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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.