pull up a chair

where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked…

Month: December, 2006

before the page turns

before the last page flips over and away, it seems fitting to say, in no particular order…

this was the year my bones got less wobbly thanks to a dancer named donna; my broken-necked boy got rescued, he did, thanks to guardian angels and samaritans, too.

a little girl with a brain tumor reminded me how simple it is, when she nestled next to her mama and proclaimed this lasting truth: “i can read, i can whistle, i have a loose tooth; my life is complete.”

another sweet girl with a brain tumor didn’t make it, but she got up out of her wheelchair and walked across the finish line, she did.

a quartet of builders pounded their hearts into my farmhouse kitchen, and everywhere i look, everything i touch, i see them, i feel them; one blessed builder didn’t live to see the end of this year and for him i will forever ache, and forever be thankful.
a wise editor named ross urged me to tell the whole truth in a tale that finally brought my skeleton out of the closet; an even wiser woman named linda gave me the courage, the backbone, to do so.

a wizened man from ecuador told my sweet will how he walked to this country, would let nothing keep him away; another from mexico told of crossing the desert for three days with nothing but orange peels and hard candy.

a plaza filled with passionate people would not let the world deny nor forget the suffering in darfur, and my boys, thank God, were there to soak in the passion, to add their voice to the outcry.

a college kid with pierced ear and huge heart fell in love with my rambunctious child, offering hope that someone out in the world might see the golden light in his aura.

a golden-haired girl, with a platinum heart, loved that same little kid, and filled his wednesdays with light, every week through the summer.

standing in the emergency room with one trembling 5-year-old, my dear friend and neighbor ran to our rescue, interrupting her birthday to let him leap to her arms and out of the terrifying horrible place.

month after month, our friends at the soup kitchen bathed us in gratitude, humbled us deeply with the simple act of telling us our supper was something.

two soccer coaches, our first taste of the game, cared not about winning; were gentle and sweet as two coaches could possibly, imaginably be.

friends jane, jan and judy, old hands each, took me by the hand, by the elbow, the shoulder, and got me through the great rite of my firstborn’s bar mitzvah.

my blessed magnificent rock of a friend, one from way back in the newsroom, flew here to stand in my kitchen, to be by my side, and teach my sweet will the fine art of ghetto fried rice.

a sweet woman named molly left a shabbat basket on my stoop, melting me thoroughly with her random act of deep kindness.

a man named dorel, who can no longer make words, delighted me endlessly with the gleam in his eye as we went over and over simple sounds, ah, buh and k, kat.

when the going got rough, i stood back and watched a man named pete be the consummate father, showering love on a kid he wouldn’t let get dumped.

on the other end of the line, when i needed him most, my old ER doc friend said the words i most needed to hear, and stayed on the line ’til all was clear.

a farmer named henry, week after week, quietly, wordlessly grew for the world the purest produce that i’ve ever tasted; his sister, the word smith, puts his stories in print, and reminds every one of us of the infinite wisdom buried deep in the earth.

in a million other ways, the friends who i love bathed me in goodness and light, made me laugh, dried my tears, held my hand, held me up. from the ones who brought donuts before dawn to our hospital bedside, to the ones who pushed me off the great blogger ledge, i ask and i beg God to bless them with grace and with all that is good.

it’s been one stunning year, and we’re here at the end. God bless you. God keep you. take a deep breath, take a dive once again…..

if perhaps you have someone who stood out in your year, for their kindness, their goodness, their most amazing grace, tack their tale here. no need to name names, we’ll all get the gist….

breakfast for michael

i wish you could hear the sounds here. yes, yes, the bacon is sizzling, and so’s the french toast. but the sound that truly makes my heart sing is the sound of sweet tedd in rapturous love with his uncle.

uncle michael.

reason for joy.

michael, you see, is one of the four. four uncles, each so beloved. there’s uncle airplane, uncle piano, uncle computer and uncle everything. and now all four are spread all over the country; maine, california, the mountains of north arizona, and, soon, toledo.

when an uncle comes home, there is reason for joy.

