all the kids

all the kids

Sunday, February 4, 2018

One Brave Finger

Ever wanna wake up feeling rolled over by a 50 thousand pound greasy Italian sausage? Try to direct a short film you wrote.

Not just a short film but a silly, incredibly personal true to life accounting of why you are a failure in relationships. And you know what, invite a bunch of people over to a cramped apartment bedroom where you will shoot it and they will spend 13 hours tromping all through your words and your heart. Some people will be spewing your words, which sound excruciating by the way, after the first five minutes. Some people will be just putting equipment or running equipment, or dragging heavy things all over your words. Some people will be putting up drapes and fixing the colorful lamp, and hammering shit into your words. Everyone except for two people will be incredibly nice and helpful and seeming to enjoy themselves somehow.

One of the 2 people not enjoying the scene will turn out to be mental and leave, and the other person is you.

I've been on sets my whole life because of my dad. He just slapped words on paper like peanut butter, smashed it all together, copied it, gave it out to everyone including studio heads who chomped fat cigars and shoved it back at him and said YES! LET'S SHOOT THIS! He spent his whole life just slapping on the words, shoving it all out there, and then tap dancing on the set because it was all so easy.

I spent my life around movies, but that quiet girl over there in the corner writing everything down and then just keeping it all to myself because I was happy just with my OWN reaction to my stuff. Audience of one. Why not? I was hilarious.

But yesterday there I was, with my helper co-director who was like a whole Olympic ice skating team, she had scrambled eggs for the crew, she ran the set, she talked technology, well oiled herself, she easily oiled everyone's creaks. And for everyone else, the set was like any set. There was lighting, and people running in and out fetching apple boxes and a warm fake family feeling that I love and a weird sound person and jokes that made you laugh because you were so fucking tired. The only tiny difference for me was that my chest was ripped open in the front, stretched out around the whole apartment floor, nailed into the corners, and then everyone was walking all over it until all the human fleshy squish was gone and it was just a shredded, helpless floor. This took several dozen hours. I thought I was okay and then at lunch eating a burrito on the stairs with Nathan I was wondering why I couldn't taste my burrito, and why I could barely swallow it because of some weird huge lump in the side of my throat that turned out to be OHH anxiety. Hello friend, I didn't know they made you in throat balls size. Just hiding over there because I was so busy. Didn't want to bother me, but happy to finally be noticed. Hey. This is the real you, paco. Letting you know. Something is wrong.

My friend texted me in the middle of the shoot when I said it was taking so long and he said "it's all about the process, baby. And a little about if people think it sucks."

So no matter how I felt, putting myself on that set and being there as a walking representation of all that I have been up to now, everything I had, I got in the car, brought and gave, hopefully, humbly and at some points numbly. 

Most importantly I put my little paper boat in the stream, pushed it with one brave finger, and watched it go.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Nobel Prize

You know you've lost track of yourself when Disneyland is not fun, really. I was there yesterday and we go in January because it's not crowded and yet yesterday it was crowded, and it was noisy and there was waiting. And it seemed harder to do all that walking and running and feeding, maybe because there were more people and I suck in people's needs like I'm starving in the empathy department so here let me carry those bags for you. Even though wait, I'm tired.

The best ride aside from Space Mountain was not any ride, but the noodles on a bench ride I did with young 7 year old cousin who was too scared to go on Pirates. So I sat outside on a bench, I never sit at Disneyland and sitting is really good. We sat next to a 12 year old mom nursing a baby (okay, 22) and we saw her actual boob even though we didn't know her. And my little cousin is telling me when she was scared on Matterhorn because of the screaming snow monster she had to talk to herself because even after she passed it she could still hear it screaming at other people and it was still scaring her from far away. But what I liked was that 7 year olds have a lot of things figured out, and they're happy to sit on a bench and eat noodles. Because they don't feel the rushing of time, so much. They're just whooshing along IN the time. Meandering, really. The rest of us are arranging things just ahead of them so their meandering can be smooth.

