Builders


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Dianthus. In bloom.

Some people in this life help us to bloom.  They help us to burst into the best life that we can achieve.

Some people reflect our very best selves.  They show us the beauty that we hold inside of us, even when we are not aware of that beauty.  Even when the doubters have made us question whether that beauty truly exists.

Some people see us as we wish ourselves to be seen.  They shine a light on that hidden self that we all want to highlight.

These people are the “Builders” in our lives.  They see and recognize the hidden strengths that lie within us; they hold those strengths up to the light, so that we become aware of how special they are.

These people, these Builders, allow us to find that hidden jewel that lies within each of us, so that we can use it as the foundation of the very best self that we can create.  We recognize that jewel, that special gift, because those “Builders” have pointed it out for us.  They have celebrated us in ways that we would never have achieved without them.

“Look!”, they cry, “This is YOU!”  They hold up our strength, our humor, our compassion, our love, our honesty.  They force us to recognize the unique part of ourselves that makes us stand out from the crowd.  “This is you”, our Builders say, “This is why I look up to you, why I admire you, why I am so happy to have met you.”

We all need Builders in our lives.

We all need to become Builders for those around us who are struggling to find their own inner light.

I’m writing this tonight to thank my Builders.  My sweet, thoughtful, brave, strong colleagues, who refuse to let me think of myself as a failure.  You are my heroes!

My students, my kids, who surround me every day with trust and love; my wonderful students who show me the truth of myself, for good or ill, and who love me anyway.

Thank you, Builders.

Thank you for stopping me from believing the ghouls.  Thank you for helping me to hold on to what I hope and pray is my real, true, honest-to-goodness teaching self.

Completely Transparent…..


I once had a therapist tell me that I was wasting my time with therapy.  She said that my dreams were absolutely obvious.

May I add that her name was “Goodheart”?   Not kidding, I chose her from the phone book specifically because of her name. I mean, how much more comforting could a name be than Dr. Goodheart?

Anyway, she told me that my dreams were so easy to interpret that she shouldn’t even charge me.  For example, while I was seeing her, living away from home at graduate school and very sad and lonely, I had  a dream that I was trying to walk on a long, long path, but that my shoes were too small and I couldn’t get to where I wanted to be.

Yuh.

Obvious.

When I was struggling to have a baby, and was depressed and downhearted, I once dreamed that I climbed up a huge mountain, hand over hand, until I got to the top, where I found a group of women, all sitting and breastfeeding babies.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t climb the last few feet to join them.

Really.

So what do you think Dr. Goodheart would make of my dreams this week?

One was a dream of my lying on my back, flat on my back, and people were piling cardboard on top of me. Tons of cardboard (this comes from the pile of cardboard in the back of my classroom, ready for our annual class play.) In my dream, there are a few people who are driving me nuts, and they are stacking piles and piles of ever more cardboard on top of me, as I try to scream out, “Ass holes!!!!  I hate you!!!”

Yeah.

"More Weight!!"

“More Weight!!”

Just like Giles Corey from the Salem Witch trials.  “Keep piling it on! I can take it!”

And then there was the dream that I was trying to keep a group of little boys safe from danger, and we were hiding in a big old house; it was thundering and pouring outside, and the boys were crying. I was trying to shelter them, and console them, but there were scary monsters outside of all of the windows.  I was scared for a bit, but then I stood up and slammed the windows shut.  So there!

I sat back down and gathered all the little boys into my arms. The dream ended with a feeling of peace.

And I keep dreaming that I’m traveling, on a long road, or on a train, or on a boat in a raging storm.   There are always problems, roadblocks, setbacks.  And I always feel scared, but I always keep going.   I keep going forward.

In my dreams, I never see where it is that I am bound, nor do I ever get there.

But there is always…..always…. the realization that I am moving forward.

What would Dr. Goodheart say to that, I wonder?

Field Trip Magic


Olde Sturbridge Village...how quiant can you get?

Old Sturbridge Village…how quaint can you get?

Ah, field trips!

Those wonderful carefree days of no actual school work.  Parents often think of those days as “days off” for teachers.

To which teachers respond, “Bwahahahahahahaha!”

No kidding. We actually chortle.

I woke up this morning at 5:45, showered, drank my cup of coffee and headed out the door.  I usually have at least two cups of said coffee, but knowing that I would be trapped on a bus for an hour and a quarter made me forgo my second fortifying beverage.

