SOL: Here & Now…Remembering Here & Then

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Today I arrived for my first day of the Montana Writing Project, a 2-week institute which is part of the National Writing Project. It is taking place on the campus I attended for the final 3 semesters of my undergraduate work. While I have visited the campus for various events since I was a student here, I found myself feeling quite different today, returning as a student.

As I arrived on campus this morning, I found myself doing the math in my head, realizing it was 20 years ago when I arrived in June to take 6 weeks of summer coursework. My now 23 year-old daughter was 3, and as a single mom, it made more sense for her to remain at home with my mom and dad, while I made the 2 hours commute back and forth on weekends.

Walking the campus this morning, I found myself flooded with vivid memories of a time so long ago, yet it felt like it was yesterday. The sights and sounds of familiar buildings I spent a great deal of time in brought the details of those days back to the forefront of my mind, and I found myself feeling a bit like I was back in time momentarily, reflecting on so many memories filled with both struggle and joy.

I remembered the Sunday afternoon I had to say goodbye to my daughter, who had been diagnosed with pneumonia just that morning in the E.R. My parents were my heroes in moments like that. Their support and encouragement as I worked to earn my teaching degree was fierce, and their love for their granddaughter was exponentially fiercer. I knew she was in the best hands, and over the next weeks, my mom would email me every day detailing all of their daily activities so that I never felt far away from my little girl. I didn’t know why at the time,  but I printed those emails, and still have every one. I dug them out when my mom passed away in 2016, and the comfort they brought me is immeasurable.

I watched my little girl grow up, and just one year ago, watched as she graduated on this campus. Interestingly, when we were here for graduation, I didn’t find myself experiencing the same flood of emotions I did today. Perhaps that is because it was her day, and her celebration. Today it feels like my day, and my reflection. To be here, and remember then.

 

SOL: A special celebration of books!

As a child I was one of the lucky ones. Every night, my parents read to me. They both valued reading and children’s books a great deal. My dad was a principal, and my mom was a paraeducator in the library of my elementary school. She made sure I had a steady diet of Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Roald Dahl. I grew up appreciating books, but it wasn’t until my children’s literature course in college that I felt transformed. The storybooks of my youth looked different and I felt I was reading them through new eyes. The eyes of a teacher.

My newly discovered love for children’s books coupled with what I brought with me from my childhood remained steadfast in my heart when I became a parent to four daughters. One by one as they joined our family, I didn’t waste any time introducing each of them to their first books before they could speak a word, turn a page, or take steps to the bookshelf to choose a bedtime story. Goodnight Moon, Where’s Spot?, and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? were constant companions and beloved favorites of every daughter.

When my daughters spent time at my parent’s house, reading with their grandma, whom they lovingly called “Meme,” was always something they counted on when at her house. Her lap was always ready for a granddaughter to sit in, and her book bin was always well stocked with favorite titles. If you got to spend the night at Meme’s house, it always involved comfort food & snacks, craft projects, and always reading together.

My mom’s love for children’s books extended to the children at Hedges School, where, as the librarian’s paraeducator, she was a passionate advocate for children’s literature for two decades. Teachers and students loved Mrs. Graham and could always count on her patience and kindness in assisting them with anything they needed. Her appreciation for literacy and her belief in its positive impact for children brought her great joy and satisfaction.

Last year after a brief but courageous battle with dementia, we very sadly said goodbye to my mom. Shortly after her passing, I found myself reflecting on the things that were important to her, and books, specifically children’s books came immediately to my mind. We set up a memorial fund with which we would purchase books for the library where she faithfully worked, joyfully sharing her love of literature with the students at Hedges School.

I have found and chosen the books, and all 45 of them are ready to be shared at last! How I wish she were here to pick up each book and unearth the treasure that waits inside every single one. I know she would have loved them all, and would have carefully matched each book to a student who, in turn, would treasure the story inside. Each book has a special memory label inside with my mom’s picture, so every reader knows of her love for children, and the importance of great literature in their lives.

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I am incredibly blessed to be teaching at Hedges. Every once in awhile, I find myself perusing the bookshelves of our library, occasionally opening a book and seeing her handwriting on an old library card pocket on the inside cover; a joyful reminder that her presence somehow is still here with me, as it is with each student who searches the bookshelves to discover the amazing stories waiting for them.

This is my first of what I hope will be many more Tuesday Slice of Life posts. Thank you to all of the teacher/writers at Two Writing Teachers who make this platform available to educators of all backgrounds where we can unearth the writers inside of each of us!

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