Kelly 

Sometimes, 

Most times, 

When I crawl into bed, 

Left foot aching, heel cracked, 

I think about my first hour class 

That took place fourteen and one half hours earlier, but 

Feels like weeks earlier, and I close my eyes and catch glimpses of the in between … 

Ringing bells and volleyball whistles, pink hall passes and panic attacks, quick glances at my phone, Instagram hearts from strangers, and I try to count all of the times that I heard a student call my name 

Ms. Frederick, Ms. Frederick, Ms. Frederick, Ms. Frederick, Fred 

All of the times I heard my children utter Mom. Mommy. Mom. MO-OM. Mother/eye roll 

And as I start to fade into sleep, so fleeting and sparse, I wonder if I am spending my minutes the way I was destined to. 

Or if perhaps there are voices shouting Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, but I am just to pre-occupied  to hear the chants of my own longing, or if they will even still be chanting once all of the chaos clears. 

Will they have given up on me? Lost their patience? Find a new girl? Someone who doesn’t have frizzy hair and heat rash? 

Before dreaming (I dreamt I asked a boy to ride horses with me and my horse collapsed from a thyroid condition) I try to stop the world from spinning just long enough to hear my own soul whisper my name. 

Kelly. 

Just to know I am still in there,

Patiently hibernating, barely a pulse, waiting and still, breathing just the same. 

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Six it Is

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Six is the year little boys seem to turn into kids. Look at that little misplaced tooth… how can one grin contain so much innocence and sneakiness at once? Happy Birthday, Mighty Mighty Quinn. 48 lbs. later (for both of us).

September 3rd is a terrible time of year to have a birthday if your mom is a teacher, even if it does fall on a Saturday.  You walked out of school for the weekend with an “It’s my birthday” sticker on your sweatshirt, a nudge of a reminder to me that I didn’t visit the classroom to watch you walk around the sun. I didn’t see your peers sing to you or share photos of you or answer questions like, “Does Quinn have any pets?” from children sitting like pretzels in a circle. You didn’t seem to mind and I have decided not to let the guilt of that even enter my energy field. The joy of being child number four is that you don’t seem to mind and neither do I.

We celebrated last week, while Luke was still home. I made the mistake of looking on Pinterest for ideas. Welcome to your last birthday in which I will roll out starbursts to make dog collars. It was a rookie mistake and I should have known better. I haven’t driven myself that crazy since Lizzie was six a decade ago and a rolled up wee marshmallows to mimc sheep fur for Nursery Rhyme Character Day.

Last night at Lizzie’s volleyball game, I saw one of our freshman wearing a shirt that read “Class of 2020,” and I swear to you that I almost ripped it right off her. 2020! Are you kidding me? All of the kids (version one) will be moved out and Luke will even be done with college and you, my dear, (version two) will be ten. Everyone needs to slow the f down (except for the part where we are broke all of the time and I scour the freezer for an old corndog to feed you until payday … feel free, Gods, to fast forward to the money part). So even though it is 12:21AM on what was officially my first full day of classes, I just wanted to pause for a brief moment on your big day to tell you about your six-year-old-self.

Usually you wear a raccoon Davy Crocket hat to school. Men in their sixties stop us in the coffee shop to pat you on the head and say, “I had one of those when I was a kid.” For good or for bad, no one else your own age says that. Last week, you paired it with Luke’s old superman socks (went past your knees), athletic shorts, and a sweater. I told you that you looked ridiculous, but then Luke said, “You don’t have to wear it, so what do you care?” So for you went to kindergarten, happy as a clam and no worse for the wear when you returned home. The only thing I have vetoed is you wearing a heavy wool reindeer Christmas sweater on a ninety degree day in August. You replied to my veto with, “BUT I HAVEN’T WORN THAT IN AGES!”

You have lost your first tooth. You tell me that your favorite color gummy bears are the colors of the window and of bubbles (“is that color called blank?”). You cannot sit still at volleyball games and when they sing the national anthem, you sing along with it really loudly because you just learned that song at school. You are still the biggest lover of dogs and of all things stuffed I have ever met. Our house has more stuffed animals in it than it does utensils. I promised to take you to Build-a-Bear with Tegan and you have already told me you want to get a hyena (they stock hyenas?). You are the most joyful, loving, enthusiastic, sensitive boy in all of the land. You are my sidekick and my shadow, and, like always, “my cupcake and my earthquake.”

Your actual birthday was one of the worst days of my life. We both almost died. Just made it, you and I. Every day since then though, kid, have been the best. There is BQ and AQ (before Quinn and after) and all I can tell you for certain is that the wonder and love that you have brought into all of our lives makes BQ feel incomplete, a semi-circle. I always liked even numbers better anyway. Love you, Q. Infinitely.