Also, I know how cranky I can get with all that caffeine coursing through my veins.  So I skipped it.  Sadly.  And with a few bad words.  I skipped it.

But I got out the door in plenty of time, and headed off to school.  I had told the class to be in the room by 8:00 AM at the latest, assuring them that I would be at my desk by 7:30, and could handle anything that came up.  As I got on the road and glanced at my watch, I was buoyed by the realization that I would be at school in PLENTY of time.  No worries!

Until the traffic on the highway came to a grinding halt.  And I sat for ten full minutes without moving a foot.

Gah!  Time was ticking by.  What should I do?  I booted up my GPS app, and saw that it would take me 40 minutes to get to my classroom.  Gulp!  40 minutes would put me at TEN PAST eight!  The bus had to leave at 8:15!!!  I frantically texted my ever serene and uber organized colleague, Amy Jo, and asked her to get my classroom ready for the kids.

I came careening into the parking lot at 8, and entered my classroom at 8:02.  I greeted the kids, handed out medications to the chaperones, filled out the “before school” attendance sheet, and got ready to head for the bathroom.

And all the lights went out.  Bam.

We were in the dark.

I turned on my phone, used the facilities, and got everyone lined up and ready to go.

Onto the busses we went, chaperones, incredibly excited kids and me.   Phew!  I gave orders (“No standing up!  No screaming!  No eating on the bus).

And I settled back to relax.

Almost immediately, I had two little girls in the seats across from me firing questions my way. Had I been to Sturbridge Village before? What would we see? Would there be animals? What kind?  When was I last there? Did I always know that I wanted to be a teacher? How old was I , anyway?  If I could have any animal on earth as a pet, what would it be?  Did they have bees in the 1800’s?

I did my best to answer, and I chatted with the kids.

Its what teachers do.  We talk to kids.  We answer the questions that they ask.

After about 40 minutes, one of the chaperones turned to me. She is the young mother of one of my most intriguing kids.  “I hope you don’t mind, ” she said, “But I was listening to everything that you said.  Wow!  I think I love you!  No wonder my daughter loves you so much!”

I was completely taken aback.  What?  My talk with the kids impressed her that much?  But that’s how people should always talk to kids, I thought.

I was delighted, and grateful.  But truly surprised.

I thanked her, and sat back to think.

The rest of the day was filled with rain, and laughter, and a hundred kids from 20 schools rushing around and shouting questions as only kids can do.  We flew from the blacksmith to the tinsmith to the cooper to the printer. We petted the baby cows and the fluffy little lambs. Because we are fifth graders, we laughed and commented as the bulls peed and the lambs nursed.

We manned the pumps, threw rocks in the pond, raced across the covered bridge.

We got back on the bus and we headed back to school.

And now I am at home, feet up on the coffee table, glass of wine in hand.  My mind is filled with the images of the day: my sensitive and anxious boy clinging to my side, asking me a thousand questions about the safety of the bridge and the sanitation in the animal pens; my social and smiling boy, asking his friends to back up and make room for younger kids who had come into the potter’s shed; my smart, sassy, learning disabled girl, pausing to think about the oxen, then turning to me with a smile as the meaning of “neutered” made its way into her consciousness.

I love my job.

I love those kids.

I love the caring and warmth and support of these loving parents.

I wish that I could teach the way I want to teach.  I wish that my connection to the kids would be evidence enough of my success as a teacher.

Read Aloud


Every day, no matter what else has gone on, I read aloud to my class.

They are fifth graders, growing tall, beginning to mature, just entering the terrible miracle of puberty.

You would think that they’d be too old to have an adult reading them stories, wouldn’t you?

They aren’t.

They love “Read Aloud”.  I love it even more.  In a time when so much of education is focused on gathering data, on scoring rubrics, on force feeding those Common Core State Standards, it is both a relief and a joy to settle into my chair after lunch, a good book in my hands, the children draped on the rug at my feet.

I love to watch them as I read to them; I love to see them as they react to the action.

Sometimes, when the book is familiar, I can glance at the text and then look out at the kids, knowing the words that are coming next.  I can really look at them in those moments, because they do not see me looking.  They are seeing the characters in the book, watching the action unfold.  They are unaware of the classroom around them, or the teacher who is looking at them tenderly as she reads.

