Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Small Kindnesses

I believe in small kindnesses.

This afternoon, I took my children to our central downtown library, to continue in their endeavor with the summer reading program. I’ll admit, I got started a little late this summer, with all of the other obligations that came throughout June, but we have really enjoyed getting back into our weekly library visits this past month. Over the last year, the librarians have become quite familiar with my little clan, as we would often visit once a week, during the school year. My kids have grown comfortable enough with the staff that they will ask them questions and strike up conversations. It’s lovely to see that feeling of tight community, especially at the largest library branch in the city, where things are a little busier and the staff has more demands on their time.

This morning, I pushed myself to the edge of heat-stroke, by working in my yard when I probably shouldn’t have. Lesson learned. So, by the time it was time to roll out to head to the library, this lil’ mama was not feeling too stellar. Still, it was Tuesday, and Tuesday is library day—period. I packed up our 15 books and 6 movies, and off we went. Despite the fact that I had debriefed the offspring on what today’s protocol would entail, they had their own agendas. The plan had been to make things quick and painless. Mommy wasn’t feeling well. Let’s just get this done, shall we? Well, that just turned into a festival of “Mommy? Mommy? Mommy?” and by the time we reached the check-out desk, I just wanted some silence. C’mon—isn’t that what libraries are all about?

So, there I am, with 3 kids repeating my name, 3 little hands in my face, 3 library cards that need to be passed out, 3 summer reading program folders that need stickers, and 15 books that need to be managed and accounted for, and all I could do was just let out a quiet sigh. What I wouldn’t give for someone, anyone to just make the world stop for a second, so I could just catch my breath. And that person, was my beloved children’s librarian.

She is always so kind and soft-spoken, with all of the patience in the world. We struck up an acquaintance last fall, when she realized I worked in education. I think it may have surprised her when she learned that the mom with all the tattoos and goofy-looking hair actually worked for an elementary school, and since then, we always chit-chat about the latest book-related nonsense, and seem to appreciate that there is another adult out there who loves children’s literature just as much as they do.

She is used to seeing happy, smiley, enthusiastic mom—not quiet, tired, overstimulated mom. I saw a clear look of sincere sympathy on her face, and she took a few moments to offer me some words of encouragement. She didn’t have to do that. It’s not in her job description. If anything, nobody would have blamed her if she had just tried to get us out of there as quickly as possible, but that isn’t what happened. She was kind and she was patient and took the time to try to make things better. She doesn’t even know my name.

After we made it downstairs to have our parking ticket stamped, my phone rang—and it actually rang, because I forgot to turn it off when we entered the library. Oh wonderful. Way to go, Hill. Phone ringing in the library. You’re so awesome right now. I answered, and it was my librarian. She told me that I had accidentally left my sketch pad behind, when I unpacked the old books, and was hoping to catch me before I left. I was so grateful, and then she insisted on bringing the sketch pad to me, instead of having me drag the kids back upstairs. I was blown away. When she arrived, she acted apologetic for calling me, as if she had invaded my privacy by looking up my phone number. I extended my gratitude yet again, only this time, she stopped to ask my name. “Hillary,” I said. She smiled, “You’re kidding. That’s my daughter’s name.” And there it was. After a year of sort of “getting to know each other”, we were finally formally introduced, all because she could tell that I needed a momentary superhero.

If I can say anything about living downtown, it is that it feels more like living in a small town. Everyone knows everybody else. There is a real sense of community. You see the same people every day at a coffee shop. My baristas know my name, and I know theirs, and they ask you how your vacation was, or how your work day went, and so on and so forth. You actually get to know your neighbors, and they help each other out, whether it’s repairing your house, or getting your mail when you’re out of town. We even have a community garden. When I go to the grocery store, the check-out lady always likes to tease me about how much milk I buy every Tuesday. And when I go to the library, my librarian has takes the time to get to know us. She knows what authors and subjects my kids like, that I come there once a week, and that I’m a single mom who sometimes runs herself into the ground for her kids.

