Tuesday, December 17, 2019

O Christmas tree

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

Tony and I went out to buy a Christmas tree, heading to the lot that we have gone to for the past couple of years. This tree lot is a 'pop up' sale on the fringe of a strip mall, run by Latino immigrants. The main road was congested, so we took a side road, thinking it would be a short cut around all the traffic, but it was not to be...we drove around and around, encountering one way streets and blocked access roads, and we ended up wandering through a neighborhood that was all new to us, laughing about how our supposed short cut had ended up being the longest journey possible. We were in no particular hurry, with no other goals or appointments; it was nice to have time to waste, and we stayed in good humor. Finally, after our circuitous adventure, we arrived at the parking lot - only to find that there was no sign of any Christmas tree sale. It was empty. GONE. 

My mind spiraled in fearful directions - why was the Christmas tree lot gone? Where had it gone to? Where were the immigrants? What was their year like? Where are these people now? Are they safe and warm? Are they okay? Why are they not selling Christmas trees, as they have for several years now? 

Surprised and wondering, we continue to drive around, meandering, looking for another lot. Some ten minutes later, we found another pop up lot, at another strip mall, in the same part of town, maybe two miles away from the earlier place. There was a big pit fire in the middle, where the workers were burning excess pine pieces, keeping themselves warm. Everyone was speaking in Spanish. We walked about the lot, looking things over, pointing at trees, whispering together, reading the price signs handwritten on rough boards in dark marker. Then, this adorable boy appeared, maybe 8 or 9 years old, and he began talking and negotiating with us, selling the trees - "What kind of a tree are you looking for? How big a tree do you need?," he asked in perfect English. Finding out what we needed, he led us to one section of trees and we selected one we liked. Throughout the conversation with us, the boy called out in Spanish with another man (his father? the owner?), conferring about our purchase. What a remarkable child he was - so at ease, confident, able, and helpful...so gregarious and pleasant...and fluent in two languages! He made our tree-buying such a happy and easy experience.

I have found myself thinking about this young immigrant many times over the past few days since we bought the tree, wondering  - Where does he go to school? I bet his teachers and classmates adore him. What is his daily life like? Does he work at the lot every day, or only that Saturday, when we were there? Is his family stressed? Does he feel welcomed and nurtured, here, in this wonderful country of ours?

He is, truly, a beautiful citizen.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Determined to write

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

Whenever possible, I squeeze in a visit to see my Dad, who is 90 years old, and lives in a nursing home in Maine. I stay with my brother and sister-in-law, both retired, and I am filled with envy of their life together. Their home is tranquil, clean, beautiful, and simple, with lovely views of backyard woods. We sit and chat and relax. Last time I was there, gorgeous sunshine radiated through the windows and skylight, across my face and lap, as I curled up on their comfy sofa. I thought - give me DAYS like this, on my own, in a quiet, calm, cozy home, and I will write and write and write.

My daily reality is so different. Oh, my. This school year. Truly, I have never had such a tough start to a year...and here, a third of the way through the year, I have found a balance, but it is a fragile, walking-on-eggshell balance, where the slightest change in routine or plan or expectations, and, whoa, everything goes nutty again. There are too many children with many big needs, and a cast of adults that constantly changes. I no longer anticipate anything approximating calm, which makes those rare, surprise moments of quiet such a gift. I come home fatigued, worn, frazzled, with so many strands of thoughts - he said that, she did that, I need to do that, they want that, I have to remember that, we had that, what about that, why not that?! Voices of need ring in my ear...there is simply no end to the needs. I forget to take care of myself, eating the wrong things, moving too little, not taking time for me. I squeeze in writing that is superficial and tiny and brief...I do not have time or opportunity to write out the stories in my head.

I wonder...when the day finally comes that I have the time...when I have DAYS on my own, in a quiet, calm, cozy home...will I have any stories to write? Will I be able to grab the threads that I let go, during so many unending days? Will these still be stories I want to tell?

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Leaving the metro

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

Early morning commute. The train operator announces that the next stop is mine, so I get out of my seat and stand at the door, right next to the guy who is first in line. He's a young, fit, good-looking man. I don't stand too close; I am a big believer in giving strangers adequate physical space. Yet, the guy looks at me and jumps a little bit...it's almost imperceptible, but I can tell he is surprised by me standing behind him. Something about his body language, his cursory glance at me, screams he is uncomfortable. What the heck? He inches a little away from me, as we wait for the metro doors to open. This is really peculiar. I don't believe I am crowding him, yet it's clear he is ill at ease with me. He has nothing to fear of a harried, gray-haired lady commuting to her teaching job. I freeze, and soften my bearing, unsure what has made this moment so awkward. Finally, the metro doors open - ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TRAIN.