michael happens to be emphatically so.

michael is the brother just younger than me; we came every odd year, the first four of our brood. then, years later, an even one, mind you, came the caboose, came the sweet angel bri.

ever since we were little, michael and i have been particularly close. we used to lay on the extra twin bed in each other’s room, and talk the bedtime away. in the way back of the wood-paneled ford station wagon, we swapped stories and secrets, looked out the window, spun tales of all that we saw.

two christmases ago, michael was nursing his wife through her final excruciating days. she died before january ended, leaving my kid brother, at 45, broken-hearted and widowed.

last christmas, to change things, he came to see us the day after christmas, once his church job was finished, the songs put away.

after spending hours of each day on the phone all that long year, nursing him through his unbearable grief, finally having him here in the kitchen was the embrace i’d been waiting for, aching for, each time we hung up.

you see, michael is brilliantly funny, brilliantly quick. and brilliantly shining with love. to know him is, i’m not kidding, to utterly love him, and love him we do. he has been sunshine as long as i’ve known him, and i’ve known him as long as he’s been. one minute he’s playing the charlie brown theme song, the next he’s juggling oranges. he makes a game of dunking chips into salsa. and tedd, at his side, laughs and laughs ’til it hurts.

so this morning, once again, beats christmas in my book. it’s breakfast for michael, and michael for breakfast. if cooking for someone you love is a giant embrace, then the feast i just made was a boa constrictor.

it’s one thing to love someone on a long-distance phone call. it’s a whole other thing to fry up the bacon, slice the cranberry-studded, almond-paste-swirled holiday bread. heck, we poured cream in the mix of the eggs and the milk, the dunking sweet soup that turns bread to french toast.

the coffee was spiked with dashes of cinnamon. the pomegranate seeded and sprinkled on clementines.

and then we all sat, we held hands and we prayed.

it gets no more delicious than michael for breakfast.

extending the table

the leaves of the table, perhaps, are the heart of the table. they’re meant for extending. for adding guests. for making room. this is about extending the table.

if you’ve poked about this place we are building, this place called pull up a chair, you might have wandered over to the corner of it called the bottomless cup. i mention there a book i was dying to dash out and get, a book called “extending the table: a world community cookbook.” well, i dashed all right, and i got it. and it is every bit as delicious, as chewy, as i had hoped it would be. there’s a link on the bottomless cup, right where i mention the book, that will hook you right over to the ten thousand villages website, where you could order up a copy all your own. (or you could look for it elsewhere, it’s compiled by joetta handrich schlabach, it’s $20 and it comes from herald press.)

i am reading the book with yellow highlighter in hand. when’s the last time you read a cookbook with a highlighter?

the reason i am highlighting madly is because the book shares a deep underlying theme with pull up a chair. it is about welcoming. taking time. it is about making room at your table. making room in your day.

as my wise wonderful friend susie, the one who told me about “extending the table” in the first place, was musing, she talked about how when she was growing up, if you came to her mother’s house, you got a cup of coffee set down before you. no one even bothered to ask. you just got a coffee. it was assumed you were staying long enough to get to the bottom of the cup. now, says susie, you’re lucky if someone offers you a glass of water from the front of the fridge; no one really has time. no time to make the coffee, no time really for you to stay. a quick swallow of pre-chilled water, you’re back out the door.

not so around the world. not so in places where cold water does not come spitting out the front of the fridge.

“in turkey,” one passage of “extending the table” begins, “it is a great virtue to be known as someone who loves company and has a lot of it.”

the book goes on to tell that when a guest arrives at the door, shoes are removed, a pair of slippers are offered. the guest is ushered into the great room; the host kisses both cheeks, and sprinkles lemon cologne on their hands. coffee is offered, the host asks if they like it with or without sugar. once coffee is finished, the host prepares tea, which must be simmered 17 minutes, and always is made fresh for a guest (family might drink warmed-up tea). tea comes with sweet and salty pastries; the cup is refilled until the guest insists she or he cannot swallow another drop. when the guest insists she must leave, the host hurries to the kitchen, returning with plates of fresh fruit for everyone. when the fruit is finished, and the guest again insists she must leave, the host brings damp washcloths, and arranges shoes with toes pointed toward the door. they part with kisses, handshakes, and an exchange of invitations for future visits.