It is the small kindnesses that can make such a difference in a big, big world. They keep us all from feeling so lost-in-the-shuffle. They make us feel like we’re part of something—that we’re not invisible. I have experienced more of this in my few years living downtown than I ever have in all of my years of suburbia. As ironic as it sounds, downtown is breeding kindness, or at least my experiences lead me to believe so. There is a lot of love down here, and for this lil’ mama, at least, it has made a real difference.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Year Of Peas n' Carrots

Well, it's that time of year again. The end of the school year.

While the end of our academic year doesn't arrive until the end of the week, the past few weeks have caused me a great deal of quiet introspection. While most may celebrate the arrival of a summer vacation, free of students and school-related things, the end of the school year causes this typically chronically sunny-side-up girl, to, well, for lack of better words, become seriously bummed-out.

Every morning, before the students arrive, and I am passing from building to building, I am always drawn to the calm and quiet of the empty playground. There is just something about it that carries so much potential, almost as if it holds a secret that none of us educators will ever know. Sometimes, I like to walk through it on my way to start the day, in an attempt to gather some of the innocence and wonder that the children may have left behind the day before, so that I may see the world from their point of view and use it to help them succeed throughout the course of a new day.

I believe that when you are with children all day long, one of two things can happen. You can either grow to resent children, or you can begin to return to your childhood. For me, it's the latter. Sure, educating these children is my job, but I also feel a kindred spirit in them that I just don't feel with many adults. Call me crazy, but I would much rather carry on a conversation with a child, than associate with an adult. Period. I learn as much (if not more) from them, as they (hopefully) learn from me.

So when the drone of student chatter and laughter falls away this week, when I no longer hear the Pledge of Allegiance echoing through the halls in the morning, when I no longer get to smell freshly-sharpened pencils, and am no longer greeted by the rumbling surge of school buses, I will feel a void. These are many of the small staples of my daily life, and as simple or insignificant as they may seem to most of the world, their absence will feel substantial to mine. It always does. And that is why this time of year is always quite bittersweet.

As educators, we invest so much of ourselves in what we do. It takes so much heart. Given my job responsibilities, in particular, I invest myself in just a small handful of students each year-- sometimes only one or two-- and it makes parting ways with them even more difficult, because I get to know them, inside and out. Every year, I tell myself, "Do your job. Get them from Point A to Point B. But at Point B, you must say good-bye and pass the torch to someone else, trusting that they will handle that journey to Point C with just as much care as you did." It's never that simple, because somewhere along the way to Point B, you realize just how far you've come from the beginning of the school year, and it starts to kill you that you can't just keep going, and see your investment through 'til the end.

This year in particular, I have seen the world through a child's eyes-- more than I ever have-- and I have never felt more like "myself" because of it. It has been a beautiful and life-changing experience, one that, despite my heavy heart, I feel priveleged to have been a part of, and will continue to hold onto for many school years to come. It is ironic how a single, sometimes completely-misunderstood child, could make me understand the world so much better than I ever have, and even with as far as we have come, and given how many battles we have both endured over the last nine months, I can honestly say that he gave me way more than I could ever give him.

To some, that might feel like a failure, but I disagree. Sometimes, the biggest mistake we make as educators is failing to remember that we should come to school every day, ready to learn as well. It is, by far, the best part of my job. So yes, I am sad that this year's learning experience will end in just a few days. I want to keep going. But I know that next year, there will be someone else who needs me, someone else who will teach me to see the world by hanging upside-down, someone else who will make me a better person.

But I'm still going to miss the crap out of him. Thank you, buddy-- so, so much.

Miss Hill

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Perfect Storm

You know those moments when you insist that someone must be filming you?-- That you are an unwilling participant in some sort of sick, "candid camera" documentary, made to mock the various crises of everyday life? Well, I would say that this afternoon was one of those moments-- if it had lasted but a moment-- but no, it snowballed into a full-fledged after school "experience".

