Sunday, March 31, 2013

SLICE #31- Because stories matter

And now we are at the end.
I've written every day
I've told stories about me 
(me in numbers, personal ad, 
puppy watching,
 junior organizational goddess, unexpected detours)
stories about my parenting and my life with the boys 
(sea glass, i wish my boys had a dad,
parenting from afar, call me mom, 
mom of the quarterback, tenebrae,
that's what moms do)
stories of my teaching 
(two posts about underwear, 
several posts about testing, 
a post about proficiency, 
a letter to Don Graves)
stories about Star 
(the bread fairy, 
the night watch girl, 
the Easter bunny)
and made a half hearted attempt at poetry
there's also been a little miscellany 
(split second decision).

Slicing was hard this year
and I'm struck by the posts
that I didn't write 
or started
but didn't finish

in the past few years
I've written lots of posts
about Son #1
I wanted to write more
about Son #2
and I started a million posts
but didn't finish them
that relationship is complex
and painful
and hard to write about
someday i hope.

When I commit to slicing
I also commit to commenting
I love, love, love
 getting responses to my stories
knowing that other people are reading
the words I send out into the world
I have appreciated
people's encouragement
and love
and prayers
this year
more than ever.

I know that other people love comments too. 
And so I've commented quite a bit this year…
Comments to old friends,
people that I've sliced with for  years
and lots of new folks too.
I've read more posts than I have commented on
Sometimes I have read the post
and decided to think about
and come back later
(you know how that goes!)
Sometimes I have just not have words
and so I have said nothing.
(I think that's the coward's way out). 
I wish I had said something.

I'm ending this March
thinking about next year 
I want to start earlier
to get friends and people in my building involved
 professionally because I think that 
writing in the SOLS challenge
would make them better teachers of writing
and selfishly
I want to know people's stories
because stories matter.
Maybe I will put out a post this week
and invite people to warm up
by slicing on Tuesdays.

 Next year I want to
comment on class slices
(I didn't do that at all this year)
and I want to see if I can get some classes
in my school
to do some slicing.

I'm grateful
once again
to Ruth and Stacey
for hosting
the Slice of Life Challenge
to everyone who sliced
and to everyone who commented.

Because stories matter.

Until Tuesday…

Saturday, March 30, 2013


"I don't want you to come to my track meet tomorrow," declares my son, in a voice that is less than friendly. "I'm not running and I don't want you to come."

I hear this with mixed emotions. On one hand, I am glad that my son does not want me to come. The track meet is about 90 minutes away on rural backroads. It's the end of my vacation and I still have lots I need to do and lots I want to do. On the other hand, I love watching my boys perform. I can count on one hand the number of games and practices I have missed. I am there for them. That's what mothers do.

K is insistent. "I mean it. I don't want you there." We go back and forth several times and finally I acquiesce. "All right, I won't come," I say.

I am awake the next morning when he gets up at 4:15. I lay there, listening to his 6'5" body tromp around in the bedroom above mine for about thirty minutes. Finally I get up.

"Are you sure you don't want me to come?" I ask again.

"I'm sure," he says, more than a little firmly. "I don't want you there."

He leaves a little after 5 and I go back to sleep for a couple of hours. I wake a little after seven, intending to work on my slice, then spend the day doing yard work and house work.

But I cannot stop thinking about my son. I have always been at his meets and it feels wrong not to be there for him. I try, unsuccessfully, to concentrate on my slice. I can't do it.

Finally, after 45 minutes of wrestling with myself, I stand up and put my computer aside.  I don't care what my son says. I am going to be there for him. That's what mothers do.

After a quick stop at the bank, I am on my way. I drive for 90 minutes, drinking in the blue, blue Colorado sky and the picture postcard beauty of Pikes Peak. Finally I arrive. The parking lot is filled with buses and buses and buses. I wonder if I will be able to find my son, but when I come around the corner, he is one of the first people I see, standing there with his girlfriend.

He looks angry. "What are you doing?" he hisses.

"I'm here for you," I say. "I have never missed an event, and I'm not starting now."

He turns away. I head for the bleachers, planning to stay for a couple of hours.

Five minutes later, my son stands beside me with his girlfriend.

"Do you have any money?" he says. "Can you buy us lunch? R (girlfriend) tried, but they won't take any cards."

"So you're talking to me now?" I say.

"Yeah, I guess," he says."Why did you come?"

"Because that's my job. That's what mothers do."

We walk to the concession stand, and I buy $10 worth of chicken sandwiches and gatorades. I remember a candy bar, purchased to meet a $5 minimum at a convenience store, that I have shoved into the bottom of my purse and hand that to him as well.

"You're the best," says the son who did not want me to come.

"Are you staying to watch me run?" says R. "You missed my first events, but I will run again later, toward the end of the meet."

I tell her I have to run an errand before three, back in town, but I will stay as long as I can.

Track, in my opinion, is about as exciting as watching paint dry. Thirty seconds of action, followed by ten or fifteen minutes of waiting. I sit there for one hour, two hours, three hours, almost four. I try to read, but have a hard time concentrating.

Finally, I find myself standing by the fence, holding a pair of kind of smelly pink tennis shoes, while R runs.  I cheer frantically, throw the tennis shoes over the fence, and give my son a hug, then dash to the car so I can make it back to Denver to run my errand.

Because that's what mothers do.

Friday, March 29, 2013


Last night
I attended Tenebrae
the service of darkness.

when the service begins
the sanctuary
is lit by candles

The congregation shares
in communion
the holiest of all celebrations

Jesus invites his disciples
to eat the bread
"This is my body,
broken for you,
Eat this in remembrance of me.

