Sweet and Sour.....they just go together....

The last days of school for teachers are always bittersweet.  We are at the end of a 9 -month marathon; a race we all run carrying twenty souls on our backs while juggling test scores, field trips, new units, new initiatives, runny noses and snow days.

We spent the last days of kindergarten this year practicing our end-of-the year culmination and trying to help the kids memorize four songs that even I couldn’t remember the words to.  In between practices we tried to find the time to finish our journals, make cards for the important people at school and clean our classroom.  We found missing books, dozens of lego pieces, Garin’s lost Show and Tell lightsaber and someone’s tooth when we moved the furniture to sweep underneath.  (Remind me to clean under the furniture more often next year and to check my teeth.)

I found myself on the verge of a full-blown anxiety attack on the day of the performance, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t alone.  The kids were in prime form each exhibiting signs of summer-it is, aka “Let’s drive the teacher out of her ever lovin’ mind today”.  I was sure they were all just too excited for the performance and tried very hard to remember the angelic behavior they had shown me most of the year. However, they rose to the occasion.

Michael spent the day trying to straighten his “crooked drawers”, insisting that he just couldn’t possibly sit or stand while his drawers were so crooked. I then spend ten minutes trying to explain what the word “drawers” meant. (Without laughing.)

After insisting that Michael return to the bathroom to wash his hands after his “adjusting”, he claimed he just “wasn’t a hand-washing kind of guy.”

Brian cried four times during morning recess, claiming that the only reason he kept tackling people was because they were asking for it. Big time.

Suzy managed to spell many words correctly on the classroom rug instead of the white board that was conveniently sitting next to her.  Of course, it was an accident.

Sally bit Jack because he wouldn’t get out of her way when she asked him a billion times to move.  A BILLION.

During morning centers Julia tried repeatedly to put her foot in Thad’s mouth.  Fortunately for all of us (especially Thad) she was unsuccessful.  

During the last rehearsal of the performance most of MY class decided to play a game of “Let’s push each other off the risers during the songs.” This did not delight the teacher. 

By the end of what seemed like a long day, our afternoon performance was simply magnificent. I watched with joy, wonder and incredible pride as the children stood and sang like angels. I found myself holding back tears and more than one sob as I glanced around the packed gymnasium at the parents who hadn’t managed to hold it in.  We ended the performance in the gymnasium with a slide show of pictures of all the children from the whole year.  I sat down on the floor with the children, and my biggest challenge of the year scooted towards me until he was sitting next to me, holding my hand with his head on my shoulder.

At the end the parents headed to their children’s classroom to finish the day with a special garden party.  Parents, grandparents and siblings smiled and laughed with each other as they shared stories from the year and enjoyed tasty treats. I worked the room, mingling with everyone and thanking them all for sharing their precious children with us this year.  Towards the end of the party I was approached by an older gentleman who introduced himself as Jack’s grandfather who explained that he had been in education for many years.  He had been involved in education at the collegiate level for most of his career, and had then after his retirement spent many years as a substitute teacher.
“The point I’m trying to make is this,” he said.  “I have been in many, many, many classrooms over the years- including kindergarten classrooms.  I have to tell you that I have never been in a classroom that is as full of love and happiness as this one.  Thank you.”

I was speechless.

Yep, the last days of school are always very bittersweet.  But this year, on this day, the sweet was absolutely the sweetest.


The Signing. (And it wasn't at the Overlook...)

My stomach was churning as we walked into the Shaw Public Library.  The old library, the building that still stands across the street, is where I spent many a rainy Saturday. I hung out in the children’s section reading Nancy Drew books while sprawled on the carpet. Now I was in a brand new building across the street, next to the river on the very spot where our old middle school stood. 

I stood at the entrance and could hear the sounds of my youth whispering in my ear reminding me of innocence and youthful expectation.  The spell was broken as Ray took my hand and led me to the counter.  We introduced ourselves to the two male library volunteers.  One of them then pointed to the area across the room where I would be speaking and we made our way over. I stood at the podium and jokingly said that they probably had too many chairs out and I hoped that at least one row would be filled! I counted them and wondered if any of the other special guests had filled 24 chairs?

Ray and I looked out the window at the beautiful view of the river and I felt an odd sense of calm come over me.  “You know,” I said more to myself than to him, “Just being here in this library doing my own book signing is such an accomplishment. I can’t possibly be disappointed by anything. I am proud of myself, and anything else will be just extra.”

