Sit Right Here

Love and belonging are irreducible needs of all men, women, and children. We’re hard-wired for connection – it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The absence of love, belonging, and connection always leads to suffering.  

Brene Brown, Daring Greatly 

Amongst the pages of Daring Greatly (subtitled How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead), Brene Brown expounds upon the concept of shame; outlining both the power of shame, as well as how vulnerability and other forms of “shame resilience” work to combat shame.

My copy of the book is laced with blue ink; ballpoint parentheses and brackets around significant lines, such as the one above. Underlines tracing short phrases; curling, half-way-legible notes tucked in the space between text and binding. I read the book last spring, some six months ago, but lessons I learned, notes I wrote, ways to apply the text still come to mind; nuggets of truth rising to the surface whenever applicable.

I’m more mindful now of the language I use when correcting my students. Shame thrives when labels are placed on individuals, rather than behaviors. Is my child rude, or did he say something rude? Is she a disruption, or is she acting in a disruptive way just now? Seven hours a day, five days a week, I hold the souls of children in my hand; I dare not shame them into submission, even less into conformity to whatever my preferences happen to be.

Yet there is another kind of shame; a more furtive, perhaps self-serving variety that can wend its way into the classroom unannounced, unnoticed. It’s the shame of isolation. The shame of your mistake has made you unworthy of interaction just at this moment. 

It’s easier, of course, to send the loudest child across the room. To tuck him in a corner, or to correct him from afar. It’s easy to snap when I’m just tossing words into the air anyway.

Hush. Stop talking. Sit still. Move away from them. 

But I can feel the shame trickling in, collecting in small pools around me feet- and his- even as I scold and order, pushing him further away in my annoyance, or my eagerness to no longer be inconvenienced.

Its ineffective, too. Distance from authority, from positive peer interactions, from reconciliation, can do very little to reinstate the small noisemaker, the over-energetic learner. How can she do better when she has no more chances to even try? How can I guide her when she’s so far away that my voice must be raised just to speak to her across the crowd?

No, I’ll not send them away anymore; to the far table, to their own corner, to the back door. Instead, each correction comes with a beckon, drawing him in, motioning her closer. Come here. Come talk to me. Come sit by me. Come towards me, just as I reach out to you. I don’t give up on you, I don’t push you away. 

You’re worthy, you’re important, and just now, you’re sitting right beside me.



A Little Sugar

Summer reading, children’s book.

A story of broken lives and torn up home

and a shelter in downtown Chicago.

The story of a family tossed about,

and the individuals who worked hard to put it back together.

And in this story, my eyes flying over wide-spaced lines,

I read about a mother asking, pleading, for help, for a favor,

for an ear to hear and hands to hold,

and the woman beside her,

I read with the book nearly touching my nose,

the woman beside her hears her story,

sees her desires,

and advises her;

gives her these words:

Stay sweet-

a little sugar takes you further than gas.

And I underlined those words,

typed them, later, into my notes.

And moved on,

kept reading.

But those words, that wise advice, have stayed with me.

Asking for directions: Stay sweet.

Asking for a favor: A little sugar.

In a desperate rush to leave, car paperwork lost

in the office’s new school year shuffle:

A little sugar takes you further than gas.

And I take a breath.




Say please.

And sometimes things work,

and sometimes they don’t;

at least not as I expected they would.

But then I’m already smiling,

and I’m already cheery,

and the worry has yet to seep into my chest, sink into my stomach,

so I nod and thank,

agree and walk away,

and take a step, then another, then another yet again,

because life is a journey- a long one-

and I’ll get where I’ll go,

but in the meantime,

I tell myself:

Stay sweet,

a little sugar,

and there in the office,

on the train,

in the classroom,

with this attitude of kind, of gentle, of joy,

I feel blessed,

and I can bless,

and that by itself

is a very sweet thing.


{The book is Hold Fast by Blue Balliett.}

Reading House

I asked a little boy, seven years old, if his mama read to him.

He shook his curly head, shrugged his little shoulders;

No, not anymore.

And slowly I’m realizing that it’s a privilege, a treat, a blessing

To live in this house of books,

With the shelves full,

Boxes of books in the basement, too.

This house where the mother reads nearly every school day,

Stories from the Word and novels, too,

Stories stretching an hour, longer.

