The Summer of Who Knows What

Years ago I started naming my summers as a declaration of my goals. I didn’t write them out in a fancy planner and vision boards weren’t a thing back then. Or maybe they were, but I didn’t know about them. Too busy with a toddler at the time.

The first one I remember was The Summer of Learning. I bought a guitar with the determination to continue plucking away at it throughout the summer. I hung out with kids at an after school enrichment class for students wanting to learn guitar. The choir teacher led it and welcomed me. Instead of signing up to teach an enrichment class, I joined one. I like to think I was modeling the love of learning something new. And hard. Summer break started and the guitar moved into my closet. It’s still there, awaiting new strings that haven’t been replaced. In years. I think it wants to play.

In the mornings, I sponsored kids who wanted to learn to knit and crochet. I knew how to make a basic chain, single, and double crochet stitches from my childhood. My mom taught me how to make these swirly worm bookmarks, complete with googly eyes. I made a few and abandoned the fiber arts, or rather, crafts. Knitting intrigued me. I found an old book from our library that had not made it to the weeding cart. I checked it out and taught myself the basics. Other kids were interested, so the group was born. I took it into summer break and learned to make cute little baby hats. Those were my projects that summer. Along with scarves I gifted people. Some wore them, some didn’t, but I made them and people gladly accepted them.

I read eight books that summer, too. This was back in the day when my kid was still young enough to nap once or twice a week. Yes, once or twice a week. My kids didn’t nap much. Ever. But I’d get my down time in the evenings and I’d stay up late only to groggily wake up early the next morning. I picked my books up in between toddler TV shows or play sessions over a makeshift cardboard box kitchen and Play-Doh. It was worth the mess.

One summer I named The Summer of Getting Stuff Done. The stuff to get done was fresh coats of interior wall paint, trying-unsuccessfully-to tend a bountiful garden, decluttering (always decluttering), freezer meal prep, exercising every morning at 5:30 a.m. Seriously? The early morning exercise sessions didn’t make it to the next summer. How did I do that though? And the freezer meal prep to toss into the Crock-Pot? They all hated the meals.

I don’t remember what I named other summers. I might have written them in a journal somewhere. Eventually I stopped because they flat out stopped working. Or I got tired. Or they stopped working and I got tired. I know one was The Summer of Baby #2 (who will soon be 12). I lost track after that. However, I started marking them with vacations.

My 40th Birthday BBF Bash to Las Vegas was one of my favorite summers. And the one to Mexico sans kids. And the one to Mexico with kids and Grandma the following summer. The less expensive one to New Mexico for Alien Fest on Fourth of July Weekend right before grad school. And the horrid one to Colorado after I finished grad school. Colorado was fine. The kids, not so much. They were at the age where their bickering was next level annoying. At least some of the pictures were good. And that’s been it.

I suppose last summer would be The Summer of…I’m over it. We all know how that summer went. Here we are…here I am, trying to figure it out. Maybe this time I’ll name my summer after I experience it. Find a name to fit after I get to know it. Let it play out and follow it where it wants to go. Our family has experienced many milestones this year. One kid composing a piece of music and graduating high school. Another starting middle school and experiencing all that comes with it. My husband’s semi-retirement. My move back to middle school in August. Planning a road trip; nothing fancy, but at least something.

Rather than take control, I’ll let this one take the lead. I’ll putter around my summer and do what I can without fretting. Get that guitar restrung and either learn to play it or give it to someone who will love it. Climb out of my comfort zone and join a writing group. Learn to play pickle ball because sports are not my thing. You know, push myself to do something hard. And read. Always reading. Hang out with my kids who no longer want to hang out. Maybe I’ll nap. Once or twice a week.

Yes, Kid!

Yesterday, the ‘tween started out having a bad morning in only the way ‘tween angst manifests itself on the second day of summer break. Woe is me, I can’t see my friends, I hate cleaning my room, and it’s so boring. The good thing is, this one will say “I need attention.” That usually means I can squeeze out a hug. Or get a quick cuddle. On a good day, it also means I can get a good conversation.

