Hello, dear friends.  Lord have mercy, it’s been a long time since I’ve been here with you and I’ve missed you.  The past few weeks have been filled with funerals, weddings and the beautiful frenzy known as Back to School.

Good, good things are happening and I’m dying to write about them and also to write more about my beloved Ugandan children.

But the thing that’s on my mind tonight as I stand tip-toe on the doorstep of a new school year is how ripe with possibility the new year always feels.

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Have you ever eaten a peach straight from the tree?  Yes?  Then you know the sensation of the flesh bursting with juice as it runs in warm rivulets down your chin, dripping onto your shirt.  That’s the kind of ripe I’m talking about, the kind of ripe that only comes after months of effort from the loins of trees, the kind of ripe that gets all over you.  The kind of ripe that is blissfully messy.

Year after year I find myself rippling with excitement on the eve of the first day of school.  I barely sleep and I’m all a-twitter the morning of the first day.  I never know what the first day might hold.  I could be peed on.  It’s happened before.  I could be puked on.  Also happened.  My shoulder could be damp with tears.  It’s happened, courtesy of students and parents.  I could also receive drawings and love notes scratched out in blocky phonics.  It happens every year.  I could get hugged so many times that my arms ache.  That happens every year, too.  It’s a blissfully messy day.

Tomorrow when my little ones settle on the carpet and look up at me with beaming, hopeful faces, I’ll be thinking of ripe peaches.  When I eat a peach, I don’t care about the mess or the stains on my shirt, I only care about the sweetness of the peach.  Tomorrow may hold some surprises-the first day always does-but what I know for sure is that the day will be ripe with sweetness.

Some Kid

Dear Little One,

Yesterday I finished reading “Charlotte’s Web” to you.  The sad part of the book was approaching and I wrestled the lump in my throat until it sat low where it could not possibly escape.  It matters little that I read this book every year, E.B. White’s writing gets me every single time.  I loved this book as a kid and, if it’s possible, I love it even more as an adult.

I was doing a fine job of keeping that lump down and my eyes were only watering a little bit as I read about Wilbur leaving Charlotte to die alone.  Hang on a sec, I just need to stop typing and get a tissue.  Ahem. Anyway, I was doing a decent job of keeping things under control until I heard a sob from your direction.  I looked over and saw tears dribbling from your brown eyes, down your cheeks, and onto your desk.  In a quivering voice you said, “It’s just so sad, Mrs. McCauley, it’s just so sad.”  I could not agree more, Little One.  You got up to get a tissue and several girls followed, dabbing at their eyes.  The little boys wiped their eyes on shirtsleeves and for a minute we just sat there in our sadness.  I waited, pushing that lump back down, brushing my tears away with my fingertips.  I waited until we were all done blowing our noses and wiping our eyes.  And then I read on until we reached the happy end when the spiderlings hatch and life renews itself.  We talked about the book and moved on with our afternoon, but you were too sad to sing, too sad to do math, too sad to read any other books.  You put your head down and I rubbed your back when I walked by your desk.  Later you took out your notebook and drew spider webs.

Today we watched the movie Charlotte’s Web.  Before we watched it, we talked about how it’s okay to cry when you’re sad.  You and some of the others pulled out wads of tissue before the movie began.  And just in case I needed it, you stuffed a tissue in my hand, too.  The movie made us laugh and cry.  And it was good.  During the movie, you wrote in your notebook.  You wrote about how much you love Charlotte.  You drew her dangling from her web and told me about how she still lives in your heart.

Little One, I love that you wear your heart on your sleeve.  I love that you are moved by the written word.  I love that you work your sadness out with a pencil and paper.  To paraphrase a certain spider, you are some kid.  Long after you leave first grade, long after you graduate high school, long after you raise children of your own, I will remember this day because you, Little One, will still live in my heart.


Mrs. McCauley


I have big, broad shoulders.  Manly shoulders.  Shoulders that don’t easily fit into women’s blouses.  I’ve always wished for petite shoulders, the dainty shoulders of a real lady.  I recognize that they would look ridiculous on my six foot frame.  I get it, I do, but my whole life I’ve pined for smaller shoulders.

Until now.

It started with a thank you note, a simple card I’d scrawled to say thanks for a mug of trial sized bath goodies.  I was woefully late in writing the note, as almost a full month had passed since Christmas.  I penned the name of my student on the envelope and added on “and family”.  I didn’t give it another thought until I passed the card to my student.

