November 28, 2014

What I've Been Into - Autumn 2014

Hi all,

First, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. It's my favorite holiday: gratitude, good food, and family. I hope you spent it with those you care about most.

This fall has given me a lot to be thankful for. My darling boy is just a few months away from turning two years old, and this autumn has been so full of his mind latching onto everything and finding ways to communicate that it's been, well, magical. How does a child just suddenly string a six-word sentence together? And his personality, this mini-man, who is forming in front of me? Tonight he was all about "running hugs," the kind where he takes off from across the room and propels himself into my arms, all while laughing his little boy laugh. Which is loud. Which is music. Amen.

Work has also been incredibly fulfilling. I love my life as a mother. But I also look forward to doing what I do inside of my classroom. I find such satisfaction in sharing literature with kids who want to learn! Who are engaged! Who are grateful--for their education, their teachers, their opportunities. The hardest thing about this new job is realizing I might never want to leave.

And I can't teach literature and writing without wanting to make some of it myself. I haven't exactly had an abundance of that thing called "free-time" lately (as you might deduce from my paltry list of movie and TV titles below), but--spurred on both by the energy of my students, the support of my professional community, and an opportunity to give a reading with local author John Jodzio earlier this month--I cobbled together enough time and motivation to write my first real piece of fiction in probably two years. Watching a toddler learn to use words is magical, and so is realizing that--rusty or not--I still can, too.

That about sums it up for me, folks. A lot to be thankful for. A lot to look forward to. Ideas. Space. Quiet. Joyful noise. A world that's cold, but also so very very warm.

Books (& two plays!):
  1. The Scarlet Letter, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Oedipus the King (again). Rereading, though time consuming, is a powerful reminder of how valuable it can be to give anything in life more than one chance.  
  2. Old School by Tobias Wolff -- About a teenaged boy at a private school who is awkward and self-conscious and in love with books. Oh, how I put off grading essays in order to read this one! 
  3. A Room With a View by E. M. Forster -- I listened to this one on my way to and from school, and I have to say, I really enjoyed it. Probably a bit to do with the British accents and the big vocabulary words and Italy and the main love interest's name being George.
  4. The Plague by Albert Camus -- Weird. Weirder than anything I've read in a long time. But the rats crept into my dreams, so I guess that means it was successful?
  5. Fences by August Wilson -- A powerful, Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a black man and his family in the 1950s. Felt incredibly timely as I watched and read and thought about Ferguson.
TV & Movies:
  1. Catching Fire -- Watched this one quiet Friday night by myself anditwasgood.
  2. Django Unchained -- While introducing Huck Finn and discussing my students' exposure to slavery via media, many of them mentioned this movie. Ah, Quentin Tarantino. You would make an interesting history teacher, I'll give you that.
  3. The Politician's Husband -- Another British mini-series that found its way to Netflix, and somehow found its way onto our screen. After the final credits, the hubs and I both had a strong desire to watch some Downton Abbey.

Articles, Essays, & Posts:
  1. "We need to talk about injustice" by Bryan Stevenson -- I feel like I might have heard about this civil rights lawyer/speaker/writer before, but after hearing a recording of a talk he just gave locally, and now having watched his 2012 TED Talk, I'm certain I won't forget his name again. Challenging, important stuff.
  2. "Stories We love: 'In The Heart of the Heart of the Country' by William Gass" by Ann Valente --  A piece about that thing y'all know by now is at the heart of my heart: landscape.
  3. White Bean Chili -- Colder weather means we are cooking up soups and stews and crockpots over here. This recipe was simple and good.
  4. "Fall Colors Around the World" -- Because the colors this autumn really were stunning (and it's important for me to remember how lovely October was, since, you know, November has been a whole lot of below-freezing-is-it-March-yet-murk).
  5. "Fingerprint Words" by Matthew J.X. Malady. Something this ol' English teacher found pleasure in pondering.
  6. "Gate A-4" by Naomi Shihab Nye. Yes, just yes.

