Thursday, March 31, 2016

SLICE #30- A Day in Phoenix

OK, so another day where I technically didn't slice.

And again, it's after midnight, so again, technically, it's really the 31st.

But again, I haven't gone to bed yet, so it's still Wednesday to me. Here's my day in Phoenix.

First, we did a little car repair…

Then we went to Burger King. Catsup and ranch dressing are good on anything!

We spent a terrific three hours at the Phoenix Children's Museum! This is in the treehouse area, but we also loved, loved, loved the tent making and parachute room! Grandma's iPhone choose a particularly inappropriate time to shut down!

Then we had dinner with C's dad and Esveidy's grandfather.

And now it's 1:00, and I'm sitting in my hotel room, thinking that in about five short hours, I need to be on the road back to snowy Denver!

You can bet I will be planning another trip to Phoenix really, really soon!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


So I guess I missed posting on Day #29.
Technically anyway.
It's after midnight, 12:04 right now
So technically, I guess it's the 30th and I didn't get a post up.
But I haven't gone to bed yet.
And so it's really still the 29th for me.

It's been a really full day in Arizona.
I got up this morning and fired up my computer.
I thought I would write early and have it over with.

But then C, my granddaughter's mother called.
They wanted me to go to breakfast.
And so I did.

And then C wanted to for a haircut.
And so I babysat.
She thought it would only take a couple of hours.
But it actually took about five.
And by the time she got home
Esveidy was hungry
And I had promised her we would have In-n-Out burger for dinner.
So I had to go pick that up.

While I was driving there,
I thought, "I didn't slice today.
I should run back to the hotel and get my computer."
I knew I was going to babysit
so C could go out with friends.
But I didn't think I had time to go all the way back.

And then I thought,
"Maybe they will get home early
and I can slice when they get back."
But that didn't happen either.

And then I got a little lost coming back to the motel
and took several detours.
And then I couldn't get into my room
because the key card didn't work
and I won't even tell you about
the motel clerk's face
when he told me their card machine
was a dinosaur
and I told him that I could remember
when we used keys to get into motel rooms.

So now it's 12:15 a.m.
And I have not sliced yet.
But I am counting this as my Tuesday slice.
Because I really did have good intentions.

Monday, March 28, 2016

SLICE #28- Road Trip!

So, this little gal?
She's my granddaughter.
Son #2's daughter.

For the first year of her life, I didn't even know I had a granddaughter.
She was born in November, 2014.
I met her in January of 2016.
And she is very cute.
And smart.
And wonderful.
And I totally adore her.
And I missed a whole year of her life.

So tomorrow,
when I should be cleaning my house,
or doing my taxes,
or going to school to organize the bookroom,
I'm going to get in my car,
super early, around 5, I think,
And I'm going to drive the 13 hours to Phoenix.

So I can spend two days loving on my granddaughter.
I've heard she loves books,
So I'm pretty sure we will spend some time reading.
Maybe we will hang out at the pool at my motel.
Or find a park.
Or go to the zoo.
Or to Rockies spring training.
I'm not really sure.

But for two glorious days,
I'm going to soak in
all the sweetness
of my sweet girl,
my granddaughter,

Sunday, March 27, 2016


Today is Easter.

A day of traditions, right?

In my family, not so much.

I guess I should back up a little. To my family of origin. It's a small family. My dad had an older brother and an older sister. His brother had four children. His sister had three. So there were ten cousins. BUT, they lived in the midwest, mostly in the Detroit area and we lived in Colorado. We went home back to Michigan every summer and I have memories of cookouts and going to Boblo (it was an amusement park, and you had to go on a boat- I just googled it and found out it closed in 1993). I can only remember celebrating one holiday with my dad's side of the family. It was Thanksgiving, 1975. I was a junior in high school and the football team had made it all the way to the state finals, and I was on a plane to Detroit.

My mom's family was much smaller. She was an only child. Her mom and dad split up when she was very young, and she was raised by her mom, and my Aunt Marge, who was also single, and had a son, my cousin Greg, who was just a little bit younger than my mom. My grandmother, and sometimes my aunt, usually came to Colorado to visit us twice a year, always at Christmas, and then usually once more. We visited her in Chicago on our trip to Detroit every summer.

We did have a few Christmas traditions. My grandmother would arrive on the train or plane about a week before Christmas. She would bring us each a Christmas ornament from Marshall Field's. We would spend the week before Christmas "helping" her in the kitchen- I remember decorating sugar cookies and spritz, and helping her make mincemeat tartlets in the kitchen. We always had a big Christmas Eve dinner and opened packages on Christmas morning. This was followed by Christmas breakfast, and then later on in the day Christmas dinner, which was almost always turkey, very similar to the dinner we had on Thanksgiving. I was fine with that. I like turkey.

We had a few other holiday traditions- mostly centered around my parents' friends. We hung out with a group of five or six families, and most holidays- New Year's Eve, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day- centered around those families. I remember playing croquet and volleyball and giant games of hide and seek. The metal shed in our backyard had a huge dent in the roof for years after Dick Mertens, who was 6'4" and 200 pounds, hid on top of it during a game of hide and seek.

So we did have traditions. But not like a lot of families.  There were no huge cousin/relative gatherings. There were no special ethnic dishes, with recipes passed down from generation to generation. There were no extended Monopoly tournaments or card games. Mostly we got together, usually at my mom's house, we helped cook, we watched parades or a movie, sometimes we went for a walk, we ate, and then we cleaned up and went home.

After I adopted the boys, I wanted us to have our own traditions. And I tried. Our first Christmas was pretty much over the top. We went to church. We came home and tried to assemble these little mechanical cars I had gotten. And failed miserably. We had presents, lots of presents. And we went to Colorado Springs to have dinner with my family.

But that was too much for my boys. As were several other holidays after that. And I finally learned.

My boys don't do holidays well, at all. In fact, they do them very badly. My boys' memories of holidays with their biological family are not happy. There were not presents or Easter baskets or fun times with cousins. Instead, holidays, for them, were a time when the adults in their lives celebrated with drugs and alcohol. Sometimes, lots of times, there was physical violence.

Holidays for my boys are also a time of emptiness. Their mom chose drugs and alcohol over her sons. Their dads are not part of their lives. They see their brothers and sister occasionally, but not regularly. Holidays, for my boys, are a time of wishing for what might have been, but never was. And that's why they are hard. Occasionally, on holidays, my boys will be invited to barbeque or party with their family of origin. Sometimes they go and sometimes they don't. I'm fine either way.

Holidays are a time of emptiness for me too. My dad, with whom I was very close, died about twenty years ago. My mom is 82, and lives in a senior citizens' facility. I see her every Sunday. My sisters have never totally accepted my boys, and it's gotten worse as the boys have gotten older. A couple of months ago, my youngest sister told me that I would be invited to her daughter's wedding in June, but that my sons would not. And that was pretty much the final straw for me. I haven't spoken to my sisters at all for three months.

That's why our holidays are very low key. I do Christmas and Valentine candy and Easter baskets. I usually cook some kind of meal, or sometimes the boys accompany me to see my mom and we take her out to eat. For birthdays, we have presents and they choose what or where they want to eat. Sometimes we go to a movie. But it's very low key.

Today both my boys have to work. I will go to Colorado Springs and take my mom to brunch.  The boys don't get home from work until after 1, so they will still be in bed when I leave at 9. I will leave their Easter baskets on the table. I forgot to buy Easter cards, so I will probably make them, on a piece of construction paper. I will tell them I love them, and that I hope this will be year of rebirth and newness.

