Tuesday, April 5, 2016

When spring and life are new

Tuesday fun at TWT!
"What do you see?" Through the rearview mirror, I can see Little Sweetie's ever-curious pointer finger declaring that she has made yet another amazing discovery in the world. "Do you see the trees? They're starting to turn green now." The past few months of narrating every detail of the world in response to one tiny, inquisitive finger have me so well-trained that the words just roll off my tongue in a dreamy, absent-minded way... until I realize what I just said. Wait! The trees are turning green!

"Yes! Look! The trees are turning green now because it's spring, Sweetie!" Suddenly, the blurry edges of the world whipping by us become more than just visual white noise. 

I see the trees too. 

I see the fragile leaves bravely pushing to open themselves to the wide world. I see the delicate white flowers barely emerging from buds on fruit trees across the road. I see the brilliant blue sky stretching endlessly above us like a benevolent swath of freedom and hope, and I see the crisp shadows painted around us by the sun's friendly light.

I recall the joy of the awards ceremony we're driving home from: elegant dresses and twisted hair, crisply knotted ties and spotless shirts, warm hugs and proud handshakes. This is the season of celebration and hope, the season of sweet, satisfied breaths absorbing rejuvenation and resilient, confident shoulders rising tall. 

This is the season when new beginnings emerge, graceful and blossoming, from the gritty struggle of fall and winter. 

The words of one of my favorite springtime poems start to cycle through my head: "In time of silver rain / the earth puts forth new life again..."

New buds. New life. Green, growing hope.

"... when spring / and life / are new." Thank you, Langston Hughes, for capturing what springtime really means.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

You never know until you try

Day 31 of 31!!!! at TWT!
I did it! I seriously, actually did it! I wrote all 31 days. With Little Sweetie! Without even very much stress! 

The first Marches, there was never any question that I'd do it. Of course I would write every day! That was the whole point! I don't start things without finishing them. I'm too much of a perfectionist to allow myself to come short. Sure enough, 2012-2014 were three perfectly triumphant Marches.

Annnnd then there was last year. Oh, yikes, last year. Pregnant, swamped with testing, and so stressed I could barely breathe. I almost didn't even try, because I didn't think I could do it, and I didn't want it to be one more heavy weight pushing down on me. But not trying would have broken my heart, so I did. And I was decidedly not perfect. I only wrote 14 posts. However, as I tell my kids, that's 14 posts more than I would have written if I wouldn't have tried, and I still had a fulfilling experience.

This year, I didn't know what would happen. Could I really do it? I'd done a pretty good job all school year navigating my new teacher-mom identity, but... could I really blog every day, on top of all of that? I knew I was much stronger, more confident, and better balanced than last year, but... would trying to do this challenge upset the teetering stability I'd so carefully crafted over the past few months? I wasn't sure, but I knew I wanted to try. After all, I'd probably do better than last year, right? 

For the first half of March, the new, chill, not-freaking-out-all-the-time me chugged along, mostly free of pressure and pleasantly surprised at how well I was doing. Then, somewhere around Day 20, it hit me: I might actually DO this! Whoa. Suddenly, my perfectionist self woke up: I was so close! I had to do it! The old clenched jaw, tight neck muscles, and clock-watching (would I have enough time to write today?!) started to creep back, but still not as intensely as old, stressed, lots-of-worrying me. And by the time I got through Easter, I knew, with the proud weight of absolute certainty: I was going to do this! Sweeping through the remaining evenings with glee, I suddenly found myself waking up this morning with that surreally proud feeling I sometimes get on Friday mornings and at the end of the quarter: Wait, did I really make it through? Look, I did it! That wasn't so bad! 

As it turns out, having an adorable Little Sweetie around actually makes it easier to write. I've had a dedicated, uninterruptible time slot each night to write after she goes to bed, complete with 30-45 minutes of peaceful brainstorming time while she eats her bedtime meal. Moreover, she's a perpetual source of fun writing ideas! In fact, this was the first March that my "writing possibilities" list in Evernote actually got longer, because every time I'd come up with a new idea, she'd do something else irresistibly cute!

And so, here I am, in my usual spot on the couch, at the usual writing time, crafting my 31st slice in a row. I did it! Super Strong Teacher-Reader-Writer-Mom to the rescue! You never know until you try, and, as always, I'm so glad I did.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Raising readers

Day 30 of 31 at TWT!
"I don't like reading because in my country [UAE] baby don't like to read, and when they grow bigger they still don't like." Sadly, I'm not even surprised when I get to this part of A's reflection letter.

