Thursday, May 24, 2018

A Full Heart

Posting has been light for the last few weeks.  I’ve been busy, as the school year always is in May.  There has been splendid weather to enjoy; this Spring’s blooms seem especially lovely.  But none of that have kept me from writing.  The main barrier to me sitting down to write has been brimming full heart I carry with me wherever I go.  

Just a few days ago, JT finished his last classes at our school.  In the coming weeks, there are Senior activities, the sports banquet, prom, and graduation to celebrate. These are exciting times for him and I am eager to soak it all in and enjoy the moments.

But alongside the celebration is the reality that we are closing a chapter together.  Gone are the daily commutes to and from school.  Past are the days when I will catch a glimpse of him in the dining commons or across the quad as I walk to class or a meeting.  Just writing these words down makes it seem more final.  

It’s not as if I didn’t see this coming.  Children grow up and my boy is no exception.  I have so many happy memories of our school life together.  He’s prepared to move on to college.  I appreciate how lucky I am that he is ready.  I am grateful for my blessings.  There is so much about the next chapter that feels exciting and I am looking forward to it.  But as I prepare to watch my boy walk across the stage and receive his diploma, my heart is full.  So very, very full.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Tomato Season

A few weeks back, I put zinnia seeds in the ground and dug the holes for the tomatoes I would shortly plant.  To get ready for the tomatoes, I got out my tomato cages and put down some fertilizer.  This past weekend, the tomatoes went in the ground and I caged them up.  There is basil alongside the tomatoes and I'm already planning the caprese salads I will make.

The early stages of a garden are always filled with promise.  I visit the plants every day and watch the forecast to make sure we get enough rain.  I am always excited to see the summer’s harvest and this year is no exception.  That’s happy!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

I Live in Hope

I teach U.S. History to 7th graders.  My course starts with the settlement at Jamestown and aims to close out at the Emancipation Proclamation, which is a story of hope.  I end with hope because a whole lot of my course is helping a diverse group of 21st century 12 and 13 year olds to unpack a story that features the original sin of slavery.  I respect the power of the American promise and I believe in it.  I also realize the ways in which we have fallen short of that promise.  In 8th grade, my students will pick up U.S. history at the Civil War and they will study into the 20th century. I want them to be well-prepared to understand segregation, the Great Migration, and the promise of Martin Luther King, Junior.  I also want them to ask questions.
The greatest challenge in my class is to help the students to identify and understand the promise of the Declaration of Independence, specifically Jefferson’s claim, “that all men are created equal” and then to make sense of that promise in light of the many ways our nation fell short of it.  

Slavery and the exclusion of women from the promise of the Declaration absorbs a great deal of our time; it has to.  Because as thrilling as Jefferson’s words are, our nation fell far short of them for many years.  We fall short today, as even a cursory listen to Donald Trump’s words reveals.  There are days when I listen to the news and shake my head; there are days when I listen to the news and rage, as I did when the president took up against Mexican immigrants this week, calling some of them animals.

When it comes to slavery, it’s remarkably easy for 12 and 13-year olds to fall into the trap of believing that slavery was introduced into North America because the colonial settlers needed workers.  We separate these issues and identify the reality that labor was needed and that enslaved labor was chosen to meet that need.  This distinction helps the students to identify the racism at the core of slavery.  And make no mistake, slavery was a racist institution.  While its easy enough to understand their co-existence, it’s often a disappointment for the students to realize that the end of slavery did not bring an end to the racism at the heart of the institution.

I am careful when I introduce the language of the positive-good pro-slavery crowd.  The rhetoric of John C. Calhoun is my first vehicle.  In my classroom of racially diverse students, we are precise when we look at Calhoun and his crowd; we never lose sight of the ways that he sought to dehumanize the enslaved people; to treat them as other.  We recognize that the tools Calhoun used to characterize the slave, calling the enslaved people animals instead of people, can easily become the ugly racism of our time.  

