Tuesday, December 22, 2009

On Elijah's 6th birthday


Dear Elijah,

It has been wonderful to witness your growth, curiosity and love this past year. I can’t believe you are six years old already. I remember when you were a baby, so happy and carefree.

Now, you’ve become a thoughtful, considerate, intelligent little person. You’ve gone from being frustrated by reading to loving it so much that you can’t get enough of words. You read anything you see. It’s fun to watch you ask questions and think about what is before you. It’s fun to watch you want more books or to take over reading when I’m reading to you. It’s a pure delight that you like all types of books. And it’s been one thing that I rarely say no to: if you want a new book, I’m so thrilled that you want it, that I have to buy it for you. I hope this love of books and stories just continues to grow and fill you up.

You’ve been very curious about the goings on in the world. Just last week, you came to me and said, “mama, how can the United States defeat Afghanistan, when the United States is so far away from Afghanistan? Look at my globe, see here is Afghanistan and here is the U.S. all the way over here. How can that be, mama?” You’re a thinking child. I know you will be an excellent critical thinker as you grow older. I’m curious to see what you will use your thinking skills and memory for. I just hope that we can continue to help nourish your strengths and excitement.

You’ve asked to watch the news on several occasions to see what Obama has to say. And when I was taking a picture of a sign advertising a fight party by way of a smiling Barack Obama picture, you asked “why are you taking a picture of that. “ I replied, “I don’t know why his picture is on this fight sign; what do you think about this?” You quickly responded, “maybe because he’s fighting for health care.” Just like most of your smart retorts, I shared this one too. Everyone loves hearing my Elijah stories and they too marvel at your intelligence.

The last amazing thing I’ve witnessed this year is your love for your baby brother. You insisted from the moment we told you we were going to have a baby that the baby was a girl. However, when you walked into the hospital room on February 13th, you eagerly asked, “what is it?” I said it’s a boy and you sulked, averted your eyes and walked away so disappointed. I was disappointed for you. Your daddy was able to give you a pep talk about the joys of having a brother and how you’d be like your cousin Stephen and very quickly you were over it. As soon as you held your brother your eyes lit up and you had this amazing smile on your face. We were all snapping away trying to preserve that moment through a perfect shot.

Ten months later, your face still lights up and now Ezra knows his big brother and his face lights up too, at the sound of your voice, when he hears running and especially when he sees you smile. This has been the greatest joy: seeing you two together. Once when your father and I were just glowing over Ezra’s smile, you chimed right in, “seeing him smile/laugh, makes me smile.” My heart was so full in that moment. Another moment was this summer when Ezra was in his bouncy chair and I was getting ready, you came running to me, “Mommy, when I say on Ezra, he just smiled.” I was able to find a laugh and tell you that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to sit on your brother. You have loved to hug him, kiss him, pick him up and make him laugh. I know as you both grow, your relationship won’t always be this easy. But I hope you two become the best friends and always remain loving to each other. I hope you continue to forgive and forget as easily as you do now. I’m excited to see how you continue to show love to Ezra and how your relationship will evolve.

Finally, I’ve loved when you want me to pray with you before bed. I’ll pray about something that is going on, safe travels for family or helping Elijah to be obedient, to sleep well, to be happy or sheer gratefulness at what we have. I pray in my heart, and sometimes aloud with you, that you will always be happy and loving. I pray that you will be a good man who loves, worships, and serves God. I simply want the best for you now and always. I love you when you eat your peas and when you don’t. You are my sweet, wonderful, smart, amazing child.

On your sixth birthday.



Saturday, December 19, 2009

On the Obama image

When I was in grad school, I had grandiose ideas of writing a dissertation on images in African-American literature. I was curious about actual images present alongside text and described images, i.e. a photograph described within the written text. And although there was definitely a space for such an idea, I simply had an idea with no way to come with an intelligent argument, let alone time, energy or stamina to attempt such a Herculean, impossible feat.

So when I (barely, though barely is still passing) passed my comprehensive exams, I took several months and thought about the decision I had made the moment I walked out of those horrendous exams hysterical: I was finished with this program. I didn't have it in me to continue; I quit pursuing a PhD as all of my friends stayed on.

Yet, I never quit my love of art and literature. And I'm still very curious about images. I use images with teaching as much as I can. I have the students search for images to symbolize themes and ideas within the text. As I become a better teacher, I will have them analyze their choices and write more about the images they choose. Right now, I'm not there yet, partly due to laziness/lack of energy and because my gorge rises at their writing. (It's probably time for me to move onto something else soon. again.)

Anyways, this is supposed to be about my attraction to images.