The first time one of my Middle Eastern students told me in a reading conference that he had never read a book before, I almost fell out of my chair. Never read a book?! How could someone get to high school having never read a book?! I knew reading was a less common pastime in some other countries than it is here, but...?! No wonder it was such a struggle to help these kids find "just right" books in English -- they'd never even done that in Arabic!

But after several years of getting that exact response nearly every time I conference with another new student from the Middle East, I've come to expect it. "In my country, I was weird because I read books," admitted J, the one Iraqi student who came to me already identifying as a reader. "I love being here because there are so many books, and other people read! I'm not weird for reading stories here."

Turning kids into readers is one of the absolute best parts of my job, but even many high schoolers who "hate" reading have chosen books before, read books before, and often even have fond memories of a time in their childhoods, long ago, when they did enjoy reading. Winning back those reluctant readers is a much different task than starting from absolute scratch with kids who have no concept of what's it's like to choose a book and no cultural frame of reference for the idea that reading is something that people do for fun. While I'm used to this by now, hearing students identify and articulate that cultural norm still jars me.

A.'s insightful reflection illustrates how crucial it is to grow readers from the moment they are born. I don't know if he would have noticed the cultural difference anyway, like J, or if all the pictures I show of my baby reveling in her books helped him realize and articulate it. Either way, it's such a powerful statement:
"I don't like reading because in my country baby don't like to read..."

Not in my country, thank goodness. And definitely not in my house!

Even the Easter Bunny knows...
... Little Sweetie is already a reader!
"Look, Mommy!"
Raising readers is important, magical work, whether they're ten months old or in tenth grade. So grateful that I get to share the joy of reading with one very special kid who wiggles with glee at the sight of a book... but just as thankful that I also get to spread it to so many others who have either lost that delight or never even knew it at all.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

New mornings

Day 29 of 31 at TWT!
Mornings were always the worst. The very worst! The abrupt beep of the alarm jarring me out of peaceful sleep. Peeling my eyes open, only to be greeted by thick, bleak darkness. Who decided high schools should start when it's still dark out, anyway?! Sluggishly convincing myself to peel back the cozy cocoon of covers that protected me from not only the cold, but also the inevitably looming weight of stress and exhaustion.

Sweet Husband tried everything to make that early hour more bearable. He'd get up early with me even though he goes to work much later. He bought me a cheerful Wake-up Light to repel the darkness and greet us with a gentle, tinkling chime. He even created a special "wake-up" playlist for me to listen to while I plodded listlessly through the nearly insurmountable task of getting ready each morning.

Each improvement brightened the day and lightened my steps a little, but I still hated mornings. Hated them. And the more stressed I got, the more miserable those mornings became.

Until...

Tiny squeaks and yelps emerge from down the hallway. "Ba-ba-ba-ba. Woooo!" She babbles to herself. Rustle-rustle. Thump! Thud! A smile sneaks its way across my face and sleepiness quickly slips away as I picture her squirming and swimming on her Nemo crib sheet, rolling from side to side to reach her dainty fingers out the bars of her crib, and lifting both feet high just to thump them down again. "Aaah, she's SO CUTE!!!" I whisper in Husband's ear and throw an arm happily across his chest.

Flutter, flap, flail! She always convulses with pure joy when one of us walks into her room to get her out of her crib, stretching her signature smile so wide open it seems it might split her face in two.

"That's Nemo! And there's Brutus! There's Nemo with the seahorse! That's Brutus again! That's your big bunny. There's Nemo and Squirt! Hi, Nemo and Squirt!" I know she's pointing and waving at all her favorite "friends" in her room as Husband carries her to the changing table. How can I be anything but happy as I listen to those two sweeties chatter and play?

"Ha-aaAAH!" She squeals and cackles, and I peer through the doorway to glimpse her tugging on his hair as he bends over to search through her dresser for the latest adorable outfit. "What do you want to wear today, Sweetie?" He croons in the softest, sweetest, just-for-her voice.

"That's Daddy's nose! Boop! There's your nose!"
"Are you getting Daddy's arm? Are you gonna eat Daddy's arm?!"
"That's Nemo. And that's Squirt! Hi, friends!"
"Whoooooop!" I know that's the sound of him pulling a shirt over her head. She's not a fan of getting clothes pulled over her head, but she doesn't mind nearly as much when he makes this cute little sound effect!