“Mrs. McCauley, I can’t read this.” he said, handing the card back to me.

“Of course you can.  You’re a great reader.”  I cocked my head to the side, puzzled by this freckle faced kid who devours library books.

“No, I can’t read it because it’s says ‘and family’.  My mom and dad separated and I don’t have a family anymore.”

My heart lurched.  I felt my whole body sink under the weight of his statement.

“Honey, just because your mom and dad don’t live in the same house, doesn’t mean they’re not part of your family.  You still have a family.  Your mom and your dad both love you very much.”

“But who do I open the card with?  I’m going to my dad’s today.” he asked, still holding the card out to me.

“You can open it with your dad and show it to your mom when you go to your other house if you like.”  I took the card and tucked it into his homework folder, sorry that I’d confronted him with such a jagged decision.

“So I can still open the card?”  He leaned into me, a boy hug, all body and no arms.

“Yes, you can still open the card.”  I tucked him into me, hugging him too long until he started to squirm.

The next day, one of my little girls sat at her desk writing in her notebook.  She wrote about her mommy and pushed back thick ropes of hair to reveal tears welling in her brown eyes.  She’d never cried in class before.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?” I said, rubbing circles on her back like my mom used to do when she tucked me in bed.

“My mommy doesn’t like to play with me anymore.”  The tears were streaming now, rivers down her cocoa cheeks.  The boy sitting next to her pulled some tissue from a box, handing them to her in a wad.

“Oh, honey, is it because she has to spend her time taking care of the baby?”

“I don’t know.  She just doesn’t like to play with me anymore.”  She hiccupped and gulped for air at the same time.

“Have you tried telling her how you feel?  Your mommy would want to know if she’s hurt your feelings.”

“She doesn’t have time to listen to me.”  I wanted so desperately to make this all better.  To make her better.

“I know she’s busy with the baby, but I think it’s important you talk to your mom about this.  She doesn’t want to make you sad.”

“But I am sad.”

I’m convinced a more true statement has never been said.  Her eyes harbored no anger.  Just hurt, so much hurt for a six-year-old.

“I know, and it’s okay to be sad, but you should talk to your mommy about this.”

“Okay, Mrs. McCauley.  But what if she still doesn’t want to play with me?”  I hugged her tight, her tears wetting the shoulder of my shirt.

“She will, honey, she will.”

“How do you know?”  She looked at me with hope.

“Because your mommy loves you very much.”  We hugged until she picked up her pencil again.

A handful of days later, one of my more rambunctious boys stayed a few minutes after class.  He fills my days with a constant stream of chatter as he voices every thought and fidgets every second of the day.  I was sitting on the carpet and he squatted down next to me, his brow furrowed.  I took a deep breath, hoping to breathe in a little more patience for him.

“Mrs. McCauley, can you help me solve a problem?”

“What’s the problem?”  I readied myself to answer a question about double-digit addition or the Power Rangers book he’d been writing.

“My mom has a boyfriend and my dad has a girlfriend and I can’t figure out how to get them back together so I can have a family again.  Can you help me?”  He waited in earnest for my solution.

“Oh, honey, that’s not a problem you and I can solve.  Mommy and Daddy have to solve or not solve that one.”

“But what if they don’t?”  He moved closer until his lunchtime milk mustache was mere inches from my face.

“Your mommy and daddy still love you, even if they aren’t together.  You still have a family, even if they live in two houses.”  He hugged my neck.

For the first time this year, he was still, his dirty playground hands on my collar and my arm around his waist.  A minute or two later he wiggled free and packed up his things, pushing a container of markers into his backpack so he could finish illustrating his Power Rangers book at home.

It’s no wonder that this group of kids started the year stabbing, kicking, punching and biting each other.  This year is harder than any of my previous years of teaching.  Strike that, it’s harder than all of them combined.

Divorce, new babies, unemployment, dying family members.  So many problems on such small shoulders.

At night when the hum of the fridge is the only sound in the house, I lie awake thinking of my students.  I roll my shoulders in circles, trying to ease the ache in my muscles, to release the burdens of the day.

In the sheath of night I whisper prayers for the freckle faced boy and the girl with cocoa cheeks and for the boy who drives me crazy with his constant chatter.  I whisper a prayer for past students who were little more than shadows in their own homes.

And then I say prayer of thanks.  I thank God for my big, broad shoulders.