Several weeks ago, as I was driving, I saw this sign for a fight party with what looked like Barack Obama's picture in the middle. I couldn't understand what I thought I was seeing, so I convinced myself I wasn't seeing it. Until, a few days later, I scrutinized the sign more closely and vowed to bring my camera the next time I took this route, because no one would believe me. As I snapped away from my car, Elijah, my oldest son asked, "why are you taking a picture of that sign?"

I said, "that's a picture of Barack Obama on a sign for a fight."
He telepathically heard what I was thinking and spoke what I had kept silent, "What does Barack Obama have to do with the fight?"
I answered, "I don't know, that's why I'm taking the picture."

Has Obama's greatness and presence in our global scene taken on a new meaning in which we need to keep Obama in our day-to-day living, hold onto him tightly so he won't float away? Are we using his image to garner support for our trivialities? There is an image of brown-skinned woman with hair poofed a little in front like Michelle's and the ad says, "Obama wants moms to go back to school." At a quick glance, the woman looks like Michelle and the advertisers are using the name, the image to sell their product. As I searched for the image I found this one in which Obama's on face is used to sell this online education program.

The reason why I quit the PhD program is I can't come up with a good enough argument to sustain a long piece of writing on this subject. However, I'm intrigued by the use of the Obamas' images in American culture today. I visited a home where the children and grandchildren's pictures were framed and sitting along the mantel and the last picture in the sequence was a framed print of the Obama family. I recognize this as an outward expression of a beaming inner pride. It's a "they are ours," statement. Yet, they are human and I fear what will happen when we put Obama (and family) on this untouchable pedestal. What then does he become? In what ways will our expectations be unrealistic and how will disappointment creep in?

We've co-opted this man's face and used it to advertise small scale fight parties, education programs and to include in our own social and familial circles. And although, I'm proud and sometimes I look at him, at her and can't believe they are in that position or think wow she looks like me, of course she is beautiful and I am.. not ugly. Sometimes, I feel possessive too about this family, "they are mine," as you can see below; I'm thrilled that Michelle is pleased to be in my presence. I specifically chose to pose with her and not Obama, because she is more mine than he. But obviously, I'm not doing anything with this image other than having fun. However, I fear the use of the faces and name for promotion, for familial ties is taking a step down a dangerous path, in my opinion.

On church

Written in church service on 11-15-09

This morning my son ran into my room at 6:30 and said, "church." I had to tell him to go back to bed, it was too early and we had plenty of time to make it to church.
His eagerness came from the last few (many) Sundays I used the excuse of "mommy woke up too late." And other Sundays, the lame "I'm tired." And on Saturdays, the worst of all, "we'll see.." I'm not sure how he was able to set his internal clock to ensure that this Sunday mommy woke up on time. He was relentless and I wanted to go for him.
I've had a hard time with church for many years, boredom or severe feeling of lack, or not knowing where God was in my life, fatigue, wanting to stay at home with my family (my husband doesn't attend), congregation too conservative, not spirited enough, overly dramatic, Sunday a.m. club, no meat, just potatoes, "too real".....
It's quite silly, because I sound like my students excuse after excuse, needing to be entertained in order to receive education. We teachers complain we aren't "ring-masters" and don't want to put on a three-ringed circus. We want students to be serious, to value education, receive it and actively participate.
Church shouldn't be a three-ringed circus (and though I've been to some that are close to that exciting atmosphere--it's not what I'm looking for). A serious Christian doesn't need rockets blasting to have an encounter with Christ.
What is wrong with me that the rituals are annoying, the organ feels heavy, the hymns bland, the sermon paprika or garnish, not even veggies or comforting starches. I want meat, tender and juicy, a full plate and to feel chills when the liturgical dancers praise him and empowered to slay whatever comes my way. I want more.
I've searched and can't find...
There is one place that I thoroughly enjoyed, felt filled, worshiped and praised Him fully, but it's too far away. I've moved twice and both times further away from this place that I've felt like was right for me to worship, praise and receive a good word. Look, I've added another excuse to my roll.
I'm not sure what I'm going to do about this church thing..keep trying...finding other ways to have the encounters I need... I'm just not sure...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On the original black-labeled ChapStick

I have a tube of original ChapStick with the black label with white print on my dresser. I have a blue-labeled tube, "lip moisturizer" in my makeup bag that I apply frequently but don't think twice about.

The black-labeled tube smells like hardened vaseline, like my father, like my first encounter with chap stick, like my father's absence. I look at the black label and white lettering as it sits on my dresser or between my pointer and thumb and I see the tube on the wood and glass table near the beveled edge in front of the black and white striped couch in my childhood home. I see the tube lying in the bathroom drawer amongst brushes and hair grease and even strands of my hair. I see my dad pulling it from his overly starched light blue jeans and applying it to his lips. I see this black-tube all over my childhood. I smell my father and good times growing up.

