glamorous or romantic, but I bet they’re saying, ‘My, aren’t they lucky? It’s a Sunday night and they’re dancing in the living room.”

Level Me Not….SRA Again?

Micah bounded into the library and gave me a hug. “How was your day?” I inquired.

“Good,” she answed simply.

“Anything fun going on at school?”

She told me about upcoming Halloween parties, portraits of kids placed on the walls of the school, an incident in the cafeteria. As her tutor, I was wondering about things leaning towards the academic matter of school.

“Read any good books lately?”I probed a bit more.

“I’m reading J,” she replied.

Not,”I’m reading Mr. Putter and Tabby, Henry and Mudge, or Bones. 

Just “J.”

Trying to explain that I wondered about titles, not levels, simply elicited a firmer J, as if to say, “How many times do I have to tell you this!”

This is not an isolated incidence. Children I tutor look at spines of the books surrounding us in the library and are amazed that there are so many “L’s.”

I explain, “In a real library, that letter on the spine is usually the first letter of the author’s last name.”  I’m secretly horrified at that puzzled expression that I see. I hold my tongue. I don’t say what’s on my mind. No wonder the librarians have taken a firm stance against levels. “Our job is to give kids a break from school reading and get them interested in books,” they tell me. “We have parents come in demanding we give children only a certain level of books. Kids leave crying. We’re sick of it.”

Ugh! I’m working with kids from schools where teachers value literacy, have received training from some of the best literacy collaboratives in the country, and think matching books to readers is one of their most important jobs. Yet, the children are hearing the message that they read at a certain level. Not, “You’re the kind of reader who devours mysteries.” Or, “You love books set in Pioneer days, don’t you.”  But, quite simply,”You’re reading at Level —-. Here’s your basket.”

And, it’s not isolated to one school or district….asking a little girl I work with who goes to a school in a different district to tell me some of her favorite books, she clearly tells me what Accelerated Reader level she is supposed to read. Then, she pulls a book from her bag, like it’s contraband, and whispers that she’s secretly reading a book at a higher level. I am sworn to secrecy. Well, at least as a tutor it gives me a place to start. “Let’s see if we can find some books and authors you’ll love to read. We don’t need to worry about AR levels here. We’re in a library. You can check these out.”

Teachers are under a lot of pressure to monitor progress and demonstrate growth. Some things get lost in translation. Micah yanks the “J” book from her book bag. According to her, “reading log,” she’s been reading it for three days. Hmmm… I ask her to tell me a bit about it. She doesn’t remember much. Read me a good part. She struggles. Not all level J books are created equal, as we all know. Apparently, someone forgot to throw this one out with the basal readers. Micah is stuck on every word with a k in it, because the font is something an editor would have selected for a Nathaniel Hawthorne book. Every k looks like an R. Not exactly a support for a struggling reader.

Is is this very different from me knowing I was SRA green, and longed to be violet like Kathy Gregg? At least, outside of SRA time, I could read books Mrs. Jones, our librarian thought I’d like. I remember her handing me a book in a series called Spice. 

Spice, and her puppy sisters, I think Ginger and Cinnamon, kept me reading for hours. I forgot all about my pea green SRA level.

I completely understand how knowing book levels helps teachers. I just question the sharing of levels with our readers and their parents…especially the strugglers.

I think this phenomenon is like Post-Its in books. It’s well-intentioned beginnings got lost somewhere. Common sense flew out the window like a well-constructed Post-it paper airplane designed and piloted by the brightest, bored student during independent reading time.

Parent-teacher conferences are here and now anxious parents voice concern. “They say she’s reading at Level K and she needs to read at level P by the end of the year and that is virtually impossible.” The parent also tells me that her daughter read all weekend. “She’s reading a book called Smile,” her mom elaborated. She tells me she told the teachers this, and they said it was most likely too hard. Yet, she stuck with it for long periods of time over the weekend. She was excited to read. She told her mom she had her next book picked out.

More contraband. When I ask the child what she has been reading, she dutifully replies, “Nate the Great and the Lost List.”

I’m sure her teachers rolled their eyes in their minds when her mom added that she thought Lauren was bored with the books they were having her read. I know the feeling. She’s a struggling reader. All assessments indicate she needs to be reading at Level K. Series books are supportive. She seems to like Nate and there are so many in the series. They won’t have to worry about what she’ll read for weeks and weeks.

