Monday, March 31, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Writing: Day 31 of 31 / Lasts


Because today is the finale of the 2014 March Slice of Life Story Writing Challenge, I am thinking about last times. I could write about my last run in Auckland, my last road trip with my dad, saying goodbye to my students the last time I was a classroom teacher.

Today, I think I will write about the last lunch my husband and I had before becoming parents.

At the hospital, they said, your water broke, but you aren't yet in labor. Go have lunch.

Feeling slightly befuddled and dizzy, we wandered out of the hospital and into the world. People walked by us on the street, and I'm sure they saw a man and a clearly pregnant woman walking along together, but I'm not sure they knew we were hours from becoming parents.

We walked up and down a few blocks, not sure where to go, before stumbling upon a cafe. Should we order coffees? We mused. We might need them. I chose the crostini, my husband the salad.

What did we talk about? Who knows. There was everything to say and nothing all at once. So we made small talk, perhaps commenting on the good service, the rich crema of the espresso, the well-thought-out combination of flavors in the crostini. We might have held hands across the table for a moment.

That was the last time it was just the two of us. Because then, we returned to the hospital. And after many hours, we became three.

And that, is a story for another day.


Thank you to everyone who participated in the Slice of Life Writing Challenge this month, and to everyone's thoughtful and encouraging comments. I feel so lucky to be part of this community. And I can hardly believe all that I learned from writing every day! Well, that is a blog post for another day. Happy Slicing!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 30 of 31 / To My Cousin, Whom I Miss Very Much

To My Cousin, Whom I Miss Very Much

Last night, I dreamed of my cousin. It felt as if she is still walking this earth with us. There has been so much death this past year, but so much life too. The juxtaposition of the two has been surreal, but yet nothing could be more real than birth and death. So today, I will write to my cousin.

Dear Cousin,

I have so many memories of you from when we were growing up. One in particular is when you would line up the younger cousins and do our hair. Your bangs were amazing! They were truly gravity-defying. Oh man, you looked so cool. One afternoon at Grandma's house, you announced it was hair time.

"We have to do something about your bangs, all of you," you said to us cousins. You fired up your curling iron. As it heated, we could smell the old Aquanet and singed hair that remained stuck to it, remnants of many hairdos past. Finally, the curling iron beeped its readiness.

"OK, Anna first," you said. I went over to where you were standing by the bureau, and you got to work. You separated my bangs into two layers, then sprayed both with a healthy mist of Aquanet. You curled the bottom pieces under, so they looked like a giant tube. You curled the top pieces up, another giant tube, then you teased them a bit with you fingers until  they were standing straight up. You fluffed out the rest of my hair, applied a bit of lip gloss on me, and pronounced, "Voila!"

I looked at myself in the mirror. I looked grown up. Ready for a trip to the mall to go meet boys. I looked like you.

Thank you for being a huge part of my coming of age, of my understanding what it means to be a woman. I watched everything you did, and I wanted to be just like you. You were the coolest ever. And then things changed for you, and it was so sad. You became a shadow of yourself. And then you died. But I want you to know how much you affected me, all of us. And I want you to know I love you. I hope you are at peace.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 29 of 31 / Sydney


Perhaps because of yesterday's encounter, Sydney is so strongly in my thoughts today. Living there feels so fresh, so vivid. Though Sydney is on the other side of the world from where I am now, there are places in New York, my own city, that feel more remote. I can't quite believe that I can't just hop on the subway and end up in Elizabeth Bay, our Sydney home.

Join me as I go for a walk in our neighborhood.

I take a look outside our kitchen window at the bay beyond. Sailboats dot the harbor and birds zip this way and that through tropical trees. A few puffy clouds float through a warm, blue sky.

I walk out of our building and past the cluster of bird of paradise growing outside. I walk past a lush city park with a koi pond and a view of the ocean and up a tall set of stairs to a bustling street. I stop by a cafe for a flat white and sip it luxuriously as I stroll.

I descend down another set of tall stairs to a wharf neighborhood. I keep an eye out for Russell Crowe, one of the tenants of the ritzy condos on the docks. I walk across a pier and I watch the water swirling over the sand and rocks below.

I walk up a hill and into a side entrance to the Sydney Botanic Gardens, where I'm greeted by screeching Macaws and swooping lorikeets; prickly, Dr. Seuss trees and clusters of fruit bats, resting for the night's excursion around the city.

I continue through the gardens, and at the end of the path, I am greeted by a wide open bay and the white sails of the Opera House floating in the distance.

I walk around the bay and up the steps of the Opera House. I take it all in - the gardens sprawling before me, the ferries shuttling into Circular Quay, the perfect arc of the Harbour Bridge spanning it all.