It wasn't until I passed most of the day that I started to relax being there. Getting on space mountain at like 7 at night - being in that whirling world where there's just enough fun and excitement and speed and darkness and thrill - I started to have fun. Then we left. Oh but wait, the most fun was really not the rides, which is what I used to go for only -- it was chasing down Peter Pan and listening to Mary Poppins talk to Bess and the little cousins as she signed autographs for them. Even though they're just kids from Anaheim that dress up Disneyrific and get to act like animated movie stars for a job - their playfulness (Peter stealing Lilly's Peter Pan hat and running off and then her chasing him to get it back) - they made the kids feel like they were in a fairy tale - teased and part of the fun - this was best part of the trip, the people.

Then today at 7 am after Disney yesterday, body killing me, brain still fried, I get a sub call so I'm running to some school I don't know after making lunches for my kids and feeding horses, but in a way I don't want to be home, what could be harder than Disneyland, I can't feel my body or my mind, so zombie teaching is the way to go.

I get there and it's this demon class with only 8 kids. These kids show me what happens when you've been in school for five months and your teacher has been absent most of the time and you've had a string of terrible substitutes. The kids had no loyalty. No desire to please. No connection to success. They had no desire to respect the teacher. They had no manners. They were, in fact, the most terribly lost kids I'd ever seen.

But I'm only there six hours. There's only so much I can do. Sometimes the teaching isn't about the math or English, but about how to treat people. How to line up. How to listen. It's hard to be inspired when no one has taught you to behave, pay attention, and love where you are, first.

I did what I could do. Eventually I sent 3 kids out of the room for disrupting a million times. Then I was down to 5. I had to put one next to me. With 4 out in the room still, I had to stop and say HELLO. We're WORKING HERE. Every two minutes. It's like they were used to hanging from trees and throwing coconuts. They're in fifth grade!!

Finally almost at the end of the day, I decided that I would focus on the one girl who wanted to learn something instead of the 7 who didn't. Things got slightly easier. I got a hug from her at the end of the day. The poor kids, they just had no leader, so they were banshees.

Maybe the greatest moment was at one point I had them all on this tiny square of rug, and I was going to read them a little about Martin Luther King Jr. It took maybe a HALF an HOUR of me just sitting with the book OPEN, holding it UP, waiting for them to be quiet so I could read. I would start to read, interruption, I would stop. No lie. I got three words in, only. For half an HOUR. Finally they allowed me to read and it was like slogging through a mudslide of interruptions. At one point I was laughing because I had to read about when MLK Jr got awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, for maintaining peace during strong adversity. I was holding up this book in this war zone by the rug, and I was grinning madly while reading those words suddenly because, amazingly, I was getting the Nobel Peace Prize, right then, right there, alongside my dead yet supreme buddy, Marty L King Jr. And he was proud of me.

Sometimes you just need the perspective, some irony, and a civil rights leader to find the joy. At Disneyland, and in hell.

Friday, January 12, 2018

What Questions Would You Ask the Tooth Fairy?

Today a tooth fairy came into the class I was subbing in. She was a biggish black college kid with wings strapped on over her hospital scrubs.

All the kids in room 4, 1st grade, were having free time with Legos and it took some time to get them interested in the fairy carrying the giant toothbrush and the giant set of display teeth.

Finally they were gathered around her feet like urchins. She said she had come to tell them about brushing and taking care of their teeth. She said she would talk a little bit and then she would answer two questions at the end.

A kid raised his hand right away.  "Are you the real tooth fairy?"

"Yes I am. We are big during the day, and we get tiny at night."

They stared at her, mystified.

Mya raised her hand. "Can you bring me a unicorn? A real one."

The tooth fairy looked shocked. "I'm not Santa," she said, artfully.

She then showed them how to brush, how many teeth they had, how bad sugar is for your teeth, and how they should visit the dentist twice a year. Sadie raised her hand and said she had never been to the dentist ever.

The tooth fairy looked worried and then said "Well there is going to be a dentist at the school, so you can fill out this form and see the dentist right here on February 28th."

Sadie sighed gravely, "My mom will never do that."

Ryan raised his hand. "My birthday is February 3rd."

