Getting It Right

Years ago, when we were a young family, my husband proposed putting our name on the mailbox to be like the others in the neighborhood. You’d see “The Smith’s” or “The Jones’s.” We decided that the possessive stood for their home, but I argued that if there were more of us than one, the apostrophe needed to be after the s. He finally bowed to my teacher judgement, but couldn’t stand the look of it once it was up. He decided to leave the apostrophe off. Imagine that. Plural, not possessive. Now every mailbox since has just displayed our house number.

It’s a curse really. In lots of occupations, blissful ignorance would be fine. Signs and ads purposefully make mistakes as plays on words, but some of them are so mangled it’s painful. I’m not so bold as to tell store owners to fix their signs, but I want to.

I think it’s because of the family I grew up in. When we’re together we have far reaching discussions about science, politics, theatre, family history and the news. Something invariably comes up that we either don’t know or disagree on and the automatic response is to look it up.

When I finally relented and got a smart phone, I transferred that habit. Now when anything comes up among friends, I say, “I’ll look it up.” I think I might be approaching eyeroll status.

I checked out a friend’s new website recently and praised its professional appearance, before pointing out the typo on the home page. Not sure if it was appreciated, but if it were me, I’d want to know.

This is not to say that I don’t make mistakes. Of course I do. I second guess my commas all the time. Microsoft Spelling Grammar Check wants another one in this paragraph, but I’m holding fast.

I try my best to proofread, but even then, something occasionally slips through. If you happen to see a typo, please point it out. Finding them much later is painful.

I’m most likely to misspell or misuse when I text message quickly. Between autocorrect and my clumsy fingers, some zingers come out. If it happens to be a homophone, as in “I here you,” my daughter will text-gasp, “Mom! Read what you just said!” The trouble with being right so often is the glee people express when you happen to be wrong.

I’m not the only one with this affliction. Just the other day I read a rant about the unnecessary apostrophes on Christmas cards. It was shared on Facebook by a retired teacher with the caption, “PLEASE READ.” It’s tough being right. I know she feels my pain.

The more creative among us try to reach out with humor, like the authors of Eats, Shoots and Leaves. In the end though, only the people who know the correct punctuation really understand the humor.

So if you are the kind of person who makes alot of mistakes and thinks its alright, say the kind of person who sees nothing wrong with this sentence, take pity on those of us who are afflicted. Look it up!

*Nope, can’t stand it. A lot is two words and all right should be even if some places find one word acceptable. Its is the possessive. It’s is short for it is. Phew! Now I feel better.

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Socks and Gloves

I’ve been celebrating my first blogging anniversary by sharing my favorite posts. This was first posted January 18, 2017

We pulled into the library parking lot last Saturday morning.

As we got out of her CRV, I asked my friend, D., “How did you start doing this?”

“I saw it on the Internet,” she said. “The first time we were going to tie hats and gloves to poles around downtown, but people came from everywhere and we didn’t have time to tie them. So now I just bring a bag.”

She pulled a large black tote bag from the back of her car and locked it. Then we slowly walked across the lot toward three men who were waiting next to the parking lot, outside the church where they would soon serve lunch.

A tall heavy-set white guy with a beard stood on the curb smoking. Another smaller white man and a black man about the same height, all around forty, leaned against the brick wall. All were dressed in jeans, winter jackets zipped tight against the cold, hats pulled over their ears.

My friend called, “Hello.”

Smoking man called back, “Hello, how are you?”

“Good,” D. said. “I have some hats and gloves here. Is there anything you need?”

She slipped a strap off her shoulder to show him what was in the bag.

“Take whatever you want.”

Smoking man showed us a hole in one finger of his gloves and selected a stretchy pair of gloves to layer over them. Once the other guys saw what she had, one approached and took a pair of gloves.

Both men called, “Thank you!” as we moved away.

“Could you use a pair?” my friend asked the remaining guy.

“No, I’m good,” the man said without moving.

Smoking guy tried to get us to stay to chat, with a story about his brother getting hit by lightning and blown apart. We made sympathetic noises, but went on our way.