I walk down the steps and get ready to head home. Yes, just another stroll in the neighborhood.

Sometimes I miss Sydney so much my heart aches. Funny, considering I spent the first half of my time there desperately homesick for New York. But Sydney will always be a part of me, a part of my family. It's where my husband and I first set up our home. One day, I hope to live there again with our son. For now, I carry it with me all the time, hoping to find the kind of beauty we had there again. Thank you Sydney, for being our paradise for a little while. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 28 of 31 / Accents


Christy and I are standing in the middle of a gift shop, listening to an incredibly thorough description of a line of baby toys. 

"The wood is sustainable, the paint is non-toxic, and the packaging is recycled," says the salesperson. 

As she talks, I am listening, but I am also scrutinizing her accent. I'm not certain, but I think I detect the high-vowels and the back-of-the-tongue tones of a South African accent, one of my absolute favorites. The salesperson is now talking about the developmental appropriateness of the toys' components, but I am transported to a time, when I was living in Sydney, and I first started to be able to distinguish the Australian accent from the New Zealander, the British from the Irish.

We leave the shop (after I bought several toys, of course), and Christy wonders if the accent was Australian and says she wanted to ask. This also makes me think of Sydney, when I couldn't go anywhere without being asked where I was from. Even when I had lived there for a few months, and then a year, and then more, I still was asked where I was from. And I always would be asked this, as long as I lived there. Even though I worked there and payed taxes and rent and commuted on the train and went jogging past the Opera House. I can't blame people for asking. I sound like an American. There, I sounded like a foreigner. Just like the salesperson today sounds like a foreigner here, and always will. 

But because I was once the foreigner trying to make a life in another country, I think I know how she feels. I think she probably doesn't want to be asked once again where she is from. I think she doesn't want to explain she isn't, in fact, British, even though to the American ear everything with a slight lilt sounds British. I think she probably doesn't want to tell the story once again of what she is doing here, slightly defensively, as if she has to have a good reason. And so, I am glad we listened to her expertise, and we left without asking, and that we became people who treated her like a really knowledgable salesperson working at a toy shop instead of a really knowledgeable foreigner working in America.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 27 of 31 / Wishes and Thanks


I wish I didn't get snippy with my dad about making the pancakes.
I wish I got him that plate of dessert he wanted with a smile.
I wish I didn't let that con-artist sublet my apartment.
I wish I didn't lose that ring.
I wish I had told my cousin how much she meant to me.
I wish we didn't buy this house.
I wish I met my husband ten years earlier.
I wish I had my son ten years earlier.


I'm thankful I had so many lovely breakfasts with my dad.
I'm thankful for all those family events with my dad.
I'm thankful for the valuable lessons I've learned about trusting strangers in New York City.
I'm thankful I had that ring while I did.
I'm thankful for the time I had with my cousin.
I'm thankful we had the opportunity to turn an old house into a beautiful home.
I'm thankful I met my husband.
I'm thankful I have my son.

Yep, the second one feels better.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 26 of 31 / Road Trips and a Mentor Text

Slicing together is like being in an online writers' group. I love getting inspiration from others' posts. Today, fellow Slicer and Blogger Fran McVeigh inspired me to write about a childhood memory. 

Her technique, delving into her past, reminded me of an exersize Ralph Fletcher led during his keynote at last summer's Writing Insititue at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. He invited us to mentor ourselves using his poem, The Good Old Days.

Then, he asked us to copy only the first and last stanzas, and fill in the rest with our own memories.  Here is what I wrote:

Sometimes I remember
The good old days

Running through the cornfields
The sharp leaves stinging our legs

Chasing the fireflies
As they twinkled a rhythm in the sky
Sucking the sweet drop of nectar
That came from the end of a flower 
Curling up in a heap
Our bodies giving out much sooner than our plans

I still can't imagine
anything better than that. 

Today, I am going to revisit this strategy. One mark of a good writing mentor is that you can return to it again and again, with fresh eyes, each time taking away something different.

Here is today's poem:

Road Trips

Sometimes I remember
The good old days

Drives across the country
With dad

Counting mile markers
And red cars

Hearing stories
Of days long ago in the city

Pit stops
In forgotten little towns

Eight hundred miles
Just us

To him,
being the most important person in the world

I still can't imagine
anything better than that.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 25 of 31 / No One Does it Like Mommy

No One Does it Like Mommy

Will I ever be comfortable with the way in which others care for my child?

I am working in my office, and our babysitter is with my son.
I am supposed to be working, but instead I'm scrutinizing every
Is he ok?
Does he need me?
Why isn't he napping?
Did he eat enough?
Why is the TV on?

It gets easier, right?

Monday, March 24, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 24 of 31 / Five months

Five Months

You're FIVE MONTHS old today my little son.

