Sunday, February 28, 2010

One Blue Heron

The free bird thinks of another breeze
And the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
And the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
And he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
His shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing...

Driving home last Wednesday, I quietly prayed that the storm front headed our direction would suddenly divert its terror in some other direction. This, however, was not what my students wanted; they preferred the idea of sleeping late and lounging in pajama pants. I, on the other hand, shot a bitter eye and furrowed brow toward the grey sky as I headed on my Bear Swamp journey.

Along Sauerkraut Lane I drove. Past the massive homes. Past the stone farmhouses. Past the summer kitchens and the fallen fields of sheered corn and soybeans. As I headed into the dip towards the swollen Swabia Creek, I suddenly caught glimpse of a massive creature soaring not 30 feet above me.

A graceful blue heron.

I slowed the car on the winding road and watched as he flew westerly with me, magnificent wings spanning broadly, beak straight ahead. Slow and methodical, angular to the wind and fluid with motion. He stayed on my course for a half-mile before turning south into the sloping meadow. I pulled over to watch him glide away.

When the so-called snurricane finally descended the next day, I perched my bike and began to pedal a 30-mile ride inside the confines of our library. Throughout the drill, my gaze alternated between my focused image in the mirror and at the snow smacking against the window. And along the way, the thought of the blue heron kept recurring in my mind. He was out there, somewhere, spending his hours the way nature has intended—surrounded by the beauty of the hills, the sound of the breeze, the cold touch of the frozen flakes.

Instead, I remain trapped on a wheel of repetitive spinning and unable to escape. The rhythmic cadence of my legs stayed with the music as I eyed the arch of my back, noticing the definition of my lats, delts, traps. Trapped—like the caged bird, unable to name the sky as my own.

When our wings are clipped and our feet are tied, we cannot live. No one can—which is why we must always appreciate the splendor of life’s gifts and seize the opportunities placed before us.

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

Until this winter passes, I shall quietly pedal in my cage, waiting for the day that I can finally dip my wings into the rays of the sun, bask in its glory, run to my trail and embrace a hemlock, cross a covered bridge and throw my hands toward the sky after I pass through its simplistic beauty.

Until I can again feel like the broad-back blue heron, searching for a destination of contentment.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wanted: Editor

This simply serves as a disclaimer: I am not perfect.

As I scroll through prior posts, I see boogers here, there, everywhere. And as I tell my students, and they would attest to this: "Pick out your boogers."

Unfortunately, I pick out my boogers once, twice, ten times. And my copy is never pure buttah.

So I apologize, humbly, for my inadequacies as a true grammarian.

The Space Between.

Saturday night marked the start of my weekend, which is just simply wrong.

Yet, I accept the blame. That's because I chose to sit through a 10-hour grad class with a 30-minute break. That's correct. A 30-minute break. In a class that ran from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. And throughout the mind-numbing ordeal, I resisted the urge to rip off the five pads connected to the heart monitor which regulated my palpitations for 24 hours. (I won't be surprised if my rate spiked every time I glanced at my watch; to make matters worse, the device kept popping out of my jeans pocket, and only twice did it approach belly-flopping into the hotel toilet.)

Back in the conference room, I joined 25 other area educators in a class on cooperative learning, an ideal concept that truly enhances the skills of successful learners--those in the metaphorical classroom called the world. The way I see it, all too often we meet people who simply don't want to cooperate. They want to lead. They want to tell others what to do, how to live, how to think. The shallowness and selfishness of these folks prohibit us from becoming who we are truly meant to become as people. And by not being ourselves -- by living, loving and working with people who cannot cooperate in life's journey -- we are defeating our purpose in life. We lose out on the greatest part of who we are, who we should ultimately be.

So despite the extremely long day (one in which I felt my brain officially shut off at 5:24 p.m., as I duly noted in my journal), I headed to my car, phoned home, and relished in soul food for the spirit:

Dave Matthews.

The Space Between.

Cranked. Windows down, clear path on the highway.

Three times, I sang it loud, sang it with passion, sang it with conviction.

The space is where I'm hiding, waiting, wishing that I find the way to achieve what I set out to accomplish, where I can gather up my thoughts, my dreams, and my imagination. From there, I can unleash my potential that has gone back to the "sit, stay" position. That happens when life -- and your 21st graduate class -- gets in the way. You feel like you're on hold. And no one likes to be placed on hold.