And that will be our Easter.

Because we don't really do traditions in our family.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

SLICE #26- Easter Baskets???

So tomorrow is Easter Sunday. I raised my guys in the church, but in the last few years, they have completely walked away from those beliefs. As far as I know, neither of them will be going to church tomorrow. They also won't be going with me to Colorado Springs, to have Easter brunch with my mom, because both of them have to work in the afternoon.

I debated whether or not I should even bother to make Easter baskets.
            The boys are 20 and 22. They really are a little too old for Easter baskets.

Easter is a Christian holiday.
           My boys are saying they don't believe in Christ anymore. 
           Why should I bother making Easter baskets.

Easter is a family holiday.
          My boys don't want to have much to do with me these days. I'm a roof over their head,
          the person who goes to the grocery store, the tax preparer, and an occasional ATM. 
          And that's pretty much it. 

And so I debated back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth all morning.
And then I went to the grocery store, and bought chocolate bunnies, and jelly beans, and chocolate eggs, so that I could make Easter baskets.

Because they are my boys. And I love them.

And I wanted them to remember, somewhere,
in the depths of their very being,
that they have have a mom,
and an Abba Father
who loves them infinitely.

Friday, March 25, 2016

SLICE #25- Missing Cayman

Friday night. Spring break has started. I have to confess I am a little sad.

For about ten years, this Friday night was a huge milestone for me. In the weeks before, I'd work really hard to get everything done- taxes, schoolwork, and housework- because that Friday night that Spring Break started I'd head for the airport to board a plane to the Grand Caymans.

The Grand Caymans were a tradition for my family. My mom and dad fell in love with the island  in the late 80's or early 90's, when they visited some friends who had a timeshare there. They liked it so much that after a year, they bought their own timeshare. For a few years, they spent most of March on the island.

 My dad died in 1993. That's when my sisters and I started going. My middle sister, Nancy, and her partner, would fly down with my mom. They would usually stay a couple of weeks. After that, my younger sister and her husband and kids went, and then it was my turn. Some years, depending on spring breaks, there would be some overlap. Other years, it would just be my mom and I.

My idea of a great day at Cayman was coffee on the patio, overlooking the water, then a long walk on Seven Mile Beach, then a few hours reading on the beach. In the afternoons, I would snorkel, then read some more, until it was time to shower and dress for dinner.

Sometimes, we went on adventures. If my niece and nephew were there at the same time as I was, we sometimes went to the turtle farm. There's a town called Hell on the other side of the island, and we occasionally went to have our pictures taken in Hell. Every couple of years, we would book a boat trip to swim with the stingrays at Stingray City. My mom and sisters often went to town to shop, but I preferred a book on the beach to the endless t-shirt and jewelry and rum shops in town.

Grand Cayman is pretty expensive and we ate most of our meals at the condo.  Several times each vacation, though, we would go out for dinner, always by the water and always outside. One of my favorites was the Grand Old House. I always said that if I ever got married, this was where it would happen.

After I adopted the boys, I stopped going to the  Caymans. It was just too expensive for three of us to go. My mom and sisters went for about almost another decade. They didn't stop going until my mom had brain surgery a couple of years ago.

So it's the first night of Spring Break and I'm really glad to have some time off. Even so, I have to confess I am a little sad.

I really wish I was going to Grand Cayman.

Thursday, March 24, 2016


Ok, so tonight was one of those nights.
My son wanted to do something.
I told him we definitely, absolutely weren't going to do that thing today.
And maybe we weren't going to do that thing for a very long time.
And then we went out for a while.
And we did the thing
that I said we were
not going to do.
And now he is out telling his friends what we did.
And I am at home thinking
"How in the heck did that happen?"
I think I made a huge mistake.
I hope I am not going to be paying for it for the next three years.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

SLICE #23- An old friend

So last night I had a class and walked out of school after 8:00.
It was warm. In the sixties.
I didn't even put my jacket on.
And this morning, when I got up super early to do schoolwork,
because I was too tired to do it last night,
it was raining, a nice soft spring rain.
Then two hours later, when I was ready to get dressed for school
I checked the news station to find out what the temperature was
and found out that school had been cancelled
because we were going to have a blizzard
except at that point it was really only about an inch of snow
between 6 this morning and 3 this afternoon,
we had about 15 inches of snow. A lot.
And everything was closed-
all the school districts, the malls,
the library, even the airport
was closed most of the day.

Finally, about 3:00 it stopped.
And I shoveled out the car
and made a 30 mile round trip
to go out to dinner.

Some people might wonder why
I would go out to dinner
when we had just had a blizzard
and the roads weren't all that great,
and there were tree limbs everywhere
but the roads actually weren't all that bad
the sun was shining,
and the main roads were mostly slush.

My best friend from college was in town
and I didn't want to miss seeing her.

Penny and I are sorority sisters.
We met my sophomore year in college,
lived together for most of the next three years
and have been friends ever since.

Penny's an adventurer.
She's married to Eric.
He's an engineer who works on projects all over the world.
They have three kids and when the kids were young
Penny stayed in the United States
she lived in West Virginia, and Florida,
and Maryland and Arizona
but now that their kids are grown
she travels all over the world with him.

She spent part of the last five years in Turkey
but then Eric retired, or retired for a little while
and they went on a bike odyssey
all over Asia, and Australia, and Europe.
I followed her adventures via blog.

Periodically she would come back to the States
to celebrate a birthday or wedding
and we would squeeze in breakfast,
or a walk at the Botanic Gardens.
But now she's back for good.
She's going to live on the Western Slope
about five hours away
still far
but a whole lot closer
than Turkey
and I will get to see her
a lot more often
I hope.

This week she was in town
just for a couple of days
and we had planned to have dinner tonight
but then the blizzard came
and we thought we were not
going to pull it off.

Then the weather cleared
and so I got in the car
and drove 30 miles
to have dinner at her hotel
because Penny is an old, old friend

And old friends are important.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

SLICE #22- If the label matches…

D and Y skip happily down the hall.

"Dr. Carol, Dr. Carol, I got chosen for BRAVO," chortles D.

"Me too," Y chimes in, "and X (her brother)  is mad because he didn't get chosen."

BRAVO is our school's character ed incentive program. Kids who are caught showing positive character traits get a ticket. The tickets go in a big bucket, and once a month there is a schoolwide drawing (lots of the primary grade teachers do them a lot more often). Kids whose names are drawn go to the library to select a prize- anything from a bouncy ball to magic pencils that change color when you rub them to hot cheetos for the older kids.

I exclaim over their good fortune and the two skip off toward the library.

A few minutes later, when I am doing my after school duty, I run into D again. She has one of those long infinity scarves looped around her neck, several times.

"Look, Dr. Carol, look what I won! Look what I won at BRAVO."

She holds the gray and brown and orange patterned scarf out from her neck, so I can admire it more fully.

"Do you want to try it on? You can try it on," she asks, with utmost generosity.

D unloops the scarf from her neck and gently slides it over my head.

I hold the scarf up. "What do you think? Does it look nice?" I ask.

All of a sudden D looks a little worried.

"Well, it doesn't really match," she says pointing to my navy patterned skirt and white blouse.

"No?" I tip my head in question.

"No," she insists. "It doesn't really match."

I can tell she is getting more concerned, so I pull the scarf over my head, and hand it back to her.

"Well maybe it matches a little," she says in relief, pointing to the white manufacturer's tag. "See that's white and you are white," she says pointing to my shirt.

I have to agree that the white label matches my white shirt.