The tooth fairy talked a little more about how often to brush, how to floss, and that cavities are little holes in your teeth. She recommended water as the best thing to drink for your teeth.

"Or Gatorade," Enrique suggested.

"Do you have any questions," she said, wrapping it up. "I will answer two."

Mya raised her hand. "What's that say on the side of your glasses?"

The tooth fairy paused. "That's a really good question." She took off her glasses and read it. "Ray Bans."

Another hand went up.

"When is your birthday?"

"October 5th," the tooth fairy answered.

One more hand.

"Do you live in a castle?"

She was packing up her toothbrush wand. "I do live in a castle. With four other tooth fairies."

"What are their names?" Anthony asked.

"Toothfairy Jasmine, Toothfairy Audrey, Toothfairy Eliza and Toothfairy Nina."

I was imagining this castle, and all these fairies in scrubs, probably somewhere in North Hollywood.

After she left, the kids and I were getting ready to start math. I heard Ernest talking to Julianna.

"Do you think she's the real tooth fairy?" He said, earnestly.
Julianna looked dubious and chagrined, at six.  "No."
"I do," he said.
"She was wearing wings. They were fake."
"I think they were real," he said, resolutely.

Mya was laying on the floor crying because she wanted so badly for the tooth fairy to let her use the magic wand. Just once, she whined, lost in possibility.

"Let's go play on the apparatus," I suggested, and all the kids lit up like Christmas. Mya scrambled up, crisis, poof, instantly gone.

The power of the substitute wand.

As we lined up, I thought about how not one of the kids cared at all, or had any questions about teeth, or dental hygiene in general. How three kids actually writhed in fear the minute she mentioned the word dentist. Human nature. The tooth fairy is not about dentists. The tooth fairy is one of the few things a kid can count on, a tool for getting free stuff. A surprise under your pillow. A quarter. A dollar.

A unicorn, maybe.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Morning Madness Sale is Now Over

Everything we own is from the thrift store. When I look down, everything I’m wearing is from the thrift store. It’s good stuff, and on a half price Wednesday or Saturday, you can get everything for about $1.50.

What are we going to do now, because the shopping center was bought and is being remolded by greedy land hoggers. The thrift store that has kept my family clothed and entertained by wandering a lazy Saturday, or looking for Halloween costumes, or stocking up for Santa’s workshop, the thrift store, our living room up the street with the dirty carpet but the good merchandise – it’s over.

When I heard they were closing for renovation and maybe never opening again because the rent would be doubled I froze in shock and then felt burning sick. This was not just a regular gross thrift store. This is our main store. We know all the faces that work there, and they  know us. There’s this one lady that is always there on Wednesdays at half price Wednesday, she speaks like dutch or something,  she’s always smiling at me and we talk about how big the kids are getting, this has been maybe 10 years. I never knew her name, we didn’t want to know our names, just knew each other as this place, as bargain hunters across the racks. Where will she be now on Wednesday? Released to the wild with the rest of us?

I had a dream that they turned the thrift store into a dollar store, with clean floors and bad lighting and no random surprises like the time I wished for a unicycle and there it was the next Wednesday. No more of the kids riding bikes through the store while I shop, where am I going to find $1 pants, or the various bags I like to buy to attach to my saddle for trail riding. Luckily my kids are big now, and we made it through 14 years, clothed by the thrift store. The kids learned to look for a brand they like, a price they like, and they learned to like surprises. Not every time. But mostly.

I don’t even have a picture of us shopping there, or what it looked like, because that’s like taking a picture when you’re at the dentist, or the grocery store, it’s just part of your fabric and would be slightly confusing to celebrate, say, your daily trip to the bathroom with a photo, even though these are the places that know us, silently support us, shoot us out into our day as better people. Our blood stream, another place we haven’t photographed. Who thinks to take pictures of sturdy reliable? Contentment?

