These Saturday Nights

Hey, Mom,
remember on the weekends
when we could sleep on the floor in your room
and after we finished watching a movie together
you turned off all the lights
but you kept music streaming through the TV
and we could see the glow of your laptop
and hear the click of your fingertips on the keys
and we knew you were thinking and writing and creating
while you were humming your melodies
and we listened to you while you listened to us,
until you were the only one listening to our sleeping breaths?
Those were my favorite.

That’s what they’ll say to me someday.
That’s what they’ll say about this night.
These weekends. These Saturday nights.

This life we’ve made for ourselves.

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Science Fair, O Science Fair. I’d Rather Write You a Sonnet.

Robb and I had this foolproof plan. With our collective energies and varied interests, with his left brain and my right, with his love for the periodic table and my affection for the dictionary, our kids’ school projects would be a snap.

And we planned for our kids to benefit greatly from our unified expertise. I would help them with english and literature assignments, and he would help them with math equations and science experiments.

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Then Robb went to heaven, taking all his science expertise, logical preferences, and the left side of our brain with him.  And now it’s time for the early-elementary science fair.

(Do you hear that slow and methodical click-click-click that’s getting louder and faster? It’s my anxiety. Inching up the first hill of the Magnum.)

(A shout-out to Cedar Point and all of you in northeast Ohio, America’s RollerCoast.)

I pretended not to notice the paperwork about the science fair, since – after all – it is optional until fourth grade. And then my children came home all hyped up about the science fair, optional or not, as if it’s just a matter of mixing together egg yolks and mustard and leaving the bowl out overnight.

“We are not doing the science fair.” I put myself to sleep with this mantra every night.

And so, guess what though? We’re doing the science fair. Scientific Question, Hypothesis, Recorded Method, and a tri-fold display and all.

Because every once in a while I get a glimpse down the road, a decade or two, and I can’t handle the fallout from this seemingly small and insignificant decision. My children could become riddled with their own science anxiety, haters of learning, all because their mother said no when she could have say yes, so long ago when it was all so much easier, involving celery and food coloring or a jar that has been cracked with the fascinating expansion of water in the freezer.

But no. She said no. And so now, they don’t know anything and they’ve become afraid to ask why.

I nixxed the celery and the food coloring, though I encourage you to give it a try if you’d like to know how chlorophyll or photosynthesis or pollenization or food coloring works. Something like that.

Anyway, we’re turning the ol’ volcano experiment on its head by asking: Will a balloon explode from the chemical reaction of baking soda and vinegar?

Stay tuned, folks. Stay tuned.

(Google says yes. And they promise me an easy cleanup.)

An Author Visited the Second Grade

I sat in the rocking chair in the corner of the classroom, the one surrounded by a colorful rug with shapes or letters or continents or something both educational and decorative at the same time.

His teacher introduced me. “Second graders, this is Tucker’s mom, and she’s an author. See this book? She wrote it, and she’s going to read a bit to us today. Tuck, would you like to introduce her?”

“Yes. This is my mom, Mrs. Tricia Lott Williford. And she writes books. Only this is one of the practice ones, and the cover has changed to a girl in a blue dress who isn’t my mom and her hands look different from my mom. But she wrote this book, and it’s dedicated to me and my brother, and all of your moms should buy it.”

Excellent PR, kiddo. You should be my sidekick or something.

Tuck stood next to me as I spoke to his classmates, and I put my arm around his waist just as I did with my own students. There’s nothing like that shining moment when you can stand next to the sweet-smelling teacher with the jingling bracelet – especially if that teacher is your mom.

I jumped right in. “Well, you might know: Tucker’s dad died three years ago,” they nod their heads in agreement; this is no secret in the facts of who we are. “He got very sick really fast, and the doctors couldn’t save him. But I want you to know: he had a special problem that made him die quickly, so you don’t need to be afraid that this will happen to you or your parents. It’s not something that happens very often.”

I’m addressing the little worriers in the classroom, the ones who can’t help but feel afraid that crisis is contagious.

I read a small passage, a few paragraphs that are funny, light, not traumatic, and very kid-friendly. In these paragraphs, our family is having dinner and the boys are melting down around us, and it ends with Robb telling the boys they really needed to stop complaining, stop negotiating, and please just eat their dinner. He tells them to be respectful to their mom because she prepared the meal, and in our family, we are respectful.

“Do you know what I love about this?” I feel surprised by how instinctively I recall my classroom techniques. “When Tucker’s dad was alive, he was teaching Tucker and Tyler how to be respectful gentlemen. And you know what? They are so kind, thoughtful, respectful – such great boys. And their dad helped them learn to be that way.”

