Wednesday, June 1, 2016

If this thing is off, know that I'm on an adventure.

I, for one, was surprised and delighted when I turned the calendar page to reveal the month of June.  Surprised because I have precious little recollection of what transpired during May.  I mean, something had to happen, but what?  Then I opted to feel delighted because I love a clean slate, even if it's in the form of a month without hatch marks crossing out already-lived days.

Simple pleasures, friends.  Simple pleasures.

Before I turn the calendar page, though, I sometimes regard that messy past month and think, "That is my life.  Those days I crossed off?  Those were days I just lived."  So what did happen during May?

Well, in a flurry of grading, I finished the four college classes I taught during the spring semester, then I painted a room, then we rented our house for graduation weekend, then I ran a half-marathon, then we dismantled our downstairs living space to install new flooring, then we celebrated three family birthdays, then I started teaching my summer class, then my parents visited from out of town, then I succumbed to a strange head cold that teased me by letting me feel better for a day before dragging me down into a tailspin of congested haziness again, then I actually recovered, then we hosted multiple dinners at our house for students, then we had picnic lunches at each of my daughters' schools, then grading for my summer class began in earnest.

And then we flipped the calendar to June.

With all those day-to-day activities and moments, I rarely wrote here.  I've thought about this.  Sparse posting is bittersweet because my life makes most sense when I write.  (This month, in fact, marks the sixth full year that I've blogged.  I don't love that I've recently hovered in a season when there's a week or two-week-long gap between posts.)

Still, these intermittent blogging gaps remind me of a story that a student once told me as we discussed narrative, and I'll share with you here.  A family's dog had run away, so it seemed, and they were beside themselves with concern.  A friend encouraged them: "Don't think of it as running away; think that your dog is on a great adventure.  When he's ready to come home, he will."

The same goes for me.  If it ever seems like I've temporarily run away from writing, know that looks can be deceiving.  I'm simply on an adventure.  I'm dreaming up DIY house projects (I can't wait to share them!), or meeting with students (summer session is moving briskly), or dragging my children to garage sales (oh, the finds at the sales! oh, the groans from the children!), or teaching myself to twirl a baton (true story), or re-reading the Harry Potter series (just finished book three last night), or cozying up on the couch beside my husband (no explanation needed), or frenetically attempting to finish All. The. Things. on my to-do list before school releases my kids into the glories of summer vacation next week (wish me luck).

Life is meant for adventure and living.  And, for me, life is also meant for writing about those adventures and days lived -- those messy, crossed-off squares on the calendar that sometimes need to be crystallized in words so they're not entirely forgotten.

I'm so glad that you, dear reader, join me here as I write.  Even if there's a brief gap, I'll never be gone for long.  I'm just gathering stories, and I always return home.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Whatever the weather, the race must be run.

I don't often get the opportunity to eat dinner with an elite athlete.  (My husband, upon reading this, might point out that I often eat dinner with him.  Given this, when I refer to "elite athlete" in this post, for the sake of clarity I'll simply exclude the one to whom I'm married.)

This past Saturday, however, I found myself sharing a table with Abraham Chelanga, the winner of last year's Cleveland Marathon.  I don't know how these arrangements occurred, quite frankly, except that Joel and I had signed up for the pre-race pasta dinner before this year's race in Cleveland, our table had extra seats, and lo and behold, a small cluster of Kenyan runners needed a place to sit.

I'd love to report that we're now fast friends, but given the language barrier, we only mustered fragmented small talk, the highlight of which was when we referenced our friends who live in Nairobi.  Besides, when you're a recreational runner like me, there's not much value to add to a conversation about running with world-class marathoners.  "So, you finished your best marathon in 2 hours and 8 minutes by running 26 consecutive sub-five minute miles?  Cool.  My worst half marathon time was 2 hours and 6 minutes.  I think we share some things in common."

When Joel and I retired to our hotel room later that evening, we immediately Googled Abraham and found his statement on the pending conditions for this year's event: "Whatever the weather, the race must be run."

Wise words, Abraham.  Wise words indeed.

Because, of course, nobody expects a race in the middle of May to be characterized by chilling temperatures in the 30's, rain, bouts of snow, frequent bitter onslaughts of hail, 20-30 MPH winds, and thunder, for good measure.  But that's what went down on Sunday morning when the starting gun sounded, and for miles we slogged through the elements.

