Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sitting on my Hands

I spent my entire first grade year plopped on top of my hands.

I'm not sure if that's because the teacher wanted to halt my clear propensity for excessive gesticulation, or if she believed squashing my fingers might get me to stop talking.

Either way, I suppose it worked.

"Please stop talking, Laura," she always said with a stern nod.  Then she'd look me square in the eyes and point to the plastic seat that cradled my bottom.  "Now, on your hands."

I complied.  Not because I wanted to, of course.  I complied because she scared me.

And all I remember learning in first grade is that sitting on your hands for long periods of time is pretty uncomfortable.  But I suppose I also learned that you can get used to anything.

As miserable as it was, it stopped my talking.

It also muffled my voice.

And since I no longer possessed the grand ticket to send my hands and my voice traveling across thousands of stale air particles hovering in my first grade classroom, my mind had to invent some place for my over-active self to go.

While I appeared to be following directions, sitting quietly in my seat, I'd often disappear--out the window, through the chalkboard, down the trap door I knew had to exist somewhere on the floor beneath me.  I donned all sorts of costumes and possessed all sorts of powers, and I'm entirely convinced that those imaginative journeys--commencing with my hands pressed beneath my legs--saved me from getting kicked out of my Catholic grade school.

They also saved the voice my first grade teacher was trying desperately to silence.

The following school year, against that teacher's wishes, my parents enrolled me in Mrs. Adams's second grade class.  Her environment instantly changed me.  We sat in desks facing each other; I no longer had to stare at Elizabeth or Andrew's head.

And during silent time--when I finished all of my tasks--instead of telling me to stop talking, stare forward and sit still, Mrs. Adams rested a sheet of paper in front of me.

"Laura, why don't you write me a story?"
"Laura, why don't you make me a poem?"
"Laura, can I share this with my boys as their bed time story?"

She gave me purpose.  She gave me a challenge.  She gave me freedom.

I spilled everything I had onto that cheap, shiny sliver of white paper.  I flipped it, colored it, and surrendered my imagination on it.  With her consistent, reliable words, Mrs. Adams filled my days with joy and my fingers with colorful words.

Sure, I still squirmed--but it was a focused squirm.  I still rocked my foot, bit my lip, and twisted in my seat--but I didn't stop working.  I still chewed my pencil, picked at my fingernails, and bounced my leg--but I heard every word she said and I voiced every important thing I wondered.

And so today, when Betty, Mike and I talked about ADHD accommodations, and Betty and I laughed about my ADHD moments while teaching, I fondly remembered back to first and second grade--why I lost focus to begin with, and how a little bit of challenge and a whole lot of belief helped me to get it back.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


I rediscovered this poem today as I scanned my files from this summer.  I wrote it as an exercise in a poetry class and after thinking about why I loved Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye, I couldn't help but linger on this language and the moment that produced it.  I know it isn't typical blogging me, but it's the me I am tonight:

TaNgLed StReEtS
And cease your efforts to untangle them.

Allow the grass to graze upon asphalt,
Peruse the pigeon’s overcoat,
Marvel at the pulse of purple-bellied mosquitoes,
Implore your mind to digest new perspectives.

Press the prints of your thumb and pinky together—
And like an escaping convict—
Slip your wrist through the cuff of social expectation.
Gallop barefoot,
Entreat your gaze,
Embrace your diversions,
Invite your mind to wander,
To ponder recklessly like iron intended for demolition,
Intended for dispatching stores of luscious mental debris.

Strike the rules,
Rip off the gag,
Tip the carafe to
the energy
                                                                          s  p  i  l  l .

Poison ordinary streams with original ideas.
Erode your damns,
Deconstruct your walls,
Empty your sandbags;
Bag the water instead.
Keep it to raise the dead,
To hydrate the words
Shriveled beneath the dust
Ogling at the possibilities
                                                         just beyond the silk
Where the boats have water,
And the sky has wind
And ideas are free to
S     A     I      L . . .

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dumpster Diving

I started my day in the dumpster.

Well, I wasn't exactly in the dumpster, submerged knee deep in garbage. It was more like a bent at the waist, tottering in mid-air, employing my go-go gadget arm, as I reached for my fallen keys in the corner of a very large and stinky receptacle type of "in the dumpster."

Of course my keys ended up in the dumpster because I didn't listen to the years of advice warning me not to carry too much. Rather than make two trips, I decided to fill my arms with awkwardly balanced items. And those awkwardly balanced items did as most awkwardly balanced items do--they wobbled and bobbled until they all fell down.

I blame this partially on the fact I am carrying around two sets of keys--one for my condo, the other for my rental car, a lovely byproduct of my 15 mph fender bender with a guy who decided to gun it rather than to inch out into the intersection. I held the car keys in my left hand, with my mug of coffee and lunch bag, and I held the trash, a container of snack nuts and my condo keys in my right hand. As I wound up to toss the trash into the mouth of the beast, my condo keys caught the edge of the plastic bag and managed to plummet to the base of my arch enemy.

