Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Just a Notion

In my mind
stories unravel.
It's a messy business,
like a disorganized
sewing basket.
A hodgepodge of loose buttons,
Knotted threads,
A thimble from Gatlinburg,
A needle packet,
One lonely needle still stuck in place
His more adventurous brethren
scattered across the bottom of the basket,
fraternizing with straight pins.
A scrap of Velcro, hook-side only
matted with loose threads...
If only I could straighten it all,
make sense of it,
sew something
for Heaven's sake!
Instead, I sort through it,
frantically looking for
something that makes sense:
a new spool,
a carefully-rolled measuring tape,
a sharp pair of scissors...
hoping beyond hope
that a pattern will emerge.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Bird Mansion

As a teacher and a mom, I am amazed when my sons come home in the last few weeks of school with a brand new project assigned by their teachers. Often, these projects require working with a classmate outside school hours.
We have only 12 days remaining in the school year, state assessment testing begins tomorrow, spring sports are in full bloom (practices, games, tournaments), academic clubs are wrapping up with end-of-the-year parties, and my 16-year-old is knee deep in scrap lumber, power tools, spray paint, and bird seed.
With 12 school days remaining, his environmental science teacher assigned a project that requires my son and his teacher-assigned partner (who does not live in our neighborhood and whom I have yet to meet) to gather materials and work for several hours after school. The project also requires parent oversight and the use of an electric jigsaw.
When I arrived home from the Student Council pizza party and end-of-the-year PTSA meeting yesterday at 8:30 PM, I was stunned to find my husband and son working in the backyard in the glow of the porch light. A long extension cord connected the table saw to the outlet, sawdust was flying, and my husband was measuring plywood while my son consulted the detailed blueprint that he and his (apparently) invisible partner created during class that day.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"We're building a bird fraternity house," my husband explained.
"It's an assignment and a contest," my son said enthusiastically. "The winners get to choose a surprise for the whole class, and the teacher is going to buy it. We're trying to decide between pizza and donuts."
"I have an idea," I suggested. "Let's just go ahead and buy pizza and donuts for the whole class and scale this project down a little."
"No way!" my son said. "We've researched colors that attract birds, and we're making a two-story bird fraternity house. Do you know the Greek letters for BRD?"
"Beta, Rho, Delta?"
"I'll double check," he said.
"Maybe your partner could double check," I suggested.
"He's doing other work," my son assured me. I could not imagine what other work the partner could possibly be doing. Were the partner's parents involved in any way? Were they at home assembling tiny bird-sized furniture? I doubted it.
My son handed me the blueprint...a two story bird mansion, with tiny American flags depicted in the drawing, a roof-top garden for the birds' enjoyment, and a replaceable birdseed ring hanging from a dowel rod.
"Impressive," I said...and hours away from completion, I thought.
"It's gonna win...hands down," my son exclaimed. "Some other team brought in a plastic bottle with a string wrapped around it, and birdseed stuck all over it. Can you believe that?"
I couldn't help wondering if those kids had parents who, like me, were also teachers...teachers who did not assign a large-scale group project when summer break was practically around the corner...teachers who had to drive two different carpools three nights a week and finalize grades and organize academic awards and invite parents to end-of-year conferences and take inventory of classroom materials. Was it wrong of me to wish, for just a fraction of a second, that my self-motivated, over-achieving son would settle for turning in a plastic bottle covered with birdseed?
With a little sigh, I banished the thought.
We would help my son complete the ultimate end-of-the-year bird mansion/fraternity house. We'd accomplished similar feats before...the end-of-the-year eighth grade music video (which required green screen technology), the end-of-the-year food truck marketing project (which included 200 homemade meatballs), and the end-of-the-year social studies soundtrack (which featured songs about desertification).
"The winning birdhouse is going to go out back, behind the high school," my son said, still trying to convince me of the validity of the project.
"Well, in that case," I said, "keep up the good work!" Party on, birds, party on.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Not Good Enough for the Gander

This morning, a gander took a dip in our neighborhood pool. I heard him honking while I was walking the dog; so I stopped and watched him through the slats in the privacy fence. He was making a racket, honking loudly as he paddled around the pre-season murk of the deep end.
No doubt he was complaining about the cloudy water and the slick blobs of green algae splattered around the sides of the under-filled pool. He must not realize that the pool won't be ready for swimmers for three more weeks. We have a great deal of work to do.
Our pool has been in our neighborhood for many years; and while we don't have a swim-up tiki bar, a tube-shaped slide, or a lazy river, we have hours of memorable moments grilling hot dogs under the circus-striped awning and watching everyone's kids learn how to dog paddle.
My husband is assistant maintenance director for the volunteer coordinator of our neighborhood pool. It's a fancy way of saying he spends a great deal of time weed-eating outside the fence around the baby pool and replacing loose boards on the old, weathered, sunbathing deck. He carries a key to the gate and makes sure the brimming trash cans are pulled to the curb on pick-up days. As he chats with friends on the upper deck, he takes pride in the pool's tidy appearance...the little pots of flowers, the pressure-washed chairs, the carefully patched concrete.
My younger son tries to be the first one in the pool on Memorial Day and the last one out of the pool on Labor Day. He definitely logs the most hours there, his skin (in spite of layers of sunscreen) gradually deepens to a toasty brown. He has a group of friends, three boys and a couple of girls, who have made the pool their hangout for the past four summers. They run barefoot on the blistering surface of the adjoining tennis court and play wall ball, following a complicated set of ever-changing rules. They spread their towels on the deck and gather their allowance in order to have Jet's Pizza delivered poolside. Summer stretches ahead of them like a slow motion highlight reel.
Despite his busy schedule, my older son still finds time for the pool. He naps under the shade of a beach umbrella after varsity soccer two-a-days. Sometimes he sits on the edge of the pool with his long legs dangling in the water. He throws a spongy ball again and again to the little kids as they jump off the diving board. He throws the ball right into their hands so they can catch it triumphantly before making a splash.
As for me, I mark the summer hours by page numbers, reading novel after novel through my cheap sunglasses. I arrive early so I can claim my favorite chair. In one hand, I carry a vinyl book bag filled with library books and magazines; and in the other hand, I carry a Tervis tumbler filled with crushed ice and Diet Snapple. For eight weeks, I leave the worrying to the teenaged lifeguards; and I lie on the reclining deck chair with my eyes closed, tapping my flip flops to the background music of the ice cream truck.
"I can't wait for our pool to open," I thought this morning as I stood on the sidewalk, watching the gander shake his long neck in disdain. As the dog and I watched, the grouchy bird lifted off, still squawking his disapproval. I guess our little pool is not good enough for the gander, but it's good enough for us; and in my memories, it's better than good enough. It's perfect.