You reach out your little hand and you curl your fingers around the green plastic frog that returned with us from Grandma's house. Slowly, painstakingly, you lift it, straight toward your mouth. You nibble on it, you look at me, you go back to nibbling. Suddenly, you rub your eyes and your eyebrows go red. You're ready for your nap.

To a casual observer, you are a baby like any other. You are doing the things that babies do. But I know what a developmental miracle you are. I know that each day you are mastering skills that were impossible only a week ago. When you do them, skills that are considered normal feel extraordinary. Because you are my son.

You are five months old today. Five months ago you made me a mother. You began giving me the opportunity to experience what life is really about. Because of you, I now live in a world where grasping a toy means more than checking email, where sitting upright means more than the list of to-dos. Because of you, I know how fleeting life is. So, thank you. I can't wait to see what the next months bring.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 23 of 31 / Movers and Shakers

Movers and Shakers

About two years ago, my husband and I decided we needed a change. We were on the family path, and our tiny one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn didn't exactly fit the bill. Sure, we had a fabulous view of the Manhattan Skyline, were close to our friends as well as to tons of great restaurants, bars, and shopping. But none of that mattered. What we wanted was SPACE. We dreamed of 3,000 square feet, a basement, a yard, a garage. A whole room that stood unused most of the time, there just in case a guest happened upon us. Where this space was located, we didn't think mattered, as long as we could get to our workplaces in the city. We looked farther out in Brooklyn, then even farther out. We looked in the Hudson Valley. We looked in Queens. We looked in the Woodlawn section of the Bronx and were a hair's breadth from moving there when we came upon a two-family fixer-upper in Riverdale, on the other side of the Bronx. It seemed to have everything we wanted, a huge park a block away, a garage, heck, the basement alone was bigger than any of our previous apartments. It was even close to the 1 train into Manhattan. We snapped it up.

We spent the next year or so pouring all we had into it--our savings, our energy, our time. Literally, our blood, sweat, and certainly tears. Finally, it was finished. And it was spectacular. I should say, it IS spectacular. All of the rooms and details are singularly ours, from the kitchen tile to the rain shower to the dining room chandelier. It is perfect. With one small problem. We don't like the neighborhood. And, we desperately miss Brooklyn.

So here we are. In the throes of planning another move. We have already found tenants to rent our place. As soon as we can, we will sell it. And we will be back in Brooklyn. We will have come full-circle. I find myself wondering - is there a lesson? Was this move part of a bigger set of life experiences, the meaning of which will become clear only much later and upon great reflection? Or was it just that we took a chance and it didn't work out? Does everything have to have a reason? I suppose it's up to me to decide whether I'd like to assign meaning or not. But perhaps it's better to just move on, to choose to spend my energy on what lies ahead, not on what is already done.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 22 of 31 / Virtual Friends

Virtual Friends

Today was the Saturday Reunion hosted by the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Twice a year, the Project hosts a day of free workshops and opens its doors to educators around the globe to come and learn and think alongside each other. There is so much I could write about - the gripping keynote by Diane Ravitch, the enthusiastic crowds, or the way in which the weather cooperated to provide a lovely backdrop for the whole thing.

But today I'm choosing to write about a moment in which a virtual (as in online, not almost) friend became a live one. I had just finished my first workshop and sprinted to get to my second. When I arrived, I was greeted by a very familiar face and voice, both of which belonged to someone who is a respected colleague, with whom I email nearly daily, but whom I've never actually met. It was Two Writing Teachers' very own Tara Smith. Of course, no introduction was needed, as we communicate via Google Hangout and I recognized her instantly. We hugged hello, and said how nice it was to meet each other in person.

In addition to meeting Tara, I also got to meet Slicer Catherine Flynn and writer Zoe Ryder White, whom I adore but had yet to meet in the flesh.

What an interesting, connected world in which we live. Friends can be people we've never been in the same room with. Co-workers can live in a different continent. A whole cadre of like-minded professionals can spring up on Twitter. I feel so lucky to be a part of it all.

Friday, March 21, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 21 of 31 /

Piano Tuner

My dad was a piano tuner. He turned this skill into quite a business - he ran a piano store for close to thirty years, and had four different locations before settling in his final one on bustling Silhavy Road in Valparaiso, Indiana. Over the years, less of his time was spent tuning pianos and more spent making piano sales and overseeing the daily operations of his store (or stores, as at one point he had two locations open simultaneously). But he still made time to make house calls, taking care of customers' pianos in their homes. He always enjoyed these calls, as he was able to get a peek inside people's homes and lives, which he loved. He always had stories about a vicious poodle, a friendly cat, or an old lady with a cup of cocoa and a tale to tell. Recently, I came across a poem that had been written about him by a longtime customer. 

