Sunday, September 10, 2017

Stories Make Your Heart Grow

"I'm scared," said Piglet. "A story will help," said Pooh.
"How?" "Oh. Don't you know? Stories make your heart grow." 
The other day I was scrolling through Facebook and happened upon a picture of Winnie the Pooh and his pal, Piglet. I'm a big fan so I stopped and read the caption. The person who posted the picture said that everyone has a story and wanted people to share their personal stories in the comments. There were hundreds and they were so good. There was happy stories, sad stories, uplifting stories-you name it. After reading several, I wondered what meaningful story could I share? I immediately thought of the one that crosses my mind each morning when I say my prayer. Here is a longer version of it and if you are encouraged or uplifted by my story, feel free to share your story in the comments. 

Counting My Blessings
My son, Seth, nine was born with Bladder Exstrophy. This was a shock to my husband and I and the weeks that followed Seth's birth were not how I imagined our life with our new baby. We spent three weeks in the NICU at OU Children's Hospital in Oklahoma City. I won't go into to details because I can't. I'm not brave enough to write about those scary three weeks but I will say, we survived it and came out of it stronger than we ever thought we would have to be.

When Seth was five weeks old and he was out of the hospital, we visited his urologist, Dr. Bradley Kropp (an amazing doctor) for a follow-up. I'm a pretty upbeat person but it had been two weeks since we had walked out of those hospital doors and reentering them cast a shadow over me. Our visit went well but walking the long hallways (back then you had to go through a maze of hallways) that we had walked every day for three weeks got me thinking about the unfairness of it all. 
At the OU NICU
Outside on the porch waiting for the valet to bring our car, I got angry. This wasn't the perfect state of motherhood that I had imagined and why should Seth have to go through this? "Why!" I wanted to scream. It wasn't fair. Through my cloud of anger and self-pity, I became aware of a baby fussing behind me. I turned and saw a young mother holding a baby carrier and running from under the blanket to an older woman standing beside them was a hose attached to the oxygen tank she was carrying. 

I watched the mother cooing at the fussing baby and upon closer inspection realized this tiny baby had a lot wrong with him. It was like a slap in the face. A slap I needed. I felt such shame. Here was this mother smiling lovingly at her baby who obviously was in so much worse shape than my Seth. How could I be so ungrateful? 
Me and my little man, Seth

I'm a Christian and though I've prayed my whole life, I never until that moment felt God had spoken to me. I had this beautiful boy who brightened my life each and every day and I was angry. Really?? What did I have to be angry about and with whom? I begged God's forgiveness right then and said in my head, "I hear you, Lord. Never again." 

From that moment forward, I never let myself feel scared about Seth's situation. I never let myself ask, "Why me oh Lord?" Seth has a physical disability but you would never know it to see him. He is like most boys his age-funny, active, obsessed with Pokemon and Minecraft, etc.
Every morning on the way to school we pray together and I always pray that someday in the future they will find a way fix Seth's bladder. I always end our prayer with, "But I know no matter what Lord, you are with us and with Seth. You always have been and I am thankful." Whenever I say those words, that young mother cooing at her baby in the carrier always pops in my head. 

Have a blessed evening and thanks for reading my story. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Bathroom Etiquette and the Art of a Well Aimed Fire Hose

The other night Seth and I had an intellectual discussion about bathroom etiquette. This discussion was prompted by my discovery that he had "sprinkled" all over the toilet.  If this had been a one-time incident, I would have wiped it up and gone about my business but it wasn't. Having hosted many of Seth's friends who have left the bathroom in a similar state, I think this must be a boy thing. I could easily overlook this lapse in potty etiquette when Seth was younger but at nine it was time to prepare him for his future as a dependable man of society. I told him simply this: Sometimes, even the best of men dribble urine on the toilet but REAL MEN CLEAN IT UP! 

