The Important Thing

December 20, 2016

First, a poem I wrote:

The important thing about silence is that it is quiet.
It comes in many shapes
And sizes
And moods
And it might frighten you
Or distance you from others
It might fold around you in comfort and protection.
It is a generous listener,
Or the house at night,
Or the almost-no-sound
Of a pencil scratching,
Or children breathing in their sleep,
Or the hum of the earth.
But the important thing about silence is that it is quiet.

Next, the back story.

Have any of you ever read The Important Book? It’s an incredibly charming book by Margaret Wise Brown (think: Goodnight Moon, Runaway Bunny). I shared it with my fourth graders a while back as part of a collaborative project with some colleagues.

Each page begins and ends with the sentence,
“The important thing about ________ is __________.”
We also noticed that the truly important things often were articulated in the remaining text, not in those sentences.

My students then created their own “Important Thing” poems and had a great time.

Today, wouldn’t you know it…the conversation led right back to that book. We were talking about Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, and how both words and silence seem to be important in different ways. Which gave me an idea.

We all took out our notebooks, and I wrote the following on the board:
“The important thing about silence is…”

Then we got cooking. I have nothing but admiration and awe for the words of my students. Their writing blew me away and made my day.

The important thing about students is that they amaze me.

(a poem, perhaps, for another day)

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Back-to-school Pics

August 19, 2016

 

Every year, my sons and I go to the local breakfast place on the first day of school.
Every year, I photograph the two of them. Sometimes it’s serious, more often it’s silly.
Every year, it’s our tradition.

Here was our photo this year:

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By all means, everything about this photo is wrong. I was running late for school. The boys were nipping at each other all through the meal. We didn’t even go to breakfast on their actual first day of school because they wanted to do it earlier. And the only way I could get them to let me photograph them was to tell them they didn’t have to smile, that they could be as moody and sullen as they wanted to be for the photo. They liked that idea.

Look at them.
They’re moody.
They’re sullen.
Taking pictures for their mom is clearly not their bag.
I had to take what I could get.

And that’s our life together.
Because this IS them.
I have to take what I can get.
Time, affection, you name it-
I have to accept those gifts
As they come,
When they come.

There is so much that is crazy and messy and frustrating and infuriating
And beautiful
About my boys, about family, about life.

This year’s photo might be my very favorite.

A Friday Evening Mom, on Childhood

May 20, 2016

Some people wish
To return to childhood
So they may remember
Carefree play
Unfettered by worry.

Others recall
The gentle protection
Of a grown-up, secured
By space on a lap
Or a pinky to hold
Across the street.

Still others long
For the innocence
The trust
The earnest honesty
That only children
Can achieve.

All very well and good.

But what I seek
Is for someone, right now
To just send me to bed
Without my supper.

 

A*Typical Day

May 18, 2016

So what does it look like to have a classroom where students’ social and emotional needs come before academic ones? It’s not a set of prepackaged lessons, or some slick videos. It’s the day to day slog of being a noticer, of knowing when there is an opportunity to set my loveys on a positive path when they need a nudge.

I could easily record a dozen of these a day. I’ll just share one.

Today I delayed my lesson with second graders so I could teach them why the word “duh” is hurtful. A kid said it about someone else’s response. So I stopped what we were doing to have that conversation. As in…

“When you say that word, you send a message that you think what they said is dumb. Is that the message you meant to send?”
(Shocked) “No.”
“I didn’t think so. That’s not you. But it does make others feel that way.”
(Another student) “Mrs. Levin, I thought dumb was a bad word.”
“I am so glad you asked. You’re right. It is. But…sometimes we need to be clear about things. Sometimes, even though we know it’s not a good word, sometimes it is the word that fits best. Has anyone ever had that feeling when someone has made us feel dumb about something?”
(All hands go up. Surprising, yet not, for a room of gifted students.)
“I thought so. Nobody likes that feeling. But using the word ‘duh’ makes other people feel that way.”
“So…’duh’ is like, ‘you’re dumb’ but shorter?”
“I suppose you can look at it that way.”
(Appreciative nods)
“Now…we have some readers’ theater to practice.”

 

Home Switch Home?

May 17, 2016

Here is the next installment of the fiction story I began. I even got brave enough to share it with my students today, opening it up to their comments. I’m happy to read yours, if you have them!