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Fifteen, waiting for Twenty-Five

Dear William,

Technically, you aren’t fifteen until 2:44pm today, significant in that you were born exactly sixteen minutes before the doctors were going to throw in the towel and perform a c-section. I tell you this every birthday: I believe you were waiting for the stars to turn from Cancer to Leo, which you did they did with three minutes to spare, but what I love about you most is that you have the best traits of both signs. Happy birthday to my nurturing Cancer and mighty Leo. Fifteen.

You have grown about four thousand inches this summer, towering over me now… still a pup though, lanky with giant paws. A Great Dane in the making. Fourteen was a beast of a year (you were hit by a car, for crying out loud) and I am betting you are excited to move on. I have always loved your birthday the most because it is nestled into the heart of summer when I am not distracted by school and life and chaos. Nine times out of ten, it thunderstorms on your birthday .. the Gods up there must be having quite the party.

When I look at you, I always think of the Cat Stevens lyric, “It’s not time to make a change,
Just relax, take it easy. You’re still young, that’s your fault,” mostly because you are so impatient with the steps it takes to get to adulthood. I think you have always known that you are ready to be twenty-five. You have asked me forty times this summer if you can just skip the rest of high school.

When I was getting a pedicure the other day, I spent the hour playing fake lottery games on my phone, pressing the same button over and over again. I know that is how school has always felt to you. Still, you have made some pretty great friends this year. Suddenly you, like your sister, are never home. Yesterday you went cliff diving at red granite quarry. I didn’t want you to go. You were not deterred by my text that listed the death statistics from that place. I feel the same way when you go jump on trampolines at Helium or skateboard down the middle of the street. I know the dare devil that lives in you. Faster, higher, more. You are waiting for life to feel more like an adventure and less like a chore. Hate to break it to you, but that is pretty much the definition of fifteen.

There are parts that I love about fifteen. I love the group text that we share with your older siblings. Lizzie changed the title of that chat to “Fake pot is bad pot,” because it is filled with articles of me worried about the dangers of the world at large. In it, I literally say, “If you are gonna smoke pot, don’t smoke the fake shit. It is dangerous.” It is super hard to be a parent of teenagers … not because you guys are tough, but because the worry that comes with you wedging your way into adulthood is sometimes crushing. That is okay, though. It’s one of the many lessons about letting go that I am learning. I catch myself holding my breath. Your hunger for adventure reminds me to release that, to trust, and to replace worry with the incredible love that I hold for you.

Still, even though you are  in the in-between, with your foot on the accelerator, I still think of you like this:

I hope that in all of your adventures, of which I am sure there will be many, that you always remember to listen to that boy. The voice that lives inside of you is loud and trustworthy. Last week you told me that you hate emotions. Emotions are stupid, you said. I imagine that they do feel that way right now. Sometimes, I too, would rather dive off of a cliff than feel them deeply.

The Avett Brothers warn us, “Nothing happens here that doesn’t happen there/When you run, make sure you run to something and not away from…” My wish for your year ahead is that you continue to weave a net of friends and mentors that will always make you feel like you are home, so that when you leap, we are at your core. I love you more than you will ever know or believe. The earth goes around the sun, tralala, the earth goes around the sun … no dragging of my feet will slow it down.

Looking forward to celebrating with you tonight. Meatballs and banana cream pies. xoxo

 

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Nothing

In a lonely room in a little city,

He was a magnet

A regret

A panicked scramble

Like all magnets, he responded.

 

In a little room in big city,

He was a thorn

A reminder

An unwelcome ghost

 

His invitation returned,

Peeked at, but not absorbed

His ache easily ignored

Replaced by a dozen white flowers

 

A blocked witness to his grief,

I am unable to mend the tear that sits

Beneath the breastbone,

A little to the left

 

The lump in my throat mimics his.

Heartstrings in my lap, idle needles in hand

The reopened wound, pulsing

Each day is one more away from

 

Her laugh.

Her eyes.

Her plans.

 

In a shared room in a familiar city,

I wait with him.

Nothing comes.

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Sweet Sixteen

It’s quite possible that the person that invented the phrase sweet sixteen meant it as an oxymoron. In my experience sixteen has a temper and is a little moody.

It’s May 17th and you, my birthday girl, my only girl, are exactly sixteen, and I love you even more now than when we first met. If you had told me that was possible in 2000, I would have not believed you.  I know that I have a lot of posts about time flying, but in some ways, the bedrest pregnancy that preceded your birth feels more like it happened in another life time. I look back and wonder why I was in such a hurry. I look back and miss little you.