I remember watermelon juice oozing from the rind, from my mouth. I laugh as I try not to swallow the seeds. I taste and smell the watermelon in the heat of July in Nashville.

I taste the mint chocolate chip scoop on a sugar cone from Baskin Robbins. I remember the four of us piling into my father's car, which strangely I can't see the color, make or model. I see us driving less than 10 minutes away to choose from the 31 Flavors on the corner of Bell Road and Murfreesboro Road two doors down from Kroger. I see my brother's rainbow sherbet, a medley of orange, green, pink and sugary sweetness.

I hear my father playing for me Brothers Johnson, "Strawberry Letter 23" on an old album on his old stero, when I play Tevin Campbell's newer version on cassette. I hear him tell me about the originals. I hear him school me on old-school. I listen to the instruments versus the synthesizers.

I see my father smiling, laughing.

We were never close. I'm jealous of a good friend who says she talks to her father as a way of keeping him here.

I never had that relationship. I don't talk to my father. I do try to hold onto the memories, the smells, the sounds, the sights. Sometimes, I feel like I'm missing someone who loved me. When I feel a gaping vacancy, sometimes I let my nostrils breathe in that original ChapStick for a few seconds longer.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

On giving

I just put this handcrafted ornament of a brown-skinned baby resting on a cream-colored moon onto our live Christmas tree. I forgot to ask where the item was made when I specifically chose the cutest baby for the free ornament I was being gifted for signing up on Ten Thousand Villages' mailing list. I love this fair trade store and the stories that come with each handmade item. Even though I hadn't purchased it and don't know where it was made, alas, it was Ezra's first Christmas ornament and that made it perfect and that would be its story.

On this past Sunday, we bought our Christmas tree and Elijah had to have a nutcracker ornament and one for Ezra as well. I'm usually pretty conservative with spending. But it's Christmas, how could I resist--well sometimes the price tag can aid in the resistance. When we got home I wrote their names and the year on their respective ornaments and Elijah placed them on the tree side by side. My heart just overflowed with joy.

My mother gave me this gift of a new personalized Christmas ornament every year tradition. I'm grateful to be able to pass the gift to my children. And if Elijah asks for a different ornament next week for 2009, it will be his and this year I'll buy two.

It is now Wednesday night and I don't know why I just got the baby's ornament on the tree, but it was magical for me to place it right beside two of Elijah's baby's first Christmas ornaments. I can't find the words to express what I feel about finding ornaments for both kids, shopping for both boys, loving both boys, seeing Elijah in Ezra's face, seeing them love each other. My spirit just rejoices at these amazing gifts.

This love, Christmas energy translates into a very weird phenomena for me, I just want to give to everyone. I almost bought roses from the lady at the stoplight before I hit the beltway as I left work. I felt bad for her trying walking in the cold, drizzly rain and I wanted her to be encouraged. I just convinced myself that I should make the purchase next time. I want to buy small poinsettias or delectable chocolates for my favorite co-workers and for those I think could use a pick me up. However, I don't want to send my bank account into shock and I don't want people to start feeling like they have to return the idea. I want nothing in return, but to know I helped put a smile on someone's face or made their day. I don't know how to do this successfully without waking that horrific demon of obligation and concern for equity that lies within us all.

I want to be able to put an ornament on someone's emotional tree and light a candle in their memory that they were special enough to be thought of in this unexpected way.

As I've been given so much...
I just want to give a little bit to everyone.

Friday, October 23, 2009

On God's presence

I've had a rough week for various reasons. The stress of my boys being sick is/was at the top of the list among other things. Last night, as I was IM-ing with my mom, we were talking about talking to God, how to, when to versus how to/when to actively achieve your own healing, success, etc.

Then almost by design, I went to a bible study in which the subject was talking to God and being in His presence.

As I struggled through the longest day of my life, I felt Him in ways I wouldn't have seen, felt or heard had I not allowed myself to be more open.

My day began when my baby woke up at 1:30a.m. crying, coughing, wheezing. I went from feeding him, giving him Motrin, calling the doctor, giving him a Nebulizer treatment to driving at 3 in the morning to an awful PG County hospital to be there for 6 hours with my infant child. Watching people cut their nails, come in seizing, curse someone out, storm out due to waiting fatigue, complain that they needed a dialysis exchange and they had been waiting for 4 hours. After the long wait, the nerves and anxiety, when I finally saw the doctor at about 7, I cried when he suggested a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia (my husband had received that diagnosis earlier in the week). I called my brother, not wanting to worry my mom, and God glimmered and calmed me through my brother's even-keeled voice. I was reminded that God was taking care of my children.

