Tuesday, March 19, 2019

A Tree Grows

When I got the invitation by email a few weeks ago, I was kind of on the fence. You are cordially invited to this year's service awards! Celebrating employees with 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, and 45 years of service.

With 25 years, I am on the low end of that spectrum, and award shindigs are not really my thing. A colleague who received the same invitation was more enthusiastic, and she encouraged me to go. My friend Mary, also on the list, was not inclined to attend. Undecided, I promptly forgot about the whole thing.

Today I had a few minutes of time between classes and meetings, and since the sun was shining, I decided to take a quick walk. We share our campus with a county park, and the paved path that circles the 2 soccer fields, tennis and basketball courts, and baseball diamond is about a half mile. Walking the loop, I found sky blue sharpie and a well-used baseball.

Pocketing the marker I continued on, tossing the ball from hand to hand. My mind wandered as I walked and I thought of the many times I had tread this trail over the past 25 years. How could it be so unchanged?

The path was lined with maple, oak, red bud, and crape myrtle. I figured that even the slowest growing of those adds a foot to its height each year, and I stopped, looked around, did a little math, and considered the way ahead.

Back in the building, my friend Mary reminded me of the service awards deadline. Without hesitation, I RSVPed 'yes' to the ceremony, and got Mary to agree to go, too.

Monday, March 18, 2019

All We Hoped it Could Be

Skimming through a few posts from my early-morning writers, it didn't take long for a theme to emerge:
It is Monday, ugh. I just want to go back to bed.
Monday. The second worst day of the week. I really just wanted to sleep in. 
I don’t like Mondays. Monday’s are always bad luck for me. 
It’s a Monday... Not a good day. 
Ugh Mondays. I really hate Mondays because they’re are the start of a new week, and it’s hard to adjust to waking up early in the morning.
Waking up on a Monday is the worst for me because I usually can’t get up. 
Ugh it’s Monday. I don't like Mondays, I hate it with a burning passion. 
Monday’s feel like a year they take so long.
I sighed and turned away from my laptop. Of course I could relate.

Just then the morning announcements came on the TV. As she does every Monday, our principal shared some words of wisdom. In light of the shootings in New Zealand, this morning her message was one centered on open-mindedness and freeing our minds from intolerance. At the end she played a few bars of Free Your Mind.

I looked around at my Monday-weary kids and realized that a little music was a great idea. Cleaning out their binders was next on our agenda.

"Organization dance party!" I declared, grabbing my phone and the Bluetooth speaker on my desk, and after a little more En Vogue I continued, "I'm taking requests!"

"Livin' on a Prayer!" suggested one student without hesitation.

A little Bon Jovi later, I asked again.

"Country Roads!" someone else shouted.

Who are these kids? I wondered as I blasted the John Denver song.

After that, the requests got a little more contemporary. We listened to Castle on the Hill by Ed Sheeran.

Most of the class was jamming as they recycled, hole-punched, and clipped, but one guy sat clicking his tongue disapprovingly. "What's the next song?" I asked him.

"How about peace and quiet?" he suggested archly.

I laughed and hit search. A minute later the song Peace and Quiet by Drew was playing.

It wasn't quite what that student meant, and he had to tolerate everyone else singing We Will Rock You and Something Just Like This until the bell rang, releasing 15 energized sixth graders into the rest of their Monday morning.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

All Done

At the end of the weekend it's sometimes easy to feel disappointed about all the things I didn't cross off my ambitious to-do list. A stack of folders and my laptop are still in the pocket of my pack where I optimistically shoved them as I left my classroom on Friday afternoon. The new toilet paper holder is still in its box in the powder room (but the drill is in there, too, now!) The deck is unorganized, the garden uninspected, the refrigerator still cluttered with the last few bites of meals we ate too long ago to save.

But then, I consider the things we did that weren't even on the list. We walked with the dog in beautiful places both Saturday and Sunday. I dug out my camera and took a few photos I like. I discovered a new podcast, made a big breakfast this morning, and slept later than usual both days. I tried to find the exact words to describe the way the light sparkled on the water, talked to my mom on facetime, did a neighbor a favor, and sat quietly on a railway-tie wall as the sun warmed my face.

Oh, there's a busy week ahead, for sure, but I think I'm ready.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Reading Between the Signs

It was only 55 degrees when we set off today, and although the sky was clear and blue, the wind was brisk, so we bundled ourselves in flannel and down when we headed into the woods for a hike with our dog. The sun was still unfiltered through bare branches as we walked. No spring ephemerals peeked out from the brown leaf bed lining the trail; no chickadees, brown creepers, titmice, or nuthatches buzzed or warbled us on our way, and when we crossed over creeks and passed by ponds there were no turtles sunning or even the slightest peep from a frog.