So as much as I wanted to work on my book proposal tonight, I cannot. My space is temporarily draped with a curtain of exhaustion. And all that appeals to me is another Blue Moon and my pillow. Soon I'll be under the table and dreaman...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Beauty draws us with a single hair

Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. ~ Kahlil Gibran

Tonight I officially decided that I would return to my roots.

After nearly a year with bangs, I realize that I need to grow them back in and reclaim Big Hair. Oh, my bangs are already way below my nose at this point, and they’ve never really been high maintenance. But as I ironed my tresses, I realized how much I missed the full length that I chopped off around my face and below my shoulders.

I had not had bangs in quite some time – a dozen years, perhaps – when I decided last spring that I was getting “too old” for really long hair. I blame it on the return of the whites. You see, my hair is heading full circle. I've watched it go from white-blonde as a child to yellow-blonde as a girl to dark-blonde as a woman and back to white as a dame. So I manned up, told my cousin to cut them off, just at the brow line, because old chicks need bangs... And thus she simply snipped.

It was tough to say, difficult to watch. Who wants to think they're becoming too old for anything? But what was worse occurred the next morning when I returned to school. I clearly remember hearing George, upon seeing my new ‘do, utter one word that immediately set the regret in motion:


I could never wear the bangs down again, for fear that I was anything less than modish.

So I have spent the past 10 months pinning them back, cutting them myself (along with the rest of my hair). But tonight, while wearing my sci-fi heart monitor and getting a lot of ribbing about my new pager, I slowly pulled the iron and thought about how I am not too old, that there are women who are far younger than me on paper yet older in many others ways. I miss my long, beautiful, gleaming, steaming, flaxen, waxen hair.

I cannot wait for the morning when I will run again with a pinless pony as the winds run their hands through my blonde mane.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Little Buddha

“People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents.” Andrew Carnegie


Every now and then, Little Buddha steps into my path and sets me straight.

Older. Wiser. And definitely smaller. Little Buddha, my confidante with double initials, knows precisely how to make me pause, reflect, realize my purpose and my potential. Each of our colloquies is truly a catharsis of my spirit for our tenets are so closely aligned.

And so when I spoke with Little Buddha earlier this week, our conversation lingered with me for days. Why? Because I am currently in need of mutual affirmation and commiseration in my belief that we have little use for people who do not contribute to the overall purpose of their charge, those who plod along through rote and repetition, those whose standards fall short of rigor.

This, as my inner circle knows, is the “Minkie” factor.

We all know Minkie. We know the indolence. And it is masked through a web of feeble attempts that Minkie weaves. However, those with diligence easily see through Minkie’s façade. And we simply shake our heads at those who choose to take the easy road, particularly when it compromises the journeys of others.

In his book The Four Agreements, author Don Miguel Ruiz writes: “If you do your best always, over and over again, you will become a master of transformation. By doing your best, you become a master.”

But what about those who proclaim they are doing their best, and it is greatly underwhelming? Does that still make them a master? If so, then what, a master of mediocrity? And what if one simply cannot subscribe to that type of promulgation? I’ve been fortunate to watch Little Buddha at work in her environment; I’ve seen the challenges set forth, the high expectations, and the returns that Little Buddha’s efforts have yielded over the years.

Little Buddha knows that I invest as much as I can in my efforts. But, it’s difficult to continue at this point, right now.

By the time I left for work at 6:45 this morning, I had already run six miles (three at nearly race pace), did a core workout, baked cookies for Grace, folded one load of laundry, washed another and threw it in the dryer, unloaded the dishwasher, showered, ironed my hair, and made breakfast. Despite my chest pains, back cramps, and plantar fasciitis, I hobbled in, graded about 20 assessments, taught a double English, created and copied two tests, led three writing workshops, wrote a letter of recommendation, chiseled away on a major novel unit test, counseled two students on career options.

And I didn’t complain. I just did it because that’s how Little Buddha helped shape me.

As in all aspects of life, pushing yourself means that you should always remember a few things: A steady salary should not be an invitation to mediocrity. A steady home should not be an invitation for ignorance. And steady health should not an invitation for complacency.

I’ve never had to conquer as many hitches and hindrances as Little Buddha, but if the same challenges are placed before me, I hope I can master them with the style, elegance, and tenacity that she has, even if it means giving breast cancer the middle finger in the most serious fashion.

She is one of the sharpest and strongest souls that I know. She will always be there to push me, even if I no longer have the benefit of seeing her stunning face each day, of hearing her words of praise of my writing, her words of empathy of a wandering child, her words of understanding of a blended family, her words of compassion for my frustrations. And I love her so dearly. (She is why 10 years ago I passed over a lucrative job offer in a suburban district to take less money in an urban one, just so I could work with her.)