I love to read the words, “She narrowed her eyes”, because I see those beautiful children trying it out, narrowing their own bright eyes.  I love to read, “He shook his head”, because so many of them shake theirs.

After lunch on a bright spring day, I love to read aloud to my class.  I see the unconscious smiles on the lips of the girls, watching as they twirl a bit of their hair around a finger.  I love to read aloud as those quickly growing boys sit, so uncharacteristically quiet, their gleaming eyes unseeing, the sweat in their hair drying, a smudge of dirt on their cheeks. I love to come to a moment of action, hearing their indrawn breath, catching the glances they throw at each other.

Most of all, I love to come to the end of a chapter, hearing them groan and complain as I place my bookmark in the pages that I am closing.

I love “Read Aloud”.

I hope that it is never subjected to a rubric, or lost to a misguided desire to teach them to read “at their own level.”

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Sure Signs of Spring


542973_10150758018781101_166114762_nEvery year, without fail, I am amazed, astounded and otherwise thrilled by the inarguable signs of spring.

“What?!” I find myself whispering, “The maple trees are suddenly tipped with red buds?  Really??!!!  Is spring really coming?!”

I am always astonished.  The snow is still there, clinging with its filthy icy fingers to the edges of the drive.  The nights still make me shiver.  How can there be buds on the trees?

A few weeks pass, and the snow finally recedes, the last dirty nuggets of frozen slush disappearing into the dirt. The peepers come out, singing their songs of longing and renewal as dusk falls over the wetlands.

Lilac buds swell, the grass grows green again.  The phlox begin to open, and the lily-of-the-valley unfurl their tender stalks to soak up the light of May.

But none of these signs of spring can convince me that winter has finally gone.  None of them shows me that life is truly re-emerging from its dormant state.

No.

I am a fifth grade teacher.   I am immune to the calling of the Phoebe on her nest.  I do not respond to the lovely colors of the tulips or the tender scent of the hibiscus.

For me, spring only proves her existence when my students return from fifteen minutes of outdoor play, and I am surrounded by the suffocating odor of an NBA locker room.

For me, the sounds of spring are not the trilling songs of the peepers, but rather the whispered sounds of “I like him, but I don’t LIKE him like him!”

Spring in the fifth grade is captured by the poignant dance of “You can’t fire me; I quit!” where the most insecure students suddenly push away their new- found friends.  It is felt in the moments when the children simultaneously push me away and cling to me as if I am the only buoy in a turbulent sea.

Spring: the time of year when life rushes forward, whether we are ready or not.  The peepers call, the buds swell, the children find themselves confused by love and longing.  Time marches forward with a suddenly ominous drum beat.  Every minute takes us closer to the end of our time together.

Spring time in the fifth grade.  A sweetly gentle mix of sadness, excitement, and relief.  A tender mix of looking forward and looking back.

Immortality


Once in while something in life reminds me that my existence has some meaning after all.

Most of the time I am profoundly aware of the fact that mine is just one tiny life in a procession of billions of human lives.  I understand that my worries and stresses are only the tiniest drops of worry in the world, and that my accomplishments are only the most microscopic of events in a mighty universe.

But once in a while, I can truly experience the feeling of being a true part of all human life.

Today is Mother’s Day.  And I am a mother.  i have given the world three new humans.  I am part of the endless chain of mothers and children that is humanity.

But more than that, I am now the mother of a mother.

A week or so ago, I was riding in my car with my daughter, now six months pregnant with a daughter of her own.  We were driving together to visit my mother.  Four generations of women in our family would be at the dinner table that night!

As we drove, my daughter reached out and took my hand, placing it on her belly. I waited a heartbeat, then I felt my granddaughter, through the warm, strong flesh of my firstborn child, moving against the palm of my hand.

I felt her move.

I was in awe!  I have been pregnant myself, three times, and was always moved by the miracle of feeling life inside me, so separate yet so much a part of me.

But this!  This was more miraculous, more powerful, more magic.

I feel immortal.  I feel that I am a tiny piece of the eternal goddess who is the mother of us all.

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Happy Mother’s Day to every mother, daughter, sister, aunt, out there!

Frog Fights and Teachable Moments


Oh, the best laid plans!

bull-frogs-sing-to-the-skies-the-dark-rift-draws-nigh-all-reptiles-vibrate-the-oceans-and-seas-to-protect-earths-magnetic-field

Yesterday was the first really warm day of the year; we haven’t seen 70 degrees in Massachusetts since October.  We really, really NEEDED this great weather!