Here's an excerpt:

He lifts the heavy panels free
And props the hinged lid open. Wide-
Eyed, the youngest daughter cranes
Expectantly to peer inside. 

What's hidden there? 

As I read those lines, I saw my dad opening the lid of an antique upright piano to reveal the action within, a little girl at his side, mesmerized by the strings and hammers lined up in perfect rows like little soldiers ready to march. I saw all those homes that my dad went into over the years, bringing the gift of music to those within. I also saw all of the pianos he worked on over the years. Big uprights, grands, spinets, Yamahas, Baldwins, Steinways. He collected them in his memory the way some people collect acquaintances. As I read the poem, I got a glimpse of the other side of the story. I saw the families welcoming my dad and their appreciation of his expertise. What a gift to realize he affected his customers as much as they affected him. 

My dad loved the poem and at the customer's request submitted it to a piano technicians' journal. It was accepted, which made my dad quite proud.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 20 of 31 / Driving


Today is March 20. The first day of Spring. There should be flowers blooming, birds singing, sun shining. But I am in Northwest Indiana, and there is snow falling.  A lot of it. I have one eye open and I'm struggling to open the other. We had quite a few wake-ups last night, Tommy and I, and at 5am he decided it was time to be awake for good for the day. My mom stumbles out from her room around 7am. She says she thinks Starbucks would be a good idea. I decide that is wholly necessary, as is a run to the drug store for toothpaste. We get Tommy to sleep, and I get behind the wheel. Of a car. Not the stroller I'm used to driving living in a city with public transportation abounding.

There is snow everywhere. The wind is blowing straight into the windshield as I start out. The driveway is snow upon ice. I turn down the road, then onto the main road, and on into the drug store. I am fine, I think. But...

Leaving the drugstore the snow has gotten worse. I wonder if it would officially qualify as a blizzard. I need to make a left turn, but I don't feel confident, so I decide to go right. The coast looks clear. I pull out, and as I do, I see a truck coming right at me. I didn't see it - its lights were off. But still, in that split second I think, I should have looked more carefully. Checked twice. Every muscle in my body clenches. This is it, I think. I'm going to get hit. Tommy is at home, he is ok. But I am his lifeline. I need to be ok. The driver of the truck swerves to let me in. He is right up on my bumper and rightfully he is angry. But we are all ok.

I think about all of the near misses in life. I think about how lucky I am to be able to go on my way, the driver of the truck on his. I continue to Starbucks. To get the coffee that I think could have cost me my life. But I also think that at any time, something bad could happen. And in the end, I think, we have to go on, anyway.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 19 of 31 / Lunch


We are sitting down to a late lunch. I've just come in from the parking lot, where I've been doing figure-eights with Tommy in the stroller in a vain attempt to get him to sleep. My mom has found us a table, and she is halfway through her first glass of wine. My brother walks in and takes Tommy from me, who is now out of his stroller and is showing his distaste at being confined.

I go to the restroom, and when I return, this is what I see:

My mom is on her second glass of wine. She is talking to the waitress. Tears are forming in my mom's eyes.
"Amelia lost her father last year," she says to me. Amelia, the waitress, appears a bit stunned to be caught in such a personal conversation with a stranger, and she stands there awkwardly for a moment, then asks if she can take our order.

"How did you manage to find that out in the space of a few minutes?" I ask my mom. Her knack to extract information from strangers is unparalleled.

We talk, the food comes, my mom orders another glass.

Amelia is back to clear our plates, fill our water. She seems a little wary. My mom asks her about her mourning process. My mom is getting teary again. Amelia sort of stumbles around, looking for words. Her discomfort is palpable. Then, my mom reaches out and grabs Amelia's hands. "It's ok Amelia, we understand. Our hearts go out to you." Amelia looks as if she might cry, too, then looks away. My brother and I look at each other. I want to save Amelia but I'm not sure how.

"Mom," I start. But she lets go and Amelia backs away. We three sit in silence for a moment, then go on as if nothing has happened.

[Note - I'm not sure how to end this piece. It was moment, but I'm not sure yet how I want to angle it. There are so many ways. I may have to revisit it later. - AGC]

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 18 of 31 / The Rules

The Rules

Yesterday, Betsy Hubbard wrote a post on Two Writing Teachers entitled Be Your Higher Self. She wrote about rules in the classroom, and suggested that a full list of rules isn't wholly necessary because, after all, the vast majority of students already know the rules, and the ones that don't can be taught the rules quickly. As Betsy wrote, " Self-control may get in the way, but deep down [the students] know what is right." Betsy writes about the work of Barry Lane and Colleen Mestdagh, whose book entitled Force Field for Good teaches teachers how to teach students to "Be Their Higher Selves."  

Rules abound all around us. Traffic rules, rules for conduct, social rules. I have always been one to follow the rules religiously, lest I get in trouble or get found out to be less than perfect. I am a slave in particular to social rules, the norms of society as a whole and of my own smaller groups, family and friends. I am the good daughter, the hard-working employee, the thoughtful friend. And for the most part, I am proud of these parts of myself. I am not looking to change who I am. But what I am looking to do is to make sure I am behaving in a way that is in line with my own set of beliefs and purposes, not the beliefs and purposes of someone else. Today, I will strive to listen to and follow my own set of rules. Because this is my interpretation of being my higher self. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 17 of 31 / Toys

Note: I am attempting to mentor myself from Jacqueline Woodson's beginning in Pecan Pie Baby. See today's classroom challenge post here.


When the late afternoon sun is streaming in the windows and the day is closer to over than beginning, my mom comes down the stairs with a worn shopping bag in her hand. 

"I found Abby's old baby toys for Thomas," she says. "Abby sure doesn't need them anymore."

I smile and think of my sister, gorgeous, poised, and so grown up. Soon she will be moving to a new city with her boyfriend. Her adult life is just starting, she has a world of possibility at her feet.

I look over the toys, and memories spring from each one as I turn them over in my hands. The candy striped rattle with the blue beads conjures little Abby playing on my lap before dinner, the plastic set of keys brings a recollection of rushing home after school to see my baby sister, the plastic tumbling man calls up her first belly laughs.

To be fifteen with three younger brothers and have your parents announce a new baby is on the way is a curious thing. I remember the day she was born, her first steps, her first day of school. I remember the whispers at the supermarket when I'd carry her around. "She's so young," went the hushed voices behind me. I remember, too, how angry and embarrassed my sister seemed when people called my grey-haired father Grandpa.

And now, we share clothes, stories, bottles of wine. We've been asked if we are twins. (Note: of course I love this, Abby not so much. And for the record, it has not happened in quite some time.) She is my sister, my friend. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 16 of 31 / Uncle Knuckles

Uncle Knuckles

"How about he calls me Uncle Knuckles?" jokes my brother as he takes the baby from my arms. The baby radiates joy as Uncle Knuckles carries him off, lifting him high into the air and lowering him to the ground. They head into the next room, from which peals of laughter emerge within minutes, both my son's infant gurgle and my brother's thirty-year-old guffaw.
"What's going on in there?" I ask. 
"Look! I taught him to walk!" comes the reply. 
I walk in, and I see my brother on his knees, holding the baby up and gently moving his legs forward one at a time. Looking at this man with this small baby, I see all at once the times they will have together. Building snow forts, learning to shoot hoops, flips in the pool.

My heart melts as I continue to watch the two of them play. My son is mine, but not mine alone. He belongs to the world. My love for him is the love only a mother can have for her child, but my brother's love for him is the kind only an uncle can have. My husband's is the kind only a father can have. And my mother's is the kind only a grandmother can have. Later, it will be his teachers, and his friends, and eventually romantic partners and possibly children and grandchildren who offer him their own, unique kind of love. 

Here you go, world. Here is my son. May it be a great love affair for you both.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 15 of 31: Flight Part II

Yesterday, I wrote the story of how I hoped our travel day would go. Here is how it went. 

Yesterday, we went on a plane flight, just the two of us. 

We pulled up, went inside to check-in and a friendly, helpful attendant checked our bags. The attendant was so bowled over by my baby's dashing good looks, she overlooked the extra two and half pounds of baggage we were carrying. (How I managed to pack a 52.5 pound bag for a week away can only be understood by parents. The agent was a parent herself, which might have explained her leniency. I like to think it was the dashing good looks, but I digress.)

We headed to security, which was nearly empty, and others stood aside to let us through. All of the TSA workers were kind and patient. I broke down the stroller, took off my shoes, took out my computer, and sent our bags through, all while holding my baby effortlessly. 

We got to our gate in plenty of time. We strolled happily around the airport. Though I didn't have a chance to sip a latte and catch up on gossip headlines, I did have a chance to put on a fresh diaper, which felt nearly as wonderful. 

Upon boarding the plane, we happily discovered we'd been upgraded to an extra leg-room seat in the bulkhead by the friendly attendant at check-in. And, in a stroke of luck perhaps better than a first-class upgrade, the agents kept the seat next to us vacant. We settled in to our plush row, the baby had a great meal and, after a few short outbursts, a nap.  Though I did not luxuriate with a beverage and a romantic comedy, I did close my eyes during his nap, which felt nearly as indulgent. 

When we landed, our stroller was set up and waiting, and our bag was waiting for us the moment we appeared in baggage claim (full disclosure: we took so long to get to baggage claim between diaper changing and stroller adjustment that the attendant was about to haul our bag away). 

Outside was sunny and warm-ish (and very, very windy), and our family pulled up with almost perfect timing. We hugged and jump in the car, and, miraculously, there was minimal traffic in Chicago. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 14 of 31 / Flight


Today we are going on a plane flight, just the two of us. I will write the story the way I hope it goes. 

We will pull up at curbside check-in and a friendly, helpful attendant will check our bags. The attendant will be so bowled over by my baby's dashing good looks, our bag check fee will be waived. 

We will head to security, which will be nearly empty, and a special line will open just for us. All of the TSA workers will be kind and patient. I will break down the stroller, take off my shoes, take out my computer, and send our bags through, all while holding my baby effortlessly. 

We will get to our gate in plenty of time. We will stroll happily around the airport, as I sip a latte and catch up on gossip headlines. 

Upon boarding the plane, we will happily discover we've been upgraded to first class by the friendly attendant at check-in. We will settle in to our plush seat, the baby will have a great meal and a long nap as I luxuriate with a beverage and a romantic comedy. 

When we land, our stroller will be set up and waiting, and our bags will shoot onto the conveyor the moment we appear in baggage claim. 

Outside will be sunny and warm, and our family will pull up with perfect timing. We'll hug and jump in the car, and, of course, there will be no traffic in Chicago. 

What a wonderful trip we will have! 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 13 of 31 / Tooth


A tooth a tooth a tooth! 
Is poking through your little gum.
Welcome to the world of teeth. 
Welcome to carrots. 
Welcome to cashews. 
Welcome to hamburgers. 
Welcome to broccoli. 
Welcome to apples 
Fresh from the tree
Or dipped in caramel. 
Welcome to popcorn 
Sitting at the movies 
Buttery and crunchy perfect. 
This teeny tiny tip of a tooth
Means you're becoming a boy
With likes and dislikes 
Who makes faces at spinach 
And adores oranges. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 12 of 31 / A Letter

A Letter

As someone who comes into classrooms to offer support, I don't have the same relationship with the kids as a classroom teacher. I often miss that connection, that day to day relationship and that sense of being the one that the kids look to first for guidance and management.

I was pleasantly surprised when I walked into one of the classrooms I support and a second-grader came running up to me to show me the letter she had written. It was addressed to me. The letter is a review of a book in The Magic Tree House Series. The review itself is lovely, well-structured and well-evidenced. A fine piece of work from an English Language Learner who entered first grade last year not really reading or writing in English.

But here is the part that melted my heart:

Dear Mrs. Cockerille,
In the Magic Tree House Series, Morgan is very nice to a lot people in the story, especially Jack and Annie, and she reminds me of you because she helps Jack and Annie and leads them to safety. She is kind and helpful. Just like you. Morgan helps them get better on their missions and you help the school to get better at reading and writing. 

I thanked this student and complimented her review. Of course, I was thanking her for the compliment. But even more than that, I was thanking her for reminding me that we never know fully how our work affects students. Even if we feel the role we play is small, for some students, it just may be huge.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 11 of 31 / Next Door

Next Door

The shouting is muffled and I can't make out the words, but I can make out the tone. My back stiffens as I listen to my neighbors screaming at each other once again. 

I look at my husband in alarm. "Should we call someone? Like the police?" I ask. 

"Not yet," he says. 

Over the yells I hear the piercing cry of a baby in distress. I don't think the baby is in physical pain, but I think she is terrified. My heart breaks for this child. I want to go over there and take her, protect her from a world where she doesn't feel safe. 

I think about my own son, asleep in his crib. I know I will do anything I can to always make him feel safe and loved, no matter what. I want to go pick him up and hold him, I wish I could love him enough to make up for all of the love other children aren't getting. If I could save every child in the world I would. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 10 of 31 / On the Train

On the Train 

I think 
Of the time my students 
Wrote about Old Man and the Sea
From the perspective of the fish. 

I think 
How would this story go
If the man sitting across from me told it?
He's a boy, really. 

He might say:
I am exhausted. 
I was up so late,
Talking into the night 
With my pretty girlfriend. 
She wants me to get her a ring. 
I'm not sure I'm ready. 
Today I have to work. 
So momma and I can eat. 
I'll put a little aside. 
Just in case I need a ring. 

Then I think 
Today is his day 
The boy's, and everyone else's too
Who has ever felt the weight of the world 
On their shoulders. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 9 of 31 / Wave Hill

Wave Hill

There was a little book I used to read over and over as a child called A Time for Everything. One part read:
Some days are so important you mark them with circles on the calendar. Other times are simply lovely days. You mark them with memories on your heart.
Today will be a day marked on my heart. My husband and I strolled the baby to Wave Hill, a spectacular public garden close to our home. The air had the hush of spring, the inklings of winter losing its bite. The sun smelled warm and heavy as it hit my face, the breeze felt fresh rather than cutting. The gardens were unveiling early signs of spring, tiny shoots of bright green entering a world of white and brown.

We nestled into the cafe, James and I sipping hot cocoa and Thomas snuggled on my lap. Thomas charmed the ladies next to us with his infectious, instant smile and shining eyes. Outside the cafe, there was work and moving and mortgages to think about. But inside, there was only the three of us, and there was only that moment, and it was perfect.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 8 of 31 / Screen Time

Screen Time

I am sitting with three friends, I am in the middle of telling a story, and they are all tapping away at screens. One is searching for a picture another friend posted that she just has to show us. Another is texting her husband to make sure all is well with the children at home. The third seems to be checking to see if there is anything worth checking for. We are sitting around a table at local pub, we are meant to be catching up with each other. How and when did it become acceptable that whatever is happening via a little hand-held screen is more important than whatever is happening right in front of us? I suddenly decide to stop talking. I decide I will no longer talk to people who are holding a device and looking at a screen. If they would like to converse with me, they can put the phone away. 

One friend looks up eventually, as if it has just dawned on her that I've stopped what I'm saying. "Go on, I'm listening," she says. "I can listen while I text." 
"That's ok," I reply, trying to sound breezy. "Go ahead and finish. I'd rather talk when you're done." 
She looks slightly affronted, finishes what she is doing, and puts her phone down. Not away, just on the table. I continue with my story, but there is a chill in the air. I know my friends can tell I am annoyed, and I am having a hard time trying to sound as if I'm not. I am tired of half-conversations, of competing with whatever social media alert has just come in. 

This is only one in thousands of posts about the perils of screens, about a yearning for simpler time when the person next to you was more alluring than a dinging, vibrating device. I rant about this shift in our social construct, in our collective attention spans, I plan to have device-free Sundays with my family when my son is older. Yet I continue to struggle with my own device usage and how attached I continue to be to my little screen. I tap away while my son is nursing. I check my phone in the middle of the night when he wakes up. I frequently almost miss my subway stop because I am glued to the little shining square an inch from my face. It make me wonder what else I am missing. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 7 of 31 / Healthcare


"Looks like another bill came from the hospital," announced my husband as he came up the stairs from work. 
I had seen the envelope, and had left it at the bottom of the stairs with the rest of the unopened mail. The same sinking in my gut that appeared the moment I saw it now reappeared with this announcement. 
"I guess you should open it," I said. 
I watched my husband's face for clues as he tore the paper. A grimace. "Looks like it's for a bit more than we were guessing," he said. 
The bill is for $4,047.58. We have already paid over three thousand dollars for the birth of our son, and we have yet to have any indication how many bills are still forthcoming. 

After several calls with the hospital and my health insurance company, I have eked out a bare-bones understanding of the situation. Among the pieces of information I think I understand: 
The hospital has sent many bills to my insurance company, some of which contain overlapping claims
We have an out-of-pocket maximum of $3700 on our policy, but this maximum is per person. My son of course counts as a person. So many of the charges were billed to him, making us responsible for another $3700 out of pocket. 
The hospital charged $6200 for his two night nursery-stay. Kind of hilarious considering he was with me much of those $3100 nights. "Speech therapy" cost nearly $800, and entailed a brief hearing test. 
It is not the hospital's policy to provide an itemized bill explaining our other charges. 
There is another piece of information I understand. We lived in Australia for a brief time, and there we purchased private health insurance because we were not citizens and so not eligible for the national healthcare plan. Our plans cost about $150 per person per month, we signed up for them in minutes at the local mall, and they covered everything. Yes, everything. 

I am certain that no healthcare system is without its flaws. I cannot even begin to pretend I understand the complicated debates raging around Obamacare. I'm not intending to get political. What I am, however, is attempting to write about strong emotions, one of the places we teach student writers to look for stories. And now, at this moment, after hanging up with the fourth in a series of long, confusing phone calls, what I feel is anger. And shock that the citizens of a country with so much wealth and so many resources, citizens with private health insurance, could have to pay over $7,000 for a normal, healthy childbirth. I also feel gratitude that my husband and I are able to pay this bill, and concern for others less fortunate. 

What the ending of this story will be I have yet to find out. Though I am hoping for a happy ending, I feel fairly certain that the ending will entail more phone calls, more confusion, and ultimately resignation. But I do take solace in that in at least one part of the story, there is the happiest ending of all--my son was born, healthy and perfect. I hope that when his children are born, his concern will be starting their college funds, not declaring bankruptcy because of their births. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 6 of 31 / Everybody is Somebody's Baby

Everybody is Somebody's Baby

Today's subway ride was a harrowing test of my patience and my belief in the goodness of humanity. I could make that statement just about every day, but I digress. A man wedged himself beside me, pushing his arm on top of mine and jamming his elbow into my ribs as he turned the pages of his paper. I sat in silence, uncomfortable, but not shocked as this was not the first time my personal space had been invaded so egregiously. The man was oblivious to the debate that raged inside my skull as I contemplated whether to say something. 
"Get off of me!" I wanted to shout. "Don't make a scene," I warned myself. 
Then, I thought of some of the character work we teach in our reading units. We teach kids to consider alternate points of view and to think how a scene would go from a different character's perspective. I began to see this man and our ride on the subway differently. I considered his background, and I thought perhaps he came from a culture more accustomed to close physical contact between strangers. 
I thought about how my interpretation of our interaction isn't the only right way. I thought about how much I touch my baby son (constantly), and that in my culture we touch each other much less as we get other. Then I thought about this man's mother. At one time, he was a baby. Someone gave birth to him. And someone, either his birth mother or someone else, fed him, clothed him, and helped him grow into a man. At one point, he was the center of someone's universe. Who am I to treat him like he doesn't matter? 
We all have a mother. Even if she didn't raise us, she grew us in her womb and gave birth to us. She gave us life. The next time I consider lashing out at a stranger, I will remember he was once someone's baby. I will treat him how I want my baby to be treated, as he traverses the world fifty years from now. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 5 of 31 / Sleeping


Today's Slice begins with a list of things I have done to try to get my baby to fall asleep. 

Stroller Riding
Car Riding
Taking off the Swaddle
Putting on a Magic Sleep Suit 
Taking off the Magic Sleep Suit
Playing music
Playing white noise
Passing to Daddy

Today is historic. Because today my baby fell asleep on his own, in his crib, Ok, he may have been wearing his sleep suit. And I may have nursed him beforehand. There also may have been some rocking, singing, and swinging involved. But I put him down, awake, and he fell asleep, in the crib, on his own. I feel like a superhero. Today I am choosing to celebrate this victory. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 4 of 31 / Ode to My Fellow Mariner

Ode to my Fellow Mariner 
I am startled awake by a now familiar wail as my baby dictates it's time to get up. By the bare fade of sunrise I see my husband start to stir. 
"Want me to get him?" He asks. 
My relief is sudden and intense. "Oh that would be amazing," I say. 
He pulls on a pair of jeans and shuffles out. I hear them both in the next room, my husband whispering what sound like questions and the baby cooing in response. 
I close my eyes, allowing myself to feel how truly tired I am. The bed under me, the covers on top, and the dim light around envelop me like a womb. At this moment, my husband could not have given me a greater gift. 

I think about how we are no longer two people going about our business alongside each other.  We are like two sailors who have been tossed into the same skiff to navigate the waters of parenthood together, which can be at turns calm, choppy, or downright perilous. At this moment, with my eyes closed, I thank my lucky stars for my compatriot. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 3 of 31 / Commute


I rush up the subway steps and onto the platform, only to see the taillights of a train pulling away.  I shuffle to the other end of the platform to await the next train, tapping my phone and checking my watch like any other commuter going about a well-worn routine. But I'm not like any other commuter today. Today I have stepped out of my house and left my baby in the charge of a sitter. He will stay with her for hours, while I attempt to be useful at work. I will go through the motions, do what needs to be done, but I will feel useless. I may appear to be a woman just going about her business, but I am actually a woman whose insides feel as if they are being ripped apart.

The writer Elizabeth Stone has said, “Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” Indeed, my heart is back in our living room, napping in his swing. My heart is in the care of someone who just a short time ago was a stranger.  And because my heart is there, so is my head. People shuffle in and out of seats, subway doors open and close. My stop comes, and I nearly miss it. Because my heart and head are pounding in time, to the same rhythm, his name sounding over and over with each beat. I will count each one until he is in my arms. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 1 of 31 / Bedtime


Could life bestow a greater gift 
Than that of a sleeping baby?
Here he is, nestled against your chest 
His hands caressing your shirt, 
His lips suckling as he slumbers. 
You are his earth, his sky, his stars. 
You are that for him, and him alone, 
No one else could need you this much. 
And because you are his universe,
You love him more than you thought possible. 
You would tear down mountains for him,
And build them back up. 
You would swim rivers and hike tundras 
If he needed you. 
You would rearrange the stars, stare at the sun. 
Because at this moment, he belongs to you alone.