This is Summer: Season Six {Episode 29}

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She scoots and shuffles

Can’t now walk, yet I believe

a future for her

~Natalia

Little FangFang was adopted by longtime family friends Matt and Alison. FangFang has Osteogenesis Imperfecta and is thriving and growing in her new family. Alison chronicles the family’s adventures with four small children, as well as FangFang’s OI journey, on her blog.

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Backyard Blessing

jumprope

May all of your days be as sweet as playtime with two friends,

as simple as barefoot dinner in the backyard,

and as fun as jumping rope.

May you smile even when you trip,

laugh even when the rope hits your head,

and never be afraid to fall in the grass.

Keep your joy,

keep your fire,

keep your eyes wide open,

you funny, precious girls.

~Natalia

This is Summer: Season Four {#5}



And this was WOW Camp;

Hard workers and loving hearts, 

And those precious kids. 

~Natalia 

The Heart of the City

We’re driving on the freeway, the thick line of skyscrapers, pierced by the stretching Hancock and Sears Towers, ahead of us. We’ve been in the city, within the dotted map boundaries of Chicago, all day, but as traffic rolls forward, cars of all sizes advancing, falling back again, I can’t quite escape the feeling of crossing from one place into another, different place.

As a sea of red lights flash momentarily before me, and the roll and glide of forward motion slow around me, I turn to Karas, where she sits in the passenger seat. In two days, we graduate from college. Tomorrow, we’ll celebrate our undergraduate accomplishments with the 20 other future teachers who learned and lived with us over the past four years. But today- on this Thursday in the middle of May, she’s offered to spend the afternoon with my sweet, chaotic kindergarten loves. She arrived at lunch, news of her arrival rippling through the eager little ones. I close my eyes now and still see how they perch on their knees on the long cafeteria benches, how they sway, unbalanced, over their un-touched trays as she arrives in that basement lunch room, greets each little child. Her presence, her humor, her genuine interest in the children whose hearts and lives I carried for those weeks, buoyed me up for far longer than her visit lasted.

But now we’re in the car, driving back to Moody, leaving four little ones in aftercare and piles of papers- mostly graded- on my desk. We’re quiet. Minds the odd mix of exhilaration, exhaustion, nostalgia and sadness brought about by the end of a school year; the end of an era. The radio plays- always, always plays- and I don’t bother to lower it when I speak.

I used to think that was Chicago. I say, motioning towards the lakefront skyline that slowly grows before us. But really, that’s Chicago. I motion behind me, vaguely indicating the school, the people, the houses bursting with life and movement that we’ve just barely left behind.

It’s those children who form the backbone of this city, I tell her, and she nods in agreement; she knows. Those little lives, whose stories are inextricably woven with the strands of Chicago, are the foundation of this city. They are not the businessmen commuting to their sky-high offices in the loop. They are not the workers, the staff and employees, who fill the downtown shops, restaurants, stores.

These children play baseball in the muddy ball diamonds of Chicago’s parks. They walk the busy streets- not among the towering buildings, but among the stores, the food carts rolling up and down, occupying valuable sidewalk space without anyone complaining. They slip into the little corner stores with their cousins on the weekends, the beg their parents to take them to the theater down the street, they ride their bikes around the blocks, snaking between short houses packed too close together.

They are the heart of the city.

More than the glitz of the Magnificent Mile, with its eccentric mix of classes. More than the tourists flowing along the beachfront. More even than the men and women who populate all those sky-scraping office buildings.

I love Chicago. I always have, and I imagine I always will. And with every passing year I spend more deeply entrenched in the lives of its people, the more I am convinced that they are the heart of this glorious, broken, beautiful city.

~Natalia

That’s a Lie

Look forward please, there’s no reason for you to turn around in your seat.

And then he is, he has, and I can see the reddening of eyes, watch his wide gaze begin to glisten with tears forming.

Independent work has begun, and all around, heads bend over desks, bent on studying, on learning.

And I thread between partnered desks until I’ve reached his.