I had been meaning, in the the back of my mind, to offer my kids a Yes Day. If you aren’t familiar, it’s the title of late author Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s picture book and now a movie starring Jennifer Garner. I haven’t read the book and I’ve only watched the movie trailer, but the premise is to say yes to your kid(s) for one day rather than no.

In the way I do celebrations and how I imagine events to happen (they never match up to my intended expectations and usually flop before I start), I didn’t think through it much. After a little pep talk, I suggested a Yes Day. It was still early, I had the day off, and we didn’t have anything planned other than puttering around the house. My invitation was accepted.

I explained whatever is requested today, within reason–I mean, ask for a million dollars and there’s no way I can make that happen–I’ll say yes. I decided to go with it, took a deep breath and ideas started rolling. There’s a little doughnut place within a popular shopping destination. We rarely go shopping. I said yes and off we went. We shared doughnuts for lunch. Popping in and out of shops, we wound up at a candy store and I bought a bag of overpriced candy, but who can deny a kid scoops of candy? Me, I’m a meanie mom, but she wasn’t invited today. Our final stop yielded a small box of amazonite, quartz, and rose quartz crystals.

We spent the rest of the afternoon watching a favorite series, cuddled on my bed with the laptop resting between us. Apparently, watching on my laptop is more fun than using the TV. Who knew?

That was it. I thought it would be a busier day. We returned home much sooner than I expected. I said yes to smaller things, moments. I honestly thought I’d have to brace myself for a long list of requests. I took a step back and watched the day unfold. I should say yes more often.

Tuesday, June 1,2021

Are You There, Judy? It’s Me, Ally-Again

Hey, Judy. What happened when Margaret grew up and became a mom? Did she become a mom? And what happened when she birthed her teen into adulthood? I mean, sheesh, the hormones…they’re worse than when I was 13. Or pregnant. And the nesting! It’s still happening. Why? Is this normal? With social media, we get tons of parenting advice until the kids are about nine or ten. Then it stops. We have to figure it out and only when we mention something happened does anyone ever say, “Oh, that, yeah, it’s normal, but wait until…”

Maybe we ignore the advice because we don’t get it when we need it. Either too early or too late, but when we’re in the middle of everything, we try to claw our way through. This birthing a teen into adulthood emotionally rips you up. Random tears on a run. Random tears when an old picture pops up on the screen. Random tears in line at the grocery store when my eye lands on a gummy SpongeBob Krabby Patty I’d buy as a treat for a tantrum free grocery trip years ago. Hollering sessions griping about homework, chores, junk food, being online for too long, you name it…and it’s me doing the hollering. And then random tears second guessing that meeting (or those meetings) with the teacher when the kid was in sixth grade. Why didn’t I say something different? I should’ve done this instead.

Did Margaret spend too much time at work in those earlier years or was she a stay at home mom? Her kids turned out okay, didn’t they? Did her mind linger over the what ifs and what can be? A ton of time passes between the first birth and the second birth. They both hurt though, but I don’t know which one hurts more. I think I was better prepared for the first. The second one creeps up on you. I thought I was ready. Here we go anyway. We’ll figure it out. It’ll be official tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Milestones II

Tuesday Slice May 18, 2021

Almost four years ago, I wrote Milestones. Here we are again, at another one.

This one hits hard. In spurts, like the others. Sometimes when I expect them. Mostly when I don’t. But they’re hard. There’s the time of the first orchestra concert of the year held in the cafeteria because rules said they couldn’t use the auditorium. The original plan was for them to play in the amphitheater, but a football game was scheduled at the same time. As usual, sports win. Not all students were able to make rehearsals, so attendance was sparse, but on they played. It’s hard not to think about “how it used to be.” The tears come in the car driving back home in the dark.

