Archive for the ‘School’ Tag
Last week my baby started first grade. Which means that from the hours of 9:00 to 3:30 each day, all of my children are now in school. When a friend recently asked me how I felt about that I answered: “Euphoric and terrified at the same time.” Euphoric because I can finally focus on finishing my novel and getting it out there. Terrified for the very same reason.
I realized how scared I really was about this on the morning my kids started school. As soon as they were out the door, I jumped on my mountain bike and headed up to the foothills near our home. I was almost to the top of the trail when a large, tawny-colored animal crossed the path ahead of me and disappeared into the trees. It had only been about 30 feet in front of me, but with the bend in the trail I hadn’t gotten a good glimpse of it. Most likely it was a mule deer. They live in these hills, and come down from the mountains in small herds to devour any unprotected vegetable garden in their path. But as it hurried away into the scrub oak, I swear I saw a long TAIL. My brain screamed MOUNTAIN LION, and I turned my bike so quickly in the opposite direction that I hit my back wheel on a rock and got a flat tire.
I hurried out of the park as fast as I could, and took the paved road back home. Unfortunately, that road took me by the cemetery, and as I walked past, pushing my bike alongside me, I noticed the vultures that nest in our city cemetery circling overhead, their great dark wings hanging heavily against the sky. “If I were writing a story,” I thought. “The mountain lion and the vultures would make really potent symbols.” I continued to ponder this. “What,” I wondered, “would they represent?”
And of course, that is when it hit me: fear. My own fear. Of failure.
I had to laugh at myself then. And laughing gave me just enough courage to sit down and write, so as soon as I got home, I pulled out my computer and got to work. Now I’m struggling through. I have to admit, it is taking a LOT of chocolate. But I am looking fear in the face and I am doing it. I haven’t seen any more mountain lions slink past, and the vultures have stopped circling overhead. I found a quote recently that I need to blow up in ginormous writing so that I can remember it if a shadow passes above me, or something heavy moves in the trees. It is by Gordon B. Hinckley and it goes like this: ”You have not failed until you quit trying.”
This afternoon I headed up to Sandy for my fourth consecutive summer as an attendee of the Writing and Illustrating for Young Reader’s Conference. It is an excellent conference, with so many interesting, inspiring, and engaging writers who share their knowledge and experience with ‘pre-published’ writers like myself. (‘Pre-published’ is a term I picked up this afternoon – as opposed to ‘unpublished’. Doesn’t it sound nicer?) However, in spite of all the writing love that goes around, a smallish-largish part of me was dreading attending the conference yet again as one of the ‘pre-published’. What is my problem that I am STILL working on my revisions? Why is it taking me so long?
Of course I know the answer to that. I have four kids, and when it comes down to it my time will always go to them first. At the beginning of this last school year, my youngest headed off to preschool two mornings a week. I was so excited to finally have some time alone to write. But I ended up volunteering at the elementary school both those mornings. When school ended, and my book was still unfinished, I wondered if I’d made a mistake. Maybe I should have kept those mornings to myself.
What saved me from the burden of regret was a packet of bright blue cards that my son, Hunter, brought home from his fourth grade class on the last day of school. Thank you notes from his classmates for all the time I put into teaching them creative writing this year.
Here are some of my favorites (with original writing and punctuation):
You are my Wrighting Hero! Thank you very much!
I get to be a hero! Writing to the rescue!
Your the best in the world. You helped us a lot with our story’s. Thank you so much.
I’m a huge fan of hyperbole when it applies to me.
You are so greate. I love riteing and this really helped me. Thank you!
I’m not sure if I should be concerned about the various spellings for the word ‘writing’, but I was thrilled to know that this little girl loves to write, and that my time spent with the class helped her with the process.
You have been great and I think you made my book turn out good!
I loved this note because the boy who wrote it really did an excellent job with revisions. I was really proud of the effort he put into his book, and was glad that he saw the difference it made.
You are very pretty and thank you for the advice.
Pure gratification. I’m pretty and smart? Yay!
Thank you for taking the time to teach us to write!