I hope the lady who shops on Wednesday, and Rene from the back, and all the shoppers who went there for fun and not necessity like us, I hope we’ll all find our way at a probably more expensive thrift store. I hope ours will be back. Where will I buy the giant underwear that Gramma Susie tried on at Soup Plantation. Or the little brown dog with the red ribbon that Lilly sleeps with and calls “Ribbon.”  Or what about my kids who went from 4 years old to 17 there. From below the racks to seeing over the top. I’m not that good at the background changing, I like the background, it’s important and familiar. It’s there so you know you’re somewhere, so you can keep going on being you.

You can’t get attached to property, a brusque military landlady told me when we had to move out of our tiny riverfront cabin in Maryland many years ago. Apparently she had never loved or been moved by anything. Never felt the trees guarding the house, or seen the water reflecting the light differently each day. She had never seen her baby ride a big wheel under a rack of clothing while clutching a sword and fighting off thrift store dragons. Or found the pillow shelf and covered herself in a thousand pillows because all forts should be made of pillows. Or found a Hollister sweatshirt brand new for $2.99. And take half off, because it was half price Wednesday. That is the trick of life, enjoying the floating downstream, because eventually at the end we all get dumped out, a drop in that big cosmic ocean.

Attention shoppers, the morning madness sale is now over. Please start making your way to the front to receive your discount and leave all your hangers on the rack. Thank you for shopping Sun Thrift.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

It's a Boat, Jack

Checking in at the school for my many day sub job this week at 7:30 am, I saw the other scary old clown sub version of me in the office. Me if I stay here longer, me if I travel mostly by Greyhound and think that a chalky red lipstick in the bottom of a bag is going to help the look of my face.

When you check in as a sub you’re like the vagrant of an already hostile office. They know the rules, you don’t. They have all the keys, you don’t, they have a mental map of the school, you’re an explorer. They frankly don’t want your problems, and you hope like hell you will never be on the other side of the desk, in their tired tennis shoes.

Rolling backpack old clown sub with the wrinkles you can pack a suitcase in is wondering where the bathroom is. I’ve been here 2 whole days, a virtual tenured sub, so I highly recommend the spookiest bathroom on campus (also the only one I can find) where the boiler room tubes line the walls directly by where you wedge your knees when sitting on the toilet. Something highly comforting about the lack of space in that bathroom, the habitat for a gerbil who killed someone and must never, never be released again.

I look at rolling backpack clown sub lady and think please, please can I get a job that doesn’t require death of soul quite this extreme. Can I please have my short funny film at Sundance, where I win an award and get to make a speech about how I once subbed at LAUSD in a boiler room bathroom and once flung horse poop under a tin roofed barn in the rolling hills of Maryland and once raised 3 tiny people into strapping lovely adults and once was a fairly decent daughter and good mom and terrible wife.

The best part of subbing is the kids. Their fresh faces and newness of each class and each kid, the chance to learn something funny or interesting in a weird environment and then leave at 2 and never see those people again. The one night stand of the teaching world. Sub em and leave em.

The worst part about subbing is the kids. They need stuff. They battle. They are loud. They are tricky. But there is that one chance I might excite a kid to like words and be a writer. Or that maybe a kid will feel seen or heard by a kind, encouraging, temporary person.

I look at the different versions of subs around me, and I think thank god, I bring me.  I also think, look at my tribe of vagrant, slightly off-center temporary people, who thrive on the newness of things, and the uncertainty of connection, and the all out energy you can generate when you know you only have to do it for a few days in a row. Except none of the other subs look all that energized. They’ve clocked in at  like giving 5%, and most of that is following the rules. I’m clocking in at 95%, and that’s because I only use the rules that make sense, plus I tone it down from 110% energy after learning it’s better mommy doesn’t have a breakdown at the end.

Today was the best day in our little class, though, because instead of math we wrote a story. We were brainstorming ideas about settings and characters for a scary story and suddenly a WAVE of fun hit and we were all shouting on a volcano erupting, the class was so excited with ideas about making their stories happen. When I went to lunch with all their shining shouting in my head, I called my friend the non-religious Rev and said I just had a story meeting with 30 writers working for free. Working for maybe a grape jolly rancher at the end. I told her from now on when I sub I’m not going to do any of the work the teacher leaves, I’m going to bring in one of my old scripts, and say “let’s write a story” and then give them the basics of my script and have them solve all my plot problems. Then I will repay them by mentioning them in my Oscar speech when I win Best Screenplay. This is exciting to me. Staffs of writers, all new, every time, excited to be there and totally free.