"Maybe you can wear my scarf someday," she says, darting away to the after school program.

I have a feeling I will be waiting a little while for my turn.

Monday, March 21, 2016

SLICE #21- People walking

For about the past month, the brakes on my car have been acting weird.
They make grinding sounds when I drive in the city.
The car shakes when I have to brake on the highway.
It was making me nervous.
And besides, I might take a road trip to Arizona next week.
And I didn't want to go in a car with bad brakes.
Last night I dropped it off at the garage.

I still had to get to work today.
No one I work with lives especially close to me,
and taxis are expensive, so I decided to take the bus.
I looked up the schedule last night. It looked really easy.
Walk two blocks south. Take the 20 downtown.
Get off at 18th and Lawrence.
Get on the 38th.
Get off at 38th and Quivas, one block from school.
No problem.

This morning, I set out really early for the bus stop.
The dog and I walk those two blocks in five minutes every night,
but I gave myself 20 minutes, just in case.
I stood there for about ten minutes, and
then the bus came, a few minutes early. Perfect.
I was surprised that it was already crowded.
Lots of people clearly knew each other well.
They talked about their weekends, and jobs, and their families.
I just watched the stops.

The bus got downtown in about 15 minutes.
And that's when the fun began.
I was supposed to get off at 18th and Lawrence.
Or at least that's where I thought I was supposed to get off.
But the bus never went there.
Instead it turned south, and went around the edge
of the CU Denver Campus.
I thought maybe it was going to circle back to 18th and Lawrence.
But it didn't. Instead it went over the highway.
And turned North on Federal.
I decided I better get off,
before it went much further.
And so I got off at 17th and Federal.
Right by Sports Authority Field
(where the World Champion Denver Broncos play).
I work at 38th and Federal,
or a few blocks east of there anyway.

I considered waiting for another bus,
but I would have had to get out my phone,
to check for a route, but it's not
a great neighborhood, and I didn't
want to pull out my phone
and get knocked over the head.
So I started to walk.
Twenty blocks didn't sound too far.
It's really not.
If you don't have a twenty pound computer bag
slung over your shoulder
and if you are wearing your tennis shoes
not your Dansko clogs.

I walked and I walked.
When I got to about 24th,
I realized that one of my colleagues
lives at 26th an Federal.
I thought about knocking on her door
and asking for a ride
but I thought that might be kind of weird
at 6:15 in the morning
and maybe her husband and baby
were still sleeping.
So I kept walking.

I walked and I walked.
I risked my life crossing Speer
where the cars speed around the corner.
I walked past our feeder high school,
and past a bunch of construction projects.
I watched the sun come up
Gorgeous blues and pinks and oranges.
Finally I turned the corner at 35th.
And walked ten, much longer than I remember
blocks east to my school.
It took me about fifty minutes.
The bottoms of my feet hurt tonight.

Tonight it was hard to get excited about walking with Star.
I have already done my share of people walking today.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

SLICE #20- Dogwalking

I read somewhere recently
that the best way to lose weight is to own a dog.
Because they make you walk.
And walking burns calories.
I own a dog.
We walk pretty much every night.
The losing weight part.
Ummm. Well. That hasn't happened yet.
But we still walk.
Pretty much every night.

We have a couple of favorite routes.
Sometimes we go down our street to 23rd and turn west.
We go a couple of blocks
and there is a ballet school
I love to watch the teenage girls
twirl and dip and spin
There is an Italian restaurant
that smells garlicky and yummy
and then a flower shop
with a window full of beautiful knick knacks.

Sometimes we go a block
farther south to 22nd
and turn east.
That way goes through a neighborhood
some of the houses
have been there forever
some are brand new
there is an old yellow lab
that lays on his porch basking in the sun
We always stop and say hello to him.

If it's cold
or if I have a lot of school work
we do the school route.
It is only about half as long
down 25th three blocks
around the big middle school
and back again

Star doesn't care which route we take
just so long as we go every night.

Tonight we went a completely different route.
I had to take car in for brake work.
The garage is a little more than a mile away
and I decided it would be a good idea
to take Star with me,
drop off the car,
then walk her on the way home.

Star is the only dog I have ever had
that does not like the car.
She gets car sick
even on short trips.
The vet said she would grow out of of it
but she really hasn't
I had to drag her into the back seat.

When I stopped to throw some recycling
in the bin at the middle school
she lunged across me and tried to get out
and I had to drag her back in.

Star did love the garage though.
It's about a block away from a 7-11.
Star loves 7-11's.
All those yummy smells
and hot dog wrappers
and pizza crusts.
She almost got stuck under a fence
trying to reach a half-empty
bag of potato chips.

And she loved meeting
the great dane puppy
that had gotten loose from his back yard
we carried him up the sidewalk
and knocked on the owner's door.

She loved walking down
the grassy median
on 17th Avenue.
More good smells-
dogs and squirrels and trees.

And then we got into familiar territory.
She knows our street.
Star loves her walks.
But she loves coming back home too.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

SLICE #19- Easter???

Ok, so I'm not sure I should admit this, but until yesterday, I didn't know when Easter was this year. I was talking to my mom on Thursday night and she said she had made reservations for brunch on the 27th. And I told her that Easter was the week after that, on the 3rd. And she told me I was wrong. And I had to Google Easter 2016 to find out who was right.

Maybe I should back up a little. I am a Christian. I've been a Christian for almost 40 years, since I was in high school. Throughout high school and college, and well into my twenties, I did tons of volunteer work for a Christian organization, Young Life. It was super important to me.

When I moved to Denver, in my early twenties, my church was pretty much the base of my spiritual and social life. I was involved in the Singles' group, and in a women's Bible Study, and I taught Sunday School to a group of kids from the time they were two, until they went to middle school. Later, I became a deacon at my church. I did that for a long time, maybe eight years.

My Christianity, was, for many years, a huge, huge, huge part of my life. My relationship with Christ was a huge, huge, huge part of my life.

I don't think that has been as true recently. When I adopted the boys, I changed churches. The church I had attended for many years, was about 98% Anglo. I wanted my boys to see people who looked like them at church, and so I switched churches, to find one that was more diverse for my boys. And I love the new church, but I've really struggled to get connected. First, the church is pretty far away, probably pretty close to half an hour through Denver traffic. Second, I found it hard to work all day, get the boys to all of their stuff, and participate in night activities. I just couldn't make it work. Now that the boys are older, I have found it harder to re-connect.

Besides the boys, I have stuff going on with my family origin. About two years ago, my mom had major brain surgery and moved into a senior citizen's center. For the past two years, then, I've gone to Colorado Springs every Sunday to see her. I leave between 8:30 and 9, and make the 130 mile round trip, getting home around 6 on Sunday night. My church does have a Saturday night service, but somehow, with everything else that's going on, I just don't make it happen. And I guess I could find a Sunday night service, but to be really honest, by the time I've driven to Colorado Springs, and helped my mom with stuff, and lifted her wheelchair in and out of the car five or six times, I 'm super tired.

Mostly, I think it's kind of a crisis of faith.  The past couple of years with the boys have been hard and hard and hard. And I have prayed and prayed and prayed. And nothing happens. There's another really hard issue  going on with my sisters right now. And I have prayed and prayed and prayed, nothing happens. And then there's another issue that has been hard for a long, long, time, probably more than 30 years. And I have prayed and prayed and prayed, and nothing happens. And I know all of the verses about faith and trust and God's character, and it's still really, really, really hard.

So this year, I didn't know when Easter was, until my mom told me she had made reservations for brunch on March 27th.

