I sent S. back to school in January
the same day I ordered E's cap and gown
for high school graduation
The beginning of the end
to the first year of middle school
the beginning of the end
to the last year of high school
E's spring orchestra concert
that was cancelled twice
once for COVID
once for an ice storm
Is that the last time we'll watch him perform?
End of the year contemplation starts in April
Calendars don't go in order around here
The beginning of the end of another school year
Did I do everything that needed to be done?
Is there anything I'm still missing?
Releasing E into the world, even though
he'll still be home for a while
the distance he's created to hang out
with friends one last time brings
the beginning of the end to his dependence
S. turns 12 in June
The beginning of the end of 'tweenhood
We baked a cake on Sunday
at her request for us to spend time together
She cut the last slice in half for us to share
The beginning of endings continue
…not Alice in Wonderland. I wasn’t anywhere near Wonderland. I lived in a rural dusty Texas panhandle town where the surrounding towns were named for the (plain) landscape. Where I’d walk home from school on a windy spring day, rushing to rinse the grit out of my mouth and rubbing the stinging dirt out of my eyes.
…not Alicia. My dad explained years later why he and my mom decided on Alice, not Alicia. “We live in the United States, so you’ll have an English name,” he once told me. Funny, though, he refers to me as Alicia. My grandparents, who only spoke Spanish, called me Al-ees, the best they could do to pronounce my name in English. Go figure.
…not Ali, or Ally, or Allison, or Alicia. Just Alice. No middle name. I hated not having a middle name. Among my friends I was a freak of nature. I wanted my parents to holler at me with a first, middle, and last name. I wanted to “go by” a middle name. None of us got one. One sister gave herself a middle initial, J. She put it everywhere, including the little bubble on standardized test forms.
“But what’s it stand for?” I once asked.
“I don’t know, I just like it.” It did look cool. I envied her bravery for writing it in. No one ever questioned her.
I always considered my name sounded too old for me. I didn’t have to share my name with anyone in class. Ever. I still don’t.
My last name caused confusion for everyone. I never had a teacher who was able to pronounce it even though I’d tutor them on it multiple times. I eventually gave up. It’s not hard, every letter corresponds to the sound it makes. I mean, you’re a teacher, shouldn’t you be able to pronounce it? A-l-m-a-r-a-z, Almaraz, ahhhl-ma-rah-z (roll the r)…not Alamaraz. Or Alvarez. Or Almraz. Or Almendariz. Or Almarez, although that’s the best anyone could ever do. I still don’t understand why it’s so hard.
I have many names now. My husband calls me SP, short for Sweetie Poo from The Little Rascals movie we watched years ago. Alfalfa declares his love for Darla claiming “There’s no one else like you, Sweetie Poo!’ I look nothing like Darla and my husband looks nothing like Alfalfa, but somehow it stuck.
My sisters started calling me Ally because I became obsessed with the TV show Ally McBeal. They added Cat, so I’ve become Ally Cat, and now, mostly Cat. I’m a dog person. My nieces and nephews call me Kit Cat or Kitty Cat. They sound adorable so that’s who I am. At this point in my life it doesn’t bother me.
My names change with the setting, sometimes like the Texas weather. SP or Mom at home. Garza with my best friends and co-workers. Ally, Cat, or Kit-Cat with my siblings and their kids. Alice or Alicia with aunts, uncles, and cousins. Mom and Mother! with my kids. Mrs. Garza with students. I’ve adjusted to them and wear them all.
If I were to rename myself though, it would be Alicia Margarita Almaraz-Garza, because margarita is my signature color. And beverage.
Time! Stay still for a little while. Well, you did last spring, or so it seemed. I’m the one who needs to stand still. I’m the one who needs to slow down. I’m the one who needs to stretch out moments I have, to enjoy them, be present. It’s not your job to stand still. That’s on me. And I haven’t been doing it well. Ever.
For today, the plan is baking a cake with S. From scratch. Red velvet with cream cheese icing, her favorite. Laundry can wait until tomorrow, but baking a cake can’t. Social media doesn’t care if I show up. Neither does my messy bedroom.
Time, I apologize for fussing at you. For saying you aren’t enough. You don’t change. While we’re here, can you tell me why we humans think we need to slay the day? As if it’s something that needs slaughtering. Why can’t we just enjoy it? Like a slice of red velvet cake with cream cheese icing.
You are enough. It’s not you, it’s me. I’m not doing enough. I rarely do enough. I’m doing too much.
“So?” Of course, it’s so because she’s eleven and we’re constantly cat-fighting like good mothers and daughters do when they’re both raging with hormones.
“Okay, I’ll play.”
“Truth or dare?”
“Tell the truth. Would you ever choose a dare?”
With an eye roll she couldn’t see, “Well, maybe. I’m not the adventurous type. But I’m also here at home, playing with you so it depends on who’s playing. And I’m not in middle school either so it’s not going to feel the same.”
“Truth or dare?”
“I dare you to give Dad a hug.”
“A hug? That’s the dare? You want me to give Dad a hug?”
