Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On sensitivity

"Mommy, which one should we get?" Elijah asked. "Whichever one you like," I replied. "I think we should get this one (the red, green and white snowflake one) because it has more color than this one (the snowman)."

I secretly smiled and thought, this is my child through and through. He wants to make the best decision. He responds positively to color and seeks it out. I didn't know I was teaching him these things, but I guess when I marvel at autumn trees or talk about the different colors on our dinner plates, I'm teaching him to be sensitive to color.

A gift, this sensitivity can be.

At times, it can be a burden. We walked to the children's workshop in Lowe's the other day and Elijah didn't want to build the featured item. He explained that when he walked near the working kids, his stomach started doing flips. I cringed that I heard myself in him. I hated that he inherited my burdensome natural inclination to flee uncomfortable situations. I would rather him not have the negatives that accompany this sensitivity.

However, who can resist a child who sits and drinks hot chocolate with his mother, finishes and says, "Thank you for making me hot chocolate, mommy. That hot chocolate made my heart warm."

Or when the current outdoor resident of our local Target asks for money for long johns, my almost-seven-year old, says "aren't you going to give him some money." When I respond "no;" he says, "if I was a man, I would go to the bank and get some money and bring it to that man."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On "Nigh-Nigh"

One of my favorite moments of the day, is when Elijah and Ezra say "nigh-nigh, kisses, and love you" to each other just before retiring. It is filled with such love that I feel so blessed to witness.

And just a little while later, I cherish holding my growing-too-quickly baby boy while his breathing retards and his chubby hand touches my bare skin, either on my neck, chest or face. His head becomes weighted and rests perfectly on my bosom. He has shown a preference to my left side; it must be more cushiony. Elijah once told me, "I love you mommy, you're soft." Sometimes, Ezra is giddy before drifting off; he'll laugh or talk in a sing-songy manner. Every now and then, he predicts that I'll sing to him and will begin, "Geeee,...." and continue to sing as he expects me to sing "Jesus Loves Me."

I try to inhale his baby-ness, the amazing-ness of those moments. I just want to hold him and rock him because one day I'll turn around and he'll be 7 asking why he has to pick up food from the floor, telling me "I'm not the janitor."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

On being...

Elijah has been playing with friends all weekend and Ezra has had 3 hour naps and I have had some stolen moments just to be. As Ezra watched Elijah and a neighbor play Hungry Hungry Hippo, another neighbor gifted me a homemade candy apple. I chomped away at this childhood treasure loving that the hard candy refused to break down between my teeth. Some of the sweetness melted and landed on my arm, shirt, chin.

I took in the Halloween decorations on the windows,the lit acrylic pumpkin and the red roses, yellow mums and daisies I bought myself yesterday. The children's laughter and childhood became background music to my delectable moments on the couch with my front door wide open as fall ripened before me.

Friday, October 1, 2010

On My Birthday

Last year, I was obsessed with cleaning my closet. Little did I know what my personal new year would include. One item that I kept in my closet while I was de-cluttering had grown simultaneously so misshapen, shrunken and over-sized that it slunk to the floor of the closet. The fabric frayed and faded as I held on hoping it could be fixed. The article took on a life of it's own and therefore determined when it had enough of being in my life.

Year 32 is over.

The decade of when I arrived in Maryland at 22 and 10 months has trudged along in so many ways, but last week it trudged right past me and I waved gleefully. I'm grateful for the 10 years, but am thrilled they are gone with more painful memories than I care to recount.

I feel a certain freedom from all of the different articles that tried their best to dress me into a woman I would never be. I am excited to enter into a time period where I am free to be me in every aspect.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

On what God knows..

Tonight Elijah was reading from his book, God Knows and I heard him read aloud, "He heals the brokenhearted." I didn't pay any attention until I heard him say "Granddaddy and died." I asked him what he said. "Granddaddy shouldn't have died."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"It says, "God heals the brokenhearted. God shouldn't have let granddaddy die. He should have healed his heart."

I stared speechless in amazement. Tears formed in my eyes. I smiled at my boy. I kissed him and told him I loved him.

He asked, "are you sad, mommy?"

I said, "yes."

He hugged me, patted my back and told me, "it's ok."

I haven't teared up over my dad's absence in quite some time. And my amazing 6 year old boy thought about his grandfather who he last saw at 18 months old and remembered that I explained in little kid terms that my father's heart stopped working and that was why he died (almost 2 years ago).

Elijah believes in God and God's ability that it only made sense to him that God could stop someone from dying since God is in the business of healing the brokenhearted.

