Since last I wrote two children have moved, two grandchildren have been born, reading tests have been given, data has been analyzed, a classroom packed up for the summer, a literacy symposium attended, and a trip to Maine magically enjoyed. I wish I could say that I had kept writing through it all, but I didn’t. I’m okay with that because I know that I was present for the living of it which will someday inform some piece of writing.
I was in Maine with some old friends and new friends for a week of conversation, walking, reading, puzzlemaking, and even whale watching. I’m not sure what part I enjoyed the most, but I think it was the opportunity to be with smart, creative, thinking women who care about their communities, each other, and living purposefully in the world.
The common friend to all of us is Jen. She invited us to come together to celebrate her 50th birthday. We came from many different places, circumstances, and decades (I was the oldest). It was so fun to know Jen better through the friends she invited. We talked about books, religion, family, diversity, whales, music, food–there was always an interesting conversation going on. The TV never went on all week. No need. Such a restorative week.
Sue, the artist in the group, gathered small things on the beach. This said it all.
Everywhere I look, flowers remind me of where I have been. Azaleas are for my mother; tulips are for my dad. The lilacs belong to my sister. Our giant bush grew outside her bedroom window and lent its heady, sweet fragrance to her sleep. For me, there are the daffodils in every variety, size, and shade of yellow. Wisteria never grew in my yard, but in my memory, it means mystery and heaviness.
Camellias and peonies are for my first piano teacher, Mrs. Manwaring, who loved Chopin but not Mendelssohn. Her flowers were her pride and joy. She loved them as much as her husband loved horses and cattle ranching. They kept a house in town for the weekends and traveled out to the farm during the week until it was way past the time they shouldn’t have been driving.
Soon the hydrangeas will bloom. Then I will have different memories of flowers. For in summer, blue hydrangeas are for my mother. The hydrangea my father planted more than 50 years ago still blooms in the side yard.
And oh, the softness of honeysuckle summer nights.
One thing I love about my husband is his vocabulary. He knows many more words than I do, which is interesting, considering he is not particularly a reader. He grew up in a home where words were important, and his mother was a published poet. She was also his Creative Writing teacher in 11th grade. His vocabulary shines when we watch Jeopardy and when we play Scrabble. I learned early in my marriage to accept defeat in certain things. I may have won Scrabble twice in 45 years.
He also likes to make up words. Sometimes it can be annoying if a certain word is repeated too often, but occasionally his word-creations can be amusing. This morning was a time when his playfulness with words struck me funny. I got a serious case of the giggles.
I was hurrying to get ready for work to attend a meeting to discuss a student I work with. I suspect this might be a student with dyslexia. As I gathered my clothes, I was telling my husband about the meeting ahead. As if often the case, I was running late. I pulled on my pants (elastic waist) and looked down. Something wasn’t right. They looked weird and felt weird. I had put them on backwards! You can imagine my frustration in the moment.
“So, does this mean you have ‘Dyspantsia’?” he asked.
A moment to process. Then the giggles started. I was laughing so hard that I had to struggle to get my bra on without twisting it. My first attempt failed.
“Oh no! ‘Dysbrasia,’ too?”
Note: I googled “dyspantsia.” Apparently, it has been coined before as a condition where one is attacked by a swarm of ants that get in one’s pants. I guess it now has a second meaning: the condition causing one to put pants on backwards.
One of the great joys of spring in Virginia is the brief show of bluebells. Every year I wait eagerly for the few days when the bluebells peak along the river. This year I wondered if the day would ever come. It’s been so cold and gray.
Last Friday, we had an early dismissal. I was like a kid anticipating a birthday. I couldn’t concentrate on my work, so I packed up. I actually left early. It was 80 degrees, sunny, clear blue sky, and the bluebells were calling me. I couldn’t resist.
The reward was immeasurable. My eyes could hardly take it in. If the sight of such beauty were food, I would be stuffed for weeks. All I would ever need would be a little bit of blue.
Today I attended a regional meeting for literacy coaches and reading specialists. As I looked around the room, I saw very few women and no men even close to my age. Most in attendance were probably the ages of my own children. It felt a little like middle school. Who should I sit with? Will they want old me at their table? I began to wonder if I should begin to think about retiring. After all, I am a grandmother to 11 and soon 12. Does that signal a different season for me? If I didn’t work, would my relationships with them change, deepen, or visits happen more frequently? I’m not sure.
I’m SO torn. I love teaching. I love learning. I love figuring out how kids learn. I love working with teachers on how we can be more effective teachers of reading and writing. I still love reading professional literature and have spent a fortune on picture books and professional books. How do you know when it is time to set your passion aside? Can it ever really be set aside? So how do you kindle your literacy passion outside the boundaries of school?
Therein is the problem. Literacy learning and teaching IS what energizes me and keeps my brain active. I’m in a school where I have positive relationships with most staff members. We are progressing in workshop teaching. We are progressing in interventions that reach individual students by need. We have had phenomenal success with our first graders this year and may even be able to significantly close a gap with our 3rd grade Spanish-speaking students. After intensive work on building background knowledge, using strategies for unlocking new vocabulary , enlarging decoding skills, and retelling and comprehension discussions, we feel pretty confident that many of the 12 students in the intervention will be able to pass their state Standards of Learning tests in May. That would be AMAZING.
Maybe this writing is helping me see that perhaps it is not time YET. I feel there is much work I want to do and can do still in teaching. But then there are all those other pursuits such as writing, taking a sewing class, learning to kayak, naturalist courses, community service, family history and genealogy, piano lessons, college work in music. Sometimes I feel cursed by the many interests that pull at my brain and heart.
Time to table this decision for the night. I’d be happy to hear from you and how you may have made the decision to retire.
Today I will inhale the blue Carolina sky and remember walking to the lake with Maggie.
Today I will hoard memories of bluets and newborn babes.
Today I will savor the imperfections that challenge me.
Today I will trust in family.
Because I have experienced loss.
Because I am not yet complete.
Because bluets may be my favorite flower and nothing compares with newbornness.
Because tomorrow I leave these loved ones to return home.
Dear SOLC Friends,
Thank you for your kindness in supporting me as a writer, teacher, and grandmother. I could not ever ask for more. So many of you have lifted me by your example of quality in both writing and living as aware, thoughtful human beings. Your stories, poems, and reflections are nourishment and creative calories for this hungry soul. I wish each of you the best in your lives.
I don’t understand the ache in my heart.
I don’t understand the grief in the joy.
It was a day for welcoming baby Johnny home.
Maggie dressed up in her best lilac dress.
Together we held him on the brown leather couch.
My arms surrounded the new brother and big sister.
“I love him, Grandma,” Maggie said.
Now, hours later, I weep.