Aside from that, the school job that I finish tomorrow when the teacher gets back from jury duty – my first writers’ group - I will miss this class. The school is so huge, it looks like an abandoned factory. We’re on the far upstairs classroom, so we never see anyone. We had to do a proverb today “no man is an island,” except we are, we’re alone. It’s ideal, because I like to do work and then take a lot of breaks, and it turns out the kids like that too. And it’s been dark and stormy each day, like we’re in Alaska and it’s about to snow its balls off. So I’m no longer in LA, under these otherworldly, cloaking clouds.  I never can see myself, quite, especially lately since I seem to be morphing into someone else, all open cocooned and squeezing out. But the kids can see me, and they’re all versions of Earth, space travelers, all with funny names, all made to laugh, made to sit with me for a few hours this stormy week in a warm secluded classroom and talk about baseball and make up stories.

Tomorrow is my last day in the boiler room bathroom, where I get to go during recess, and pretend I’m on the Titanic, in its last moments. It’s a boat, Jack.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Poe and the Nest

These day our house is full of kids. Big kids, the kind whose heads almost scrape the roof.

I was walking on the trail with the horses and crying because these big kids, they have places to go and things to see. And I've seen them every day since they came out of me.  It's probably good that they can feed themselves and they're fairly kind to others, and they're good looking and smart and it's a good nest here for them to fly out of.  Nests are mostly made of twigs and dirt and poop. It's a good nest.

We're lucky that our house has their voices in it, and that it's a peaceful, joyful, curious, messy place. It's an ocean of us all, washed up in the kitchen tonight playing Blokus after watching the neighbors rehearse Edgar Allen Poe in the driveway next door. Every turn has something different around it, all the paths are lit up, at the end of the day, we trudge back inside but it's never quite over. Warm bed, water, pajamas, family.

I didn't get here by myself. I've had a lot of poetry, and a lot of pizza. This makes it all possible.

Monday, October 2, 2017

I Am the Bee

I rescued a bee out of the pool today.

I was passing by the wide open blue water, in between doing one busy thing heading to another.  I saw the bee, a tiny dot, on her last breath. Not the heroic struggling of the first stranded bee. The slow struggling of the waterlogged, the bee about to go down.

There was a tiny leaf, like a fairy's landing pad, no bigger than my thumb, floating next to her.

I see you, bee, I said.

I won't let you die.

I stuck my toes in the water, reached out for the leaf, got the little tiny body onto the leaf. She fell off, but scooped again and she hung on. Then she fell off.

It's such a big pool. No other bees in sight. How did I even see her, in all that water.

I washed her out on a wave with my hand.

She was alive. She was so grateful.

I am the bee.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Magic Glasses

My brother was driving through town on his way to Connecticut (not anywhere on the way, by the way) but in his plan months ago was to be in Tennessee "for the eclipse," which I thought in my vague and foggy non-scientist way was too hippie and weird. We saw an eclipse in the 70's, it just got dark for awhile, who cares? It seemed crazy, too far away, to plan an entire trip around an hour of time where it just got a little dark.

A few days ago, Bruce, who is staying here with his hurt back, propped up on pillows and momentarily paused on his path to Oceanography PhD -- Bruce texts me "I ordered 5 pairs of eclipse glasses."

Hmm. So then the package came on Friday, and there are these flat solar glasses, like paper 3d glasses. And then Lilly's class is planning to do the eclipse viewing on Monday, and they have the glasses too. So now I'm thinking okay, I'm not gonna do the other things I had planned, I'm going to drag myself to her school for the first time this year to help the teacher wrangle the kids and see this eclipse.

We put the glasses on and there's a chip out of the sun.

It's amazing.

The kids are going in and out of the classroom every 15 minutes, to view and then record what they see by drawing the shape. They're also playing a video of a moon who is singing "Total solar eclipse" and the whole class is singing along. If you ever need to know how to celebrate something, stand with a group of 10 year olds. They will show you. Their enthusiasm just seeps into me.