So, this entire week carries with it more "shit to do" than should technically be allowed by law, and this afternoon was no exception. The weather alone was enough to make me start hissing like a feral cat. I love the rain. It's all soothing and quiet and romantic and delightful. I also don't hate the cold. It allows me to indulge in what I consider to be the better-half of my wardrobe. However, when the two are combined, they create a force so unwelcome and evil that I literally do nearly bare my teeth at the air as it whips mist around my face. I. Loathe. It.

Yes, the weather had already put me in an unusually sour mood, because all I really wanted to do as a result of the atmospheric conditions was curl up in my footie pajamas with Mighty Mo, and maybe watch a Hugh Jackman movie. Instead, I had several hours of non-stop errands and appointments after school to "look forward to". Why????? Why can't I just go home???? Can't I just postpone until tomorrow? Pretty please? In the words of Grumpy Cat, "No."


So, in the midst of the still-steady rain, I corralled the kids into the car, or tried to, anyway. What is it about kids and puddles? Is there some sort of weird gravitational force that automatically draws them to even the tiniest of puddles, so that they may stomp in it? I mean, really? I had absolutely no desire whatsoever to growl at them in the parking lot (which I wound up doing anyway), but I kind of despise being cold and wet, not to mention the fact that my biggest pet peeve in life is having a soaked hem on my pants. Mission accomplished. You are such an idiot for not wearing skinny pants and boots today. What were you thinking? I mean, honestly, Hill? When was the last time you actually wore pants that weren't fitted around the ankle, and you chose today to wear trousers with a straight-leg? You should seriously consider punching yourself in the face for that one.

Awesome! We are in the car and we are on our way! Miracle! Step one: Bank. Step two: Broken Arrow Library. Step three: Salon. Oddly enough, the kids were all quite quiet on the way to the bank. I am so used to the incredibly aggravating teasing, taunting, poking, prodding exchange that takes place almost daily in my back seat, that the fact that they weren't attempting to kill each other was quite noteworthy. They didn't even pester me for suckers at the bank drive-thru. That, in and of itself, was epic, and had I been on my toes, it would have been the first sign that something was amiss-- that the "perfect storm" was brewing.

We methodically made our way out to South Broken Arrow. Even though I grew up out there, I literally cannot stomach being that far outside of my safe little Downtown bubble. It makes my neck tense up, and sometimes, I snarl a little. Hissing. Growling. Snarling. God, I sound like a horrible human being, but when you combine the rain and the cold and the inability to go home when I wanted to, with going way out to a part of town that just makes me want to go home even more, the world is fortunate that I didn't spontaneously sprout a tail, wings, and scales, and start breathing fire. Or turn into Grumpy Cat. I would never do that, though. My Tami needs that alter-ego more than I do.

So. Yes. South B.A. Sweet Baby Jesus. The only redeeming thing about our journey out there was the fact that we were going to the library so I could secure a copy of a DVD that my student had so endearingly begged me to get for his presentation on Friday. I can't say no to him. Well, not often anyway. The joy on his little face would be worth my heinous trip, in the cold and rain, out to South Broken Arrow. I knew that. Still, I wanted to make it as painless as possible, and barked at the kids to hurry as we exited the car and went inside. I knew they would be tempted to explore, since we had never been to that particular branch, but I gave them strict and stern orders to stick with me as we made a beeline for the Children's DVDs.

I located what I needed almost immediately, and as we made our way towards the counter, Gabe paused and whimpered a little. He had complained of a headache after school, and seemed pretty tired, but this whimper was not a "tired" whimper. I knew this whimper. It was a whimper that was always combined with this wide-eyed look of complete and utter fear, that could only mean one thing. Impending vomit.


"Gabe? What's wrong, buddy?"
"I don't feel so good."
"Ummmm, okay. Do you think you're going to get sick?"
"Okay, well then we need to find a bathroom. Quick."