I repeat:


I am standing to depart from the wrong side of the train.

Ha! No wonder this guy is freaked out! He's wondering why I'm creeping up on him, on a morning commute. He's found this quiet corner near the door that won't open, and up comes this old lady, crowding him, right at his elbow.

I quickly scooted across the train car and out the door, onto the platform...and laughed out loud. This was SO funny to me. I chuckled all the way out of the station.

What a good reminder to myself to give others' grace.
We simply do not know what is on others' minds, what is going on in their lives.

How did I make such a mistake on my daily commute? I take this train most days of the week. It is so strange that I would mix up the exit door of the train.

I am reminded of advice by Atul Gawande in Being Mortal, about the need to focus on one thing at a time...I had been sitting on the train, wildly texting my colleagues about things that were planned fro the day ahead...I was in 'two places at once.' I don't have Atul Gawande's exact quote, but it was something about the need to eschew multitasking as one ages, and instead focus on one thing at a time...the brain isn't as elastic...or was his advice something to do with tripping and falling? Ah, well, the mind is foggy...at least I got a good belly laugh to start my day.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Such love for me

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

The photograph of Mom fell off the piano.

Yes, it really did. Without any obvious provocation or antecedent. No one bumped it. No one stomped through the room. Nothing fell over and knocked into it. It was a quiet, early morning, and Tony and I were moving peacefully and ordinarily through our get-ready-for-the-day routine, when we heard it crash to the floor.

What was that?! I asked, and scurried into the living room, tracking the sound, only to find the picture of my Mom on the floor.

Turns out, that same early morning, my Aunt Louise died. My Mom's best friend.


My friend Sarah says - when you think coincidence, think God.

I am so thankful for this dear woman. I am so thankful for my Aunt Louise. What an amazing woman. She was my Mom's very best friend, since they were young girls. When I was born, she became my godmother and we called her "Aunt." She showered me with love and affection all my life.  

She wrote me a letter every birthday. EVERY BIRTHDAY! I am not exaggerating. I was well into adulthood before I realized what a treasure this was, and I began saving these. How I wish I had kept every single one. 

Over the years, we became regular correspondents. I always looked forward to her letters, pouring myself a cup of tea and sitting down to savor her words. 

When Aunt Louise's daughter went through her mother's writing desk, one last time, after her death, she found an envelope marked "Maureen," filled with photos of me and my family, and my own mother's obituary. Who would've believed that anyone would be so organized, as to have photos and mementos ready to be handed out at their death? 

Who would've doubted that Aunt Louise would be?

In the days since her death, I have tried to slow down and reflect. My dear Aunt Louise is gone, less than one year after my mother, and I am all alone, truly alone, to mother myself.

I must try again today, and every day, to be loving of me.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Time for bed

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

Here she is,
after a long day,
enjoying a bedtime bottle,
laying on Nana's chest,
head against Poppa's shoulder,
nestled between and among,
loving together.
Both hands and feet
in constant motion,
One hand holds Poppa's finger,
the other Nana's thumb,
Legs kick up, too,
feet reach for Poppa's arm,
toes close around his hand,
curling and hugging,
as if to say -
Are you there, still?
or is it -
Let's play!
or maybe,
Hey you,
you belong to me,
I belong to you.
All the while,
drinks the bottle,
her teeth
chew the nipple,
looking at Poppa,
clearing her throat,
searching for his eyes,
endless, caring movements,
the slow bottle.
Precious moments,
at the end of a full day.

We have all the time in the world.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

There are days that beg
to be paused,
so that one might savor
the blue sky,
the gentle breeze,
the praying mantis on the bush.

There are days that shout
to be ended,
so that one might never again
hear that cry,
feel that tension,
be surrounded by so many quenchless needs.

There are weeks
that combine the two,
where one wakes to
foreboding or cheerfulness,
depending on the day,
and making one
grateful for
fair to middling.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Scents of time

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

Morning routine on autopilot - I opened the bottle of moisturizer and squirted a couple drops on my hands, rubbing my hands together, and then rubbed the cream onto my face. Oh. My. Goodness. I am immediately back in time, more than forty years ago, teenage me, in my grandmother's house. There we are, the two of us, in her bathroom and she is showing me how to put on makeup. Oil of Olay lotion is the first step, before foundation...I spent a couple weeks with her, the summer after my grandfather died...just the two of us, together, day in and day out.

Isn't it weird that a simple smell can take you back in time?

I have used this face lotion for years and years, because my grandmother recommended it, and because I'm a pretty simple person really - I just need a face lotion, and don't need to debate it much. Might as well use the lotion that my grandmother recommended years ago! 

