Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Thank You For Bringing Me Here

Ok, I have a confession to make. I do yoga. I love yoga. I couldn't be a teacher in urban education without yoga. In the past two years, yoga has been my respite. Since Nate's passing, I've needed it more than ever. Previously, I hid my love for yoga because I didn't want to be the mid-30s white lady who waxed on about her yoga practice. But in the past 3 months, yoga has saved me. So there you have it. Namaste.


Now that we have that covered, I can tell you about my yoga class last week. My favorite yoga teacher has been on maternity leave since January. She started teaching a couple classes last month but I could never make it. Last week, I finally joined her class on Saturday morning. She always teaches yoga in a way that makes me feel weak and strong at the same time. Sure enough, in my first class with her since December, she did the same.

As we were bending and strengthening in all sorts of ways, she told us a story. There is this guy who, every time he visits a new place, he says "Thank you for bringing me here." Yes! I thought. I will do that when I go to France! "Thank you for bringing me to vineyards. Thank you for bringing me to pristine beaches. Thank you for brining me to FRANCE!"

So, I've tried it out this week. Pre-France. Here's what I have.

The Boston Public Library
I've checked out 11 books (I added more to my summer reading list!) so far this week. Granted, some are picture books so they take little time to consume. I stopped by the BPL Tuesday to pick them up. I had a 20 minute chat with a person who is struggling in life right now. I am so thankful that there is a place where anyone can get free books. I am thankful for a space in our country that feeds everyone's minds and keeps people safe. If you live in a home or on the street - the library is a godsend.

PRINCIPAL HOWE?! OMG! (From Iggy Peck, Architect)

Thank you for bringing me Sherman Alexi and Yuyi Morales

One morning this week I was perusing the twittersphere. I came upon a tweet by middle grade author Kate Messner. For the past two summers, she and other authors have hosted a virtual camp for teachers and writers. Aptly named Teachers Write, this is a free space where teachers and authors meet to write, ask questions, and support each other. Whether you are gathering ideas for the classroom or working on your own piece of writing, this is a supportive community. And did I mention it is free??  Camp started this past Monday. I signed up and have spent time every day working on a novel of my own.

Tuesday we were given the writing challenge to take 100 steps and write about what we saw when we got there. I did just this but before I started writing, I said "Thank you for bringing me here." And then I chuckled because I didn't even make it to the end of my block. I am thankful for writing.

100 steps from my door. Big Fish Little Fish Pet Store

But wait, there's more...
There's another part of my yoga story I have not told you yet. What if, my instructor pondered, we were to say the same thing to all moments in our life. And not just easy, wonderful, glorious, France moments. What if, upon encountering a terrible situation, we were to stop and think, "Thank you for bringing me here." The challenge being to see what we can be grateful for in a not so nice situation.

This is the moment I started crying during yoga. Because of course I thought about losing Nate. My sister-in-law Brandy has provided me with so many words of encouragement. I can see her learning to embrace her greatest loss and she has spiritual guidance helping her through this. I don't know if I can bring myself there yet. I don't know if I can say "thank you" for bringing me to know such grief. My tears were the fear that it might never come just as much as the fear that it might come.

While I am still working through saying thank you for that moment, I did embrace another tough thank you.

On the day Nate died, my sister Jessie and I were running through the streets of Boston with a running group. My dad called mid-run and when, crying, he told me the news, it felt like I hit a wall. We curled up in a ball, half a mile away from the Boston Marathon finish line, and sobbed on the sidewalk. After what seemed like forever and the blink of an eye, we got up, held hands, and ran to the car so we could get on an airplane to go home.

My first run after that was painful - both physically and emotionally. But then we started training for a 10k and setting that goal helped ease me back into running. I want to be clear - I hate running. I know it is good for me and it helps that Jessie pushes me to do it.

This past Sunday was the 10k. (That is 6 miles, in case you didn't know. Six long freakin miles.) Saturday night we were 99% sure we weren't going to run. We even celebrated knowing, as they say, "when to fold em" with chili-cheese dogs and beer for dinner. Alas, at 6:30 am the next morning, Jessie was ready to get going.

As we ran past the spot where we first learned about Nate, I quietly said "Thank you for bringing me here." And then, after 1 hour and 5 minutes of running, Jessie and I held hands as we crossed the finish line. While we may not be ready to get past the emotional wall, we certainly ran past a place that holds so much tragedy. And I am thankful for the hard work it took to get there. And I am thankful for my sister for holding my hand when I need her to.

5 minutes before the race and we are still skeptical
Finished! Thanks to Jason for the photo evidence!

This week, my friends, try it out. Take some time in France moments and in 10k moments, to say "Thank you for bringing me here." We might not be ready to say thank you for all the moments, but something worth trying. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Summer Reading

Despite the hurricane that has been my life, I managed to make a pretty long summer reading list. This has been the year of change for me, for sure. These last few changes are more positive.

One is that my boyfriend and I (and our cat, Tallulah Rose Punky Brewster) are moving in together! That's a big ol' first for me and I feel really lucky to have this man. His strength has carried and hugged me through a painful few months. He is prepared for more waterworks though. I've been living with my sister and her bf for three years! Yes, we will be in the same city...but not the same apartment!