She is one person who has helped me flourish as a woman, a mother, a teacher, a writer, a learner.

As Ruiz writes: “The human mind is like a fertile ground where seeds are continually planted.” That’s quite true; however, this will not happen without farmers who are continually willing to work the soil.

When I grow up, I want to be someone’s Little Buddha, only taller.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Blooming into my winter

As a teen, I always said the worst thing about growing up was becoming a female driver.

Still, I learned to drive pretty solidly, so I can handle that stereotype. After all, my dad raced cars somewhat successfully and taught me to be as aggressive as Emerson Fittipaldi, the Brazilian wonder.

But as I aged, I realized the worst thing about becoming a woman was joining a league that is considered, well, the weaker sex—especially when so many women rely on a man to financially carry them through life. This is a stigma that I simply cannot accept.

Very early on, I resolved that I would never be that woman. After all, my momma would raise no candy ass, as she told me. And relying on someone else to take care of me was never in my cards, never will be, even though the opportunity for me to stay home has almost always existed. Why would I relinquish the chance to succeed simultaneously as a professional and as a mother?

This hit me recently as I pushed through an intense workout during a winter storm.

It came as the snow unleashed its 17 inches of fury on my neighborhood. Since I couldn't run outdoors, I calmly mounted Stella, my trusty Cannondale, within the comfortable confines of our library. In need of a hard workout, I wondered if I could bike 30 miles on the trainer, without the luxury of coasting or lifting my rear out of the unyielding seat of stone. Could I do this without whining?

As I started, I thought about the approaching Saturday when I would begin yet another graduate class to add to my three-page resume. This will be my 21st masters class, which means I will claim 63 graduate credits to my name. Add that to two bachelor’s degrees, and it’s pages of transcripts.

I knew who to blame for this doggedness: Joe G., my high school guidance counselor. However, I realize I should also give him props.

For as I pushed the pedals—with the Pretenders, the Clash, and The Who to motivate me—I thought about Joe G. who long ago told me that I wasn’t “college material.” He suggested “business school” or community college. Learn shorthand, become an assistant, answer phones. I would not accept this at the time. Granted, I didn’t have stellar grades, my family didn’t bestow endowments at small liberal art institutions, I cut a few classes to go out for lunch with my friends. Still, I wanted to go to college.

Without his blessing, I applied to several schools. I got into all of them, eventually choosing Penn State. And I'll never forget the day he searched me out to say he was "shocked" by my initiative.

Had I listened to him, I would most likely be chained to the ankle of someone who would pay my way. Instead, I had to believe in myself and prove to any doubters that I could succeed in a man’s world. Fortunately, for every doubter, there is a believer. One man who believed in me was my English teacher, Dick Tracy, who also happened to be the boys’ basketball coach, a decorated one at that.

Tracy spent most of my junior year focused on the varsity hoops squad, which eventually went on to win states. But once basketball season ended, Tracy morphed into an inspirational leader who once questioned why I wasn’t in a higher English class. I had, after all, aced my grammar tests, could analyze literature, had the highest grade in Period 4. His continual affirmation created an impact on me not found previously in my schooling. Yes, I had other supportive teachers. But Dick Tracy appreciated my strengths, my desire to succeed. And I never forgot that, how this man made me love MacBeth, love identifying prepositions and dangling participles, love writing. Under his tutelage, I began to bloom.

When I headed off to college, I took freshman English composition with Professor P. With a small chip on my shoulder, thanks to Tracy's laurels, I felt I could embrace any challenge. When I faced my first assignment, I threw myself into the topic and wrote a small tome. A week later, Professor P returned it. “D,” it screamed. I cringed, knowing this couldn’t possibly be right. I didn’t get low grades on essays. So I made an appointment to see Professor P. Still a nervous 17-year-old kid, I mightily tried to to control my stutter as I told him that I disagreed with the grade and appealed for him to reconsider.

“Why is this so important to you?” he asked that fall afternoon.

I began to cry: “Well, Professor P, I want to be a writer.”

He reclined in his chair, looked over his reading classes, flexed his fingers like a spider doing push-ups on a mirror, and chortled: “Oh, Miss Reaman, you will never be a writer.”

Never be a writer…

That was all I needed to hear.

Years later, I landed a reporting job at the same newspaper where he wrote part-time. And I quickly discovered that his articles were less than stellar. The way I saw it: I won awards; he did not. I often got plucked for plum assignments; editors often chose him as a last resort. On several occasions, I had the opportunity to edit his copy and found myself rewriting linguistic messes.