And it makes me a little sad.

Because Easter used to be really important to me.

Friday, March 18, 2016


Friday night.

I am down the basement, watching basketball, writing my slice, and preparing for the four hour course I will teach tomorrow morning.

Son #2 is upstairs.

Son #2 is not supposed to be upstairs.

He is supposed to be at work. At the movie theater where he has been working for the past several weeks.

He has missed one shift in each of the last two weeks he has worked. I wonder if/when they will fire him.

Tonight he cannot go because he does not have deodorant.  Last week he could not go because I ruined his day by disagreeing with him about his right to smoke inside my house.

Son #2 is smart. And charismatic. And very handsome. He's an incredibly talented athlete, who probably could have paid for college as a Division One Football or Basketball player.

And right now, he is doing absolutely nothing.

He's been to two different colleges. And quit both.

He worked at a doughnut shop for six months. And quit that.

He was going to go back to college and play basketball last fall, but that didn't work out.

Since then, he has worked at Panera's, a milk company, the grocery store, and now the movie theater. He's quit every job after only a few days.

He moved to Phoenix to be closer to his daughter, who is 15 months old.

He stayed two weeks.

His lives in a world of blame. Everything is my fault. The coaches' fault. The girlfriends' fault. His boss' fault. Racist America's fault.

But never my son's fault.

People say I should just throw him out.

And perhaps I should.

But my other son, recently diagnosed as bi-polar, is fiercely loyal to his little brother.

If I kicked Son #2 out, Son #1 would think he needed to go too.

And at this point, I am not sure he could take care of himself.

I do not know how to parent him.

How to love well.

I am exhausted from trying.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


Not quite six o'clock when I pull up in front of the house tonight.

Son #1 is just getting out of his car. I have not seen him much recently-- he works from 3 - 12 every night and I am usually in bed when he comes in. Today is his day off. I hope for dinner together. Maybe I can even con him into watching a little television, instead of retreating to his room, like he does so regularly lately.

We walk into the house together and I comment on the license plates on his"new-to-him" car. He tells me they were $166. Pretty much half his salary for the week.

I ask if he wants dinner. "I have ground beef thawed," I say. "I could make hamburgers, or spaghetti," I say.

"I'm going to the movies," he says.

I am surprised. This has been a hard, hard year for my son, and aside from work, he hardly ever goes anywhere. Mostly he stays in his room, listening to music or playing video games. If he does go anywhere, it's usually with his brother, and usually to pursue habits that I consider less than acceptable.

"You are?" I say. "With who?"

"A girl from work. T---," he says.

"Really? That's great Zay," I say, fighting to stay casual. "What are you going to see?"

He names a movie I have never heard of. "At Northfield?" I say.


"So tell me about T. How old is she?"

"I don't know." He is a little irritable. "I'll find out that stuff tonight."

He goes to his bedroom and shuts the door. I wait a few minutes then knock. "Do you want a hamburger before you go?"

He does, and I hurriedly cook a burger that he wraps in a paper towel and carries out the door.

"Have fun," I say. "Be careful. I love you"

And then he is gone.

And I am so glad, after a year of broken dreams, and a bi-polar diagnosis, and two hospital stays, and struggles with addiction, and endless days at a low-paying, menial job, that he is finally going out to do something fun.

Have a great time, my sweet guy. Have a great time.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

SLICE #16- So much depends on a purple koosh ball

We are in a holding pattern.
Twenty seventh and eighth graders.
Sixteen boys, four girls.
Two teachers- one old lady. Me.
Another hip and with it second year social studies teacher.
Early thirties.
Basketball coach.
All materials have been distributed.
And now we are holding.

I am surprised when my colleague
pulls a purple koosh ball from this pocket
And lobs it at a kid across the room
The kid catches it easily.
Throws it back.
And a wild game ensues.
For about five minutes the purple koosh ball
flies back and forth,
back and forth,
back and forth.
Kid to kid to kid.
Mostly the boys.
But every once in a while
a girl joins in too.
There is much laughter.

I wonder if I should intervene
I do not think the purple koosh ball
was included in the holding pattern plans
The game seems a little rowdy
for the classroom
and on such a solemn occasion
and yet the kids are having
sooooo much fun
how can I interrupt such raw joy.

And then it is time for
our solemn event to begin
the koosh ball journeys
across the room one last time
and then disappears
into my colleague's pocket.

I expect that it will be hard
to get the kids to settle down
and get serious

But amazingly
they are quiet and focused
within seconds.
And for the next ninety minutes
they barely look up

So much depends
on a purple koosh ball
and making room for joy
during a solemn occasion.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

SLICE #15- Children parenting children

I stand in the doorway of the first grade classroom, keeping one eye on the hall, and one eye on the scene unfolding on the rug behind me. One of our little first grade guys is having a hard day. He sits curled in a ball, in almost fetal position, with his coat over head head, in  a position he assumes every few weeks.

I am supposed to be on hall duty, but the first grade teacher has asked me if I will watch this little guy,  until someone, probably his eighth grade brother, comes to get him. She has to take the rest of her class outside for dismissal and C sits immobile, unwilling to move.

It isn't long before I see J coming down the hall. "Dr. Wilcox, do you know where my brother is?" I point to the rug and J comes into the room. We have played this scenario before.

He looks at me helplessly. I wonder how many times a day he wishes that he did not have to take care of his little brother every day after school. I wonder if he thinks about his friends, all headed outside to play basketball behind the school.

J stands over his little brother. "Come on C, let's go. It's time to go home now."

C does not move.

J drops to his knees, throws his backpack to the side, and tries again. "Come on C, let's go home and have snacks."

C still doesn't move. J lowers his head to the rug and tries to make contact with his little brother. He bends close to his little brother. "Hey, what's wrong? Let's go home."

I do not know how to support this man child, so regularly forced into the parental role. I go to my desk and grab a handful of candy from my PD stash. "You've won my big brother of the year award," I say, shoving chocolate into his hand.

"No, Miss, you don't have to. It's ok."

By this time, the first grade teacher has returned. I leave the two of them to deal with C, and head down the hall to do my duty.

About ten minutes later, J comes down the hall with C. C is running ahead, and J, now carrying two backpacks, C's coat, and a soccer ball, is trying to keep up.

I step in front of C to slow him down.

"He's really mad," says J.

"Yeah, I can see," I respond.

C darts around me takes off in a sprint. J follows behind, moving as quickly as he can. I wonder how far they have to go. I wonder how long J will have to wait before his parents come home. I wonder if he will cook dinner, and do homework, and put C to bed before his parents get there.

Somedays teaching in an urban school breaks my heart.

Monday, March 14, 2016


So today was "Dap Day."

Tomorrow we start PARCC. The administrators at my school arranged a PARCC Pep Rally this afternoon. A couple of days ago, I was told that the leadership team was performing a rap at the assembly.

To tell you the truth, I wasn't all that excited about it.

First of all, I am not all that excited about all the testing we are required to do. OK, yeah, and I'm probably not supposed to admit that, but I'm not. And because I'm not that excited about testing, I'm not that excited about an assembly about testing.

And I think it's a little ridiculous to tell kids to get a good night's sleep and eat a good breakfast tomorrow. I want them to do that every single night. I want them to be at the top of their game every single day. Not just the day before a standardized test.

And if I wasn't excited about testing, I really, really, really wasn't that excited about this dap thing. I wasn't even exactly sure what the dap was. I thought I was probably the only one who didn't know about the dap, but several people who read my blog yesterday said they didn't know either.

