Summer, Fish in a Tree, and the GRA

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For the last two weeks, I unplugged. I went to a music festival. I went to the Outer Banks. I spent time with family and friends. I ate good food. Listened to great musicians. Took long walks. Sat on the beach. And, I read. At night, I wrote. And, read some more. It was decadent, and then the most wonderful thing happened to my super-chill self: I read the book that made me want to end my glorious summer vacation and get back to the classroom with my third graders. I read Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

I started it on the beach, continued it at the beach house, and then took it to lunch, and then back to the beach. I finished it in the car the next day, and as I closed the book and caressed its cover, I thought, This book is a gift. This book is a gift, and I can’t wait to share it with my third graders. Lynda Mullaly Hunt has created a treasure trove of positive, inspiring messages, packaged in a story that will cause each person who enters it to come away acknowledged, and changed.

Last November, at the NCTE annual conference, I had the good fortune to hear Lester Laminack passionately advocate for reading aloud. “Read to your babies often and well,” he implored. “Love the language. Don’t just give it out. Love it!” Rather than worksheets and needless reading activities, Laminack advised that we ask our students, “How will you be different now that you have lived this book?” And this, is what I’ve been thinking about since I finished Fish in a Tree.

My mind is still in Mr. Daniels’ classroom watching his teacher moves and observing the effect they have on Ally, the sixth grader who has learned a few moves of her own. An expert at avoiding all that she is sure to fail, Ally has learned by experience (“seven schools in seven years”) that there’s no point to doing her best. The result is always the same, and the labels are enough to cure anyone from trying. “Freak. Dumb. Loser.” Oh, Ally. How I love you! You were in my class last year. You will be in my class again this year. And the next. And, Ally, as the song, For Good, from the musical, Wicked, says: “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” You have given voice to the students who can’t say what they need their teachers to hear. Because of you, I expect that I will hear even better and observe even more keenly than I did before. And, I will do the same for Keisha and Albert, Max and Oliver, Jessica and Shay. Even for Shay! (I saw how even you tried, Ally!)

If you’ve read Fish in a Tree, you already know what I mean. If you haven’t read Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s masterpiece of a book, don’t wait, as I did until I had time in the summer. Make time. Because, if I could, I would rewind time. I would spend a week of nights falling asleep on its pages so that I could share its captivating story and empowering messages with the students I sent off in June. How would they respond to Lester Laminack’s question? How would they tell me they’d live differently for having been in the pages of this book? I can never know the answer, but I know what my students and I will be doing this fall. We will gather together, and I will read each beautiful page aloud. Then, we will talk about it, just as Donalyn Miller advocates: “Reading and writing float on a sea of talk.”

We will have the perfect opportunity to read and write and talk because Fish in a Tree is one of the Global Read Aloud books this year. (Check out http://theglobalreadaloud.com/ and #GRA15 on Twitter for more info.) Classrooms around the world will read this book, and then they will connect with one another in myriad ways using technology, and not. I can’t wait for the conversations this book will generate!

As you enter the new school year, regardless of the age you teach. read Fish in a Tree. Share it. Talk about it. And, maybe we’ll cross paths through the Global Read Aloud. We will all be “changed for good.”

 

 

One More Friday Feedback – August 7, 2015

Now, it’s truly over. TeachersWrite camp has sustained me through the summer. It has given me a path for being a teacher who writes. And, it has shown me that I am also a writer. I actually believe that I could someday be one of those remarkable people I’ve been admiring and emulating all summer: a published author!

If you read through my blog posts, you will get a window into the journey I’ve taken with Kate Messner, Gae Polisner, Jo Knowles, and Jen Vincent. They have each been generous with their time, brilliant with their expertise, and an enthusiastic voice of encouragement. I am truly a changed person for having participated.

A search of #teacherswrite on Twitter will turn up the most wonderful community of teachers who write and published authors. I learned from my fellow campers and the guest authors, and was inspired by their work. They provided advice and encouragement to me along the way. Without the #teacherswrite community, the following Friday Feedback post would never have occurred. I am deeply grateful.

Here is my last Friday Feedback post of Summer 2015. It is an excerpt from a bigger piece of writing I am working on. I will share more as I continue my writing adventure!

 

 

The Day Arrives

 

The Uber

is running late.

4 minutes becomes 9,

becomes 12.

My husband calls.

