What Ifs

Each morning when I stare at the large calendar in my kitchen it reminds me that the summer is more than half way over. I feel like time is slipping through my fingers, and I cannot stop it. Usually I look forward to going to my to the classroom to teach during this time in the summer. I start reflecting on ways I want to change my classroom around and how I will tweak an upcoming lesson. This year however I am just filled with ‘what ifs.’

What if my second grade daughter walks across her classroom maskless to whisper a secret to a friend while her teacher is not looking? What if my sixth grade son takes his mask off while waiting to be picked up after school and leans in close to a friend to look at their device? What if I cannot keep my students safe from the virus? What if I cannot teach effectively while wearing a mask and shield and being physically distant from my students? These are just a few ‘what ifs that go through my mind on a daily basis.

My ‘what ifs’ even have invade my subconscious. Last night I had a dream I was in a crowded staff meeting when I realize that I am the only one not wearing a mask. I frantically look for my mask to no avail. I begin to panic just knowing I am infecting my team. I wake up relieved that it was just a dream. Then new ‘what ifs’ occupied my time for the next hour until I saw sunlight gently creep through my window.

More ‘what ifs’ have kept me distracted throughout the day. My dog, Molly, reminded me with a loud whine she needed to be taken outside. I opened the door and followed her out into the yard. The summer heat consumed us both. Molly quickly ran and sat in the shade. She then looked up to the sky. I follow her lead and looked at the tallest branches from the trees that were sheltering her from the heat. The green leaves looked like lace placed against a blue background. Just as I was admiring the patterns, a gust of wind blew through the branches changing the intricate pattern. It was as if the wind was like time passing by and making changes. I continued to watch the beautiful movements the leaves made as the breeze invisibly blew past the leaves, and I thought “what if” everything will be alright.

Everything and the Kitchen Sink

I lost count on how many snacks my two children had on this day. I turn to place a dirty cup that one of my children just handed me in the sink, and once again I am betrayed by my motor memory. I stare down at an empty hole. We are updating our kitchen and in order to make the changes we want we have to live without a kitchen sink for a few days. The plumbers informed us the job required more of them than they originally thought, therefore being sinkless was going beyond the 24 hour period we had planned.

As I look at the gaping hole I am immediately annoyed at the inconvenience. Then I remind myself that this was our choice to begin this project. My mind then drifts to stories long forgotten. My grandmother had told me when she was about five years old growing up in rural Pennsylvania her parents built a new house on their farm. This new house was going to be equipped with all the necessities a family of 12 would need, minus electricity and indoor plumbing. When water was needed all my great-grandmother would have to do was go outside to the well, hand pump the amount of frigid water she needed, and carry it back into the house. Simple. All while raising her 10 children. I wonder how often they asked for snacks throughout the day, and how many cups she needed to wash because of said snacks.

Finally, in the late 1930’s right when my grandmother was to start high school, the house was updated to include a crank phone and it was wired for electricity. My great-grandfather was able to afford this during The Great Depression because he started a successful new business. His new source of income was taking rich businessmen from the Philadelphia area on hunting expeditions. Word got out and he became a successful guide through the Pennsylvania wilderness. He spent his hard eared money on electricity so he could start listening to the radio. Indoor plumbing was still not on the agenda.

The new crank phone gave my grandmother’s older sisters a lot of entertainment. It was a party line, so they spent time quietly listening to their neighbors’s conversations. My grandmother told me she remembers watching them filled with glee as they sat on the phone eavesdropping. They later retold what they heard filled with their own commentary. I imagine it was a form of social media for these teenage girls at the time. It does sound more intriguing that Twitter and Tik Tok.

Indoor plumbing did not make it into the house until the early 1950’s. My father tells me he was a small child when Pops’ house ultimately had running water. I wonder how my great-grandmother felt when she finally had a kitchen sink that allowed her to stay inside to get all the water she needed. Was there a sense of relief or concern about how things were changing? In this moment I realize that her time period was not that long ago. I feel I almost can reach back in time and touch her.

I am not sure why lately my mind tends to wander, and why my mind went down the path it did. I do not know why an empty space where a kitchen sink used to be took me to family stories that were buried in my memory. I do not know why, but I am sure glad it did.

Waiting on Judgement

I walked into my kitchen and heard the tail end of my husband and my son’s conversation. “You should withhold judgement. You do not know what someone’s intentions are,” my husband was telling my son. With my husband’s words I was brought back to the moment when I first learned about withholding judgment. I do not always withhold immediate judgment, but I try to remind myself of this childhood memory in order to give others the benefit of the doubt.