Even so,

maybe it was the angle of the sun, the way the light, both golden and white, sparkled on the run and the river beyond and right into our eyes. Or maybe it was the trees that were just beginning to swell, or the holly and rhododendron that looked so fiercely evergreen. Maybe it was just a softness in the breezy air.

Something there was that told us that winter was gone.

Friday, March 15, 2019


Our dog is not allowed on any furniture except the bed-- there she makes herself quite at home, and we often find her stretched diagonally across it, belly up and snoring soundly. In addition to the bed, our cats are allowed on the couches and chairs, but never on the table or counters.

Understandably, different households have different rules for their pets, and since Lucy, our dog, visits other places, she has to adjust to different expectations. In general her hosts are more liberal than we are, welcoming her onto the couch and other furniture. Even so, she seems to grasp the concept of context, for the most part.

Over at her dog-walker's house, the rules are very canine-friendly: she boards guest dogs, and her house is set up to be as accommodating to them as possible. Because she has a couple of cats and a dog of her own, she usually keeps the cat food up on the 3-sided counter between her kitchen and dining room. Lucy knows not to counter surf-- nowhere she goes allows her to stand up and inspect the counter tops-- but evidently she didn't realize that actually jumping up there was forbidden as well.

It's kind of a surprise to find your 52-pound goldendoodle on the kitchen counter lapping up cat food. In fact it's just one of those rules you never thought you would have to teach her, and yet there she was when we went to pick her up the other day, just as proud as she could be.

The dog walker didn't seem upset at all. "You never should have taken her to agility," she shrugged.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Plot Thickens

All stories have a plot! The teacher intern reminded our students today. All plots have an exposition, rising action, turning point, falling action, and resolution, she continued.

I looked to my left at one of our more challenging sixth graders. He was neither taking notes nor paying attention. Instead, he was conspicuously buried in a graphic novel. I walked over. "Did you hear that?" I whispered. "All stories have those things!" I gestured to the screen dramatically.

"Not this one," he shrugged, waving his book at me. "It's part of a series, so it never ends. There is no climax or turning point."

I liked that he was thinking about our claim critically, and I told him so. "But you know," I confided, "each book in a series is usually a stand-alone story, too, so I bet this one," I pointed to the volume he was clutching, "does, too."

"I doubt it," he said.

"Why don't you let me look while you are finishing your notes," I suggested, and maybe it was the neon green loose leaf I had given him before, or perhaps it was the cool pen I lent him, or maybe he just wanted to say, I told you so! when I failed, but he surprised me and handed the book over.

I skimmed the beginning and then paged backward from the end until I found the part where they say, He saved us! But now, he's gone. I pulled a post-it note from the pad, wrote my student a little note, and stuck it on the page before that. Then I went over to return the book.

"I told you!" he said triumphantly.

"Oh, no," I replied. "I found it. You'll see when you get there." I handed him his book.

I thought he might flip right to the note and pull it out dismissively, but he surprised me again. "You read all of that?" he asked in astonishment. "Does it at least count for your daily reading?"

Wednesday, March 13, 2019


When I discovered that one of my mittens was missing yesterday as I unloaded my school bags from the car, at first I was confused. I could have sworn that I tossed two mittens into the backseat after carrying them out in an afternoon much warmer than the morning before. I had a clear memory of doing so, but I scoured the interior of my car and all the spaces between it and the front door, and no errant mitten was recovered.

Although it's true that the days when mittens are necessary are numbered, the thought of giving up on a little woolen soldier who had served me so well all winter long was more than galling, and so I hopped back in the car and returned to school, despite the evening traffic. There I checked the area all around my parking space and then retraced my roughly 2000 steps to the building, scanning all the way for my prodigal mitten. When I made it to the door without any luck, I rang the buzzer so I could go in to check my classroom. Still no mitten.

More mystified than dejected, I walked slowly back to my car, past soccer fields, playgrounds, and tennis courts, eyes peeled for a single black marl mitten, alone and abandoned. I never found it.

Oh, I looked again this morning, and I know it will be a long time before I can walk that path without at least a fleeting thought of my mitten. Maybe it's the mystery of such a loss that makes it hard to forget; maybe it's the futility of the search that makes it easy to regret. Maybe that's just the way my brain works, or maybe I am not in the mood to lose anything right now.

Whatever it is? I am having a hard time letting that mitten go.