I felt a teeny bit better. Just a teeny bit. I googled "dap" on the internet last night. I thought maybe there would be a "how to" video that I could use to practice, but I didn't find one. Every dap video looked different than every other one. And to be really honest, a lot of them looked a lot like someone wiping their nose on their sleeve.

By the time I got to school this morning, I had gotten another email. We were going to practice. Twice. On the way in from the parking lot, I tried to convince the music teacher to trade me places. I told her I would cover her class if she would dap for me.

She wasn't buying it.

And so we practiced. With background music. And I wasn't that good at it.

But then my principal, a former music teacher, reworked my verse. She took out about a few of the words. And she practiced with me a couple of more times. She counted the beats and showed me when to start. It felt a little easier.

And then it was time for the performance.

And I was super nervous. I really am not musical. And I really didn't want to make a fool of myself and have to hear about it from the middle school kids for the next few weeks, until I do something else embarrassing.

And then the music started. And I decided to go for it. And I did. I my dap was a little questionable, really kind of a combination between dap (whatever that is) and Saturday Night Fever. But it went ok, I think, and I didn't die of embarrassment.

About an hour after that, I was on after school duty in the front hall.

And one of the sixth graders came up to talk to me.

"Dr. Wilcox," she said. "You are about the funniest old lady I know. We laughed about you dapping all afternoon. "

I guess that's good enough for me.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

SLICE #13- I Am Definitely Getting Old

I have recently realized that I am definitely getting old.

A Thursday morning in late January. I am meeting with the middle school team. I am a literacy coach and we meet most Thursdays to talk about reading and writing in the content areas. Today, we are considering how to make difficult reading more accessible to kids.  I have brought a strategy called "Three Texts to the Target." It's a strategy that I think I made up (although more and more I'm discovering that the strategies that I think I made up are actually just something I learned from someone else a long time ago and just forgot that I learned). It's based on Frank Smith's statement that all reading is only "incidentally visual," which is what I always use when I talk about the role of background knowledge in reading. "Three Texts" basically involves using three simpler texts before you read the target text. One of the text is generally wordless. Another might involve some words, but also some visuals, e.g. a diagram, or picture book. And then, if the kids still need additional help, the teacher might find a shorter or easier text, e.g. something from Newsela website. You could do the strategy any number of ways, the point is just that kids become familiar with the vocabulary and content prior to reading the more difficult "Target Text."

On this day, which happens to be the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, I have selected three texts about the Challenger. One of my texts is a quick film clip, not even a minute, that shows the Space Shuttle launching, and then exploding in the blue, blue Florida sky. My second text is a diagram that demonstrates the cause of the blowup. The third text is a lengthier article about the event. My plan is for us to begin by activating our own background knowledge about the Space Shuttle. I ask, "Where were you when the Space Shuttle blew up?"

Aaron, our social studies teacher was in fifth grade. He remembers that the whole fifth grade at his elementary school was in the cafeteria watching it on television. After the explosion, the students were quickly herded out of the cafeteria, teachers were crying, most of the students did not quite understand what had happened.

I was a second year teacher. The secretary came to the door, pulled me out into the hall and told me that the Challenger had exploded and that all of the astronauts had been killed. I remember going back into the classroom and teaching, the enormity of the event not really registering until later that afternoon, when all of the students had gone home, and I could watch the news clips myself.

And then it was Paula's turn. Paula is the newest member of our middle school team, a terrific, first year teacher.

"I wasn't born," she says.

Aaron and I both look at her blankly. She repeats herself.

"I wasn't born when the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up."

"Seriously?" Aaron, who is in his early thirties says. "Seriously? You weren't born when the Space Shuttle blew up?"

And that is the day that I realized just how long I have been teaching. And just how old I really have become.

There have been several other days since then.

Like yesterday, when a bunch of us were at school working on a Saturday, and the same sweet young teacher  asked me, "Have you ever heard of that site, "Humans of New York?"

Or when our second year special education teacher brought his mother, a retired flight attendant, who is visiting from Florida, to see the school, and I realized that she is probably about my age.

Or this morning, when I opened up an email from an administrator, and learned that I was going to have to do the Dab in an assembly tomorrow morning. I am a hip and with-it kind of gal, and I know (or maybe think I know) that the dab is a dance or rap move, but I don't know exactly how to do it. I am going to have to get on the internet today and do a little studying, to make sure that I am ready, so don't totally embarrass myself in front of a bunch of middle schoolers.

Yep, there is no doubt about it.

I am definitely getting old.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Slice #12- An Oreo Cookie Toast

G always runs hot, but this week it's been even hotter than usual. Angry outbursts in class. Blow ups on the playground. Arguments with teachers and classmates. All. Week. Long.

At noon, I dealt with him on the playground. A paraprofessional had taken his ball away when he was slow to line up. His class is going outside for an extra recess. He wants to know how he can get the ball back before that recess.

Friday afternoon about 4:00 I am on the second floor, talking to a teacher. I see G and a buddy coming down the hall. Kids are not supposed to be on the second floor after dismissal, unless they have a club or permission.  It is Friday so there are no clubs. And it is an hour after dismissal, so it seems highly unlikely that he would be there to talk to a teacher.

I try to make my voice sound nonchalant. "Hey guys, what are you doing?"

"I want a drink of water," says G. I can hear that quick hint of anger, that hint that he might be ready to blow, in his voice. I am tired and not excited about going another round with him today.

"You can get a drink downstairs, guys. Kids are not supposed to be on the second floor now."

"But I want a drink," G insists.

It really wouldn't be that big a deal for him to get a drink, however, G and some of his buddies have been known to roam the halls and classrooms, and there are strict instructions that they are not supposed to be unsupervised.

Just then I see my principal come out of the sixth grade classroom down the hall. I am glad to have a little backup.

"Hey guys, whatcha doing?" she says cheerily.  "G, it's your birthday this weekend, right? Let's go downstairs, I have something for you."

G follows her down the hall without a peep. When we get to the first floor, my boss goes into her office and emerges with a bag of Oreo cookies.

"We have to have a toast," she proclaims. "An oreo toast."

"I don't know what a toast is," grumbles G's friend, K.

"We'll teach you," says my boss, passing out the cookies.

She holds up her cookie and says, "To G. You've matured so much since fifth grade. I wish you a year of good times and good friends. We love you buddy."

We bang our cookies together. A few crumbs fly off, then it's my turn. I wish him happy birthday and toast the way he handled the soccer ball situation, without totally losing his cool (which he has been known to do on more than one occasion.

We bang our cookies together again, and then it's K's turn.

"Happy birthday, man." he says.

And the four of us eat our slightly banged up Oreo cookies.

Four friends, sharing an oreo cookie toast.

 I can't think of a better way to end a Friday afternoon.