I am just around the corner,

the driver assures him.

I want to throw up.

I want to be at the restaurant.

I swallow my annoyance.

I could have been there,

if we’d walked.

I need to be there.

I need to see him the second he walks in.

There it is!

We jump in the car,

apologies from the driver

No problem, Eric says.

I check my phone.

Crap! I missed a text.

It’s Jeremy– 4:26 pm

“I am leaving soon.”

4:50 pm– I reply

Ok. We’re in an uber on our way.

I want to teleport.

Each moment in this car is molasses.

I don’t want to miss a second with that child,

now a man,

with hours left until he boards a plane.

I am going to throw up.

 

Just last night,

I cradled his head against me

as we both cried.

For different reasons

and for some of the same.

I brought Jeremy something

what was it?

I can’t remember.

Doesn’t matter.

His room was chaos.

His plans to clean out his room

before leaving

had fallen short.

What’s your plan? I asked.

I still have things to pack.

I need to finish

my speech.

He looked around his

dismantled room

and swollen tears

began to spill down

his sweet and sorrowful face.

My tears followed,

and I held him, stroking his head,

as I have since he was a baby.

Top of his head toward his ear,

then down to the nape of his neck,

and again,

in a rhythmic pattern.

I know this is hard, I whisper.

I’m so sorry this hurts.

You are brave to leave what you know,

and start fresh in a new place.

I am so proud of you.

I love you so much.

 

That was last night,

and now I am left with

one more night before he goes

to Japan

where 13 hours and

half a sphere will separate us.

I will the car and driver to move through

these blasted New York City streets,

packed with cars and people.

It might as well be Japan already

I feel so trapped here,

waiting for lights

and pedestrians

and taxis.

 

Just drop us off here,

Eric tells the driver.

We can walk from the corner.

Oh, thank goodness.

In a few hours, this corner

will be etched in my mind

when it marks a final moment,

but for now,

it marks progress.

I am steps away

from my baby.

I move quickly without appearing

to race

wanting to save face,

not look ridiculous,

but knowing on some level

that I’m allowed to look

ridiculous.

Eric will understand.

Jeremy will understand.

But I feel certain that my

moves should be measured,

calming,

reassuring,

encouraging

NOT

anxious,

worrisome,

needy.

It is time to let go.

 

We approach the open windows and door

of the French bistro,

and I am hoping we will

be first,

but then,

in an instant,

it doesn’t matter.

That boy and his damn cute grin

are waiting at the bar,

beer glass in hand,

and I melt.

How did we do this?

 

I still remember the

exact moment Eric presented

him to me.

It was a beautiful April day,

but we’d missed all of it,

listening to K.D. Lang while I labored

to deliver

a giant of a baby

who was going nowhere.

Twenty-two hours,

and 3 centimeters.

You’re not working with me,

Eric told me.

Are you f-ing kidding me?

Our nerves were frayed.

That story told countless times since,

always to laughter.

You’re lucky you lived to tell that story,

people tell my husband.

Right?!

Too funny.

Then the decision,

to deliver by C-section.

And at 7:00 p.m. precisely,

his lungs opened up

and he wailed,

It’s a boy!

My husband got the honors,

and presented all 9 lbs. and 13 oz.

of our finest joint creation.

Cradled in Eric’s arms,

our baby’s head nestled in his hands,

I took in the full cheeks and quivering mouth.

I extended my hand,

wires dangling from my wrist,

And I caressed his downy head,

as I would do so many times,

right up until the night before he left.

 

Enthralled, I repeated…

He’s so beautiful.

He’s so beautiful.

He’s so beautiful.

 

And here we are,

and he’s still beautiful,

and in a suit,

tie loosened,

chatting up the bartender.

How I love this child.

 

I

can’t

believe

I have to

say

goodbye.

Tonight.

I put on my smile.

I kiss Jeremy’s smoothly shaved cheek.

No one tells you about

this when you have a baby.

Sure, they make jokes.

Goes by in a blink of an eye.

Today diapers, tomorrow college.

BUT

nobody tells you about

the exquisite

pain.

The word bittersweet

must have been invented

by a mother

upon bidding farewell

to her child.

Under my smile,

I am already crying,

and we haven’t even had dinner yet.

 

Stay in this moment.

Don’t think ahead.

You still have these minutes.

Don’t waste them thinking about

goodbye.