I wondered, what was different this time? Why did I immediately think of Grammy, instead of staying in my early morning fog? I looked at the bottle - ah..."normal skin." I have for years and years been buying the "sensitive skin/fragrance free" version. I goofed and bought the normal skin version. 

There must be a perfume in the normal version.

What a fun mistake...I can see her, my Dad's mother...dressed impeccably, makeup on, hair beautifully styled and colored. I admired her energy, her self-care, her exercise and diet. She was meticulous about maintaining her weight, keeping the same size as when she was a teenager. I loved that she worked full-time, a saleswoman in a carpet store...so different than my own mother, who was mentally ill, and never had a job or hobby or outside interest.

She was SO different than my mother. 

This may be her greatest gift to me, allowing me to see another model of a woman - and therefore allowing me to imagine finding my own way, which, ultimately, has touches of both her and Mom, with sprinkles of unique thrown in. 

She tried so hard to 'feminize' me. 

That day, in her bathroom, she showed me blush, mascara, eye liner, lipstick, tweezers, nail polish...on and on, the lesson went. We talked and laughed and primped and posed in the mirror. 

She was so surprised that I wasn't "doing my face" every day, but that just wasn't my thing.

I wonder if Grammy would like 'old me'? 

I liked things plain and simple and still do. Back then, I loved wearing cut-off shorts and my brother's hand-me-down shirts; she tried to 'soften' me, suggesting dresses and skirts.

I still prefer pants and shorts.

I never wear lipstick.

I loved how much she loved me - her granddaughter. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The game of food

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

It's been awhile since I've shared about my grandchild, 'Frog'. 

These days, Frog is a foodie. 
At eleven months old, she has six teeth and can basically eat any food, if it is prepared in small and soft enough pieces. 
I love to watch Frog eat, and feeding her is a bit of a game. 
Though I think I am, she's in charge. 
She loves 'finger foods,' always happy to feed herself morsels from the tray of her highchair, picking food up with a delicate pinch of her fingers. She will also eat from the spoon I dangle in front of her mouth with some savory bite... and, ever so quickly, she loves to grab that spoon right from me, flailing it this way and that, trying to get it into her mouth by herself - and leaving me to pinch the food on the tray for her. I am always surprised by how she catches me off-guard, and I am left thinking - wait, how did that happen?!
She eats with gusto, big smiles, and sounds - "mmm hmm hmm!," she says.
Frog has big, squishy, lovable cheeks and she will often let a few stray pieces of food sit right in those cheeks, to savor a little later, after the meal. She loves to sit at the table with us, and she loves to try new foods - which means, she wants to eat what you are eating. She watched with big wide eyes as her Poppa ate corn on the cob - riveted by every munch and chew. She even banged her spoon in accompaniment. How she would have loved to have eaten that cob, herself!
We no longer eat while she drinks her bottle. We've learned - if we dare to eat while she is drinking her bottle, she will throw the bottle down with gusto and pound her high chair tray, indignantly.
She just wants in on this game of food, and wants in NOW.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Whispers from insects

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

Bright green katydid
out of place
on the yellow playscape,
lingering on the brick wall,
hesitant to leave 
for the grass and shrubs,
with me,
listen to my inner voice and trust.

Two days later,
a praying mantis
outside my church,
walking on shoulders,
held in a hand,
stillness and patience,
echoing the pastor
listen to the still small voice within.

Changing seasons,
last vestiges of summer,
insects making final journeys 
before the cold,
what does their sudden appearance
tell me?

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The traveling keys

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

The first incident happened when I went for a jog with my good friend. The keys were nestled in the side pocket of my workout shirt. I remembered my pal beginning the run with some crazy yoga contortions and I mirror-imaged her for a bit, and then we were on our way, down the trail along the creek. About a mile into the run, I realized my keys were gone, and what ensued then was a frustrating and ultimately fruitless, keyless search of the trail, that included -
running back towards our beginning point,
wondering whether those keys were hidden right before our eyes along the path or
had their loss occurred with those yoga moves, right next to the car, or
had they already been picked up by some other fresh air enthusiast and turned into some unknown lost key place,
retracing our steps a second time as we dared to begin the run again,
running our usual distance which had now been increased by two miles due to the slow search of the first mile twice,
returning for a second time to our cars at the starting point,
realizing the keys had entirely disappeared,
a phonecall to my husband, who,
rather than simply pick me up, became obsessed with finding those darn keys, and
me getting cranky at what was becoming a much too long exercise outing in the midst of all the school work I had to do,
back-and-forth about the darn car fob and how expensive these are to replace,
now we wondered if the keys had bounced from me and somewhere further into the grass, and
the hatching of a plan to return again with rakes and to do an-even-more-thorough search of the one mile zone,
except I wanted to shower first, and eat some food, and work on plans,
could we just go later in the afternoon?, and
he putzed and checked his email, and
lo and behold,
a policeman wrote that our keys had been turned in by someone walking the path, and that we had been tracked down by the tiny movie theater membership card that was attached on the key ring, and
did we want to come by the precinct and pick these up?

