Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Light of Love

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"...Last Sunday, we lit the candle of hope." I break eye contact with the people in the pews and nudge Sweetie's shoulder.

Husband leans forward to dangle her closer to the mic. "Today we're gonna light the candle of love," her tiny voice squeaks out, "an' God loved the wor-rld, an' he sent Chee-sus to save the wor-rllld." She beams proudly, squirming back against Husband's chest in excitement as the congregation titters.

"Now Daddy!" she squeals and throws her arms around his neck, prompting a second rumble of louder chuckles.

"No, now we get to light the candles! Then Daddy will read his part," I whisper. I kiss her head and take the ornate candlelighter to the altar candles, pushing the lever to raise the wick as I did so many times as an acolyte growing up. The flickering candle wavers with pure magic as I carry it carefully back to the wreath. Our three hands wrap around each other and we lean forward together to light the candles of hope and love.

Just like I did with my parents, and Husband did with his parents.

"Now there'll be lights and lights!" Sweetie chirps in my ear. Husband begins to read. "Dear friends, let us continue to love one another..."

Hope and love.

Light in the darkness.

Our love is shining so bright within and through me that it feels like I might float away.

Isn't our historic church gorgeous?
After the service, as people come up to tell us how cute Sweetie was and what a great job she did, one man grins and winks. "So what is it like to live with all that cuteness all the time?" We giggle, but I'm serious when I answer. "So, so sweet!"

Tuesday, December 4, 2018


Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Well, you're going to want shoes that are much better for walking..." I raise my eyebrows at Sweetie as I convince her to trade her new glittery dress shoes for her pink and purple flashing star tennis shoes.

"Why?! What we going to do?" She leans towards me, and when I answer, her already-big blue eyes fly wide open into sparkling pools of joy. Her mouth forms a perfect circle. "OHHHHHHHHH!" she squeals. "Can I tell Daddy?! I'm going to go tell Daddy!"

She flails out of her room, little flashing feet thudding down the hallway to peer downstairs. "Daddy! Daddy! We're going to the zoo to see the lights! Daddy!"

It's certainly not hard to get her out the door, and before we even get to the "zoo bridge", she declares, "I can see the zoo peeking over the trees!"

She thinks she's a dancer, so of course she had to dance along to the moving light tree!
The playground is even more fun with lights all around!
Walking with Daddy <3
To me, the magical sparkle of Christmas lights in a dark world has always been a symbol of the hope and wonder of the season. Now, it's even more special to see that magic reflected in her eyes, our own light in the darkness.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

On the field

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Looook! They're on the field!" Sweetie's little arm shoots out, tiny pointer finger waving. "Can we go on the field?"

My eyes twinkle as they meet Husband's across her head. I've been thinking about this moment since partway through the third quarter, when it first looked like we might really win. Really, I've been hoping for it (in an "ooh, do I even dare to hope?" way) all game, especially after we got off to such a nearly unbelievably good start, stopping That Team and scoring a touchdown on our first drive.

"The Game", with all the surrounding pageantry, is so woven into the fabric of who I am that my eyes got watery just walking up to the stadium with Sweetie and seeing traces of that hideous maize and blue sprinkled throughout the gameday scene. I was the kid who taught my cousins to make sure all blue and yellow Legos were separated by red or green ones in every one of our construction masterpieces. I was the kid who really didn't buy yellow shirts, and if I ended up with one, I had to wear it with khakis, because it couldn't possibly go with blue jeans. When we made some mistakes at the end of the first half that whittled away at our lead, I started yelling so loudly that Sweetie turned to me and asked, "Do you need a hug, Mommy?"

My dad, who hasn't missed an OSU home game since 1968, grew up going to games and rushing fields with his dad. When we finally beat M*ch*g*n for the first time in my memory, when I was 10, he didn't hesitate to throw me on his shoulders, where I was so cute in my inflatable football helmet that we ended up as the background for ABC's sign-off at the end of their coverage. The elation of riding on my dad in the midst of a sea of celebrating Buckeyes stands out in my memory with unparalleled clarity.
me on my dad's shoulders after the 1994 game, from the TV broadcast
In college, my parents laughed at the way that I was one of the first band members (along with a few big sousaphone players) to run onto the field in Ann Arbor when we won there my 4th year (after having lost there my 2nd year). NOT running onto the field hadn't even crossed my mind - as soon as the first few guys went, I was with them!

When I was pregnant with Sweetie, she got to rush the field inside my belly. So now, even though I'm adamant that we don't skip her naps, the possibility of building her first field-rushing memory was so special that I'd decided that just this once, we could stay for the whole game. And what a wild, astonishingly fantastic game it was! We scored so many touchdowns that we seemed to be celebrating constantly (after that right-before-halftime, hug-inducing scare)! Sweetie's wide-armed "touchdown" signal got bigger and more open-mouthed every time. Still, I hadn't even dared breathe the "if" of going down on the field until the clock ran out and she beat me to it!