“You chose the dare so now you have to do it!”
I walk over to my husband who is assembling his chalupa and give him a side hug. One of those we’ve been married for years let’s not drop our dinner plates hugs.
“There, done. Why did you choose that? It’s not a very daring dare.”
“I don’t see you hug each other. I just want to make sure.”
As a kid, I loved all kinds of toys. Etch-a-Sketch, Fisher Price Little People with the school house, a cow you could milk, a crawling doll that my great aunt broke soon after I opened it on Christmas morning, Play-Doh, Lite-Brite, the Easy Bake Oven I never received, and countless others. With my own kids, I hit the jackpot. I could buy toys again. E was four when I bought (his, my, our?) first LEGO set about fourteen years ago, a 3-in-1 race car. We assembled it together and he played with it for days on end. Later I found a SpongeBob set on clearance, perfect for his fifth birthday. It was a complex set designed for older kids.
One day, we worked on the Boating School set. He threw fits because he couldn’t figure out some of the steps. I threw fits because he didn’t want my help. I wanted to help because, you know, it’s a toy. I didn’t have any growing up. They were expensive (they still are on the pricey side). And they are so cool! Of course, I couldn’t say that out loud. Didn’t want to be the adult fighting with her kid over a toy. With tension reaching tantrum proportion, on his end at least, I put the set away for another time.
Five months later and groggy with pregnancy fatigue, I needed something for him to do the week of spring break. I retrieved the set again and reminded him about how to handle frustration. I didn’t help much this time. I needed sleep. The kid spent the day working with that set. I helped with a few sections, but he built it. We both became fans.
As E continued requesting different sets for every birthday and holiday, he figured out all kinds of building tricks. He learned about various sets, names of each brick type, printing techniques, when certain pieces began going in and out of production, the company’s history, and value. They do go up in value. He also taught himself how to make stop-motion LEGO videos when he was in fourth grade.
Harry Potter sets were around before he could crawl and I saw them as I walked through toy aisles, but I didn’t consider buying them. Once he got old enough, I’d of course try to sway him to choose those sets. It didn’t take much swaying. E swayed me to get him as many sets as possible.
It didn’t occur to me to get my own until I saw the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter sets with new eyes. Several years ago, I made my first for me purchase. We made a trip to the LEGO store and I found a Wonder Woman key chain. I couldn’t leave her there. E accused me of becoming an AFOL, Adult Fan of LEGO. For one of my birthdays, he chose my gift: LEGO Harry Potter Quidditch Match.
My small collection consists of LEGO Star Wars Episode VIII Chewbacca, Harry Potter minifigures, LEGO Brickheadz Wonder Woman, Harry Potter and Hedwig, Charles Dickens Tribute Set (yes, it’s the book with a scene on top, squee!), and LEGO Ideas Central Perk. It took me an afternoon with several cups of coffee to build Central Perk. If you like putting puzzles together, LEGO is similarly satisfying.
At 18 years of age he’s still a fan, an official AFOL. He has spent Christmas mornings over the years seated at the kitchen table, clear empty bags strewn all around him, instruction book open, box to one side, and a play-by-play, or rather build-by-build commentary as each section gets completed. He has completed homework with a little help of his (LEGO) friends. I still find pieces on the floor at times, but they’re contained in his room. For graduation, he has requested a LEGO set.
Thanks, LEGO. This is one way we’ve been able to connect, a common bond we’ve built, brick by brick.
“‘…I discovered the the marvel of audiobooks. Listening to them, I realized that the great writers are meant to be heard.'”
John Bowers as told to Julia Cameron in The Listening Path: The Creative Art of Attention
I’m a slow reader. I take a while to finish a book. I like puttering around the pages, observing the characters, new to me words, conventions, dialogue. When I was a kid, I wound up in remedial reading classes. I don’t know why. I could read. I read a ton. Just not fast like the other kids. I struggled with comprehension because of four answer choices none of them were ever the ones my mind discovered. I wound up with English degree and became and ELA teacher. Take that!
When I enrolled in a children’s and YA multicultural literature course for my library science degree, with its heavy reading list, I turned to audiobooks. The intensive five-week course required me to read at least twenty books. Sure, they’re children’s and YA novels, but finishing four per week was too much. I subscribed to Audible and borrowed what was available from the library.
What I didn’t know is that many authors read their own books. I’m hanging out with the authors and the characters they created. I took them on walks. I took them on road trips. I let them cook with me and we did laundry. I read books I wouldn’t normally pick up and discovered I gravitate toward nonfiction books. I’ve laughed and yelled and cried and rewound sections over and over. I take screenshots of the time for a certain section in case I borrow the book again. I’ll know where my favorite parts live. On my own audiobooks, I bookmark such places. Oh, and I annotate. Annotate!
Over the years, I’ve hung out with Brené Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sherman Alexie, Shonda Rhimes, Malcolm Gladwell, and Matthew McConaughey. Alright, alright, alright. That was a fun read. I’ve read books during the school year instead of saving them for summer break. Yesterday I finished The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah. I’m not an easy crier, but she sure hit me with this one.
