Little Red Shopping Cart

Gus and I surged into summer yesterday. It’s the beginning of a lot of unscheduled time together, and I admit I’m scared. How will we, mommy and son, possibly fill the unused hours? How will I not die, at least, a little, of boredom? But then, I feel guilty thinking about the boredom.

After all, our trip to Trader Joe’s was fun. Gus asked, for the first time, if he could take one of the small, kids’ shopping carts. I was hesitant because I wasn’t sure he could manage the task of controlling it. Images of Gus crashing into an innocent, elderly shopper or, better yet, a pyramid display of Chardonnay bottles, paralyzed my response. It seemed like yesterday, and maybe it was yesterday, I was buckling him in to ride in my cart. I looked at him. He looked small, but the little red cart suited him perfectly. “Okay,” I said.

Gus did well. In fact, he was one of the most polite cart pushers I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. I often overheard him saying “excuse me” to other shoppers or “hello”. For the most part, he stayed to one side of the aisle and, wholeheartedly, he focused on the task of steering straight.

I got so many smiles from strangers. “He’s doing a good job,” shoppers commented, like they knew it was his first time. It’s possible we gave ourselves away. Gus’s visible care and attention at all times, determined to join the ranks of pushing shopping carts – and me, all proud, with an obvious smile hidden on my face.

 

Chain Poems

Yesterday, I taught my students how to write a chain poem. It is poem of association, playfulness, and whimsy. It starts with one word and builds from there. Chain poems are great for hesitant writers as they encourage nonsense and surprise. All of my students had fun writing them. Here is the link to the lesson.

We used the word mirror to start our chain. Here is my chain poem.

a mirror is a fragile

image of the past,

an old photograph

or forgotten memory

hidden in the depths

of your abandoned thoughts,

a silent and secret

long ago identity

 

Here is a student example:

A mirror

reflects your personality

a pond

with ducks flapping their wings

a yellow leaf on the surface

baby chicks hatching

“tweet” “tweet” they say

turning into a graceful flying V.

 

Here is another student example:

A mirror has a

clear reflection

water rippling

fish swimming

shiny scales moving

lizards sunbathing in the

hot sun

desert sand storms

a cactus stabbing a fly

 

One more student example:

A mirror is like

a reflection

in a puddle

with a splash

in rubber boots

frogs leaping

bright green

the color of grass

cows grazing

Sunday Bath

My apologies, son

that we bathe you in this cold water.

I assure you, we tried warming it,

but boiling kettles of water

could not seduce its frigid infancy.

So we wildly scrub your fingers and toes,

dismantle the dirt behind your ears,

all while you breathlessly wail

a simple request to play with bath toys;

which, believe, hurts us not to honor.

My apologies, son

that we bathe you in this cold water,

but our school week emerges,

and like a hungry hawk, it is

bound to swallow us whole.

Metaphor

Last night a memory crept up on me. It felt a little intrusive since I was trying to focus my thoughts elsewhere. I tried quieting the memory, but, at last, it refused to be ignored.

It came to mind that maybe the memory was trying to tell me something important, so I decided to surrender and give it a fair listen.

The memory was of a night hike that I had taken in the fall while we were away on a school camping trip. The children were busy participating in an evening activity with the camp counselors, so a few teachers decided to meet up for a hike. I grabbed my backpack and prepared myself for an adventure with them.

When I met up with the group at the trailhead, Andrea told me to turn off my flashlight. This puzzled me because it was extremely dark. Thick clouds had invaded the night sky and swallowed any light from the moon and stars. With disbelief, I looked ahead to the trail. When I couldn’t make out the path in the dense forest, I felt unsure that I wanted to hike anymore. But then, I was taken by surprise when Andrea grabbed my hand and guided me into the darkness.

I was relieved that Andrea had sensed my uneasiness and impressed by her courage. She knew enough to know that I simply needed her hand without any questions.

I relied heavily on Andrea to lead the way at first. I walked carefully, hesitant that I might fall and injure myself. I tripped and lost my footing several times, but with Andrea’s support, I was able to regain my balance and continue on.

Halfway through our hike something remarkable happened, I started to see in the dark. I could make out where the path curved up ahead, and I could determine the shadows of the thick winding tree roots below. I felt my confidence slowly emerge, and I began to enjoy the hike. I breathed in the pleasant autumn air and immersed myself in the nighttime sounds of the forest.

An hour or so later, we approached the forest’s opening. The light from beyond signaled the end of our journey. I felt a little sad and like the end had come too quickly.

Andrea released my hand, and my heart filled with gratitude for the comfort she had given me. I knew that I would not forget her kindness.

Writing for me can often feel like a lonely expedition into the unknown. However, with the support of this kind and welcoming writing community, it has felt less like an individual journey. Reading fellow slicers’ work and seeing their courage day after day has made this journey feel like a group effort.

Lastly, I want to give special thanks to all my Andreas out there. You have made my journey possible.