Those darn keys.

I looked at them mysteriously when they were back in my possession, wondering who they had met in the meanwhile, and why these small pesty annoyances happen, and thinking I should spend some money on fitness clothes with zippers, as my friend suggested.

Then I forgot about the keys and went on with my life. None of this was worthy of writing about, until the second incident. Yes, barely two weeks later, I had this horrible deja vu of missing the same keys, with only a change in location to add any allure or excitement to the chase. What the heck is going on with these keys? With me?

Incident Two involved a school day, an entire school day to replay for the chase. I will spare you that! Suffice to say, I typically metro to work and I do NOT have car keys with me. However, this day involved bringing brownies for the whole staff, to celebrate it being Friday, and I wasn't about to lug those brownies on a long walk to my school from the metro. On those somewhat rare days when I drive to work, I have a tried and true system - once I lock my car, I unzip the small, zippered pocket at the top of the backpack, take out my school keys, put my home keys in their place, and re-zip pocket. Forget about it.
N.E.V.E.R.  F.A.I.L.
No need to worry, no need to debate, I can count on this.

Until I can't.

There I was at my car door,
unzipping every pocket of my backpack,
and there were no keys anywhere.
And I was pretty dang frustrated.

Queue the retracing of steps. Queue calling family member - this time my son, also a teacher, who I was going to meet for dinner and I was now running late, "Give me a few minutes to figure out what's going on...I might need you to pick me up and take me home and get the second set of keys and come back here..." Ugh.

I went back into the school, checked at the front desk to see if anyone had turned in a set of keys at some point during the day [No, of course], and shuffled towards my classroom in a fog, thinking I'd check my cubby there...

...when a preschooler wanders into the hallway by himself - never a good sign at 5 pm on a Friday, when they should either be home or in the aftercare program. No adult anywhere. This little guy walked with purpose, cheerily called hello to me [he was not my student, but one in another class, and I was really surprised by his gregarious nature, being so at ease, so early in the school year], and I said,

"Where are you headed, honey?"

He answers brightly,
"I'm getting my water bottle," and he walks decisively down the hall, towards his room, and now I have a new hunt, because my teacher radar is going off madly, and I am following this small being into his classroom, realizing I must make sure he is safely ensconced with the adult(s) he should be with...he looks for his water bottle, and I lock eyes with his classroom teacher, who is just finishing up for the day, both of us wide-eyed and surprised that this child is wandering the school in the late afternoon all by himself at age three, the second week of school.

As he searches for his bottle, in comes his mother, carrying an infant, visibly frustrated that her preschooler has slipped away from her so quickly.

Ahhh! That mystery solved.

I remember my original problem, and I tell my colleague how frustrated I am that I have lost my car keys.

I am standing right at the teacher's counter by the door.

I look down at this counter - and - I kid you not,
there are my keys.

My set of car keys is sitting on my colleague's counter, in a classroom I have NOT been in at all that day.
In her room.
Not mine.
I do not understand.

What in the world?

Incredulous, I was and still am.

My colleague squealed, "I haven't seen those keys!! I did not put those keys there!! Where did they come from?"

This is my version of the 'traveling pants' - these keys have a life of their own. A life of great mystery.

How in the world did those keys end up in my colleague's classroom?
What if that little preschooler had not wandered down the hall at that precise time - would I have ever been reconnected with my keys?
I will never know.
I am not meant to know.
I can only say


These keys are a reminder:

I never have the full picture. In fact, how little a view I truly have of anything.

Life's message:
Grab the keys and get ready to ride.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

I still have doubts

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

I have a dear friend who is spending lots more time on writing, now that she is retired. All of her writing is private, just between her and her keyboard. I've told her about my blogging, trying to encourage her to share her voice with others. Recently, when she visited me, we sat together and I brought up my blog on my computer and showed her several of my entries. She quietly read a poem I had written and then said decisively,

"You should end the poem in the exact way you began it...see these two lines here? You should repeat these at the end."


It surprises me that her minor critique bothered me so. I guess I have a very, very thin skin. Honestly, I do not like criticism. Even criticism presented kindly from a dear friend. It stings. It cuts. It hurts.

In a split second, all these ugly thoughts went ripping through my mind -

CONDESCENDING - How can she possibly know what she's talking about? She's never blogged before!
DEFENSIVE - That was a draft poem, not one I have finished. Plus, hasn't she missed my point? Doesn't she see the point of the poem?
PERPLEXED - Why did she think she should be editing my work when I am simply sharing?