"Would you like to go down there?" I looked into her huge blue eyes as the faint sounds of our alma mater tried to float above the raucous cheering.

"Let's go down on the field! Let's go down on the field now!" Her wiggly body started trying to wriggle out of our attempts to take selfies with the scoreboard in the background. Laughing, we joined the lines of people calmly but happily pouring down the stairs. As I handed her over the railing  to Husband and dropped myself down, I stopped to breathe in the pure sweetness of passing this joy on.

crossing the goal line: Touchdown, Sweetie!

Another blonde-haired girl on her daddy's shoulders, a familiar kind of special!
leaving the field through the team tunnel!

Football is more than just a fun activity. It creates moments and memories that weave our family together.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Unexpected Love

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
What does he want this time? 

Two minutes of my planning period remain before the bell rings to signal the start of the weekend. H. who is in one of my morning classes but has a class in my room during this period, is hovering a few steps away from the corner of my desk.

When he did this a few days after joining my class, it was to tell me he thought our class was too hard. (I reassured him that meant that he was now in the right place, as we'd switched him out of a class that was too easy for him.) A week later, it was to campaign for a break and ask why we have to work so hard all the time. (I took this a compliment, pointed to the big cut-out word "relentless" on the wall, and told him that I want him to graduate... and reassured him that we do have fun, too!) Does he need something? Is he going to complain about something again?

I "fix my face" a la Maya Angelou*, making sure my eyes sparkle with a real smile for him when I look up from my laptop. "What's up, H.?"

He shifts his weight from one foot to the other and half-smiles. "You know how much I love you?"

??? I'm not sure how to answer this question from a male teenage student. Is he serious? "Yeah?" I answer-ask in what I hope is a joking tone.

"A LOT!" The half-smile blooms into a full one that spreads across his face. "I didn't know what to think of your class at first, and I didn't really like it..." His words are picking up speed and he's standing more firmly on his feet. "But now I really love it. I love being in your class!" His eyes beam joy right into mine.

I let out the breath I didn't realize I was holding and relax my shoulders. "Aw, thanks, H! I love having you in my class!" What high school boy actually says that to his teacher? And at the end of the day on Friday? "Seriously, thanks so much for saying that. It means a lot!"

The bell rings, he waves, and the boisterous bustle of a high school at 2:42 on a Friday erupts in the hallway. I'm frozen in my desk chair, wrapped in the same kind of surreal delight that happens when I finish a really remarkable book and I just have to sit for a minute, feeling its weight in my hands.

* "You must remember, the very first thing a child sees, the first thing they notice when they see you, is you seeing them. They look carefully to see what your face looks like as you lay eyes upon their face. When you see a child, no matter what,  remember to fix your face."  
-- Maya Angelou

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Family Reunion

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Do you want to stand and play beside Daddy?" Husband's marching spot for this year's annual TBDBITL reunion was absolutely perfect: the last person in the last row of the block.
After all, when she "played" her toy horn during the warm-up for a parade and for a song in an empty seat behind me at an alumni band concert, Sweetie really thought she was part of the band. On the ride to campus earlier, she'd declared "I can be in the 'hio State Marching Band someday!" in between bursts of enthusiastic horn-blowing.

Clutching that toy horn, she scampered up beside him, blonde ponytail swinging. Errrnt! Errrnt! The little hums of her plastic horn mixed with the resounding tones of nearly 700 real alumni instruments booming out "Buckeye Battle Cry", and her little feet pumped alongside the generations of legs marking time during the slow step.
As the pickup notes to the faster chorus approached, I knew the band would take off down the field and figured she'd stay standing there, but she had other plans. Suddenly, that bright blonde ponytail was whipping back and forth as those little legs flailed down the field, scurrying to catch up to Daddy!

As practice went on, she worked hard to pick up her feet, hold up her horn, and even listen to the director. "24 counts!" she'd repeat. "What's 24 counts mean?"

Reunion weekend always brings a reminder that this band is truly a family, but there's definitely something special about bringing your family to the band, too! This year, the 100-year-old i-Dotter stole the show in the stadium, but our 3-year-old marcher stole plenty of hearts at practice!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

How the best band built the best version of me

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
What if the kids are bored? What if the other staff members don't like it? What if I don't do a good job? What if nobody wants to come back? What if... I take a deep breath and glance back at the awesome picture I put on my title slide. It's one of my favorites, with me as squad leader in the middle of a proud hats-off during my last year in the OSU Marching Band. I glance out across our club members, half-glad there aren't too many and half-wishing there were more today. I think back to my colleague's encouraging reply after I'd sent him my slides yesterday. Okay. Go.