And drink the wine.
This is my blood
poured out for you
drink this in remembrance of me.

as pastors read
the stories of Jesus' last days on earth

are extinguished
one by one

Jesus washes the disciples' feet
tells Peter
that he will betray him
three times before the cock crows

a candle is blown out
the world becomes darker

Jesus sends Judas
out to betray him

a candle is blown out
and the world becomes darker


the soldiers come
and Jesus is betrayed.

a candle is blown out
the world becomes darker

And then 
the Author of Love
is plunged into the depths of hatred.

My God, my God, 
why have you forsaken me?
and are so far from my cry
and from the words of my distress?
O my God, I cry in the daytime, 
but you do not answer; 
by night as well, but I find no rest.

the pastor carries
the final candle
the Christ candle
out of the room

the sanctuary is dark

and the congregants leave 
in total silence

waiting for Resurrection Sunday

this morning
like a thousand others
I cry out to God

I have prayed
and prayed
for change
in my boys' lives
I have prayed for healing
and for wholeness.

I have prayed
that my boys would know
in the innermost depth of their being
that they are loved
by me
but more importantly
by the Father. 
And that that love
would set them free
to be the men
I know live inside
their broken
wounded hearts.

I have prayed for 
godly men
to walk alongside of them
on this journey

and yet

for the last two years
Our lives have felt like

one candle 
after another

Until we are left
in total darkness
and His voice is 
replaced by silence

My God, my God, 
why have you forsaken me?
and are so far from my cry
and from the words of my distress?
O my God, I cry in the daytime, 
but you do not answer; 
by night as well, but I find no rest.

I am trying hard
to remember
to believe
and to wait patiently

for Resurrection Sunday.

You are holy,
O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
In You our fathers trusted;
They trusted and You delivered them.
To You they cried out and were delivered;
In You they trusted and were not disappointed.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


Earlier this month, I wrote about how my black lab, Star, has a direct connection to the Bread Fairy, who makes regular deposits in our neighborhood. Now it seems that Star also has a direct connection to the Easter Bunny.

Let me backtrack a little. Last weekend I was at the grocery store. Because Son #1 is 900 miles away, and won't be home for Easter, I decided to put together an Easter basket, and send it to him. And then I decided that while I was buying goodies for his basket, I might as well buy the materials to create baskets for Son #2 and for their sister.

I made Son #1's basket and mailed it off earlier this week, then I hid the rest of the candy in the back of my closet, so no one would find it before Easter.

Today, I had to run to the grocery store to buy washer fluid, which Son #2 had asked for, and which I had forgotten. I was gone, umm, maybe about 20 minutes. Usually, when she is left home alone, Star hangs out on the couch, watching out the front window, waiting for someone to return. As soon as I open the front door, she's all over me, licking me, knocking things out of my hands, etc.

Today was a little bit different. I came back from the store and opened the front door.

No Star.

It was a gorgeous sunny day, and we have a dog door, so I thought maybe she was out back, enjoying the sun on the deck. I called her name.

No Star.

By now I was starting to get a little worried. Star always greets us when we come home. I wondered if someone had left the gate open and Star had gone on one of her regularly scheduled field trips.  I walked through the house, calling her name.

Still no Star.

I could hear something out in the backyard, so I went outside.

There was Star.

She was having her own private Easter egg hunt.

Somehow, she had gotten into my closet. And found the Easter candy.

In the twenty minutes I was gone, she ate a chocolate bunny.

And a 12 pack of Peeps.

And a large bag of jelly beans. 

The remains of the second chocolate bunny was hanging out of her mouth.

And amazingly, she isn't the least bit sick.

She keeps going back to my closet and sniffing at the door.

She's hoping that the Easter bunny might have left something else for her.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


And then I am the quarterback's mom.

It happened, actually, kind of unexpectedly.

Zay, who was on the 9 and 10 year old team, had practice that day. K, who was on the 7 and 8 year old team, did not have practice. K and I were at the park, then, watching his brother. Actually, I was watching and K was throwing a football on the grass with another player from his team. For whatever reason, K's coach stopped by the field to bring me something, probably information from the latest of the never-ending football fundraisers. The coach and I were talking, when all of a sudden, he stopped mid-sentence.

"Did you see that?" he said.

I am not sure what he is talking about.

"Does he always throw like that?"

I still don't have any idea what he is talking about. My gaze follows his finger and I realize he is referring to my son.

I shrug. "I guess. He and Zay throw the ball around the yard all the time."

Coach N cannot believe his eyes. He jogs down the field and asks my son to throw the ball a few more times.

And with that, a quarterback is born.

And so is a quarterback's mom. Which is at least as complicated as the quarterback. (For those of you who don't know much about football, the quarterback is kind of like the lead player for the team. Generally, especially with kids, the coach calls the plays from the sidelines, but it's up to the quarterback to communicate them to the rest of the players and then to lead the team as they execute them).

I soon discover that there is a lot to being the quarterback's mom. Perhaps one of the most important jobs, especially when the quarterback is young, is keeping track of all of his gear.  The quarterback, for instance, has a special armband. It's about six inches wide, and has a plastic pocket on it. Every week, the coach creates plays appropriate for the team they are playing against. And then the team practices those plays all week. On Friday, the coach emails the plays to the quarterback's mom. Usually about midnight, so they will be ready in plenty of time for the 6:45 am warmups. And it is the mom's job to print them, and then cut them out so they fit perfectly into the little pocket on the wristband, so they will be ready for the next day's game.