(I don’t even care if the entire class zoned out during this last paragraph. There’s only one child who needs to hear these public declarations about him, his dad, his courage, and his character.)

(Tuck was beaming and nodding. His way of saying, “See? What she said? I’m that.”)

I open the floor to questions, and we continue with a dialogue of how books are written, what is the process, is this really a job, can kids write books, and do I feel sad.

“Those are such great questions! You know what, this book that you see – it seems pretty perfect and complete, doesn’t it? Guess what…” I lean in close to whisper, “there are some mistakes in this book! And sometimes – you might not believe me, but sometimes – my writing was terrible. Sometimes I wrote something and thought, Well, that’s no good! It’s a good thing I can start over again with a new page! That’s how it is with writing: it isn’t perfect the first time, and it’s so important to let yourself make mistakes while you’re figuring out just what you want to say.”

(And while publishers determine the market and editors work on the subtitle and a marketing team troubleshoots the ways the title could cause some inaccuracy in search engines. Grace and patience, learning from the imperfect: this is the path.)

“Am I sad? Sure, sometimes. We do get a little sad sometimes, don’t we, Tuck? But we have learned that even when the worst thing happened, we were still okay. So no matter what happens?”

Tuck said, “We will be okay.”

***

Dear Tricia of Three Years Ago, To you, the girl who cannot eat or sleep and is fading away into a skeletal frame:  Someday you will visit your son’s class to talk to eight-year-olds about how to process sadness, grief, and greatest loss.  And you won’t even cry.

Drooping Boughs

And so, apparently, you’ve all put up your Christmas trees, I see.  Maybe not all of you.  But, my word.  A lot of you.  And I love you for it.  I do.

The whole idea overwhelms me.  There are a dozen hours and a thousand tasks between ‘Wanting the house decorated’ and ‘Wanting to Decorate the House.’

I have two trees now, all tucked away still.  You might call them the Before Tree and the After Tree.  Or you might call them the Family Tree and the Front Window Tree. Right now, I call them Landmines.

I looked back on this piece from 2009, the Christmas Before.  To think I thought of purging them  in the name of living lighter, and now I can’t hardly look at them, these bastions of a million moments.

***

Our Christmas tree is full.

When we began to set it up last night, I thought to myself, “You know, there’s just really no need for all of these ornaments. Tonight I will selectively purge the ones we can do without.”

(I often speak to myself with such a matter of fact tone, I assure you.)

But I didn’t know where to start.

I sorted through the ones from our earliest Christmases together, when we each brought a handful from our own own trees to blend together into our first holiday traditions. There are the metalic ones from Robb’s growing up years, with his grandmother’s handwriting on the back. There are the couple of cross-stitched ornaments that his mom made for him, dated for Robby, age nine. There is the ceramic angel, painted an unforgiving lavender, that says on the back in my mom’s handwriting: Tricia, age 3. My first Christmas craft, apparently.

There are other crafts of mine, including a sand dollar from third grade and a beaded strand from my first attempt as an entrepreneurial businesswoman. (For ten cents, I would give you a strand of perfectly patterned red, white, and green. Sorry you missed out on that investment.)

But I can’t part with those.

There are the ones from my students. Apples. #1 Teacher. Each one has a story, and I can tell you about each child who carefully presented such a proudly chosen addition for my tree.

I can’t part with those.

There are heaps and heaps of snowmen, and I just like snowmen. I just do. Perhaps I could part with some of them, but they’re one big family. So, I can’t. (And each one came from someone who knows me. And my love for those whimsical somebodies.)

There are the ornaments that represent experiences. Like Jamie’s Christmas wedding, or the beaded snowflakes the girls in my family made one year on Thanksgiving.

I can’t part with those.

And then there are the dozens and dozens of milestones that hang on our tree. Our First Christmas. Our First Home. Molly’s dog dish. Baby’s First Christmas. Lots of families of three, labeled Mommy, Daddy, and Tucker, represented with penguins, bears, moose, and of course snowmen. And one family of three, with a very pregnant Mom in the crew. Then the appearance of families of four, and many ornaments for Big Brother and Little Brother.

There is a most beautiful, translucent angel holding a baby high in the air, and that one makes me sentimental every single year. Because I remember when I opened it and hung it on our tree, grieving our first lost child and praying God would send us one to hold.

And in the branches below her, we have Mickey Mouse, Big Bird, Elmo, and Cookie Monster. Proof that God answered the cry of our hearts.

And of course, I cannot part with those.

The likelihood is far greater that I will someday add a second tree, than the delusion that I will part with any one of these paragraphs that hang in all shapes and sizes.

I simply cannot part with any of them.