oh my. nearly makes you squirm. imagine packing that in your blackberry-buzzed day.

makes you think, though. makes me stop and think.

when was the last time you made coffee for someone who came to your door? when was the last time someone came to your door, dropping in for the sole purpose of pulling up a chair to your table?

maybe, one cup at a time, we can begin to change that…

an ear to your heart

sometimes, great swaths of time can go by and it doesn’t happen. but it happened this year.

happened as i reached for the wadded-up clump that came in a box of other-sized things, all wrapped in the same red-with-white-snowmen.

little hands, you see, unable to wait when the big box arrived, had reached for the same lump and started the ripping, so this particular clump had some of its underthings showing. a brown-paper webbing, in fact, that was meant to keep something safe. but this something had my name on it, penned in silver on a snowflake cut from white paper, so when the ripping began we told it to stop. patiently, temptingly, its underthings showing, the lump it had waited all of these days.

there wasn’t much under the tree with my name on it this year, and for some reason i knew that this something i would want to open off to side, where i alone could drink in whatever it was.

and so, after the rest of the opening hubbub this christmas eve, in between gathering up scraps of paper and ribbons and ladling out bowls of white-hot white chili, i reached under the tree for the lump that was mine. as i unrolled the brown-paper webbing, i uncovered a layer of tissue with the stamp of a store that i love up in maine. stonewall kitchen, i read. and my heart started to skip.

you see, stonewall kitchen, a vast storehouse of jams and jellies and all sorts of dry mixes, also happens to peddle a blue-and-white pottery that makes my heart skip. burleighware, it’s called. comes from england.

the signature pattern is a rich cobalt calico. months and months ago, i splurged on a big fat oversized pitcher, marking the end of the kitchen construction and the start of the second half-century of me, which begins in just over a week.

never in my life have i wanted to collect anything (although there was a spell when the world, it seemed, had decided i was a bovine collector, and thus i seemed to reap cows in every size shape and utility), but once i eyed this burleighware, i thought, uh oh, this could be trouble. it’s blue and white you see, and i am a sucker for that.

cobalt blue sets me to swooning. and this burleighware comes in intricate patterns, each one transferred by hand, over in some charming barn in the countryside of merry ol’ england.

so back to my lump, now revealing its stonewall-kitchen origins. here’s where the magic starts to creep in.

i do not go on and on about “things” that i love. so maybe i might have once mentioned the shop, maybe twice. but someone was listening, someone was looking. paying attention to the thump in my heart that came from the blue calico pitcher, and a small flock of similar ilk that had crept into my kitchen in dribs and in drabs.

that, there, is the magic of christmas, the magic of gifting, the magic of utterly truly giving a gift. for in the end, as my dear becca (blessed art therapist who works wonders with the most troubled of kids) says, all that all of us want is to be heard.

and so, standing there, pulling back the tissue, pulling back the wrap, i found in my hands two tiny pitchers, both in calico blue. how did she know, was the first thing i thought. bless her for listening, bless her for hearing the thumpety-thumpety-thump of my heart.

they sit on my sill now, my white-with-blue sill, in the little thin window that charmed me, that whispered to me, the instant the builders slipped it into its place. there’s a bramble of bushes and a tall cedar fence out that window, but if you look carefully you can imagine a scene from a farm, all rolling and cows. and now, with the english calico pitchers, you might imagine an english farm scene.

but the best part of the window, now that they’re perched, is that someone was listening to the inner tick of my heart.

for a girl who spent years opening things that seemed to belong to someone down the road, around the corner, certainly at some other address, there is nothing so sweet, nothing so humbling, as the great gift of being touched at the tick of your heart.

perhaps it happened to you, perhaps someone heard the tick or the tock of your inner-most heart. if you care to, tell your tale here….