The quarterback has other special equipment. There is the sacred towel. This is not a regular old, buy at W-Mart or JCPenny on the white sale table for $1.99 towel; instead there is specific brand of towel. It's kind of shaped like a triangle. And it has velcro on the pointy end. And costs quite a bit more than a regular towel, usually about $8.99. The quarterback uses it to keep his hands dry so that he can handle the ball accurately. On sunny warm days, the quarterback only needs one towel. Although it is always good to have a backup, because one never knows when said towel may get yanked off, and thrown in the one mud puddle on the field. And then the towel will have to be replaced (or retrieved by the aforenamed quarterback's mom, who does not have millions of dollars to keep buying new towels, and is consequently the one seen wading into said mud puddle to retrieve the towels).

On cold days or wet days, though, that's another story. On those days, the quarterback needs at least four towels. One for every quarter. Or sometimes more. And he also needs a handmuff, a tube-shaped pocket that straps around his waist. Inside of that are little hand warmers, tiny plastic packets with chemicals that magically release warmth when they are rubbed. The quarterback's mother must have an endless supply of these packets during football season, because the quarterback dispenses them freely to other members of the team who also need warm hands, so they can catch his passes. (And in case you are wondering, running backs also use those inside their special $52 pair running back gloves). All of this gear must be readied and packed in the quarterback's bag the night before each game. The bag must then be placed by the front door. Heaven help the quarterback's mom who forgets the all-important gear bag (don't ask me how I know that!).

In addition to being in charge of the quarterback's gear, the quarterback's mom is also in charge of the quarterback's diet. This is a highly specialized and ongoing project.  She has to make sure his favorite breakfast foods are in the house for the morning of the game, or when he gets to high school, that he has enough money for a healthy carbohydrate-loaded lunch, and also to make a Chipotle run after school, since he will not eat again until roughly 11 p.m. that night. When he gets to high school, she also has to throw in a little extra, so that any lineman who do not have his own money will be able to eat too. She doesn't want weak, starving linemen protecting her son.

When the quarterback is young, before he gets to high school, it is the quarterback's mother's job has to make sure that the all important game day rituals are followed.  No one (except the quarterback and his brother) is allowed to complain, nag, or be otherwise unpleasant on game days. The quarterback can carry his game bag, and possibly his helmet, but should never be asked to carry anything else, e.g. the team water cooler, because he might expend energy that he will need later. The music station has to be set to the quarterback's favorite hip hop station. If it's an away game, the qb's mother must mapquest the route ahead of time. She should not expect the quarterback or his running back brother to help her figure out where the field is. They are in their game heads, not to be disturbed. And once enroute, absolutely no one is allowed to talk until the car arrives at the field. 

Please be aware, too, that while no one is allowed to talk, the quarterback's mom is in charge of the quarterback's attitude. She has to make sure he is "up" for game day. This process begins early in the week, as she sits on the sidelines at practice, noting good plays, so she can point those out to him periodically throughout the week.  She is also allowed to give thumbs ups or encouraging smiles throughout the week. She is not allowed, at any time, to shout things like "Good job, sweetie!" or "Great throw, honey!"even if it's true.

The quarterback's mom needs to make sure the quarterback doesn't get discouraged when things are not going well. Sometimes this means patting him on the back and assuring him that he is doing fine. Other times it means hissing, in a voice not to be heard by other parents, "You get your act together, do you hear me? You are eleven years old. Put on your big boy pants and act like a quarterback." Sometimes, unfortunately, taking care of the quarterback also means protecting him from crazy parents, intervening when over zealous, game crazed adults, who should have remembered they were talking to a child, yelled at him, or blamed him for the team's errors.

Because her son is the quarterback, and allegedly the leader of the team, the quarterback's mom becomes the leader of the parents. The coach depends on her a lot. She gets to organize everything from rides to the games, to filling the water jugs, to buying and cutting oranges and hauling them around in tupperware bins for halftime, to keeping track of the number of plays each player has had. She gets to plan the team picnics and team banquets. She gets to start all of the phone chains, and turn in the roster to the umpires each week. In high school, she gets to stand up and talk at parent night. And wash the stinky uniforms every week too.

There is a lot to being the quarterback. But I think, perhaps, there is even more to being the quarterback's mom.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

SLICE #26- Son #2

When I look back through my slices, I find many about Son #1. And only a few about Son #2. While that has not been a purposeful decision, I think it does represent the state of my relationship with my boys. My sons are very, very different, both in looks and in personality. Son #1 was much harder when I first adopted the boys- volatile, prone to kicking, throwing, breaking, screaming rages. Son #2 was quiet, withdrawn, really only expressing unhappiness each evening when I turned off his much loved Xbox and enforced my "only an hour of screen time and only after homework" rule. Over the years, however, it's been Son #1 who has become much more attached. Son #2 has remained silent, aloof, withdrawn. I haven't written as much about him because quite honestly, I'm never quite sure what to say. Despite ten years of trying and despite years of therapy, we are still really not all that connected. I've decided (and this may be a one day decision), then, to try to write a few slices about Son #2.

July, 2012.
Sunday afternoon.
K and I are sitting outside the car wash,
waiting for his car to be detailed.
Last night, I returned from a whirlwind 48 hour road trip,
Launching Son #1 on his 900 mile journey to college.
It was a long drive.
I would have loved for Son #2 to ride along.
Would have loved the company
and the help driving. 
He, of course, refused.
Said he did not want to spend those long hours
in the car with me.
That was probably at least partly true.