Seth immediately went on the defensive. "Mom! Girls have it sooooo easy! They just drop the show and go!" This is where the discussion went south because the words, "Drop the show and go" struck me as so funny I began laughing and didn't stop for a few minutes. This didn't deter Seth from arguing his case and through my guffaws of laughter said, "Mom it's true. It's like archery. You gotta take careful aim or you completely miss the target!" This caused me to practically fall to the floor weak with laughter. 

Bathroom etiquette has always been a subject near and dear to my heart. I cannot stand it when my students show complete disregard for their fellow students in the bathroom. Former male students of mine probably still remember my little "Fire hose speech." This is an analogy I developed early in my teaching career. Every year on the first day of school, I march my kindergarten boys into the bathroom and tell them the story of "The House Fire and the Irresponsible Firemen."  

Gathered around a urinal, I begin my story. "Imagine boys your house is on fire. You call the fire department to come put that fire out. Instead of spraying the water on the fire, they spray it all around the house. Would that be a good thing? (little head's shaking no) No of course not. Your house would burn down!" 

Mind you, I had them at the word fireman because almost every little boy wants to be a fireman at least once in his life. There is always the more mature boy standing in the corner giving me a quizzical look, wondering why we are talking about this in the bathroom. Prior to my story, I placed a red dot sticker in the center of every urinal in the bathroom. When I'm ready to reel them in with my story, I point to the red sticker. "See that sticker there boys? I want you to pretend it's a fire. Every time you go to the bathroom, I need you to use your little fire hose (I gesture toward their zippers) to get that fire out!" This jaunty little speech is always followed by a second of stunned silence and then peels of laughter as understanding dawns that their man parts are the fire hoses I'm talking about. 

I always have a warm fuzzy teacher moment when I give this speech because I realize I'm probably the reason why mother's and wives in our community are not living with the surprise of sitting on a wet toilet. Recently, my confidence in this speech has been dealt a blow. Seth and his friends all were in my kindergarten class and enjoyed my little tale of the bathroom firehose and THEY STILL URINATE ON THE TOILET!  In spite of this, I will continue my fight to ensure that the young men under my guidance learn the proper way to leave a bathroom. Though I will never know it, I'm confident that somewhere in the future there will be a wife who is reaping the benefits of my little fireman story. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Planting the Seeds

Last Thursday, I bid an emotional farewell to my kinders. I love this group. I love every group that walks through my door but this group and I...we just get each other. Fun loving and humorous, they think I'm hilarious. They're my own miniature-sized fan club. Who doesn't enjoy that? 

You would think I would savor those last few weeks of school with my kinders but I am not at my best in May. Our end of the year program, kinder graduation, assessments and report cards stress me out and I develop into this overbearing stage mom. "Places everyone!" 

Amazingly, those kiddos love me anyway. Mind you, one of my more outspoken boys boldly called me a meanie a few times and boy with the face of an angel commented to the girl next to him, "Well, she's a little grumpy!" The girl gleefully tattled to me but instead of reprimanding the boy as she desired, I angled an exaggerated stink eye at him and in my best Sam Elliot voice drawled, "You talkin' ugly 'bout me boy?" All the kinders laughed and I joined in, disrupting class completely. See, they get me and even when I'm grumpy they know I love them. 

The intensity of May is increased by the taunts of my biggest critic whispering in my ear that I haven't done my job well enough. Who is this mean girl? Myself! "What," I wonder, "if I didn't teach the kinders everything they need to be successful in first grade?" 

Those words send me into a tizzy reviewing everything possible. Kinders on a good day have a fifteen-minute attention span at a time. May routine busters like program practice and end of year celebrations make five minutes of on-task behavior difficult. Frenziedly reviewing concepts isn't as effective in May. It's like my dad used to tell me when I was in college and I would cram a few hours before a test. "If you don't have it by now," he said, "cramming isn't going to do you any good." It's true. 

When the last kinder walked out the door Thursday and I could think rationally, I reminded myself that I have spent nine months planting the seeds of knowledge that will hopefully blossom in the fall of first grade. I'm so thankful I got to witness their metamorphosis as learners this year. They have touched my life and I will never forget them.  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Under Arrest: The New Timeout?