And indeed it has, thanks to Donald Trump, whose words are damaging and dangerous.  I’m a woman who is often unrealistically optimistic and this default position of hope has always served me well.  When I taught 7th graders in the atmosphere created by the presidency and leadership of Barack Obama, we all soaked in the language of hope.  We felt proud of an African-American president living in the nation’s White House.

Donald Trump is not a man who brings hope.  In his small meanness, I feel dirty and ugly.  Hope feels elusive and rare, a fading commodity in the bitter stew that is Trump’s version of America.  I tell myself that reason will triumph; that my little group of thoughtful and tolerant 7th graders will win out.  But some weeks that feels like an investment in optimism that is not born out by the reality of daily life in Donald Trump’s mad, mad world and I  grow weary.  But I will not give up the fight.  I will live in hope.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Dogwood Day: Tuesday, May 17

We’ve reached the point of Spring where verdant, lush green is everywhere.  All over town, dogwood trees are transitioning from flowers to leaves.  My tree is no exception.

This stage of Spring is unbelievably lovely, with mild air and fresh colors everywhere I look.  I sleep with the windows wide open and wake to morning color that makes the world seem like a splendid place.  There’s a freshness that makes it seem like all things are possible.  

That’s happy!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Open Rebellion

It starts slowly, so slowly that I never quite see it coming.  Instead of ironing all my clothes for the week on Sunday evening, I toss a few items in the dryer with a wet washrag and consider that acceptable.

The next week, I identify all the knit clothes I own, toss them into the dryer with a wet rag, and skip the ironing all together.

The following week, I guiltily get clothes to the dry cleaner and vow that I will iron the rest.  I do iron those clothes.  But I resent it.

The next week I find multiple excuses to avoid drying my hair and turn up at work with braids or a messy bun in hopes that either will disguise my failure to be a mature adult.  My clothes are mostly ironed, but it’s a job done poorly.  I still resent it.

The next week, I start packing flip flops in my school bag, so I can switch shoes as soon as the school day has ended.

And then a day comes when I get to the car in the morning and only then do I realize I am still wearing my morning flip flops.  I know I should go inside and get school-suitable shoes.

I do get them.  

But I grow weary of grown-up clothes and grown-up efforts.  I want to wear flip flops every day.   It’s May 10 and Spring rebellion is in full bloom.  

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Dogwood Day: Tuesday, May 8

In the past week, white flowers emerged on my dogwood tree.

Blooms and leaves emerged for nearly all the trees in the past week.  There is a blanket of tree pollen everywhere we look. and all of the trees have tiny leaves which make up the hazy green of Spring.

Each morning, my backyard is fresh and dewy.  The verdant green makes for a lovely sight when I look outside each morning.  

That’s happy! 

Monday, May 07, 2018

May Front Porch

In the last few weeks, the front porch has gotten a spit shine.  T fixed a few loose rails on the bannister and though I still need to complete some maintenance chores, right now things are looking quite lovely.   Indoor plants have come outside to soak up the sunshine.  They’ve been joined by pink impatiens that are lovely to admire.

May means flowers; bunches and bunches of them, thanks to the Mother’s Day treats T gave me.  There are pink begonias for the planter in front of the stairs.

I’ve hung a flag with a flowerpot to greet the day.

This year’s hanging baskets are fuschias, which are simply splendid.

The table has cheery geraniums and an assortment of other things that make me happy.

May has delivered a lovely patch of sitting outside weather.  I couldn’t be more pleased to welcome the mild days.  I’m making time to sit in the porch rocker and take it all in.  May, you’re looking darn fine. 

Sunday, May 06, 2018

The Zinnia Season

Last week’s forecast suggested that the first week in May would bring us some unusually warm days and nights.  So I did what any rational woman would do: I lined up my flip flops and I planted my zinnia seeds.  

Zinnias are on of my favorite things about summer.  Daydreams of picking bouquets from my own garden have carried me through many a dark, cold Winter day.  But daydreams are one thing and getting seeds in the ground are another; getting planted a few days early is a treat.  Tomatoes and basil will go in the ground in the next week; by then tiny flower seedlings will have emerged.  The 2018 gardening season has begun!  

