Thankful Thursday #26

This week I’m thankful for…

  • days when I’m organized enough to leave school shortly after my students
  • when the mailbox has something good in it like a magazine or a package
  • the Northern California Writing Project and the opportunities they give me to learn and collaborate with my colleagues
  • nights when I don’t dream about school and the well-rested mornings that follow
  • Q Tips.  I don’t care that they’re not intended for my ears or that in putting them in my ears I may somehow puncture my brain.  I love the feeling of cleaning out my ears.
  • getting all four of the hotel pillows to myself
  • television finales and the return of summer shows
  • my husband, who attended our class musical dress rehearsal and said lovely things about my children
  • the looks on the faces of my little ones as they performed our class musical for their loved ones
  • teachers being moved to first grade this year who are comfortable enough in their own skin to ask for help
  • the opportunity to share what I love with other teachers
  • wearing my flannel pajamas, slippers and winter robe in May

Thankful Thursday #25

This week I’m thankful for…

  • getting a pedicure with my mom
  • walking the river trail
  • my critique partner at Writers Forum and her helpful suggestions
  • leftovers
  • rainy weather that lets me wear my winter clothes in May
  • sweating hard in spin class and then walking in the rain to my car
  • reading in bed with my hubby
  • days when the rain holds off until after recess
  • the bouquet of roses my husband brought to my classroom
  • the little boy who finally nailed his solo during practice for our musical
  • the man outside of Barnes and Noble who said “Hey, beautiful, smile.  Every day is a good day.”  It was a particularly rough teaching day and I needed to be reminded that it was still a good day.

Surviving Open House

Have I mentioned that I published a book with my class this year?  Oh, only 100 times?  I published a book with my class.  There.  101.

Here it is.  I love the way it turned out.  (I can say that because my kids wrote all the words and one of my all time favorite parents snapped the photos.)

Have I also mentioned that my body shuts down when I have to speak to groups of people?  In my head I know everything’s fine, that I am actually NOT going to die, but my body FREAKS OUT!!!  Sweat pours out of my armpits, knee pits, shins, neck, and head.  As my head lets the floodwaters loose, my curly hair which I have painstakingly straightened, kinks up into a tangled bird’s nest of curls.  Then my voice starts to tremble and my hands shake.  Which makes me sweat more.  Which makes me shake even more.  Which makes me sweat more.  You get the picture.  It’s horrifying.

So things like Back to School Night and Open House are nightmarish.  A full room of parents expecting me to be knowledgeable, poised and sure of myself.  Fat chance.  The sure of myself thing I’ve got down pat.  Wait, never mind.  It’s the full of myself thing I’ve got down.

Anyway, those nights have always put my nerves on red alert.  Until last night.

I have stumbled upon the secret to surviving Open House.  No wait, I stumbled on the secret to making Open House fun.  Open House and fun?  Surely those words can’t exist in the same sentence.  Hell has obviously frozen over.

Come close, I’ll let you in on the secret.

Our books arrived a week ago and all week long we’ve been giving copies to important adults.  We presented one to our foster grandma.  She cried when we gave it to her and has spent every afternoon showing it off at her senior citizens home.  We gave one to our librarian who promptly put it on display.  Our principal came down and we presented him with a copy.  He talked with us about the power of words and later that day I noticed his copy in the hands of a few higher ups.

My kids were dying to take home their very own copy, but I made them wait.  I made them wait all week, which is like 10 years in 6-year-old time.

Yesterday as they cleaned out their desks and made our room ready for company, I handed them each a copy of their book.  They put it on display with their other work.  Some kids had a few extra minutes before school let out.  Know what they wanted to do?  They wanted to sit and read their book.  Let me tell you, my heart just about burst watching pockets of kids read their book, a book they’d penned with their own hands.

At 6:00 sharp, I opened the door and a flood of students and parents and aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents rushed in.  It was great to have so many people, but I was a little confused.  Usually the extended family doesn’t make an appearance until our Spring musical.

Then it hit me, they were there because of the book.

As soon as I opened the door, kids tugged their parents by the hands over to their desks.  They bounced and squealed as they showed their parents the page they’d written.   Mothers cried.  Grandmothers bought extra copies.  Parents flocked to our photographer and thanked her for capturing such beautiful shots of their children.  Dads shook my hand and mothers embraced me.

The room buzzed with excitement the entire hour.  I walked around taking photos of the whole thing.  Even with hundreds of people packed into my little classroom, I didn’t sweat a drop.  My armpits were remarkably dry.  My hair didn’t kink even the slightest bit.

It was a beautiful night, a night when proud authors released their book to a roomful of adoring fans.  It was a launch party, first grade style, which was so much better, and so much less sweaty, than the dreaded Open House.

Thankful Thursday #24

This week I’m thankful for…

  • field trips that require me to tromp around outside by creeks and stuff with my little ones.  It’s so cool to take them out in nature.  We capped our last trip off with a picnic lunch.
  • parent volunteers
  • making my mom laugh on my grandmother’s birthday
  • strawberries from the stand
  • BikeSnobNYC’s article on Wouter Weylandt
  • for my friend, Danielle, who helped me make this flip book of verses I want to memorize.  I’m thankful for creative friends who dream up beautiful things and turn them into reality.

Bike Love, Part 2

This weekend I was a smidge under the weather.  I spent the bulk of my time moaning on the couch.  In between moaning and writhing in pain, I read about riding.  And drooled over pretty cycling jerseys.  And best of all, I ogled bikes.  Ogling bikes reminded me of a pile of bike photos I’ve been collecting since February.  I give you Bike Love, Part 2.

I love cycling because…

When I’m on my bike, I feel like a kid again.

On rare occasions, I feel like I can fly.

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Pedaling for all I’m worth lights a fire in my belly.