I drove thinking we could get naps in and relax until we had to pick up my eldest. After pleasing the employees by choosing Chick-Fil-A, I finally went home. As I was eating my breakfast sandwich, and evil thoughts came to my mind, somehow mystically they were stopped from fully forming. I felt a little less stressed, a little lighter.

Later that day after a very short nap and an email check, I made contact with the baby's doctor and she told me to take the baby to the ER again because she didn't like how he sounded (wheezing and coughing once again). I didn't hold back and just said, "noooooo" in a playful, yet serious tone. She said there was nothing available at the doctor's office and wanted me to go to Children's Hospital. I was quiet. She said, "how long will it take you to get here?" I said, "20 minutes." She was skeptical, "are you sure?" "Yes," I said sounding sure. "Give him a nebulizer treatment and come in," she relented.

On the way around the beltway, I looked at the burnt orange, canary yellows, crispy browns, pines, and shades of burgundy and saw God's face and felt His warmth; the trees became little fires leading the way and warming my heart.

We didn't have to wait long at the doctor being this was our third visit this week (1. Monday, with Elijah--who had the flu, 2. Thursday (he vomited the night before and had diarrhea the day before that and had been coughing at night and during naps for the last two days) with Ezra who
"probably just has a stomach virus, if he gets worse, call, but he's a picture of health, look how happy he is and 3. then today wheezing and coughing). His oxygen level was borderline. He seemed to have strider when he inhaled, a high-pitched sound at the larynx; maybe the cartilage in his throat isn't mature or is inflamed or something is wrong with him and we gotta get it fixed.
"Go to Holy Cross' ER; I'll call ahead," she told me and informed they would give the baby a steroid for the strider. "So, I won't have to wait long?" "No you shouldn't," she sounded sure.

She sent us to our second ER in the same day. I went around the beltway a little more holding it, whatever it is, or was together.

A few days before on this same beltway, Elijah was pointing out trees to me, "Look at that one mama, isn't it pretty?"
"Yes, it's beautiful," I replied.
"Look at that orange one," he continued.
"Isn't God amazing?" I told him, asked him.
Confused, "why do you say that?"
"Because he made all of the beautiful trees," I explained.
"I think God is smiling at you." my insightful son said.
"Why do you say that?" I said, as it was my turn to be confused.
"Because you said, God was amazing."
I smiled at my son's wisdom and love. This time around the outer loop, I recalled his words and felt God again.

In our second ER, waiting for our third consultation. I thought of how much worse this situation could be. He is breathing and pulling my hair. We were really blessed, this is small, this is one day out of many.

And my cell phone rang. I missed the call, but listened to the message from a number I didn't recognize. One co-worker told another co-worker about my day and week and he was calling to check in on me. God didn't shout, he spoke softly and simply through those he gave me.

I waited and waited, talked to a cheerful gentleman who had been waiting longer than me but kept smiling and talking.

We finally made it back to the pediatric ward. The doctor saw us immediately, but the nurse was so backed up we had to wait for over an hour and a half for a steroid to reduce his strider. I eventually went into the hallway and asked for some explanation. I saw other rooms with other small children and understood. But I kept our door open so we could be remembered.
We got our medicine and two more prescriptions to add to our growing list and were on the other side of rush hour traffic on the inner loop.

I drove home and returned calls.
How does one county have a great hospital with a pediatric ER ward and the adjacent county a facility where everyone is in the same line and the admin. staff would prefer you weren't there, and the doctor fails to fully treat my child?
Why do we live in the inferior county? Why?

I exchanged my oldest son for the prescriptions with my husband (who would drop them off for me so I wouldn't have to lug my 22 pound love bug out again) and I finally drove home. My sweet child asked me how my day was and told me he missed me. Whispers of God's love shining through my child.

My children are in bed and the baby is not coughing. This day is over and God is here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

On seeing beyond the mask.

One of my colleagues always has the best days. Every day is a great day for this man. All of my other coworkers can tell you exactly how Mr. Norton's day is and imitate the inflection used to convey how great he is. It's inspiring to have that kind of consistent positive response from an individual you work with, especially when work, co-workers and clientele can be so draining. It makes you smile and sometimes even reassess your own attitude.

Today his mask shattered at my feet. He revealed how tired he was and began to share all of the reasons why.

He reminded me of Dunbar's "We Wear the Mask," which is about the racism black Americans experienced (and their second-class citizenry) at the turn of the century. The lines of the poem can speak to any time period, any oppressed group, any individual. How many of us at one time can relate to,
" With torn and bleeding hearts we smile?" Most people tend to be transparent and very vocal about how they feel. I wonder if the louder the screeching then maybe the torture has been spoken into existence or into hyperbolic proportions.

