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Dancing with Hope

18 Dec

The pair of pink ballet shoes sat on the dining room table. I saw them, sighed to myself, and picked them up to return them to my daughter’s room.

Then, for the first time in 16-years, I remembered.

Off in a corner of the neonatal ICU in a Reno hospital, a the pediatric cardiologist was drawing us a picture of our daughter’s flawed heart, trying to explain the unimaginable. An hour before, we had been about to leave the hospital when a pediatrician thought she heard a little murmur, and called for an echocardiogram, just to be safe. Probably nothing, she said.

It wasn’t nothing.

The young technician doing the echo had gasped, the pediatric cardiologist came, and then, after an eternity of whispers and calls among somber doctors, he told us.

“Your daughter has a serious heart defect. Sometimes they can fix it in San Francisco, and a plane is on the way to take her there.”

Then, while the world fell apart, he tried to explain what was wrong with Madeline’s heart. He drew pictures. He talked about three surgeries she would need, about how many children survived. About how many did not.

“If she lives,” I asked, “what would her quality of life be like?”

His face shifted to a smile, the first one I had seen since our world collapsed.

“She won’t be an Olympic runner,” he said.

“But maybe she’ll take ballet.”

And just like that, the door opened to hope.

For years, the monster of hypoplastic left heart syndrome would try to slam that door shut again. Four times we would wait and pray while surgeons worked to make her heart work. But hope, bolstered by prayers and friendship and a team of medical geniuses, would fight back.

Last night, I watched Madeline dance in her ballet class open house, spinning across the floor strong and graceful. I wrote the doctor, the first to look beyond the problems and see the possible, and thanked him.

Then I went back to dancing with hope.




Four Ingredient Red Velvet Cookies

28 Nov

They whispered from the Panera display case, showing just a flash of their red-velvety interior from under crinkled powdered-sugar crinolines.

“We are delicious. Buy us now.”

I waved to them wistfully.

“I can’t,” I sighed, hot tears springing to my eyes. “I am only here for breakfast. It wouldn’t be right.”

The girl at the register rolled her eyes.

“Are you going to order?”

I stammered out my request for a sensible bagel, still eyeing the red velvet temptresses.

Then decided, I would show them. I would make my own.  And because I am super nice, I will tell you how to do it, too.

Red Velvet Cookies

Avert your eyes if you bake everything from scratch and eschew processed ingredients.

Four Ingredient Red Velvet Cookies

  • 1 box red velvet cake mix
  • 8-ounce tub of Cool Whip
  • 1 egg
  • about 1/2 cup powdered sugar (for rolling cookies)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Mix the dry cake mix, Cool Whip and egg until well-blended. It will be sticky and your kitchen will look a little like a crime scene. Chill it for an hour if you want the dough to be easier to handle, or just dive right in. Drop rounded tablespoonfuls of the dough into the powdered sugar and roll them around. Put them on a greased cookie sheet (or one lined with parchment if you’re fancy). Bake 10-12 minutes. Let them cool. Eat them.

You could sass them up with some mini-chocolate chips in the batter if you wanted. But then they would be 5-ingredient Red Velvet Cookies and that is too complicated for Pinterest users. So make life easier on yourself and just pin mine.

A Lesson in Gratitude

11 Nov

Like a laser, all her concentration was focused on a  pale yellow piece of paper 2-inches square.

Long after her classmates had come to the board to stick up their Post-it notes, she kept working, forming letters so different from those in her native language. Finally, she finished. But she didn’t stick her note up with the others. Instead, she offered it to me first, her eyes solemn and a little unsure.

I read it. “I am thankful for school. I learn many things from my teacher.”

I smiled, handing it back. “Perfect,” I told her.

Her eyes sparkled then, and she put it on the board with the other notes.

We end class this way every day in November,  sticking our post-it notes telling what we are thankful for on the “Grateful Board.”

This year, because I have our English language learners, I am blessed to be getting to know with students from all over the world. The students in my classroom claim seven different home countries, representing every continent but Australia (I am still hoping).

As I watched this girl, I was struck by how hard she was willing to work to make sure I knew, that her class knew, what she was thankful for. She labored over perfect, precise letters long after the rest of the class had scribbled off a sentence and slapped it on the board. Being able to communicate and connect was that important.

Words come easily to me. Watching the clock my computer, I realize I have spent less time pounding out 300 words on my keyboard than she did crafting that Post-it note. I can make connections effortlessly. And sometimes? I don’t bother.