I appreciated that this boy acknowledged the time that went into working with the class. There were so many nights when I stayed up late reading their stories. But when I read this last note, it was clear to me that all the time I gave them was worth it.
Thank you for giving me great ideas for my story. I hope that you liked coming to our class to incourage us to become a life long writer.
These notes were just what I needed to soothe my frustration at not finishing my novel. They reassured me that my time away from my own writing was time well spent. Maybe I’ll carry them with me to the conference tomorrow, to remind me that it is okay to still be sitting among the ‘pre-published’.
The lilacs are blooming, the creek that runs past our house is swelling with a fast-moving swirl of cold mountain run off, and the sounds from the schoolyard are growing more and more exuberant. Summer is coming.
Slowly. The air is still a little too cool. The list of to-do’s a little too long. But we are all taking a deep breath and holding it. Waiting for school to end and for lazy summer mornings to settle in; afternoons out of doors with popsicles melting in our hands; evenings surrounded by scrub oak, riding through the foothills on our bikes.
But before we say goodbye to the school year, I have to stop and reflect on how much my kids have grown since last August. The new shoes I bought them don’t fit anymore, the pants have long since worn through at the knee. My ten year old, especially, has grown to a whole new person – tall, smart, and confident. He has had a great year. I’ve saved a letter he wrote to me back in January, for his parent-teacher conference. I thought it said so much about his year as a fourth grader, and his thoughtfulness. It gives a sweet savor to the year’s end.
School is going great! I feel like I am improving in math and other subjects. Even though I am learning so much there are some things I need to improve, like staying on task and working more quickly.
At recess I mostly play tag but on Tuesday it was great to see you at the Book Fair!
Lunch is great too, thanks for making home lunch for me. It is funny what conversations we have at the lunch table.
I love the times when you come to teach writing!
I couldn’t call this “Monday’s Portrait” because Monday is over. I have four more minutes before Tuesday is gone, too. So I’ll be brief. It has been very busy here. One of my projects has been helping my son’s fourth grade class finish up their creative writing projects. I gave them each an “Editorial Letter,” this week, poor things. I tried not to be negative at all. I just gave them each an idea for changing their stories. They hate changing their stories. But I have been trying to emphasize that revising means making changes.
One of the problems I found in many of their stories is that once they got their main characters into a tough situation they didn’t know what to do next. So they would just hurry and end the story. For the girls that meant the bad guys suddenly turned good and had a picnic with the protagonists. For the boys it often involved dead bodies. Including the protagonists. This was my all time favorite:
“They all got sucked in a portal and they were never seen again. The end.”
I think this is awesome. I wish I could end all of my books this way. I even wish I could find this portal and climb into it myself. I don’t want to be never seen again, even though I think the portal people are living happily ever after, with milk and warm cookies to eat. I just want to disappear for the rest of the month and reemerge when soccer and baseball and dance and piano recitals and school carnivals and field trips and book fair and all the end-of-the-school-year-hoopla is over.
At the beginning of the school year I told my fourth grader’s teacher about my writing background and offered to help with writing in the classroom. I was thrilled when he asked me to come in twice a month and teach thirty minute writing lessons to the kids. Last week was my first lesson. I decided to start at the very beginning of the writing process: the idea. We made a list on the board of all the places we can get creative ideas from if we are paying attention. The list included: people we know, things we have seen, the news, conversations, dreams, our imagination, asking the question ‘what if?’, experiences we’ve had, and memories.
I showed the kids a small pile of notebooks where I have recorded my ideas over the years. I told them the story of how J.K. Rowling was riding on a train when the idea for Harry Potter came to her. She didn’t have a pen or paper to write it down so she spent the train ride letting her imagination flow. But on her blog she wonders if she may have forgotten some of her original inspiration because she didn’t write it down.
I handed out notebooks to each of the kids. I asked them to use the list we’d made on the board, and write down ten ideas. I gave them fifteen minutes to work on their lists, and then I collected the notebooks. The next day I had so much fun reading through their ideas. The ingenunity in those notebook pages! I have to admit that I was a little bit jealous of all that unbridled curiosity and imagination.