It was a dark December evening. There was frost covering almost every surface outside. My cousin and I were bundled up in out warmest coats as we sat in the backseat of my mother’s car. I was about five or six years old. My cousin was about two or three. As my mother drove, her sister sat in the passenger seat. We were headed to the convenience store so my aunt could buy milk and some other odds and ends she needed for her home. When we reached the brightly lit parking lot my aunt dashed out and ran against the frigid air to make her purchases leaving my mother, myself, and my cousin Daniel, to remain warm in the car.

She emerged from the store with a large paper bag in one arm and she held a gallon of milk in her other hand. The freezing air whipped through the car when she opened the passenger side door. She hurriedly placed the bag in the car and leaped in and closed the car door. A shiver ran through her body as she shook off the early bitter winter cold air.

As soon as my mother drove off a car honked their horn at us. My mother is not a patient person and she honked her horn longer and louder, as she whispered under her breath. She turned to my aunt and says in Spanish, ‘Is there anything wrong with the way I am driving? People can be such jerks.” My aunt defended her sister’s driving abilities and we made our way through town.

The familiar streets of my town looked eerie in the darkness. The once friendly buildings now seemed to loom over us as we drove by. As she passed through the streets there was more honking, which made the journey back to my aunt’s house hair-raising. My mother and her sister were not ones to back down from a presumed injustice. Therefore, as a car passed by and yet again we heard another loud honk, my aunt rolled down her window and screamed out-I can now only imagine the profanities.

The tension rose in the car. My mother and aunt were in full defense mode. They continued speaking in their native tongue at a much louder volume and much higher pitch, talking about how the people in this town must be crazy, and did they not notice they had children in the car to protect. The more we drove, the more frenzied they seemed to become.

We finally reached the traffic light right near my aunt’s home. I was so relieved that this ride was almost over. Then, out of nowhere, a car pulled right next to my aunt’s side of the car. Once again there was a honk, as the man rolled down his window. Furious, my aunt rolls down her window and shouts, “What do you want!?”

“You have a gallon of milk on the roof of your car.” the man says. The light turned green and he drove off.

My aunt flung her door open and frozen to the roof of the car was that gallon of milk she bought just a few moments ago. She pulled it loose and brought it into the car laughing. My mother began to laugh with her. By the time she drove the 20 feet to my aunt’s driveway, the both of them were laughing so hard they had tears rolling down their cheeks.

“All that time we thought people were being jerks and they just wanted to tell us I forgot my milk on the car. I didn’t even thank the guy who told us. I guess that makes us jerks.” My aunt replied as she was catching her breath, which just sent them into another fit of laugher.

We dropped off my aunt and cousin and made it home. My mother and I relayed the story to my father. He also laughed at the evening events then said, “You can’t always judge someone actions. It helps if you stop and listen.”

Simple Things

‘We have to stop at the grocery store for Abuela. Remember everyone needs to wear a mask and it has to stay on,” I tell my seven year old daughter. Her face lights up as soon as she hears ‘stop at the grocery store.’

“Yes! I haven’t been to any store since winter. Can I wear my unicorn mask? Can we leave now? When are we leaving?,” my daughter replies all in one breath.

I have been helping my mother since she had her surgery a few weeks ago. Today I needed to get her extra groceries that her food delivery service missed. After receiving the call from my mother I began to feel a little overwhelmed by the feeling of being torn between maintaining two homes, and annoyed at the delivery service for not getting the order correct. Since my husband was busy working on home projects with my son, and my daughter has a way of finding trouble when she gets bored, my only choice was to bring her with me to the store. My daughter, W, was thrilled to get the opportunity to be a helper today.

On the way to the food store we reviewed the correct way to wear a mask and how to remain socially distant. W’s eyes were wide with the prospect of walking through the aisles once again. She kept asking what we were buying, and she began counting each item on her small thin fingers. “Well, that is not that much stuff, but I am SO happy I’m going.”

When we arrived at the parking lot we slipped on our masks. I looked down at her and in typical W style her purple unicorn mask matched her lavender shirt, and her lavender shirt matched her pastel checkered Vans. W took my hand as I walked and she skipped to the store entrance. We went early and the food store was almost empty. W stopped as soon as we got through the door and slowly looked around the store, as if she was looking at a beautiful piece of art. She took a deep breath through her mask and said, “I have missed this. Remember when I didn’t want to come the store? I didn’t know I’d miss it so much.”

We made our way down the few aisles we needed. Sometimes backtracking so we could stay consistent with the one-way arrows. Each item we collected seemed like a treasure to W. She delicately placed each one in our small cart. She happily pushed her treasures to the checkout to finalize her adventure. I could not see her entire face while we were in the store, but I could see the delight in her eyes. After watching her, it reminded me how important it is to appreciate the little things in life. The past few months so much has changed, but we can find simple pleasures in everyday life. I suddenly was in an almost giddy mood not unlike W.

As we walked to our car W looks up at me and says, “Wasn’t that great!?”