Personally, I think the hail was the most exciting feature, like having your face vigorously exfoliated with pellets of ice which, I'm sure, would cost a pretty penny in a salon.  The worst aspect was running with sopping wet feet, but I noticed that this, too, serves a purpose: when your feet are numb from cold for the final 10 miles of a race, you thankfully can't feel any blisters forming.

As Joel and I thawed and drove home after the race, we told stories of our individual runs: the hill on which he felt he was moving backwards with each step instead of foreward, the cavernous pothole that I stepped into that swallowed my foot in water up to my ankle.

Right then, I knew our stories would intensify the more we told them, like how a fisherman's tale of the great catch adds inches with each spoken rendition.  By the time we crossed the Pennsylvania border the sun shined periodically between brief bursts of rain, and I wondered if the race's conditions actually had been as bad as I thought. 

Had I just imagined the morning's brutality?

But then I stumbled upon outside corroboration by reading the account of Ralph Lowery, 65, who had been running for 5 decades and had raced the Cleveland Marathon 39 times.  "I've run in unbelievable races at times in my life," he said. "This is the worst weather I've run into... It felt more like survival than a race.  It was definitely the most challenging thing I've run in, including Pikes Peak."

I'll take his word for it.  That run was a doozey.

But, like Abraham noted, whatever the weather, the race must be run.  And, sometimes, the worse the weather, the better the stories to tell.

Did I mention the hail?  You should have seen it.  It was this big... 

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Household-Level Conspiracy Theory

Title: Household-Level Conspiracy Theory

Subtitle: I have a firm suspicion that my family lets bananas go bad on purpose.  They know I'll crack and make banana bread.  I always crack.

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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Dear Teachers of My Children

Dear Teachers of My Children,

This past week alone, I've seen evidence of the impact you make on the lives of my kids.  I see it when I open my inbox or their Friday folders (a task that always happens late on Sunday evenings... and certain Monday mornings) and read your weekly recaps.  I see the papers that are checked, the stickers that are awarded, and the notes that are written.

What I don't see, of course, is the hundreds of moments that comprise any given school day.  I can only imagine those.  I imagine an elementary classroom full of students all needing something from you at the exact same time, much like when my own children seem to conspire and simultaneously request for me to play a game, prepare a snack, read a book, help with a homework problem, glue something that's broken, find them a band-aid, and answer a mind-numbingly obscure question.

The difference is that I have three children.  You have a classroom full of them.

And yet, you answer the questions, you help with the homework problems, you individualize the instructions, you hand out the tiny plastic treasure chests when a wiggly tooth finally has been lost, you painstakingly explain how to multiply fractions, you measure benchmarks, and you put the pieces of the broken toy that was smuggled into the classroom as contraband in a small manila envelope, safe and secure, so these pieces arrive back at home safely for us parents to glue.

In your spare time, I'm guessing that you also tie a lot of shoelaces.

Even more, you don't just teach addition or long division, reading or writing, science or social studies.  You teach problem solving and responsibility.  You teach planning and preparation.  You teach that growth comes from consistent effort.  You teach test-taking skills and stamina, and even better, you then teach our kids that their test results aren't the most important measure of their worth.

These notes -- the ones you write on Post-It notes during the nooks and crannies of your busy days -- end up coming home and making their way into our children's rooms, their boxes of treasured items, and their hearts.

I can go on.  There's the Title I reading specialist who hosted a special event at a local bookstore and gifted each participant with a book.  There's the kindergarten teacher who deftly discerns whether complaints of a stomachache are from homesickness or from illness.  There's the second grade teacher who speaks encouragement and structure into my daughter's life when learning doesn't come easily.  There's the fifth grade teacher who coaches how to seamlessly transition into middle school next year.

Don't even get me started on the other helpers: the principal who motivates and holds special lunches with students as rewards, the cafeteria workers who know the names of an entire school-full of children, the custodians who mop the floors, the librarians who remember favorite titles, and the bus drivers who listen to their small, yet impressively loud, passengers while navigating traffic.  (Driver of Bus 9, I heard about the vomiting episode that happened in the aisle last week and how you put a plastic bag over the mess until you could deal with it later.  My condolences to you.)

Teachers and aides and helpers and support staff members: Thank you.  You amaze me.

We deeply appreciate everything that we know you do.  And, even if we can't always articulate it, we appreciate everything you do that we'll never see.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016