So I have Bruce's glasses with me, and since they have extra at the school, I tell Lilly I'm going to take these back home so her dad and Bruce can see the eclipse.

I check out the sun as I'm going to my car, and it has a bigger bite out of it. I can't believe that there is a piece out of the sun. It looks like such a normal day.

I see a lady walking her dogs, probably the most annoying lady in the neighborhood. Tiny dogs, yappy lady. I pull over on the wrong side of the street because suddenly I have to say "Hey Louise you have to see this." Because this is not a normal day, because we are on a floating rock in the sky, and we are all in this together. She puts on the glasses and she's complaining about something and she's got that regular pinched look on her face and then suddenly she says hey WOW. You can really see it!

I'm almost home, and I see the guy walking his huge dogs that I always see, so I pass my street and try to catch up to him, but do a U turn and almost make the guy behind me crash. I feel bad about that driver who is just waiting in his white car, as I'm still turning, and the dog walker is passing by me oblivious, not knowing I'm trying to catch him, thinking I'm just a bad driver. Now I'm heading the wrong way from the dogwalker so I pull up to the white car expecting the other driver to be mad and he's not, and I say I'm sorry, I just wanted him to see the eclipse, but I missed him, did you see the eclipse??  The guy, a craggy looking Asian dude with a happy face takes the glasses I hand through my window and I tell him to look up. He's my first stranger, but I don't care. It's so exciting, we're earthlings.

He's gazing up and we chatter about how amazing it is and then I zoom off to catch the dog walker who weirdly is the only one who declines to look. Then I pass a guy next to a fixit phone pole truck holding some wires and say "Did you see it?" waving the glasses and he laughs and pats his shirt pocket and says "I have some!!"

Then I get home and look at the eclipse with Barry and Bruce, wandering out at 9:15 likes bugs from under rocks, and they look up and we see it changing, black over yellow, a bigger bite out of the sun. I tell them I'm running back to school, but now they have their glasses and I still have mine.

Back at Lilly's school, we go out again at 9:30 and see that the hole is getting bigger. We look at the Nasa cam in class, and see how it's looking in Oregon, and in Missouri. Where it's bigger and better. I point out where my brother is in Tennessee. It will get dark there, I say. For a little bit. Darn why didn't I think to travel there. Why?

At 10:19 when it's the peak, we go out with the class and it has gotten cooler, and shady from the eclipse, and the kids are curious, and stargazers, and artists who draw suns now, and most importantly they're looking up from where they are.

I tell Lilly I'm heading out, and on the way out of school there a group of moms on the steps and I make them look through the glasses. Even the one mom who is scared. I say it's okay. It's NASA, as I hand the glasses to her. Even the scared one looks. All of them can't believe what you can see.

I'm heading home but I can't head home. I call my friend Julia who I never see because of busy lives even though she's down the street. I say where are you. Want to see the eclipse? I have the glasses. She says she's kind of over it and I said yeah I thought that but you need to see these glasses. She's walking her dogs. I say I'll meet you at the feed store. Then I call Robert, our other dad neighborhood friend since preschool. I say you wanna see it? Do you have the glasses? Are you home?

I zoom over there, he comes out, he looks up. He is a scientist, and he is deeply happy. I zoom off to Julia and do a loop through the feed store, parking jaggedly. I see the guys who load up my hay each week. Three guys in feed store shirts by the enormous piles of hay and the forklift.

LOOK. I tell them. I make each of them look. I tell them I can't help it, look, quick! It's so cool. I go inside the feed store and make sure those girls in there have seen it. I come back out and there's a guy with a scraggly beard and leathery dark skin, a worker I haven't seen yet at the store. Have you seen the eclipse,  I show him the glasses. He says he hasn't. I make him take off his sunglasses and put on the glasses and he's standing by the baby chicks and he looks up at the sun and after he takes them off he is changed, and humble and says to his chest so quietly, "I never see this before in my life."

Then I know I only have a few more minutes really, for these glasses to be meaningful, where I can affect people, where afterwards, in about 15 minutes, they will just be paper and blackness.