And I’m kneeling there, my crossed arms resting on the same space he’s lined his workbook,

pages open, pencil gripped loosely in a hand still recess-grubby.

He caught eight outs at kickball during recess.

I know because I was standing there in the sun, in the middle of the choppy blacktop,

and every time he caught one, I waited for the glance my way;

he wanted to see me,

and, more than that, he wanted to know that I had seen him.

And I had.

And I’d seen the beginnings of tears in his eye, just now,

and now we’re face to face, eye to eye,

and I’m prying.

Teachers are allowed to do that, often.

He’s an honest boy, a gentle heart, and I know he’ll tell me what’s wrong.

Are you crying because I corrected you, or because of something else?

He shakes his head, the nods. Something else, he mumbles.

And then, as pencils scratch all around, I tease out the details.

Over the weekend,

unkind words from a past friend;

a boy who’s been eagerly anticipating his 10th birthday is told that

he doesn’t even deserve a birthday.

That hurts him, and it hurts me where I kneel, there opposite him at his desk.

Oh, no! That’s a lie, I assure him. I’m so excited for your birthday.

And we talk about the selected day of in-school celebration, and treats, and

what a gift he is.

And he’s wiping his eyes, sniffling his nose,

and turning his gaze to his page once more.

And I step away once more,

thinking again about the lies they all might hear,

and wishing I could erase every day every word in their hearts

that says anything other than

you are so precious.

~Natalia

What You May

My possessions are strewn about the floor, evidence of my recent move heaped in piles across the plush carpet. My laundry basket sits in the corner, the sleeves of a work shirt spilling haphazardly over the edges, faintly dirty cuffs draped unceremoniously over the plastic set of drawers containing much of my clothing. In the middle of the room, at the foot of my big bed, my bare comforter lies atop of pile of clothes, books, and other trinkets that have not yet found homes in my new room. The bed itself is littered with the day’s discarded clothes, my book bag, computer, and curriculum books for lessons I’ve yet to plan.

I’ve pulled the comforter cover- inside out- from where it was under the floor pile, and am attempting to stuff the comforter back in, when she appears in the doorway. Three years old, she clutches her scruffy kitty to her chest, dark eyes peering from under darker bangs. She’s used to my room upstairs, accustomed to knock first, and don’t touch the makeup, and yes you can climb on the bed. This is the first time she’s been in this room, since it’s become mine, and I allow her free reign, at least for the moment; I’m curious what she will do.

Her kitty abandoned on the floor by the door, she watches me wrestle with the comforter for a moment, before lifting the corner of the blanket, undoing the work I have done to stuff the unwieldy blanket into its floral cover. What are you doing? She asks, her tiny face tilting to study first me, then the blanket. I explain, and she moves, spins, twists my blanket further out of line.

Can you put that down please?

And she obeys, chattering all the while.

Her attention diverted from the blanket, which I’ve finally managed to contain, she moves toward the wall, towards the make-shift vanity that I’ve compiled atop my plastic drawers. She investigates my bottles of gummy vitamins, pushes my coconut lotion aside, until finally her little hands find my makeup bag. The holy grail of preschool exploration. She’s pulled my foundation out of its spot when I look up: No touching my make up. And again, she steps away, a slight hesitation in her step, but she listens, nonetheless.

I continue to work, organize, unpack, and she continues to flit about the room, her curiosity stretching much larger than her own tiny frame. Into the brown paper bag of food by the door. Into the pile of books and the hole punch balancing atop. Into my clean laundry, my skirts, my shoes.

And still I move her, reminding her of rules, creating new ones, redirecting, enforcing, badgering.

Finally, exasperated, she looks up, a shrug in her slim shoulders. Well, what can I do? She asks, hands, once more clutching her kitty, turn palms-up into a defeated shrug.

I sigh then, shake my head at my own oversight. It’s not the No, No, No that is most effective; I’ll not get anywhere- and neither will she- by constantly trying to beat her to the punch, listing all that she can’t, can’t, can’t before she’s had a moment to think what she can. Chagrinned, I sit back on my heels over the (gradually shrinking) pile of laundry.