My friend Pamela Price asked today “what inspires you?” and I thought of that little girl, determined to let me know I mattered to her. She inspires me today. Inspires me to make a little more effort, reach a little further, take a little less for granted.

Tomorrow, my Post-it note will say this.

“I am thankful for school. I learn many things from my students.”




How We Survive

13 Oct
butterfly face painting

Note: Illustration only. This cheek belongs to my lovely daughter.

She just turned six, and she wanted her face painted.

She couldn’t tell me, but her mother said she loved butterflies, and purple and pink were her favorites. So I loaded up my brush, drawing it gently across her cheeks.

A flicker danced across her lips, too small for me to see it.

But her mother noticed. “Oh, you like it! Does it feel good on your face?”

I brushed her dark hair off her face.

“I’m just making sure I don’t get paint in your beautiful hair, mija,” I told her. “You are going to look so pretty.”

The butterfly took shape, iridescent pinks and purples blending. I began the details, outlining it in black, adding swirls of white to the wings. When I leaned over her wheelchair to paint its body down the middle of her nose, she smiled again. This time, I saw it.

“You look like the butterfly queen, lovely girl,” I told her. Her eyes flickered open, not seeing, but still seeking the new voice. “So beautiful.”

Her smiling hospice nurse came over and laughed, “oh girl, your bath tonight is going to turn pink and purple!”

Her mom hugged me, and they were off — heading for family pictures in the pumpkin patch as my heart broke in a thousand pieces for the butterfly queen who will never see 7.

And then, I turned to a little boy with bright eyes, and loaded my brush to turn him to Batman.

Because this is how we survive this fallen world.

In the valley of the shadow of death, we paint butterflies and Batman masks. We brush the hair out of each others’ eyes and remind each other we are still beautiful in our brokenness. We hug strangers, we hold our friends’ hands. And as much as we can, we offer grace and mercy. We are bumbling, flawed people, but we try our best to love each other anyway.

Because we were loved first.

Still My Favorite

22 Aug

Meet the teacher night is almost over.

The now too-tall stack of crayon boxes teeters dangerously. Kleenex Box Mountain dwarfs the desk. The hand-shaking, smiling, sizing-up session is just  about over when the twins from my first year stick their heads in the door.

The girl throws her arms around me without hesitation. But her brother hangs back until I ask “are you still at the hugging age?”

“Oh yes ma’am, always.”

I remember a day when we’d drawn swords, faced off. He went to the next class angry. But later, a fire drill sent us bumping into the same hall.

I patted his shoulder, whispered “you’re still my favorite.”

He had tried to play it off saying, “everyone’s your favorite.”

But his voice broke, tears came, and he threw his arms around me, repeating “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”

“Me, too,” I said, as the fierce relief of forgiveness welled up in my throat. “I’m sorry I let you leave mad.”

This night, three years later, we talk about books and band and middle school.

“We still talk about your class all the time, about how much fun we had in here,” his twin sister says.

Then the principal is on the loudspeaker thanking everyone for coming, their mom calling for them down the hall.

“You’re still my favorites,” I tell them, as they’re running out the door.

He calls back over his shoulder…

“Everyone’s your favorite.”

Sorry, Emily

6 Aug

Emily Dickinson

A response to Ms. Dickinson

Hope is not the thing with feathers – chirping out platitudes.

Hope is the thing with claws that dig in, defiant, refusing to let go —

even when its bloodied fingertips are worn raw against the slick obsidian cliffs of despair… statistics… survival rates.

Hope is no oblivious canary, singing merrily as it heads down the mineshaft.

Hope knows full well what it’s up against, and screams into the darkness anyway:

You. Will. Not. Win.

poem- modern illiteracy

4 Aug

I love this poem by Shawn L. Bird, even though it makes me sad, it also makes me anxious to get back to my students and pick up the fight again.

Shawn L. Bird

Each day she enters the library

trailing behind her friends to sign out a book-

one they suggest or something near that’s fat

and impressive.

“I could never read a book that thick!”

“I heard that author is great!”

She settles into her seat, and

during silent reading

she opens to the middle and  flips pages

occasionally looking at the cryptic shapes

arranged on the page to find words she knows,

but mostly her eyes are elsewhere as she turns

the page, stealthily,

wondering what others see when they read

wondering if they are pretending,

wondering if anyone notices.

At the end of each class,

its mysteries too deep to decipher

she drops the book into the library bin.

“Are you done already?”

“Yes. It was really good.”

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