Lessons

Remember that a toad will pee in your hand if you hold it for too long.

Remember that it’s the blue snow cones that stain your lips and tongue.

Remember that, almost always, the line for the tilt-a-whirl is worth the wait.

Remember to let fallen soft, long pine needles tickle the bottoms of your feet.

Remember that when the moonlight filters through the trees, to turn off your flashlight.

Remember to quickly rip, not peel, the bandaid from the scrape on your knee.

Remember that the eyelash you find on your cheek is worth at least one wish.

 

 

Monday

Dark, early morning sky asleep

behind the kitchen windows.

A  half-eaten, nearly ripe banana

slouches beside the milk carton.

Steam surging, spiraling up

awakens the steeping french roast.

Cars whooshing by, excite the avenue,

halting squeaky bus breaks, rudely intrude.

Folded laundry lounging in its basket,

retired quiet dishes, patient in their rack.

Toys stacked and tucked in corners,

astir with active toddler hands.

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Pets

Around 1980 There was Dookie, the black labrador. I don’t remember Dookie, but she’s a legend where I come from. The story goes like this (p.s. it’s a sad one). My mom was pushing Jennifer and me in the stroller to the nearby grocery store. We’d forgotten to lock the back door. Legend has it that Dookie was so smart, she could open doors. Dookie was also protective, especially of Jennifer and me. She’d follow our toddling feet anywhere. That afternoon, Dookie traced us through the parking lot–well, you know the rest.

Around 1987 There was Maxwell, the longest living goldfish on record. I’m almost certain that Kelly finally named him one morning after the coffee our parents drank. Living for eight or so years on our kitchen counter top, I didn’t expect as much, but I grew attached to ol’ Maxwell.

Around 1988  Then, Napoleon. Let me preface with this: We’re definitely a dog family. The cat experiment was a lousy idea. Oh, Napoleon! I’d like to think it had something to do with your name, the fact that we could never tame you. Almost from the get go, Napoleon stubbornly refused to be an indoor cat. He preferred the life of a declawed, outdoor hunter–with a serious attitude (in my opinion). He refused to snuggle or simply spend time with the family. He left us a lot of dead mice on the porch, whatever that means.

Around 1990 Finally, our dear Dowry. She was a princess, and we adored her as such–our cuddly, yet feisty little puff ball of energy. Dowry was enamored with the neighborhood paper boy. She’d anticipate his arrival for hours. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, the highlight of her day. After the paper boy, Dowry loved my mother the most, then Jennifer, then me, a distant third. I took no offense. I remember, years later, the weekend we put Dowry down. It was the same weekend we celebrated my brother’s marriage. It’s as if Dowry knew that the family would all be there to bid her a proper and happy farewell.

Found

 

in our cloud covered,

littered alley

near the dumpster–

one brilliant cardinal

illuminated.

 

in rummaging the racks

of children clothing,

one small nightgown,

and a wish

reignited.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A.M.

7:36 am Josh drops Gus and me off early at school. Before Josh leaves, he gathers Gus in his arms and asks, How many kisses do you want? Gus says, So many kisses! Josh playfully delivers rapid, successive kisses to his cheeks, nose, and forehead. Gus beams with laugher and delight. Then Josh and I embrace and hold each other momentarily in the cold air. With our faces close, we kiss and say good bye. Gus calls after Josh, Good bye, Daddy! He reaches for my hand, and we walk into the school.

After Gus and I eat yogurt with honey granola near the front windows. Gus asks me to read a book about a mischievous red fox, but I can see that his real attention is on watching the families enter the school. A spoonful of yogurt drops into his lap when Miles runs over to say hello to him. Gus shrinks beside me and grips my sleeve. He looks up at Miles with curiosity, but doesn’t say a word.

8:05 am Gus and I reach the door of the bustling early arrival room known as Bamboo. I kneel and draw his small body close to me. I whisper, Daddy will pick you up at 3:45. Gus repeats, Daddy will pick me at 3 and 45. Then I gently let him go. For a minute, I linger, watching in the doorway. Gus meanders his way through the busy children over to Margaret, the assistant. She welcomes him warmly. He crawls into her lap.