I said nothing and immediately tried to clear that blogpost off the computer screen and move to another, while quietly seething.

Unfortunately, she persisted.

She said, "No, look, read these two lines...think what the poem would look like if you repeated these lines - it would be great."

I stopped swallowing my voice and replied,

"Dear friend, when you read someone's writing - especially mine -give compliments only, you should share what you LIKE about my writing."

She continued, "but..."

I interrupted her interruption: "No. No 'but,' please, no. Just stop. I am showing you my creativity. It hurts to have your only response to my writing be a critique."

Then I shared with her about a book talk by Jacqueline Woodson this past summer, which I had the delight of attending. Ms. Woodson shared so much wisdom about writing, and touched on this very thing. She - the author of so many award-winning books - said about her writing,

"I still have doubts."

I found those four words so comforting. Ms. Woodson said that whenever she shares her writing with others, she says "Tell me what you LOVE about it."

I'm not sure my friend understood just how vulnerable I feel about my writing. I know she believed she was helping me. We sat in awkward silence for a bit, and then I closed the computer and we went for a nice long walk together.

I feel so aware of all the flaws of my writing, the last thing I need is an echo chamber about these.

I wish that I had asked her,

"What do you like about this poem?"

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Scene change

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

This past summer was slow and emotional, with much loss and love. We had the challenging work of emptying out my parents' things for the very last time and moving treasures by U-haul. We had the painful, hard, deeply loving work of being present for the death of my brother-in-law, from lung disease. We had tender, dear moments with my 90 year old father, in his nursing home, who has trouble communicating with us, yet clearly feels embraced by our presence. In and around the 'hard,' we had sweet time with our granddaughter ('Frog'), now 10 months old, and sprinkles of time lost in good conversations with friends and family, or immersed in reading novels, or writing and journaling, or digging in the garden dirt.

It was a summer,
rich and varied and slow.

Now, scene change: intense time and thought and action, all about school. Two weeks of professional development, new staff, revised procedures, discipline statistics, equity goals, planning lessons, duty schedules, special education details, classroom purchases, collaboration, classroom setup, long days, and, just this week, first days of school, welcoming new preschoolers and families. I am very much on auto-pilot, having done this for so many years now. I am excited and delighted by my new kiddos and families. I look forward to this year of teaching. This year, however, begins like a hastily-wiped whiteboard - with that residue bleeding through of what was before. I am still processing my summer, in the midst of the new.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

I'm out front, weeding, underneath the azaleas. My goal is to eradicate every last remnant of a pesty vine I call bindweed or common morning glory...I'm not quite sure of its name, I simply know its nature. It very cleverly blends into the branches of my azaleas and the stalks of my purple coneflower and black eyed susans, winding itself all around these in a type of chokehold, growing and weaving its way to the top. It is what I call a copycat plant, in that you often miss it, if you simply glance at your flowers...it is stealth, with similar leaves, and entangled within and around its host. Beneath the soil, it has a multitude of runners, allowing it to spread out and sidle up and through almost every plant in my garden. Shoots of this vine will climb along a neighboring stalk and then bend towards each other at the top of the plants, interlocking vine and leaves with one another, forming almost a rope 'hat' at the top of the plants. When the weed has escaped my eye just long enough to settle in, it blossoms with a a bright, white flower - as if to jeer, "Ta da! Look at me! You have neglected your garden! Ha ha!"

It does no good to simply peel off the flowering vines from the tops of the plants - though I admit it is highly pleasurable to grab the mass from above and yank. If I want to get rid of the bindweed, I have to get underneath, to where the vine emerges from the ground...I need to find every chute and dig these up by the roots. I find it is best for me to be down low, on my knees, peering up into the branches, watching for chutes that have climbed up from the soil. It is slow and patient work.

Try as I might, I always miss some. I'll finish for the day, put away my tools, go inside and get cleaned up, step back outside with a cup of iced tea, and my eyes are drawn right back to the blemish - AACK! There's another one of those dang weeds! I swear, bindweed regrows within the hour.

I think how this yard work is a metaphor for our world, where vicious weeds like racism and hate and bullying and misogyny and white supremacy pop up and then reach towards one another, becoming intertwined, and, in this way, much stronger. We cannot ignore these, we cannot make superficial or temporary fixes. The only way to eradicate them is to get to the roots, which means we must be caring, determined, and focused in multiple places simultaneously. We must toil. We must get to know one another, to connect, to be good neighbors. We must give lots of love and attention to that which we treasure, and ensure that it is safe and nourished. We must teach our children well. We must realize our work is never, ever done.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Unexpected sunset

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

My husband's brother is in hospice, at end of life. I wrote this poem as we traveled by car from Maryland to Georgia, to be alongside him. Have you had that sensation where every song you hear seems to apply to the pain you are currently feeling? This was true for us, as we drove...and influenced this poem a bit. 