A few minutes later, blood is pounding through my body as hard as when I dove so deeply into creating my slides this weekend that several hours somehow disappeared. I can feel the rush of marching again as I explain how every incredible moment in uniform was built on innumerable hours of diligent, intense, relentless practice. How every roar of the crowd came from countless choices of intentional discomfort and sacrifice: 2-5 hours a day, every day, all summer, repeatedly executing precise fundamentals with militaristic precision. In the heat. In the rain. When I was exhausted. When I was sore. When I wanted to sleep in. Analyzing every movement with a running checklist in my brain. Starting every time with the most basic elements of posture and in-place movements, even when I could have done them in my sleep, because I didn't want to do anything on default. Woody Hayes said that "you're either getting better or you're getting worse," and I wasn't about to get worse.

I run my fingers over the now-taped-up spine of my old spiral notebook and brush its coarse, battered cover against my palm before I pass it to a student. The E-7 notebook. Covered in quotes to inspire myself on the hard days and filled with precious tidbits of feedback from the mentor who would go on to become one of my best friends. My journey to earning the spot reserved for the best marcher in my row, to make sure that I wouldn't get complacent, to keep myself truly getting better every day. Just holding it gives me shivers, 15 years later.

All those hours on the field, devouring feedback after every drill, scrawling notes before jumping back on the line and snapping back to attention for more. Conversations with my friend about hard work, courage, leadership, and life, as we built the trust that was so essential for my growth. The determination with which I cut up the descriptions from our fundamentals packet and rewrote his feedback under each section to study, memorize, and turn into a mental checklist that ran through my head every time I marched. Back straight, horn straight, eyes ahead, legs up, toes strained downward, march "to the wall", don't dip shoulder, don't flash early, relax neck, throw head back, slam back down,  tense shoulders, "hit the table", don't dip, snap leg up...

It's surreal to stand in front of a classroom now, so far removed from those days, and see colleagues and students flipping through those tattered pages. I feel like they can finally see who I am, now that they can see where I came from. This is what I mean when I say I'm hardworking. This is the culture of challenging support, trust, and accountability that I dream of recreating in my classes and in our school.

"Did you guys see what it takes to become the elite of the elite?" the colleague in charge of our club jumps in. He starts to tie my ideas to his hopes for our future discussions and gives me a fist bump, and my blood and breath begin to find their way back to a normal pace.

"I can use this with my classes, right?" As we scurry to class, one colleague excitedly waves the planning worksheet I led the group through.

"I was starting to write up something as you were talking, and then you had it made for us!" another colleague declares. "And wow, those old notes of yours... how do you even learn how to take 22 1/2 inch steps?!" We giggle as I try to explain using maximum toe point to train your muscles to hit the yardline precisely with the ball of your foot every 8 steps. "I think we should keep checking in with our plans all year!" she continues, and I feel hope floating from my toes to my curls.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Who we can be

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Go! Go! "Go, Mommy! Yay Mommy!"

A smile spreads across my face even though this running thing is darn hard. That sweet little voice. Best sound in the world.

I glance back over my shoulder and catch a swatch of neon pink over on a bench. For me to hear her from the other side of the track, she must be yelling with every ounce of love her little lungs can hold. And the next thing I know, she's on the track chasing me, her spindly legs churning, arms flailing with joy.

left pink blob: me, tiny gray & pink blob on the right: Sweetie <3
As much as I'd like to stop and see the cuteness, I'm here to run. To get strong. To clear my mind and build my muscles. To make myself proud. For me and for her.

So I swing my head back, let my eyes take in the blue sky, woods, and wetlands for a minute, and then set my sights on the next curve. I keep my legs pushing. I keep my feet pounding. Even especially when it's hard. Even especially when stopping sounds pretty tempting, especially in the heat. Even especially when my sneaky brain tries to make me doubt myself. (Nope, nice try, brain!) I can do this. I have run this distance before and I will do it again. I've come so far in the past year. I'm getting better and stronger all the time. Look at me! I furrow my eyebrows, feel the rhythm of my breath, and push my arms and legs and feet and brain to keep on.

Some corners, that sweet little voice is there to give me an extra boost. Sometimes, I look across the field and see her wiggly, bouncing, unfettered delight scampering around Husband at the other end of a straightaway.

And when I pound down toward the finish line for the last time, she's there, swooping her little arm across her body like she's pulling me along. "Go, go, go! Go, Mommy! Yay Mommy!"
Two miles down again. Like always, everything slows down as I walk-float my cool-down lap. My ears seem to reopen to the sounds of birds chirping and my view sharpens: the leaves and branches of the trees seem etched extra clear against the vast sky. But this time, a bubbly bundle of energy scurries up to greet me, ready for a hug. I show her the finish line and we "race" 50m, open-mouthed cackling the whole way.
Too bad you can't hear the giggling!
She mimics my stretches, trying to figure out how to twist her little limbs without tumbling over.

And as we walk to the car, I get awarded my very first running prize: a clover flower she picked just for me!

I love sharing my life with her.
I love showing her who I am and helping her discover who she is.
Who I can be, and who she can be.
Who we can be: