Sunday, December 13, 2015

Remember me?

           It never fails. A student, long-graduated, stops by my classroom at the end of the school day and asks the same question, “Remember me?”
            I sometimes think this is sweet vengeance for all the pop quizzes I may have given over the years. And truth be told, after getting my education degree more than 30 years ago, I can’t possibly begin to recall all the names of students gone by.
            But that doesn’t mean I don’t remember.    
            And so I want to once and for all say to each and every student I have ever had:
            Yes, I remember you.
            I don’t care if you were the quietest student in class, or the one who competed for attention daily. It doesn’t matter whether your hand shot up with every question I asked, or if your eyes darted to the ground each time, praying you wouldn’t get called on.
            I remember you.
            You see, even as an English teacher, I can do the math. And we spend 180 days together –for close to an hour a day. Together. I realize that the time I spend standing in your presence might be longer than any amount of time you spend with many of the adults in your life who share your last name.
            Trust me, I never forget that. It matters to me. You matter to me. Because you, your story, and your personality are unique and belong only to you.
            Sure, you spend a good portion of your school career trying to fit in, blend in, be in. But what I honestly remember about you is your uniqueness.
            I remember you, my student who got so mad one day about the school lunch. This seemed a petty concern to me until I finally discovered your free lunch was the only meal you’d sometimes get each day. And yet, when I’d offer you food, you’d turn it down unless everyone in the class got food too. I’ll never forget that.
            And I remember you –the one who wouldn’t look me in the eye for the first half of the year. But in one writing assignment, you pulled the veil completely off and showed me who you were. And it was beautiful.
            And of course, I remember you—the student who left class every day announcing, “Thanks for the class –have a great day,” while paying no attention to the rolling eyes of your classmates behind you.
            And I remember you, and you, and you.
            The one who barely talked.
            The one who talked too much.
            Somewhere, in my heart, I remember you all.
            True, I cannot recall your name as often as I used to.  Honestly, I can’t recall the names of my current students all the time.  Maybe it’s a cognitive overload thing; maybe it’s a getting older thing. But don’t for a minute confuse recall with remembering.
            Because, I swear to you, I remember.
            One day, you might understand the difference. And on that day, far from today, you most likely won’t remember the name of the crazy English teacher who got so excited each day when she stood in front of the classroom and introduced a new novel or writing assignment. You may not recall what imagery is and you certainly won’t care about prepositions. And that’s ok. I don’t kid myself into believing you will remember most of the things I taught you. 
            Sure it’d be nice if, after my class, you sounded more intelligent when you spoke or wrote something. And I truly do hope you would have learned that reading is a gift, not a punishment.
            But beyond all that, whether you will remember my name or my curriculum and learning goals, I want the most valuable thing you learned from me during our 180 hours together to be one very important fact that I tried to teach you each and every day:
            You are, indeed, worth remembering.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dear World

Dear World,

Are you ready for my Evan?
Are you ready for my fourth child who wears a “Coolest Grandpa in America” sweatshirt?
Are you braced for his wild mismatched socks and even wilder sense of humor?
Are you ready for a young man who can quote any sports stat imaginable, who also named his band after a quote from The Great Gatsby?
Can you handle someone who knows as much about the perfect way to grill a hamburger as he knows about the perfect way to perform a song in front of hundreds of people?
Can you completely be ready for someone who, a couple of years ago decided he liked the name Wolfgang, so he asked people to start calling him that?  And, they did. 
Are you ready, world?
Nineteen years ago, when my husband told a co-worker we were expecting our fourth child, the co-worked inquired, “Oh?  Is this your last one?” to which my husband responded, “No, the last one was the last one.  This one is a bonus.”
And that was true.
You see, the dictionary says the word “bonus” means “something welcome and often unexpected that enhances something that is itself good.”
And all these years later, knowing Evan (or Wolfgang) he, indeed, is something welcome and unexpected.  But nineteen years ago, I couldn’t have had a clue as to how much that bonus baby would enrich my life. I didn’t know how his unique perspective or his funny personality would color my life with the richness of a deep hue I’d never known.
And now that bonus baby is about to share his perspective and personality with you, dear world, via Oxford and Miami University. 
And as I get ready to watch him walk away in those mismatched socks, I realize “bonus baby” may not have been the perfect term after all.  Although the word “bonus” means something wonderful, it also implies something that you could have managed to live without.  And my fourth child, whatever you call him, is indeed, someone I needed for my life to be complete.
So, I take a deep breath and watch my last baby, my Evan, my Wolfgang, walk forward into his (undoubtedly colorful) future. 
And I will watch you, dear world, embrace him.
Please be good to him.
Keep him safe.
And of course, laugh with him.  A lot.
I suspect you, dear world, are ready for this last child of mine.
I know for certain, he is ready for you. 