My sister sent me a link today to an article about the arrest of ten-year-old John Benjamin Heygood who has Autism. Reportedly, he scratched and kicked a paraprofessional and a school board member and there was a warrant out for his arrest. You are not misreading this. They actually arrested an Autistic ten-year-old boy! 

The mom recorded the whole thing. The video is heartbreaking. It shows the boy repeatedly crying out that he doesn't know why he is being arrested. Seriously, I'm with him. When did arresting a student become the go-to move for educators? I can understand if he brought a gun to school and began waving it around but really??? 

I went to college twenty years ago and all my professors preached "best fit" for special needs children. what point did those educators decide the best fit for that kid was in the back of a squad car? You know this seems surreal and perhaps an isolated incident but I think this call the sheriff first and ask questions later is a new trend. I've even seen it at my little school in Oklahoma. 

I am not an expert on Autistic children, but I've taught a few. They don't process the world the way other kids do. Sometimes it's system overload for them and that is the way they deal with it. Walk a mile in their shoes or their parents. Isn't it our responsibility as educators to help those kids cope? Every educator and child has a right to feel safe but how does arresting a child help any situation? Is this the direction we want education to go? Think about it. Given the right circumstances, that could someday be your kid crying for you in the back of that squad car. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Remembering My Primal Landscape

This week for my creative writing class I am to write a short story that takes place in my "Primal Landscape." What is that, you ask? Well according to the instructor, Amity Gaige, our primal landscape is "the place in which you were raised." I haven't even begun writing the story but I spent yesterday thinking about my somewhat chaotic childhood and the neighborhood I called home for eleven years in Lawton, Oklahoma: the nineteen hundred block of Taft Avenue. For inspiration, I went fishing through old pictures from my childhood and the memories these pictures evoked could fill several pages. 

When I picture my childhood in my head, visions of summers hanging out with the kids in the neighborhood are what I see. I won't go into long details (who am I fooling?) about my childhood but I will tell you some things I do remember when I think of my primal landscape.  

Six years old. Summer of 1969. 

I remember playing outside all day and being disappointed when Mom called me in for the night. When I was a kid, being outside was the coolest place to be. There weren't any iPads or video games and our television was black & white and only three channels. I know. Disadvantaged childhood. I remember the adults sitting on the porches in the evening chatting while the kids played up and down the block. Parents didn't periodically look for a glimpse of their kids on the horizon like we do today. If they heard a gaggle of kids laughing somewhere on the block, they knew their kid was with them and just fine. Though I had my group of similarly aged friends, I remember times when fifteen kids with ages spread across seven or more years would be playing a game of Red Rover or some other yard game. I remember hiding in the neighbor's bushes in the dark, trying hard not to giggle for fear of being heard by whoever was 'it" during a game of Hide and Seek. aWe didn't hide in our yards, we hid all along our block.  I remember playing badminton and catch in neighbor's yards. I remember my friend, Lee Ann May's mother discovering bats in their tall tree and all of us girls would lay on the lawn in the moonlight under a big sheet and scream everytime we saw anything batlike fly over. I remember sitting on the hood of Mr. May's station wagon and pretending we were in high school and acting like we were calling a boy we wanted to date while sharing a plastic sleeve of crackers.

I remember all my friends were afraid of my older sister, Linda.
Linda giving me the stink eye-her, her trademark look
and brother, Howard watching as I shove snacks in
my mouth. 
Linda was fifteen when we moved to Taft in 1969. She was nine years my senior and had spent her first thirteen years as the well-behaved, favorite daughter of our Army Colonel dad. A built-in babysitter who took care of younger siblings from a very young age, she was mature and a deep thinker. The ugly circumstances surrounding my parent's divorce changed her forever. She was pissed off at the world, rebellious and not very patient with her siblings, their friends or her parents. My sister is my best friend now but back then, I tried to stay out of her way. One of my most vivid memories I have is of her locking us all out of the house while my waitress mom was at work during the summer. My fourteen-year-old brother Howard and his pals, Rocky and Jerry had managed to climb up on the roof and into the attic window.  I saw them laughing in the window as I headed home from playing. Being five years younger and a tattletale, I yelled, "I'm gonna tell Linda!" They began scrambling out the window to escape onto the nearby roof but got tangled up and fell in a heap on the grass below. I ran to them but they were already running through our neighbor's yard and hopping the fence. Linda was that scary. As an adult, I appreciate Linda's fierceness. You mess with me, you deal with my sister. 