before the pit-pat of little feets

once again, it is wrapped in black. before the black turns to purply, before the streaks of light begin to steal away the blackness of the magic of christmas that i have come to love best: before the pit-pat of little feets tromp down the steps, streak across the hall, shout, it’s christmas.

don’t get me wrong, i love that chapter. it’s just that i love this one better.

it’s just me and the darkness and the twinkling of the tree, and the clock ticking, and the simmering of “smell” on the stove. smell is my old pot that sizzles all through the winter with a great heap of orange peels, and cinnamon sticks and cloves and bay leaves and water that turns syrupy brown what with all the sizzling.

sometimes i make a fire when i know the coast is clear and poor ol’ santa won’t be singeing his bottom, or the soles of his boots.

i’m usually alone with santa’s handiwork. in fact the sight of his plate (up above) tickles me to no end. we have left food for the reindeer, a big mug of milk, and the best of the sweets we have stored in our tins. this year it looks like poor santa had time for just a bite of the shortbread star and one little square of peppermint bark. seems like the reindeer didn’t get much. this might bother poor tedd, but he’ll get on with the business of the day, which in this case looks to be the very thing he wanted, a rock-n-roll guitar. santa should have remembered ear plugs for papa. oh well.

back to the part that is my christmas gift: the shhhhhsh of the morning when it’s me and the tree….

it starts, like it has for nearly a half century of years, with that first semi-conscious awakening, as those brain cells kick into holiday drive and send out a newsflash, it’s christmas morn. and since i’m the mom now i don’t have to hold myself in under the covers, i can unfurl, i can escape, i can dart down the stairs in my jammies, and drink in the magic of the morning.

i plug in the tree, turn up the flame under the smell, haul out the makin’s of my christmas morn cake. the one that will have the windows steaming on the inside, the one that years ago i discovered made me feel like a mama on christmas. baking in the kitchen, while little heads up above still swirled with visions of sugar plums. that’s what moms do, isn’t it?

this morning is all about christmas from the other side. this is all about making christmas my way, stitching it with the great tapestry of sight and sound and smell that stokes my heart, stokes my soul. this is christmas the way i always wanted it to be. this is christmas before the cacophony unfolds. this is christmas hushed.

curled in my red-and-white checked chair, mug in hand, staring into the flames, drinking in the magic of making christmas for others, i inhale a deep gulp. i hold it in my lungs.

this is a moment i wait for all year, and i don’t want to let it slip away soon. each christmas, how it changes; i am the mother these days not just of wee little ones. in fact, just now i hear 13-year-old feets. they make the floorboards creak. they hardly pit-a-pat.

i wonder if, 13 years from now, i will still hear those feet up above. or will he be out in the world, sending me an email some christmas morn, from far on the other side of the globe? saying, dear mama, i hope it’s quiet there. hope the smell isn’t burning. hope you could manage to get down under the tree and plug in the lights. hope you don’t mind christmas alone.

guess i need to go make christmas for the boys i love best. it won’t be christmas forever. only once a year do i get that fluttery truth in my half-asleep brain: it’s christmas, get downstairs. the dark won’t last for long.

here’s my whispering for each of you: may you find whatever you are seeking this christmas, the wisp of a dream come true, a hug from someone who really loves you, the magic of unwrapping something that tells you someone was listening, really listening. if there is good possibility a tear is spilling down your cheek, may there be someone to wipe it, someone who loves you, and maybe that someone is me. all the way from here to there. i know what it is to find a little dark corner on christmas and fill it with light, and call it your own.

quietly, softly, before the volume is cranked: merry blessed christmas. i wish you were right here beside me. we would stare into the fire. we would breathe deep. we would hold on to the miracle of the day before it unfolds.