                                                                 Sincerely – Evan/Wolfgang’s proud mom

Monday, February 03, 2014


      It was the end of September when I saw my cousin at my dad’s 80th birthday celebration. As we had both just started wandering through the complicated maze of our new school years, burdened by the new teacher evaluation procedures, that topic monopolized our conversation.
      We had become teachers at the same time, close to thirty years earlier and had seen proposed changes and complications come and go to the teaching system; but this new system packed with tests after tests for students and task after task for teachers, was agreed to be the most concerning yet. And so we spent our time together discussing this evaluation system and how this year was destined to be our toughest year yet.
      A few days later, she would find out she had cancer.
      A few months later, she would be gone.
      Looking back, I think of so many more worthwhile topics we could have spent our last big conversation on. Maybe we could have remembered summer weeks spent together at grandma and grandpa’s house picking beans and then snapping them on the front porch while listening for the sound of the noon whistle that alerted us to grandpa and his white truck coming home for lunch from the mill.
       Perhaps we could have laughed at how we would race up the gravel driveway, arriving breathless to the end of the apple orchard to wait for grandpa to pull in, lower the truck’s gate and take us on a ride around the orchard while we bopped up and down, certain one of us would bounce out, if we didn’t hold on to each other.
      We might have spent our precious time that day discussing shared secrets, whispered dreams and girlish giggles that filled our youth. We could have reminisced about our weddings, our children, our shared hobby of crocheting which grandma had taught us both during those summer vacations spent together.
     But instead, we spent one of our last moments together lamenting on the dark shadow of the new teacher evaluation looming before us.
      These few months later, I am less a fan of the teacher evaluation system than ever, and I’m sure, had she been here, my cousin and I would have more to complain about today.
     But she’s not here.
     And that fact is enough to wake me up to what is really important in my life.
    This teacher evaluation and all the hoopla that accompanies it is here. It will do what it needs to do and then move on for something else to eventually take its place and sooner-or-later, concern us as well. But I am going to try not to dwell in that shadow of its darkness anymore. There are far more wonderful things to discuss with the people in my life. There are infinitely more precious memories to share as well as make today.
     I guess we all need to be reminded from time to time that we never know when the last conversation we have with someone might truly be the last conversation we have.
    One day I believe there will be a worthwhile evaluation of my life and it will have nothing to do with scales and tests and data. And today, I better understand how I want to spend the precious time I have between now and that ultimate Judgment Day.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


 Hello, my little one!
Welcome to my world.
Your first breaths
become my last
breaths I ever breathe
without thinking of you.
And as you lie upon my chest
nestled close to my heart,
I wonder what being a mommy will hold
as I smile and breathe in your delicious baby smell
and promise not to blink.

But I must have….

Because now you are learning to walk
One toddler foot in front of another
Your dancing eyes lock on mine
determination oozing from your beaming smile.
You can do it…you can do it.
And you do
as I smile and breathe in your delightful giggle
and promise not to blink.