More true, though,
I think
is the fact that K cannot bear
those long hours of saying goodbye
to his brother
best friend
half soul.

They have always been together
even when there was no one else.

I picture them
the year before they came to live with me
Six and seven years old
Forest green uniform shirts
khaki pants
laceless tennis shoes
standing on a corner
waiting for a ride
a block away from school
I am on my way home
and they are waiting
for their foster mom to pick them up
two hours after school has let out.

I picture them
that first summer
we were a family.
Every night
we read for half an hour
the boys would start out at opposite ends of the couch
but as the minutes ticked by
they would inch closer and closer
until they were sitting shoulder to shoulder
or sometimes laying on their bellies
one on top of the other.

And then I would put them to bed
under blue and red plaid comforters
in their L-shaped bunk beds
They would start out separately
But when I went to wake them up
they were almost always
curled tight against each other
against the darkness of the world.

They have always been together
even when there was no one else.

Nine years on the football field.
Son #1 a running back.
Son #2 the quarterback.
They are stars. 
Years of playing in the backyard
or on the street in front of the house
they know each other's rhythms perfectly.
When one, usually son #2, the quarterback,
goes down,
the other is right there
to pick him up
brush  him off
make sure he is safe.

In high school
most weekends
they set off
in the car
to "see some girls."
I do not like these nights
I worry
about parties
car wrecks and
drive by shootings
but I know the boys are
and they will take care of each other.

They have always been together
even when there was no one else.

But now
Son #1 is gone.
The silence
left by  the departure
 of my very quiet son
is huge.
An ache
extends from my stomach
all the way
to a lump in my throat
that makes it hard
for anything to pass.

I cannot imagine
the emptiness
Son #2 must be feeling.

They have always been together
even when there was no one else.

And so we sit at the car wash.
I do not have the right words
but I have spent ten years
trying to teach my boys
to feel.
And I know I need to somehow
acknowledge the grief
he must be feeling.

"I miss your brother so much
 I can hardly stand it," I say.
"I can't even imagine
how you must be feeling."

K has no words
he nods
and one tear
rolls down his cheek.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Slice #25- What Readers Do

Thursday night. I have an appointment at 6. Traffic in Denver is pretty unpredictable, so I leave work at five, just to make sure I'm on time. Sometimes I leave at 5, and get there with only minutes to spare. Other times I leave at five, and am there in twenty minutes.

Tonight, I am there in twenty minutes. We are finishing our state tests, and I'm tired. It actually feels good to sit and wait. And I love this office, because she has lots of good magazines. Ones I wouldn't necessarily buy- Readers' Digest, Prevention, Cooking Southern Style (that might not be the exact title, but it's the gist of the magazine)- but that are kind of fun to read. And who cares if they are six months old. It's not like I'm reading six month old issues of Time or Newsweek. 

I am leafing through a Readers Digest from last June when I find it. An article about five high school students who had survived a bear attack in the Alaskan wilderness. One of the kids, Sam Gottsegen, is actually from Denver. He's even a student in the Denver Public Schools.

By the time the doctor comes out to greet me, I am practically worked into a frenzy. "Can I please borrow this magazine?" I ask. "I promise I will bring it back."

Roxanne looks at the magazine, then at me. "That one?" she says. "It's six months old. You can have it."

"Are you sure?" I say. "I can bring it back when I come next time."

"Carol," she says a little more firmly, "you can have the six-month-old Readers' Digest.  I don't need it back. There are plenty of magazines here. Just take it."

I shove my treasure into my purse, careful not to bend the corner. You see, I am a woman with a plan.

For the entire week of state tests, I have been filling the time between tests by reading aloud to my group of seventh graders. I chose a brand new book by Colorado author Will Hobbs. NEVER SAY DIE is the story of Nick Thrasher, a teenager growing up in a remote part of Alaska. While hunting caribou to feed his grandfather, who is dying of cancer, he encounters a strange and aggressive creature, a hybrid grizzly and polar bear known as the grolar bear.

Shortly after that, Nick is contacted by an older brother, who is a wildlife photographer. The brother wants Nick to accompany him on a rafting trip to a remote region where they will take pictures of the caribou migration. On the trip, they once again encounter the mysterious grolar bear.

My seventh graders are enjoying the book, but they are not quite sure they believe the bear piece. They don't believe that bears are that big. Or that they can run that fast. Or that they would be that aggressive. Nothing I say or do convinces them.

But now I have an article. With pictures, In a six month old magazine.

I cannot wait to share my treasure with my students.

Because that's what readers do.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


So I think I missed this parenting chapter too.

The one about where the son dates a girl.
For quite a long time.
Steadily for sixteen months.
Then off and on
for the next two years.

And she's darling.
Spiritually minded. 
And cute as a bug besides.

She is strong enough
to be unimpressed
by his high school quarterback persona
strong enough
to ignore the throng
of adoring fans (mostly girls)
strong enough
to tell him
on a fairly regular basis
when he's being a jerk

She is not strong enough
to be unmarked
fears from his past
cause him
to be unkind and
push her away

they break up.