And its the day before the stupid, accursed, pointless, boring, way-too-long standardized math tests.  We will be trapped in our classroom for HOURS over the next two days.

So I did what any self-respecting classroom teacher would do: I took the kids outside for some “Ecosystem Review”.

They all knew, of course, that “Ecosystem Review” meant “Let’s get outta here!”, but they pretended to play along when I told them to record their observations and to write a piece of poetry inspired by the experience with the water ecosystem.

They tried to act semi-studious as I herded them out the door after lunch, toward our outdoor classroom.  “Remember”, I told them, “You need to record your observations of the environment today.  Record what it is that you see, hear, feel, smell.”

“So is this extra recess?”, one eager little boy inquired with a joyful grin.

“No!”, I assured him, giving my best serious teacher frownie face.  “This is SCIENCE.”

We headed out into the gorgeous mid day sunshine, feeling the heat on our faces and the warm breeze in our hair. We semi-walked and semi-raced down the grassy hill toward the pond and the pretty spring gardens.  I sat on the wooden benches in the shade as the kids ran out onto the boardwalk that circles the little pond.  I heard them chattering and calling as they ran around, pointing to various bugs, plants and piles of litter.

I wasn’t really paying that much attention to the kids voices at this point: I had instituted “teacher ear”, a sort of “organic app” that allows us to filter out everything other than words pertaining to poop, sex, vomit or guns.   Its a kind of survival technique that we use in the classroom.  Don’t tell anyone about it, OK?

Anyway, there I was, sitting in the warm sun, face raised to catch the full benefit. I was hearing the humming of the bees and the wind in the flowering trees.  All was well.

My “teacher ear” was gently filtering the language of the kids.  This is what it heard:

“What’s that lump?”

“Do you think its a frog?”

Yep! Its a frog!”

“OH, MY GOD! A FROG!!! IN THE WATER!!!”

“Oh, my God!”

“What’s he doing?”

“They’re playing LeapFrog!”

“For real????”

“Yeah, one frog is jumping on the other frog’s back!!!”

Just as my brain began to register this newest bit of information, one of my most savvy, most sophisticated boys let out a gasp of amazement, and I heard him shout, even as I was coming to my feet to head them off,
Oh, my God!!! They’re MATING!!!!!”

common frogs mating

There was a cry of general disbelief and confusion, then the pounding sound of 46 feet racing around the boardwalk.   I stood up and hurried onto the walkway, trying to catch up to the kids.   As I reached the spot where all of them were huddled, looking into the water, I wondered what to say.

“Boys and girls”, I began.  “I think that we………” I didn’t get very far before the excited voices of the kids cut into my “explanation”.

“I think they’re DOING IT.”

“Doing what?”

“Playing leapfrog.”

“No! Mating!  They’re making baby frogs!”

“Gross!” “Awesome!” “Cool!” “Disgusting” “What???”

“Boys and girls,” I tried again, sounding at my most serious and most seriously intimidating. “We are scientists, and this is nature at work.” I thought desperately about how to get the kids to see the serious biological issues of the day. How should I explain this?  What should I say?  I looked into the pond, where I saw one large green frog solidly planted on the back of another, slightly smaller frog.  The top frog’s front legs were firmly wrapped around the other frog’s midsection, and I swear to God, both of them were smiling.

I gulped and turned toward the class.

 “All of nature has the goal of reproduction….” I began, somewhat lamely.

“I know!!”, one boy interrupted.  “And all the boys try to get the girls!”  There was a general outburst of snickers.  “Yeah. Why does that happen?”, asked one serious and intelligent little girl.

“Well, see….” I began.

“Really”, answered one of her male classmates. “Why do all the boys try to get all the girls anyway?”

“OK”, I began again, “We are using scientific words here, like “male and female” instead of ‘boys and girls’. You are wondering why in so many species, the males try to fight for the female’s attention, right?”

“Yeah,” said one little lady, with a little frown. “I mean, on all those animal shows, the male lions fight for the females, and the male deer do it, too.  What’s that about?”