I prefer reading and holding a book. Audiobooks have become welcome alternatives to this book snob who once didn’t consider the other kind of reading world available through the human voice. It’s like having personal tour guide. The reader does the work so I can kick back and enjoy the ride. For books that become particularly meaningful, I make a mental note to get copy of the book so I can, ahem, annotate.
Ahh, the Lone STAAR State. With the end of spring break we get into full-on testing season. We fast from regular schedules in favor of more disciplined stamina building test prep, the school desert. Pre-pre tests. Check the data bible to make sure we’re following everything TEA says is all good and holy. The gospels tell us what should’ve been taught by now, what still needs to be taught, what may or may not be tested and then the prophets warn us to prepare for field test questions. Testing demons attack on the day of the test(s) and even tempt kids and adults to quit before they start.
The congregation met today after school. We received intensive study lessons focused on Testing Commandments. We learned about possible sins: students cheating, teachers scoring tests, helping with test items, marking on an answer document, switching answer documents, working on a different test, stepping out of the room, lack of monitoring students, starting and stopping times, keeping visual aids uncovered. Taking a nap.
We also learned about mortal and venial test administration errors. Scoring a test before returning it. Mortal TAE (test administration error). A student in the wrong testing room before the test starts. Venial TAE. However, both testing sins must be reported to the high priest of testing commonly known as the CTC, Campus Testing Coordinator.
Ex-communication from a church at least allows us to settle our differences with God. Texas flat out revokes teaching licenses. No absolution. No redemption.
We all wear blank looks because our lesson requires us all to stare at the camera Jan Brady style. TEA gospel. We already took some independent study courses and earned our certificates. Confirmation of our ability to test students requires one more class. Some of us have been chosen to earn an esteemed designation of OTA, Oral Test Administrator. I received my certificate yesterday, a fresh parchment looking document I filled in with my name and the date ready to download and send off the the CTC.
It’s a demanding time, but we all celebrate when it’s over. One more class to go. I get to confess my training and qualifications by signing the Oath and submitting it to the CTC. One step closer to TEA sainthood.
My oldest graduates high school on May 26th. His high school hosted a drive through Countdown to Graduation this evening. With everything being cancelled this year, parents are working on ways to creatively celebrate a full pandemic senior year. I held my composure and didn’t say much. The first stop along the route in front of the school was a senior yard sign. Then a goodie bag. Followed by a senior t-shirt, topped with a cupcake. It didn’t hit me until today. I’m mourning the busy-ness and frenetic planning of a Mom of a Senior while he mourns the “loss” of a typical senior year. I know we’re not alone and there are others going through so much worse, but it still stings.
“Not too bad. As long as there’s food, it’s worth it.” He chomps the cupcake in two bites.
My parents visited for spring break. They left this morning and what remains is Sunday. An I-will-not-get-the-Sunday-blues type of Sunday. We cleaned up last week. The yard is in good shape. The house is free of piled up messes typically saved for weekends because we’ve been home, work free, school free, worry free. We finish off homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast courtesy of my husband. We check rooms, the pantry, the fridge, wall outlets, my car, the back porch, closets and bathrooms to make sure everything is packed. We stand in a prayer circle, holding hands, reflecting on time well spent and petitions for a safe trip home. They pull out of the driveway. Standing on the porch in our pajamas, the still cold March morning chills our bare feet. We wave our last goodbyes.
Back in the house, I set out to get myself dressed for church. On the counter, next to my sink, I find a small plastic bottle topped with a red cap, the front label peeled off. Hmm… Dad probably left this, whatever it is. Mouthwash? Aftershave? Definitely not Mom’s because whatever she owns lives in pastel bottles with shimmery letters. I rotate the bottle and read the label:
I chuckle. I process five thoughts: 1) Dad found it on a run. He hates throwing anything away. He brought it back and meant to give it to me in case I’d drink it later. Except I don’t drink whisky. And I certainly wouldn’t drink that one. 2) For whatever reason, Dad slaps it on as aftershave. I mean, do people do that? 3) It’s Dad’s mouthwash. And he takes a tiny swig. But he doesn’t drink, so that’s odd. 4) Maybe he does drink a little swig with his morning shave. 5) He’s reusing a bottle he found somewhere and put mouthwash in it because he didn’t want to buy a travel sized bottle of mouthwash. Plausible.
Knowing it’s not something worth turning around to retrieve, I message Mom, just to see which of my thoughts is close.
Is this Dad’s?
Throw it a way. I think it’s alcohol.
It is. Fireball Whisky.
Does he take a swig every morning?
Or does he use it as aftershave?
He couldn’t have found it on a run,
it would’ve been empty. 😂
No he uses it after he shaves.
LOL! That’s what I thought.
Confirmed. I burst out laughing. He scratched the devil off the front. But why would he go out of his way to get a small bottle of Fireball instead of regular aftershave? Maybe he does take a little swig.