We wandered down the sidewalk toward the library and a group of about ten people standing near the entrance. Again my friend called out a greeting and approached the first person who answered.

A slender young man with prominent cheek bones peered into the bag.

“Looks like mostly girly things,” he said.

“Dig down,” D. said. “There are some guy things down in there.”

“Hey, you have socks,” he said. “Can I have a pair?”

“Sure,” she said.

“Thank YOU! I can really use these.”

Once the other guys heard she had socks, several stepped forward and took a pair. A few took gloves. All thanked us. No one took more than one or two items.

“Could you use something?” I asked a young woman in a wheelchair, with various bags strapped to it.

“No thanks,” she said. “I just need my dad to pick me up. Dad, where are you!”

Meanwhile D. was talking to Slender Guy again. He asked if his girl friend could have something.

“Of course,” she said.

We headed into the library.

“Now we walk around the outside wall,” D. said.

As we walked around we nodded and smiled at anyone who made eye contact. Looking around I saw an older man sitting reading on a tablet, a girl reading with someone who could be her grandma, a few scattered people searching the shelves. A young woman, brown hair pulled back in a pony tail, came out of a side room to greet us. She was taking a pair of gloves when Slender Guy walked up.

“Oh, is this your girlfriend?” D. asked.

Slender Guy nodded shyly and they walked off holding hands. “Thanks!” they called back.

We came around a corner to a seating area with orange vinyl chairs and a couch. Five guys, anywhere from twenty to sixty, were sitting around. All the men were still wrapped up tight, hats on, coats zipped. A couple had small bags nearby. When D. greeted them, they seemed to know why she was there.  A man about sixty with his back to the window spoke up first, but the others soon accepted our invitation.  After every pair of socks, each one looked my friend in the eye and said, “Thank you.” The manner was casual, but the thanks was sincere.

We continued around, stopping once or twice more before heading outside.

“So socks is the biggest need?” I asked.

“Yes, socks is big, but it all depends on the day. I have coats in the back of the car too, and some shoes. You never know.”

“Are there mostly men?”

“No, there’s usually more of a mix. A couple of weeks ago there were a lot of kids,” D. said.

I thought about the people standing in the cold for a meal, grateful for a single pair of socks, taking no more than they absolutely needed. I thought about children with cold hands and parents who wanted to but couldn’t give their kids what they need. I thought about the smiles and the thank yous for something so small.

As we got in the car, I turned to D.

“Next week,” I said, “I want to come back.”

Marketing

Recently I strolled through the Saturday Market in Portland, Oregon, dodging crowds and window-shopping my way along the rows of booths. I passed a whirl of color. Shades of brown marked designer cutting boards. Prints and paintings broadcast a rainbow of hues. Jewelry sparkled in silver, bronze and gold. Clothing was displayed in brilliant azure, scarlet, auburn, and emerald green. But the glass! There were bowls, vases, delicate pendants and full stained-glass windows that glowed technicolor in the sun. One vendor hung long brass spirals from a frame on the back of his truck, with a blown glass ball in each that seemed to hold a cloud of colored smoke. If it could have survived my flight home, I wouldn’t even have asked the price.

Except for the unending stream of people, it felt more like a visit to a special museum than a shopping trip. There were kitschy souvenirs too, as well as lotions, oils, and food carts, but so much of what I saw was pure art.

As I walked, I wondered about the artists themselves. Did they make a living at this? Did they have day jobs and pursue their dreams in stolen moments? A few worked at their craft while they waited for customers, but most sat looking out at the crowds, staring down at their phones, or rearranging their creations.

In this age of automation and mass production, I admire the artisans that create these works of art and then wait, as a world of people whirl past their wares. I envy that artistic talent, but writing is a talent, right?

I have a friend that I occasionally show my work to. She reads, then looks up at me with a flattering expression of wonder. “Why aren’t you a writer?”

While I think of myself as a writer who blogs, I know what she’s trying to say. She wonders why writing isn’t how I make my living.