Unexpected Sunset

Unexpected sunset,
sky bursting
red and orange,
white, gray, and darker still,
interspersed with puffs of blue,
followed by
a gorgeous
full moon.
Last breaths.
Many long highway miles,
stretch and fatigue,
so many aching
fleeting words,
whispers of love,
all along the highway,
as we travel
to be bedside
last breaths.
Listen to Roseanne and Bruce wail,
like a lost ship,
adrift on the sea,
sea of heartbreak,
lost love and loneliness.
We are heartbroken,
this suffocating pain,
a life too short.
Unexpected sunset.
Full moon.
Last breaths.

In the midst of so much pain,
there is great beauty.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

A patio set

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

My Dad, 90 years old next week, was recently moved into a nursing home, due to complications from Parkinson's. My Mom died last October. This summer, we finished emptying my Dad and Mom's house, and then we drove a U-haul filled with treasured belongings from their house in Maine to my home in Maryland. This poem is about one of those treasures, a patio set, that now resides at my house.

A patio set,
wicker, soft, and blue,
a place for them to be,
a gift of love just a few years back,
to welcome them
to their new home in Maine.

A patio set,
wicker, soft, and blue,
easing them into
a small home with caregivers, after
the abrupt end of their life in the south, 
in a coastal paradise. 

A patio set,
wicker, soft, and blue,
meant to help them adjust
to less independence,
a place for them to be,
in hopes of helping them feel more at home,
to remind them of the beach and the sea.

A patio set,
wicker, soft, and blue,
we hoped they'd spend years
sitting, enjoying the birds and the trees,
surrounded by their
cherished photos,
familiar trinkets,
loving family.

Not to be, not to be.

A patio set,
wicker, soft, and blue,
is now my place to be.
Although not an an heirloom or antique,
instead, purchased for them
it is lush with meaning.

A patio set,
wicker, soft, and blue,
reminds in the midst of birds and trees,
of strong and fragile,
of living, breathing, loving,
of all that is possible and might not,
of how things change.

A patio set,
wicker, soft, and blue,
new to me, meant to be.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Too much awake

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

A poem, written in the middle of the night, about being awake in the middle of the night. 

These days,
too much new and unusual exercise -
a long run,
a particularly hilly bike ride,
a novel and strenuous aerobics class,
and I am awake
in the middle of the night,

These days,
too much drink -
whether wine,
or tea,
or simply water,
and I am awake
in the middle of the night,

These days,
too much conversation -
old friends, laughing and recalling,
new folks, meeting and learning,
colleagues, sharing and debating,
and I am awake
in the middle of the night,

These days,
too much food -
whether savory and spicy,
or chocolate and rich,
or copious,
and I am awake
in the middle of the night,
promising to never again.

These days,
too much noise -
a sudden bump,
a clap of thunder,
an ambulance going by,
and I am awake
in the middle of the night,

These days,
it doesn't take much,
and I am awake
in the middle of the night,

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Trust women

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.

A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect!!

I've been frustrated by the ugliness and extremism of the abortion fight in recent months - especially the repressive laws that are now being passed. Abortion is never an easy choice for women. It is heart-wrenching and personal, and it should be safe and private. I've been trying to think of pithy retorts...though I lack the quickness that is so essential in this rapid-fire, catchy sound bite, tweet-driven world we live in. I wanted to reduce my thinking to two-word phrases - and what emerges is almost a poem:

Love babies
Trust women
Support families
Whole lives
Healthy communities
Think deeply
Encourage caring
Trust women
Respect doctors
Promote research
Improve medicine
Tolerate gray
Eliminate absolutes
Trust women
Stop polarization
Listen lovingly
Engage others
Consider perspectives
Prayerfully contemplate
Trust women
Thoughtful decisions
Allow privacy
Compassionate laws
Abortion rights
Love babies
Trust women

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Walking along the jetty

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.

A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect!!

On our most recent trip to Saco, Maine, after spending the day with my father in the nursing home, my son (age 23) and I decided to take a break and walk the beach for a bit. It was a beautiful spring afternoon, with temperatures in the mid-60s, and the sun shining brightly. Once on the beach, we decided to investigate the long jetty. At the outset, we easily traversed the large, flat-surfaced rocks. We impulsively decided - hey, let's walk the whole way! It seemed like such a reasonable idea, right then.

