An Urgent Note–Slice of Life Challenge Day 25

As I was unlocking my office door in the middle of the day, I discovered a rumpled sheet of notebook paper sticking out of the disused mailbox next to the door. Curious, I unfolded it.

Mrs. Gordon

We have an important question for you. Can we come down?

M & A

Hmm. These girls meant business, they’d come armed with paper and pencil, not to be deterred. I remembered one of the 5th grade teachers saying this morning that two girls had come by my office while I was out and about the building. This must be their note. In my head, I flipped through the possibilities of what they might need to ask me.

I decided the best solution was to investigate. So I trekked to the 5th grade hall at the far end of the building. I set my mug of tea down on the table outside 5B and tried to open the door as unobtrusively as possible.

I could see the teacher, crouched down on the rug with a book club. He looked up and quickly sussed out why I was there. Standing, he called the two girls. At opposite corners of the room they untangled themselves from the pages of their books. I sat on the corner of a table and smiled at them as they approached.

“Hi girls. I saw your note.”

“Oh, good.” Missy* continued, but at first what she was saying didn’t make sense to me.

Then Amy* chimed in, “We know you love this book too, so when we got to this confusing part we thought you could help us figure it out.” She held up One for the Murphys.

I melted right there on the corner of the table. Hands clasped to my chest and head tilted I fangirled. A gushy, “Awwww,” escaped me and the girls responded with looks of “We know!” “I love that book!” I remembered telling Amy a few days before when she told me she was going to start the book how Mrs. Murphy was the best book-mom I’d ever read. But I was also melting that they’d thought of me. They are mine only in the sense that we are all three readers. Every reader in the building is ‘mine’ though from afar.

“Ok, show me the tricky part.”

They closed ranks on me, and head together, shoulder to shoulder we shared the book. Missy  opened to a page completely in italics.

“Oh, right. One thing that makes this book complex is that the author uses flashbacks where Carley is remembering something that already happened.”

“I think this is one of those parts,” Missy said, “but look. What does it mean here when it says ‘she held her down.’?”

My eyes flew quickly across that section of the page, recalling this very dramatic scene, in one way the crux of the story.

Their eyes looked pained and confused.

We had an impromptu book club right there in the corner of the room. We gushed over the book, lamented the shocking revelation they’d just encountered, tried to compare it to our own experiences and found it alien. Then we marvelled at Carley and some of her reactions to things came into better focus. Ahh, this was why…

I left them with a tip to keep thinking about why Carley’s actions and reactions to things seemed to contrast and contradict what we would expect, and to think back to this moment in the book when that happened. I invited them to call on me anytime as they’re reading.

These girls are real readers. Wild readers sometimes can’t help it; they have to seek out others who will understand their strong reactions to a particular book. And sometimes it has to happen–right at that moment. I can recall a few of those missions myself: walking into a colleague’s classroom while she was teaching, tears streaming down my face, eyes puffy and still sniffling because I’d just finished our book club book during my prep. Two of the girls from our book club happened to be in that class, and when they saw me barge in with that ugly cry look on my face and the book cradled to my chest, they smiled big. Our reactions are sometimes more delicious when we share them.

I wish you all moments like these with readers you know (tears optional!).

And if you haven’t read One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, it really does have the best fiction-mom ever. You will probably cry, but Carley and Mrs. Murphy will make you smile, too.

 

*Not their actual names.

Hobbit Hikes–Slice of Life Challenge Day 24

It felt like we’d been journeying a long time, but really the water in the bottle was still frozen except for the tiniest sip. It was only minutes earlier when we’d stepped off the pavement into the woods behind the neighborhood…just past the familiar, like falling off the edge of the real world into the world of the book.

Now I was padding along through the long soft pine needles that fell in blankets beneath the evergreens. I breathed in the crisp autumn air as I tilted my head back, back to scan for the tippy top of the trees. My limbs loosened and I fell into an easy pace as I soaked in the dappled light and shadow just beyond the edge of the worn path. I enjoyed the sounds of the bird calls, and the giant sounds from the tiny scampering creatures of the woods in the otherwise hushed forest.