My colleague didn't tell me his heart was torn and bleeding. Rather he told me about his wife's medical condition, her loss of memory, the issues with doctors, insurance and his day-to-day existence. He then told me about how he usually doesn't share with people like this, "but there is something about you..." he shared. I told him, God had given me this gift... We both shared a smile in this moment. We were able to glue his mask back together before he left the building.

But the moment of his story stays with me and I'm reminded of what we hide and what we choose to reveal. I'm reminded of Dunbar's words.

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,--
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

Friday, October 2, 2009

On the taste of fall...

When my Chai tea or pumpkin spice latte is in a paper cup with a solo lid, I don't get to stick my nose into the cup and breathe in the scent of fall as I do when I'm drinking from a mug.

I had a mug of Chai tea this evening and I sniffed before each sip as though the tea was a glass of Merlot. I didn't swish, but I slowly became intoxicated by the warm spices mellowing in my soy milk.

My bare arms and brown cheeks tasted autumn as it kissed my skin with its crisp air and calming breeze.

My eyes imbibed fall when they saw God's paintbrush dab at the trees, as He began to makeover my neighborhood.

My ears drank in the crinkling of sun-kissed leaves beneath my patent leather wedges.

I inhale autumn and let it wash over me and love it's deliciousness.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On my birthday...

As the leaves begin to fall, as my birthday approaches, as the seasons change I move into an intensely reflective mode. What do I need to shed as I begin a new season, my own personal new year.

The easiest place to begin is my closet. Out of date, no longer trendy pieces along with items that advance my age need to be removed, i.e that electric blue knit top from H&M. I also need to get rid of items that no longer fit.

I need to get rid of that memory of what I used to look like as well as the accompanying insecurities of my present self.

I need to get rid of the clutter (in fifteen minute intervals daily). That which surrounds every tangible surface in my house and that which clouds my head. In the same breath, I need to not worry so much about a clean house.

I need to get rid of wasteful time uses in the guise of vegging out or connecting.

Of course, I could continue to add to this list and then I'd end with I need to get rid of ways to make myself feel bad about myself. So I'll stop with just a few manageable items and move onto what I need to accumulate.

I need to buy myself some new shoes for the season.

I need to take what is rightfully mine and not feel guilty for taking off on my birthday and enjoying a massage and lunch with myself.

I need to take more pictures of my children, the trees, and I need to hop in those pictures even when my hair is a mess, my face is fat and I'm not wearing lipstick.

I need to not wait until a nice round number to do something great for myself on my birthday. Any birthday will do, any day will do.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On questioning myself as a teacher

Every year I feel as though I'm doing something right and then again I feel as though everything I do is wrong. I am cloaked in the aroma of breast milk because my wonderful students seem so needy. From asking questions that I've already answered multiple times to sharing with me that they think they are pregnant.

At first, I felt honored to be that trusted adult who they needed in their corner. I thought, I'm doing a good job of showing a glimmer of humanity in action; compassion, care and concern. But somehow it has grown into a draining experience of having to address students as they shout out their needs (absences, reading comprehension issues, I didn't do the original assignment, can I turn it in now). I want them to think that no question is dumb and feel as though I'm accessible. But I'm not sure that I am accessible because I think some questions (and their answers to questions) are dumb.

I think my students have been systemically robbed of good educations; they have been reared to accept and demonstrate learned helplessness. I believe the problem in part stems from internalized racism that shouts, "they can't do any better, let's give them word finds" (yes, a colleague of mine has done that).

I'm at a loss as to where to go and what to do on a daily basis. I sometimes have successful lesson plans and sometimes lesson plans that lack rigor because my students haven't learned how to think critically and/or construct cohesive sentences.

I want to be someone they can trust, but the HIV diagnoses, pregnancy scares, abortions, cheating on boyfriend/baby-daddy has begun to become depressing. What am I not doing that I can't run interference and help with prevention?

I want to be that English teacher who introduced them to their favorite author, helped them become critical readers and started them on the path to writing well. What do I need to be doing as a teacher to address their academic shortcomings and impress upon them the intellectual and emotional value of reading literature?

Friday, September 4, 2009

On feeding

I fed my baby on the kitchen counter this evening. About a week ago, he lost interest in baby food. So hubby read somewhere to give baby's taste buds a rest for a week. Well, I'm overanxious and want baby to be healthy, so a little shy of a week, I mix some squash with cereal and give Ezra a taste. He bites. So for fear of losing his interest, I plop my 20lb six month old onto the counter to continue feeding him. I'm holding him with one hand and feeding him with the other. He isn't grabbing for the spoon and he keeps opening his mouth widely for more. I'm a happy mama.