I stood sweating in the hot spring sunshine with 23 pairs of innocent eyes fixed on my face, looking for some answers to one of life’s most pressing questions.  What was I supposed to say?   I started to panic as various answers flew through my flustered brain. “Ask your Dad!” was one possibility, but that didn’t seem like the wisest response.  I figured I’d have to fake the serious scientist bit, and tell them about the male of every species wanting to pass on his genetic heritage.  I took a breath and wiped the sweat off my neck.

“Ah, so, see, the male animals are hoping to pass on the, um, the genes, and the, um, their, ya know, they want to be the ones who have their…..characteristics, and, like…..”  I stammered along, with literally no idea of where to go next.

I was saved from total fake-outery, though, when a shrill voice began to scream, “Another frog!!!  Another frog!!! Its a fight!!!!”

Everyone raced to the edge of the boardwalk, me included, peering into the murky greenish brown bubbles of the little pond.  Sure enough, another bug eyed green frog had appeared on the scene, and seemed to be determined to beat the living crap out of the frog in the “topside” position. As we all looked on in amazement, Mr. Newcomer opened his mouth as wide as he could and attempted to tear the head of Mr. Happy-on-top. There was a collective gasp from the mesmerized kids, and someone said reverently, “Whoah!  That dude means business!”

For the next thirty minutes, the entire class watched the drama unfolding before us.  No one seemed to give a hoot about genetics or natural selection.  But they were completely captivated by the mating ritual in the water. I’m not at all sure of what they learned, but I’ve never seen fifth graders demonstrate better focus and attention. I can still hear those excited voices, echoing over the water.

“I think the males are the ones who sing out of that big bubble on their throats.”

“But they’re all singing.”

“So which one is the female?”

“I still think they’re playing leapfrog.”

“Dude. That’s just dumb!”

“Well, why do you think they gave it that name then? It’s definitely leapfrog.”

“Naw, he’s trying to kill the other guy!”

“Frog kissing frog on hims head.” (This from a student who speaks little English).

“This is the coolest thing ever!”

“What, frog sex?”

“Duuuuude!”

“It isn’t sex. It’s mating.”

“I think that might be the same thing.”

That was the part where I rang the bell.  Really loud.  “OK!” I said in happy teacher voice. “Time to go inside!”

Next year, I think I’ll check out the pond to make sure its all G rated before I take the kids outside to observe nature.

THAT is a mighty mouse…..


It all started at about 11 o’clock. it was the first day back after a week of school vacation.  After a week of getting up at 9 and enjoying a leisurely breakfast at 10, I had found myself swaying groggily by my bed at 5:30 AM.  I’d managed to make and drink a cup of coffee before rushing out the door to school.

By 11 AM, I had put away the “American Revolution” and taken out “Water Transformations”. I had corrected a math test, answered emails, run morning meeting, met with the Librarian, set up bins of “Memoir” books, taught a lesson in spelling, taken the kids to chorus and picked them up again.

I was starved.

I was ready to eat anything that wasn’t made of plastic.

So hungry.

I got the kids ready to start our math lesson on “Customary Units of Length” and I casually pulled open my “Snack Drawer.”  Now, this is a drawer in my teacher desk where I usually store a couple of items that just might help me make it through the day.   I usually have a roll of rice cakes, a jar of Sunbutter and a whole bunch of coffee and tea.

I have never had a problem with these items in this drawer.

Today was different, though.  I looked into the drawer as I gave the kids directions about how to convert inches into yards.  I had just remembered that the day before vacation I’d placed a plastic container of salted, spicy dried peas in my Snack Drawer.   Yum-o-rama; just what the doctor ordered!!!

I am a highly skilled, highly paid professional teacher, as many of you know.  I am fully capable of pulling out a drawer, rummaging around for my snack and sneaking a handful of deliciousness into my mouth while I coach kids on how to convert feet into miles.  So I talked about feet per mile, blah, blah, blah as I rooted around for the container of peas.

Ahhhh, there it was! My fingers felt the familiar firm plastic of the dried pea container.  As I lifted up to my desk, my slightly preoccupied brain suddenly wondered, “Why is it so light?”  I gave it a shake, but I kept on talking. “So you can see, boys and girls, that when I convert from feet into miles, I am going from a smaller unit to a larger one……”

I looked at the container, and my voice trailed off into silence.

There was one corner of the little plastic box that was completely missing.  Chewed right off the box.  There were no whole peas left inside, although there were a few pathetic bits of pea skin and salt rattling around in the bottom.