Even so, my six year old self tramped noisily along, unaware of my own noise. I was like Gimli outside the boundary of Lorien, breathing so loudly the elves could hear me miles away. Except I wasn’t Gimli, I was Frodo. And I had a mission.

No one had seen the ents in a long age. Treebeard and his kin had scattered through the forests of Middle Earth early in the Age of Men, but surely they were still shepherding trees. It had been longer still since the ent-wives had been seen, but surely our keen eyes could spot them. I searched out faces in the trunks of trees. Watched for waving branch-arms when the wind was still.

Always, I had Gandalf at my side, his long staff swinging forward and planting firmly in the earth with each long stride. I could see his lengthy shadow stretching out ahead when we came to a clearing. His wise presence and reliable skills were reassuring.

While I may not have had a green cloak with the brooch of Lady Galadriel I did have a cloak of imagination. So completely was I enfolded in the story, that I saw and heard and felt its world in place of my own. This was the gift my dad gave me from my earliest days. I discovered that you could get lost in stories, immersed in them, become part of them. And while I no longer don the identity of hobbits, I frequently disappear into the world of books.

 

The Little Things that Change the Direction of Lives– Slice of Life Challenge Day 23

twitter fameSo, this happened.

Flashback.

A few years ago I walked into a small independent bookshop in small town Connecticut to hear an amazing author give a talk about her book, One for the Murphys. The shop was owned, I thought with awe, by another legendary children’s author.

I walked in feeling like authors might as well be unicorns. Ordinary people like me would never meet them.

But then I met them…well, almost. I was too shy. They’re FAMOUS.

Flash forward to ILA Boston.

I sat on the floor in the back of a session with a panel of AMAZING children’s authors like Kate Messner and the previously, almost met, Lynda Mullaly Hunt among others.

This time I screwed my courage to the sticking place and said hello. I commented on the barn library Kate described–I probably sounded vapid–and asked to take my picture with them. I was a little braver this time because I’d met another teacher-by chance- who knew Lynda and who talked like she was an “ordinary person.”

OK. Authors are real people…like us…but still more special.

A certain colleague challenged me to join the Slice of Life Challenge.

Challenge accepted in a “what’s the worst that could happen?” kind of a way.

I sliced. I posted. I received some encouraging feedback.

I enjoy writing. It makes me feel grounded and whole. I’ve been way less angry than when I spent that time watching or reading the news.

Flash to Riverside Church–Hallowed in my mind as sacred for literacy

Someone I look up to in the literacy universe sat by me and simply said, “You should write a book.”

I’ve secretly always wanted to write a book (or books) but who am I that anyone would actually want to read what I have to say? What do I have to say anyway? I grew up in what my friends joked was “Sheltered, Connecticut.” A small town girl who went to college in an even smaller town. I’m just me. (Sorry Drew Dudley, I hadn’t heard your keynote yet.)

Cut to my new ‘Zen Library’- A writer’s garret a la Jo March

I spent much of Sunday tucked away under the eaves with my laptop and a soft smile.

My husband ventured in late in the afternoon. He said, “You should write a book.”

He’s said it for years. But I’d always discounted the idea (see above regarding unicorns and small towns).

Then last night, Cornelius Minor, a minor god in the literacy pantheon, retweeted one of my slices and tagged Lucy.

OMG

So maybe the universe is talking (or not). But I’ve decided that, like the SOL Challenge, where’s the harm in giving it a try?

I have a few ideas now.

This summer I’m writing a book.

Maybe someday, someone (besides my parents) will read it.

A Busted Lip–Slice of Life Challenge Day 22

Walking around the corner toward the office before school this morning I heard a heartwrenching shriek and then a kind of wail. I just saw a little body guided by a bigger one disappear behind the door to the nurse’s office. Though they were no longer visible, the earth-ending sound continued.