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Time’s Witness

At historical sites, trees that were standing when a historical event occurred are designated a Witness Tree and a marker placed by the National Park Service says as much.  T and I have seen this at a host of historical sites, at places like the Battle of Gettysburg and Antietam.  At Seneca Falls, New York, in the yard at Elizabeth Cody Stanton’s home along the Erie Canal, the tree in the left of this photo was there when Stanton sat on her front porch and dreamt of the Declaration of Sentiments. 

I like trees anyway, but the witness trees seem special because they have seen so much and stood through time, silent witnesses to major events. 

In my backyard, I have a patch of iris bulbs that came from my great grandmother’s home in Missouri.  They grew there when my father was a child in the 1940s.  A patch of the bulbs was transplanted when he moved to California in the 1950s; there they grew in my grandmother’s yard.  My father planted them in the homes we lived in while I was growing up.  Eight years ago, he separated the bulbs and mailed me a few of my own.  I planted them in a sunny corner by the garage and waited for flowers.  

Each Spring, the bulbs would put forth green leaves, but I never got flowers.  I enjoyed the greenery and kept fertilizing them, in the hopes that flowers would someday emerge.  A few week’s back, I was checking the garden and I realized that this year there were iris flower stems among the green leaves.

This week’s sunlight and warmth brought more growth.  This morning, I have pretty purple irises to admire.

They are lovely, of course, and made lovelier to me because of their history.   I garden because my father gardens.  He gardens because his grandparents taught him to love stirring the soil and making things grow.  This history of gardening is important to me, a reminder of things that transcend time.  These flowers remind me of gardeners that came before me; they are witness to the gardens my family grew.  They make Spring that much sweeter for the reminder.

That’s happy!

Thursday, May 03, 2018

On Teeth and Time

I suddenly became a single mama on a Friday in June in 2006.  Much of that first year remains a blur of heartache, though there are a few stories that are vivid in my mind.  One of them has to do with the first tooth that JT lost.  That June, he had a few loose teeth that he’d been worrying with his tongue for weeks.  Then, well past 10 pm on a Saturday night, his first tooth fell out of his mouth.  He was euphoric and excited about what the Tooth Fairy would bring.  I was horrified because the only money I had on hand was some pocket change and a $20 bill.  Going to the zippy mart with a tired 6 year old to break the $20 wasn’t an option.  So I tucked the $20 and a note from the tooth fairy under a sleeping JT’s pillow late that night. At the time, it seemed like yet another unnecessary reminder of the loss that landed me in single parenthood.  

The next morning he was thrilled beyond measure by his good fortune.  He barely read the Tooth Fairy’s note (it had a pointed explanation that $20 was only for a child’s first tooth with the information that subsequent teeth received smaller rewards).  JT, flush with riches, didn’t care about that.  He told anyone who would listen that the Tooth Fairy gave him $20 for his first tooth.  I would smile benignly as other parents looked at me like the big payout had broken some kind of sacred and secret parent agreement.  I kept the backstory to myself.

As time passed, the story of that first lost tooth makes me smile.  Though it started as yet another sad story of being a mama on my own, I now think of it as a story of redemption.  I survived those early years of being a mama-on-my-own by thinking fast and ignoring doubts, became strong on my terms, and then made a new family with T.  

Yesterday, my now 18 year old son lost his last teeth.  They were wisdom teeth and their removal was a surgical event complete with a post-surgical half-sedated JT repeatedly announcing that he felt great and asking the nurse and the doctor when he could start running again.  He talked so much after the surgery that the nurse kept needing to replace the bloody gauze; I finally got him to quiet down and then I carried him home.  We made an ice sling to keep the swelling at bay and started the Netflix.  

I've been a mostly-patient nurse and he's had pain killers, jello, milkshakes, yogurt, and scrambled eggs to eat.  Last night, the Tooth Fairy returned for her final visit.  She left $20, tucked under his pillow while he played video games.  I suspect that she's the sentimental type.