Walking through the Saturday Market, I found an answer for her. Being talented among your peers isn’t the same as standing out among the millions who write every day. But even if your genius is unmatched, writing as creating is only one piece of the puzzle. The other piece is selling your wares. The author equivalent of sitting outside every weekend waiting for customers is doing research, finding your market and maybe an agent, composing queries, sending manuscripts and not hearing for weeks or months whether anyone even read past the first page, and, if you do make a sale, promoting it endlessly on social media.

I like to think I’m a writer, but I’m not fond of sales. I’ll never say never. But in the meantime, I decide when and what I write. My blog gives me the joy without the pain. And you, dear reader, are welcome to window-shop whenever you like.

Reflection

A couple of weeks ago, I went swimsuit shopping. Aside from the horrible dressing room lighting, I wasn’t worried. I planned to get a similar one to my old suit, which looked like a tank top and shorts.

But somehow all the similar suits bared some parts and squeezed others, till all I saw were the faults in my body.

Around this time, my family sent each other photos from a recent family reunion. One picture showed me from the back, sitting on a bench looking over my shoulder. My eye was drawn to the gap between my shirt and shorts, my width on the bench, the odd way my shirt bunched under my arm. I sighed.

I have two lovely adult daughters. In photos, my visually artistic daughter insists on multiple takes, planning each beautiful picture’s composition, pose and background. On the other hand, my high-spirited extrovert wants photos that are authentic and spontaneous. Often her sense of humor comes through in the faces she makes and the poses she strikes.

What do I want photos to say about me?

I have an early memory of being a small child sitting on my grandmother’s lap. I played with the flap of wrinkled skin at the back of her upper arm. I traced the veins on her hands and wiggled her wedding ring, loose on her finger below her larger knuckle. I remember these “faults” with the memory of a child. There was no judgement. These were simply facets of my beloved grandmother.

What I want in photos is to smile like a woman satisfied with herself and life. I want to love my body like a future grandchild. I appreciate my brain that still holds memory, my legs that still propel me forward, my hands that hold the ones I love and record these thoughts. I looked back at the photo. What I missed the first time was my smile. I looked relaxed and happy to be with people I love.

Before I left the store, I took one more suit to the changing room. This one was a one-piece with a skirt. Putting it on, it looked almost like a short sundress, and, miracle of miracles, I still had a waist. I smiled at my reflection. Sold!

(slightly edited)

Gallons

The first time I gave blood, I was with my teen-aged brother.

Once the nurse hooked us up and blood was flowing, I sat and relaxed. Nothing to it.

Not so much for my skinny brother. He looked pale and said he felt queasy. The nurse adjusted his cot so he could lie down.

Now this was my little brother who had tried to gross me out for years. So being a kindly sister, I tried to distract him from feeling bad by talking. I talked about the color of the blood, the tubing, and how fast the bag was filling up.

The nurse glared at me and moved between us. Honestly, I wasn’t making it worse.

Fast forward a few decades to last weekend, when we were both at a family reunion.

My sister noticed the Red Cross T-shirt my brother was wearing. “How many gallons are you up to now?”

“I just got my seven-gallon pin.” Now middle-aged and no longer skinny, donating is no problem for him.

I’ve been donating blood occasionally for years. But I’m nowhere near seven gallons. I’m going to a blood drive today. I have some catching up to do.

Blood is always needed. To find a drive near you, go to http://www.redcrossblood.org/

Lockdown

The call comes in over the intercom.

“Lockdown, lockdown.  This is a hard lockdown.”

Today it’s just a drill. I pray we never have to use all our practice for the real thing.

If you were a child in the 1950s and early ‘60s, you may remember fire drills, tornado drills, and air raid drills, hiding under your desk. The air raid drills, that could never have protected anyone from an atomic bomb, have gone by the wayside. Today’s students practice a safe escape in case of fire, taking shelter in case of tornado, and evacuating the building in case of gas leak, attack, or another emergency. We also teach students what to do if someone comes into our building with the intent to shoot everyone there.

We do not tell elementary students that someone with a gun could come into our school. I introduce the idea of the drill this way.