"Ma-ma-ma-ma."
"Yes, we're going to go see Mama. She's getting your restaurant ready!"

They round the corner and there's an immediate storm of squirm-flap-flail-thrashing. She bounces up and down in his arms, panting, grabbing his shirt with clenched fists and pointing & waving at me. "Ma-ma-ma."

"Hi, sweetie!" All traces of sleepiness are long gone, lost in these happy, sweet, precious morning moments. The very best.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Greetings

Day 28 of 31 at TWT!
Last night I couldn't fall asleep. Not the awful, anxiety-driven can't-fall-asleep, but the excited, Christmas-morning can't-fall-asleep. And this morning, I didn't even mind when my alarm went off two and a half hours earlier than I'd been getting up last week. I get to see my kids! I wonder how they're doing? I can't wait to continue our Slice of Life mini-lessons this week! I can't wait to see what everyone is reading! 

At 7:15, when Little Sweetie would have normally been waking me up, I was practically skipping around the room. Turning on the happy lamps, changing the calendar and the idiom of the week, adjusting the pillows and rugs... getting our little "home" all ready.

Bouncy steps mingled with half-tired smiles. "Hi, Mrs. M!" "I missed you!" "How was your break?" "You finished The False Prince?! See, I told you the ending was great!" "I liked your posts over break!" "I didn't go anywhere either, but I had fun taking my baby to the zoo and the park! Sometimes, the best break is just to relax, right?" Many of my students don't have exciting breaks, unlike many other kids in our upscale suburban town. For some of my kids, break isn't really even a very nice time. "I was kind of glad to be back into the routine of school, weren't you?"

I love this job. I LOVE this job! Genuinely full of joy, my heart reached out with invisible hugs as each of those sweet students walked into my room. Noticing and enjoying the familiarity of their haircuts, their clothes, their smiles, their strength. Remembering their stories.

And at 4:00, when I walked into my mom's house, the other side of my new life. I love this too. What a bundle of adorableness! Little Sweetie giggling, wiggling, squealing and cooing. All flailing arms and thrashing legs, with her most gigantic jaw-stretching smile. "Ma-ma-ma!" The best feeling in the world.

In greetings, our most true feelings shine through.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

New Life

Day 27 of 31 at TWT!
Streaming sunlight. Almost-summer warmth on bare arms and legs. Toes wiggling in my dressy sandals. Cerulean sky. The most gentle breeze playing with my curls.

That tiny finger pointing to the handbell choir. That wide, toothy smile and playfully curling tongue. Wiggles, bounces, and babbles to the music. Snuggly warmth on my lap and silky skin patting my hand. Active eyes absorbing every person and decoration.

A perfect Easter Sunday.

(Mommy used to play those handbells. Now M&M loves to hear them!)

"He arose a victor 
from the dark domain..."

"God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also..."

"Raise your joys 
and triumphs high..."

As I listen to each snippet of scripture, sermon, and song, I look back on the past year and thank God for the transformation he has brought me: Little Sweetie gave me my new life. Darkness to light. Stress to peace. Bleakness to exuberance. Fear to strength and joy. A whole new kind of love. A whole new meaning to the Easter message.

A day full of pure joy and new life.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Shared discoveries

Day 26 of 31 at TWT!
"Bwoooh!" From inside her stroller, Little Sweetie becomes a whirlwind of flailing arms and legs.

"Do you see all the friends? There are so many friends at the playground today, right?" Our usually peaceful park is now the site of a swirling hubbub of color centered around the playground. The street is lined with cars, and other families with their own sweeties in their strollers converge from all directions.

I can't help but skip a little as I push the stroller through the sunshine. "Are you excited for your very first egg hunt?!" What an absolutely perfect day! 

Holiday traditions have always made my soul feel so light and joyful I could almost float away. Thank goodness I never outgrew that childhood magic, and now it's even stronger since I get to rediscover each delight in a new way with my little M&M!

What a funny friend!
Ooh, a real bunny!
And we're off! The 3 & under egg hunt!
What is that?!
Ooh, there's a surprise inside!
Bright dollops splash against verdant grass, highlighted against a brilliant blue backdrop. Giggles, squeals, and scurrying feet. So much to discover! So much to share!