SOLS: A Picture Tells a Story

Mom and me

Look at the little girl, her straight-across bangs and shy smile, her round tummy and sturdy legs. Her cheeks still hold the softness of childhood, and she has a dollar bill–maybe it was a birthday present? Her petal-pink shorts, her cloud-white top and sandals. She stands in her mother’s embrace, pleased and loved. Anyone could look at this little girl and see the glow of care and attention that surrounds her.

Look at the mother, her wide smile, her summer-tanned skin. It’s hard to see in the photograph, but her bright top and shorts are almost the shade of her ocean-blue eyes. She is poised on the first step of a future she is hoping to hold as tightly as she does the little girl. This house will be their home for a few more years, but not much longer, and the family constellation that lives inside it now will scatter, spinning light and explosions across the sky of their lives. The mother is strong and beautiful and young, and she loves the little girl so much.

Houses and families and skin and smiles will change and evolve, but this girl and her mother, they will stay constant, certain as the arc of the sun, steady as the tides, connected as a tree to its deep strong roots.

SOLS: Teaching Romance

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself

Five days left in the Slice of Life March Challenge, and I feel constricted by the fact that parts of my life are off-limits for my daily slices, but preoccupying so much of my mind and heart that it seems silly not to write about them. An upcoming move, waves of emotion that threaten to swamp me, a feeling of liberation that is frightening and inspiring at once. But while most of those facets of my life won’t make it here on the blog–at least not in the same form they have for me now–I feel like each slice I’ve written is in some way illuminated but by what, you may never see.

I read one of my favorite Neruda poems today with my seniors, and we talked about the structure and freedom in the poem, the beautiful lines and the secrecy inherent in every romance. “Who ever knows the real story of any romance, other than the people living it?” I said to them. “Think of your parents; doesn’t it seem like you couldn’t know them any better, having spent so much of your life with them in such close proximity? But there is so much about them, about their love for each other and why it grew or stopped, that you can never know.”

“I know,” one girl said. “We went to their college recently, where they met, and they were showing us where they went on dates and everything, and I was just like, ewww.”

“I know,” another girl said. “My parents broke up before they got back together and got married. It’s so gross to think about them that way.”

It’s funny to read these deeply felt poems with my students sometimes, as these romantic riptides are not quite within their experience yet. But I think it’s important to start introducing them to the complexities of love this way, and maybe someday, they’ll have the language to express what eludes them now, or the vision to see what is too shadowy today.

For me, I find comfort in the beauty of the words, but also in the authenticity of the love depicted in Neruda’s sonnets, in darker shades and passionate tones, with unflinching resonance.

I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

SOLS: Salt and Tomatoes

salt sings, the skin
of the salt mines
sings
with a mouth smothered
by the earth.

National Poetry Month is approaching, and I’m gearing up for poetry units with my students. My seniors are reading from the works of the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda in my Latin American literature elective, and my 9th graders will be making their March Madness poetry brackets, making poetry public in our school community, and participating in the Dear Poet project from the Academy of American Poets .

My seniors and I started our studies with Ode to Tomatoes and Ode to Salt, from Neruda’s Odes to Common Things. I love teaching these odes because they show off so much of what I love about Neruda’s work; his savoring of language, his playful approach paired with a deep joy and reverence for the world around us, and his ability to make us see that world differently. We read through the poems silently, marking what stands out to us, and then we do choral readings, where I read the entire poems and the students’ voices join me on the lines they marked. This is one of my favorite techniques for introducing poems, as it helps us establish that poems are meant to be heard, read, discussed, loved, not just dissected or beaten and tortured to find its meaning, as Billy Collins would agree. We had good discussions about the personification, the metaphors and similes used in the poem, the way the tone and voice would shift to show different facets of the subject, and we agreed that tomatoes and salt were indeed worthy of celebration. I told them that one of the reasons I love to teach Neruda is that so much of the “great” literature we assign in schools is heartbreaking and depressing–beautiful, yes, important, yes, but not always joyful or uplifting. Literature can gladden your heart too, I said, and Neruda’s joy is clear on every page, even when he’s using his poetic powers for more political purposes.

no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.

SOLS: Taxes

Do you do your own taxes? Do you find yourself having a lot of feelings about this phenomenon? Let me explain a few of mine.

There’s nothing as adult or inevitable as taxes, the theory goes, and it certainly does feel very mature to sit down with a stack of paperwork and methodically crunch those numbers. I did my own taxes this weekend for the first time in about 14 years, and while the online program I used was pretty painless, it still brought up a few different waves of emotions. I’m always stunned by the gap between my salary and the actual amount I take home each year, after deductions for state taxes, federal taxes, Social Security and more, even though I am theoretically happy to get government services and help provide them for others. I still feel like earning tens of thousands of dollars seems like such a magical number of abundance, but that “wealth” seems to drain away so quickly in a tide of food, shelter, health insurance, and trips to Target. This year, I am getting a refund, the size of which is enough to change some of my plans for the summer, which was a welcome relief. However, should we even be glad to get big refunds? I guess it depends on whether we are “savers” or “spenders”–the theory being that if you are a disciplined saver, you should adjust your withholding and keep more of your own money each month. Spenders benefit from having that money withheld or “loaned” to the government and then returned/refunded in a big chunk each spring. That brings up the whole question of saver vs. spender, where you fall on the continuum, and how you feel about that particular part of your personality. Like probably 95% of Americans, I wish I had more money and have a sneaking feeling of guilt that it’s at least partially my own fault that I don’t. Sure, education is a criminally undervalued profession, but also, I did spend $9 on decorated Easter bunny cookies to slip into my daughters’ school mailboxes as a surprise this afternoon.

