Names and faces….

He was a generic twenty-something in a blue hoodie and dark rimmed hipster glasses  just like so many of the young men I’ve taught throughout my career.  As I walked past him in the lobby of the budget hotel I was staying in, I didn’t think much about him.  Since it was before sunrise, it was clear that he’d worked the night shift at the front desk.  We were equally bleary-eyed and in need of coffee. Since I generally do not speak to anyone before I’ve had mine, I was surprised when he spoke to me.

Mrs. O? ? Don’t tell me you don’t remember me!

This happens a lot to old teachers who’ve taught a lot of students, though not generally before they’ve had their first cup of coffee.  We run into those students in some of the most unlikely places.  Like restaurants, and gas stations, and even the lobbies of budget hotels in Fargo at the crack of dawn.  Sometimes, old teachers are able to match up the face they’re looking at to a name in their mental student roster of hundreds of students.  Sometimes, old teachers know the face but can’t for the life of themselves find the name that matches.  Especially at sunrise.

I have found, in situations like the latter, that the best thing to do is say, “Forgive me.  Please tell me your name.”

He did.

He was fresh out of high school the semester I had him in class.  He told me how much he’d enjoyed the class he’d taken from me so long ago, how much he’d learned.  How the discussions in class had made him think harder about hard things and how the world had opened a little wider for a boy from the prairie.  We talked about who he’d been at nineteen and how he’d ended up where he found me.  We talked about how we can be so sure of some things and so clueless about others and how even really smart kids end up working in budget hotels in Fargo.  How those kids, the smart ones, are often most at risk of leaving college even though they can do the work.  How so many other things can stop a smart kid.

As we talked, memories of him at nineteen started to come back to me.  I remembered how quiet he’d been in a very diverse class full of rowdy students that semester and how he often sought me out after class or in my office just to chat about nothing and everything. I remembered how he’d seemed sad a lot of the time back then.  How he’d seemed lonely and more than a little lost but also very bright.

I am an old teacher who, more and more often, believes that there are no accidents when it comes to chance encounters.  We needed to meet today and the universe made it so.  I’m glad I was able to tell him that I really did remember everything but his name.

It was even nicer to be reminded,  once again, why I teach.  Why I love it, still.

Proper work attire….

Everyone told her she could have it all.  Darned if they weren’t right.

Every morning, she wakes up an hour before her kids do.  She showers, gets dressed, throws in a load of laundry, and tries to figure out what to make for dinner before the sun is up.  She drinks a cup of lukewarm coffee and eats half a slice of toast  before she wakes up the two little ones she needs to have to the bus by 8 a.m.

Then, she pours cereal into bowls and spends fifteen minutes attempting to persuade her second grader that sandals in October in Minnesota are a really bad idea.  She watches the clock, knowing that everything she hopes to accomplish in the next twelve hours hinges on whether the kids are buckled into their car seats on time.  And if she’s lucky, and nobody has a fever this morning, that’s exactly where they’ll be. She will work an eight hour day in an office, or mine pit, or coffee shop, or maybe she’ll spend the day teaching the children that other moms hustled to bus stops or nursing the sick back to health.  Maybe she’ll try a case or design a building or care for an elderly person or stock shelves.   If she can, she’ll take a half hour lunch break, wolfing down a sandwich behind the wheel of her car between stops to run errands.

At 5 p.m., she will leave the job she gets a paycheck for to return to the one she does for free.  Her job title?

You choose.  She goes by many names.

At home, she rummages through the hamper to find a pair of sweats to throw on and then heads to the kitchen to start dinner. The dog is scratching at the door to come in while two Littles with selective hearing argue in the next room about whether Dora the Explorer uses a GPS.  After dinner, as she washes the dishes, she stares out the window adding things to her TO DO list… the dental appointments to make,  the bills to pay,  the errands to run.

She supervises two baths and searches in vain for a missing tennis shoe.  She signs homework and vacuums the living room.  She reads two bedtime stories and listens to bedtime prayers that include a fervent wish for soccer cleats and a special blessing for the cow who became the taco meat that went uneaten at dinner time.  She prays for more patience, more time.

Going to the living room, she opens the mail and tries to focus on the newspaper.  Her eyes begin to close.  Fifteen minutes later, she falls asleep sitting straight up in her recliner while the journalists on CNN report the events of the day.  An hour later, she is jolted awake by the sound of one of the people she loves most in the world throwing up.

And that’s when the fear creeps in.  That’s when she panics.

She strips the bed and puts clean pajamas on her child.  She has a lot to do tomorrow and now, those tasks will have to wait.  She tries to remember how much sick leave she has left.  She looks for a thermometer and scrounges up a can of ginger ale.  She knows she will need a sitter but can’t think of anyone in her life who would welcome a 1 a.m. offer to be barfed on in the morning by a tiny person.  She would cry, but that would take too much energy so instead, she sits on the edge of the bed and starts to explore her options. None of them are acceptable.

She has it all.   The house, the kids, the job, and the list in her head, too.  It is hers.  Always hers.

Only hers.

She collapses into bed and stares into the dark, trying to recall a time when The List wasn’t her constant companion until five hours later when the alarm calls her back into active duty.  The ticker tape in her head begins again…  the things to do…the people to love. Yawning,  she goes to the laundry room and pulls her blue cape with the large read S on it out of the dryer.

And another day in the life of Superwoman begins.

That’s my name for her, anyway.

Leaf People…

The best thing to hold on to in life is each other.

-Audrey Hepburn

It is the middle of October and the leaves are spectacular here in The Land of Maple Trees.  A week ago, when the winds began to blow, I was afraid that we’d miss one of the best parts of living here.  But those leaves hung on through 40 mph wind and pelting rain.  And so, we are here.  In the best time of the year.