But I have been
sort of
another mother
Helped her navigate rough waters
with her own family
have become
And so I continue
to follow her life
through social networking
attend a volleyball game
admire her prom pictures
send a graduation present
sneak out for coffee
once in a while

Then my son
tells me
she is home for spring break
they might get together
I try to stay noncommital
but secretly
I wish
my son would
be one of those guys
who married his high school sweetheart.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

SLICE #23- In which I encounter a few detours

Posted yesterday about daffodils, then woke this morning to a blizzard. Ok, maybe not a real blizzard, not one of those two feet of snow, the power's off for a week blizzards like all my New England friends have experienced all winter, but it is a good 8 inches of snow, and still coming down hard, and sideways, a nice day to stay inside and read or bake cookies or finish my taxes that I started two weeks ago kind of day.

I decide I will finish my taxes. The ones I started two weeks ago. When I had deluded myself into believing that my organizational skills might be getting a little better.

I actually did quite a bit on my taxes two weeks ago. Now I am at the point where I need to go through my bank statements and find all of the charges for my son's college tuition, Kinko's, International Reading Association, etc. And yes, I am very much aware that there are some people who have systems in which they keep track of those kinds of tax deductible expenses throughout the year, and thus do not have to spend hours sorting through bank accounts during tax season.

And no, I am not one of those people.

So this morning, after I have procrastinated for an hour or so- eaten breakfast, responded to a few slices, started a load of laundry, looked out the window to calculate the amount of snow that has fallen, chatted with a high school acquaintance on Facebook- I decide that I will log on to my bank account and begin working on my taxes.

The problem is, I can't log on.

I try to call the customer service line to identify the problem.

I get a recording saying that I am calling after business hours.

I'm pretty sure, actually positive, that they are open for two more hours, and so I decide that I will just head over to the bank. I bundle up in my warm clothes and slog out to the car. I should shovel, but I am determined to do my taxes, and I want to make sure that I arrive at the bank before it closes.

Unfortunately, my car is buried under a foot of snow. 

I hunt down the snow brush. We have had a really mild winter, no snow at all until mid-February,  and I haven't used it much at all. When I dig it out from under the seat, I remember that Son #1 told me that he broke it when he was home in December. The handle is now only about six inches long. I realize I am going to need a different implement.

I slog back to the house for the snow shovel, then back out to the car.

I shovel the foot of the snow off of the car, then throw the shovel in the back, so that I won't have to slog back to the house. I head for the bank. The roads are either 1) plowed and icy, icy, icy OR 2) not plowed and like driving through a snow drift. I persevere. I am determined to finish my taxes.

The bank parking lot has been plowed, kind of. It's warm enough, I guess for the plowed snow to start melting. I slog through about six inches of water and arrive at the front door with my feet and the bottom of my jeans dripping wet.

The bank is usually crowded, but today it's empty. Empty that is, except for two tellers and three people waiting to see the customer service manager that I need to see. The teller informs me that my wait will be an hour.

"No problem," I say.  I sit there for about five minutes before I decide I need something to read. The bank doesn't have any magazines, but I remember I have Will Hobbs' newest book in my work bag in the car.

I slog back out through the foot of water, get my book, and head back in to wait. Now my feet and the bottom of my jeans are beyond wet.

I read for 20 minutes and am just getting to a good part when the bank manager comes out to talk to me. Their system is down. She won't be able to fix my account until 1:00. She promises she will do it before she goes home, but that it will be a while.

I tell her I really need to do my taxes.

She tells me that I don't have to worry, that she will take care of it, but that I don't need to wait.

I slog back out to the car and head for home. On the way, I remember that there was an issue with a bank account at a different bank this summer. The account had to be closed. I will need to go to that bank to get the rest of my information.

I head for that bank. The 15-minute trip takes about 45 minutes.  This time, I don't chance it. I take Will Hobbs with me into the bank, just in case I have to wait. I explain my situation to the banker. He prints out the information I need and I am on my way. No wait at all.

I head for home.

I am determined to finish my taxes.

Friday, March 22, 2013


Yesterday, was my eighth straight day 
of administering state tests and makeups.
Then I attended a required two-hour professional development session.
Then came home to two teenagers watching Netflix 
while their sinkful of dirty dishes waited for me.
I didn't feel up for an argument so I did the dishes (bangily!)
then put the dog on her leash and headed out for walk
in the last few minutes of that grayish light 
that happens right before night comes. 
It was cold and windy 
(the high tomorrow, our first day of Spring Break, 
is supposed to be 23 degrees)
I was so tired
trudging along behind the dog
picking my feet up only high enough
to keep from tripping over
the very bumpy hundred year-old sidewalks
which have caused me to take several knee-skinning spills.
 I rounded the corner
at 23rd and Birch
And then I saw them. 

 The very first daffodils of spring.  

I stopped and just stood there
breathing in all that yellow joy
while the dog snuffed impatiently
at the end of the leash.

And I thought of one of my favorite,  favorite spring poems,
Ralph Fletcher's "Daffodils." 
His book, Ordinary Things 
is about 15 years old. 
It's still one of my favorite spring poetry collections. 
I share this poem every year about this time.

They put on
a little show
simply by being
so yellow.
Their stems
darkly green
against the
faded brown barn.
Ralph Fletcher
from Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring

This morning, I got up and wrote
Just a little. A haiku. That morphed into a baby poem. 
That might become something else later on.
When I have more time to play with it. 


i breathe daffodils.
that sunshine yellow soul juice
they promise me spring 


some people search for
their leprechaun's pot of gold 
at the end of the rainbow

I hunt for daffodils
that soul's gold
that promises 


Some people collect gold.

I collect gold too.

old friends
and daffodils
form my golden collection.  

If you want more poetry, head over to Poetry Friday at Greg Pincus'  Gotta Book. 
Greg hosts an amazing poetry celebration every April.