I glanced at the clock as I passed. Ten minutes until homerooms…which meant playground accident. Someone–one of our smallest someones–was going to have a rough day. That kind of unhappy doesn’t rub off quickly.

I smiled at my kindergarten neighbors as they moved from the carpet to their writing spots. These little faces always make my day brighter.

One friend was stooped over the contents of his sun-yellow folder, spewed across the floor as classmates passed. Leaning down, I asked, “Can I give you a hand with that?”

A face peered up. His eyes were still a little red. His cheek was scraped and his poor lips were the black-and-blue that’s still red-violet. A spot of blood still showed on one lip. But there was a grateful look in his eyes.

I walked with him back to his seat and together we straightened the contents of his folder. This friend didn’t need a conference, he needed a reset for his day. I settled in next to him, kneeling to be eye to eye as he worked.

At first I watched as he laid his how-to book on top of the closed folder and searched around for his pencil. Not on the table. Not on the floor. Not in the pencil box–his eraser was in the cap to his glue stick.

“Here, I’ll fix your glue stick while you get your pencil out.” I gently lifted the distracting glue stick from his fingers, replacing the cap.

He located his pencil out of the ether and began to read the “Things Needed” page he wrote yesterday.

“Can I give you a compliment?”

A wary smile peeked from behind his bruises.

“I’m noticing that you started out by rereading what you already wrote. That’s such a good strategy to get yourself going as a writer. Can I hear what you wrote?”

His eyes met mine for a moment, then head down inches from his page he read each needed item for ‘makg rt’ (making art). He added great emphasis on the ‘wudr’ you’d need for your paintbrush. Then he turned to the next page and the next, reading slowly and tentatively at first, but with more confidence as he remembered his book. He finished the last page.

“Hmmm, What do you think? What more is there to do in this book?”

He hesitated, I looked down at his page instead of at him. I hoped he’d look to his own writing for answers instead of me.

” I forgot to do the picture,” he announced turning to another page.

We looked together at his page as he sketched. Then we reread the words he’d written.

“Hmmm, when you read this word to me, I thought I might have heard something else. Will you read this again?”

Resting my finger under the word I stretched its sounds p-iiiii-c-cher.

His eyes went round and his chubby fist curled tighter around his pencil. “Rrrr” he said. “It needs an r.”

“Wow! Look at how you added more letters to your word. I wonder if you could add more words to your book?”

Before I’d finished his head was nodding resolutely. on his slim shoulders. “Color your picture with your paintbrush.” He’d added another clause.

“OK, it sounds like you have a writing plan. Go ahead.”

I started to stand up and move past him to another student, but his hands rustled across the table over his papers and his worried gaze reached out to me.

The piece of my brain that knew I was supposed to be modeling for a new teacher niggled at me that this wasn’t a clean research-decide-teach conference. The piece that knew I was also being observed considered for a fraction of a second how bad this was. But my heart told me to scoot back down…so I did.

Together we found the tools he had in his folder. There was a personal word wall with just the word he needed. When he saw it, his sore lips moved as he tested each letter-sound against the word he needed. He stared intently at the word, repeating the letters to ink them in his brain before he wrote them.

“Do you know what?” I asked. “You’re the kind of writer who knows how to use his tools to help him write anything!” We high fived.

“I know you can add those words. I’ll come back in a little bit to check.”

This time I made a clean exit to the next table. I pulled in next to another writer with my back to him. A few minutes later he came and touched my shoulder.

“I did it!” His eyes were clear and his puffed lips turned up into a genuine smile.

Yes he did! He reset his day. busted lip

Do you want to see where I used to live? Slice of Life Challenge Day 21

There are snow NO days and then there are snow GO days. On the former, you hunker down in cozy pajamas with hot tea or cocoa, glad to be safe and warm inside while the wind howls. On the latter kind of day, there’s no school, but the roads are mostly clear. This is a free chance for adventure, the things you hardly get to do.

On this particular snow Go day, Qaiden and I had gone to visit my Mom. Before we left she suggested going out for lunch. Snow GO days are also YES days. So we piled into the car and off we went. These were my old stomping grounds, where I’d spent most of my childhood.