God bless you each and every one.

eggs, cheese, an ungodly hour

soon as the numbers beside my bed flash 4:01 sunday morn, i’ll be unearthing myself from the covers, stretching a wary toe out into the cold and the black of christmas eve before most of the world gets with the program.

it’ll be time, as it has been for the past four christmas eve mornings, to wake a sleeping boy, now an almost-man child, and head out with our shopping bags and our crates of clementines to a soup kitchen where we’ll be the ones to turn on the lights.

and no doubt i’ll be carrying with me the story of nina.

for two christmases, nina was my compatriot in this pre-dawn drill of cooking the yummiest, oozingest christmas eve breakfast that ever there was.

nina, she took the hard part. a one-time caterer, now a mother of two–two girls under three, mind you–she went to town on her end of the deal. and i’m tellin’ you, the woman could cook.

you see, nina had a heart the size of montana. once, on one hour’s notice, when no one showed to cook sunday-night supper, she turned her little family’s tuna noodle casserole into tuna noodle for 40, and dashed it straight to the soup kitchen.

but the thing about nina was that she was admittedly, emphatically, not a morning person, and certainly not with two little ones who needed to wake up to their mama. so she took what she called the day job, gave me the night job, or at least the still-dark-out start of the shift.

she made the strata, a haute strata, mind you, a huge one, a strata bulging with eggs and imported cheeses, sausage, potatoes and God only knows what. what i know is that when i plated it up to that long line of hungry souls in the chill of christmas eve morn, their eyes how they glistened, their tummies they growled.

my end of the deal has to do with the 4 and the zeroes flashing at the side of my bed, nudging me up out from the covers. has me shuffling down the hall to rustle the sleeping heap i call my firstborn son. it’s been my job to gather all that goes with the strata: the cocoa, the candy canes, the great mound of marshmallows. since it’s christmas eve after all, and the folks we’re feeding are homeless or sheltered in bunks down below from the kitchen, 12 to a room, we go for fresh-squeezed orange juice, serious stand-up coffee doused with industrial-sized shakes from the cinnamon shaker, and sweet breads of cranberry walnut or orange and pecan.

for back-to-back christmas eves it worked just like that. we were a team, in touch through the phone. i’d talk to nina the day before to go over the plan. then, once home, and starting to wilt, i always called nina to give her play-by-play praise from the men and the women who came back for seconds and thirds of her strata.

i never met nina the first year, but i fell in love with her over the phone. and i wasn’t supposed to meet her the second year.

only there in the dark, on a christmas eve that was frost-bitingly cold, as we pulled to the back stairs to unload, i was startled by carlights at 4:40 a.m.. in a dark south evanston alley, you don’t want to be running into just anyone. and since nina always made such a fuss about not being up before dawn, she was the last one i expected to find there under the hood of a great arctic parka. i’d never seen her before, but i knew in an instant who those big brown eyes belonged to. “nina?” i called out. “what in the world are you doing awake?”

“we were running behind,” she started explaining. “we stayed up late doing the tree and never got to deliver the strata, so we just decided to stay up and bring it over now,” she said, laughing. and then barely a blink later, the vision under the fur-trimmed hood was gone in the dark of the too-early morn.

as always, the strata had the hungry and even the not-so-hungry coming back for more. and more. as always, i called later that morning to pass along every last kudo.

that was the last time i talked to wonderful, generous, spontaneous nina.

two months later, late at night, my phone rang. it was my friend harriett who lines up the cooks and the servers for soup kitchen; she was sobbing. in between sobs, i made out the words: “nina died this morning. she just died.”

nina was 37, tops. her little girls, the ones who couldn’t wake up without her, were 3 and 2. her husband, michael, the one who made the pre-dawn strata delivery, he was left alone in an emergency room, bundling together her things. nina had had a headache the day before, and within hours of walking into the ER, the doctors were telling her husband they were so sorry, she’d died. it was an aneurysm that couldn’t be stopped.

i decided then and there on the phone that night that every christmas eve breakfast from then on in would be in the spirit of nina, nina who could not do enough for the world.

i called starbucks, hoping for a gift card for each soup kitchen soul. i went begging at the bread store, asking if i could pick up any unsold bread or sweet rolls to take it up a notch.

i was thumbing through strata recipes, looking for one that might be like nina’s. then my friend harriett called. the strata would be taken care of, she told me. nina’s father and michael, her husband, would make it. they’d drop it off, in true nina style, the night before, but of course.