About a third of the way down the jetty, those flat-surfaced rocks became more rare, replaced with rough and sharp-edged boulders, requiring us to slow down and focus. Our determination increased, too, in direct correlation to this tricky footing: we must get to the end of the jetty. The breezes were so beautiful, the setting picturesque, we both felt strong and healthy - yes, we must get to the end of the jetty!

As I continued, the walk became much more challenging. Truly, it was no longer a walk or a hike, but sheer scrambling on the rocks. Could I do this? What was I thinking? I let my son go on ahead of me, calling out to him every now and again, but I honed in on my own work. I really had to watch my footing. I was no longer taking in the scenery but completely obsessed with where my very next step should be placed. At one point, I stubbed my big toe on my left foot so hard - and, whoa, the pain was piercing. But I was almost to the end of the jetty! I couldn't give up then! 

I kept thinking about the parallels to life, how those rougher periods require you to narrow your focus for a bit, to let other things go while you take care of what needs doing. I also thought about how easy it is to stop pursuing some goals once things get challenging - sometimes, if the process seems too long, daunting, or slow, I want to give up. It's important to keep on.

As we made our way down the jetty, sections of rocks were increasingly covered with slick green slime, ratcheting up the difficulty of moving forward. The 'walk' turned into a seemingly endless series of tripping, stumbling, sitting, reaching, stretching, slipping, twisting, balancing, and HOPING my feet STUCK as I stepped.

It's funny to think about my many moods on this adventure - 
First, without even stepping a foot on the jetty, I was thinking "Ooh, let's walk that! It looks so pretty!"
Then, with all those flat rocks early on, the decision is made, "Hey, let's go to the end!
Half-way down, "Dang, this is harder than I thought...but it will be fun to do with others, when we visit again in the future." 
Just a little shy of the jetty's end, pure gritty determination set in: "Oh, I am DEFINITELY not turning around, but I WILL NEVER WALK THIS JETTY AGAIN IN MY LIFE!"

Finally, we made it as far as we could possibly go. Here's where we turned around:

Isn't it beautiful? We took festive, celebratory photos and turned back to see the shore, only to realize: oh, no - the sun was setting!! There was to be no basking in this accomplishment. 

We had to hustle back before dark.


What were we thinking? 

Our supposed half-hour jaunt had taken more than an hour already...and we were technically at the mid-point. We had just as much rock to cover on the way back. 

Here I am, making my way down the jetty.

Wouldn't you think the way back would be easier? Ha! I thought it was much, much harder. We were so worn out. Plus, while we were walking, someone flipped all the rocks so that their most jagged and slippery edges were the only surfaces that we could climb on. (Or so it seemed.) 

Moving a little too quickly due to that setting sun, I did an unexpected faceplant; one moment I was vertical and next, I was horizontal. Did one foot touch a slippery surface while the other foot was still in motion? I have no idea what happened. It was one amazing fall. I landed softly on my belly, with only the tiniest knick to my knee, that I didn't even realize I had until I undressed later, safe at home. (Spoiler alert: yes, I made it safely home.) 

I lay there on the rocks thinking - "Oh my goodness, Maureen, you silly, silly woman. What if you had hit your head? Twisted your ankle? Broken your arm? Imagine that you were stranded here on this jetty! Why in the world did you think this was a good idea?" My son said he was pretty shook, because he heard me moan and looked back to see me lying down. He says he called out to me and I didn't answer right away. He thought - Oh no! We're in a fine mess now. In fact, I lay there feeling grateful about the sheer luck and beauty of my fall, and thinking about how important it was to focus, and to move slowly and steadily as I continued. 

Yes, another life lesson: maybe the next time I feel as if I am not accomplishing my goals, I should think of it as 'laying on the rocks,' a momentary stuck, a chance to regroup and then, go on - one foot in front of the other. Keep on, keeping on.

Back on my feet, I coached myself: one foot on a rock, steady, before lifting the other foot. Slow. Purposeful. Cautious. Be the tortoise, not the hare. 

And so we did, finally, return to shore. We were both SO THRILLED TO FINISH!! It was a full two and a half hours after we had started out. Plus, the sun had set. Yes, we made it down the last part of the jetty in the light of dusk.

Oh, what fools we were! Giddy fools, now that we were done.

We met a fisherman, a local, back on shore, and he noted that the slick rocks of the jetty were where the water completely covered the jetty during high tides. If we had gone out as the tides changed, we wouldn't have been able to cross back at all. Oh my goodness! We are sea illiterates! I never even thought about tides!

What an adventure, a beautiful adventure!