It wasn't until I opened the book that I read the sentence before the scripture: "He knows just how sad I was the day my goldfish died." Elijah's brilliance was returned to above average intelligence (thank goodness) after I learned the context of the scripture. However, I'm even more shocked that Elijah didn't fixate on his own dead goldfish and remember that I never replaced the creature. Instead, he thought of a man he would never remember. He didn't think about being sad. He just thought about why God wasn't on his post.

I'm at amazed at what God knows and chooses to do and not do. I'm amazed at what God has given me in these two boys.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The silence is eerily welcome.
The disarray on the floors,
counters,
and bedrooms
mirror
that in my mind.
The chore list is long
and
looping.
I hear a baby
crying
when there isn't
one.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On needing people

I don't think we're meant to be independent. I think that people are meant to share joys and difficulties with regularity, not just in trying times. I honestly believe we need people in our lives in order to help us live.

I'm an extreme introvert; being social doesn't come natural for me. Asking for help is hard for me. It's easier for me to try something on my own or even bemoan what I lack. Recognizing that I need help and that people actually want to/need to help is one of the biggest lessons I'm learning at this moment in my life. Sometimes I don't even realize I need an outstretched hand or shoulder to lean on. The leaning, the touching, the talking, the sharing, the confirmation of one's feelings, are essential to successful living in general, but even to just making it through another moment, another day.

People help wipe tears and make you just a little lighter, a little more connected to the world, to yourself, to the land of the living.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

On swimming lessons with the baby

I had the greatest moment with the baby today. He started swimming class today and he took to the water as though it were a big bathtub. While the other kids clung to their parents, he tried to venture out on his own, pulling away from my tightening grasp. He was confident and enthusiastic.

I usually just love watching him piddle around the house, on the playground,or just out and about. He loves to climb on things and throw things. He loves to make sure people know he's there, by tapping them on their knees. He's a joy to watch.

However, for the first time in a very long time, I felt like I was really with him--like I was a part of his fun, happiness, exploration, instead of just a bystander taking it all in. It was an intimate experience, like we were in this thing together. I held him under his arms and let him lay belly up on the water as I pulled him along. The droplets on his eyelids only made his eyes seem wider than normal. He was fully engaged because I was there. His laugh as he splashed the water on me and his classmates made my heart skip a beat. Even his sweet baby cough when he swallowed too much water was the infamous Renee' Zellwegger line "you had me at hello." This small child who can only say one word at a time, has had me since I knew he was in my womb and it only intensifies with each splash, and smile.

I'm not sure how it happened that I could be so blessed to have him in my life and to be able to be in the water with him as he takes swimming lessons.

Monday, June 28, 2010

On Henry "Box" Brown

This evening, for the first time in a long time, I sat and listened to my son read, just listened. I didn't read something else while he read, I didn't wish he would hurry and finish. I didn't care when the baby pulled all the legos out of the box I had just put up. I didn't wonder what time it was. I sat and listened.

And then I was mindfully aware of my listening. For a minute, I drifted and thought how cool it was that this 6 year old was reading about Henry "Box" Brown, when I didn't learn this story until I was in grad school. I marveled at the questions Elijah asked while reading; I didn't make him continue reading and ask his questions at the end. But we talked. He told me, he wouldn't like to have been a slave because of the manacles (no, he didn't use that word) on their hands. He asked where he would be sent to, if he was sold away. He asked how to pronounce and then what tobacco was. He asked what a mistress was. He talked about how Nancy and Henry's children had hair like Nancy and Henry. And then he told me, that when Henry got to Philadelphia, he probably went to play games.
It was a very freeing moment!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On The Joy Luck Club

It's a little startling to see yourself in the pages of a novel, in the characters of someone else's mind and past, in Chinese women. It's interesting to use their wisdom at this very point in life, when it's most needed.

It reminds you that things aren't left up to chance, but (things, memories, thoughts, wisdom) brought to you at very precise moments.

It's a little comforting to read about the character who pronounces her worth, secretly to herself, at such a young age and then orchestrates a way in which to leave a circumstance that daily diminishes that worth in order to openly display how valuable she is.

It's difficult to read aloud in class with teenagers the tragedies and difficulties the characters face and see, remember your own.

To exist outside of oneself.

It's difficult, challenging, comforting, shocking to exist outside of oneself
and to want move past the difficulties quickly and to understand that God is in the members of that joy luck club that everyone so desperately needs to move on in this journey.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On race and racelessness

I just finished reading an article in which the only person assigned a race was the African-American flight attendant whose name was the only one not remembered, "it was something like Gazelle."