“Boys and girls, you know how we practice fire drills even though our school has never had a fire? And we practice tornado drills even though we’ve never been hit by a tornado? Next week we’re going to practice another kind of drill. In this one, we’re going to practice what we would do if someone bad came into our building. This has never happened and I don’t think it ever will, but we’re going to practice just in case.”

We go over procedures, pretending that I’m the shepherd and the big, bad wolf is coming. But my third graders know the difference. They imagine details far worse than any I provide. I think it says something about our culture of violence that most of my little boys promise to beat up any bad man who would come in.

I won’t give you the details of the drill or procedures. No point in advertising. If you have children in school in the U.S., ask them. What they say may surprise you.

The FBI says, “Odds are one in 1 million that a student will die at school as a result of a violent act.”

For the parents at Sandy Hook, that statistic can provide no comfort.

The unfortunate reality is that no amount of drill practice can prevent a shooting. The best we can do by teaching these skills is to minimize the number of casualties. As a police officer assisting with one of our drills told me, the shooter’s primary target will be shot.

But our state requires the drills, as well as the sign at the front door. It warns that no guns are allowed in our building, as though that will stop an individual with intent. Just as in so many other areas of crime prevention, we put our emphasis on preparing potential victims, rather than using proactive prevention, a multi-faceted approach.

There is no single cause for school shootings. But something I know after more than thirty years of teaching is that violent people are unhappy people. Certainly, caring and awareness are essential first steps.

People often say that shooters are people who have been bullied and this is how they are striking back. This can be true, but it can also be just the perception of being treated unfairly that provides the “reason” for the attack. Feelings of alienation can be the cause of outward violence, but also of self-harm. We need to reach out and always be kind.

One theory often proposed is that school shootings are caused by mental illness. It’s true that our country has repeatedly failed in dealing with mental illness. We’ve gone from jails to horrific psychiatric institutions, then back to prison and homelessness. Our funding, facilities, and public attitude toward mental illness have progressed very little since the 1800s. According to a Mother Jones timeline, the ratio of psychiatric beds to population today is the same as it was in the 1850s.

So, does mental illness cause attacks? Sometimes, yes, but the reality is that mentally ill people are more often victims than perpetrators of violence. The New York Times and This American Life tell a frightening story that partially resulted from the increase in armed security guards in hospitals. More guns are clearly not the answer for mental illness.

Sandy Hook parents have banded together to provide free information on prevention. They want you to know the signs. One is, “Exhibiting excessive over-reactions or aggressive behavior for a seemingly minor reason can signal someone who cannot self-regulate their emotions or control their anger.”

Reading this rings bells for me. A major issue in education today is working with children of trauma. Paul Tough in The Atlantic writes about the results of “severe and chronic stress in childhood” which results in that hair-trigger fight-or-flight response. Poverty is strongly correlated with alcoholism, family instability, violence and more. Sadly, over 50% of students in schools today are children of poverty, most of whom are the working poor. We must address income disparity, but children also suffer trauma in wealthier communities. Issues such as domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual abuse sadly happen to children everywhere. Programs for partners and children from the CDC can be a first step.

Then there is the smoking gun. Critics would say that guns don’t kill, people kill. True, but the reality is that automatic weapons significantly increase the number of people someone can kill. School shootings are largely an American gun-culture phenomenon, as shown on this annotated list detailing events since before the Revolutionary War. In time, weapons have increased in number and efficiency. We need screening, monitoring, and restricted access for youth and those with mental illness.

We must act. To reach out to those on the outside. To compassionately serve those with mental illness. To combat sources of childhood trauma. To control the availability of firearms for those who cannot be trusted to use them safely. Until then, we will continue to read the headline, “Another School Shooting.”

Whose school will be next?

 

 

Transformation

Last Saturday my sister and I each drove from our homes, to a town we’d never been to before, to spend the afternoon together. We ate lunch at a restaurant called Spoons and walked along the two block downtown wandering in and out of shops.

In an old-school music shop, the clerk greeted us and asked how we were.

“Good,” we answered. “How are you?”

“Great!” he said. “I’m doing what I love.”