I never had the chutzpah to remind him how, years earlier, he discounted my dreams, my goals, my potential. I could contently and silently live with the knowledge that I didn’t need his approval or blessing. That’s because his statement simply challenged me, and I set out to prove him wrong. And I did, even if he'll never remember.

I remain certain that neither my guidance counselor nor my English professor would have uttered such statements if I had the XY factor. And so I thank them both, just as much as I thank Mr. Tracy, for placing high hurdles that forced me to prove myself--even if it was just for myself. For each hurdle that I've encountered, my 5-foot-8 frame has clearly leapt with every ounce of energy that I can muster.

Never will I be content to stay home, pull in a few bucks, and rely on a man to pay my bills. Who can’t do that? Honestly. I deserve better than that. My daughters deserve better than that. They deserve strong, independent role models who can fend for themselves, with a man or without. I am empowered to raise four children—sometimes as a single mother—as I continuously seek higher education, explore avenues to perfect my writing skills, expand my intimacy of culture, inspire the squirrels I teach, knock off 50 military push-ups, run 26.2 miles, and even ride 30 miles on Stella aboard a relentless trainer without whining. Yes, definitely without whining.

For I am not the weaker sex.

Rather, I am the flower that will bloom long into her winter.

After all, my momma wouldn't raise no candy ass. And neither will I.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Somewhere, in a nonexistent sense but in a very real one, I have a second son. Of course, he's never walked this Earth, but he is a part of my life, in a way, and always will be.

Just understand: I always wanted my youngest child to be a male, an athletic rebel. A runner. A soccer player. A spitfire who constantly challenged me, kept me on my toes, begged me to cook his favorite meals, threw his dirty uniform on the floor. He could break the hearts of young girls everywhere, but was too sensitive to do so. He'd flash a killer smile, yet he'd appreciate the beauty of a well-written novel. My little man. But he never emerged beyond my imagination.

Still, I've known his name for years, kept his image tucked away in my cache of secret wishes for a boy when I was pregnant with both Grace and Kendall. Of course, I already have a son, a highly successful, highly intelligent, well-traveled and handsome man who owns his own home, a polyglot with a vast knowledge of art, culture, literature. He is the eldest of my brood; however, I wanted another son to round out the package. But this second boy--Jackson--never came to be. Subsequently, to placate my desire and our current houseful of four girls, I replaced my second boy with a dog, Eddie the Yorkie. He's athletic, logs a fast 5K with me, tosses the ball back, begs me for his favorite kibble, breaks the hearts of the neighborhood bitches. Yet, I know I won't be dancing with Eddie at his wedding; plus, he has a penchant for playing with his own droppings.

And so I continue to often joke about when I will have my boy, my real boy, my Jack.

Thus, on Thursday, after biking about 12 miles on my trainer, I walked into the kitchen in riding shorts, a sports bra, and my Sidis. Grace grabbed my small four-baby pooch and said: "I wish I had a baby brother." To which Kendall ran over and exclaimed: "Me, too. Me, too!" They hugged me, both while pleading: "Please have a baby boy, we want a baby brother."

Easy for them to say. So I offered up an easy solution: I lied.

"Oh, I'm having twins. Two boys, one for each of you!"

As they danced around the kitchen in glory, I went upstairs and changed. I returned minutes later, thinking the silly celebration had ended.

No such luck.

Back in the kitchen, the petitions continued. They tapped on my vacant uterus, called out hellos. As they went on to cheer with thoughts of baby breath swirling through their heads, I grabbed a blue highlighter, turned my back, and quickly drew two cartoon babies on my torso.

I spun around: "Look, look. Here they are."

For about ten seconds, they believed it, silly rabbits.

I teased: "So what should we call the babies?"

To my surprise, in unison, they immediately spewed the same name. The Name. His name which I rarely say, for it makes me wistful.


I grinned like only a proud momma could.

You see, somewhere, he exists. He does. In my heart. In the boys I see. In the boys I teach. He will never run through my house, drink all of the milk from the carton, leave fetid socks beneath the bed. Instead, he runs through the hallways. He pounces into my classroom. He seeks sage advice and affirmation without even knowing he's trying. How? He tells me that no one at home cares about his schooling, that no one at home cares if he fails, and so why should he? And I look at him in the eyes, and I tell him: "I care."

I directly promise him: "I am here for you when you need me. I want to see you succeed. I believe in you."

Jackson does exist. And he always will. Not in my house, but in my heart. I believe in him.