I swallow the lump in my throat,

order a glass of wine,

and lean in.

There are still stories

to be shared.

THE LAST Friday Feedback – July 31, 2015

And then came the last Friday Feedback… or was it? Gae Polisner posted one more feedback for today, August 7th, which I will soon add my voice to. Yippee! I’m so excited that TeachersWrite Camp has me WRITING ALOUD HERE! It was my inspiration for starting this blog.

But, first, here is what I submitted for Selene Castrovilla‘s lesson on voice, and what a lesson it was!

 

Gae, thank you for all of your encouragement and for providing this amazing venue for writers- yes, writers. You’ve made me believe. I count myself with the group called “Writers”, and I am most assuredly a teacher who IS writing after 4 weeks of TW camp. I filled my new writer’s notebook and am on to the next. And, Gae, this week’s submission is because of you. I am “writing that scene” that I summarized last week, albeit a bit broader. It’s a narrative that I hope will bring that day to life. For now it is unfinished, but I am sharing a draft of the first five paragraphs. It is rough and first pass.

Selene, if my piece has any voice, it will be because I was thinking of your lessons the whole time I was writing. What word choices, details, observations will pump up the voice? I hope that I applied some of my learning to this piece. I know that I will continue to mine your advice as I revisit this narrative in revisions. Thank you for being here to share your wisdom!

With regard to your excerpt, Joey-Now, I particularly loved the get-in-your-head internal dialogue that provides a window into the character of Joey, while also giving a colorful illustration of his teacher. The truths revealed make these people real to me. Your writing is captivating! I read the first five pages of MELT after downloading it on Thursday, and I had to stop because I didn’t have the time to read it all, and I could tell that I was being instantly swept up into the twister that would be this tale! I LOVE that it is in verse, and the voice of the narrator is sharp, biting, and all-consuming. I will be eating this book whole this week. Thank you for sharing your writing and your writing advice!

Here is my excerpt:

I’m not a superstitious person, except that I am. It seems silly, and strange, and it doesn’t really match up with my logical brain, and I won’t admit it out loud, but there you have it. I can be surprisingly superstitious. And all I can say is that I am thankful the numbers were with me on the day I had to say goodbye to my baby. All the numbers lined up. Can you imagine how much more of a wreck I would have been if they hadn’t? But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Last Friday, my husband and I loaded up the car and took our 22-year-old son to New York City. Not for a visit. Not for a family vacation. But, to put him on a plane. To Japan. To live. For a year. Or two. Can you feel my heart beating faster? It was as visceral a countdown as the one leading up to that child’s birth, and it’s result was the opposite– he left home instead of coming home with us. I actually thought I might break, the ache I was feeling was so palpable.

But I was denying that ache. I wanted to stay rooted in joy. I am so freaking proud of that boy. I am so excited for him. I am so awed by what he has accomplished already. I looked at him as we ate dinner the night before, and I told him what I’ve been telling him for years, “I would like you even if you weren’t mine.” Jeremy smiled back at me with that Mom-you-can-be-so-goofy-but-I-love-that-about-you grin. It was adorable. It melted my heart. Stick with happy, I reminded myself.

When I woke last Friday morning, that ache was threatening to swallow me whole, and I swallowed it down to the base of my belly, and prepared for the day. This is when it’s a relief to have practical life things to think about. “Did you turn off the fan in your room?” “I’ll carry your backpack out to the car.” Oooof! His bags are in the car. We pulled out of the driveway, and proceeded to fill the time with mostly idle chitchat, and a few last-minute reminders. The sky was a clear, blue, bright. Auspicious, I thought. And, we made excellent time, arriving at the hotel moments before 9:00 AM. We were ahead of schedule. My nerves settled a bit. My superstitious self relieved that time was on our side (for now, don’t speak your worries aloud!).

In the back seat, Jeremy had fallen fast asleep, a reminder of countless road trips, and a smaller child. I turned to my husband, Eric, and suggested that I go in to find out if our son’s room was ready. It wouldn’t be ready until 10:30. “How about we drive around and let him…” “…sleep like when he was little?” my husband dovetailed his response with mine. Exactly what I was thinking. And so, we drove in a great big loop, and Jeremy slept soundly until we hit a patch of crater-like bumps that disrupted his reverie. To my relief, he woke up chipper, buttons reset. He was disbelieving when we told him we’d already been to the hotel. “We let you sleep.” It all felt reminiscent of times passed, but tinged with a new feeling—time’s up, this child is fully baked—9 months plus 22 years of wing making.