He smiled. “You’re right, baby.  But it will be great, I just have a feeling.”

We set up the book table, spoke with the librarians, sat in a comfortable couch and waited.  

The first guests to arrive were my friends who so graciously accepted my request (it might have been begging) to bake cookies. Elaine baked dozens of incredible cookies that we jokingly said we would gorge on for days if no one showed up.  My great friends Sheila and Patti arrived (from, um, Oregon) with another batch to add to the table. At this point the doors to library were opening every few minutes as I watched old friends trickle in one after another. I hugged each one feeling a bit like a Wal-Mart greeter, and was just smiling in surprise with each passing moment.  

Then I saw them.   

My aunts (five in all) and an uncle walked in smiling.  I hugged them all, laughing and almost crying with each one. I wasn’t sure who was going to be out of town, or who had gotten the message that I was going to be there.  But here they were.  Some of them had brought a daughter or two, and I was incredibly touched that they were all here and excited.

Before I knew it, the librarian was setting up more chairs, adding several more rows to the room.  A packed house!

I stood in front of the group and began my speech.  After the first sentence I was in my comfort zone.  I was sharing my story in front of a gathering of folks that I loved.  I glanced at each one as I shared one story after another and saw smiles and heard peals of laughter.  I could feel their love and it lifted me beyond measure.  I saw my awesome brother and sister-in-law, my mother’s sisters, her brother, some amazing cousins, the many classmates I spent my youth with, my middle school principal, more teachers from Oregon (!), the parents of several classmates, my old cheerleading coach and great friend, the leader of my junior high Methodist youth group, and several other folks that were related to my brother-in-law.  

And then I saw Ray.

He lifted his hand and wiped a tear.  He mustered a huge smile and flashed me a thumbs up. That was when I knew.

I knew in that moment that this was a night I would never forget.  This was the night when, surrounded by a sea of love, I made my mother and father very, very proud.



Back to the Scene of the Crime....(aka The Book Signing, Part One...)

I was incredibly flattered and honored to receive a phone call from the public library in my old hometown. The librarian said that my Aunt Becky told her I published a book, and asked if I would be interested in doing a book signing!  She must not have known that I still had the library book “Harriet the Spy” and wasn't ever plan on returning it. 

I was thrilled to say YES, and only hoped that at least four or five people I knew would make time on a June summer evening (a Tuesday at that) to come and see an author who deserted the town over 30 years ago leaving a trail of dust, stolen library books and teachers shaking their heads in dismay. 

I had months to prepare my heart for the signing and decided to delay signings here in my own town so that I could have my first one there. I was excited to be around familiar faces when I shared my first official book.

As the day grew near, however, my stomach filled with fear.  What if no one came? What if no one remembered me, or if they did remember me what if they didn’t give a damn? What if I made the library regret ever calling me? What if I stood in front of an empty room? I was finding a million things to worry about, and my common sense was conspicuously missing. 

My good friend Sharon (who provided me a safe haven last August when I was homeless!) arrived the day before the signing and tried her best to remind me that while it WAS a small town and it WAS a weeknight that there would be at least a handful of friends there and they would all be thrilled to hear me share my story.  We enjoyed MORE than several cocktails that evening reminiscing about our glory days. She reminded me that we used to launch lunch trays out the third story cafeteria window each day in 8th grade, and that we hemmed our candy striper uniforms with tape because our mothers refused to do it for us.  Apparently we used to sneak out of our candy striper duties and change clothes to walk to the stadium to watch the football team practice. We used to steal Richard Keirn’s lunch and write on his shirt. And when I say we I might mean me.

Oh my God I was Frank…in a dress.

The laughing and imbibing certainly took my mind off my worries and the hangover the next day sealed the deal.  I slept as long as I could, reviewed my “speech” and took special care getting ready.  I also kept a running list of who I thought might be coming to the library and decided that whatever happened would be fine.

Ray, looking incredibly handsome in a black suit, picked me up and loaded the books in the trunk.  Fortunately I was distracted for the 45-minute drive by a huge argument I was having with Golden Boy, Sassy and The One Who Shall Not Be Named.  Those details I’ll save for another day, but let’s just say that this divorce better happen soon or I will surely lose my ever-loving mind.

Ray pulled into the parking lot, parked the car and looked into my eyes.  “Honey, I know that this will be a great evening- and that you will be amazing.”

I squeezed his hand and smiled. I took a deep breath, “Thanks, honey! Now..... let’s get this show on the road!”

Part Two tomorrow…..