When I move, I will not miss that dumpster. I will not miss the thunderous gong of his Monday morning emptying, or the flies he attracts in the summer. While it has provided an onslaught of entertainment, I will also not miss the over-indulged festival goers who feel comfort in their effort to congregate around his opening just in case they need to dig for styrofoam boxes containing four day old carryout food, or even worse, those in need of a receptacle for what ever gurgles in their stomach or desires to escape their bladder.

And while I appreciate the spirit of the people who are looking for free food and refurbishable furniture, I will also not miss waiting for the dumpster divers to get out of the middle of the road so I can make my way through the alley and into my parking spot. But mostly, I will not miss the times I have accidently found myself in position to do some dumpster diving of my own, all because I didn't want to make two trips through the parking lot, and managed to toss my slippery keys directly into a mound of gritty, foul smelling trash.

But I have nearly a month to go before I am home free. I have a month to go before I have a real trash can outside my door, and a parking spot inside my garage. I have a month to go before I am entirely absolved from the possibility of beginning my day extending my fingers in a slow-motion-montage type of moment, only to watch my object of desire tumble speck by speck through the air and into the very thing I most seek to avoid.

It was bad enough to lose my keys, to dig through coffee grinds, banana peels and sour beer, but it was even worse that mid-effort, as I focused my energy on the fleeting rescue of my keys, I managed to subsequently release the grip on the mug of coffee held in the clutch of my left hand. As my keys tumbled, so did that coffee, smashing plastic against concrete with the force of utter devastation, launching slivers of hot heaven through the air and directly onto the fabric of my crisp, white pants.

And so, without time to change, I had to arrive to school with brown stains on my white pants, fingers flaked with nasty residue, and a foul dumpster stench laced across the base of my nostrils. Even worse, I had to deal with all of it sans a capsule of warm, nurturing caffeine.

I scowled at that grimy little dumpster when I came home today. He claimed me on Christmas Eve and Tax Day. I'll be ready when my birthday rolls around; I'm going to load my car the night before.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sometimes We Just Need to Write

Thank you cards are underrated.

It's funny, my thoughts have turned to potential first lines for the last seven days. I took such a long break from my blog, it seemed almost futile to jump back into the page and wrap my ideas inside letters. My husband even asked when I planned to start writing again.

"I don't know. Maybe tomorrow," I kept telling him. I wasn't sure where to begin.

But then, I walked to mailbox and I found a letter. And for the second time in seven days, my eyes grew misty.

My life has not been short on blogging muses. Over the last few weeks, J and I met our two nieces and our nephew for the first time, I survived my first attempt at skiing in Colorado, we snowshoed in Rocky Mountain National Park, our condo is in contract, we found our new home, I got into a car accident, I spilled coffee on my laptop, I started working out with a personal trainer, and I got rescued by a ranger in a local Columbus park.

There are a lot of stories in there. Stories that have filled me with with joy, wonder, fear and hope. Moments that challenged me, or changed me. Experiences that have made me appreciate some aspect of life. And yet, with each passing day, all of them seemed to slip through the hourglass before I could punch them into existence. At a certain point, I wasn't sure where to start, and so I just let them all go.

Wishing for the push to find my voice again, I found it today, freed by a thank you note painted with dainty, red flowers, and thin, wandering branches. At eight o'clock this morning, I reached into my mailbox expecting to find flyers or notifications. Instead, I found myself thumbing the ridges of textured paper, pulling open a card containing the words of a former student who decided to thank me for the role I played in her life two years ago.

My eyes misted before I made it half-way down the page. I instantly thought of my mother.

My mother touted thank you cards throughout my childhood, and my reaction today illustrates why. As a child, the moment my last friend wandered beneath the threshold and all that remained of my party was chocolate cake and colored balloons, my mom handed me a stack of cards and instructed me to write. I'd sit, begrudgingly--knowing better than to argue--and press the tip of the pen to the page in an effort to express my gratitude.

"You'll thank me one day," my mom always told me.

I may never know the magnitude of any of my letters, but I certainly understand the magnitude of the letters I've received, the letters scribed by the hands of people who--on account of me--poured their heart into cool, wet ink. Humbled by the weight of something so simple in principle, but so enormous in effect, I am still paralyzed each time I hold a thoughtful, hand-written note in my hand.

And so it was today, when I walked to my mailbox to find A's letter. In this fast-paced world, we rarely thank each other. We text, we facebook, we email and sometimes we call, but very rarely do we plop down behind a desk, prop a pen into the crook of our fingers, and write a note to someone else. Very rarely are our mailboxes stuffed with anything other than political propaganda, sales brochures and bills.

But when they are, it is magical.

And lucky me got two doses of magic in the last seven days. Last Thursday, S told me he just found out that he got (nearly) a full ride scholarship and he thanked me for helping him with his essays. Today, A thanked me for being in her life. Two different students, writing for two different reasons. Both notes: fully unexpected and far too kind. Both notes: reminded me that I matter. That each day we all have the chance to matter. To reach out, to speak, to say hello, to say thank you, to say let me help you out, to ask how we make someone else's life just a little bit better.

Sometimes what we do doesn't have to be very big. Sometimes, we just need to write.