NOTE: As I was about to move my home office, I read a post by a friend who suggested those of us in a coaches group post pictures of our home office. This was motivation to get crackin’ and make things look good. Or at least, better. A day later, Jess Lahey and KJ Del Antonia were chatting on #AmWritingWithJessandKJ about their lack of workspace, reminding me how lucky I am to have a space and how needy that space was for some love. So the move and requisite purge began with a little kick in the pants from these three friends.
I. HAVE. BOOKS.
At last count, four bookcases in my office and one in the basement. Stacks around the house and stashed in tote bags and baskets. About a dozen bankers boxes with children’s books. After our fire in 2005, one of the movers said, “Lady, are you a librarian or something?” “Nope, I am the Trifecta. Teacher. Parent. Reader.” He didn’t get it.
We replaced dozens of the books lost in the fire. A decade later, I have SO many books – Kids’ books. Teacher books. Grown up books. Picture books. Well-read books. Unopened books. I am now trying to part with some of them, because… well, I really do not need all of them and they need more love and care than I can give. It’s more emotional than looking at a scrapbook or photo album, perhaps because I never managed to keep either of those. I AM really good at keeping books.
I left the classroom and full-time teaching several years ago. Since then, I’ve worked with teachers and student in less formal, less “regular” ways. Teaching was an all-consuming profession for me that caused me to neglect numerous other things in life. Now I’m healthier, actually see friends on a regular basis and I’m beginning to reign in years of less-than-optimal housekeeping. It’s bittersweet. I miss the energy of the kids and colleagues – that delightful vortex in which relationships are built and sustained and there is always, always learning. I miss the daily interactions, chuckles, and tears. I don’t miss the schlepping of books and papers, but now they are stacked up around me – memories and testaments to those years of work and companionship. My books are dear, neglected friends, who need new friends.
Empty-nesting is forcing me to cull years of books, memorabilia, papers, and artwork. My mind was made up for a deep purge, followed by a big ole yard sale. I’ve pulled back a bit and will start with focusing on my own stuff. Along the way, I’ve looked at what the process of learning looked like for me and hundreds of students, like in this Family Literary Journal, c. 2001. The author is now a freshman at the University of Maryland. The mom, probably still does worry the most, especially with as part of the senior leadership at NEA.
In this walk down a cluttered memory lane, I find utterly joyous ways to reconnect with former teachers and students. I had many students in both first -and third-grade or witnessed them develop in our small school for years. Reading their hopes to learn to do “multiplication” in third-grade and then hearing that they are in geometry as a high school freshman makes me smile. Seeing struggling readers and writers thrive in college is a dream come true to a first-grade teacher. Coming across the work of a student or colleague who has since passed away, makes be briefly sad until I recall how brightly each one of these women shined and how they continue to shine.
I couldn’t keep these book friends nor joy all to myself, so I make a file labeled “SEND TO KIDS.” I started penning notes and scanning work to send digitally owners. The first went to a former third grader, her poem on gratitude was a big writing accomplishment in 2005. That little heckler in my head thought she might just brush it off, so I was delighted to awake to this message:
As for my 20-plus years of teacher books and children’s books, I’m working letting go. In yoga, we practice aparigraha – clinging brings suffering. And dusting, in my case. What a delight to let go and share with little readers, teacher friends who will use them more than decor or to local shelters and schools who have very few books, if any at all. And then there’s space in my heart for more joy.
My cleaning lady is a dear friend with whom I talk about family and food and our kids. I often marvel at her wisdom as she often cuts through modern-day complications with succinct observations. On this day, she exhaled deeply and looked at my stacks. “Miss Lisa….you have so many books. You enjoy them all?” I smile and say, “At some point, yes, I did.” She laughs and comments about the “so much stuff in this country.”
Later, I see Nelly reading Rosemary Wells’ “Getting to Know You” to her helper. She is translating English to Spanish and laughing at the nuances and our tricky language (“cup of tea?”). The three of us sit a spell and I a reminded of why I love picture books so much – the images and messages reach far beyond the young ages they are written to entertain. On this autumn afternoon, they are bringing joy to three old ladies sitting on a sunny porch, friends reading and giggling like school girls.
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