Friday, March 11, 2016


12:30. Middle school lunch duty.
The sixth graders are exiting the cafeteria, the eighth graders are in line.
I am saying something to one of the sixth graders, when I hear those words most middle school teachers dread.
"Fight! Fight! Fight!"
The noise is coming from behind me, in the eighth grade line.
I fly across the cafeteria, shouting, "Stop!" in the general direction of the fight.
My eyes take in the scene.
It is the eighth grade boys, soccer players, good friends.
K, a kid I know well, and C, who is new to our school this year.
He has hung out with me one day a couple of weeks ago-- helped me carry boxes, stamp books.
He has a great sense of humor and I like him a lot.
I don't think twice before stepping between them.
"Stop!" I shout. "Stop right now!"
I step towards K and he drops back a step.
"Stop it!" I say again.
"What's going on?"
G, the one of the eighth grade spokespeople, steps in.
"Miss, they're kidding. They're just kidding."
"Seriously?" I say.
My heart is pounding. The adrenalin is pumping.
"Yeah. C stepped on the back of K's shoe. He just got 'em yesterday."
"He had like $5 Payless' shoes. And the new ones are Vans. C stepped on 'em."
By then, one of the sixth grade teachers, had reached us.
"These guys need to go upstairs," he said, herding them toward the office.
A few minutes later, the boys were back.
"We were just kidding, miss, we're really sorry. We won't do it again."
I feel compelled to give a quick speech on the Freedom of Speech, and how it is not appropriate to yell "Fire" in a movie theater, or "Fight" in a school cafeteria. Especially not when an old lady in clogs is in charge.
The boys are contrite, at least a little.
"How old are you miss?" says C. "You run pretty fast."

After school I am outside, herding kids onto Boys' and Girls' Club bus, when I hear my name.
It is C, standing in a large crowd of kids.
Some are the soccer guys from lunchtime.
Several are kids I don't know- maybe freshmen from the feeder high school.
C wants me to meet them.
"This is Miss Wilcox," he says to his friend.
Don't mess with her.
She's tough."
I make a fist and laugh.
Just another day in middle school.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


I see him leaning against the wall
at the end of the hall
from four doors down.
His body language screams.
This is not the sweet, gentle,
trumpet playing guy.
I knew three years ago.
That kid spoke no English.
But he smiled. A lot.
This one does not ever smile.
By the time I can reach him
there is another problem.
The science teacher opens her door.
Tells me that a student feels faint.
Needs my help.
I guide him to a chair.
Get him a drink.
Send my MAD friend
to the office to get the nurse.
There is a flurry of activity.
The nurse. Stethoscope. Blood pressure cuff.
And then we are alone again.
I ask if he is ok.
He does not answer.
And so I venture out onto thin ice.
Tell him I remember him in fifth grade.
The sweet smile.
Laughing eyes.
The trumpet.
I tell him I have heard that his dad is in Mexico.

Ask if he will see him for spring break.
He says no.
I ask if he gets to talk to his dad.
He says they talk every night by phone.
But I bet it's still really hard, I say.
He nods.
And blinks
to rid his eyes
of that shiny
teenage boys'
just before tears look.
I ask if there is anything I can do.
He shakes his head.
I ask I can set him up
with the psychologist.
I am surprised when he says yes.
"I'm so mad," he says.
"My family is always asking me
why I am so mad."
And I don't know
what to do about it.
I open my laptop
And we write an email
requesting help.
because no kid
should have
to feel
that alone.
Sometimes MAD
feels a lot like

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


It is the week before PARCC testing
and the student council at my school is hosting Spirit Week.

Monday was Twin Day.
I wore a white turtleneck,
jeans, a fleece vest,
and the Birkenstocks
I dug out of the back of my closet.
(I think I last wore them
when I was in college).
I was supposed to look like the art teacher
but she forgot
that we were supposed to dress up
and so we were fraternal twins.

Yesterday was Hawaiian Day.
I wore a $2 shirt
that the assistant principal
bought at the Goodwill
(it actually was not too bad,
and my friend, Kathy,
and I decided that it the person who gave it away
must not be a teacher, because a teacher
 would have  known
about Hawaiian Day
and never would have
given this shirt away)

Today was Career Day.
We were supposed to dress up
in clothes that matched
what we wanted to do
when we grew up.

My principal
dressed up
like a judge.
One of the first graders
wore laboratory goggles
and a chef's apron.
He's planning to
work in a restaurant
four days a week,
then be a scientist on the fifth.
It sounds like a nice combination to me.
There were ballerinas,
and lots of soccer players,
and several doctors and nurses
and one construction worker.

I didn't dress any differently
than I usually I do.
Well, I guess I did a little
because the superintendent and her team
were coming to our school.
I wore a dress and heels.

But I didn't dress
any differently than usual
I didn't need to.
Because I am a teacher.
It's who I have always been.
And who I want to be
when I grow up.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Slice #8

As a first year teacher,
I wasn't very good at very many things.
But there is one thing that I have always been good at.
And that's READ ALOUD!
I love, love, love to read aloud.
And I'm always fussing at people around me
about the importance of read aloud.

Earlier this year,
I convinced the leadership team
at my school that we should start reading aloud to kids.
Every single morning.
I put together a calendar.
I read every morning.
Rotating through classes
from kindergarten through fifth grade,
I mostly read in English.
But I also read in one very tolerant Spanish classroom.

This morning I went to kindergarten.
I took along a new book.
Usually I only read one book.
Ten minutes and I'm out
and teachers go on with their day.

Today, though, I had no sooner walked in the door
than D approached me.
She's a sweet little thing
With looong brown hair
That's always looks like it
could use a good brushing.

She stays for after school program
and every afternoon she approaches
my post on hall duty,
wraps her ams around my waist
tips her head back
and purses her lips.
Every afternoon,
I have to tell her I love her,
But that teachers can't kiss kids at school.

Today she has two new books.
Disney Princess books.
"Look, Dr. Carol, look what I got.
My auntie bought them for me."
Will you read one of my books?

I want to say no.
But then I wonder
if anyone will ever read the Princess book.
I look at D's teacher.
"Do we have time for two?"
"Sure," she says, "you can never have
 too many read alouds."

I tell D that I will read the giraffe book,
and THEN we can read ONE of the chapters in the princess book.
The whole time I am reading GIRAFFE,
D stands against me,
Not quite leaning on my,
But so close that I can tell she wants to.

And then we read the PRINCESS book.
D wants to stand beside me
but somehow, M convinces her to sit down
And there she sits
a read aloud princess
with tangled brown hair
atop an orange plastic throne
falling in love with books.

THERE'S A GIRAFFE IN MY SOUP by Ross Burach- review copy provided by publisher.

Monday, March 7, 2016

SLICE #7- A Career in Eight Phases

Phase #1: Entry   
You might want to think about elementary school.
I look very young.
Advisor tells me I would probably have trouble 
with management in high school. 
Not to mention that I look the same age as my student. 

Phase #2: Overwhelmed
First job. 
So excited. 
I work 12 or 14 hours a day. 
Drag home bagfuls of work
every single night.
And pretty much every weekend.

Phase #3: Teacher/Mommy
"Mommy," says a six-year-old,
and is then embarrassed.
You aren't my mommy.
But I wish you were

Phase #4: Ready for a change.
Literacy coach?
Sure, I'll try it.

Phase #5: In search of challenges.
Sure? Why not?
Professional Development?
Sure? Why not?
Principal's license?
Sure? Why not?

Phase #6: Back to My Roots
Fourth grade?
Sure? Why not?

Phase #7: Grandma/Teacher
They used to call my mommy.
I am startled, 
at least a little
when it switches to Grandma.

Phase #8 : Nearing the Finish Line
Haven't you retired yet?
No, I still love it.
Maybe a few more years.
Or maybe…

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Slice # 6- Spanish Fail

I work in a dual language (English and Spanish) school. Children are expected to leave eighth grade fully bilingual and bi-literate.

Well over half the teachers at my school are fully bilingual. I am not one of them. I speak English, and some Spanish. I work on my Spanish every day, talking to kids and teachers, reading, doing tutorials, etc; but it's hard to learn a new language, and I won't be fluent for a long time.

There are a few benefits to learning a new language along with our students. Kids see me as a learner. I take risks. I approximate.