One of the first concerts back in the auditorium was postponed twice. Once because of dreadful rules. Again. The second time because of the Great Texas Freeze. They did make it back, but low audience attendance (more rules) felt odd and no one congregated in the lobby afterward. I wondered if this would be the last performance.

It’s hard not to get choked up at the “Countdown to Graduation” drive through celebration to pick up the senior t-shirt and goodies. This is is not what’s expected of senior year experiences. Poor kids. We didn’t attend the drive through parade last weekend sending everyone off from locked-out of school virtual learning, into the big, beautiful—or is it cruel—world in the best way possible to commemorate the end of the first 12 years of education. No tears shed on that one.

Maybe I’m getting better at rolling with change, but it’s hard not to be selfish with this milestone. Two more weeks. It’ll be okay. I think I’m fine now. Until the last orchestra concert. This is the last time I’ll drive to the auditorium. Rules required tickets, but all available spaces “sold out.” I prepared myself, but forgot to bring tissue. A mask makes a good alternative.

I decide not to take video of this last performance. It’s getting recorded. I relax and enjoy the concert. Then my kid takes the stage and they play a piece he composed. And I cry, swallowing the little noises that come with overwhelming moments of life. This is what it’s like to birth a teen into adulthood.

Giftology 101

On Friday, my husband “retired” from his full-time job. The plan was to decorate the dining room, bake a coconut cake, and set up a golf outing with his friends. That was the plan. Plans don’t work well for me. Somehow, the day slipped away.

I reminded him to let me know when he would leave the office. 3:00. With traffic, that meant I’d have plenty of time to have everything ready by 4:00, even with a scheduled kid pick up from school. If he left the office at 3:00, I figured he’d be home by 4:00 at the earliest, 5:30 at the latest. I went about my day. Noon came and went and by 1:00, I get a message: “I’m on my way! They took me to lunch and said for me to go home afterward.”

Screech! Change of plans. No homemade coconut cake. Rush to the grocery store. Order balloons. Choose a cake from there. Pick out a card. No time for getting a tee time arranged with so many different possible dates and schedules. We’ll order take-out for dinner. Forget the decorated dining table. The house was still a mess.

I arrived from the grocery store, a small boxed cake in one hand, a six pack of Coronas and strands of balloons trailing behind me in the other, relieved the card sitting on top of the box didn’t blow away. I tapped the front door with my foot, asking to be let in. His parting gifts and greeting cards from work welcomed me instead.

“Congratulations!”

I set everything on the table, trying not to let my tardiness bother me. “You got me balloons. And beer. Thank you.” It didn’t seem to bother him. He showed me the goods, pulling out one of the cards. The same exact card I selected. Out of 500 cards, I chose the same one his office staff did. And how is it I can’t match winning lottery ticket numbers?

I revealed the golf outing gift, but let him know he’s in charge of finalizing arrangements. Tee times weren’t available as far out as I had planned to schedule one. We’d have takeout for dinner with a grocery store bakery cake for dessert. It turned out well. Not how I planned, but a celebration was had.

No matter how hard I try, somehow celebrations creep up on me. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Baby showers. Retirements. Mother’s Day. Oh, Mother’s Day. That’s on Sunday. This Sunday. I’ll add that to a pile of gifts yet to be purchased. The harder I try, the worse it gets. I eventually send gifts, no matter how late they may be. No one has yet to decline one.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Severe Weather Drill

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Fourth graders to start the day. The teacher reminds me we have a severe weather drill at 9:00, ten minutes before I’m scheduled to leave. I shoo the teacher out of the room so she can get her full planning meeting. I’ll review procedures, I reassure her.

“Do you want to hear a story?”