If that wasn’t reason enough to be happy, I know a young couple who are tying the knot this coming weekend in the Twin Cities.  The bride and her groom are fresh out of college and quite in love, from all indications.  Whenever I see the two of them together, I get that warm, fuzzy feeling that they belong together.  It doesn’t hurt that He smiles at her like he’s won the heart of the best of the best.  He has.

So, it’s good…this uniting of two happy young souls. What’s not to love about a wedding in October in Minnesota, right?  There will be beautiful music and vows, autumn flowers and a big old cake. Knowing the bunch she’s related to, there will also be Irish whiskey and toasts, not to mention incessant glass-clinking and kissing.  There may be even be an Irish Chicken Dance, too.  Who knows?  Anything is possible in October when love is in the air.

There will be Family.  And hugs all around. And laughter and love.

Especially love.  Falling out of us all.  Landing softly on this Girl and the man she’s chosen to stroll through the rest of her life with.  She is, after all, a leaf on the Family Tree.

Our tree is no different from most.  We started out as a small sapling with just a couple of branches and then grew into this big, twisted tree full of Leaf People who didn’t start out related but  ended up loving the living heck out of each other, anyway.  There are a few old leaves…middle age leaves….young adult leaves…teen leaves…even a few baby leaves.  We have scattered throughout the land, as leaves do.   It takes something pretty important to rake us into a pile.  Weddings.  Weddings do.

Wait. Did I mention that there will be love?

And so, we are heading to a wedding. I hope that in the midst of all the excitement next Saturday, as they take that very important first step down the path of a life together that they feel it.  The love.  Not just from each other, but from all the people gathered to witness the first leg of the journey.  I hope they know that we are rooting for them, wishing them more sun-lit, happy times than stormy, sad ones in the days and months and years to come.  I hope they take notice of all the sappy, misty-eyed Leaf People in attendance who did just what they’re doing…married right out of college and then stayed that way.  Stubborn, loving Leaf People who hunkered down during the cold and dreary times, hung on tightly to one another, and never lost hope that warmer days were ahead.

I am hoping that the sun shines brightly on Saturday for these two.  That the leaves on the trees outside the church are brilliant, and that the sky is blue.  On this day  when our Tree sprouts a new branch, just for the two of them, full of plans and hopes and dreams for their future together.

I hope they remember the Love. Every day of their lives.

Best Wishes on Saturday, Lexie and Jordan! Happy Wedding Day! T.









We have two neighbor dogs who show up from time to time even though our dearly departed Maggie hadn’t been off her own leash in the yard for more than two years before she died.  It only takes one mad senior citizen on the other end of a telephone line to ground a beagle for good.   By the time it happened, she was really too old and too blind to be on her own, anyway. Even so, I never really forgave the neighbor for busting her for being a beagle. For one thing, on a scale of really annoying things neighbors have to put up with,  treeing a squirrel in the middle of the day and telling the entire county about it seemed pretty mild. But that’s just my opinion.

Our two neighbor dogs are both big Labs who don’t have as many restrictions placed on them in the neighborhood since they go about their business quietly.  One is a big brown blockhead  of a Labrador retriever who would play chase-the-ball-down-the-driveway-and-bring-it-back twenty four hours a day if we would.  She is broad-shouldered and stocky and sweet.

The other one, Lola, is shy when she happens to see us outside.  She always has a guilty look on her face.  She has three quite adorable human children to keep her busy so she doesn’t ask us to play fetch.  Maybe she gets more than enough of ball throwing in the yard next door and comes over to our house for a break.

This week I was in the middle of painting my laundry room  when I heard frantic knocking on the front door.  This is rare where we live.  I can go weeks without a knock at the door since I’m too old for play dates with the young moms in the neighborhood and too young for carpooling to Silver Sneakers with the old ones.  If it wasn’t for the Schwan Man and the occasional Jehovah’s Witness, I’d never get unexpected guests.

I wiped the paint off my hands and went upstairs to find Lola’s three children standing shoulder to shoulder and knock, knock, knocking like their little hearts depended on it. The brother in the group was holding Alvin, a somewhat embarrassing lawn gnome I received as an anniversary gift from my husband and kids a year ago. They must have decided that nothing marked thirty years of marriage better than a plastic  yard gnome with a bare butt and his pants down around his ankles, mooning Life.

I adore him.

The baby sister of the bunch had one of my less embarrassing, normal,  baby-sized gnomes grasped tightly in her small hand.  Hmmmm.…I thought, as I looked through the window at the trio.  They don’t seem like Gnome Thiefs, at all.  I’ve met their parents.   The big sister piped up.   “Are these your Gnomes?”  Her siblings held my gnomes out to be identified.

“Why, yes.  Yes, they are,”  I replied, feeling an immediate Big Sisterly kinship with her.

“Well, we are bringing them back to you.  Our dog, Lola, keeps stealing them,” she explained.  Her siblings nodded, solemnly.

Lola?  A thief?  Lola, who barely makes eye contact and scurries out of the back yard whenever she sees us?  How could it be?

I smiled and thanked them as Lola, who is apparently both braver and sneakier  than she appears bounded through the woods, oblivious.  The four of us did a little problem-solving and placed Alvin and Baby Gnome in a planter on the front porch when Lola wasn’t looking.  We are hopeful that there will be no more gnomes going AWOL.

But if one of Alvin’s brother’s turns up missing, at least I’ll know where to find him.

Fish gotta swim…Beagles gotta howl.

And Labs? Well…..