mountain views bring peace
better than a city day
our summer freedom
camping in nature:
reminder of what matters–
my moose, their antlers, our love
better than the beach
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.
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.
one week after snow:
sunny summer theme park day
because spring’s fucked up
The email arrives at 2:18, one minute before the last bell and the rush to professional development that will rob me of my time and steal what little time is left to revise my latest paperwork dilemma (the endless paperwork dilemma of being a teacher in the twenty-first century).
This is the rush, the constant rush, that is my afternoon: students stopping me in the hallway to ask what they missed when they were gone, teachers commenting on the lack of grammar present in all writing and instruction, a line for the only staff bathroom nearby, a snakelike maneuver through the after-school net of kids clinging tightly to the last moments of the school day, a quick conversation in the shared bathroom about a shared student who told a teacher my class is his favorite, the rush back to my room to pack up my bag, gather my things, and make it to the classroom on the other end of the third floor.
All in ten minutes.
All after giving up nearly my entire block of planning to meet with a student and her family about an IEP, after waiting for a translator who never showed up, after discussing her math skills, her joy of writing, her absenteeism, her prom dress (donated by a kind soul who managed to find a sheer blue scoop neck that was made for her).
And after an hour of mindfulness with a video that has scared the shit out of me about my failure to raise teens in this day and age, about the addictiveness (equivalent to alcohol) of phones and social media, I must begin my afternoon rush: late to pick up my youngest, a dash across town to gather up the carpool, a dash back to discover two unpaid water bills by our tenants, to receive two flustered calls from the insurance agent about the dent in my Pilot, to break up three arguments over whose doll is whose, and to finish that damn SLO data nightmare before my midnight deadline.
All in sixty minutes.
I have ten papers for my online class that I must grade by Saturday. I have twenty emails I haven’t checked. I have a stack of paragraphs waiting for editing. I have dinner to cook and children to coerce into completing chores and finishing homework.
And I don’t have time for this.
But I do it anyway. I place the delinquent bill on top of our MacBook for Bruce to see. I finish my tea. I gather my keys. I call my girls. The oldest defiantly stays, but the younger two join me for the trek back.
We stop for fast food noodles and make it in time to see the art show. Riona googles over the sculptures, the pottery, the mixed media. Mythili eyes the graphic arts.
And then the choir concert. The show begins with all the choirs onstage singing a song from five decades ago, and Riona comments (quite accurately) that they must have picked a song from when the choir teacher was little. I can almost feel a collective groan building up inside us all as the song nears its end. But then I notice how many of my students are on stage, and I simmer down, because they are why we are here.
The cute emcees crack song-related jokes between each song. And what follows is nothing shy of amazing.
Soloist after soloist take the stage with voices as smooth and luxurious as anything you’d hear on the perfect pop radio station. A mix of modern and foreign, old and new. Belting out all ranges of the scale from the highest soprano to the lowest baritone.
As I sit with my wiggling girls in the front row, screaming and clapping when they hit those high notes, tears are ever present. I let them fall only two times–when the smaller-than-the-rest special needs student sings a solo in the choir’s interpretation of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and when PoeMuLayLo takes the stage.
Hers was the paragraph I put up on my screen for the past two days as one to model, one to look up to.
Hers was the voice I heard singing in Karen last week, the lilting pain of persecution so clear even if I couldn’t understand the foreign words.
She has been in my class for three years, with her bright eyes, her kind smile, her desire to bring every piece of writing to perfection, to never put up with anything but the best from even her seat partner, to quietly be a calming presence that no one would ever think to cross.
And here she stands, her accent gone, the American song spilling out of her as if she wrote the words herself, and I can do nothing but try to capture one last piece of this magic before I have to say goodbye to her forever.
I’m not thinking about the emails. The papers to grade. The endless tasks that make up my afternoons of teacher-motherhood.
I’m thinking about only her luxurious voice, about the music that connects us all, about how much I will miss her.
“She’s leaving, isn’t she, Mama?” Riona whispers to me, seeing the tears linger on my cheeks.
MuLai belts out the chorus of “All of Me” one last time as I nod my head, unable to answer.
Right now, in this moment, there is no rush. No snakelike maneuvers. No wishing to be somewhere else.
There is only her voice. John Legend’s song. And All of Me.