I remember the feel of Mr. Corcoran's grass. Weird I would think of this but when I think of childhood summers, I always think of that grass. Mr. and Mrs. Corcoran were our elderly neighbors who spent much of their time tending their grass and flower beds. When we first moved to Taft, our other neighbors, the Noriega's warned us the Cocoran's were very nosy and would yell at you if you walked on their grass. That first summer, I discovered their grass was different from ours. Their grass was wide bladed and was green even when the scorching summer sun had burned everyone else's dirty yellow. Best of all, in the evening if you walked across it, it was cool. I can still remember the delicious feel of my bare feet in that cool, forbidden grass. It was from the Corcoran's I learned that sometimes it's better to ask forgiveness than permission. 

I remember the locust's song. Yesterday when I thought of my childhood, the song of the locusts played across my mind. In the summer months when the sun would start to go down, the locusts would begin this loud, vibrating buzz that would permeate the entire neighborhood. To me, this is the song of summer and my childhood. As an adult, I don't hear it as often and that is probably because I'm not outside as much but if I do, I am immediately transported to summer in the 70s on Taft Avenue.

My friend Donna and I standing barefoot in Mr. Corcoran's 
grass decked out in our hand-me-down play clothes. We
had just returned from a tour of the neighborhood and felt
very stylish. 
I remember I had a talent for dramatic play and accents. I've always been a drama queen and no one appreciated that more than my friends. Mr. Noriega's mother-in-law, Mac came to live with them just before we moved to Taft and despite a twenty year age difference, she and my mom became fast friends. One day, mom brought home all these dresses. There were cocktail dresses, house dresses, and long lacy nightgowns. I can remember my pals and I playing on my friend Stephanie's porch just down the block. We were all dressed up in the dresses and I was speaking in an English accent that impressed all my friends and giving them the backstory on our pretend play. I couldn't make up my mind if we were English or Irish so I made us both. "You see," I told them, "we are from England but mother delivered us in the back of the family car on the border of England and Ireland so we are English-Irish." I'm always amazed to think these girls let me boss them around like that. Today, most girls would have said, "You're not the boss of me!" 

My 9th birthday. That's me on the l
I remember believing my friends would always be my friends and we would marry, raise our kids together and grow old together. When my step-daughter, Hayley was about to go into 7th grade, I warned her that would be the year she would make some new friends and she would shed some old ones. I was right and I knew this because I experienced it. The people I told my deepest secrets to changed with the onset of puberty and so did our friendship. Some matured quickly and some like me, did not. A few of my friends remained my friends until well into adulthood and I attended their weddings,  their children's weddings and sadly, their parent's funerals. The majority of my friends went off to college or married and only with the advent of Facebook did I even know what had become of them. Ask any eight-year-old if she is going to be friends with her BFF forever and she will tell you emphatically yes. That isn't usually the truth and that's okay because even though those kids are icons from my childhood and wouldn't trade the memories I have with them, I'm thankful I have an identity that is separate from them.

My friends during my 12th birthday slumber party. The last summer
of my childhood. In the fall, we would go off to Central Jr.
High and discover new interests and make new friends and
keep a few of the old. That is me in the back, second from the
My family was very dysfunctional when I was a child and though some memories are tough, I have great memories of my friends and my crazy family. I wouldn't want Seth to have to grow up like I did, but sometimes I kind of think he is missing out. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter! It's been a lovely day at our house that started with church, then dinner and an Easter egg hunt at the home of my BFF Nessa C's parents house in Devol, Oklahoma. Kevin had to stay home because he didn't feel well but Nessa packed him leftovers and then we went home and Kevin, Seth and I took a long family nap.