Of course they do. So I start…

“When I was a kid, we had tornado drills. I grew up in what’s called tornado alley. We also had these things called textbooks. Now, they’re mostly online.” I pick up a heft dictionary to demonstrate. “During tornado drills, we all grabbed the biggest textbook, the only time we used it–I don’t even know what subject was, but when we got into the hallway, we crouched down against the wall, single file with someone in front of us. We opened the book in half and put it over our heads and necks. Inevitably, J.C. was somewhere in that line. I prayed with my heart and soul that he wasn’t in front of me. This kid, no matter how far away you were, always sliced the air with a bodily stink bomb. If J.C. wound up right in front of you, forget it. You could smell it from the other end of the hall. Don’t be a J.C. during the drill.”

Priorities.

Senior Skip Day

April 20, 2021

My sister’s impromptu and welcome visit this weekend prompted a backyard hangout around the fire pit. Defaulting to high school memories, we discussed skipping school. Rule follower here, mostly. Classic first-born people pleaser characteristics. I wore my responsibility with honor, like a Hogwarts prefect. Except that I grew up in a small town where everyone can easily find out your business.

The first time I ever skipped school was the spring semester of my senior year. I think it was the first time I was absent since my bout with chicken pox when I was in kindergarten. Starting with first grade, I was in the running for the Lifetime (Sort of) Achievement Award for perfect attendance, the most embarrassing award I received at the end of every year. After that first absence, I went to school sick. No one sent me home because I learned to deal with discomfort. Boxes of Luden’s cherry cough drops were staples in my backpack. Halls eventually took over and Chloraspetic throat spray tamed my raw sore throats during winter months.

When most cool kids planned to skip school, they took off out of town. There wasn’t anything to do, so unless there was a plan to hide out in someone’s home and run the risk of being seen driving around during the school day, most kids drove an hour to the nearest big “city.” We heard about mall adventures, proved with matching Guess t-shirts or sunglasses or earrings. First, it must have been nice to have a car to leave town. Followed by knowing how to get to the mall without an adult. And having money to shop for matching Guess shirts.

One day, when my mom asked if I wanted to go shopping, I wasn’t sure what she meant. We usually ran errands on weekends. It’s mid-week. She said we’d go shopping. I didn’t think much of it until she added the part about missing school. Being a responsible mini-adult, I asked about missing class, making up class work, and returning to school. She assured me she’d write a note to excuse the absence.

We took off on our excursion with Uncle Danny tagging along. Uncle Danny was the best shopping partner. He still is. I wasn’t with friends, but we wound up at the mall. We hit the mega-clearance aisles and I wound up with two prom dresses. A bit guilty about getting two, my mom mentioned the other one could be saved for my sister the following year. They were such a good deal, she didn’t want to miss the opportunity to save major cash on another prom dress.

We ate out at a real restaurant. Took our time. Ran a few errands and headed back home by late afternoon.

The following morning, Mom wrote a note. I opened it and re-read it several times before I made my way to the office. There it was, her note, explaining that I was absent from school because I had a cold. I was nervous turning it in because I clearly had no signs of a cold. I mean, when I did have a cold, I reeked of cherry cough drops. I gave it to the secretary. My stomach churned. They took my note and I lingered as if waiting to be reprimanded. Surely they could see my lie. Or rather, my mom’s little made up story of a cold-less cold.

“Okay, get to class.”

That was it? I went back to class. It was so, easy. And I only had a few months left to do it again. Only I didn’t do it again.

I don’t remember having my classwork pile up on me. I don’t remember anyone making a big deal out my absence. I picked up where I left off. I couldn’t even skip school, the right way, but I did it. And it was one of my favorite days. My induction into adulthood.

Shh…Listen Already!

I’m not a great listener. I’m worse at it with family than with strangers. Worse still, listening to my Self. This weekend, I tried a technique Julia Cameron suggests in her newest book, The Listening Path: The Creative Art of Attention. Similar to The Artist’s Way, Cameron includes exercises to practice the skill as a way to tap into creativity. Being silent. Listening to everything, rather than hearing.