I'm immediately drawn back to graduate school and a Toni Morrison article and her challenging novel Paradise, where one of the opening lines is "They shot the white girl first." It's compelling to try to track the characters and determine which girl was white, but simultaneously almost impossible to track the characters to determine which girl was white. At the end, one question stood: does her race matter?

Why is race so important in character development? What does establishing a character's race tell us that helps us to better understand the character and/or author's purpose and/or theme?

Why was the personal essayist who was writing about meeting strangers in airports to gather and share people's stories so compelled to identify the African-American flight attendant's race in the story? Why couldn't she just be the female flight attendant, like Chad was the male attendant? Why was her name forgotten, yet Chad's remembered? Why and how did her name become similar to "gazelle?" Did her height and skin color and the modifier "stunning" make her exotic? Was her name so ethnic that it could be anything? Was her race identified to add imagery, color to the text? Why did her race matter?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

On eating an elephant

I heard my father's voice last week when I went to shovel the 2-plus feet of snow in front of my car, with a heavy heart. He asked, "do you know how to eat an elephant?"
I forced a chuckle, "what?"
He repeated himself and I more appropriately responded, "no, how?"
"One bite at a time," he explained.
Eight or nine years ago, as I whined about being overwhelmed during my early graduate school days, he told me to take it one step at a time, that I couldn't take on the entire beast at one time. He helped me to calm down and not get so overanxious that I become unproductive, rather to move slowly, steadily through the process.

In the cold, as I looked at the snow mound, looked at the future and thought this is impossible, this will take forever, how can I do this, my father whispered, one bite, one shovel-full at a time. And I very slowly and steadily shoveled.

Then my 55+ year old snow angel came out with her shovel and said, "I thought she can't do this by herself," and she helped me two shovel-fulls at a time. We talked and laughed and shoveled. Her steadiness and willingness showed me that my strength is present, maybe a little buried under some flakes, but alive.

Then another snow angel appeared and helped me break through the ice around my car "to help [me] get the babies in the car safely." These women with lives of their own became my brother and my mother, my family, my strength, my help. They showed me my inner strength and helped remind me that I need people in order to be strong.

My daddy's whispers of one bite at a time, my family's ear, shoulder, support, my friends' shovels help me to eat every elephant placed in front of me.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

On the weight

The thoughts, the feelings, the sadness form an anvil sitting comfortably on my chest, squarely on my heart. I try impossibly to catch my breath, to take in air. I fail miserably. I fall violently.

I hold my heart tightly, fearing it will crack wide open and become un-mendable.

I creep to a pillow, a friend's ear, my word catcher and only through exhaling the pain does the 2-ton weight lift slightly enough to let someone, something else keep me from being crushed.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

On teaching what they want...

I sat down to make plans for finishing To Kill a Mockingbird with my freshmen and stared searching for Nollywood films to finish out my seniors' work on Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. Yes, Nollywood. The Cinema of Nigeria. I found a few clips on you tube and realized my students would not appreciate the work. As I nixed the idea, I found myself thinking of what they would want to read and view, what would pique their interest.

I no longer thought of what they needed, as in something they had to put effort into (i.e. Things Fall Apart), but rather something they would enjoy and that I could still teach some of the basics of literature (symbolism, theme, characterization, author's purpose). Some of the best literature that I read in high school, college and grad school was that in which I could connect. I wanted to find something my students could relate with but still expand their literary circle as well; yet I wasn't willing to teach Urban Lit. and I still wanted to stay somewhat inside of the antiquated curriculum.

As we finished Things Fall Apart and I learned I was public enemy number one around the school, I asked the students how they felt about finishing the text. Many felt relieved that it was over. Some felt they learned about a different culture. Some felt they had accomplished something, either because they had never read anything like this before or because they had never read an entire novel before. Even though several students stopped reading altogether, and some whined through the entire process, at the very minimum together we had actually accomplished something.

Now, I was eager to continue talking about Nigeria and other African countries as they exist in present day. With the help of a friend, I was reminded of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I found a website, (and then her official site) and began searching for articles and stories that could transport my students out of turn-of-century colonialism and into the effects of colonialism and Westernization on this country.

We're going to finish the quarter with "Nigeria's immorality is about hypocrisy, not miniskirts," and a discussion on gender roles in Achebe's late 19th Century Nigeria and present-day Nigeria as well as in the U.S. Then we will read, "My Mother, the Crazy African" to continue our discussion about gender, but also to open up a conversation about immigration. We're also going to read "Cell One" from the new short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck (Thanks, Heather). I'm curious to see what my majority black students will have to say, and hopefully how their stereotypes and ideas will be transformed.
I'm excited about bringing Adichie into my classroom. I hope the students will be excited and feel like they are reading something they "want" to read.