After I’m walking with Dana, a colleague, in the hallway. We chat about the day, and then she surprises me, I saw you and your husband hugging this morning. My face instantly feels flush, and I sense the emergence of a smile. Yes, I blather, we are hugging folk. Dana nods, It’s truly such a nice thing to see. I’m touched by her words, her noticing. I both think and feel my luck! The realization consumes me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big

“You can do it all by yourself!”

“You’re a big girl (or boy)!”

These are phrases I commonly hear adults saying to children in the primary hallway of our Montessori school. I teach the older kids upstairs, but Gus is in the toddler program, so I spend a fair amount of time there.

I admit I take issue with phrases like these and sometimes cringe when I hear them. These phrases are often used to encourage a child to do something independently. Letting a child be independent and not interfering with their independence is at the heart of Montessori.

If a young child is not putting on their shoes when they’re suppose to, an adult might say, “You can do it, you’re a big boy!” But what if the child still struggles with their shoes? Or what if the child isn’t feeling up for putting their shoes on?

My belief is that general phrases like these are harmful because they end up undermining children’s feelings and how they might be experiencing a physical or emotional hurdle at any moment. I also don’t like the underlying message that when you’re big you handle things alone and you don’t need help. Also, what does it mean for the child who struggles? What does it mean not to be big?

I refuse to use this language with Gus. I will often say, “You need help with that” or “You don’t feel like putting your shoes on today. Let me help you get started.”

Gus often asks for me to carry him to his cubby in the morning. I have struggled with pushing him to walk on his own and honoring his request. Gus is shy and slow to warm up to the day. When he asks to be picked up, my feeling is that he truly needs the extra support because he is feeling anxious or overwhelmed. At the same time, I do want to urge him to walk on his own so that he sees he can work through it. Usually, Gus and I pick a halfway point like the water fountain where I set him down, and he walks the rest of the way. I can’t imagine saying, “Walk, you’re big!” I know that he’s not feeling big, but quite the opposite.

I feel the looks of disapproval from colleagues when they see me carry Gus day after day. But I refuse to push Gus to be big or to be anything before he is ready.

Last night Gus asked me to go to his room to retrieve a toy. I told him no and that he had to get the toy if he wanted it. Then he shouted angrily, “No Mommy! I want you to do it all by yourself!” He shouted this demand several times. It felt terrible.

I know that Gus learned this phrase at school. I didn’t like the anger in his voice. It makes me think that these words aren’t just hard for me, but for him, too.

Subaru

We have a 2009 manual Subaru Outback. And soon, 60,000 or so miles later, we will make our last payment on it.

I get to thinking about how great the car has been to us when our neighbor texts that our interior light has been left on all night. It’s definitely Gus’s fault–but that’s beside the point.

I throw on my winter jacket, grab the keys, and pray that it will start.

I sit in the driver’s seat and notice my breath. Please, please, please start, I plead, and then I turn the key in the ignition.

Without a moment’s hesitation, the engine is whirring. I sigh and affectionately pat the steering wheel .

I relax and allow my mind to wander for a minute.

I recall the many conversations, news stories, and songs that have held me to this seat, long after reaching my destination.

The places, near and far, our Subaru has taken us. Numerous trips to Wisconsin to see our family and friends. The past few summers, to an amazing music festival in Eau Claire.

Our honeymoon road trip out west–the Badlands, a cabin on Lake Coeur d’Alene, and camping at Glacier National Park. On the way home, we drove scenic U.S. Highway 2, mostly with the windows down.

Our simple, but important weekly grocery trips to Trader Joe’s.

Almost three years ago now, our trip to the hospital delivery room. I labored in the backseat, kneeling and turned around, gripping the headrest. Josh was at the wheel, calmly soothing me.

Then, driving Gus home, so tiny and brand new. I studied each little part of him, simultaneously eager and terrified for what came next.

Yes, 60,000 or so miles later, our Subaru, like family, has been good to us.

Snowy Day

I like the way Gus sleeps with his knees tucked in underneath him and his butt poking up in the air. I used to sleep like that when I was kid. There are pictures.

He wakes up to the sound of my footsteps and is in the middle of a deep stretch when I arrive at his bedside. I stroke the soft hair on his forehead. He gathers up his froggy and blanket and crawls into my lap. His body is still warm from sleep.

