Fear that no one will show up.
Fear that people will show up.
Fear that people will walk out.
Fear that I will forget something important while speaking.
Fear that someone will ask a question I can't answer.
Fear that I will be wasting someone's time.
Fear that I will be wasting VSLA's money.
Fear of attending a conference alone.
Fear that I will be boring.
Fear that somehow I won't be enough.
That last fear is a fear that has eroded so much of my life. But it is a fear I am learning to put to the side. As I left the hotel Saturday at 5:00, I rode the escalator down to the lobby. It was empty by now. The conference had ended at 12:30.
Three women stood at the bottom of the escalator looking up at me. I was pretty sure the two of them had been sitting front and center during my talk. As the escalator brought me closer, I could see their smiles growing bigger and bigger.
"There she is," the one woman said as she turned to her district's reading teacher. "This is the speaker I was telling you about."
The woman who hadn't been at my presentation said, "I heard you were amazing. I had to go to another session, but I wish I could have gone to yours."
Those women gave me a priceless parting gift.
For them, I had been enough.
Exhausted, I collapsed into a seat at my flight's gate. An hour before boarding, I leaned back and worked on my report cards, which were due today.
The gate agent announced it was time to board. I stood up. Where was my roller bag?
I had left it somewhere.
By the time I signed for my confiscated bag, my flight had left. It was the last one of the evening.
"Can I sleep at the airport?" I asked the gate agent.
"Sure," she said. "Go back up the escalator and find a comfy spot. Your flight boards at 5:35 AM."
I looked at my phone.
Nine hours till I could head to the new gate.
The first four hours I tried to distract myself from the worry I would be kicked out of the airport. I kept thinking about the book Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting. The main character and his dad, who don't have a home, sleep at the airport every night and they have all these tricks for not getting noticed.
At midnight, I watched people settling in for the night. I chose a couch across from a guy wearing On running shoes, because my oldest son wears those shoes. I reasoned the man must be a distance runner. He must be safe I told myself even though the other half of my brain was telling myself I had no way of knowing that.
I laid my roller bag flat on the ground, stacked my backpack on top, and linked my arm through my backpack strap. I prayed no one would come near me.
With my sweatshirt's hood encasing my face, I laid on my stomach and rested my forehead on my arms. The lights glared, the announcement about not leaving bags unattended blared over the loudspeakers every twenty minutes, and my audiobook tried to lull me asleep.
Eventually it worked because I woke up in a pile of drool. Thank goodness the couch was synthetic vinyl. Bleary-eyed I made it to my new gate, flew out of Norfolk, caught the connecting flight in Newark, and made it back to Boston.
By the time my husband and I walked in the door, it was 1 PM. I hightailed it up the stairs to our bed with fresh sheets, said a silent prayer of thanks, and fell fast asleep.
To think there are people every night who don't know where they will be sleeping.
To think there are people every night who wonder if their belongings will be gone when they wake up.
To think there are people every night who fall asleep wondering if they will be safe.
Life has bestowed countless gifts upon me.
I thought for sure I would be writing about the VSLA 2023 conference today. But that's not the story I'm going to tell. I'll save that for another time.
Today, I'm writing about what happened after the conference because it's something I've never done before.
I exited the Marriott and headed over to d'Egg Diner for lunch. A gorgeous woman was in front of me waiting to talk to someone to be seated. She turned and started talking to me. I asked her if she was eating by herself because she was so pleasant and it seemed as if she was alone, too.
She pointed at her husband, who was over looking out the window, and said she wasn't but that sometimes it felt that way. He didn't miss the opportunity to poke fun at himself and joined our conversation. Then, she extended me an invitation to eat with them.
I surprised myself and said, "Yes!"
What ensued was one of the most interesting conversations I have ever had. Considering I'm a teacher, an author, and a podcaster, saying it was one of the most interesting conversations I have ever had is saying something!
First of all, she is a pilot. Have you ever met a female pilot? I hadn't. Not until today.
She flies private charter planes. Not the small ones, planes the size of a Southwest jet and has a variety of clients such as businesses, sports teams, and very wealthy families. I don't know everywhere she flies, but I know at a very minimum, she flies all over the country and Northern Europe.
That alone would have made the conversation interesting.
But that was not all.
It turns out she and her husband started the toy company Fun in Motion Toys. I hadn't heard of it, and considering it's a newer company, I figured I had never used one of their toys.
