Pyrtle Elementary, Lincoln
Born on Derby Day in Louisville (that's LOU-ah-vul if you're a native), KY, my mom has always joked that I "beat the horses" by coming in at 2:30 a.m.
My student teaching took place during the first year of city-wide busing in Louisville. This transition helped in many ways as I started my first job in the fifth ward of Houston. Billie Jo Johnson, my first principal, and Judy Gayle, a master teacher, were inspirational, knowledgeable and good role models those first ten years. I still aspire to emulate them and the many good educational people I've met before and after on my learning journey.
I've worked with kindergarten through sixth grade students, Chapter 1/Title I bureaucracy, home visits, Saturday School and summer school and my favorite "customers" are second graders. I love how they think. I love how they celebrate. To seven- and eight-year-olds, everything can be celebrated or fixed, studied and loved. New resolutions are just a promise away. Every day is a new and exciting adventure. And the way they use words? Absolutely hilarious!
- 2001 NeWP Summer Institute Participant
- 2003 NeWP II Participant
- 2004 Mini-Grant Recipient, Making Books with iUniverse/ISBN #s
- 2005 Mini-Grant Group, Professional Writing Leadership Institute at Aurora
- 2006 Follow-Up, Leadership Institute at Aurora
- 2006 NeWP Summer Institute Facilitator
- 2007 Member of NeWP Board
- 2008 NeWP Summer Institute Facilitator
"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do."
I hadn't discovered this quote when I first stepped foot into the Summer Institute in 2001, but I remember feeling I was in over my head after just the first morning. I felt like an imposter, yet was determined to get all I could out of the course to benefit both my students and myself. What a world-rocking four weeks it turned out to be!
If you've been there, you know what I'm talking about. For those of you about to enter this writing zone? Please place the tables in the upright position and fasten your seatbelts. Make sure you have a good pen or pencil and some paper. Phones off, please. Laptops optional.
Time of War
"See this ribbon here over my breast pocket?" I see a pale, clean, huge hand, unwrinkled, fingernails too short, and just that one scar on the right thumb from the Exacto knife during a high school English project. My son fingers a stiff three-toned ribbon the size of a piece of gum pinned just above his left pocket. “This means we signed on during 'time of war, "he explains. I swallow, look hard at the ribbon thinking it's a pretty color combination, then blink a few times. He stands proudly in his new "Cracker Jack" uniform, compliments of Uncle Sam and the U.S. Navy and his first paycheck from them. At 6'5", I can only hug, holding on to his middle, while carefully trying not to step on his size 14 polished boots. He feels very slender without the three layers of baggy clothing that was his uniform before. We're crowded in a hanger with 2,000 or so gabbing guests and 724 other new shouting sailors. Celebrating. Flashes from digital cameras and camcorders are all over the place. I remember to take some pictures. We've just watched an hour presentation celebrating eight of the hardest weeks he's ever faced.
Early, early that morning, before the sun breaks above the horizon, after an hour and a half of "processing", we are ready to go to the graduation area. We sit for over an hour on metal bleachers, talking, waiting, watching the crowd and the many children. Two cell phones and a camera are lost under the silver bleachers and recovered with time, ingenuity and sweat. Several small children run around, head to the bathrooms, bump into backs, and tussle with family and surrounding guests. Handicapped parents and grandparents arrive from a different door and are seated in set-up chairs on the floor. One pregnant woman toddles to the restrooms. A few retired Navy men sit in places of honor at the front of the crowd. As the Naval band assembles and the flag bearers carry each of the fifty state flags, people hurry to their seats. A twenty minute video commences, showing just what the recruits have done: arrival at O'Hare, hour bus ride to camp, a week of processing where the kid with the longest hairiest head getting shaved gets a big laugh, classes, physical training, fire fighting, battlestations, a few interviews with generals and a little propaganda for the present administration. When the hanger door opens, it's way too slowly as we all crane our necks and look through the gaping hole. I hear marching feet, cadence called, shouts and whistles from the excited crowd. It's been nine weeks since we’ve seen our babies. I look around. People are wiping tears from their eyes, men and women, indiscriminately. Me, too. My daughter and husband as well, as the first division marches by. The second and then the third division enter. We all search for the tallest one, the one we've traveled so far to see. Being a section leader, he's the third one in the third division he's told us in advance. He is. We follow him with our eyes until he marches out of sight down the huge room, keep looking, and then comes back to stand in front of us. Each of the nine divisions marches in proudly, a Navy sea. Section leaders collect raincoats as there was a major downpour on the walk over from their ship: a christening? Next is a parade of flags, a rifle demonstration, awards, pomp and circumstance. Then, all of a sudden, it's over. Anchors aweigh, my friends.
We stand and watch for him to make his way through the crowd to us. He's spotted us and waves, makes his way. I want to cry so badly but hold back the throat ache, not wanting him to think I'm upset and knowing if I cry I can't see the expression on his face, "read" him, and that I will fall off the bleachers. I give him a first hug, sharing him with his sister. His dad extends hand, man to man. Eric's very somber and serious. We take a few family pictures and then he starts introducing us to new friends and his petty officers. Clowning, he and his friend, Rodriguez, pull their Navy raincoats off to show their new stripes. He shakes hands and congratulates others and receives it in return. We take pictures together.
We shake hands, take pictures and visit with his new "bosses." Chief Petty Officer teases him about getting in trouble eating his food while standing in line. Then he says, "You only had to tell this recruit one time. You did a good job raising him. You can tell.”
We go off to the rented car and ask him what he'd like to do first and after eight weeks he can't think of a thing he'd like to do other than get away from the base. We do. Every time I look at him I have to remind myself to make each minute count. Store each memory until next we meet. During the day, we see just how much growing up he's done. Not only has he ironed all of his own clothes, "It's my life now," he says about ironing his clothes and underwear, but he gets up at one and two in the morning to help struggling recruits in his section iron. It's amusing at lunch to notice how carefully and fastidiously he eats. Crumbs are carefully wiped away from the plate. Periodically, the large hand runs down his front, smoothing the tie down. We hear many stories but respect the things he cannot tell. "I signed a pledge to not reveal anything about battlestations," he says. We respect that and ask questions on other aspects of his nine weeks.
Later we see a movie, then head back to the Navy Lodge, together as a family. We look at the pictures we've taken all day. It almost feels like a family trip we're in the middle of taking. All too soon it's time for him to go back in the early evening. We drive through the iron gates, past the security station and deliver him back to the Navy. "I love you, Eric," his dad and I say for the final time that day. "Love you," says his sister, Jillian. "I love you, too, Mom," he says with a peck on the cheek. He slides out of the rental car and we see him greet friends that are also being dropped off and watch them head off together, back to their ship. In step. We know we'll get to see him tomorrow. When he's no longer in sight, we drive home. And I try not to think too hard or too often about the ribbon pinned to his breast pocket.