I go back near Robert's because I saw guys putting tar down on the road in yellow vests, and I swing over there in my beat up mom van, and hang out the window "Hey did you guys see it?"

I hand the glasses to the first guy who stares up, and then the guy with the tar broom, and then the scrawny guy who turns off the tar machine and comes over to look. I am all their mother. Today.

I get three shining smiles.

I pass a gold chained dad and Armenian businessman son who look like they're on the cusp of an argument at the end of their driveway. There's a garbage truck heading toward me. I stop anyway, and I don't care if they're having an argument.  "You guys have to see this," I say. The dad looks perplexed, but the son comes over and soon they're passing the glasses to each other, both looking up and remarking at the extraordinary view.

Then I catch the same garbage truck I didn't have time to stop earlier, lumbering at me and I park weirdly and go up to his door after he unloads a container, and his door is like looking up at Pluto, it's so high up, but he has a big round face and I show him the glasses and say can you look?  He's so happy he gets out of the truck and sometimes you don't even know you're alive until you see the planets and the garbageman gets out of his truck to see it with you.

Then I pass a lady and her three year old. She puts the glasses on the kid first, and aims her chin up to look, because moms always show the little one before looking for themselves. It is nature. She says she tried to see it in the pool, but the water is wavy, she says. She looks up, her face open with wonder.

I pass the retired neighbor with the chocolate lab Charlie in his yard by the school. He says "I'm going in the tell the wife I saw the eclipse!" Happy like a kid.

There are two guys in reflective vests on opposite ends of another corner, measuring something the way they do with hardhats and that weird metal camera on a stick. I make the one guy look, and then he calls his corner buddy over to look. Everyone is so grateful, like when you get something unexpected in the mail. Because today can be different, because no matter what we're doing in the neighborhood, these four blocks I've managed to harass with the glasses, we're all floating on this rock in space, and we all, every one of us, are a bunch of kids, and we can't believe that we are that vulnerable.

The Aremenian dude from earlier is passing in a van and sees me with the reflective vest guys, and he hangs out the window. Hey can my friend see?? He says, motioning to the van driver, who is already getting out to check out the glasses and the sun.

I've passed almost everyone I can see, and I've really only done the same streets I've done for years, trick or treating, or biking to preschool, or riding up to the park. I'm heading home, and I pass a guy in a hat pruning his hedge with electric clippers. I pass him, but then I only have him left, the street is empty, there's still time. The chunk isn't quite out of the sun yet. I put it in reverse and back up trying not to hit trashcans because I'm a pretty bad backer. It's like when I'm going in reverse I suddenly can't drive. I get out of the car, and the guy I thought was a gardener is an old guy with thick glasses and the kind of skin you usually only see on the armpits of gentle old giraffes. Have you seen the eclipse? I say. He glances at the sky a bit and says Oh I've seen a little bit. On tv.
You want to look? I have the glasses. He looks like 100 year old Poppa, with his eyes a little bit lopsided, and all the furry wrinkles by his elbows.  Younger than Poppa, but older than Lou, my 84 year old boss. A good mix of the two of them.
Look, I say, it's really cool.
He puts his head toward the sun and holds the paper glasses over his own glasses.
Ohhhhhhhhh, he says.
It's almost done, I say. But it's still amazing.
I look at him looking, since I can't look up too, without the glasses. I imagine what he sees.
He is studying it, miraculous.
It's leaving us, he says.
Watching contentedly.
He hands me back the glasses as I chatter about being at the school, and driving around like an idiot.
He's smiling at me from his garden.
Bless you, babe, he says sweetly.

I drive back home on the empty streets, with the almost full sun looking down on me.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Natural Habitat

The beauty of having no boundaries is that you think everything belongs to you. And I was reading that if you watch much Mr.Rogers, according to him, everything does belong to you.

I did Open House at my school where I'm a fake long term teacher, and stood amidst this swirling of parents and kids. The kids I had seen all day, and we had built the room to look nice and productive, and there they come popping in, one by one, the way kids do, in a rush, or laughing, or distracted, and every time I saw one of my 18 students, it was like Oscar night - look, another famous 3rd grader, famous from my class, the only one exactly like it on Earth.