All is going well until he realizes there are interesting things behind him: a nice crinkly pretzel bag that makes great noise, daddy's knives, and a toaster. I'm sure at that point most mothers would have come to their senses. But I'm hanging on, because all I care about is this child finishing his squash. My child knocks a knife out of it's slot, but he's still eating and I'm not moving him to his high chair. The pretzel bag hits the floor. We're still going. The baby has found the thankfully unplugged toaster and gives it a kiss.

We finish the whole container, with no more cereal additions, and I text hubby the baby ate his squash. Then I clean up the squash lip prints from the toaster, and replace the knife. I'm sure these are the kind of actions that DHS likes to investigate for, but I'm thinking job well done mama, baby is eating again.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On buying myself flowers

My 5 year old son noticed a new flower in the bouquet sitting in my favorite square vase, “you’ve never had that flower before,” he said of the huge sunflower poking conspicuously out of the rather conservative arrangement. He’s very observant and pays careful attention to the things I like and dislike. Last year he asked his father to buy me flowers when they were at the grocery store together. What a prince!

I have to remember to buy myself flowers because seeing their beauty on my dining room table makes me smile. I enjoy their presence every day. I used to think "oh, don't spend the money on something that will die so quickly or wait until you receive them on a special occasion." But in growing up, in needing the pleasantry in my life, I now know that I need to buy them for myself often. It's a small way of taking care of myself.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On Watching My Children Grow

I looked at my newborn and knew he would grow up way too fast. He's five months now and scooting backwards and laughing with his brother. We started cereal yesterday and he loved it; he grunted for more. He tilts his head to the side and smiles--we have no idea where this little quirk came from. He is sitting up in a tripod position and has been bouncing on our legs for weeks now. He doesn't want to sit still and is so precious when he sleeps. But when he is awake he is so adorable and so much fun.

I can't believe my five year old is reading everything he sets his sights on. He sounds out words and sometimes sounds out the beginning and uses context clues to figure it all out. A year ago we were struggling to get him interested, struggling to listen to his staccato reading of sentences as if he was plucking the strings of a violin. Watching him read with more fluidity and even having him ask if we were going to New York as we drive into Baltimore and he reads the signs is a different kind of fun. And a relief that he's gotten it and the struggle with reading is over. He isn't as adorable anymore and the constant craving for answers get to be annoying. Even still watching him grow and think is a wonder all its own.

I try to breathe in the good moments with them and hold them close because the joy of watching them grow is the beautiful part of them growing too fast for my heart to stand.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

On the preparing for the untimeliness...

As the flight attendant placed the yellow life jacket over his head and onto his shoulder to demonstrate how to save yourself should the aircraft end up in a large body of water, I held my infant son and thought how do I get the life jacket from under the seat cushion, put it on, blow it up and keep both of our heads above water. I couldn’t believe I was really nervous, for the first time in my life, that it was possible this huge machine could literally fall from the sky and endanger our lives.

I put my hand on my child’s head and prayed that God would keep us safe and it wasn’t the stock prayer for traveling mercies or the habitual say grace before eating, it was a sincere plea.

With the several transportation fatalities that have crossed the television screens within the last few weeks, I’ve never felt more vulnerable, more fearful.
But it doesn’t stop with airplanes and trains; it extends to the loss of life on an individual level. My aunt died last week within 24 hours of Michael Jackson at that same time of month as my father four years before. As we also lost three other celebrities this past week, my family also lost a cousin and an uncle (father/son) within the last few months. The losses keep piling up and I’m becoming more frightened.

I fear the funerals that I’ll have to attend, the grief I’ll have to witness and share and the tears I’ll feel on my cheeks. It doesn’t feel like the spirit of fear we are not supposed to have because we know who holds our hand, but more like a certain je ne sais quoi... It’s not fear, but a deep sadness that is overtaking my sensibilities.

I feel like I need to make a list and send letters, apologies, thank you-s and love notes to those who’ve impacted my life. I need to write my thoughts to my children, to myself. I need to pursue my dream. I need to love a little harder and live a little more. I'm not sure what I need...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

On Smiling

After dinner one night, we were just cooing over my three month old infant smiling. What is it about a baby’s smile that just makes you giggle, laugh out loud, feel so filled with love and happiness? Of course, I love to see my oldest Elijah smile, and my husband. But there is nothing like a baby’s smile. What is it?

My husband and I were just smiling and giggling over this little person’s smile and I got nervous that my five-year old Elijah would get jealous. But he just said, “when Ezra smiles, it makes me want to smile.”

How lovely a thing to hear! How perfect!

