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Then and Now

On March 1st I wore a winter coat.

The world wore shades of brown, with subtle highlights of khaki green and rusty orange.

I was tired and overwhelmed.  I wondered whether I’d be able to balance the slicing challenge with all the schoolwork and coursework hanging over me.  I considered not participating in the challenge this year.  I signed up anyway, but struggled to find words, to find inspiration, to feel like I was doing more than going through the motion.

I was tired and ready for April vacation.  Spring felt too long away.  Report cards and parent-teacher conferences felt too close.

I didn’t know the phrase social distancing.  I heard periodic news of an epidemic far away, but listened with only half an ear while I tried to figure out how to reach the students not giving enough attention in class, how to challenge the students who needed more.

My public-health-trained husband said he thought schools would close in May, or maybe April.  I scoffed and bet him a back rub for every day I was out early if it really happened.

Around the lunch table, my colleagues talked about the probability of snow days; March isn’t too late for a snow storm.  We were supposed to be getting out on a Friday.  One more snow day would move the last day to a Monday.  We all agreed that would be terrible.

Today, I ran outside for a quick walk before my next call. Halfway down the driveway I realized that I was only wearing a thin cotton shirt and a vest.  I kept walking.  The world was awash with emerald greens, golden yellows, and a blue, blue sky that sang of spring.

Did report cards get sent home to parents?  I don’t know.  I was told they would, but not a single parent has contacted me about grades.  Not a single parent has taken me up on the offer to hold a phone conference.

We’re not worried about snow days or the school year reaching into late June.  Instead, we’re worried that we won’t be able to get back to school at all this year.  Instead of needing a break, we talk about needing to see our students, needing to be back in our classrooms.

I continue to write and to post slices.  Some days the writing still feels like one more thing to do before I can go to bed, but instead of a chore it’s a pleasure.  I’ve finally remembered that it’s okay to struggle to find the words, it’s okay to struggle to find inspiration.  When I give them time, they come.

Today, I can’t imagine not slicing.

What will I do tomorrow without this wise, funny group of writers who put words to my emotions and inspire me to do the same?


The Lion in the Living Room

lion in the living roomI still remember where I was when I received the gut punch–my favorite part of my classroom, the distinguishing feature of the room, what set it apart and made me feel like the coolest teacher ever–had to go.  My principal stood at one side of the office counter and told me it had been decided.  I could arrange a place to donate it to or the custodians would carry it out to the dumpster.  I stood on the other side and stammered that I’d take care of it.  And then I left the office and cried.

It wasn’t technically mine.  It had belonged to the teacher who retired and left her wealth of classroom materials–including a full-size, taxidermist-stuffed lion–to the lucky teacher who would take over her room.  Well, actually, that was what I’d thought when I’d visited my new classroom on that first-ever visit–that the lion was included.  The second time I visited, when the lion was gone and I made inquiries, I found out that she had given it to the school librarian.

Luckily for me, the librarian had also retired that year.  The new librarian looked askance at the lion standing between her bookshelves and admitted to me she was worried about it scaring the kindergartners.  “I’ll take it back!” I offered.  And so the long-suffering custodians carefully hefted it back down the hallway to my room.

When I moved classrooms, it had come with me.  It could be seen through the school’s front windows, a testament that interesting things happened in this class.  When giving directions to my room, the secretary told visitors, “It’s the room with the lion.”   When the class did a project on Native Americans and decorated the room to look like various regions of the country, we covered the lion’s back with brown paper, tied on a shaggy beard, and gave it horns to turn it into a buffalo.

And now I had to get rid of it.

My sweet husband hatched a plan: he came to the school after hours with wood, built a crate around the lion, and wheeled the lion out to his truck.  Lifting the crate onto the top of the truck was a challenge, but a well-timed passerby offered his help at just the right time, and my husband was able to drive the lion to our house, where it took up residence in our living room.

I felt some guilt.  The lion wasn’t technically mine.  Was it stealing to bring it home?  Was it stealing if it would have been thrown in a dumpster had I not brought it home?  This is just temporary, I rationalized.  Some day I would be in a school again that let me have the lion in my classroom.  That’s how I would know I’d found my forever (work) home.

And so the lion stayed in our living room, where my husband took glee in telling visitors that his Great-Grandpa Hemingway had shot it.  It traveled with us in a moving van when we moved to Maine.  There wasn’t room in the classroom where I was a long-term sub, so it sat in our dining room, providing interesting dinner conversation and a photo backdrop, as guests stuck various body parts (and once a baby) in its mouth and pretended to be eaten.  It traveled with us again in a moving van when we moved back to Connecticut.  My classroom now doesn’t even have enough room for all my bookshelves, let alone the lion, so it’s behind the sofa in our living room again.  When new book club members come to my house, the other members hurry to be in the living room so they can see the new member’s face as she first spots the lion.

