in this twelve-year-old’s selfie
snuck into my phone
We ride in and out of parking lots, trailer in tow (no longer filled with three girls, but prepped for groceries), in search of a Sunday where errands are as bright as a blue-sky Denver.
I am wearing my Florida Keys alligator jersey, black bike shorts, and green bandana. The questioning and judgmental looks I receive as we enter each store in search of summer sneakers, continuation dresses, and all the food a family can eat for a week, don’t phase me. They never quite have.
What phases me is the longing. The feeling of belonging I am always searching for. Is it found here, in this perfect peony in my backyard? Under my mother’s watchful (and ever-critical) eye? In the few friends who could commit a Saturday to spend with us?
We finish our errands in a few hours. Meanwhile Mythili has invited her new friend over, and they have, in the same amount of time, baked a giant cookie, made two containers of slime, scootered up and down the block, built three houses in Minecraft, and made the neighbor girl a part of it all. (When her mother dropped her off, she said, “I love your neighborhood. It’s so much greener than ours.” Later I mention to Bruce, “Isn’t it funny how I took pictures of her perfect historical Dutch Colonial just a couple weeks ago, wishing it were mine?”)
Isabella and Riona have new hair for a bright summer. I pull a trailer full of a hundred pounds of groceries, shoes, swim suits, and dresses until I feel the strain on my legs and the altitude in my lungs.
It is all so perfect, this day, this life. Yet… beyond the blue sky, there always hovers an insecurity, a doubt.
Why am I not worthy enough of your friendship?
Yet… how have I been able to maintain some lifelong friendships?
My BFF of twenty-some years calls me today to talk about parenting. The endless turmoils and trials of parenting. After the story, my stupid self can’t think of much else to say other than, “It never gets easier. Remember when you were so worried when he wouldn’t poop for two days when you stopped breastfeeding?”
Because no matter how perfect the peony, how blue the Denver sky, how happy the family, there are always clouds, always doubts, always wonderings of what might have been.
We pull them behind us in overburdened trailers, getting stuck on hills with dog walkers on one side and too-fast-for-the-bike-path-peddlers on the other. (“Did you see how Mama almost fell and dragged us all down with her when she couldn’t make it up that hill?”)
We carry them in the four chords of every pop song, in the sadness found in novels we somehow all connect to, in the stories of loss and wonder we share in secretive phone calls and late nights after too much beer.
We see them peppered in clouds that come from the mountains on late afternoons. In the heat that beats through and the rain that peppers our party.
trapped in between lives
mother, teacher, housekeeper
fear failure in each
with a broken fridge,
limitations on dry ice,
and carpool circles
to pick up daughter
from uncalled-for punishment,
my Monday sucked ass.
driving home in rain,
she told me the whole story
and other teen truths.
then shared her essay:
(writer at fourteen)
the rain flooded us
and we laughed until we cried
knowing that truth hurts.
I have just returned to school in the midst of a snowy spring storm. My raincoat is dripping wet, and after I check back in, I see you in the hallway on the way to the sanctuary of your office. You are just as beautiful as you have always been. Curly dark hair, almond eyes, always ready with a smile or a defensive remark, whichever is necessary in that moment.
I spent the morning at a district training telling my new colleague: I will be blunt.
It somewhat reminds me of the title to an equally brutal movie, There Will Be Blood.
You ask, “How are you?”
I want to say: “My colleague experienced a family loss this morning and felt too compelled by this work to leave.”
I want to say: “Four voicemails and emails and two and a half hours later, I am just returning from getting my 101.6-fevered child from school. From fixing her the lunch she missed. This after walking, rushed, down the senior hallway only to listen to this remark: ‘I don’t know why all these teachers are abandoning their posts when there’s a huge line of seniors still waiting in the auditorium. This happens every year.'”
I want to say: “This is not OK. We are not OK. And you need to listen to us.”
Instead I say, “I am fine. How are you?” in a robotic monotone.
And you catch my glimpse. It is the same glimpse you gave me years ago when we sat at the back of those ridiculous meetings and mocked the administration (remember the half day we spent learning the acronyms? And we added at the bottom: WTF ROTFL LOL TIBS??). It is the same glimpse you gave me when we got a new superintendent, and after her first fabricated PowerPoint, you stood up, stomped out, and said, “I’m done with this district.” And you were. You had the guts to stand up for what you believed in and stomp out new grounds in a place that mattered.
But today, it is a rainy-day glimpse. It is a dark-as-snow-on-May-18th glimpse.
I want you to read Ameer’s letter. I want you to hear Isra’s plea at 3:15 about how, despite her impending graduation and officially checking out, she plans to come to class tomorrow because she misses us. I want you to know why two of my colleagues have quit. I want to talk to you.
I want you to read every inch of my eyes as I look at you, as I rush to open the squeaky 1924-door and sneak up into the safety of my classroom.
I want my new colleague to believe me when I say, “Don’t get me wrong. I love her.”
I want those words to be true.
I want you to make them true for me again.
I want you to explain to me where your voice is. Where your gumption is. Where that fearless warrior is.
I want to see you. To hear what the real reasons are for eliminating the course I have developed for four years. The course where my students feel safe. The course where they prosper.
I want you to feel these snowflakes on your cheek. To understand the gap that lies between us now, between the senior hallway, the rude remark, the unexpected spring storm, and the sun that surrounds your beauty.
I want you to catch my glimpse.
My raincoat is dripping wet. I want you to feel these tears. I want you to shiver. To care. To be the poem I wrote for you. To be drenched in the reality of this sudden spring snow.