And they go to the library and they pull books off the shelf,

And at home, in the evening, she opens her books,

And she reads.



This is Summer: Season Three {#11}


A book without words,
Big girl creates a story,
Much richer than mine.


Shortest Ever Bullet Point Post

• Often I return to previous posts to remember what I’ve said, what I’ve done, what I’ve written, and what I’ve learned. Sometimes, I find a minor spelling or grammatical error, which I usually fix. Just now, I opened last night’s post and was surprised by its coherence and wide grasp of vocabulary and writing conventions; the rare posts that I’ve written while bobbing in and out of sleep are often surprising in that way.

• One of my favorite parts of the friendship between Mary and I is the ever-growing message thread that we share on Spotify. Sometimes songs with a brief typed message (love this, have you heard this? MAR.) but often it’s simply a song found, heard, enjoyed, and sent. Our friendship has grown through these Spotify song recommendations, whether they’re sent while sitting side by side in a downtown dorm room, or from miles away.

• 12:25, be it AM or PM, is hands down my favorite time. BECAUSE IT IS CHRISTMAS. I celebrate Christmas every day, thanks to the multiple digital clocks in my home, and sometimes even twice a day, when I happen to be especially time conscious. I recently sent a snapchat of a rather exuberant selfie with the time (12:25am) superimposed over my face and a caption reading, “Merry Christmas!” Perfecting the timing of the snap was an imperfect system of obsessively checking the time, clicking my phone on and off every twenty seconds, and then typing like the wind when it finally was 12:25, so as not to miss my twice-daily opportunity at festivity.

• Six minutes after sending the snap, my cousin David responded with a picture of his own. Living on the West Coast (I’m jealous. Very jealous.) for the summer, his clock is two hours behind mine, and the digital numbers over his grinning face read 10:31, the words beneath the time wishing me a Happy Halloween.

• I began (re)reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog this afternoon. It’s the first on my summer reading list, which is composed of both voluntary and compulsory reading. I might write more about the book here, or I might not. Or you could read the book and write your thoughts here, too.

• I’ve been listening to Spotify’s Top Songs playlist in the past several minutes that I’ve been writing and I am rather unsettled by the changes the Top List has been undergone since my last extended listening period. I hardly have a chance at remaining on the cutting edge of media developments when the Top Songs change at such a fast rate.

• But All of Me and Happy remain high on the list, and that is all I need to be happy, so I leave it at that.


Corner Room Read Aloud

There’s a section on the syllabus for Required Texts. Every class, every syllabus. Under Course Objectives, before Assignments and Readings. Reading and Writing Children’s Literature, a class whose depth, breadth, and passion have taken me quite by surprise, has three Required Texts. The first: Harry Potter.

It’s not due for a while yet; I asked the professor, after class. April, sweetie. She tells me when I ask. I nod, smile. Then we’re talking Hunger Games (another Required Text) and Lord of the Flies (non-required) and I’m arguing social/political commentary in Hunger Games and there’s another student there, saying “too violent,” and the professor smiles at me, kind, bemused, as she passes.

In class, we’ve been reading original fairy tales (for the most part a cold, gruesome collection of literature) and comparing them to the Disney versions of said stories. I’m one of three signed up to present the characters, elements, and themes of a popular Disney movie. I’m thinking of doing Beauty and the Beast.

But that presentation is not for a couple of weeks, and in the meantime, Children’s Literature has joined Systematic Theology as Classes For Which Natalie Lives.

Late afternoon free moment two weeks ago, I stumbled across Harry Potter in the children’s section of the library. Two days later, on a whim, I spun through the library turnstile after class, pulled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone off the shelf, checked it out.

Days passed. The book moved from my bookbag to desk to shelf.

Then today, in the spare moments between chapel and lunch, I pulled the book off the shelf, started to read.

Roadtrip to Michigan in jr. high, we listened to the audiobook, and driving those familiar roads, my father became so engrossed in the story that he got lost.

I’ve seen the movies, randomly, out of order as they appeared on DVD at friends’ houses, in theaters, on HBO movie marathon specials, clicking through the channels in hotels on long summer swim meet weekends.

But I’m reading the book now.