    Finds & Arrow Signs:
    1. Deerdorff Apple Orchard in Minnetrista, MN -- Delicious, beautiful, and there's wine!
    2. Barebones Harvest Festival -- I wasn't able to go this year, but I learned about it through a colleague, and it's definitely a way I will spend Halloween in the future.
    3. Betsy Bowen -- A wonderful local artist who works in woodcuts. I'm certain some of her illustrated children's books will find their way onto Elliot's shelves.
    4. Echinacea Goldenseal -- Right as the weather took a serious cold turn, both my husband and I were waylaid with terrible viral yuck--until, that is, our mothers stepped in with their soups and supplements, including this particular herbal powerhouse. We healed right up. Our systems are now solidly armed for winter.
    5. Chocolate croissants -- Thank you, French Club. That is all. 

    Hope you are well, friends. Thank you, as always, for reading along, commenting, and being a part of this community, no matter how much space exists between. An early Merry Christmas, and best wishes for the rest of your 2014.

    November 1, 2014

    Resilience: On Working and Mothering

    We have been having conversations lately, my son and I. Last night while I was putting on his pajamas, it was about the man on the road walking his dog. A week ago it was about porcupines, and how, for him, they have somehow come to mean "ouch." This afternoon, we looked at the leaves. They were so red--this one line of maples--and when I said, "Aren't they beautiful, El, all bright like that?" he said yes.

    "Yesss," he said, drawing out the sibilance, nodding his head. He looked up at me. He was wearing a winter hat. He was holding my hand.

    His father and I worry sometimes about him. More accurately, we worry about my leaving in the morning, followed by G's leaving from the daycare door, followed many several hours later with one of us returning, sometimes both (but often not before he's in bed), and how he interprets our comings and goings, how he feels about the drive away from home, if there is a part of him, come 3:30, 4:00 in the afternoon, that waits.

    Sometimes, after I've returned from work and picked him up and squeezed him and whispered to him and asked him about his day and interpreted his new words and kissed him and kissed him, I say, "Elliot, are you okay? You doing okay, little man?"

    "Yessssss," he says, and I hold onto that just like I hold onto his hand.

    As he has grown, and as I've progressed through motherhood, I've watched both of us relax into the new selves we continue to become. As a baby, he needed my arms to fall asleep, and the moment I tipped my body forward to set him down, he would feel it, tense up, resist the change and cling. Tonight, all smiles, he asked for his bed, for his Monkey and Morty and Blanket; he didn't even need me to sing our special song, although as I tucked his blanket around his body I sang it anyway. And I think about the way I was those first months, questioning everything, hours on the internet searching out the answers, puzzling over a little red dot an inch above his ankle. I still worry, sure, but he knows now about "shaking off" a bump or bruise because that's what I've taught him, and I suppose inadvertently it's something I've relearned, too: we are resilient.

    Someday I will be able to explain to him about work in a way that is more than a one-syllable word, this thing I leave for. I will be able to talk with him about Reuben and about Reed, about Zoe and Madeline, about the way certain students are curious and others funny and others afraid, about the way my heart is somehow big enough for these rooms of people. "I may come home tired," I will say to my boy, "but isn't it something remarkable that I never come home less?"

    I've asked myself: Can I do both well? Mothering and teaching, giving and giving and giving, and getting back.

    Let me tell you: The answer to this question isn't on the internet.

    We are each being pulled and stretched and pressed and bent. How can this not be our daily experience when life is so big? When there is so much to want--not things, but much. I will flail a little bit, dip my toes in the chaos. I'm convinced that if there is a truth to find, it is there.

    This afternoon, the wind picked up the maple leaves--those bright and brittle stars--and sent them flying frenetically, unpredictably, beautifully down the road.

    "Do you want to chase them, El?" I asked. And off he went, joyous, running and running, bending himself into the future, despite all the times before that he has fallen down.