Happy Friday! Happy Spring!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Slice #21- In which I again encounter underpants

4:15 on Wednesday afternoon. 

We are nearing the end of two weeks of state testing. These days for me are endless, energy-sucking, mind-numbing, spirit-breaking,  and I am exhausted. My shoulders are knotted and tense, and I have woken with a dull throbbing headache every morning.

Then R, a sandy-haired, snub-nosed, freckle-faced, kindergarten friend comes up the stairs to pick up his sister from dance practice. R and I are good friends. I work with him every morning in a kindergarten intervention group. Two or three times a week, I also see him on the playground, when I am called to help this rough and tumble, middle-of-the-action, football-throwing, basketball-dribbling, soccer-ball-kicking kind of kid, pick himself up off the field when he gets dinged up at noon recess.

“Hey, how do you read this anyway?” he says, flapping a book at me. 

It seems kind of a funny question and I wonder what “this” is. I think maybe he has gotten a nonfiction book with a weird format or typeface. Or maybe he has accidentally picked up a Spanish book in our library and doesn't recognize any of the words yet.

It turns out to be nothing quite so unusual. It is, instead, UNDERPANTS, THUNDERPANTS, a picture book by Peter Bentley. Brand new evidently, by the condition of the cover.  The primary classrooms at my school are involved in a program that allows them to order $7 worth of books every month. I saw the kindergarten para sorting out the order yesterday, and I suspect that R's new book  came from there.

It’s a silly book. Dog hangs his underwear on the line, then a storm blows up, and all of his underdrawers- his tighty whities, his zebra striped boxers, the turquoise blue briefs with tabby cat heads- take flight. Each pair of underpants ends up having its own little adventure. It is a simple text, with not too much print and great picture support,  absolutely perfect for a beginning-to-read guy like my friend, R.

I read the first page aloud, drawing my finger under the words, so he can follow along.
One day when the weather 
Dog hangs his UNDERPANTS
 out on the line.
R recognizes the, is, and as sight words from the leveled texts he reads in our intervention group. I try to get him to use picture clues to say underpants, but he just looks at me, as if he cannot quite believe a word like that might actually show up in printed material.

After one page, I get distracted by a parent who needs me to answer a question about a program that is starting the week after spring break. R moves away. When I turn around, I see him standing in the middle of the hall, trying to read UNDERPANTS THUNDERPANTS to himself.

I call him back to me and we sit, side by side, on the stairs in the middle of the front hall, two readers enjoying a new book together.

The word underpants appears on every page. R wrinkles his nose and covers his mouth every time he sees it.

I cannot help but grin at R's reaction. We start to giggle. Laugh at all of the different kinds of underwear. Exclaim over the predicaments the underwear causes.

Mariachi practice lets out and we are surrounded by kids and parents and musical instruments. More than once, I think we should probably move out of people's way, but we are having too much fun. The kids coming out of mariachi practice step around us, not seeming to mind that we have become a human road block.  

R and I finish his book. It is one of those books that you finish, and want to immediately start all over again. Bur R's sister appears, and his daycare provider is ready to leave.

R holds up his new book. "Can we read this at home?" he asks his fourth grade sister. His sister tells him she will read it with him, maybe even in the car.

And for the first time today,  actually maybe for the first time in almost two weeks, I remember why I became a teacher.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


My sons don't call me Mom.  They never have.

The boys knew me first as Ms. Wilcox. The assistant principal. The lady they talked to when they got in trouble at school. Which was relatively often.

When they came to live with me, I told them they could call me mom or mommy or mother. Son #2 wrote a story in his second grade writers' notebook about how he was going to live with me and call me mamma. He spelled it that way. With two m's in the middle.

A dear friend does foster care, and her babies call her, Miss Deb, or Mama Deb. I suggested that my boys could call me Mama Carol. Nope.

Kids at school call me Ms. Carol or sometimes Dr. Carol.  I suggested my boys could use that moniker. Nope.

The football players call me Ms. Carol or sometimes Mom Carol. Nope.

My boys don't call me any of those things.

To them, I'm Ms. Wilcox.

When they talk about me to other people, they say "my mom." My mom says she can do a parent teacher conference at 3 on Thursday. She'll just take off work.  OR Sure, my mom would be happy to drive us to a field across town and sit there for three hours at noon in the middle of July while we scrimmageOr when Son #1 was in middle school, "My mom would be happy to bake a Tres Leches cake for our class food festival. She bakes them all the time." (Not!)

But the boys never call me "Mom" to my face. 

It's not that I haven't tried. That first summer I reminded them, more than once, actually probably about a million times, that they could call me Mom. Several different therapists have set that as a goal. Even football coaches have encouraged the boys to call me Mom.

My boys, especially the older one, respond, "Love you too," when I tell them I love them. My boys do give me hugs. They do send an occasional "love you" text (if they want money).

But our relationship is a curious and distant thing. I am their mom, but only kind of. I do all the things a regular mom does, or at least I think I do, but even now, after ten years, I'm still not exactly a real mom. When I write notes or cards to the boys, I never quite know how to sign them. Should I sign them, Love you, Mom? Or do I sign, Love you, Ms. Wilcox?

The therapist holds up her two index fingers. Moves them until they are side by side, touching.

"The normal parent/child relationship is like this, Carol."

She pulls her fingers away from each other, until half an inch separates them.

"The relationships of a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) are like this. They don't let people get that close to them. They are too afraid. It has nothing to do with you, or how you parent. It has to do with a life that happened long before you ever knew the boys."