It was funny to see the parents and family they dragged along with them, because as a parent I know these are the people doing the actual raising and loving and supporting these kids, but when they come in my class, it is like they are in MY arms now, and maybe because I have that no border thing as a mom but because they are with me all day, every weekday, they are mine. All sitting right there in front row seats in my mind.

At night after I put my own big babies to bed, I see them, I hear them, I think about tomorrow, and get myself organized for a productive day the next day. But it's not just the stuff we have to do and the teaching, it's the voices I hear and the faces I see, it's the art underneath the mechanics that of course I see. The whole person, growing people. All bubbling and distracting.

Then I read this thing about how Mr. Rogers thought we were all neighbors. Just right over there, and you might as well help your neighbor. Loving all people is natural.

And then my own family is at Open House, my dad and one of my moms, Barry, and my kids are running the cash registers at the book fair like we live in Ohio, in a small town. I'm at an age where I know having everything is temporary, and loving who is there with you, is the most alive and most fragile of all places. How many times in your life do you get your family and your work all mixed up and stacked together like a huge ice cream cone. My 18 kids. My 3 personal kids. My loaner kid friend of my son's who was there helping. My actual parents in adult bodies but who are still kids. It is pretty nice to have your dad take pictures of you and be proud of you when you are 50. Not much changes - from 5 to 50. Love is important. Ice cream is still good, too.

The Mr. Rogers thing was cool, because he said you never stop loving the people that die in your life. You don't get to keep them, but you get to keep the things they taught you that were important, and the times they made you feel important. You carry it with you.

I don't know how many more Open Houses I get. But I got this one.

Maybe all jobs are just a place to drape yourself and a background for where the love can come in and cover you like a gramma's lace shawl. I guess I can't believe how many layers there are to loving your life.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Testing, One Two Three

There's a girl in the class I'm subbing in. They had a test today, on the computer. Some kids wrote informational articles, opinion essays, and some had to write stories. She had to write a made up story about going to a cabin and what she saw outside the window when she woke up.

A made up story.

This is a kid who does everything perfectly in class. So perfect that she's serious about it, I'm not sure there's any joy in her perfection, this is her job and she is going to be first in line. She has a slight suspicion of me, that I'm a buffoon (she is right), and she's always managing her ship so tightly that I barely have to do anything for her, she's orbiting herself, on autopilot.

Then today I saw her not able to write very much on that test. Her brain was like on that icy lake in Frozen. She couldn't figure out how to write an imaginative thing. She sat for a long time, I guess consulting her arrested, clinical heart, and came up with a sort of scratching sound that didn't translate into the keyboard.

We all have these holes. Here is this high achiever, and she can't surprise herself with imagination. Okay, she's only 8, but come on, you're at a cabin and you wake up and look out the window and what do you see?

For me there is a giant snowdrift. There is a scary old man selling stale crackers. There is the Hindenburg in mid-explosion. Hot gas spewing directly at us. There is Jane Austen with a rhinoceros head and a beer. There is a tornado. There is the road to nowhere.

She did end up writing something that involved the words "first, next and finally," the way they're all trained to write. Of course, the template gave her security. I felt relief seeing the screeching halted edges of higher intelligence. Knowing that when she's running the hospital she will own someday, that there are things people are born able to do, and things that baffle us.

Even though in the emergency, she would be the one who knew all the procedures, I would still rather wake up in a cabin with a buffoon.
Have a tornado for tea.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The One Percent

I'm teaching my horse to trot, do you know how exciting it is when you give a cue and the big meaty animal says "well....okay then," and does what you ask with minimal fuss?

I was watching a trainer on tv and he said "you ask for 1 percent improvement each day, and then after 100 days you have a trained horse."

I like this. Not 100% today, and every freaking day. 1 percent, people. The happiness and perfection of that one simple step.

ps it also helps to read poetry. Your heart swells from beauty, and then the 1 percent you can do, in a day. Riding and writing.