“Did you have a big sleep or a little sleep?” Something I almost always ask him.

“Big sleep!” Which is always his response.

I remind him that it snowed. We haven’t had a real snowfall in Chicago since Christmas. He perks up. “I want to see!”

I lift him to the big window, and tug open the blinds. We observe the snow covered trees and their branches, the snow lined roofs of houses and apartment buildings across the street.

The city street below is bustling with the early morning commuters.

“The cars have snow on the tops of them!” Gus exclaims.

Looking out his bedroom window is a favorite activity. Gus particularly likes spotting the passing buses and trucks. Because there are several bus routes on our busy avenue, there is never a shortage of buses.

Gus has learned to identify most of them. “That’s the 92 Foster Avenue bus” or “That’s the 50 Damen bus” or “Here comes the 146” and even “That bus is not in service”.

I’m tickled and a little amazed by this peculiar skill.

I find myself wishing we could spend the day together. I imagine looking out the window some more, then going out to play in the freshly fallen snow. I would teach him how to make a snow angel.

But there is school today, and it’s time for both of us to get ready. I tell him to say good bye to Foster Avenue and to go see Daddy in the kitchen for breakfast. He protests and cries. “I’m not ready, Mommy! That’s not okay for me, Mommy!”

I feel a familiar ache in my heart, the one I feel whenever I have to leave him. Then I pull him from the window and carry him to the kitchen.

Grateful

I feel grateful for the inspiration from others slicers to write this list.

  1. Grateful
  2. for the coffee I have first thing,
  3. and the sleepy morning hugs with Gus.
  4. Grateful for snowcapped tree branches,
  5.  that we admire from the front window.
  6. Grateful for Josh fixing breakfast,
  7. and then eating,
  8. the three of us, together.
  9. Grateful for slippers inside
  10. and snow boots outside,
  11. Grateful for the soft, pink mittens
  12. my friend lent me.

Happy Birthday

Christmas has always been a favorite time of year for me. When I was young, it meant that my older brothers and sister would visit and our home would be all filled up, just the way I liked it. My mom and dad would make a pot of everyone’s favorite soup, Avgolemano (chicken, lemon, and rice), and we’d sit around the table talking and slurping up bowl after bowl.

In the evenings, we’d play games, listen to my dad read stories, and sing carols (sometimes, I’d even pound them out on the piano). All of this festivity made more special because it took place by the Christmas tree.

I loved our tree. We’d decorate it with a million, tiny colorful lights and heaps of ornaments–almost any would suffice. Many of our favorites were homemade, others were outdated, but their history and the stories they kept, earned them their spot, year after year.

Some of my favorite memories are as simple and wonderful as sitting near the tree in the late evening hours and looking at the lights. Often, I would fall asleep there, amid the quiet voices of the people I loved.

This year would bring the first Christmas we wouldn’t spend at the home where I grew up. Even with my own family now, I found myself having sad feelings about this–Christmas wouldn’t be the same.

I tried my best to make up for the loss that I felt by creating Christmas with Josh and Gus in our apartment. Josh grew up celebrating Hanukkah, and Gus is two, so it would look and feel different.

On one of the only days it snowed this winter, we ventured out to find our Christmas tree. It was nearly perfect, the snow falling, Josh and Gus playing hide-and-seek within the rows of trees, me on the lookout for just the right one.

Our little tree stood bare in the corner of our living room for days. Somewhere in between our usual routines, my excitement had waned.

One evening, Gus and I were on the floor near the tree playing with cars when I finally felt an urge to go and retrieve the string of lights, and the small bag of ornaments, I had stashed away under the bed.

Gus helped me wrap the oversized lights around the tree, and we quickly hung the handful of ornaments. Weighed down by the lights and with so few decorations, the tree looked unremarkable. Gus felt differently than me and admired the little tree.

“The best part is when you turn off all the lights and look at it,” I told him.

I felt excited by the idea and jumped up to switch the overhead lights off. To my surprise the little tree looked pretty. I looked at Gus, a big smile appeared on his face.

“I think it’s the Christmas tree’s birthday!” he shouted with excitement. “Can we sing it Happy Birthday?”

By then, I had a big smile, too. That was the first night we sang happy birthday to our little tree, there would be many more. Gus had started a new tradition.