A life where no one comforted them when they cried. Or fed them when they were hungry. Or cared for them when they were sick.

And even though I have been there for over 3000 days, and helped with thousands of pages of math homework, and washed a million uniforms, and answered billions of phone calls and text messages, I am still Ms. Wilcox.

I probably always will be.

And I have accepted that. And let it go.

But if I'm really honest, I wish that my boys would call me Mom. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Tuesdaythree days until spring break.
And I am considering
the possibility
of a road trip.

I need to finish taxes
File papers
Wash walls
Rake the yard
Get the car serviced
Go to the dentist

But I am considering
the possibility of a road trip

For weeks
I have been checking flights
Maybe I could fly down
Just for a couple of days
Phoenix in late March
During spring break
Especially this year
during Easter
Passover too
is way more
than this paying-for-college mom
can afford

But I am considering
the possibility of a road trip

I imagine
climbing into my car
early, early in the morning
long before the light comes
and driving
the 14 hours
to show up
on my son's

I imagine
hugging him
filling his cabinets and refrigerator
doing laundry
sitting in the bleachers at football practice
eating In-n-Out Burger
Maybe I could even talk him into
a little Spring baseball
The Colorado Rockies
are in Phoenix.

Three days until spring break
And I am considering
the possibility of a road trip.

Monday, March 18, 2013

SLICE #18-The Night Watch girl

If I was rich, I'd have a cleaning lady. And I'd definitely hire a personal chef. And possibly a chauffeur. One thing I wouldn't need to hire though, is a watchman. Or a watch girl either. We already have one of those at our house. Her name is Star.

Star, my fat black lab/pointer mix, has a lot of faults. She is shameless in her pursuit of anything edible, a relentless counter surfer and trash can digger. She is insistent on a walk every single night, even if the temperature is in below zero, or we are experiencing gale force winds, or a monsoon. She is also fiercely independent, unwilling to waste her time following a human from room to room.

Instead, Star spends most of her time on the living room couch, looking out the front window, pondering when her next walk might be and monitoring the activity of the neighborhood squirrel population. She does, however, come downstairs to my basement bedroom to and sleep next to me on the bed every night.

But Star has one rule.

She will not come to bed until she knows that everyone is in the house.

This has come in very handy since the boys have been teenagers.

You see, I am not a night person. I really like to go to bed around ten. And by the time weekends come, I am usually sleep deprived enough that I sometimes fall asleep around 9 or 9:30. Ok, sometimes even 8:30, depending on how busy the week has been.

My boys are just the opposite. They are total night people. It's not unusual for them to stay up until midnight, or one, or two, or three, depending on what they are doing. Denver has a midnight curfew for teenagers, and they usually honor that, unless it's a special occasion, like homecoming or prom, but midnight is really late for a bed-by-ten gal like me.

Now I know moms are supposed to stay awake. And I really do try. I get my book out, and I try hard to read until they come home. But sometimes, well, to be perfectly honest, sometimes I kind of doze off.

I don't have to worry though. Because I have Star, the night watch girl.

It works like this. I tell myself that I will not go to bed until the boys come home. But the house can be kind of cold at night. And so I get into bed to read. And then I fall asleep.

When that happens, my internal alarm clock wakes me up at some point close to when the boys are supposed to come in. I reach down to see if Star, the night watch girl, is laying at my feet. If she is, I know that the boys are home and I can go back to sleep. If the night watch girl has not come to bed, I know the boys are not home, and  I reach for my phone to call and remind my darlings that they need to get their rear ends in gear.

Star is also more than willing to work a split shift. Sometimes, we think everyone is settled for the night. And then the night watch girl goes off duty. But occasionally, someone at our house might think they need to exit the premises again. Like the time, for instance, that Son #2's girlfriend had a housesitting job around the corner from our house. And said son thought girlfriend might be lonely. And so he left the house, via a very convenient window exit,  to keep her company.

In those instances, Star, the ever vigilant night watch girl, hears one of her charges outside, and gets up to resume her post at the window. And then I feel Star jump off the bed. And wonder why she is getting up. And get up myself, just to make sure that everything is ok. And find out that it isn't. And reach for my phone to call said son and tell him I don't care how lonely girlfriend might be, he had better get his keister home.

Star has a lot of faults.

But she is a heck of a night watch girl.

And for that, I am truly grateful.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


My well-fed black lab, Star, has an intimate relationship with the bread fairy.

What? You don't know the bread fairy? Well, let me tell you a little about her.

The bread fairy makes regular visits to my neighborhood. I have never seen her, so I'm not sure if she is an exceptionally large fairy, or if bread fairies actually travel in small packs.  I'm also not sure about the natural habitat of bread fairies, because I have never encountered one in Colorado before. I'm absolutely sure that the bread fairy lives in the neighborhood where I am living now.

Here's the bread fairy works. Two or three nights a week, right around dusk, the bread fairy flies through my neighborhood, depositing a variety of bread products- bagels, hamburger buns, baguettes. The bread fairy doesn't leave her gifts right out in the open-- instead she tucks them cleverly at the base of trees, under small shrubs, and in the middle of bushes.

Then she takes to the air and waits and watches for friends like Star.

Every night, after dinner, I buckle Star's harness, and off we go, for a two or three mile jaunt through the neighborhood. Star is a lab, with a lot of energy, but I keep the leash relatively short, and I can generally maintain some degree of dignity and decorum. With one exception.

When Star encounters the bread fairy.