It’s been long enough that I sometimes forget my dream, that someday I’ll have a classroom where I can share my lion with students again.

Except that last week, I started videotaping myself for virtual lessons. My husband has been working from our office, so I’ve been working in our living room.  The plug for my computer is near the couch, so I sit on the floor and lean against the sofa.  And I noticed that the height of the video is just right so behind me in the screen is my lion.

It’s not the classroom I dreamed of, but it makes me happy that the lion is back where he belongs.


The water rushes past,
hurtling toward the waterfall,
the stream churning,
then plummeting with a roar,
before dashing on again,
white caps mad with urgency.

In the lee of a little island,
a patch of water sits,
gently swaying,
maintaining its calm
as the stream rushes by.

I wish I could be that patch of water.

Some days there is sun

Some days

.     I get out for a walk before the rain comes

.     long overdue items get crossed off my list

.     I remember to let the steam escape before leaning into the oven

.     new technology works

.    a virtual party connects me to a community bigger than I would have found in person.

Some days

.     things are okay.

Renegade Flower Gathering

Andrew came through the door carrying branches covered in vibrant, golden flowers: forsythia!

As the hostess put them in a vase, and the rest of us exclaimed at seeing the first forsythia blooms of the spring, he explained that his wife had brought the branches inside to force them.

“I’ve done that before,” Corinne reminisced.  It turns out that she likes to deliver flowers to friends’ houses on May Day, but she doesn’t grow all the flowers, or even buy them.  Rather, she is a stealth gatherer, plotting out areas with enough blooms that a few missing flowers won’t be noticed–“Sometimes it’s forsythia from bushes that need trimming, sometimes it’s daffodils from a huge field–it depends on what’s flowering that year,” she told us.  To gather the flowers, she gets up before dawn, so no one sees her.

I think of that now as I walk to the post office.  I notice the bushes of forsythia brimming, spilling over, and think, Maybe these would be good bushes to trim a little off.  I notice how close they are to houses and wonder, What time of day could I collect some and not be caught?

Across the street from the post office is a huge bush, with branches arcing in all directions.  This could be it, I think.  This might be the bush to trim.  I have sharpie and address book in my bag, but no cutting shears.  Could I break off a couple branches with my hands? I wonder.  I’ve never tried ripping forsythia branches.  I don’t know how strong they are.  I imagine breaking off a few branches and placing them gently in my bag to carry home.  It’s not a busy street.  There doesn’t seem to be anyone around to see.  I’d have to do it after leaving the post office.  I imagine myself walking into the post office, branches of bright, yellow flowers sticking up from my bag.  Not very sneaky.

I imagine myself carrying the flowers on my walk back home: tall branches bobbing slightly in time with my stride, the strikingly golden flowers waving hello to anyone I might pass.  Perhaps at night, I think.

At night, my focus has shifted to my to do list.  Before dawn, I’m too sleepy.  When I next walk past forsythias I have to admit to myself: I am only a stealth-gatherer-wannabe.

It’s grey and drizzly outside, but I need to get out of the house.  I need to get out of my head.  And anyway, I have a package to mail, so I go for a walk to the post office.

On the way home, a car appears around a bend in the road and rushes towards me, so I step to the side.  Because the shoulder is narrow, I step up onto a little stone wall lining the shoulder.  It’s old, and with the weeds growing through its cracks, hardly discernible from the lawn that slopes down to meet it.

Still, there is something about walking along the top of a wall that makes me feel like a child again.

I remember the immense pleasure of encountering a wall low enough to walk along, the satisfaction when it was wide enough to balance easily. I would feel tall, and would announce my height to the adult whose head I could now see over.

I remember, too, the railings made of black or green metal pipes.  These would do to walk along when there wasn’t a wall, but they were more of a challenge.  I remember the feeling of tipping this way and that to try to keep myself up, the way my leg would splay out and then I would not-quite-jump to land with a thud on the ground. I’d walk along the sidewalk for a moment, then hop back onto the railing, ready for this to be the time I would master it like a tightrope walker.

And I remember, when the balancing grew too hard, holding my mother’s hand.  My torso would wiggle, but her arm, her grip were strong, and my steps would be steady.

This wall I’m walking on now is short-lived; it hardly reaches past one lawn. Still, I’m feeling a bit of a rush, walking along the top, balancing without effort.  Today, I might not agree with Robert Frost.  Something there is that loves a wall.




Spring Comes at Different Times

The forsythia is blooming today,
the violets, too,
and the daffodils.

I want, too,
to reach out to the sun in exuberance,
to burst with radiance,
to bloom.

But today I am still buried deep in the earth,
clenched too tightly
even to send out a bud.