I gasped a little, and every student was suddenly actually tuned in to what I was doing.

Not wanting to upset any of my delicate charges, I dropped the chewed box into the trash and leaned forward to peer into my Snack Drawer.

It’s a little messy in there, but even so, it was pretty clear that there had been an awesome rodent party going on while I was away on vacation.

I found myself looking at the remains of shredded peas, some bits of salt, a pile of tiny yellow plastic bits that turned out to be the chewed edges of my Sunbutter jar.

There was also a prodigious amount of teeny weeny mouse poop spread all over the drawer.  They looked like the world’s smallest sausages, all carefully arranged around the bits of plastic and tiny salted pea snacks.

I looked a little bit closer.

Along with the poopie piles, there were also a whole bunch of tiny black spheres spread out in the bottom of the drawer.

What the……..????

I moved a few things around.  Nope, they didn’t get into the packet of hot chocolate.  They didn’t touch the tea.

Wait…..what’s this……?

I started to laugh, and I couldn’t stop.

I lifted up a brand new, full bag of Starbucks Espresso ground coffee.  One corner had been chewed open, and a stream of coffee was pouring out.

I had a sudden image of the poor little mice, feeling all happy and festive, partying in the drawer full of spicy peas. Feeling all Saturday Night, dancing with the lady mice and pooping up a storm. I could just see the Alpha mouse, chewing away for all he was worth at the silver wrapping on the coffee bag.

“Just you wait, ladies” I can practically hear him gloating. “You’re gonna just love what’s in this awesome shiny bag!  Smells like a human, so its gotta be gooooooood.”

I can see his sharp little teeth finally penetrating the metallic shield and his mouth filling with an unexpected and most unwelcome pile of coffee grounds.

“Gah!!!!!!!!” I can just hear him scream, as he chokes down the pile of bitter, dry coffee bean flecks. “What the hell is THIS?”

The other mice must have cracked up and pooped themselves into a real uproar as they watched him try to clear the awful pellets from his mouth.

It must have been a hoot.

I looked up at my expectant students.

“Um”, I said. “I think there may be an incredibly hyper mouse racing around in our basement today.”

Then I made them go back to converting yards into inches and vice versa.  We got through the rest of our day without any more excitement.

But I can’t get the image of that caffeine crazed mouse out of my head.

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And did I mention that there wasn’t one single nibble on the package of rice cakes?   Who knew that mice were so smart.

Sheepish in New York


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I am such a good Host Mother.

Really.  I am.

I make pancakes and waffles for my German temporary son.   I do his laundry.  I pick him up from his girlfriend’s house three days a week, at least, and I never bug him about homework.

I’m awesome.

And my awesomeness hit its peak when I offered to take him and a friend to New York City during our April vacation.  I knew that he wanted to go, knew that he had always dreamed of seeing the Big Apple.  And he is a boy from Berlin, stuck out here in the backwoods of New England.  Stuck in a place where the biggest excitement comes when a moose wanders into town.

I kinda figured I owed him the trip, you know?

Even though I’m wicked scared of big cities. Even though I’ve hated New York ever since my grad school days at Rutgers, when I had too many run-ins with rude, obnoxious native New Yorkers. Even though I’m pretty neurotic about being in charge of two teenaged boys in the City That Never Sleeps.

So…….

I contacted a friend who knows and loves NY and who I knew would be kind enough to host us for a couple of nights at her house on Long Island.  I packed up a carload of snacks and made plans to drive from our house to the famous “High Line”.  I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best, and off we went.

We got to the city without the slightest mishap.  Ha!

That should have been a clue.

But all was well as we made our way down the West side and looked at the river. The boys were incredibly excited, chattering away in a charming mix of German and English.  They took pictures of everything, pointed out every building, every boat, every flashy sign.  My heart was pounding as I tried to hear the tinny voice of the GPS app over the mixed voices and the German hip hop coming out of the speakers. Did she say “14th St” or “13th St”? Should I be in the middle lane here, or the left?

The music and the boys were starting to give me a headache, but I pressed on. I had no idea what the German artists were singing, but it sounded a lot like “Shishka-shishka-shishkabab, baby!” and it had a beat that seemed to match the rhythm of the traffic.  “Boys…..”, I tried to get one of them to read the map on my iPhone, but they were shishkababbing too hard to hear me.   I gulped and turned left onto 14th Street, and then followed the little voice on the phone.  A left, a right, a right.