One way to listen to that inner voice is to write to one’s Self, or inner child. I did that on Saturday, asking some big questions I’ve been trying to figure out. I wrote in script form and gave my Self the name of Little Cat, using pink ink with responses in purple.

What am I doing? This is wonky. But, it’s my notebook, I can do whatever I want. I wound up with five pages of questions and answers, dialogue. Some I thought I knew and others I didn’t realize were options. Skeptical during my writing, I had to tell Little Cat to shut up already. Let it flow. Stop and listen. Respectfully. Attentively. Fully.

Sounds easy.

Today, I continued thinking about my questions. I haven’t returned (yet) to my notebook to re-read answers, but I have the gist. After a conversation, in the silence of my being, they shouted at me. They were whispers on Saturday, but I wouldn’t listen.

Okay, Self, I get it. I’m listening now. Forgive me for dismissing you.

Hi, Neighbor

When I was a kid, the jail sat next to the library. I’d go in to exchange my books, the cool air conditioning, evaporating sweat dripping from my neck resulting from the bike ride there in the hot Texas sun. I wondered if I’d ever be able to take a peek behind the door separating the library and jail. The neighboring door just behind the librarian’s circulation desk remained locked. I imagined a Mayberry jail, one of the criminals trying to figure out a way to retrieve the keys from Barney Fife or rig up some contraption to yank them off an unattended nail next to the cell.

Was Ms. Roper afraid? Did anyone ever open that door? Was there even anyone in jail? Ever? Maybe it was just there to make us think it was the jail. I lived in a tiny blink and you’ll miss it town. I never heard of anyone being arrested. That happened in cities like New York, not our town. Why was it next to the library?

One place, shuts down and isolates a person. The other frees them up. What strange neighbors, the jail and the library.

Walking out, I’d take a look at the neighbor’s front door. The window with the blinds drawn shut. My bike still waiting for me. Hugging my book stack in one arm, I’d steady myself in the seat and pedal off, until next time.

The (Orange) Badge of Courage

SOLSC Day 31

I signed up for this challenge after I declared I was breaking up with challenges. And here I am, at the beginning of my last post for the month. It wasn’t easy, but it also wasn’t as hard as I imagined.

This brings to mind my “one little word” for the year. I wrote about this five years ago on this day, my first blog post. Synchronicity with a capital S! I’m not the one little word type. At least I wasn’t then. The past two years my one little word was create. I’ve been working on that in so many different ways, but my focus has been writing.

This year, I almost didn’t choose a word. But one found me anyway. I’m still not sure about how I fee about that one little word because words are anything but little. They can carry the heft of the world or they can take you to new, unimaginable places. And spaces. Like this one.

This year, the word that found me is courage. I gradually began posting more frequently last year during the shut down. Being locked in, writing was my way to venture out. People have always encouraged me to write. They see things in my words that I fail to see. S’s room takeover was my first pandemic post. Then I started playing a little and had such fun publishing a Videoconferencing Yearbook.

Chris Margocs of Horizon 51, a fellow librarian, shared this space with me and invited me along. I dipped my words in and here I am. She doesn’t know this, but the Day 2 Slice, You Know That One Friend? is all about Chris.

I typically shared my blogs on FB, but sharing it with others in this way taught me so much. There are so many talented writers out there. You all have taken me under your wing with encouragement and support. This is my first writing group other than those in my undergrad courses. That was a long time ago.

I plan to continue posting on Tuesdays. Seems easy compared to posting every day. I’ll venture out to join other writing groups. As an educator, work overlaps into my personal space and always has. That’s the nature of working with your passion. I’m ready to venture out on my own and break away a little. Carve out some writing space for me.

I’m no longer a classroom teacher, but I have always loved teaching writing. As a librarian, I have to figure out how to get a group of students to participate in the classroom challenge next year. Muster up the courage to do something out of the norm on my campus.

And that’s what words do. They give us courage and teach us about ourselves. Above all, they connect us to others through the power of a story.