But it was too late. He turned his back to me, and the next thing I heard was puke splattering onto the tile floor. I hung my head, and let out a sigh that was basically just Mom Code for, "Why me??? Why now???" And with that, just as methodically as I had mapped out the rest of my afternoon, I systematically faced the situation at hand, but not before Josh and Quincy both announced their disgust with what their brother had just managed to do, in what they practically consider a house of worship.

"Really, Gabe? Really??? Now we're not going to get to go to swim lessons! Ughhhhhhh!"

It's at moments like these when, as a parent, you must choose your battles. Do you get an inch from your daughter's face and give her your best "You Are SO Going To Regret Saying That" face, or do you just focus on the regurgitated snack that is now pooled on the library floor? Well, in my case, you tackle the issue of bodily fluids first. It's just the polite thing to do. I took the walk of shame to the circulation desk, where a woman about my age politely asked if I needed assistance, and was then forced to explain that my son had just blown chunks all over the floor. Such a lovely thing to explain, and her face reflected it. Bless her heart. It was her first week on the job. She didn't even know what the clean-up procedure entailed. Thankfully, she had a good sense of humor, as I tried to lighten the mood by congratulating her on being "initiated" into her new position. That still didn't keep her from pumping obscene amounts of sanitizer into her hands, over and over, though.

Yeah. I basically wanted to die at that point, but our day wasn't over.

Whyyyyyyyy is it still raining? Throw me a bone! We dashed out to the car, where I shot a text to the kids' dad, informing him of our disgusting little incident, since he was due to pick them up in less than an hour. I also thought it would be a fun time to crack a joke about the experience on Facebook. I mean, if you can't have a sense of humor about this stuff, then you're just not cut out for parenting, right? As we made our way out of the parking lot, and out onto the rain-slick street, my phone started erupting with texts, and then I was met with that all-too-familiar-and-highly-unwelcome whimper from the back seat.

Oh God. Seriously? Not in my car. NOT in my car. Please, Jesus.

I begged Gabe to hold on. I begged as I assured him that I would find something for him to use as a puke bucket, and attempted to get into the left-turn lane at the same time. Every expletive known to man raced through my mind (and probably came out of my mouth-- I honestly can't remember), as I frantically dug through a giant blue plastic Ikea bag in the front passenger seat, looking for something he could use, other than my floorboard.

Yes! His lunch box! Brilliant!

If you look up the word "improvise" in the dictionary, I am fairly certain that you will see a picture Gabe looking green and panicked in the back seat, and one of me tugging the zipper of his Stitch lunch box open, and flinging it backwards into his lap, as I made a left-hand turn in the pouring rain, and then hearing his vomit explode into it, just in time. You would also hear his siblings screaming at the top of their lungs in absolute horror at what was taking place.

It was a thing of beauty.

As PukeFest 2013 continued behind me, I reassured him that I was going to find a place to pull over, and immediately pulled into a gas station parking lot. I pulled up along the grass and briefly rested my forehead against the steering wheel, praying for death, as I had to be at the salon in approximately eighteen minutes. There was no way I was going to cancel. I had been looking forward to getting my hair sheared off for over a week, and a little throw-up wasn't going to get in my way. I got out of the car, too dumbfounded to even care about grabbing my umbrella, and walked around to the passenger side of the car. Gabe was pinned in the middle of the back seat, so I instructed him pass the lunch box to me, so I could dump it out, and subsequently rinse it, using what was left inside of one of their water bottles.

Well, that was how it was supposed to go down, anyway. However, we experienced some technical difficulties.