I recognized a man who wanted to tell a story, so of course I asked. After “retiring,” he looked around his house at what he had collected all his life. He considered what his kids would do with the three rooms of albums he had lovingly acquired and knew they would just want to sell them. So, he opened the shop. Now he gets to talk about music all day long and sells his albums online across the country.

My sister is retired herself, from a career in tech. Just a few months in, she is still feeling her way. She thought she’d see if a community orchestra could use a flute player, but when there was a waiting list for flutes, she agreed to play the bass drum. Now my sister is just an inch taller than short little me and, while she clearly reads music, has never played percussion. She says it’s a little nerve-racking to lose your place in the long periods between her parts. I mean, it’s not like you could hide the boom of a bass drum coming in at the wrong time. Still, it must be exhilarating to get it right.

She shared a story from The Moth with me.  Cynthia Riggs had a degree in marine biology and a career as a boat captain. She reinvented herself once to join her mother in running a bed and breakfast, then again to become a mystery writer at age 70. Her life took a further turn with a late-in-life love story told here, but that’s another tale.

I have a good friend who retired early from teaching when the stress became too much. She went back to school to become a massage therapist. These days she massages two days a week, as well as being an elf at Christmas and the Easter Bunny in the spring at a sporting goods store. In the summer, she adds on ushering at baseball games. She says she’s having fun with it all and she loves being appreciated everywhere she works.

As I get closer to the point where I might want to retire myself, I’m finding that it’s more of a beginning than an end. Not quite the open options of when we were eighteen, but certainly full of possibility.

After our shopping, my sister and I drove around looking for a park to stroll through. As happens in small towns, a wrong turn led us out of town, down winding country roads. We stopped at a canal and took a walk down the trail, enjoying the sunshine.

You never know what you’ll find at the next turn in the road.

IMG_1827

 

Community

I have written enough about cities and travel, that you might think a small-town life is not for me. I spent a couple of hours yesterday going door-to-door in support of a candidate for school board.* Everything I love about small towns was on display.

As my area to canvas I chose two streets just down from the school where I teach. No one answered at the first few houses. I hoped the pamphlets I stuck in their doors wouldn’t blow away.

The next door was opened by a young man. I told him why I was there and offered him a leaflet. He admitted he didn’t know about the upcoming election and he was new to town. Although I knew I should jump into the merits of my candidate, I switched hats.

“Do you have kids?” I asked.

He smiled. “We have a two-year-old daughter.”

“In a few years when she’s ready, there’s a great school just down the street. I’m a teacher there,” I said. “But today I’m a private citizen.”

I summed up my concerns for the election and why he should vote for my guy. He asked a few questions and nodded along.

Several more doors opened enough for a smile and to take a pamphlet, but not long enough for conversation.

At one house, a small child peaked out the window. Then I heard him yelling, “Mom!”

A few minutes later, a woman came to the door in a bathrobe. I felt bad that I disturbed her shower. She took the flyer and moved to shut the door. I thanked her and turned away. I was almost to the next house, when she leaned back out and called to me.

“Are you for A.?” she asked.

“Yes!” I called back.

“Sorry about that,” she said, meaning being abrupt, “I’m voting for him!”

“No problem!” I said. “Thanks!”

Other doors were opened by a business owner with a fussy dog, and in another block, the police chief. I know them and have had each of their sons in class, so we exchanged pleasantries. They took the flyers I offered, but we didn’t discuss the election further. They may or may not agree with me, but it’s probably best that they don’t publicly take sides.

The race is contested, with several open seats, and feelings are running high on all sides. I didn’t stop at houses that already had three signs in the yard. For most people who answered, I didn’t know which way they will vote. A few told me that they will vote for my candidate. No one yelled at me or slammed the door in my face. Most just accepted the pamphlet. Small towns, at least in the Midwest, are nothing if not civil. Once the election is over, we may agree or gripe about the decisions the winners make, but we’ll bide our time and wait for the next election. Once the ballots are counted, we still need to get along.

An older woman leaned down to manage her rambunctious dog, never looking as though she was in a hurry to get rid of me.