Sunset in Saco, view from the jetty. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

SOL: Redbuds in spring

            The redbud is one of my favorite trees. I first noticed it when hiking in the Shenandoah mountains many, many years ago, in the early spring. In the mountains, these are little wisps of trees, perhaps grown from seeds dropped indiscriminately by birds or carried by the wind, slipping in-between and alongside evergreens and oaks, dotting the trails as you climb. They almost jump out at you, bursting with bright purple-pink color, as they move from their winter dormancy. I have never really seen anything red about them...I think they should be called 'purple bud,' but, of course, I was not consulted.

             About five years ago, having decided a small, flowering shade tree is exactly what we lacked, we planted a redbud in our front yard. From our living room window, I get the delight of watching it bloom and grow, throughout the seasons. Its early spring show, with its pop of color, blows away all the other seasons, in my opinion. I soon realized a downside of the redbud: that pop of color is very brief, with the bright blooms changing quickly to leaves. Walking by flowering redbuds on a hike, I never thought about that; they were simply beautiful to behold. Watching the redbud from my window these past few years, I've been more aware the bright purple-pink season is actually very short and I pay close attention.

              About ten days ago, my redbud began its gorgeous spring blooming - sweet blossoms emerging along every branch, dotting these in tiny petals. Then, we went away for spring break. We drove down to Georgia from our home in Maryland, along I-81, and I again marveled at the redbuds dotting the landscape, all along this mountainous route. Beautiful! Once in Georgia, I didn't notice the redbuds...out of sight, out of mind. Here, the dogwoods were in full glory. Ah, spring!

               First thing Easter morning, back in Maryland, my spring break over, I immediately noticed that my dear redbud's fabulous spring blossoms were fading quickly - oh no! I was not here for their full glory!

               I stood for a long while underneath the tree branches, noticing and devouring.

               Emerging from the end of each of the branches were small, heart-shaped leaves. These leaves do not simply replace blossoms, but seem to grow in addition, alongside, stretching new from the tree. As the blossoms wilt and fall away, more and more leaves will arrive. Looking closely at those blossoms one more time, I notice their small purple core, with two to three tender pink petals growing out of this. I notice those new heart-shaped leaves are pretty, too, bright and shiny, deep red in color.

                This same week of spring break, my granddaughter, "Frog," who is nearly six months old, outgrew the bassinet in her parents' bedroom and moved to her own crib, in her own bedroom. Do you know she also started to sit up? Babies, wow, how quickly they change. Somehow in the midst of the hike of parenting my own children, the changes didn't seem so fast as they do now, with Frog. She is stretching and growing, just like those blossoms and leaves, letting some things fall away, opening up to so much new. I get the delight of watching Frog bloom and grow.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

SOL: Parkinson's

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.

A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect!!

Seeing my Dad this past weekend was, once again, really hard. He is 89 and lives in a nursing home in Maine. He suffers from Parkinson's, and his decline continues with abandon.

I think about how I work with preschoolers to accomplish some small skill - say, printing the letters of their name, or zippering up their coat, or cleaning up their toys. Often, with practice, I see marked improvement very quickly, as they work on these skills. For Dad, with Parkinson's, his daily work is the mirror opposite - not skill-building, but trying to delay skill-disappearing. He works very, very hard to not regress in his skills. He wants to hold on to that which he can do - and, honestly, these past few months, it seems to be to no avail. Over time - over much too short time - he is losing his ability to do absolutely everything. As hard as it is for me, his child, to watch this, I know it has to be eviscerating for him to live it out.

An example:
Just three weeks ago, he needed my help a little bit to get out of his bed or chair, and then he walked with a walker. Today, I cannot coach him by myself; I need the assistance of a caregiver to get him up. I watched/assisted as she gave him step-by-step directions - "hold this," "reach here," "step here." It was clear to me that Dad could not follow her slow and clear words. Also, just three weeks from when I last saw him, he is no longer able to walk with a walker and now uses a wheelchair. Together, the caregiver and I lifted and moved him into the wheelchair, with little or no help from Dad, little or no ability from Dad. This decline is stunning.

My brother has done a lot of reading about Parkinson's (I probably should, as well!) and he says that the progression of this disease is uneven. Although there are specific stages of decline, these are achieved in irregular patterns - sometimes moving slowly and other times deteriorating very quickly. There is rarely any "bounce back," but a progression towards immobility. Since Mom's death in October, Dad's decline is like an elevator, dropping down rapidly. Grief coupled with Parkinson's, that's how I describe his condition.

This poem is my reflection on this new chapter in Dad's/my life.

How can it be that
yesterday he could,
today he can't?

      down a slippery slope,
                      surrendering to

How can it be that
yesterday he could,
today he can't?

Moving backwards
mind muddled,                           
 a mask of oneself,                                           

How can it be that
yesterday he could,
today he can't?

   forever gone.