I grabbed the lunch box with one hand, which was just about the most careless move ever, considering the stupid thing is made of flexible material, and needless to say, disaster followed. The bottom of the lunch box collapsed under the weight of whatever came out of his little digestive tract, and most of it spilled out across his brother's lap and onto my arm and hand as I pulled it out of the car. Josh erupted in screams of terror, flailing his hands everywhere, tears streaming down his face as he began to hyperventilate over what had just happened to him. You would have honestly thought that someone had just lit him on fire, and I kind of think he would have preferred that to having his brother's half-digested food dumped all over his pants. I just sort of stood there, in the rain, staring off towards the traffic in the intersection, taking a deep breath, rapidly blinking my eyes, and wishing that I could just walk out there, so someone would accidentally run me over. It would be a quick death. I wouldn't feel a thing. It would be so easy...I couldn't even really be bothered to be all that concerned about the bits of puke that were now running down my arm, as I heard poor Gabe muttering embarrassed apologies from the center of the back seat.

Why on Earth am I starting to find this funny? It is so over-the-top ridiculous that it can only really be explained as some kind of cosmic joke. Let's see how much unforeseen b.s. we can conjure up for Hill today, and see what happens!

But, I did chuckle to myself. How could I not? I had just dumped one brother's vomit into the other brother's lap. After he had just thrown-up at the library. And still had puke all over my own hand. As I stood in the rain. At a gas station. In the freezing cold. In God-forsaken South Broken Arrow. And yet, by some miracle, my methodical instincts persevered, and I quietly procured a half-filled water bottle from the front seat, removed the lid, and rinsed the lunch box, as well as my arm.

Oh, and for all of those people who like to make fun of those of us who keep sanitizer handy, this is why we have it. So there. Next time you have puke on your arm, don't come crying to me.

Josh was still clearly scarred for life, shrieking and hysterical, until I promised him that he could change pants when we got to the salon. Yes, the only thing that was working in my favor at that point was that I had an extra change of clothes in the car. In the meantime, my phone kept blowing up, so I paused to answer the abundance of questions about Gabe, school tomorrow, substitutes, hair appointments, and offers of help.

We made it to the salon without further incident, where the kids were shockingly well-behaved. I have never been so grateful for that in my life, especially since that one little half-hour every four-weeks is usually the most painful experience I have as a single mother. There are few things I dread more than taking them to my hair appointments, because I am trapped in a chair being groomed, unable to string them up by their toenails when they misbehave, and they know it. Quincy actually had the audacity to hatefully hiss at me in the mirror during one appointment, and she is lucky she is still alive for that little display. So yeah, I am accustomed to the absolute worst they can throw at me, the minute I sit down and have the cape wrapped around my shoulders. I am not sure I could have handled it at that point if they had engaged in their usual behavior, or that they would have made it out of the salon alive. Even the fact that I was finally getting relief from my shaggy hair with a delightful new 'do would not have caused their lives to be spared. I think they must have known it, too. Smart kids.

I just wanted to go HOME. So. Bad. Instead, I had a few annoyingly-necessary errands to run once I dropped the kids at their dad's house (he was detained and could not pick them up, as we had originally planned). Upon getting the kids out of the car, I noticed that my back seat had fallen victim to PukeFest 2013, and that my "night off" was now going to be filled with not only errands, but shampooing the upholstery-- in the rain-- and cold-- instead of curling up in my pj's with Mo and Hugh Jackman. At this point, I was really starting to regret my self-imposed work-week rule of "no alcohol". A little vodka and grapefruit would have made for the perfect trifecta of pure awesome on a dreary winter night. Sigh.

Never the less, I embarked on my errands, but not before grabbing a quick bite to eat. Let me just say that you know you're, like, Mom Of Steel when your car wreaks of kiddie-vomit, and it still doesn't deter you from eating something from the drive-thru. True story. After gulping down my meal, I began to slowly feel the adrenaline from the last few hours drift away. I had managed to survive. Suddenly, even as I lined up a substitute to cover my spot at work, and rearranged a calendar that already has me going cross-eyed, I felt sort of lucky. Lucky. And calm. Even with all that had happened. And just like that, the aggravated, pelting rain of the afternoon's many disasters had morphed into a wave of large, sticky, quiet snowflakes, and even with being absolutely blown away by how completely preposterous my afternoon had been, something as simple as rippling sheets of blowing snow was all I needed in order to quiet down, too.