As we passed some familiar landmarks I said, “Q do you want to see where I used to live?”

I was about to show him the old farmhouse where I’d lived for a year with my grandparents, two aunts, an uncle and cousins, plus my family. There had been three small bedrooms and one bathroom. Somehow it worked. And because of how long ago it was, it had all faded into a pleasant blur. What remained were foggy memories of a giant garden, endless woods behind the house, a stream alongside it, a lazy porch–a little Shangri-la just yards from the main road.

The house had been in my grandfathers family for generations. Family legend says that once during a tornado the kitchen window had been left open. The funnel cloud reached a finger inside, lifted the vase off the counter and left it sitting, pretty as you please, in the field across the street. The story of the place filled as much of my memory as the actual house.

I knew that after we moved it had been turned into a pool supply store, but the  kind of store that still looked like it had been a house.

 

As we pulled around the final curve past the Tennis Club that had intruded during the final months I lived there, I got ready to point out my childhood home.

“It’s right…” but no more words came.

In the place of home stood Chips-home of Connecticut’s best pancakes. It was part of a slick new plaza. And behind it, on a tall bluff I’d never noticed when I was seven, were endless rows of condos.

It used to be right here ?!?

Chips is in my old living room.

They say you can never go back again…maybe what they mean is, the place you go back to isn’t the one you left. Trust me. There was no food allowed in the living room!

Directing Traffic–Slice of Life Challenge Day

As the crowd spills out of Riverside Church after the morning keynote, I stride forward along the sidewalk, eating up the open spaces. I navigate between groups of teachers straggling toward the first session. Quickly I reach the corner and step over the mounded snowbank into the street. Bodies press closer together here and my advantage is lost. I shorten my steps to match the throng around me and edge across as the signal begins to flash orange.

The sidewalk along the next block is covered by scaffolding, making it feel enclosed. The crowd inches forward impatiently as those closer to the corner wait for the light to change. An eddy of people have spilled off the sidewalk, swirling up the street outside the cars parked parallel to the grey stone of the building. And up ahead in the street, just before the corner I see a head a little apart from the others. Standing still amidst the flood of motion. Calling out to the horde.

Lucy, stands in the street, marhshalling teachers, most of us not from the city. Cautioning against stepping in front of taxis. Cajoling to wait for the light.

Somehow this strikes me as metaphorical, though the exact significance remains elusive.

Like all teachers, she wears many hats.

Not only do we teach reading and writing and content. We coax those who are timid to try, those who need friends toward one another. We tie little sneakers and zip up coats. We bring granola bars and fruit for the hungry ones. We offer a safe space to those who need one. We show up early or stay late because something else needs doing. When we see our students, not matter where we are–at lunch, on the playground, in a store on the weekend–we look out for them. When we take them on field trips into the world we repeatedly count noses. Like a mother goose and her goslings.

And so in addition to shaping how we teach reading and writing, in addition to hosting thousands in an endeavor that must take countless hours of planning across many months, Lucy stood in the road and directed the flow of teacher traffic because though we were thousands, we could still be hurt by cars.

Spinning Poems-Slice Of Life Bonus from TC Saturday Reunion

Inspired during a session with Colleen Cruz about poetry and the reciprocity between writing with craft and reading stronger.

 

An avalanche of humanity bursting forth from the doors of the church

Spilling into the sidewalk and crashing over the curbs and banks into traffic

Spraying out at the edges across the block on one side into the median at the other edge

Thinning as the packed crowd presses along the blocks and avenues

Settling here, there, further on as they lose momentum

 

Coleen, I apologize for tuning out the first two minutes of the session as you sparked this poem in my mind. Had to jot it down before it escaped.