Have we lost our way,again, I wonder? I recently read a blog post from Irene Fountas. You could almost feel the weight of the burden…here was our intent in creating a leveling system. Here is the monster it has created. For the love of literacy, please stop and use this as a tool to help you as a teacher match books to readers!

It takes time, lots of reading, lots of knowledge of the discreet differences between the levels to talk to a reader in a way that helps them find books that match them as a reader. Lots of patience, lots of practice, lots of trial and error as a reader to match yourself to a book. And, the harder it is for the child to read, the harder the matching is. If I do my job well, Micah will bound into the library someday, and tell me she wants to look at the R books, because she loves Cynthia Rylant and she wants to read every book she’s ever written. I’ll be able to say, “Oh, when you get older, I’ll give you one you’ll never find in this section of the library. It’s called A Couple of Kooks. It’s a book of love stories.”

She’ll wrinkle her nose and say, “Ooh, gross, ” because that’s not her level. She’s only 8. She’ll pick up her latest Poppleton and giggle when she tells me about the best part.

Connected in Story

The locker room was nearly empty at 10:15 am last Thursday morning. Yet, I almost ran into the woman exiting. “Hi,” she bubbled. “How’s retirement?”

“I love every minute,” I replied, surprised she remembered. I hadn’t seen this woman since spring.

We gave each other a friendly hug. I’d always enjoyed our after workout chats, while I dried my hair and she applied her make-up, hurriedly readying ourselves for our work days, glancing at the clock and checking rush hour traffic on the news.

“It’s the one year anniversary,” she blurted.

“Congratulations,” I said, biting my lip as soon as the words left my mouth. Clearly, from the look on her face, this was not a happy anniversary. My mind raced….she just got a divorce? No, she wasn’t married….she….gratefully she noticed my confusion and clarified that it was the anniversary of her dad’s untimely death.

“I have found so much comfort in the story you told me about you and how you felt six months after your mom died. I think of that all the time. I’m so glad you shared that with me,” she said, a little teary.

Now,I remembered. Better late than never. Ugh! I remembered that shortly after her dad died, and she was telling me how well she was doing, I told her the story of the Christmas after my mom died. In between trying to find the necklace that had slipped deep into my gym bag, checking the clock, and trying to make my hair fluff up a bit on the crown and not swirl put to one side, I’d told her about sitting down to Christmas Eve dinner and feeling like I was going to hurl the mashed potatoes at my husband’s cousin, because she sat where my mom always sat. I’d explained that I’d held it together after my mom died, only to feel like I was falling apart, piece by piece, ready to claw my way through the dirt on my mom’s grave, to get to her. How suddenly, my life seemed so long, because the space between the time I lost her and the time I’d see her again was unbearable.

I hugged the woman,again.”I’m sorry….it gets harder before it gets easier, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, but it’s comforting to know that other people understand,” she said as she hurried off to work.

I reflected on the encounter,recalling all the times that a story someone had shared with me had given me solace, courage, hope….too many to count. We share stories with each other, walking away, not realizing the impact of our words. I remembered countless times that kids at school recalled stories I told during writer’s workshop….sometimes, to my dismay. I was working so hard to hope they remembered the teaching point. But, we can’t choose what’s going to help the most. So, being 9 years old and scared to death because I was  being chased by a dog, or embarrassed because my teacher held up the troll I’d brought to school or whatever story I told in the process of modeling my writing, stuck.

When I found out my 18 year old daughter was pregnant with my beloved granddaughter, I searched for stories to give me hope. Still dealing with the sudden change my life had taken, from having a graduate headed to the University of Tampa, to helping my daughter navigate her way through the senior prom, graduation parties, and morning sickness, I clung to stories like a life-line. She, had grappled with the weight of her decision and choices, and said, ” I just want you to be happy and excited about being a grandma.” I wanted to, too. But, I was struggling. So I prayed and read and looked for stories to help give me a new vision.

So, last Thursday, when I left the gym, I started writing this post in my head….preparing for my next Slice, knowing that the stories we share with each other have amazing power to heal and help.