Their company produces Shashibo-the award-winning shape shifting box. Over eggs benedict, chocolate chip pancakes, and fruit cups I heard how they got into the toy business, how they started it up while holding full-time jobs(which they both still have) and how they almost quit before they joined forces with a German creator and launched Shashibo into the world.
I Googled Shashibo. "I have one of these in my house!" I exclaimed. "I bought them as stocking stuffers for my sons."
"Where did you buy it from?" they asked.
"The Paper Store," I said.
They smiled and nodded and we spent a minute raving about The Paper Store.
Anyway, the whole meal was delightful and it all happened on a whim just because I said, "Yes."
At my eye appointment in December, my ophthalmologist informed me I have bubble cataracts. I never thought that evidence that my body is aging and deteriorating would bring me joy, but today that's exactly what happened.
In Joyful, by Ingrid Fetell Lee, which Stacey Shubitz recommended when I interviewed her and Melanie Meehan on Chalk + Ink, I learned that there are certain shapes and objects that bring people joy such as, you guessed it, bubbles!
Normally, when I meditate at home, my window looks out at the tree-covered horizon. There are no human-made light sources. That is not the case here at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott. It's a harbor view which means lit up piers, police boats, flight towers.
As I sat down to meditate, I thought I would close my eyes to distract myself from all the light. But when I took off my glasses (I am very nearsighted), bubbles surrounded me. Bubbles of white, green, gold, red, and blue light. Each bubble of light consisted of teeny, tiny bubbles. Some flashed-the flight towers, some drifted-the boats, and some anchored the view. I felt as if I was a character inside Christina Soontornvat's A Wish in the Dark.
It's going to be a bubbly weekend.
Full disclosure this post has nothing to do with St. Patrick's Day. I know. It's odd. I mean tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day and the first image that pops into my mind is pot full of gold. So, if I'm not writing about St. Patrick's Day, what's up?
Well, last night I packed my bags for the VSLA conference. In addition to my carry on, I chose my backpack. For nine years, I carried my backpack to and from school. But not this year.
This year I chose the tote bag The Silver Unicorn gifted me at teacher appreciation day last year. It says, "No Shelf Control," and truer words have never been said about me.
In order to get the backpack ready for my books, my electronics, and anything else that wouldn't fit into my carry on, I needed to clean out my backpack.
Picture nine years of odds and ends from an elementary classroom in one bag with lots of pockets. What did I find?
-handfuls of gold coins
No, not real gold coins. The fake ones. Last year when we read Rajani LaRocca's Seven Golden Rings, I gave each student seven golden coins. If they wanted a clue to solve the math riddle, they could cash in a coin for a clue.
I piled all the gold coins into the flower jar, set it on my nightstand, and kept packing.
Before bed, my husband said, "Why is there a jar full of golden coins next to the bed?"
I answered that I'd found them in my backpack, which led to memory upon memory of reminiscing about stories centered around my backpack. Right away he laughed about how in college he offered to carry my backpack to be a gentleman and almost broke his back trying to lift it. This was way back when paper textbooks were still a thing.
We reminisced memory after memory piling up… worth so much more than a jarful of gold.
What a gift! Yet my to-do list was even higher than the twenty inches of snow piling up outside my window.
But I made a promise to myself as dawn broke. Fold in fun as the day goes along.
I started by making homemade waffles. The recipe called for separating the eggs and beating the whites until they stiffened. So, I did and then I held the bowl of egg whites upside down over my head to see if they stood up to the test. They did.
So much fun!
Then I made the waffles, giggling to myself the whole time as I thought about the Schitt’s Creek episode where David tries to figure out how to “fold-in” the cheese to Moira’s “homemade” recipe.
So much fun!
Finally, I ate a warm, airy waffle with fresh whipped cream and strawberries. That was so much fun I barely remembered to take a photo in time.
Whatever your day holds, remember to fold in some fun.
The Science of Unbreakable Things meets Silver Meadows Summer in Star Light Wishes, a vibrant, poignant middle grade debut about the coming-of-age moment when kids realize our most powerful action is asking for help.
There it is.
The pitch for the novel that I've been writing for a decade.
The pitch that I couldn't have written until two months ago because I didn't realize that's what the novel was about.
The pitch that I didn't want to be true.
Because let's face it.
If our most powerful action is asking for help, that means it's something I need to do, too.