Whoah!!!!

There it was.   Like a miraculous mirage. The golden light of the sun poured down on it.  I’m pretty sure that angels were singing.

An empty parking spot!  With a meter!   Allelujah!!

I pulled in and parked, my heart still pounding. Oh, my God!  I’d done it! I’d brought the boys to New York, I’d driven through the city streets and now I had found a PARKING SPOT!!!!

We all hopped out, and I went to look at the meter.  The directions were a little……..um……..vague.  And I was still nervous. And the sun was shining directly on the face of the meter, so I was having a hard time reading it.  The boys were trilling like little German birds behind me, delighted by the realization that we had parked directly in front of a German Bier Garten.  I half listened to them as I slid my credit card into the slot.  “Nine dollars for two hours”, I read. Yikes!   It was expensive, but I shrugged.  Hell of a lot cheaper than a lot, I told myself.  It took me four tries to get the meter to read my card, but I finally managed to put the two hours on there.  The next button read, “Print receipt”, so I did.   The boys were asking me to unlock the car again because they needed something, so I pulled out the receipt and popped it into my purse.

We got our cameras and jackets and off we went.   It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and we walked for an hour and half, seeing the city from the elevated gardens on the High Line, eating hot dogs from a truck, and shopping for athletic shoes.  We checked our watches and headed back toward the car.

I was sooooooo proud of myself!  Yay, me!!  I pictured the headlines, “Chicken hearted older lady takes two German boys to New York!”  I hadn’t gotten lost once!!  And I had found on street parking!  And I had saved at least thirty bucks on parking!   There was quite the little strut in my step as we wound our way back to the car.  I was extra proud that we were getting there with 20 minutes left on the meter!

I was chatting along with Marvin about our fun day when suddenly Lucas stopped walking.

“Um.  Where’s our car?”

I heard him ask the question, but my brain refused to register the words.  There was our street.  There was the adorable German restaurant.  There was the meter. There was the empty spot in front of the meter.

Gulp!

The world stopped turning.  The angels stopped singing and started snickering.  I tried to speak, but all the air had left my lungs.

It. Must. Be. A. Mistake.

I looked at the restaurant. Yep. Same cute Alpine sign.  Same German menu.

I closed my eyes, squeezed hard.  I slowly opened them again, willing the bright red Sonata to appear at the curb.

Nein.

I stood there with my mouth gaping.  I’m pretty sure that a little drool escaped.

The boys dashed across the street and into the outdoor bier garten.  I saw them talking to the pretty young waitress and saw her point to the curb.  I couldn’t hear what she was saying, though, what with being immobilized on the opposite side of the street and the screaming noise going on in my head.

I slowly wobbled my way across to the boys, and Lucas met me with a steadying hand on my elbow and the words, “Good news. It wasn’t stolen.  It got towed.”

Towed?!    TOWED?!!!?

After all I went through with that meter?!  I don’t think so!   My face got hot, and my ears started to burn.   “B.b.b.b.b.b.bb.b….”I began to sputter, “But I….but there…..wait, but……..”  The sweet young waitress was trying to figure out what had happened, and I was getting madder by the minute.   I was steaming!   We had 20 minutes left!!!!   I could prove it, dammit!

I forced my shaking fingers to open the tiny purse I had chosen and packed specifically for this trip.  It was so tiny that I could barely shove my fingers inside, but at last I managed to pull out my parking receipt.  “Ha!”, I crowed, waving the ticket in the air over my head.  “I can PROVE that we were legally parked!!!!!”  The waitress and a very handsome dyed blonde young waiter by her side both turned to look at me.  “See?!” I demanded, “See?!  It says that the meter expires at 3:15 and its only 2:54 right now!  See????”  I pointed to the ticket in my hand.  Both of the kind young waiters leaned in to see, as did the dear German boys who were counting on me to get them safely to Long Island.  “It says the time right here!” My finger jabbed the time stamp and my eyes glanced down one line.

And I read, “Place this receipt on the dashboard on the driver’s side.”

Oopsie.

All the air went out of me. I looked into the confused eyes of my boys and the sympathetic eyes of the young waiters.

“Uh. Um. Ok.”  I gulped a little.  My headache kicked up a notch or three. “Yes. Well. Thank you so much for your help.  We’ll just…..”  I turned to the meter, and read “Call 311 for any questions about the NY transit system.

