These ARE My Monkeys

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And this is a smiling cow.

I was in downtown Camden last week on a field trip with ten students who were taking photographs of their town for an upcoming project.  They were electric with energy for the work they were doing, namely, in this moment, capturing colorful and creative artful window displays.  I, too, was mesmerized by and consumed with what we were doing.

A gray-haired woman stopped me on the sidewalk in front of The Smiling Cow by touching my forearm with her fingers and leaning in for some serious eye contact. “You’re a teacher,” she stated, a southern drawl playing on her tongue.  I nodded an affirmation and, with tilted head smiled a tad.  Before I could speak: “Oh, I’m so glad I’m not you,” she said loudly.  “I taught for thirty years, and I just said to my husband, I said, Thomas, I am just so glad I’m not her.”

“She did,” a man standing behind me said. I hadn’t noticed him. I hadn’t noticed her, for that matter, until she’d grabbed my arm.  I looked from him, to her, confusion rising up in the lines of my forehead – the ones deepening every year.

“Well,” I offered without condescension, “you’re good. You’re not me.” I didn’t know what else to say.

“Yes, indeed,” she said, enunciating words.  “I just said to Thomas, THOMAS THIS IS NOT MY CIRCUS AND THOSE ARE NOT MY MONKEYS.” She let go of my arm, reached around me, took Thomas’ wrist, and pulled him around me to stand with her.  The bright sun shone in my face.  “Were you a teacher?” I asked, knowing the answer.

“Yes, ma’am, I was,” she said.  “I taught the fifth grade for thirty years.  Same classroom!  Same desk! And when I retired, I said to myself, I will never do this again, not for a single day!”  To my silent half-smile, she continued, “And I haven’t!”

“Okay,” I said.  I glanced at my students, who meandered away from this couple, still at work, paying no attention to this stranger hell bent on convincing me of the righteousness of her retirement, I guess. I wished her a good day.  But she wasn’t quite finished.  She took my forearm again, and on the opposite side of me from where Thomas stood, she leaned in for an intimate whisper:  “I only say that for Thomas’ sake!” she breathed, “but I’ve missed teaching every day the past two years. Thomas thinks I don’t like spending all this time with him, but I do.  But I miss my kids something awful!” And then, as she stood straight again, she winked at me, then nodded at my students, put her arm around Thomas’ waist, and walked the opposite direction down the sidewalk.

And every day since, I’ve been meaning to tell you how much I love fall – the start of my work with a whole new class, 79 students this year – and all their delightful teenagerness.  Sigh.  How lucky I am to do what I do, where I do, and for all the reasons I do.  Life is good today.

 

 

Escape

On Friday night my family went to a rainy and chilly football game at our local high school.  I wanted to do that about as much as I want to sit in a room with Donald Trump, or see his photograph or hear his voice – or have his campaign label Hillary Clinton a liar while nearly every word that comes out of his mouth isn’t remotely close to truthy, let alone the truth.  I’m getting tight in the chest just writing about it now.

And for the record — so don’t send “helpful information” to set me straight on Donald Trump — I don’t want to sit in a room with any political candidate. Not one. I’m tired of their names. I’m tired of their voices. I’m tired of their bullshit and their games and their bullshit games.  But mostly, I’m tired of the effort of being sold the “fact” that America isn’t already a pretty damn good country.  A thriving democracy.  (And no, I don’t live under a rock. I know things are a fucking mess for all kinds of people, across the board, in all facets.) But my god.  Have we forgotten that the right to voice our dissent, to send a letter, to write a blog, to stand up, to speak up, to write down, to criticize…these rights do not exist in all places.  That our right to disagree makes us stronger, better and keeps us moving forward?

We seem to have arrived at a place of expecting and taking for granted these rights, and that is a thorough shame.

Now I don’t care if you agree with me, and I don’t care if you don’t.  All I have is my one vote, and all you have is yours.  Well, my vote and this blog, where I have the privilege, and still the right, to think through how I really feel about things.  I’m not here to convince you of anything at all. That’s the beauty of art. The beauty and the blade, of course, as some of you are itching to respond in disagreement.  I urge you not to bother. I didn’t come here to incite you.

So back to Friday. On the way home from work, I told myself I’d turn off NPR at the first political mention.  It was thirty seconds. I rode home in silence.

When my family had left for the game, after a high energy dinner and making sure everyone was wearing enough layers to not freeze to death, I sat in my favorite chair and turned on Netflix, wanting to just escape.  I didn’t want to think about anything at all. And I don’t watch television normally – I don’t follow any shows – but sometimes Netflix is enticing and helps me get out of my own head for awhile.

I watched an excellent comedy show called Bo Burnham What.  He’s good.  For over an hour I listened and laughed. So I’d like to say here that if you’re needing the same – a get out of your head without the use of substances card – take a look. He has other specials, too, including Words, Words, Words and Make Happy.  But don’t watch if you’re offended by swearing – you’ll certainly be offended.

Here’s one of my favorite clips.

That’s all.

I’m going to go walk my dog along the river and think about my dog and the river, and nothing else.  I hope.

 

 

Stop This Train


The long summer days before we left to live in South Korea (five years ago now) was a repetitive sting of nostalgia for a place we hadn’t even left yet.  With just a few days until we boarded our plane to Daegu, I felt vividly that we would never return to the exact place and the exact people that we were leaving. This turned out to be right.

I remember sitting by the harbor at the final “Belfast Summer Nights” free music concert, astounded by the beauty of the boats and the water, and the land and the sky — things I’d seen every day for fifteen years, and never properly appreciated. I remember having a glass of wine with my closest friends, them comforting me and telling me that things wouldn’t change, and me crying because things already had. And I remember gathering with my brother and his family in Island Falls for one last weekend together at the lake, with that scourging pit in my stomach (the one that makes you long for things) unceasing. I missed everything — and I was still here.

I miss my son Garrett.  He’s still here, too, living with us and sharing meals and some family time once in awhile.  But his head and shoulders are already out the door, eyes looking forward to all the amazing things yet to come.  He’s a senior in high school now, and while we’ve been loving him and helping him reach his potential for seventeen years, it seems clearer now than at any other time that with every fleeting moment, we will never pass this way again.

In that same summer, pre-South Korea five years ago, all three of our children, along my brother’s three beautiful daughters, discovered what I think is a weed on the border of the road into camp in Island Falls.  I don’t know it’s name, but the bush is four feet tall or so and has orange blossoms as well as pods that explode in your hand when you pinch them (and if they’re full enough, even when you barely touch them.)  It’s such a delight, it makes us laugh out loud.

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It looks like this.

One day, the six of them came running into the camp asking for glass jars to collect the pods in. When I asked Garrett why they didn’t want to just pop them right away, he said, “To share them with you, mom. We have to save the best stuff if we can.”

My boy. We do.

Senior year has just begun and my heart is breaking over all the things I can’t save. I want to put him in a glass jar and keep him on a shelf.  I want to hold on to him, just the exact way he is right now…his perfect imperfect self.

And I know I can’t, and I know I’m whining, and I know I’m melodramatic, and that everyone and his mother has been through this before, and  I know, I know, I KNOW. But this one is mine.  And it’s the first time I’ve been through it.  And it makes me long for every second of this human being’s life all over again.

I hope, even though it’s not possible to suspend or control his nature, that it’s not too much to ask that when he bursts out into the world, I will be there to witness it. That he’ll put in a jar all the things that mean the most to him. That he’ll share it with me still.

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