Part 1

June 16

I am sick and tired
Of sharing this space,
Sick and tired
Of finding HIS junk
Under MY bed
Sick and tired
Of the cramping
The crowding
The noise
The sharing
The “cozy”
And I just want
Space to
Breathe.

June 17

Friday night,
Restaurant night
Not much noise
From our regular booth
Above the chattering chopsticks
And the clink of spoons
Against empty plates.
Even HE is quiet tonight.
My hands crack a
Stale fortune cookie
To reveal lottery numbers
And a cheesy fortune:

“YOU CAN STAY IN ONE PLACE AND STILL GROW.”

Whatever.
Those things never make sense.
I jam the scrap of paper
Into my pocket as we
Make our way
Home.

Story Crafting: Part 1

May 16, 2016

OK, so now that my students – eyeball deep in story writing – have begun to bug me about writing my own story, I suppose I need to get started with the drafting. Been feeling guilty about not getting on this earlier.

Hoping it’s not cheating too much to write it in free verse instead of prose. Who knows? Maybe I would do better to compose the story as poetry and then rewrite it in paragraph form.

It’s scary, it’s exciting, and actually…a little bit fun.

No title yet, but here is part one. Lots of revising to go. Thoughts? Questions? Challenges? I’d love to hear them! Write me a comment below.

June 14

I’ve had it.
If he ever
Leaves his underwear out in the
Middle of our floor AGAIN,
I say,
I will personally see to it
That they get hung out
In our front yard.

Be kind,
My parents say.
Be patient,
My parents say.
He’s younger,
My parents say.

They aren’t the ones who have to
Share a ROOM
With that human tornado.

 

June 15

This time it was my art stuff.
I know he was
Into it.
I know he was
Using it.
I know, because
I like my markers in
Rainbow order,
And the tips are all wonky now.
My paint brushes are layered
With a thin coating of
Little brother hand grime
And I will probably just
Have to burn them.
This stupid house!
Why do we have to live
In such a small, stupid house?

Sarah, they reply,
Anyone can have
A big house.
It takes a special family
To share a cozy one.

And stop rolling your eyes,
Young lady.

 

Reflection on a Day’s End

May 9, 2016

Whoever was the first
Mom
To pen a poem
About the demands of
Being a mom,

The whole
Burning-a-candle-at-both-ends-
No-time-for-me-
Everything-else-comes-first-
Settle-for-the-leftovers-
Thing?

Yeah.
Think she had something going there.

Mother’s Day: In Gratitude

May 8, 2016

 

To have someone else
Cook my dinner,

To lay in the grass
With my boy
Pondering dandelions and sky,

To play catch
And baseball
And all manner of games
Without drama,

To eat lunch alone
Reading a book and
Chewing my food,

Is apparently
Surprisingly
Thankfully

Not too much to ask.

Snip Snap Snout…

May 6, 2016

Where are my words? Feels like I’ve used more than my quota for today.

This morning, I was a teller at Jackson Storyfest, one of my favorite places on the planet. Tellers are brought in to share stories with over 13,000 students over a three-day period.

In prior years, kids would be bussed into downtown Jackson. The whole downtown area would be flooded with kids hopping from place to place to hear different tellers. Recently, school budget cuts have changed the format of the festival – but not its spirit. Now, tellers bring their stories directly to schools.

Each year that I come, I go through the same pattern:

2-4 weeks before Storyfest: Get excited, cobble together new stories, polish off old ones
1 week: Tell anyone who will listen how excited I am
2 days: Develop my set list and freak out about what I’ll wear
1 day: Throw everything in the suitcase and hope for the best, drive to Michigan and gear up for a great time.

Each year, the kids are both different and the same. Each school has its own culture. But they all respond to and appreciate storytelling in the same ways.

How amazing it is to see these kids growing up on story. What a charge it is to share their energy, and to bring them experiences and ideas they might not have exposure to otherwise.

As for me, I am proud to be a part of it.

Snip, snap, snout…
This tale’s all told out.

Road Trip

May 5, 2016

Heading eastbound
Down I-94, recklessly
And with abandon
Jamming

“Why no, officer, I didn’t know
How fast I was going.
I blame Jimi Hendrix
And his foxy lady.”