And I make mistakes. Lots of them.

One this week was especially notable.

I am standing in the lobby redirecting middle schoolers up to the second floor after lunch, when L, one of our new seventh graders approached me. L is very, very shy and speaks only Spanish.  (This conversation actually occurred in Spanish, but I'm writing it in English, so people can read it).

"Where is Ms. M?" Ms M. , a secretary in the office is fully bilingual and very gentle. Our middle school girls, especially the Spanish speakers, adore her and often go by the office just to say hello or when they need a little reassurance.

"I think that she is at lunch, sweetie," I say. "Can I help you?"

L ducks her head and speaks softly. I strain to her what she is saying. It's hard. Most of the middle schoolers are tromping up the stairs and her voice is very soft. She also speaks quickly, and I can't understand some of what she is saying. I catch the words necesito (I need) and ciclo (cycle).

I draw on my favorite Spanish strategies. I know the words needs and cycle. I think about the context (middle school girl). I watch L's facial expression (worried?).

Based on that information, I think L is in need of feminine products. I know where those are, because girls regularly ask me for them.

I finish herding the middle schoolers, then take L into the nurse's office. I open the cupboard and hold up a box.

L looks confused. I wonder if she uses something different and hold up another box.

This time L shakes her head no.

I try a third time. L looks desperate.

I feel a little desperate too. What could she want?

I decide to seek Spanish backup and look around the office. At any given time,  there are usually several Spanish speakers available, but today there is no one.

The assistant principal is a woman, and fully bilingual, she also has a middle school daughter. Maybe she can help us. I check her door. It is closed, with the sign telling people to come back later.

I feel a little desperate. I have to find someone who speaks better Spanish. I know the second grade teacher, G, has planning right now. Another very gentle woman. I think L might talk to her. We head down the hall. G is not in her room.

Way down at the end of our block long building, I see one of the paras, Mrs. O, a grandmotherly woman who makes the best chicken tacos I have ever eaten. We head her way.

I ask for help.

"¿Qué quieres, m'ija?" (What do you need, m'ija (this is a term of endearment, kind of like sweetheart), Mrs. O. says.

L says something. Again I think I hear the word ciclo and I wonder where I went wrong.

Mrs. O turns to me, "She wants to see the psicólogo, the psychologist," she says. "She is really worried about something."

We head down the hall to find J, another fully bilingual member of our staff. Thankfully, she is available, and I leave L in more capable hands.

Later, telling the story to several teachers, I laugh about holding up all of the different feminine products. It really is kind of funny, and yet at the same time, it's not. A child needed help and I failed her. I think about it all night long.

The next morning, I find L in the hall. I apologize. I tell her that I am learning Spanish, just like she is learning English. I ask if she will help me and she nods. I tell her I will help her with English. A small smile crosses her face and then she hugs me.

We are learners, making our way through new worlds together.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

SLICE #5- American PD Ninja Warriors

 Every once in a while, when I'm laying on the couch in a post school day stupor, I stumble across a show called American Ninja Warriors. Do you know the show? A group of stellar athletes, approximately 75% male, with an occasional woman thrown in for variety, and most with rock climbing experience, make their way through a giant obstacle course, going hand over hand across a seemingly endless set of parallel bars, flying through the air to an enormous spinning wheels, then jumping side to side against these huge red diving board looking things. There is also an obstacle where they hang from a steel pole, and jump it up and then down a series of pegs. In the final obstacles, contestants leap up a ten or twelve foot wall, and slam their hands down on a giant bell.  The person with the fastest time goes onto the next round, and ultimately someone is crowned the next American Ninja Warrior. There's a hefty prize for the winner.

This is definitely not me.
When I called to apply, I was informed that teachers, and more specifically those who make their living as professional developers are not allowed to enter these competitions, because we are far too well conditioned. I might agree that was true. Take today for instance.

My alarm went off at 2:30. I slammed my hand down on the bell, and leaped out of bed for the first obstacle of the day, the dreaded early morning shower, followed by a fifty-yard dash chasing my mother's dog around the backyard in pitch darkness. This was followed by the dreaded four-hour, powerpoint-sliding marathon.

I don't think this is me. 
At 6:30 I hoisted my fifty pound weight (also known as my computer bag), onto my shoulder and dashed to the car. I slid into the parking lot, noticing a previous contestant, the head of staff development for the two block approaching the next obstacle, a two block dash around the local high school, dragging her own computer and fifty pound cart, along with an additional tablet of chart paper. Her course, as a master staff developer, had several additional obstacles, including dragging her cart and chart paper up the ornate cement stairs at the front of the building, then three additional flights of stairs to the presentation room. She was a little winded and I predicted that she might follow  several others into the watery abyss.

This is not me either.
My course was equally rigorous. It began with hoisting my presentation cart out of the back of my trusty SUV (the majority of PD contestants own SUV's because there would be no other way to haul all your competition gear), then the sweetie scramble, where the contestant crawls underneath above mentioned SUV, picking up two hundred pieces of candy that fell on the ground, when the treat can tipped out of the cart when I lifted it from the back of the SUV. I then raced to the door, then pounded for approximately 5 minutes with the flat of my hand, and then the bottom of my shoe.

And then there was an intellectual challenge-- remembering the code to open the elevator doors. This particular obstacle also included a physical element- a twenty second interval  to manipulate the cart and all other obstacles through the elevator doors, after which time the doors closed.

By this time, most American Ninja Warriors would be physically exhausted. Not true of the PD Ninja Warriors. Today I crossed the River of Tears (twice), struggled through the Technological Terror in which the computer shuts down mid-presentation, and then the charger, which worked fine at home several hours earlier, refuses to charge the computer with 17% power and one hour left to present.

Finally, the end was in sight. I dragged my cart through the elevator obstacle once again, up a bumpy ramp, and thought I was done. But nope, not quite. A young woman was somehow locked out of the building, and I received a 20 minute penalty, trying to connect with someone and get her in.

I can definitely see why the American Ninja Warriors would not allow teachers to compete.

We'd win every time.
This might be me, but it's hard to tell because the photo is just a little blurry

Friday, March 4, 2016

Slice #4- Why I Comment

I prefer to write in the morning for lots of different reasons. My house is quiet. There are no size thirteen shoes tromping around on the floor above my writing spot in the basement. Neither of my four footed buddies is pleading for a walk or whining to go outside.  The house is still dark and I can't see the dust, covering every flat surface, in accusatory tectonic layers.
I also think much better in the morning. I'm fresher and the words flow more easily. When I look back on my posts, it's easy for me to see which ones were carefully crafted in the early morning hours, and which ones were dashed off to meet the midnight deadline.

Mostly, I write in the morning because of the comments. When you post in the morning, you get a lot more comments than you do when you post at night. I love getting comments. The comments tell me that people have read my stories, noticed my craft, and heard my heart.  As a single mom of two adoptive and sometimes pretty challenging young men, I have hugely, hugely appreciated people's affirmation and support. I can't even tell you how many people have prayed for me and my boys. The comments have mattered hugely.

Through comments, I have made some dear friends. Linda, at Teacher Dance, lives only three or four miles away from me, but we never would have connected if it hadn't been for slicing. Elisabeth Ellington shares my experiences as an adoptive mom of older children. And there are lots and lots of other slices, who I have followed for years and years. I have never met them in person, but I consider them dear friends, because we have sliced together, and connected through our comments.