Swimming Lesson

I remember my mom telling me the news in a Ponderosa and salty tears trickling to my plate of turkey and gravy. In those early days of my childhood, people didn’t die. Maybe your fish died or the neighbor’s tired, old dog died, but not people; especially, not people you loved.

But here was my mom, sitting across the table from me, saying otherwise. He had a heart attack she said. It’s when your heart shuts down and stops beating she explained. He had the best kind of heart, though, I thought.

I remember floating face up and staring at the twilight, and how the water felt tucked inside my ears. I remember the sound of water lapping gentle rhythms around my motionless body. I remember his arms cradling me and his instructions. Relax. Fill your belly with a big breath. Hold on to it. And let go.

Guardie, my godfather, had taught many children to swim. He and my godmother, Papa, lived on a lake in West Virginia and for many years they coached the local youth swim team. I remember watching Jeremy, their grandson, swim the butterfly. It was one of the most beautiful and shocking things that I had ever seen. I hadn’t known the body’s capabilities in water.

But, this was a first lesson, and I was not learning to curve my back or flap my arms like a butterfly. I was learning how to float. I took another deep breath and filled my belly with air. I leaned my head gently back into the water. I listened closely for Guardie’s voice and relaxed my body in his arms. Finally, I believed that the water would hold me.

I close this slice with a poem that reminds me of this memory and inspired this piece.

First Lesson by Philip Booth

Lie back, daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man’s-float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

Dinner

Today I’m thinking about the five people in my life I would like to invite to dinner if I had the chance. In no particular order these are the people I wish to invite to the table…

My Grandmother: I don’t have any real memories of her because she died when I was young. I’m sure that we had dinner together at least once at her home in Ohio. I’m curious about her disposition, and I’m interested in knowing if she’s like my mother. I wonder about her personal stories and also her interests and opinions. I wonder if any part of me is my grandmother.

My brother: Brad made any gathering more enjoyable. He was vibrant, smart, and engaging. His presence would insure that we’d share many laughs at the table. (I hope my grandmother has a good sense of humor). My brother is several years older than me, so it’s hard not to remember him through the adoring eyes of my child-self. I know that my brother had his share of struggles, but, in my mind, he was wise about embracing the spirit of life. He was the kind of person who could find a friend anywhere, even in a crowd full of strangers.

My fifth grade teacher: I haven’t seen Terry since the last day of fifth grade. He didn’t return to teach the following year. Terry was an inspiring teacher and a friend to me. I credit him with sparking my insatiable love for learning, and the main reason I chose a career in education. I’d like to share my teaching experience with him. I’d like him to know that when difficult situations arise in my classroom, I think about how he would’ve handled them, and that the important lessons he taught me in fifth grade, guide me today in my teaching practice.

Papa and Guardie: I simply can’t invite Papa without Guardie or vise versa. My godmother and godfather were a dynamic duo. When their van pulled up in our driveway all the way from West Virginia, I quickly became the happiest kid on the block. Papa would bring her famous pepperoni rolls and gifts from our favorite discount store. And, when Papa wasn’t watching, Guardie would invite me to share in his stash of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Papa and Guardie loved telling stories and jokes, and their playfulness and generosity were magical. I’ll never forget how I planned to grow up to be just like them.

Name

If I had been born a boy, my name would be Anthony. I’m not particularly fond of the name, but I imagine Tony would’ve suited me fine. I once had a crush on a boy named Tony in high school. His name matched his friendly, brown eyes. He was an artist. Sometimes, when class dismissed, he’d give me his drawings.

I wasn’t born first. Jennifer, my twin sister, was born five minutes earlier. Nicolas was her boy’s name. If I were born first, and a boy, I’d tell people to call me Nico.

My name was Rebecca for the two, short beginning hours of my life. Then, my parents decided they didn’t like the sound of Becky.

Growing up, I sometimes imagined my alternative Rebecca life. Rebecca’s hair was curly, not stick-straight like mine. She had freckles. My favorite and prettiest dolls were named Rebecca, after my first true name.

My childhood name was Debbie. My father, and friends who haven’t seen me for years, still call me Debbie. I liked Debbie well enough. I liked that I didn’t meet too many others with my name. Jennifer had no such luck. I longed to be an original like the boy in my grade school whose name was Yarrow. His father was a botanist.

I was never really teased because of my name. Some of the boys snickered and made harmless jokes when they found Little Debbie snacks in their lunch boxes, but it never bothered me. My biggest struggle was writing my name in cursive. I could never make the D look grand enough. It was always too fat or flat or floppy.

Deborah is my adult name. But, I chose it when I was young and impressionable. Changing my name to Deborah corresponded with leaving my childhood home. After meeting the sophisticated and intellectual Deborah Diamond in my freshman college dorm, I decided to change my name. The new uncertainty and insecurities I was met with at college told me that changing my name would make me confident. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. I introduced myself as Deborah, but for a long time, it felt like a fib. Inside, I was still Debbie.

I don’t remember when exactly, but I did grow into my name. Similarly, I have also come to love my name. Sometimes, when I hear my name, I find myself smiling because I think that it sounds beautiful.