The woman who came to the next door is the parent of one of last year’s students. I know her political views are far different from mine, but she smiled at me warmly and asked how I am.

Around the next corner, two parents worked in their yard, while their little kids played around them. I approached the wife, who was closest to the street. She took the flyer and told me she knew who she would vote for, but didn’t say who. Probably not a good sign, but I just thanked her and walked away.

As the weather warmed up, I dumped my jacket in my car and kept going. More and more people headed out for a walk, run or bike ride. I greeted a few walkers and offered them my words.

I met some door-to-door competition, coming from the other direction. Two women were proselytizing. I expected to see Bibles in their hands, but instead I saw tablets. Technology has reached the churches too. I was careful not to dislodge their prayer cards when I stuck my flyers in the doors and hoped they did the same for me.

In another block, I heard a voice calling my name from above. “Mrs. S! Mrs. S! I’ll come down and let you in!”

As I walked up to the door, my student opened it, smiling. “I’ll get my mom,” he said and ran away.

“Mrs. S is here!”

His mom invited me in and sent him off to finish getting ready for soccer. We chatted for a moment, but I could see they were busy, so I headed out.

I take great pains to teach social studies without kids ever guessing my political opinions. But I love that when I talk to the kids about voting and how our government works, this one will know I practice what I preach.

After a couple of hours, I called it quits and drove over to my candidate’s house to drop off the remaining flyers. A friend saw my car and pulled over to chat. Next time we’ll see each other on purpose.

And that’s what small towns are. Families and single people. Businesses, government and churches. Differences of opinion, but mostly civil discourse. Your political opponent may need your purchases to keep her business going, and you might go to the same church. A police officer may pull you over for speeding, but will have the same butterflies that every parent has when they come to a parent-teacher conference. Your kid’s teacher may be holding mini conferences in an aisle at the grocery store. You must be careful who you complain to about anyone, because you never know who is related. Like a large family, people disagree and get along.

Community.

 

*If you’re local, I’ll be happy to tell you who I was campaigning for and why.

Eating Crow

Bias is a funny thing. Sometimes it’s glaring, and other times we are blind.

One late spring day, my husband and I stopped for lunch at a popular family restaurant in a nearby town. The place was packed so we sat down in their U-shaped waiting area, taking a seat against the far wall. It was a typical Midwest small town crowd: white people, diverse only by age, whose families had lived here for generations.

To my right the nearest couple was somewhere about 80. Around the corner to my left was a family of five. The dad, mom, and teenage daughters looked typical of the area. The adult son was the one that caught my eye. Dressed simply in a T-shirt and jeans, his other adornments stood out. He had tattooed sleeves and multiple piercings, including a tongue stud and gauged ears.

My first thought was, “Ow, that must have hurt. Why do that?”

I kept my face neutral and tried not to stare.

About then, the elderly woman to my right, sitting directly across from the son, spoke to him.

Looking him in the eye, she asked, “Didn’t that hurt?”

His family, a bit stunned, paused in their conversation. I mentally shrunk down a bit, embarrassed that she would speak my thought.

The young man returned her gaze and said, “A bit, but not too bad.”

She wasn’t done. “Why would you do something like that to yourself?”

He smiled at her, still speaking in an even tone. “I like it.”

“Don’t you worry about what people will think of you?” she asked.

Still calm, he answered, “What do you think people think of me?”

“You’ll never get a job looking like that.”

At this, the young man’s dad spoke up. He turned to the woman angrily and said, “My son is a fine young man. He has a good job and makes a good living. What he does and how he looks are none of your business.”

“I didn’t mean anything by it,” the old woman said.

We settled into an uncomfortable silence for a minute or two before conversations began again around us. Soon the elderly couple were seated to eat, and others moved on to their meals, including us.

I’m embarrassed telling this, a story of how I judged a person by his appearance. I want to think of myself as someone who is careful not to have biases, who treats everyone equally. But clearly, I’m a mere mortal. We all have biases.

You don’t?

Let’s try this again. What if…

The young man who caught my eye was a young black man.