Two or three times a week, we are trotting briskly along when all of a sudden Star comes to a dead halt, then begins traveling in a totally different direction, generally at a  much greater rate of speed than we were previously going. She dives into the middle of a bush, or begins digging frantically under a tree.

When that happens, I know Star is having yet another encounter with the bread fairy.

I also know that there is no way I can drag her stubborn, determined, barrel-shaped body away from whatever it is she has just found so I might as well just wait.

Eventually Star emerges. Sometimes she has a piece of bread or half a sandwich. Sometimes it's a hamburger or hot dog bun. Occasionally she comes out with an entire baguette in her mouth. It's not usually totally fresh. But it's not usually moldy either. Instead,  the bread looks to be at about crouton age.

Star joyfully deposits her treasure on the sidewalk. "Look, mom, look what I found!"

And then, if I'm not fast enough, she has a feast, chomping away happily, spewing bread crumbs all over the sidewalk.

And then, when she is finished, we continue our walk.

Star loves the bread fairy.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

SLICE #16- In which I struggle with an unexpected surprise

Thursday night.
I am at an appointment with my younger son
when my purse begins to vibrate..
My phone is ringing.
It rings.
And rings.
And rings.
And rings.
I don't usually get that many calls and definitely not right in a row.
I wonder who is calling.
I wonder if everything is ok with my Arizona baby.
I reach into my purse.
Steal a quick glance at the number.
A 719 area code.
Not my son. That would be 623.
719 is Colorado. 
I wonder if my mom is ok.
The appointment is almost over. I flip the phone off
and slip it back into my purse.
When we get outside, I call the number.
A voice I have not heard in almost a year.

The boys' sister.

R, my boys, and an older brother (now incarcerated)
were in foster care together.
R attended the school where I worked, then went on to middle school.
When I adopted the boys, I offered to take her too.
The social worker thought R had been a "mom" too long
and needed a break.
So she put the two older kids in one home
and the boys came to me.

Every Wednesday and every Saturday
we picked R up
and she spent the day with us
attended her brothers' sporting events
carved jack-o-lanterns and dyed Easter eggs
shared meals with her brothers.

When she was 16
I got a phone call.
R was living with an older brother.
Things were not working out.
Could she come and live with us?
I am not one to turn away a child.
And so she came.
We decorated her room. 
Enrolled her in school.
Got her a cell phone
and a lab mix puppy
out of the back of a truck at the grocery store.

After  about six months
R decided that my rules--
school and some kind of physical activity every day
homework every night
limited screen time during the week
were too much
she called her social worker
said she was being abused
and was yanked out of our home

My boys were furious
not with R 
but with me. 

Not quite a year later
R calls
Wants to apologize
"you treated me better than anyone ever had
and I lied," she says.
She is graduating from high school
wants us to attend.
Of course we go.

Two years later.
R is attending college downtown
working at Coors Field
living in a transitional studio apartment
provided by Denver Human Services
the boys are in high school
busy with sports and girls and friends
but they maintain contact with their sister
we see R
but not as often
as before.

One day, in early August,
days before I am supposed to start a new job
teaching fourth grade
after 15 years as a literacy coach
R comes over to the house
tells me she hates her apartment
because the tenants,
all kids like R,
in the process of being emancipated
from the foster care system,
"don't know how to act"
She wants to move in with us.

We have moved closer to town
are living in a much smaller house
do not even have an extra bedroom.
R says she will sleep on the couch in the family room
We spend the afternoon converting my office
a tiny basement room
not wide enough for a double bed
no closet
into a bedroom
and R moves in the next day.

This time
we last a year.
R is older
more independent
she attends classes downtown
works at a department store
learns to drive
buys a car.

But there is still conflict
 I am a single mom
struggling with the demands
of parenting teenage boys
with a lot of baggage
R loves her brothers
was their "mom" for 9 years
doesn't always agree with my parenting decisions
feels compelled to let me know
when she disagrees

after 11 months
she leaves
will not speak to me
as she carries her boxes to the car
does not leave a forwarding address
does not come to say goodbye to Son #1
when he leaves for college
or see him when he is home at Christmas.

My boys are furious
not with R 
but with me.

And now, 8 months later, she is calling
"Did you check your Facebook page?" she asks.
"I sent you a message."
I tell her  I have not been home since early morning
we are not allowed to check Facebook at school.

"I was wondering…"
she says, then pauses.
"The people I'm living with are moving out of their apartment
I don't have any place to go.
I was wondering if you would let me move in for a few days."

I take a deep breath.
I feel like I have been
living in a war zone.
For the past three years.
I am exhausted
I do not think I can stand one more source of conflict.
And now R wants to move back in.

I say.
"When will you come?"

R's bedroom
has once again become
my office
the dresser drawers are filled with file folders and pens and notebooks
Two huge boxes of books
are sitting in the middle of the floor
waiting to be re-shelfed
after a presentation two weeks ago
My half-finished taxes are spread
all over the family room.
She could sleep in Son #1's room
but Son #2 has been using it as a music studio.
and there are no sheets on the bed
I am not even sure there is a set of clean double bed sheets
in the linen closet.

I head home to try and make a space.

R calls about 11
has decided not to come that night
will come the next day
she arrives while I'm at dinner
with a friend
I come home
to a living room filled with boxes
and three huge garbage bags of laundry.

And so now we are three again.
And I am struggling
to have my attitude
and my words
and my actions
match the Father's

to try again
to love unconditionally
when truthfully
I would really
rather not love
at all.