Ah, of course, I say, an apology in my tone. You can do you work! I say, pointing her to the opposite corner of the room, where my pencil holder sits atop a bin of books. Her “work” consists of using every pen in the box to “write” on the scraps of paper that used to hold my own notes and scribbles. She’s diligent and focused when she does her work, and she perks up immediately when I suggest it. I follow her scampering feet to the corner, pull out the paper scraps for her, and watch her settle into her task, a faint smile of focus, of purpose, on her face.

I return to my tidying, working slowly to clear the floor, organize my space, and still her words sink further into my mind, my heart: Well, what can I do? And I think then, as I watch her write, play, imagine, there on the floor, that I want to be the kind of teacher, the kind of adult, the kind of heart, who tells a child all that they can and all that they may and all that they will, because there is a time for rules, and a time to comply, but there is yet more need to wings, for open space to create, to shine, to fly.

And that is what I want. For the children in my classroom. For the children in my home. And for three-year-old princesses with kitties in their arms and curiosity in their eyes.

~Natalia

Dear Target Baby Chaser,

I’m sorry. I really am.

I saw you, four kids in tow, the youngest one squirming in the front of your cart, and I saw your ease, your comfort, you confidence.

Not that you have it all together, not that you’re the best, better than all; but ease with your children. I saw comfort, gentleness, unity, in your relationships with the four there, tagging alongside your cart.

We crossed paths, there in the back of Target. You moving towards food stuffs, us winding our way to the toy section, but five minutes later, there you were again in the toy section.

Kids will do that to you.

As I stepped between the Lego Friends aisle and the Elsa/Frozen aisle, heeding alternating calls of Natalie, come here! and Natalie! Look at this! I saw your baby again.

Chubby feet bare, miniature shoes no doubt kicked off in the bottom of your cart, he was squatting in front of an endcap display, toddler-fat fingers running inquisitively over the toys there.

I didn’t see you, but I heard your voice, recognized the faces of your other children, and I trusted you.

You know your children after all.

I heard your voice again, some five minutes later. This time calling, repeating a name, a nickname.

Chasing the baby.

And standing right there in the Lego Friends aisle, while two little girls exclaimed to me in excitement about the latest Lego set they wanted, your baby boy came running towards us.

Bare feet smacking on the cold linoleum, hands outstretched in the funny way of a baby still learning to balance his movement, his momentum.

He ran, moved, escaped.

And I let that baby boy run right by.

Of course, you caught him soon after. You came stepping down the aisle, quickly, calmly. Calling after, following, your youngest son. Little ones can’t go that far, and it wasn’t long before he was in your arms.

I stood there, frozen, as you passed. I pointed in the direction he had gone, as if you didn’t know. And you moved, and you found him, and you squeezed that baby boy, moved your cart right on down the aisle.

The problem is, friend, that I’ve been in your shoes, in your place, before.

Just weeks ago, a miniature charge slipped out of her Sunday School class in the moments after I arrived to collect her. Her own feet bare, black church shoes sitting next to me on the classroom carpet, she was up the stairs before I caught her, pulled her thrashing body against my chest.

At the bottom of the stairs, the security volunteer, his earpiece balanced precariously, watched me huff and puff the child back to collect her shoes, her jacket, her craft.

He’d almost stopped her, there at the bottom of the steps; almost grabbed her little hand, kept her safe, nearby, until I could leap to me feet, until I could catch up with her.

But he hadn’t and I shook my head in frustration; it’s okay to stop an escapee, no matter if she’s a little one, I said as I passed, panting from the brief chase and the weight of her in my arms.

Yes, I’ve been in your shoes; I’ve taken those hurried steps past inert strangers, in pursuit of a child who’s outstepped me just this once- and probably will again.

I’ve been there, too, and I’m sorry for not helping, not stepping in, not delaying the escape of your little one.

But chasing him and catching him, following him and tucking him safely into the cart once more, you were calm and you were kind and you were gentle, and for that, I thank you .

~Natalia

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