Gratitude/Gratitud/يشكر

I was searching for a knife and I found myself standing in the ceramics room of chaos, otherwise known as Art Room Lunch.

Don’t worry. The knife was for a pie, not anything sinister. And it was a butter knife covered in clay, easily washed off in one of the many sinks, ready to cut through my store-bought pumpkin pie.

Yes, I wrote the words. Store-bought.

I cringe to even think of the admission. At least my cranberry sauce was homemade because God forbid I sell my entire soul to consumerism and mediocrity.

It was in the ceramics room, searching for and washing the knife, that I had a conversation with myself. Not my actual self, of course. My colleague. My friend. My self of fifteen years ago, when I had three tiny girls at home and it seemed all they did was scream… or, at least, cry to spend more time with me. When I couldn’t talk to my husband without a child between my legs, clinging to my breast, or pulling at my shirttail.

And it was so hard.

And here I am now, searching for a knife because between my two jobs and four teens I can’t seem to remember to bring one. My baby drove me to work this morning. My BABY. Fifteen, prepared to be the first of three to get her license on her sixteenth birthday, nine months out. My baby who, when I used to come home from work, wouldn’t let me leave the couch for a good ninety minutes. She needed to cuddle. To read stories. To nurse. To pet the kitty and the puppy. To be wholly mine since I took myself away from her for nine hours a day.

And now? She needs me to “chill” when I gasp at a too-sharp turn of the wheel. To allow her sleepovers on a whim and cash for shopping whenever I have it. To be sure I mention her name whenever I say that my daughters bake the Thanksgiving pies.

But most of the time, as with the other three, she is in her room. I hardly see her. She is FaceTiming friends or watching Friends. My middle is working or Instagramming. My oldest is away at college. And the boy we’ve taken in? He’s on the phone in his room.

There is no screaming. No clinging. If I want to have a conversation with my husband, I don’t have to call him on the way home from work, as my colleague told me today. I can just shut the door to our bedroom. No one will open it. Or we can talk while we walk the dog. We can take a tiny trip to Estes Park. We can talk in the morning, hours before our teens pop their eyes open, and no one will ever know.

No one will ever know how lonely it can be, without the screaming. The crying. The needing.

But I can’t say this to her. She is giving me a knife, and I have a pie to cut. Carne asada, tacos al pastor, shawarma, arepas, patacones, lasagna, and the life I live are waiting for me back in my own classroom.

Yet my lunchtime conversation is just what I needed. I needed to see a roomful of kids trying to shape ferns and mushrooms out of balls of clay. A distraught mother trying to navigate the work/life balance. The vibrant life of humans humming and thinking and creating and loving.

Living.

Because sometimes it feels like it’s just me. Just them. Just all of us. Alone in our rooms with the doors shut.

And sometimes, all we need is a butter knife and a slice of pumpkin pie, store-bought or not, to bring some gratitude to this Thanksgiving table.

This Thanksgiving life.

The Hundred Little Things

It’s been almost a year since our world shut down, and 465,000+ deaths later (just in the U.S.), nothing is changing any time soon. Nothing changes. Or we take one step forward (oust Trump) and two steps back (acquit Trump). One step forward (vaccines are on the way) and two steps back (virus variants could beat vaccines).

But I don’t want to write about steps forward or back. I want to write about the little things. The hundred little things that are a part of everyday life and that are no longer a part of everyday life.

I’m back at school now, and what a mess. Never mind that I’m teaching simultaneously to ten students in my room and fifteen more at home, everyone logged into the Google Meet.

But I don’t want to write about that mess. I want to write about my tea. How, for seventeen years of teaching, when the bell rings, I step into the hallway with my fellow teachers and greet students at the door. I stand there thoroughly enjoying my passing period with my hot and sugary, creamy tea and give fist bumps and hugs and hellos as my kids meander in from the crowded and jubilant hallway.

You can’t stand there drinking tea with two masks on your face.

I want to write about past assignments. Creating beautiful, colorful slideshows that we’d print out every year for Culture Fest, put on poster boards to create a collage of the multicultural world in my classroom. Newcomers cutting out hearts for Valentine’s Day, hands of gratitude for Thanksgiving, holding books in their hands, and reading with the endless string of volunteers. The kids sitting in my room at lunch, before school, after school, jabbering in seven languages and communicating through laughter and music.

I want to write about walking my dog in my neighborhood and not having to cross to the other side of the street when I see a person on the same sidewalk fifty feet in front of me.

I want to write about packing my leftovers and eating lunch at the long table, about all the small conversations I no longer have with my colleagues, conversations about the government, the school, the kids, our love lives, our lack of love lives, our kids, our nieces and nephews, our aging parents, our truths.

I want to write about seeing a smile, a genuine smile, on a friend’s or a stranger’s face without it being hidden by a mask.

I want to write about being exhausted on a weeknight and walking five blocks to the local restaurant instead of putting dinner on the stove.

About those small, everyday moments. Stopping at the grocery store to surprise the students with donuts that they can eat in class. Making brownies for my colleagues’ birthdays. My kids getting up at the same time every day, piling into the car with me, trekking the ten minutes to school. Driving them to all their endless activities, watching them master the floor routine or cut their time in a race or perform at a pep rally. Knowing that they see their teachers’ faces every day and don’t hide themselves behind a letter on a screen, ignoring the world.

Knowing that if they need help, a human face will come with a pass and pull them out of the classroom, and they don’t have to remember all on their own some random appointment on Google Meet. (Oh, not another Google Meet…)

I want to write about walking into that 1924 masterpiece of architecture every day, knowing it will be filled with a microcosm of our perfectly-imperfect world, not empty hallways and masked faces.

I want to write about how easy teaching is when you can walk around the room, pat a student on the back, crouch down next to another, whisper advice to a third, listen to the thoughts of a fourth, and so on until you’ve talked to every last one. Talked. Really talked.

I want to write about how these little, seemingly-meaningless, everyday events, now absent for nearly a year, are … life.

Life isn’t a ski trip or a mansion or your dream career or your sought-after sports car.

Life is in each of these moments that are now gone. Twisted and torn, covered and broken.

These hundred little moments that once seemed so basic, so dull, yet whose absence has created a void that feels as frozen as a stream that never freezes.

So here I am. Mid-February 2021. Staring at this stream on a night too cold to be walking. And missing the hundred little things that used to make a life.