so last christmas eve, nina’s strata was, once again, the absolute hit of the soup kitchen counter.

and i, the one spooning it out onto plates, couldn’t stop thinking of the love of two men, her father, her husband, side-by-side in nina’s kitchen, carrying on, following nina’s instructions, line by line, layering their grief with the generous heart of the woman who all of us so achingly missed.

here’s a thought: what if i get michael to share nina’s recipe, and all of us whip up a batch of sweet nina’s strata? and then, in the spirit of the woman with the unstoppable heart, we give it away to someone who needs reason to glisten this holiday season.

for the birds…

it is the day of the longest night, and so it seems fitting, it does, that this be the day we remember the birds and the little beasts that dart and that frolic out in the not-so-wild of our leafy backyards.

for years now, feeding the birds for christmas has been one of the quaintest moments on my calendar. alone in my kitchen, or with little hands weighing in from the wings, i plop out the peanut butter, smear on the cones, roll in the seed, tie with a string. sometimes i swear that patron saint of wild things, st. francis, that is, is there too, peeking over my shoulder, leading me on in this sacred creation. feeding the little winged things. making a tree for the birds just out my window.

i have searched high and low, looking and asking, isn’t there a particular one day of the year, somewhere in the world, set aside for this cutting out bread hearts, rolling peanut-butter pine cones, all in the name of returning the birds’ favor? so far, i’ve not found a day, so i am declaring it this one, the day of the long winter’s night. the day of the solstice.

so if you or your little ones might be so inspired, what you need, simply, is this: a stash of pine cones, slices of bread, a jar of good peanut butter, a tinplate of seeds. should you care to make a haute tree, ask your friend the butcher for a paper-wrapped packet of suet, a.k.a. the fat sliced off a good chunk of cow. if you go the suet route, you might want an old pot, for pity the poor soul who warms up his soup in the pot that last melted the suet.

have at it. cookie cutters make fine shapes of the bread, which then can be smeared in pb&j fashion. dunk in your seed pile, thread through a string, and, voila, my friend, you have a treat for your bird. pine cones are a variation on that same winged theme.

to make a suet cake, melt the fat, pour into muffin tins, add seed to thicken the plot, stand back and let harden. you might want to have left a once-knotted string or a raffia in the cup before hardening, or simply thread through after the fact. it’s all very simple, and that is the point.

it is the simple act of loving God’s creatures, saying thanks for the delight they bring to your heart, that makes it so magic.

that, and knowing as you settle your head for the longest night’s sleep that you warmed the belly of the great winged flock. and most likely, the heart of the one who first gave flight to those feathers.

bless you and yours this long winter’s night.

get set, ready, dash…

a page ripped from my to-do list, on this the day when a constellation of holidays converge on one little square of my calendar…

6:02 outa bed, sweetheart.

get oatmeal going, dump in dried fruit.

6:40 get 13-year-old out door to orchestra. our turn for carpool. do not forget toothpick bridge.

treadmill (how ironic).


latkes out of freezer.

teddy up, fed, dressed.

9:30 leave for hockey. don’t forget bag of chocolates for coach.

rent shin and elbow pads.

wedge feets into skates. lace up. squeeze helmet on head. let loose.

10:00 tedd on ice. re-make grocery list. refine to-dos. call editor.

10:45 strip sweaty hockey player of pads, skates, helmet.

look one more store for latke mix, darn it.

pick up gift cards for junior high teachers.

stop for two loaves holiday bread.

make fruit salad for kwanzaa at kindergarten.

make stewed apples for hanukkah.

finish setting table for hanukkah dinner tonight. don’t forget to let tedd put candles in menorah.

don’t forget to feed tedd.

12:30 drop tedd at school.

try again to file expense report. call computer help desk.

write bike accident essay.

2:30 kwanzaa at kindergarten. don’t forget yam chips, fruit salad, cups, napkins, forks, books. and notecards.

3:15 pick up tedd from school.