The Kindness of Neighbors–Slice of Life Challenge Day 19

Kindness is…

A neighbor

Pushing your snowblower across the snowy street to the neighbors toiling with shovels against the hard-packed plow-snow

Teaching a thirteen year old how to use your snowblower–what trust that conveys

A neighbor

Wading knee deep across front lawns to share a power shovel with neighbors struggling to lift the heavy drifts

Offering to leave it until the storm ends–even though your walk will be covered again

A neighbor

Driving by an elderly man shoveling ice-crusted snow with all his might the day after a storm

But calling in help from a thirteen year old with a shovel

A neighbor

Accepting the call with grace and willingness

The recap to his mother-matter of fact- no thanks are needed

Get by with a little help OR Zen Library–Slice of LIfe Challenge 18

It all started with a rolled up rug and a crowded corner…

My favorite soft braided rug has been rolled up for months. Once chosen for the nursery floor because of its soft blues and greens and soft-to-the-feet touch. Later gracing the floor of the master suite. Lately tossed forlorn across boxes without a place of its own. I wished it could once again grace a floor and caress my toes, but all the rooms were full.

I sat working in the center of it all. Writing from the hub of our house. Outside the kitchen door. In the crook of the stairs as every possible person passed on every possible errand. My desk was pushed in the corner, squeezed between the doorway and the stairs. Held hostage by the ironing board two days every week.

My thoughts were crowded–as crowded as that corner. Until one crept away. Up the stairs. Through a secret door to the only unclaimed space. A Little Princess’s attic. A Secret Garden indoors. Unheated, but alluringly empty. It just needed a few touches.Zen 3

I hauled the rug past the people, up the stairs, through the secret door, and laid it down across the bare attic floor. Where there had been only plywood and splinters, now there was an invitingly soft beginning. A little faded. A little worn. But shining with possibility.

My writer’s escape needed a place to write. Out came the drawers from the desk. Down went an old towel so I could slide it across the floor. Curious eyes peeked from behind screens across the room. Fascination won out as a boy tugged mightily from the seat of his pants on the step above the prostrate desk while I heaved from below. Stair by gritting stair we raised it to the upper floor.

We wrestled with the desk and with the best place to position it. Beside the window, but the ceiling held sway at the side? Beneath the sloping skyline of the room? Close to the open door or farther back? And now a chair.

Q offered up his own upholstered chair. His prized accoutrement. No protests-he would share. But now you must position it just there. Such firm ideas for so soft a placement. Beside the desk, just so. So you could turn and gaze beyond the panes of glass or rest a cup upon the lid.Zen 5

 

A few more touches. His brother’s unused gliding chair. A chest of blankets by the favored side. Both chairs can profit by their view, one of another, and both of an aged oak. My champion, I thought. He’d hauled and hied, spotted and spied those things and where to go.

Zen 7

But now he claimed dominion. His secret place. By virtue of his contributions. It was only fair, he thought. I must protest. My own thought had crept up those stairs to this only unclaimed space. It had been unwanted and unloved. Until…

We’ve negotiated a peace. My space–I’ll share (sometimes) for books or chess. But he claims naming rights.

The Zen Library.

 

*I won’t be writing from my garret today…I’m off to the TC Saturday Reunion. Today’s writing will be microblogging, AKA Twitter posts, from NYC! I’d love to meet some slicers if they’re there. I’m @ureadiread

 

St. Patrick’s Day Festivities–Slice of Life 17 Extra

 

St Pats Together
Photobombed by Dad!
Lone Tuba
Doing just fine

Today my oldest–who’s not that old–marched with his high school band in the NYC St. Patrick’s Day parade.

 

I worried about drunken crowds staggering into him on the end of the last row of the band.

I worried my husband wouldn’t find him through the crowds along 30+ blocks of the parade route after the band stepped off half an hour early.

I worried he’d be too cold, and his dress shoes would give him blisters.

I worried my mom wouldn’t find him after trekking to the city.

I worried the tuba, sorry–Souzaphone, was bigger than him and he’d get too tired before the end.

 

Corner of 59th
Spotted by grandparents at 59th…about half way through

I’m a mom. It’s part of my job to worry.

But it sure feels great to see that he’s doing just fine!