But I must have…

Because now you are trying to ride a bike
Wobbling, weaving, zigging and zagging.
Slowly, my steadying hand
becomes less necessary.
You can do it…you can do it.
And you do.
as I smile and breathe in your exhilarating joy.
And promise not to blink

But I must have…

Because now you are entering
First grade…
Middle School…
High School…
You can do it… you can do it
And you do.
As I smile and breathe in the wonder of the woman
standing next to me.
preparing for life on her own
miles and miles away from home
yet still so close to my heart.
Wondering what waits for you now,
I must remind myself to breathe.
I can do it….I can do it.

“Welcome to your world, my little one.
Take a deep breath
…and promise me you won’t blink.”

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Habemus Papam!

I saw the puff of smoke.
And I smiled.  Really smiled.  I smiled one of those smiles where you know you look silly because you are grinning like a Cheshire cat.  But I didn’t care. I was happy.  I was proud.
I was proud to be witnessing a fascinating tradition that is 2000 years old.  I was proud of the way the whole Vatican news had been handled.
As a Catholic, I don’t always look forward to turning on the national news or opening my morning paper.  In the last many years, there has simply been some horrible news to report.  And some of the news has simply been reported horribly. 
And so it is extra special when the Church that you love can again be seen in the light of its heritage, steeped in the traditions that have seen it not just survive, but thrive over the years. 
It seems like the blink of an eye when the last puff of white smoke arose to a waiting world, signaling the new Shepherd of a Church of 1.2 billion Catholic sheep.  But that blinking eye has actually been eight years of a new pontifical power.  And those eight years culminated in a history-making retirement that lent itself to another round of majestic moments of tradition for a faith community and a waiting world. Perhaps it was the very essence of the practically unprecedented papal retirement juxtaposed against the never-changing pomp and circumstance of selection that fascinated me the most this time. The completely unexpected aligning itself with the comfort of the expected reminds us of both the mystery and majesty of God’s plans. 
So I sat on a Wednesday afternoon with the rest of the world, completely transfixed by the whole glorious spectacle of the selection of a new Pope.  I confess I would have to stifle a smirk when people would ask me if I thought the new Pope would be less conservative in his leadership.  That seems a bit like asking if the new principal is still going to require that the students take math and English classes.  But I loved the question.  I loved the fact that it was covered to the degree that we saw.
And then I saw the puff of white smoke.  I heard the announcement. “Habemus Papam!” And even I was surprised that my broad smile gave way to tears of joy for witnessing such a piece of history in the Church.
Once all of the “Who is the new Pope” stories have been exhausted, the Church traditions and teachings will no longer make the front pages. No, the front pages will go back to covering the bad news of the Church and the world  And we all know there will be more bad news, because this universal Church and this world are made up of this species we call humans. 
But I, for one, want to hang on to the good feelings of hope and pride I have for a little while longer.  I just don’t want them to disappear in a puff of smoke.