I called.  I pressed 1. Then 3.  Then 5. Then I waited.  Thank you, dear Lord, the woman who answered the phone was calm, knowledgable and (better yet), sympathetic.  She guided me through the process, informing me that my car was towed away from the meter (are you ready for this?)  TWO MINUTES before we got there.

It was now safely and expensively stored at “Pier 76″ by the NYPD.  We tried to figure out how to get to Pier 76 (why does the GPS App send you to freakin’ New Jersey when you enter “Manhattan NY”????) but finally ended up calling my pal on Long Island.  She and her husband advised us to get a cab.

“OK!” I said, cheerfully, pretending that a shell-shocked middle aged lady from the woods of Central Mass would have some idea of how to hail a cab in the middle of Manhattan.  I put away my phone, fought back my panic and opened my mouth to speak. All that came out was “eeeeeeeeeee????”  The boys patted my back, and Berlin based Lucas began to speak in the same voice you’d use with an out of control toddler, “We’ll just get a cab, OK? It’s OK…..”

“Buh, buh, muh…….” I chittered, as he lead me by the elbow along the street.  How are you supposed to stop a cab in the middle of the zillions of cars whizzing by?  How?  I’d never manage it! Never!  The boys would be stuck forever in Manhattan, and we’d be mugged and terrorists would come and get us and rats would bite our feet and……….

I looked up to see Marvin dashing onto a side street, where a cab was stopped at the corner. “Excuse me, sir!”, he called into the passenger side winder, “Are you free? Our car was towed! We need to get to Pier 76!”  The doors opened and in we piled.

We swerved through NY traffic as the boys swapped stories with the sympathetic cabbie.

Finally, we got to Pier 76.  I got my paperwork and finally we got our car back.  Everything was fine; nothing had been damaged or stolen. We were only about an hour behind schedule.

I settled behind the wheel and booted up the GPS App.

“OK!  No more Shishkababbing while I drive!” I ordered.  We got on the road to my friend’s house, where it occurred to me that in an effort to save 30 bucks, I’d ended up paying about 300.

No more big city adventures for me!!!!!!!!

A woman of words


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When I teach my fifth grade students about poetry, I always start with a lovely poem about writing.

“Take a pen in your uncertain fingers”, it reads, “and trust that all the world is a bright blue butterfly, and words the net to hold it.”

I love that idea, the thought of holding all the world within my words.

Maybe that’s why I don’t seem to be able to stop thinking in words.  I try to be “mindful”, to simply relax and rest and be.  I try to turn off my thoughts, my words, my judgments.  I sit in a quiet place, I breathe in deeply.

I look at the warm evening sky, this first lovely evening of spring.  I sit in a quiet place.   I try not to think, to simply look, to observe, to be a part of the moment.

But I can’t stop the words from flowing. “I look at the feeder, at the remains of the suet that I put out last night.  I see the clumps of seeds and fat, piled and spilled across the deck, a reminder of the orgy of feeding that must go on all day, when I am not here. I scan the trees.  No birds.  Did they hear me come out?  Are they afraid?”

I sit, I am still.  I breathe.  “A swoop of wings, a flutter near my ear.  A chick-a-dee, of course!  That bold little bird, he won’t let me scare him away from his dinner!”

It makes me smile to see him, perching on the tip of pine branch just above me.  Cocking his head from side to side.  He calls out, “Chirrup!”

“As soon as his call fades, a flurry of wings and twitching tails, all flowing over the roof of the house and into the pines above my deck.  I pick out each one, watching them as they line up on the branches.  A pair of slate gray juncos, like proper little nuns, waiting their turns to eat.  A nut hatch, his long sharp beak stabbing one bit of suet after another off the railing.  A gentle phoebe, hopping along the deck and finding scattered seeds.”

A tiny flash of brilliance catches my eye, and the words increase in speed. “A goldfinch!  Wearing his bright spring coat, wanting to be brave enough to land, but flying instead from the rooftop to the branch and back again!  Finally, he gets his courage up, and flings himself onto the feeder.  Looking nearly panicked, he gulps down a few quick bites, seems to cast a wary eye my way, then shoots straight up into the sky.”

I laugh to myself.  I wonder why I don’t just grab a camera.

I guess its because, for me, nothing in life seems real until I have tried to capture it in the net of my words.