 

 

Friday Feedback – July 24, 2015

Caroline Starr Rose was the author host on Gae Polisner’s July 24th Friday Feedback. Her lesson was about poetry and music, and it came at the right moment to capture a significant event in my life. Here’s what I posted:

 

Thank you, Gae and Caroline!

I appreciated Gae’s comments about recognizing when we are writing even when the words don’t always reach paper. This has been true for me many times this week.

Caroline, I enjoyed your connections with poetry and music. The two are, without a doubt, linked. These are my thoughts on the poem you shared about Buffalo Bill:

What worked? You’ve used strong verbs: surrenders, nickers, gallop, clutch. The specificity creates a mood and a visual.
What didn’t? Nothing.
Am I hooked? Yes. I’m interested to learn more, and like the lively pace of your poem, and how it picks up momentum. I think my third graders would be interested, too!

Thank you for sharing your work and your ideas!
~~~~~~~~~

As for my writing, I’ve been checked out of this week’s lessons and posting on account of spending time with my son during his last week home. Tonight my husband and I had dinner one last time with him before he boards a plane from JFK, bound for Japan tomorrow. As we hugged and put him in an uber car, my heart was a giant ache and my face was covered in tears. As we returned to our table, I saw he’d left behind his leftover food– the snack for after his shower before climbing into bed for a good night’s sleep before a long journey by plane. I grabbed it and ran back out. The uber was gone. I looked down 65th Ave., and there it stood, at the red light. I thought, too late, and then I thought, maybe… I ran and ran as fast as my wedge fitflops would move, and just as the light changed, I reached the car. The driver looked toward the movement approaching his window. I led with the brown paper bag. My son looked up in surprise and understanding. I passed the bag to the driver and backed away as the driver continued. I walked back to the restaurant and was applauded by a couple who’d watched. You did it, they said. Good job. Thank you, I said. But I knew, I couldn’t have looked at that bag that held comfort food for my baby. I returned to our table and told my husband that I’d made it, and then I jotted this poem in my writer’s notebook. It is unedited. It is what fell out as tears continued to leak down my cheeks. It felt like a song.

Said goodbye to my baby
Said goodbye to my baby, baby
tonight.
Squeezed him tight and
said I love you.
Said goodbye to my
baby tonight.
Kissed that boy and
sent him off-
Baby no more
But said goodbye to
my baby, my baby.
Said goodbye to my baby
tonight.

~~~
It’s more of a ditty I suppose, but it might develop into more as I roll around the feelings of growing up a child, and successfully launching a young man, who will always be my baby- my baby.

Quick Write With Elana K. Arnold – July 14, 2015

On July 14th, the #TeachersWrite lesson was a Quick Write with Elana K. Arnold, author of Infandous. She presented a lesson entitled, “Setting as a Reflection of Character” on Kate Messner‘s website.

Here is what I wrote in response to Elana, and the prompt:

 

Hello, Elana & Campers!

Thank you, Elana, for a fantastic exercise that terrified me, and that I will absolutely use with my students. I really didn’t think I could do this. Fiction is not a forte, and I was quite surprised by how much setting brought voice to my three characters. Each character picked up on a different piece of the setting I’d observed. It was fascinating because they told me what they noticed. (Thank you for setting this up as two parts. It made the second part fresh and inspired.)

I would really love to share my teenager with you, but she exploded into expletives upon seeing the rosebush that she and her father had planted for her 13th birthday, so I will share my cat instead.

Part 1: As I extend my glance beyond the deck, the rose bush has a dancing visitor, white wings flutter around its edges. Mostly green, like a Douglas fir, the leaves have a few bright splashes of pink where parts of flowers cling after the early morning showers, but mostly, the bush is covered in the stars of buds that have been deflowered. This plant desperately needs to be deadheaded.

Part 2: Purr. Purr. This rosebush is awesome- scratches in all the right places, not to mention the wood on this deck- just the right height to get my back. This spearmint smells terrible though. Wish they would plant a little catnip here. Ahh. Now that would be awesome. A little back scratch. A little catnip-generated spin on the grass. Then, a lazy nap on the edge of the deck where the sun hits. Purrfect.