“Yes, it was. And Thanks for helping me today.”

W takes off her mask so I can see her smile and I do the same. It was just a little thing, but it meant so much to me.

A Bag and a Visit

“Mom, what’s this?” I hear as my son enters my room. I look down and he is carrying a simple black bag. I recognize the bag immediately. It is a medium sized bag with a long strap. It is about the same shape as a bicycle messenger would carry. I gently take the bag from my son. As I touch it I remember the last time I used it to carry items that were so important to us then. “There is an unused diaper in it, and a bunch of papers. What the heck was it doing in my closet?” My almost eleven old continues.

“This was your diaper bag that we used when you went to the doctor.” I responded while keeping my eyes on the bag.

We moved into this home two years ago and the past few days my children and I have been cleaning out our bedrooms closets. It is something we try to do every summer. I do not remember putting the bag into my son’s closet two years ago and I do not know how we missed it last year.

I start going through the bag and begin to look through what was left behind in it. Suddenly, I am visiting another version of myself. The ‘new mother-self’. The terrified woman that looked like she was holding it together. She felt so proud but mostly intimidated by the title of “mother.”

Before all my baby’s medical information was put on a digital portal, we needed to bring a small light blue booklet that our doctor would fill out at each appointment. It held the record of his growth as well as his vaccinations. I had forgotten it once when we went in for one of our son’s check ups and I felt like a failure. My husband came up with idea of the doctor diaper bag. This way we would always have what we needed. I remember putting a small notebook in it where I would write questions I had for the medical staff. As a first time parent of an infant that started his life in the NICU, I was anxious and aimed to be on top of everything. As our son grew, I would also keep the receipts of each visit as documentation. Those receipts helped give me more confidence that I was doing right by the little human that was in my care.

With each zipper I unzipped and paper I touched, it reminded me of that new mother I used to be. How challenging I felt it was, and the feeling I had to do everything perfectly-the feeling that my son’s destiny depended on how flawless I was as a mother. I still try my best as a parent, but I have grown to realize that my children are their own person. I am here to guide them, and I am going to make mistakes. Plus, mistakes have been a wonderful way for me to grow as a parent. My mistakes also help remind me that my kids need to make mistakes to also learn. As my eyes continue to look through the papers, I wish I could tell my new mom-self this, but I know she would not listen. I also know it is better that I learned what I have learned with time. I continue to need to learn.

I reached in deeper into the bag and I was so surprised how familiar the feel of the diaper was in my hand. It had been in there since the bag’s last outing nine years ago, my son’s two year check up. The following year there was no need for diapers and everything went digital, therefore the bag was no longer needed. I finally look at my son. It is getting harder to see the baby in his face. His dark eyes looked lovingly at me, as his long mahogany colored bangs fall over his forehead. He is no longer that bald baby that did not need his first haircut until he was speaking in full sentences. My son had a knowing smile as if he came on that journey with me. Without explanation I throw my arms around him and pull him in tight for a hug. He giggles and hugs me as if he is glad I am back here in the present where I belong.

Waiting

Empty busyness occupies my time,

Avoiding the clock’s face.

I do not let the questions in my mind try to find anwers.

My mind’s created responses may not be the truth and will only frighten more than reality.

I remember a time when I could walk in and help, with no fear or restrictions.

What once was routine now comes with unknown dangers.

Now I must wait by the phone, hoping I hear what I wish for.

My only gateway to her in her hospital bed.

Waiting to hear she is safe and out of harms way.

As the phone shakes the table I lift it and a voice pours into my ear,

I feel the relief fill my body.

Then a sudden realization that the first wait is now complete, but there is more waiting to come.

Just a Click

My heart felt conflicted as I grabbed my computer on Saturday morning. There was just one more task I had to complete. One more and and my summer break officially would begin. A feeling of relief came over me as the thought of distance learning ending, followed be a feeling of dread. I know my students would no longer be popping up on my computer screen filling my head with their questions and filling my ears with their stories and thoughts.

I slowly opened my computer and I stared at the screen. I longed for my students faces to appear. Over the past three months the only time I truly felt like a teacher was when my screen was filled with numerous squares that had children’s faces in them so that I could exchange ideas with my students. We talked about books, their writing, their pets and current events. I often left those virtual meetings feeling lighter and our conversations gave me purpose.

I began to open my Google Classroom and I scrolled through my list of students. I took a moment to read each of their names. Usually on the last day of school when I enter my classroom after the students leave for the summer, the silence that greets me is deafening. I have been teaching almost 20 years and it always takes me by surprise. However, this year I ran my eyes down a list of names and emails knowing I have to be the one to delete them from my Google Classroom. My last lifeline to my students this year-the thing that held us together when we could not be physically together.