Of course when I woke up, I had to start on my creative writing assignment for Coursera. I have always bragged that I am the queen of research because I loved researching my papers when I was in graduate school. I even researched some of Nessa's and Kevin's. So when instructor Amity Gaige gave the assignment to research and write the start of a story 500-750 words long that takes place in one of the following places: 

  • a foreign country
  • a hospital
  • a blackout

I smugly thought, "I'm the queen of research so I got this!" NOT! I struggled. 

Initially, I planned to write a spy novel intro set in Vienna at a university. After spending a fruitless hour researching, I realized I was only scratching the surface. Then I Googled "blackout" and found the New York City blackout of 1977. It was so interesting! I still spent a panicked couple of hours researching because I didn't want some New Yorker to critique my story and call me out as a phony. 

Here was my research method: 

  1.  I watched a couple of YouTube documentaries 
  2. I researched further and found where the greatest amount of looting and vandalism occurred. 
  3. I went on Google maps and found that location and looked at it on street view.
  4. I searched the real estate site, and found apartments above shops for sale in the area. Though New York has changed in the last forty years, some of those apartments, thankfully haven't had many updates. 
Once I did this, I had my story in my head. If I was writing a story for a story I planned to publish, I would have spent probably weeks or more researching but I felt I had enough for a 750 word intro. 

My story takes place in Brooklyn on Utica Avenue in an area that saw a lot of vandalism and destruction. 

I only had to write the beginning of the story and I got the satisfaction of stopping it at the most exciting part. It must have whet Seth's appetite because after I finished reading it to him, he was concerned about whether there was going to be a happy ending and when was I going to finish it. Listening, Kevin said it sounded like a "real" story. Best compliment ever from my husband who prides himself on not giving out compliments like candy. So here is my story or at least the beginning of it. I will finish it some day, I'm sure.  BTW: the title kind of sucks but that is my weakness. I never know what to name my stories. If you think of something, let me know. 

In the Dark

Sheila placed the needle on the new forty-five she had purchased from the record store earlier that day and turned toward the full-length mirror on her closet door. With the first shake of the tambourine she moved her hips and then sang with K.C. “I’m your boogie man, that’s what I am.” A phone rang in the hallway and she ran to answer it. Sheila grabbed the yellow handle of the wall phone and said, “Hello!”

It was her Nana. “Sheila, I’ll be longer than I thought.” The ladies at church were meeting to discuss how to get the community center reopened.  Recent funding cuts had closed many community centers in Brooklyn. Some neighborhood kids were finding illegal ways to entertain themselves since the closings.  

“I’ll be fine till you get home Nana,” Sheila said.

“No, you go downstairs to Papa’s shop.” She said. “Encourage Papa to take a break. He loves talking to you.” Nana said.

“I will Nana.” Sheila hung up and sighed. Well K.C. and his Sunshine Band would have to wait. She bolted the door to their apartment and made her way down the narrow stairs that led to the outside door.

Opening the door, she drew in a scalding breath as the heat coming off Utica Avenue hit her in the face. This was her first visit to New York.  Having lived all her twelve years in Oklahoma, she was no stranger to the heat but Nana said they were having a heatwave in New York like no other July before it. 

Papa’s shop was below the apartment and the shop entrance was on the left side standing shoulder to shoulder with their apartment door. Papa had closed Seller’s Fine Watches at five o’clock, almost four hours earlier. The iron security lattice that protected the glass and brick fa├žade of the store from any burglar bold enough to smash in the window, stretched across the exterior and locked in place. The sun was just going down below the horizon, leaving behind a pink streak that was fading fast.  

Sheila rang the shop bell. Behind her, she heard the raucous laughter of teenage boys on the corner across the street. She was sure these were some of the boys her Nana said were up to no good and needed the entertainment a community center could provide.  She heard the bolt on the shop door pop and saw her Papa smiling in surprise. He opened the door and reaching for the lock on the iron lattice to slide it open said, “Sheila. What you doing—.” Without warning, Brooklyn turned dark like a giant hand had reached out and turned off a light switch on the world, leaving her feeling confused. From across the street, she heard a collective yell of, “Whoa!” This was followed by, “What the hell,” and various shouts of surprise up and down the block. There was a crash somewhere further down the block to her right.

