Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Nobody Has Such Small Hands

In a cheap Italian restaurant — red and white checkered vinyl tablecloths, sawdust on the floor, Parmesan in a shaker — he watched as she twirled her hair, a habit of hers he found endearing, though later he’d find it infuriating. They were newly in love, which should explain everything. 
“I don’t like the rain,” she announced, her head turned towards the window. “It’s… Tragic. Rain is tragic.”
“Really?,” he asked, through a forkful of spaghetti. “I think rain is romantic. Freeing. Remember Gene Kelly dancing? You’ve seen that movie?”
Twirl, twirl. She ignored his question. She hadn’t seen the movie. “I don’t like getting wet,” she sniffed. But she’d forgotten herself. He looked wounded, or was it that he seemed disappointed in her? She hedged. “I don’t mind it when it drizzles. A fine, misty rain is good for the skin.” Where had she heard that? On TV?
He brightened. “Exactly,” he agreed. “I wasn’t referring to a downpour. A fine, misty rain… That’s what I like, too.”
They exchanged satisfied smiles. So this is how it would go, then. It wasn’t terribly hard to meet in the middle. Simultaneously they reached for the forlorn heel of bread in the wicker basket the waiter had placed just so between them. “You take it,” he offered, feeling charitable, and mature. And she did; she was hungry. Chewing contentedly, she managed to stop short of marveling at how companionable the evening had been.
We know how to compromise, he thought, and in his youth and inexperience he took this as a propitious sign.

written in April of 2011

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Hello, Goodbye

We see them 180 days per year. Some we see for two years in a row, because ours is sometimes a first grade and sometimes a second grade classroom. To say that we know them well after that degree of exposure is understatement. We know which foods they crave and which they won't touch, which authors and genres they seek out and which they don't, what they like in a friend and what they don't.

We know what and who they think they want to be when they grow up. We know how they feel about their little brother or older sister. We know their favorite color, the state of their teeth (one loose, one VERY loose, and one that was lost just last night because an intrepid dad pulled it out), and how likely they are to squirm in their seats.

We know when they are getting sick or feeling sad or angry. We know when they're having an 'off' day for no particular reason that we or they can discern (although the usual culprit is lack of sleep). We know who will call out instead of raising his or her hand, and who will sneak a paper into the 'finished basket' that is not quite, or far from, finished. We know who will ask to use the bathroom when it is time for writing, and why. We know all the pencil sharpening styles: the quick jab that does nothing (because the pencil was already sharp enough), or the long unnecessary push because the student is either daydreaming or stalling.

We know how they keep their desks (tidy, messy, or worthy of the show Hoarders), what types of toys they prefer to play with during indoor recess, who is feeling left out, and who is having a growth spurt (physical, intellectual, or socioemotional).


Imagine, then, how hard it is to say goodbye to them each June. When we see them in the halls the next year or in the years after that, they grow increasingly distant, not because they are being rude, but because they have changed so much that the people they were in first or second grade are not really there anymore.

Sometimes I see fifth graders who were once first or second graders in our classroom, and I think, But wait! Whatever happened to your sick cat? Do you still want to be a doctor?

Instead I smile, and if they aren't with friends they will smile back and acknowledge me with a wave or a greeting. When occasionally they do venture back into our classroom they never fail to comment on how small everything looks — the vantage point of a ten-year-old so different from that of a six-year-old.

And this is how it should be: They grow up! They move on!

But I'd be lying if I told you that each June does not bring with it nineteen or twenty small heartaches. When they leave on the last day of school, their excitement about summer eclipses any kind of meaningful leavetaking we might have, and this, again, is how it should be.

Yet the truth is that they are readier to move up to another grade than we are ready to see them go, which means, when you get right down to it, that we love them.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The View From Forty-Two

My son exclaimed
Just the other day.
You— You look
Like a tree!
He chortled, then,
At the offense:
This green shirt,
Those brown pants.

I was delighted.
When I am old
I hope the boy,
Grown to man,
Sees value
In weathered skin
Like bark,
In hair so white
It might cap
Even rogue waves,
In ropy-veined legs
Working overtime,
Bulging, and blushing,
With dedicated effort.

And all that day
I felt strong.
Proud, to provide
Shade, and a moment
Or two to contemplate
For a wanderer
Who might weep, grateful,
To find me sturdy,
To find me

written in 2010

Friday, May 8, 2015

I Grow Old, I Grow Young

I amble through the supermarket. I am singing something or other; the song is not and never was the point. I am not singing loudly, but others might see my mouth moving and my feet tapping a beat. I run right into a coworker; this is that kind of town. "I was singing," I shrug, by way of explanation, and I grin. I do not elaborate, and she doesn't press me.

As I scoop the cats' poop early one morning, I find that I am talking to myself. I am not surprised. I talk to myself quite frequently. I am asking a question borrowed, with liberal editing, from Shakespeare: "Yet who would have thought the cat to have had so much poop in him?"

I sing in the shower. Of course I do! I've been doing that for years.

I slow my car and pull over to the shoulder, where I flash my hazards. The sun is setting in spectacular fashion, and I want to take a picture. So I do. Maybe drivers speeding past me wonder what it is that I am doing. But more likely than not they don't even notice me. I am past the age where I believe that everything, or anything, is about me.

I goof around at lunch with the children in my classroom. "Mrs. Piazza!" they giggle. "You act like a kid sometimes!"

I take that as a compliment.


I was a child who was old before her years. A conformist, I did what everyone expected of me, and I did what I grew to expect of myself.

But to sustain that level of obedience to authority, one's own or others', is wearying.

It took me forty-some years on this earth to shed the top layer of worry that cast a shadow longer than any shadow my physical self might have cast.

So when people ask, "How does it feel to be nearing fifty?," I am puzzled. Am I supposed to feel the sting of mortality? Because I don't. I feel younger than ever. I use no cream on my face, see no doctors who might tuck me in here and lift me up there, take no vitamins, submit to no exercise regimen. Still, somehow, everything is funny, everything is wonderful, everything brings me to tears of joy.

I imagine it just gets better and better from here. I can't wait to find out.