I sat there for awhile not wanting to be the one to exit them from me this way. I rationalized that they are my students forever, even though I would not be their teacher next year. This thought did not comfort me. I moved my mouse to the button that read ‘remove.’ Then in one click they were gone…but not forgotten.

Our Book?

One evening after finally getting my own two children to bed I picked up my phone to check my work email. I quickly looked through the names of the senders before I decided which one I wanted to open first. I recognized a name I don’t often see in my inbox. A student from last year. I was fortunate to have her in my class in third grade, and again in fifth grade. She was a student you would not forget, even if you just had her once. She is now a middle schooler and I miss having her in my classroom.

Excitedly I opened the email. She has written a few times to keep in touch, also sending me a few stories she had written. I expected this email would be the same but I was wrong. She started by saying, “Did you know that other classes read The Thief of Always last year?” I did know. It went with our last unit of study in reading in fifth grade, fantasy. She went on to say that other students were talking about the conversations they had in class about the characters, themes, and symbolism. It was her favorite read aloud of the year, and it was also for many others. The students were continuing to have discussions about the book comparing it to the book they were reading now.

I was taken aback. At first, I was worried she thought I lead her to believe that our class was the only class that read this book. I reread the email and it wasn’t disappointment that she felt, she was surprised that so many had similar experiences in their fifth grade classrooms last spring. She just wanted me to know that many students cherished that time during read aloud.

I smiled to myself and thought how grateful I was that our district of fifth grade teachers gave that to our students. That our students carry those conversations and the love of books with them when they leave us and move onto middle school. Often times when they go to sixth grade I am left wondering if I served my students well. Did I teach them what they would need for the next step? On this particular evening, I was made aware that we all did.

Always a Hero

Every Friday I treat myself to a cup of coffee from a local bagel shop in my town. I love walking in at my normal time of 6:30 am because of the people I see there. A lot of the times there are teachers just like me getting their celebratory Friday caffeine for their commute into work. There are also many towns people picking up their coffee and breakfast for the long day ahead. I love this bagel shop. I feel at home there and enjoying starting my day with all the other customers that jingle the bell above the door.

This past Friday as I was getting my coffee I noticed a man in his late 60’s pouring his 20 ounce cup up to the brim. I raised my head to say good morning when I saw he was wearing a cap that stated, ‘Vietnam Vet.’ I recognized this cap immediately. My father wears the same hat everywhere he goes. The man reminded me of my father in his blue collar attire. Right down to his beard, light blue uniform jacket, and perfectly worn work boots.

Growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s it was almost like a family secret that my dad served in Vietnam. He would of never worn a hat displaying his past. Even though my father is a decorated soldier, that earned the bronze star, we just did not talk about it. I remember my father telling me it was a different time and many people did not agree with the war, and because he went when he was drafted they were not too happy with him. When I asked how he earned his many medals that I would hold in my hand, he simply would reply, “It’s not important.” During that time I did witness how Vietnam vets were portrayed in TV and movies. It was not always flattering. Unlike, how the soldiers from the ‘Greatest Generation’ were viewed as heroes for fighting in WWII.

Now that my father wears his cap, I have seen people walk across a room to thank him for his service. I watch how humble he is when he replies, “You’re welcome,” or “It was nothing. Just serving my country.” I try to return that recognition to anyone I see wearing a similar hat. After I said good morning to the man at the coffee counter I added, “Thank you for your service. My father is also a Vietnam vet.”

The man looks up and says, “Oh yeah. When was he there?”

“I think it was 1969 to 1971.”

He gives me a half smile, “Those were the same years I was there. But I was no hero. I just was a med tech working in a hospital. I never did anything your dad probably did.”

This surprised me. My father was in a military hospital during the war. It was for malaria, however in resent years he has shared the horrors he witnessed while he recovered from his illness. The devastating wounds and brutality that the soldiers suffered due to the battles they were in. Standing right in front of me was a man that was there with those soldiers, helping them heal. He must of been around 20 years old at the time. He was only just coming out of his childhood years. His innocence must of been shattered.

He started toward the door. As his hand touched the handle I felt an almost frantic need to say something. I blurted out, “You are a hero. You always were.” He stopped in his tracks, he bowed his head, and raised his hand holding the small white paper bag that contained his breakfast to acknowledge my words. Then the bell chimed and he walked out the door.

Bliss

Fear captures my boy taking his hope,

At times he cannot find the light,

Overthinking his every move,

Every thought.

Wanting to control his doubt, but worry steers him in other directions.

But he is a fighter.

He finds his stride, overcoming one fear at a time.

He stares out the car window, pondering about his achievements,

His voice reaches me through my own thoughts.

“I am proud of myself today.”

I hear the delight in his tone.

I watch as a smile takes over his face.

I sense his peace.

And because of this, I am encapsulated by bliss.