How happy it made that he wasn’t jealous, that the smile just made him happy.

So I tried it out at Ross. I smiled randomly at people who seemed unhappy or so focused on their goal they were unknowingly sporting frowns. I smiled and though they seemed tentative, they reciprocated. And the brief exchange was pleasant.

So, I try to do it more often with people everywhere. I try to remember that a smile is worth something. Unfortunately, I learned that a smile is worth more than I have in currency to the older gentleman who hasn’t received a smile in quite some time. The exchange sometimes includes an uninvited flirtation or “can I get your number?” Sometimes, I want to yank my smile back or say, “it’s just a smile! Not an invitation.” But I continue to smile and say thank you or no you cannot have my number.

I guess they are used to getting ugly mugs from people. Elijah has asked me about the ugly mug I’ve had on different occasions, “Mommy are you mad?”

“No honey, I’m not mad, why do you ask?” I reply with another question.
“Because you’re not smiling,” he lamented.

“I’m sorry,” and I give him the smile he deserves to see always.

On another occasion, it was simply, “I like it when you smile.” And I told him, “I like it when you smile.” And then we just smiled and our silly grins turned into laughter.

When I’m at work and smile at my students when they are down or deep in thought, their faces brighten and they smile back. I’ve even started smiling at random students in the hallways. They need those smiles, that energy, that warmth. I need that warmth and when I remember that a simple smile can supply warmth, I ask myself why aren’t you smiling and I reply with one.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

On Raising Children

I was watching Oprah interview these mothers who lost their 11 year old sons to suicide. And all I could think was Elijah is 6 years away from that age. What happened to these poor children that they found no other way to cope? What can I do, what should I be doing for my boys, with my boys, to help them become strong, confident individuals?

At 5 years old, Elijah has already talked about being teased and we try to encourage him to say “leave me alone. “ His first few years performing on a stage, he was so confident and cheery. More recently, he has been nervous about getting on stage, fearful that people will laugh at him. What happened, how is the world already destroying his confidence?

On another occasion, Elijah got out of our car when we got home from school and a neighborhood kid ran up to Elijah and shoved his toy gun in Elijah’s face, on Elijah’s cheek. I had to hold myself back from yelling (among other things) at this child. I watched my son to see his reaction, to see how it made him feel or if it affected him at all. Elijah ran from this child. The child followed and repeated his original gun-in-face action. Elijah told me what the child had done (I guess my silence made him think I hadn’t witnessed the action) and I asked Elijah “what should you say to him?” Elijah told him, “Stop it.” And the child stopped, just like that.

I don’t know if this has confirmed my anti-gun sentiment for my children. More importantly though, I think it confirmed that the one thing I can do is teach my children to stand up for themselves. I can’t control what they do or see on every play date, with their grandparents, in this world. As much as I want to protect and shield, I can only hopefully give him tools to take care of himself and understand right from wrong.

I’m teaching Fences to my students and Rose sings, “Jesus be a fence all around me every day.” We discussed the different types of fences that exist and those that people create. Rose wants a fence to protect her family. Troy wants to act as a fence around his son to protect him against the racial discrimination of the outside world and the disappointment that ensues. I think all parents want to be that fence; I want to put my children in bubbles to protect them from confidence-destroying, evil-maniacal, gun-toting, intolerant society. If it were only that simple. If there was only a magic formula. There are so many times when I think, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” God protect my children from me and my lack of parenting skills. I guess you just keep trying. Thanks to the show for confirming one instinct-- teach him to stand up for himself.

Friday, April 24, 2009

On friendships

I love Fantasia's "Truth is: I ran into an old friend yesterday..familiar face from a chapter in my past." I think the song can apply to friendships, not just romantic relationships. I saw two friends this week that I hadn't seen in over 5 years. Their familiar faces are from a chapter in my past: college. But the familiarity, the easy conversation and the comfort level were so unparalleled. The time with them, not over coffee, but jambalaya and fish, fed my spirit.
Some chapters should be closed as we move forward. However, others need to always have an open door. I'm convinced that some connections to the past are always important to staying grounded and moving forward. I felt lifted and comfortable; it was home. They say you can never go home, but just experiencing it for a short time is crucial. Sometimes,those small moments, memories can make such a difference, carrying one backward and forward at the same time. Remembering a time, holding people close--remembering the importance of connections, friendships, old chapters.
The visit reminded me friendships come in all different flavors and it is so important to nurture them, for the sake of the friendship, for one's own spirit.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

On seeing his tombstone

My mother drove away from the Rivergate area toward Briley Parkway and I just looked out the window, like a little kid, at the restaurants, car service centers, discount stores--remembering, seeing Nashville in a different way.