3:30 go to shake-shake at physical therapy.

4:10 pick up jelly donuts for hanukkah.

4:30 grate potatoes for latkes.

slice and reheat brisket.

salad ready to go.

check will & homework.

get little christmasy things off coffee table–toddler is coming.

6:30 hanukkah dinner for 12, at long last. hallelujah.

9ish clean up.

tedd to bed.

will to bed.

write teacher christmas letters. stuff gift cards inside.

line-up all gifts for delivery thurs.

make to-do list for thurs.

make fat bowl of popcorn.

do nothing.

don’t even begin to think about christmas eve, and what it’ll take to get there….

because i believe it’s therapeutic to share the madness, feel free to lay your to-do list on the table. i’ve always thought a year’s collected to-do lists, or the amalgamated lists of so many busy people, would make for one fascinating anthropological analysis…we begin here….

teachers’ gifts, a love letter

this is to all teachers everywhere. even if you never taught my children, i thank you. i thank you for being such a dreamer that you dare to stand up in front of a room of potentially devilish children, day in and day out, and be so bold as to plant seeds in their heads that will sprout maybe in a minute or two, maybe a year from now, maybe when they are very, very old and lying on their last bedsheet.

the little hand you see up above is the hand of a little boy, a kindergartener, drawing a picture for his teacher for christmas. he just finished the rays on the sunshine. now he is making the wheels on the old station wagon that drives him to school every day, where he meets his teacher at the curb. he thought she would want a picture of him waving from the back seat of the station wagon. he thought that would make her happy for christmas.

what you can’t tell from the picture is that three months ago he couldn’t hold a pencil, let alone hold it in that textbook “pinch,” just the way mrs. nelson taught him. three months ago that little boy was one of the only kids in his class who couldn’t make a pencil do anything, except wiggle where he didn’t want it to wiggle. three months ago the pediatrician called to tell me the boy “flunked” his fine-motor test, and recommended we take him to the specialists “for sensory-integration evaluation.”

his teacher, a master of many, many years, said, basically, “phoooey!” instead, she backed off the pushing of a pencil. she had him playing with wooden shapes, feeling the curve of a “c” or an “o.” making the straight line of a “t” stand tall and proud.

as the weeks have unspooled, so has the little boy and his grip on his no. 2 lead. these days, he can’t stop. he crouches down on the floor. pinches just so. and unleashes whole universes, dictating the story with every less-wiggly line.

and so, this christmas, he is drawing for his teachers. that’s what teachers do: they sprinkle seeds. they tend their seedlings tenderly. they stand back. let light and air in. keep watering, even when the seed is unfurling deep underground, where no one can see. they don’t abandon their plot. one day, a small green peep appears. and then, as if someone hit the fast-forward, all the unfurling and reaching for the heavens goes ga-ga. a little boy with a pencil can’t stop. sunshine has rays. cats, they sport whiskers. ears even sprout from the odd pilgrim head. the flower, it blooms.

and so in a world where grownups everywhere are scrambling to get mugs and kitchen towels and cards for free coffee, wrapping and marking one for each teacher, i send this: thank you for teaching a little boy to pinch, to not be afraid to have at the paper. thank you for saying “phooey” in the face of the experts. thank you for making a children’s garden so full of delight, so full of laughter that when a little boy puts his head to his pillow, he sighs, and he says, his last words of the day, “i love mrs. nelson. she’s my dream come true.”

to all teachers everywhere, thank you…

feel free, friends, to tell your tale of a teacherly gift…

a candle for georgie…

phone rang a little while ago. asking for more than a prayer. there’s a little guy, his name is georgie, he’s 9. he is fighting for his life tonight. his mama, a saint among us, is an old dear friend of mine. she’s at his side at children’s memorial as i type. she and his papa, another saint, are keeping watch. georgie is an angel, surrounded by saints. he’s been struggling his whole life long. most recently, most unfairly. if you kneel down tonight, whisper his name in your prayers. if you don’t kneel, please whisper his name anyway. they could use a flicker of light in their darkness.