Super models, soon to be "former" roommates

New roommate...we haven't quite mastered
the super model couple thing yet

Another change is that I am also blogging for Pearson! Like, as in getting paid to blog. I've got a couple articles up now. My latest is about summer reading. Those blogs will be much more professional and a lot less about my cat and stuff.

Oh, hey, that's me! I'm a "professional"!
The OTHER change is that I am going back to kindergarten! Well, teaching kindergarten. It has been my dream since 5th grade to be a kindergarten teacher. Back then, I worked with Mrs. Tita, my kindergarten teacher, in a teacher-for-a-day kind of thing. I went back to work with Mrs. Tita when I was a senior in high school. For a year I spent every Wednesday as a teacher helper. As life's twists and turns twisted and turned me, I somehow always ended up in a 3rd - 4th grade position. (With the exception of one glorious year as a kindergarten teacher.) This coming fall, I am going back!

Time to I did when I was 5!

I've spent the last three years as a special education co-teacher in a 4th grade classroom. But things shifted in our school and the kindergarten (they call it K2 here in good ol' Massa-chizzle) position opened up. I'm over the moon and obsessively read blogs, articles, books, etc. This is a very welcome change in my life. Be prepared, there are going to be glorious stories. And they are coming your way!

So my summer reading list is organized accordingly. There are adult books, kid books, and books I hope will better prepare me for the fall. I'm taking my Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Roald Dahl to France with me next week. (Another welcomed change...first international trip in 3 years!) What do you have on your summer reading list?

Adult Books
Innocent Erendira and Other Stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

Teacher Books
The First Six Weeks of School 2nd edition (Responsive Classroom)
Reading with Meaning: Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades 2nd ed. by Debbie Miller
Making Sense of Phonics: The Hows and Whys, 2nd ed. by Isabel and Mark Beck
Building Structures with Young Children by Ingrid Chalufour and Karen Worth

Kid Books
Boy by Roald Dahl
George by Alex Gino
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Summerlost by Ally Condie
Block City by Robert Louis Stevenson
How a House is Built by Gail Gibbons
Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty
Calvin and Hobbes (any of them)
Pax by Sara Pennypacker
The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larson
Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers

Brick by Brick

Hi there friends. This past year has been, in a word, shitty. But there are many more words that can be used to describe it and I am going to attempt to do my best to share. Then I will try to hop back in the saddle and get back to writing more.

You see, it isn't that I haven't been writing. It is that my need to write turned more personal than public. It came at a time when I questioned my very purpose for writing this blog. Originally Alice, Ever After was to be a stepping stone on my path to working in the children's book industry. I had many visions of what that might look like. And then I got a little crack in my heart.

Me and Gram, April 2015

A few short weeks after my last post my dear, sweet grandmother passed away. I've definitely blogged about our adventures. Mamie, as she was known to many, was a brilliant light and force in our family. At 94, after a year of fighting the good fight - which included trying to escape an old folks home more than once, we said goodbye to our fearless leader. My family came together, as they always do, and mourned her passing. It was hard for me to think of what to say to honor this woman. I didn't know if a public (and not very well-read) blog was even the right venue. So I took a break and turned my energy toward writing her stories, and my story. I spent the first few months of winter trying to capture this loss as a way of healing.

March rolled around and I saw an exciting possibility. "Gram is guiding me," I thought as I spoke with a local children's publishing company about a summer internship program. I felt like things were going to be better. My amazing boyfriend was supportive, my dreams were starting to take shape, I was in great health. It is amazing how you think you've already hit bottom so it must be only going up from there. And then you found out the bottom is still far below.

In what I thought was the most challenging week of my life, I found a lump in my breast, a family member had a breakdown that required serious care, and my grandfather had a heart attack. But I took care of the lump, the family member was getting help, gramps made it out ok. My support system was working.

And then, my friends, my world collapsed. On April 11, my sweet 11 year-old nephew Nate was out riding his bike after school with a friend. A truck driving along the road did not see him as he turned the corner and Nate was taken away from us forever. My soul was erased.

The last two months have been a blur. We raised $13,000 to build a memorial for Nate. We buried him on the farm I grew up on. I've read many articles about grief and support and healing. I've been guided by the far-too-large community of people who have lost children. Every person has his or her own way of surviving such a devastating loss. I feel like a wall has been built around me and at times it suffocates me. Grieving has been hours of sobbing, loads of denial, avoiding having conversations with people (I just can't answer the question "How are you?" anymore), and taking one day at a time - sometimes one minute at a time.
Back home for Nate's birthday last October 

Nate was joyful. Books and ice cream last summer

My Amazing Family of Superheroes. They completed a Superhero
walk in Buffalo in honor of Nate. My dad dressed up as Greg from
Diary of a Wimpy Kid - one of Nate's favorite books.

Coming back to blogging seemed like a purposeless distraction. I wasn't done loving Nate. I wasn't done getting books and ice cream, or wrestling on Christmas day, or telling each other silly middle school jokes on the phone. I wasn't done making new stories with him. This world I live in now is so different, so alien. How do I even start to take down the bricks?

I've held my breath for the past two months. I thought as soon as school got out I could go back to being me. I could relax and breath. Not so much.

Healing is a process my friends. I'm not there yet. But we got a cat and I've been snuggling with her. So far that feels good. And so, I guess, I am going to try to write.

Tallulah Rose Punky Brewster. And me.
If any of you are looking for grief support I found this article and this article the most helpful so far.