And then we came upon a sign I wasn’t expecting: Springhill Cemetery. A gush of sadness rushed over my brain into my heart. We buried my father there almost four years ago. I had been back to Nashville every year since then, but never had the courage to face the cemetery, the tombstone, the ground where they lowered my father’s body. I didn’t want to go there; I didn’t want to cry.

Nor did I want to remember all too vividly the service at the site. How awful it was to watch my brother insist on carnations being placed on the casket. The workers had taken the gigantic clump of flowers we had given my dead father as a beautiful decoration for his casket, decorations he couldn’t see or even know about, off his casket. My brother stood and said wait; the tall blond woman, who helped us find the perfect place to bury my father’s body, (next to my great aunt and across the street from the military cemetery where my grandparents lie), held up her hand to the men and went to my brother to find out what he needed. She took out several red carnations and placed them on the casket for us.

I didn’t want to revisit the images that made up such a definitive moment in my life.

I didn’t want to remember how the funeral home director gave us seventy-three cents in a large transparent ziplock bag—money we were told that they found in my father’s pocket. Nor the messy office in which we sat with that insensitive director to discuss the arrangements.

Nor falling to my knees when I saw the lifeless body on a metal table with cotton on his eyelids and his hair uncombed, so unlike my father.

I knew seeing his tombstone, the burial grounds would bring back too many memories of that July when we learned of my father’s death from his sister. The memory of another aunt asking did I know anything about his business, the first thing to tumble out of her mouth, ready to take control, failing to provide sympathy. Memories of planning a funeral while battling shock.

I knew seeing his tombstone just reified the hard, stone truth that my children would never know their grandfather, that my father would never see his second grandson, nor watch the boys grow up, that I would always feel a sense of loss.

The tears began to form before we reached his plot, going through the maze of plots, of sadness, of memories…

The tears climbed from my eyes as we approached his plot and then one by one the tears fell as I walked awkwardly across the lawn, not sure where to step, trying to avoid other people’s loved ones, unable to touch the stone, not wanting to read his name or think about whom was actually there. I brushed them away not wanting them to get in the way, but the tears became the way for me to deal with seeing his tombstone, to remember and mourn…

My mother asked me if I wanted to stop, I wanted to say no, but I shook my head yes and convinced myself if I don’t allow myself to remember, stand in these moments of his death and burial, then I won’t remember to live.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

On learning how to teach from a student

She wrote, thank you for treating me like a human. In an email, my student sincerely expressed her gratefulness for being treated like a human being. Wow! I simply told her she didn’t have to take her final exam a week after her brother had been shot. But what in the world were her other teachers doing and saying? Why did I stand out as the compassionate one?

Here is a snippet from an email this student wrote (sans editing):

“I am Just writting you this email to Tell you that I am very thankful for you being my teacher this school year and I hope the best for you through out your many more years of teaching bright and young teenagers. Of course it will be tough and hard to handle but you always have to think "These are not just my students, but my Childern when they step into my class. I add something more to their life then just a book of knowledge. I help them accept who they are and "TRY" push them to work for more then they want to".

"Thank You", I really mean this. With out you I don't know how I could of survived with going to class on a normal basis. Their was plenty of times my mom offered me to get home schooled from earlier this year but I resisted because I had something to look forward too on A-day and B-days and that was you. You have this smile that always let me know that you were there for everyone not just by teaching but by ensuring that we left your class each day with Knowledge from a book and about our selves. I appreciate you more then you could ever know. I am not only a student Im a human and you treated me like both and more. I hope to keep in touch and check on you and see how you are. May be Things will get better for me through out the years but right know I just look at things like " bad things happen know to show me that good things will come later". I have hope and I believe in GOD so i know through him anything is possible. I know I will become everything I've dreamed of. One day on your door step youll recieve a box full of roses and an invitation to my highschool graduation and college gradutaion. Yes, I'll think of you. Because you Thought of me.”

Her message was and will always be the box of roses for me. I never felt like I did enough in the way of connecting. But apparently, it was simply by doing what came naturally that I connected with at least this one student. My first year of teaching I focused on getting my students to think critically, enjoy literature and write clearly in preparation for the high school assessment test and eventually college. Slowly, I’ve moved toward being me more, being more natural, connecting more. I’ve come to accept that for some students, it’s about me reaching them with my words, my hand, my presence. I’m learning that part of my teaching is through the tangible, immediate aspects of humanity: telling a student she does not have to take a final when her brother just died, giving a sympathy card and a journal to a student whose parent just died, giving small gifts to students who are expecting their first child, listening to a student talk about an alcoholic parent. It is not always about the text, it should always be about connecting, touching, taking care of, loving, teaching humanity through being human.