The young man was Asian, Latino, East Indian or any other race or nationality that doesn’t match your own.

There was an old man with a walker, slowing you down.

The young man held another man’s hand.

A man in a wheelchair blocked your way.

A man with cerebral palsy sat to your left.

A young man with Down syndrome spoke to you.

To your left was an attractive young woman with tattoos.

The woman was wearing a hijab.

The woman was heavy or sloppily dressed or unattractive.

The woman was middle aged with graying hair.

Or what if the woman to my right commenting on the piercings was young and attractive? Would her comments have sounded the same?

Would it be different if the old woman’s husband spoke, instead of her?

This is by no means an exhaustive list. But if we pause and check our reactions, it’s likely that we can identify at least one situation where we feel uncomfortable just because we are confronted with someone who is not like us. This is a natural human reaction. But if we can be honest about this, we can also recognize we are wrong.

After lunch, my husband headed out to the car while I stopped at the restrooms. I passed the young man as I went in. I smiled and nodded at him.

Coming out, I heard two middle-aged men talking in the corridor.

“Did you see that freak with the piercings?” one asked.

“Could you believe it?” the other answered.

As I walked past I said, “Actually I heard him talking. Seemed very polite. I think he’s a really nice guy.”

Then I went on my way.

I welcome constructive criticism.

Double Date

I get a late start. Usually, this is a project for just after the new year. I take the 2016 calendar off the wall and grab the new one.

There was a time when I needed one of those calendars that had a column for every member of the family because the typical little boxes couldn’t fit everything we had to keep track of. I don’t use the wall calendar for much of anything anymore. These days my work life is on Google, while my home life is saved to my phone. But every year we get a new calendar and I copy all the important birthdays and anniversaries from the old one to the new one.

Now here we are nearing the end of February. I begin with the back-to-back birthdays of two of my best friends from high school. I sigh. Maybe next year I’ll remember to call.

Some dates are written on the calendar. Others are just written on my heart. We are coming up on the date that my dad, marching through a field during World War II, was suddenly blown up in the air. He woke up to find one leg was broken, while the other was partially gone.

It was Dad’s decision that he and my mom would marry on that same date, so he’d have something happy to remember that day.

Now on to March. My friend’s and our nephew’s birthdays go on the calendar, but the date that catches in my memory is my mother’s birthday. Mom was born on Easter, but her birthday landed again on Easter only once in her lifetime.  I remember asking her if she was up to celebrating her birthday the year after my father suddenly died on her fiftieth birthday. She was.

“It was my birthday a long time before he died,” she said.

On to April, where I write down our niece’s birthday. I remember my granddad’s birthday that month and that Mom died on Earth Day.

I write my sister-in-law’s birthday in May, skip writing my own, but stop to think that my cousin’s birthday is the same day as mine.

In June I write my father-in-law’s birthday and remember that my dad’s birthday was earlier the same month.

Turning to July, I hesitate over the two friends’ birthdays that I always confuse, being on either side of the 4th of July. I’m pretty sure that I’m writing them down correctly.

Our anniversary in August is the same date that my grandparents were married. I remember when we were picking a date, choosing their day as a good omen since they had been married almost sixty years.

Our nephew’s birthday stands out in August, before the onslaught of family birthdays in September and October. There are my daughter’s birthdays, nine days apart, but separated by different months and a few years. I write my brother’s and my mother-in-law’s birthdays in September, remembering my grandmother’s birthday as well.

In October I realize we’re missing one brother-in-law’s birthday. I text my mother-in-law for the date, grateful that I still have parents-by-marriage to ask.

My sister-in-law’s birthday is all alone in November, but followed by a slew in December, including my husband, my sister, another brother. Poor December babies, their birthdays always get mixed up with other holidays.

As I’m getting the last dates on the calendar, I realize I’m grateful to be in 2017. I’d like to go back to visit some years past, but not others, and not to live. I carry my daughters’ childhood years, but wouldn’t want to give up the adults they’ve become to get them back. I miss my loved ones who are gone, but I’m content to live right here in the present, feeling richer for the past I carry with me.