So what do I need help with?
Too much to write about in one blog post, that's for sure. But I'll give it the good 'ole top ten treatment.
10. I need help being vulnerable.
9. I need help admitting I erred.
8. I need help accepting my skin is losing collagen faster than milk spills from a toppled glass.
7. I need help accepting that if I workout with anything heavier than three pound weights, I hurt myself.
6. I need help celebrating others.
5. I need help celebrating myself.
4. I need help learning how to do nothing.
3. I need help learning how to have fun.
2. I need help forgiving myself.
1. I need help asking for help.
If you live in Massachusetts or if you're a Weather Channel aficionado, you probably think I titled this post "Christmas in March" because my town is supposed to get between a foot and a foot and a half of snow.
While that's true, that's not why I'm writing this post. This post has been a long time coming, and when I say a long time, I'm talking at least a decade.
You see, today is my paternal grandfather's birthday. If he were alive today, he would have been 105. He immigrated here when he was nine from Mexico according to some family members and according to others from Costa Rica.
In his twenties, he fought in WWII in Europe. He flew a B-26.
When I was in elementary school, he gifted my family an old-fashioned string of colored Christmas lights. Every year I looked forward to seeing our brick house turn into a rainbow of color. I still own them and yes, they're still up. The photo below is from this evening.
He died of Parkinson's my freshman year in college. But that's not the tragedy. The tragedy is that my family abandoned him for years in a nursing home. I still feel guilty about it after all these years. True, one could say I was just a teenager, it wasn't my fault. But in Illinois, teens get their licenses at 16. So, I could have driven to see him. But, I only did that one time. And he lived down the road from my high school... if you can call what he was doing living.
So every year I leave my Christmas lights up till his birthday to remember him, to remind myself that I can and will do better as my parents age.
But the past decade or so, I've wanted to do more. I'd thought about making a donation to charitable organization for veterans or a charitable organization for Parkinson's. But I never moved forward.
Then, in January, I was researching Christmas trees for one of my manuscripts and I came across Trees for Troops. And I knew. I knew that was the charity I'd been looking for.
Today, I made a recurring annual donation to Trees for Troops. Each year at least one family who serves our country will receive a tree, in memory of my grandfather, Charles Jean Palaces. And someone will smile. Just like I did when he gifted us our lights and just like I do every time they fill our yard with his love.
Happy birthday, Pa. I love you.
April loves apples and I love April.
For years, I ran by her never stopping to say hello. To be fair, it was often at 5 AM in the morning and it was pitch black. Still, sometimes it was daytime and I would see her in her shelter and keep on running.
Not anymore. I think someone I run with planted a seed when she started talking about how she had begun stopping to talk to "Gregory." She didn't know April's name and called her that because the donkey lives on Gregory Road.
A few months ago, I started to stop. I called to her and she came. At first, I didn't bring food. Miffed, she would turn her backside to me, but she at least let me pet her lower back. So, she couldn't have been that mad.
Now, I almost always bring apples and she trots over as if I'm a long lost friend. Her lips are soft, juice pours out of her mouth as she savors her sweet, crunchy treat, and I delight as she graces me with her presence.
What other opportunities for joy and delight have I been running by for years?
Today, I feverishly read Jessica Lander's Making Americans because I'm interviewing her on my podcast, Chalk + Ink, tomorrow. With parent teacher conferences and my slide deck for VSLA due yesterday, I had quite a bit of reading to catch up on.
The truth is I love the book and I could focus on any number of quotes. But there's one from Lyndon B. Johnson that brought me back to mid-December helping our former biracial, bilingual six-year-old foster daughter get ready for school. She looked in the mirror and called herself poopy.
"No," I told her. "You're beautiful, smart, kind, and intelligent."
"Really?" she asked.
"Really." I said. I hope I hugged her and kissed the top of her head, but I don't know if I did or not. I may have head to turn around to hide my tears.
So what does this have to do with Lyndon B. Johnson? Well, Landers explains that in 1928, long before he was President, LBJ taught for a year at a segregated Mexican school in Cotulla, Texas (Landers Making Americans 163). Later on in 1965, a month before he signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act into law, LBJ said, "Somehow you never forget what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child."
When I read that quote, it was December again, and I was watching a beautiful young girl hate her image because of the color of her skin. My husband later remarked to me, "Anyone who doesn't think skin color matters should foster a child of color."