Here are some of my favorite ideas:
What if you read a book and it really happened?
What if Earth was bigger than the sun?
What if there were no animals on the planet?
What if the sky was always blue and never had a cloud in it?
What if school was ten hours long?
A world where mathematics was the only language.
A witch who replaces Santa Claus and is even better than him.
Trampoline time travel.
A black widow spider that is five feet long.
How to train your werewolf.
A boy who is a bully and has no friends. When he is mad the sky turns red.
There isn’t one idea that is the best. They are all so good. So full of wonder, interest, and creative potential. I can’t wait to see what else will fill up the notebooks in the weeks to come.
The other night I dreamed I was back at Harvard, standing in the Dean’s office, defending myself against accusations that I hadn’t completed all my coursework and that I wouldn’t be able to graduate. My tearful defense: “I made a quilt for each of my four babies!” The Dean checked the course catalog for quilting classes, but there was nothing. No quilting credits. No diploma.
This is a recurring dream of mine. I have it at least once a month. I’m back in college, but for one reason or another, I can’t graduate. Usually its because of math. Or because I’m lost and can’t find my way to class. I don’t understand why these dreams plague me. I did graduate.
I’ve decided I must be carrying around some serious feelings of inadequacy. I said as much to my husband, and he told me, “Those feelings are what got you through Harvard.” I realized he was right. The inadequacy is the dark side to my ambition.
Recently I gained a greater appreciation for that ambition. I was reading ANNE OF GREEN GABLES with my daughter. We were at the point in the book where Anne has left Green Gables and is studying at Queen’s. She has just decided to try for the Avery scholarship and an Arts course at Redmond College. She muses,
Oh, it’s delightful to have ambitions. I’m so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them – that’s the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting.
And it does make life interesting. The challenge. The self-doubt, the searching, the striving. When I think about it, my greatest ambitions stretch far into the horizon. They are life-works that won’t be accomplished in a day, a week, a month, or even a year. They give me something to work toward. To focus on and reach for. I had never thought to be glad for them, or for my ridiculous angst-ridden dreams, but I suppose I should be. They have gotten me where I am, and promise to make life interesting as I continue on my way.
School starts this week. I just made my third trip to Target in as many days for last minute school supplies, socks, and Sterilite containers. The containers are part of my ambitious project to organize my pantry, which is a spin-off of my ambitious project to organize my recipes, which is a spin-off of my most ambitious project: This year I told my kids they can only have hot lunch once a week. The rest of the days I am sending them to school with a lunchbox. My motivation for doing this is that I want them eating healthier food. This means that I can’t just throw peanut butter on bleached white bread and add a bag of chips and a twinkie. But I have to make my kids believe that what I pack is as awesome as the aforementioned meal, or they’ll be wishing they could go back to hot lunches. I have told myself a hundred times over the last few days to calm down, I don’t have to get stressed out about this. I can find some simple, healthy things for their lunchboxes. But I AM stressed out. And I have located the major source of that stress: one of my all time favorite books as a kid: BREAD AND JAM FOR FRANCES by Russel and Lillian Hoban.
Jam on biscuits, jam on toast,Jam is the thing that I like most.
“I have a cream cheese-cucumber-and-tomato sandwich on rye bread,” said Albert. “And a pickle to go with it. And a hard-boiled egg and a little cardboard shaker of salt to go with that. And a thermos bottle of milk. And a bunch of grapes and a tangerine. And a cup custard and a spoon to eat it with.”
“I have a thermos bottle with cream of tomato soup,” she tells Albert the next day, “And a lobster-salad sandwich on thin slices of white bread. I have celery, carrot sticks, and black olives, and a little cardboard shaker of salt for the celery. And two plums and a tiny basket of cherries. And vanilla pudding with chocolate sprinkles and a spoon to eat it with.”
“I think it’s nice that there are all different kinds of lunches and breakfasts and dinners and snacks. I think eating is nice.”