I also love reading and commenting on other people's stories. For the past several years, I have had the privilege of serving on the Welcome Wagon, reading the stories of 5-10 new slicers every day. I love being open arms, welcoming them into our writing community.  I love breathing affirmation and courage into their writing hearts. I love hearing reading other people's stories, because stories are mirrors into my life. They helping me understand my own life. Slices are also windows into the world.  I understand the stories of people whose lives are hugely different than my own. They grow my heart.

I love slicing, but I also love commenting. Comments grow me as a writer, but more importantly, as a human being. Comments matter.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Slice #3- I've Got That Losing Feeling

OK, I'm just going to admit it right up front.

I've got that losing feeling.

I'm pretty creative.
And pretty unorganized.
As long as life is reasonable,
I can manage, pretty much,
to keep track of everything.

But when I get a little too tired,
or a little too stressed,
My life loses any semblance of order

And I get that losing feeling.

In the last month, I have lost:
     - my drivers' license
     - my debit card (twice)
    - a  stack of graded fourth grade essays,
    - a library book
    - and the dog's leash.
Today I lost my water bottle.
Oh, and also my laptop computer.
I work at a K-8 school.
The middle school kids at my school
are usually pretty mellow.
They definitely have their moments
but for the most part,
they are pretty good.

That hasn't been true
for the last two weeks.
These absolutely weeks
they have been absolutely crazy.

I think it's partly Spring,
and partly hormones
and partly the fact
that one of their teachers
has been in Peru
for the past two weeks
because her mother is dying.

And they are crazy.

This afternoon we had Reading Rocket
(known in my day as the bookmobile).
I went upstairs to get the middle schoolers.
I was walking down the hall
when the sixth grade door burst open
and two  boys
burst out the door,
followed by one of our terrific young teachers.
The boys stomped down the hall
and plopped themselves at a table
we use for writing conferences and small groups.
I have a few more strategies in my tool box
so I followed the group back down the hall.

An hour later, the situation was over.
I was preparing for a meeting
and went to pick my computer.
And I suddenly realized
that I had absolutely no idea
where I had left my computer
or my water bottle.
I was more worried about my computer.

I backtracked my steps-
the auditorium
the library,
the first grade,
the cafeteria
the computer was no where to be found.
I spent a frantic hour looking
and looking and looking

And then the secretary called me.
The assistant principal had found
my computer in the library.
She had left it in the office.
My heart, which had been beating
 frantically for  an hour,
slowed a little.

I've got that losing feeling.
And I hate it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Slice #2: Welcome to the Club, T!

T is a member of my second grade reading intervention group.
He is as nice a kid as you will ever find,
a hard, hard worker,
solemn, sweet, friendly
and as full of integrity as the day is long.  

The reading thing, however,  has not come easy for this little guy.
The state of Colorado measures reading growth using a tool called the DRA2.
By the end of kindergarten, kids are supposed to read at a Level 4. T was at a 1.
By the end of first grade, they should be at a 16. T was at a 4.
He loves to listen to stories, and talk about them,
but he just wasn't pulling things together himself.
We had read our way up to Level 10,
but then we got stuck.
For about a month, nothing happened.

And then yesterday, we had a major breakthrough.
There are usually four kids in his group,
but the three girls were creating a puppet show setting
and so I gave them the day off.
T and I sat on the floor with our latest read, All About Dinosaurs.
We had read the book the day before,
so the day's work was supposed to be about fluency.
D loved the book, and couldn't wait to talk about it.
He began with a diagram that compared a dinosaur to a school bus.
He though that that would be about two thirds as long as the classroom.
Maybe a little longer. We moved on to talk about several
other pictures, and then it was time to read.
I asked him what strategies he was using.
He told me he always looks at the pictures.
Some times he reads on or reads back.
Sometimes he uses his finger to cover the suffix,
a strategy we call big fat thumb
He had struggled horribly the last time
we had group, on the Friday before.
Today he started slowly and then picked up speed,
until pretty soon, he was actually reading,
word after word, sentence after sentence,
page after page
He closes the book
and finishes with a huge grin.
We visit the principal to share T's good news,
and then he decides he would like
 to tell his first grade teacher.
She is thrilled too, and invites her to come
and read to the first grade.

"The whole class," he says, "or just a few kids?"

"Which would you like?" she says.

T thought he should start with a small group.
Kathy invited him to come at 9:30.
This morning, I picked him up at 9:15,
because he had asked to practice one more time
We read through the book. He made more mistakes than he had made yesterday
and I was a little worried.

At 9:30 we headed into first grade.

"I don't have to read to all of these kids, do I?"

I reminded him that he had said he wanted to read to a small group.

He was relieved.

T sat in the teacher's chair at the back of the kidney table.

I could see his hands shaking.

I introduced him and then he told the kids about himself.

He said that he used to read a level 4,  but that he had worked hard,

and now he can read a level 18.

He told him that if they worked hard,

they could read too.

And then he started to read.

With each page, his voice got more confident.

When he had to problem solve,

he stopped at the end of the page

and we talked about what he had done.

He told the first graders he would love

to come and read again,

and that he would be glad to teach them some strategies,

If they told him which ones they wanted to learn.

He got up from the table, smiling.

Both Kathy and I were ready to cry.

Welcome to the club, T, welcome to the club!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

SLICE #1- The mind of a six-year-old

K is a seventh grader at my school. She's had a tough couple of years. Her mom is a single mom, working two or three jobs, to keep her family afloat. Last year her grandmother, probably K's most significant adult, died in the middle of PARCC. Her best friend did one of those middle school abandonment things. One day they were best friends. The next day they were worst enemies. K didn't know why. She cried a lot.

K is a smart, smart girl. And a terrific big sister. Last year, she helped me teach J the alphabet, then sight words. She reads to him every day.  Helps with homework. Assumes the parent role when her mom is gone. She's a smart girl, a sweet girl.

Today I hear her coming from about halfway down the building. They are arguing.

"J," says K. "You have got to change. It's embarrassing."

J shakes his head. "No," he declares adamantly.

K tries again. "You have got to change," she says. "Sit down on the side of the hall and we will fix them."

J refuses again.

"You are embarrassing me," she says again.

It doesn't take long for me to figure out what is wrong.

J's shoes, little black leather high tops with bright red strings, are on the wrong feet.  They point outward, and he waddles down the hall, his backward shoes slapping against the floor.

K is a great little mother, but she deserves to be a teenager. I try to help her. "J, I'm great at shoe tying. You switch your shoes and I will help you tie them."

Again, J refuses. And again, K. reminds him that he is embarrassing her.

I try a different approach. "Well, I guess you can try them that way. I'm not sure they will e comfortable that way.  Try it. If they are uncomfortable, let me know, and I will help you."

J still doesn't want his shoes tied. His sister rolls her eyes again.

And then the bell rings. I tell K to go to class. I will handle this. K sighs. "He is so embarrassing," she says. He never listens to me. And he looks like a nerd with his shoes on the wrong feet."

I laugh and tell her little kids have been wearing their shoes on the wrong feet for many years. I tell her a story about a little girl in my class. She had bright yellow patent leather shoes. And she wore them on the wrong feet every day. It got to the point that the principal was coming down every morning to change Shani's shoes. And every day, as soon as he left, she changed them back. And wore them backwards all day long. This story makes K and her friend M, who arrived mid shoe saga, laugh. The girls head upstairs to their classroom.

I head into first grade. Somehow, Kathy, J's first grade teacher, who is masterful at entering into the minds of her six-year-olds, has convinced J to change his shoes. She is bent down tying his shoes, which are now on the right feet.

The mind of a six-year-old. A strange and wonderful (albeit slightly embarrassing) land.