“Papa?” she said. Papa scraped the iron lattice across the sidewalk and his warm hands grasped her arm. His comforting voice said, “It’s okay baby girl. We need to get inside. Now. It looks like a blackout.” They pulled the bars quickly across the storefront and locked them. 

The air in Papa’s office was beginning to get stuffy. The electricity had been off for almost thirty minutes. Glass breaking shattered the darkness.  

“What was that?“ Papa said. “Stay here.”  

“No.” She said.

He hesitated but said, “Then stay close behind me.”

In the shop, she could see an orange light beyond the windows. Muffled shouts punctuated by breaking glass. Papa pulled her arm forcing her to crouch low. Peeking from behind the display case they saw someone had built a fire. It painted the chaos on the street in an evil light. The entire window of the electronics store across the street was shattered and she watched as dark figures slipped between the shards of glass, carrying large pieces of merchandise. These weren’t just the boys she had seen on the corner up to no good. There were adults, men and women frenziedly crashing through other windows and taking things. Without warning, Papa pulled her back towards the office. This time his steps were rushed and uncaring of the counters that bumped her hips and arms. They had only gone a few feet when their world exploded in glass shards. 

I hope you liked it. Interesting side note: Did you know that the blackout of 1977 is seen by some as the catalyst for hip hop music's popularity?  If you want to read further about that, click here.

Easter photo credit: Franklin Park Library <a href="">easter2014 052</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>
Blackout Photo Credit:

Friday, April 14, 2017

Not Just a Flash in the Pan

I was off today and so I decided to make a decision about that story I wanted to submit to the Women on Writing Flash Fiction Contest. I spent a couple of hours on a story last weekend but it just refused to be boxed into a 750-word limit! All the things I thought were great about it, didn't make the cut and I found I just didn't like it anymore. What to do? 

I had an epiphany during recess yesterday. I would take one of my mom's childhood stories I wrote a few years ago and see if it fit and it did and I even found I liked it better. I just uploaded it a while ago and hopefully, the judges feel the same way. I won't know for sure until midsummer but I'm satisfied...I think. 

I have never been a short story reader and when I started this idea of writing, I envisioned a full-length novel. Lately, I've had to write so many short stories for my creative writing courses on Coursera and I've discovered I like writing short stories. I think it's because I have ADHD. I get bored easily and short stories mean I can write and move on to the next adventure. 

I haven't given up my full-length novel idea but feeling inspired, I Googled short story contests and found the Women on Writing Flash Fiction Contest. Hmmm...I thought. Flash fiction...interesting...and uh what exactly is that? Flash fiction are very short stories that can range from 100 to 1000 words. I wanted to know more so I went on Kindle Unlimited and found a little gem of a book about flash fiction: Writing Flash Fiction: How to Write Very Short Stories and Get Them Published by Carly Berg.  I was a little skeptical about flash fiction but Berg makes sense. According to her, flash fiction "forces you to write tight like nothing else. With so little space to tell a story, you soon hone your craft." 

It has been said by those less tolerant of my effusive manner that I have diarrhea of the mouth. That has kind of carried over to my writing. Without fail, I write about three hundred words over the limit on my writing assignments. Most have 500-1000 word limits. I always have to go back and cut and edit until it's within the allowable limit. This process though frustrating has taught me so much about editing.  As Berg says, "Every word has to carry its weight or be cut." Plus, she makes a good case for writing flash fiction: It is a good way to get published and have your work seen and if it doesn't get published, you haven't spent all that long on it. I haven't given up on my novel, "The Ivys" but I'm willing to put it off in an effort to gain experience. Well, I'm keeping it short tonight. Wow. Maybe all this flash fiction is good for me.  Talk to you tomorrow. 

Photo credit: Walt Stoneburner <a href="">Write In Journal</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="