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I’m reminded that being stripped down to the bone can be the first step in building something beautiful.

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I find that my load isn’t as heavy as it seems.

I ride in the company of some of the greatest people on the planet.

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My trusty steed is always ready for adventure.

I’ve fallen down, but it’s the getting back up that I remember most.

When I feel hollowed out, riding fills me back up.

My bike gives me a place to grieve without shame.

At the end of each ride, I get to come home to the one I love.

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When I lay my head on my pillow at night, I fall asleep content with the mark I’ve left on the day.

Lessons From Dragonflies

It’s dragonfly season in my classroom.  Willow branches poke out of dank tanks atop our desks.  Tadpoles dart in the murky water to escape the voracious appetites of our dragonfly nymphs.

And us?  We wait, holding our collective breath until the day one of our nymphs makes the climb up a willow branch to molt a final time.

I’ve written about dragonflies before and I’ll surely write of them again because in their metamorphosis from nymph to dragonfly, I find pieces of myself.  Pieces of myself in times of grief.  Pieces of myself in times of triumph.

Dragonfly nymphs molt about 15 times.  The first molts take place in the water.  When a dragonfly nymph is ready, when it’s literally ready to burst out of its skin, in the cover of night the nymph climbs up a stick and using the hooks on its feet, the nymph holds on for dear life.  Then the nymph pushes from within and breaks out of its skin right between the wingpads, leaving a large hole in the old skin.  It’s an act so violently beautiful that when my students ask me if it hurts, I can only blink back tears and eek out the words, “I don’t know.”

I imagine it’s extremely painful.  Growth usually is.  This week as I watched a nymph transform into a dragonfly, I thought of my friend, Lynn.  She wrote about losing her mother, of being separated from someone who was entwined in every fiber of her life.  After such a loss, when you have a gaping hole, how’s it possible to return to life again when life as you know it doesn’t exist anymore?

Life as the nymph knows it ends as life as an adult dragonfly begins.  What you may not know about dragonflies is that after cracking open the back of their skin, they pull their head free and then their thorax, leaving their long flute of an abdomen still encased in the dead skin of the nymph.  At this point the dragonfly flops over backward and takes a rest, stuck halfway between its old life as a water creature and its new life in the skies.  The dragonfly rests like this for some time, like it simply cannot summon another ounce of strength to free itself from its old skin.  When my grandmother passed away, I was stuck in between my life with her and my life without her.  I couldn’t rewind time, but the thought of moving on without her was unfathomable.

After the nymph hangs upside down for a while, a marvelous thing happens.  In the ultimate display of mind over matter, the dragonfly flings its head up and grabs onto the stick again.  Sometimes it can only grab back onto its exoskeleton, taking hold of the old life one last time.  The dragonfly pulls its abdomen out of the cracked skin and waits.

It waits for its body to harden.  It waits for its wings to be ready.  This is when the dragonfly is in its most vulnerable state.  After all that work to emerge, dragonflies are powerless against hungry birds and frogs.  If the dragonfly crawls back into the water, it will drown because its abdomen now breathes air.  It cannot fly away because its wings are too crumpled to take to the sky.  In the sacred shield of night, the dragonfly is completely unguarded.

The dragonfly cannot move forward into this new life and cannot return to the old life either.  It begins to shiver, but not out of cold.  As the dragonfly shivers, blood pumps into the veins of the wings.  Slowly, life flows through the wings and they begin to take shape.  The dragonfly quivers and shakes until suddenly its wings snap open.

It’s a clumsy flier at first, unsure how to move on the wind.  Soon the dragonfly learns to slice through the air, taking in the beauty of the sky with its enormous eyes.  The dragonfly leaves the stick, leaves the shell of its old life and lifts into the air.  One of my students asked me if dragonflies remember what it’s like to be a nymph swimming in the water or climbing up a stick.  Again I could only offer a paltry,  “I don’t know.”

I’d like to think that dragonflies do remember.  I’d like to think they remember all the growth that had to take place in order to soar.  I’d like to think they recall the night when the old self died to make room for a new life.  And surely they recall the strength it took to heave their thorax up onto the stick and pull free from their old shell.

Night closes her eyes on me and in the warmth of my home, I wonder if any of our nymphs are making that brave climb tonight in our classroom.  I think of my friends who are summoning measures of bravery I can’t begin to fathom.  I think of Lynn, who is choosing to breathe in and out each day without her mother.  I think of my own mother and our loss.

I keep coming back to the vulnerability of the dragonflies as they’re moving from one phase in life to the next.  Sometimes that vulnerability, that willingness to be fragile, to grieve what is lost, is the very thing that births the strength to move on.

As Mother’s Day stands tiptoe on my doorstep, I think of all my friends who have lost their mothers.  My dear, dear friends, my Mother’s Day wish for you is that you find strength in your time of need, that your memories of your mothers will give you strength to continue and that when the long night finally gives way to brighter days that you will find yourself soaring in the sky.

Thankful Thursday #23

This week I’m thankful for…

  • a trip to Huntington Beach.  It’s my favorite beach and I saw these little guys on the pier.  Notice how the tortoise seems to be clueless to the fact that he’s facing the complete wrong direction.  Notice also how the parrot is clearly terrorizing the tortoise.  I am so the tortoise.
  • dancing next to Ellen on the Ellen show.
  • road trips and the feeling of joy I get when I come back home
  • long bike rides when my legs feel like they could pedal forever
  • watching a dragonfly nymph emerge from its exuvia for the last time as it becomes an adult dragonfly
  • when I took a wrong turn on a bike ride and it led me on a prettier route than I’d planned
  • the book I published with my class this year.  All my hard work paid off when I saw the looks on their faces as they held their very own words in print.  It’s just magical.