Have you done your taxes yet? Do they bring up different emotions for you, or is this just me?

SOLS: Gloria

Gloria

The art of acting morally is behaving as if everything we do matters.

I saw Gloria Steinem speak this year, and I still feel inspired. I’m reading a book she recommended, and I’m hoping to implement some other changes in my life based on her words, but today, on her 81st birthday, I want to remind myself of these words, and how many possibilities still exist in the world.

SLOS: Slice of Panic

Oh look, new slices of all of these lives, Skyping with grandchildren, making recipes
I love each and every one, so rich and particular…

wait….

what did I post about today?
What have I been thinking about, that maybe I posted a slice of?
The Girl on the Train, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves?
the simple pleasure of making meatloaf in the kitchen while listening to the Alabama Shakes?
feeling more clearheaded this week than I have in what seems like forever, even though I’ve been battling a head cold and haven’t touched the grading I brought home for the break?

……

Wait.

Did I post today?

is there still time??

did I break my streak??

Sigh. It’s only 8:30. Still time for one small slice.

SOLS: It’s Complicated

Meryl Streep. Alec Baldwin. Steve Martin. Sun-drenched California setting. Homemade chocolate croissants and croque-monsieurs. Is it any wonder I want to live inside this movie?

Have you seen It’s Complicated? It’s one of my favorite movies, and I kept it on in the background this afternoon while I was doing my taxes. It’s got all that stuff I mentioned above, plus the beautiful interiors Nancy Meyers is known for, but more importantly, it’s got Meryl Streep as Jane Adler.

Jane is exactly the kind of older woman I want to be; warm, loving, comfortable with herself and her aging body, talented and confident in her work, a nurturing mother who understands that her children are living lives without her as well. She’s not afraid to take risks but she is thoughtful and cautious too; she has share of insecurities but doesn’t let them rule her life or rattle her hard-earned sense of calm. Jane has fabulous girlfriends and bakes them pies when she has them over for dinner and wine and laughter. She owns her own successful cafe/bakery, has a welcoming home, and an amazing garden (I don’t want one of those, but I love that she has such a rewarding hobby). She takes care of her body with exercise, considers plastic surgery but rejects it as ultimately ridiculous. In short, she has a rich life, one anyone would be lucky to be invited into, and that’s what I’m striving to create for myself.

I wouldn’t say no to that marble-topped counter in her kitchen either.

SLOS: 14 Things to Be Happy About

journal

Inspired by Dana’s list, here are fourteen things to be happy about these days:

  1. how much my daughters can make me laugh
  2. crocuses
  3. singing along–LOUDLY–to songs on the radio while I’m driving
  4. my new polka-dot dress
  5. when my favorite cat comes to wake me up in the morning
  6. writing in a new notebook for the first time
  7. my journal (picture in post)
  8. my furry fuchsia bathrobe
  9. long-awaited spring sunshine
  10. fruit punch Gatorade
  11. falling in love with a new book
  12. that moment when muscles relax that you didn’t even know were tense
  13. playing Rummikub with my family
  14. dancing in my kitchen while I make dinner

SLOS: Sick Mom, Sick Kid

It appears that my daughter and I decided to bring a cold and a stomach bug, respectively, back from our brief vacation–not the best souvenir choices on our parts.

One of my big parenting challenges is that I am very sensitive to particular stomach issues……even saying the word…..”vomit”……makes me want to……well, you know. The smell, the sound, all of it makes me queasy, which was particularly hard when I was pregnant with the girls and had all-day-sickness (I refuse to call it “morning”). I thought those months would give me a little more nonchalance when it came time to see my own kids through bouts of throwing up, but it just hasn’t worked out that way. I’m okay with so many other kinds of issues and illnesses, but that particular one just gives me the icks.

But my sweet girl is feeling so miserable, and so I took some DayQuil to help myself and now I am there with her. I’m rubbing her back as we sit near the toilet, I’m running out for ginger ale in case she can keep it down (nope), I’m helping her back to bed and bringing her tissues and murmuring that kind of baby talk that even girls on the edge of turning thirteen still appreciate when they are sick.

Being the nurse in the family was never my strong suit, but in this season of my life, in many ways, I’m finding myself having to develop new strengths, and this is one of them. So today’s slice is a quick one, before I head back up to see if there’s any other way I can comfort her until the storm passes.

Keep your fingers crossed that I don’t……feel sick to my stomach myself.