Monday, February 25, 2013

I told you so

              I told you so”.
            The words were not so much on the tip of my tongue as they were in the pit of my stomach.
            I just needed to say it. 
            But she just needed to talk.
            Her eyes were still red from the car ride home from the Myrtle Beach vacation with her friend’s family. The sunny time on the beach had turned somewhat stormy the last night when my daughter’s sixteen-year-old heart was broken. 
            First the phone call from the boyfriend’s old girlfriend.
            Then the call from the boy himself.
            It seems my daughter’s absence had made the boyfriend’s heart grow fonder. Unfortunately, though, it grew fonder for the old girlfriend.
            “So, I can’t see you anymore,” he brashly informed my teenager whose shoulders, and now, heart, were badly burnt.
            “I told you so,”  I wanted to say; but I didn’t.
            The mom in me yearned to point out the boyfriend’s pathetic pattern her dad and I had been complaining about for the last six months. I needed her to recognize the wisdom of her parents who had repeatedly warned her that this young man couldn’t be trusted even as far as he could throw a mean baseball.  I wanted to comment that this “player” did the same deed a few months earlier –a deed for which my doting daughter forgave him as soon as the old girlfriend was off to college again and baseball boyfriend found himself alone.
            “I told you so,” would have given the bitter moment some sweet satisfaction.       
But instead, I listened to her say she was over him, even though those beautiful brown eyes, still tinted red, told me it would take a little more time. And I continued to listen as she ended her beach break-up story with details of the ceremony she and her friends had by the ocean –when she threw the boyfriend’s newly purchased souvenir shot glass into the water, hoping to sink her high school crush along with it. 
            Finally, her words stopped as she swallowed her last sob, sighed and leaned toward me until her head rested on my chest. As I wrapped my arms around her, the years melted away and she became less my teenaged girl, and more my baby girl again. 
I knew I could tell her I had told her so.  What’s more, I probably could have offered words of wit and wisdom on how she will one day meet another boy who will actually appreciate her unbelievable spirit.  I certainly could have pointed out that she will, most likely, have her heart broken more throughout the years, as well as break a few herself along the way.
            But all the other words I wanted to say, didn’t matter after all.
All that truly mattered was my daughter had a soft spot to fall, blanketed in the knowledge she is loved more than she can comprehend.
            And I’m confident she knows.
            Because I told her so.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013


       “What was the one moment this season where you felt the Christmas spirit?” asked the priest during his homily on the Feast of the Epiphany.  This is the Sunday that symbolizes the end of the twelve days of Christmas.  Christmas is officially over.
          Of course, I knew Christmas was over.  I had after all recently given some presents, received some presents, and even returned some presents.  And what made the message all the more clear was the fact that just yesterday, I de-decorated the house.  No more tree.  No more glistening lights.  No more Christmas.
          But his question echoed throughout my brain that had just prided itself on checking off that last item on my Christmas to-do list.  Unfortunately, a checklist Christmas is the way I seemed to celebrate it this year.
     Presents bought?  
     Cookies baked? 
     House decorated?
     Christmas spirit?
     No check.  But perhaps , I should say, “checkmate” to this one , because I had forgotten about my King.    Did I put Him on my list at all?
     I can come up with all sorts of excuses as to why this year was different.  I can cite my kids busy schedules, my work demands, and I can even find justification in the reality that both my parents were in hospitals right before Christmas. 
     But the check I always need to… strive  to… live to …check off my Christmas to-do list is the one where I find my Christmas spirit.  Usually this involves me stepping away from the demands of the holidays, and sitting in front of  the glowing Christmas lights in my darkened house, usually with “O, Holy Night” in the background.  That’s the moment where I take the time to breathe in the precious spirit of Christmas.  I take the time to let it seep through the busy-ness of my world and fill my weary soul.  That’s when I take the time to thank God for being the light in my darkness. 
     But I didn’t take that time this year.  And the tree, like my Christmas spirit, is sitting abandoned at the curb.  The illuminating lights, like my to-do list, have been packed and taken to the basement until next year.
     So when asked when I felt the Christmas spirit the most this year, I wanted to cry.  Not for myself and what I lacked --- but for my lack of acknowledgement and complete gratitude for the most precious gift I have ever been given. 
     That Holy Night came … and left.  And I didn’t take the time to breathe it in. 
     With my head bowed, I beckoned the words to my wise Christmas carol to wash over my guilty conscience.
     “Christ is the Lord! Forever, ever praise we
     His power and glory ever more proclaim!”
     And I had to smile.
     Forever.  That’s the time we are told to praise him, to celebrate His birth.  There is nothing there that says it all has to be done before or during those twelve days of Christmas …and then checked off our to-do lists, until next year.
     So, I’m going to try… and try… and then try harder…  to feel that Christmas spirit I’ve lately been too busy to feel, for the next 364 days.  I am planning on praising Him every day, and remembering Christmas as I do.  Maybe I’ll retrieve a string of lights from the basement to help remind me.
     Just thinking about it, brings me a piece of that peace now.  
     I guess on this feast day, I had my own little epiphany, after all.