Mar loves Harry Potter. I texted her as I left the library, book in hand. She responded, So jelly! Jealous that my homework can be reading this book (and many others), but excited, too; happy that I can experience the characters, the story, the world, that she’s so loved since 3rd grade, when she opened the first Harry Potter pages.

Homework in my room this afternoon, I walked two doors down, swung through the squeaking door into Mar’s room after dinner. Harry had just found out he was a wizard, and Mar looked up from her desk, grinning, as I read the line. Then we’re both alone in our rooms, both homeworking, I carried my computer, book balanced on top, to her room.

Book tossed aside for the moment, we typed in unison, her music soft in the background, under the muted click, click, clicking of keyboards. My paper much shorter, less in-depth, I finished first. Final draft saved, emailed to myself for later printing, I pushed my computer to the side, cracked open Harry Potter once more.

I’m totally fine if you read out loud, she says, eyes still on her computer screen. I look over, eyebrows raised. Are you sure? She nods, absolutely.

So I read. I read Diagon Alley, and Harry’s new wand, and the Dursley’s at King’s Cross, and Fred and George and owls and cats and a little redhead named Ginny. I read, only half-way noticing that I’ve given the characters voices. She types, writes still, but I know she’s listening, know she’s relishing this Harry Potter read aloud. And it’s cold outside, and the sirens whistle past, like they always do. But six floors up, in the corner room, I sit on the bed, she sits at the desk, and we read Harry Potter.


Start Up, Red Truck!

8:30am class, Methods of Teaching Reading, we sit there in the chairs with the flip-up desks. We’ve pulled them into a semicircle today, and she sits there in the front, facing us, reading a book.

It’s a picture book, she says maybe fourth grade, and it’s about slavery and freedom and one brave boy and his equally brave, faithfully loyal dog. It’s real and intense and we’re all there, twelve future teachers, captivated.

And sitting there at her own chair-desk, her enthusiasm and joy for teaching pouring out of her, into every word, every gesture, every dimpled teacher-smile. And she talks about reading to children and developing love of books, and suddenly, I’m thinking home and summer and the little boy who stole my heart.

May, 2013, it’s almost Memorial Day and Jaid’s two months with us are almost over. Later, we’ll see him on the 4th of July, wearing matching USA shirts with Glendy and Larissa; he’ll come again in August, two weeks of bike rides and peanut butter spoons and carting seventeen Matchbox cars around the house. Later still, the father and I will visit him in his new home, two days before Christmas, and I’ll hug him tight, ecstatic to see him again.

But, of course, the future is near-impossible to tell, and we didn’t know then that there would be visits and hugs and texts and relationship. So we packed his bag and printed pictures and gave extra hugs and stayed up past even the highly flexible bedtime loosely imposed upon the little ones, and many nights, we read.

Always the same book, the mother bought it for him, sometime earlier in his stay. A large board book, big letters across the front read Red Truck, and that little boy with an affinity for red and an obsession with trucks? He adored that book.

We read, he listened. The weather wet and snowy, the school bus stuck, who could come to the rescue but Red Truck? I read the book to him after bathtime, often. His little body, clad in green frog pajamas, car in hand, cornrows now fuzzy brushing my chin as we sat there. I read, and others must have been reading, too, because one night, I opened that book, and he recited the opening lines.

My smile growing with every time his little hand flipped the page, we went through the entire story. With each page, I began reading, only to be joined by his baby voice, still learning pronunciation, inflection, sounds, but so confident, assured of every word in that Red Truck book.

Stevy in the kitchen, I called him out, showed him the J-man’s skills. That active, running, yelling, throwing little boy sat on my lap, the book clutched in his strong hands, his voice joining with mine on every page. And when the bus gets stuck and there is no way around and the children stand in the snow and they must get to school, I turned the page with him, opened to a bright drawing of Red Truck.

Jaid didn’t wait, then. Start up, Red Truck! He shouted before I opened my mouth, word-for-word matching the caption lining the top of the page. Stevy and I laughed, I kissed the child’s lotion-soft cheek.

Thursday morning reading class; 8:30am on a January day of class and snow and work. But she says the importance of reading, the effect of words and books, and I can hear his voice in my head, that sweet, crazy, wonderful little boy, Matchbox cars in his lap and train tracks scattered across the carpet; Start up, Red Truck! He yells. Engaged, entranced, involved, in that picture book.

Because books? They are so very valuable.


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