Gratitude: the Ever-Evasive Superpower

On the two-year anniversary of this Facebook post, I share it with you here; every word of it rings as true today as ever:


On Thanksgiving when I was volunteering with the homeless, I was handed a baby to walk for a while, so his single mother could finish dinner and go to the bathroom by herself. What mother doesn’t need that some days? It was even her birthday. I was more than happy to.

He was wearing pajamas. That was all he had. He’d outgrown all of his clothes and was down to pajamas because they were stretchy. Moms, think about how quickly your kids were in and out of clothes that first year. To not have what you need next week? Startling to think about. I could only respond that I thought we should all wear our pajamas, and he looked so sweet in his (both of which I meant honestly).

He had a scratch on his forehead. Sort of a gash, actually. He was learning to pull up, and it isn’t very baby-proof where they are staying. My own kid was busy playing with the bigger kids and didn’t pay much attention to me getting my “baby fix,” but he did giggle and comment that “This baby has a REAL Harry Potter scar.” He had insisted on wearing his Harry Potter robe from Halloween and a drawn-on scar to Thanksgiving. Two signs that we are among the fortunate ones. Something to wear just for fun, and a pretend scar. It struck me.

By chance, that baby shared a name with the child I lost three years ago this week. We had anxiously watched the calendar and waited until Thanksgiving to announce to friends and family, in the safety of the second trimester. But some things are not to be, and a few weeks later we were in the emergency room instead, leaving every Thanksgiving afterward to be a little bit hollow, and a day of remembrance. This year, the angel on my shoulder grabbed my attention on that day he knew I would recognize.

Three years ago, I never would have believed that it would all be okay, ever. Not two years ago, trying to make sense of why the holiday cheer wasn’t showing up, and not last year when losing one of my jobs was adding insult to injury in this emotional time.

But this week, my fan club has been out in full force. I don’t have a glamorous life, but I have a million tiny successes to celebrate and confirmation around every corner that being present and giving love to a project makes a difference to people. I am supported by my family (sometimes unexpectedly), friends (though too often at a distance), fabulous colleagues (and I do mean fabulous), and wonderful kids and their families that I get to see every day. And I was given, by teachers and mentors, the passion and tools to do what I do.

I am among the fortunate ones, indeed. I wanted a bigger family; yet here I have a blend of nature and nurture that shaped me, a support system, and so many beautiful kids, even if they don’t all belong to me. They skip their semi-formals for my rehearsals and bring me cookies the next day. They text me at midnight. They clean the studio and thank me when they are finished. They make me presents. They give sweaty hugs and sing their choreography. I am so fortunate to share them.

As with all grief, the empty space never completely goes away. The place where the bottom dropped out won’t ever look like smooth surface. It’s more like a weird mosaic made from blown out glass. But it’s my own lightning-bolt scar. It gave me these awesome super powers, and I can only make good of the loss by using them. The most important and sometimes difficult one is gratitude.

Yet I am thankful for these two boys with the same name, both of whom I knew so very briefly, and for all of my other kids who teach me daily to dress for fun and embrace my scars. Because now, it is hard to imagine the path going any other way.


Three out of Five

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Day, I offer this thank you written for my daughter’s fourth-grade teacher during one of our testing weeks.  Please share it (or something else great of your own) with a teacher you know.  They aren’t all doing it the same way, but they know what works for their kids, and they ought to know that someone notices.  We all have opinions about testing and accountability, but until those issues are worked out, this is the process.  Take a moment today and appreciate the people who do their best on the ground, every day, within the system – whether they buy into it or not.


Three out of Five

A Long Comp from a grateful Room Mom

It is day three of testing this week. The fourth grade has come screeching to a temporary halt as MCAS week has finally arrived. Here they are. Two days on, one day off, another day on, sitting for examinations. They’re ten. Sitting through an exam today which has the name “long” right in it, as if the two long days of testing they’ve already completed weren’t enough. Ouch. Sitting still and concentrating, as if they have anything left to give, when the promise of a day off tomorrow for Easter weekend was taken away to make up for time lost to a winter of snow, snow, and more snow.  Concentrating and striving to stick to strategies they learned in chopped up weeks, in between chopping up icicles in the driveway to beat the cabin fever, because all that snow was too deep to even really play in.

My little bird has come home pale and drained this week. It’s a lot of work for her.  A lot of work went into getting her ready for this week. Practice, practice, practice. Get those sentences organized. Don’t forget to rephrase the question. Her teacher has given her strategies. We’ve checked her work at home. We hope she remembers.

Pale and drained. Is that what her teacher looks like at the end of each day, struggling to get the information and strategies across on a crazy timetable, for not just one but all of the kids? Kids who come from a range of resources, kids who bring their own issues to the classroom, kids capable of… well, all the shenanigans I know my kid is capable of.  Lord knows, she’s not standing up at the front of a classroom as 22 sets of eager eyes of our cherubs take perfect notes on everything she says.

Yet she is a master of the “whole kid.” She misses nothing. She considers everything. She calls late and meets early. She wastes not one second of time, in that room or out. But she smiles and is all energy always, and she knows those kids inside and out. Mine yearns to be understood but doesn’t like to ask for help; equal parts sage and juvenile, flighty and afraid to fly. She knows. She’s a kid brain ninja.

As we wait for the bus, sometimes my bird sings.  This morning, it was Survivor’s  “Eye of the Tiger.” I laughed out loud. She said, “What? That’s our class MCAS song!” That was food for thought. I thought back to team championships and road trips set to that song. The nerves, the energy, the confidence, the laughter.

With so little wiggle room in a school year, that amazing ninja educator is nimbly back-flipping into finding ways to make the worst stuff bearable, even fun. Giving them a sense of camaraderie and a place to put their feelings and frustration when they are tapped. Adding music, which speaks to everyone, and brings people together. Sending them into a test like Rocky into the ring, pumped up and ready to go.  As much as she believes in or disagrees with the system, or feels they’re prepared, they’ll never know. Are we ever lucky we have such a good fit for my little bird!

The bird, by the way, is sure she’s going to rock this. Who doesn’t want to feel like that on test day? And as amazing as that is, it’s no wonder. It’s because her teacher is a Five out of Five.

I love, love, love that my kid is in such great hands.