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You are still you though, in so many ways. Messy and funny, animated and sensitive, thoughtful and intuitive, open minded, anxious, and just a wee bit hot tempered. You are the most social person I have ever met. Each time I have to pick you up at a friend’s house it seems like it is yet another friend I have never met. How many Grace’s can a girl know?  The other day you asked me what I remembered about high school and I said “Nothing. I blanked all of that out. I hated high school.” You were incredulous. You said, “Well, I love high school.” In many, many ways you and I are different. You have a million friends. I have only a few close ones. You are athletic. I prefer not to move. You don’t like stew. I just, really? Who does not like stew?

Yet as you grow older, I see more and more of myself in you. When you walked down the stairs this weekend, Dad looked at me and said, “Kelly, who does she remind you of?” It took him awhile and then he said, “Oh. You. She looks like you when we met,” and then (because Dad is Dad) he added, “but, you know, with all my good parts.” Yeah, sigh. Legs for days was not from me.

Having you in my illustration class has been a love/hate relationship for both of us (mostly love). As the school year wraps up, just know how incredibly proud I am of the work you have created there. I am proud of all of your mistakes and truly in love with your successes. Recently you have started to talk about studying fashion design. When Grandma said, “It’s a super competitive field,” you answered, “I am competitive.” Even though I am not remotely an athlete, I see myself in that answer. I see myself in your dreams, your drive, your unwillingness to settle for second best. The only real birthday advice I know is to stay true to that self … just allow some room for error. Allow some room for belly flops. Continue to surround yourself with amazing friends … like the ones who know you are having a bad day and secretly drop off grocery bags full of chocolate ice cream and goldfish crackers on our doorstep. Surround yourself with that kind of love and you will always have a net to catch you on the days that perfectionism gets the best of you.

Thank you, baby girl, for letting me in. For crying to me, for laughing with me, for making me pee in my pants on our drives home from far away tournaments, for not just plugging into your headphones and shutting me out. The biggest gift you have ever given me is allowing room in our relationship for friendship. So, yeah, I miss little you, but I love teenaged you. As you travel the road into adulthood, know that every time my own heart beats, it sings your song.

Happy Birthday, darling girl. You light up my life.

Mom

 

 

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Twenty.

Dear Luke,

It is the eve of your birth, twenty years later. Twenty. In four more hours your teenage years will be completely gone. Dust.

Did I ever tell you that when I was in fourth grade, we performed The Little Prince all in French? I was in the scene with the roses and I had to say je t’aime in front of Matt Miota. I had an enormous crush on 11 year old Matt Miota. He carried a comb in his back pocket and dated a girl named Maria. He was older than me. Damn those mixed age level classes. I (like the nine other little princes, one per scene) wore a white turtle neck and a green scarf. This was pre-digital cameras and pre-everyone-documenting-everything , so I don’t have a picture. You will just have to imagine that I  looked like this:

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The only words I remember from the entire play are je t’aime. I love you. You will be twenty and I don’t believe you have read The Little Prince yet. I was going to send it to you, but instead I sent you a book of Richard Brautigan poetry (“spinning like a ghost on the bottom of a top, I am haunted by all the space I will live without you.”).

Maybe it’s just because the Prince died this week that I started thinking about The Little Prince. I raced through my childhood … fourth grade, little fake prince telling three girls dressed like a giant rose that I loved them, all the way through seventh grade where shirtless Prince plastered the wall directly behind my adolescent pillow). Since you left for college, I still wear the shocked and puzzled gaze of a bulldog. Where on earth did time go? We used to have this teaching assistant on our playground (same year as my French debut) and her name was Ms. Audrey. She used to tell us to stop trying to grow up so fast and she would shake her head (wrapped in a plastic rain hat, even when sunny) at us when we tried to wear lipstick. She would plead, “Girls, Girls! Life goes so fast. Drop the lipstick and go play.” We thought she was crazy.

Yet here were are. Twenty.

I am still so madly in love with you. Sometimes when I put Quinn to bed and he is all cozy from his bath, I press my face against his wet hair and try to just squeeze the memory into my heart because I know … I know from watching you grow, that five really doesn’t last forever. I asked him tonight, “Do you know how old Luke will be tomorrow?” He replied, “Man.” Knocked the wind right out of me (“son of man look to the sky, lift your spirit, set it free”). As a young man, you are still so full of invitation energy. You are a joy to be around and your enthusiasm for life, your eagerness to share your journey is just a magnet to all of those around you. I could not be prouder to be your mom.

The little prince loves his rose because of the time he spent caring for her. The rose basically is a symbol for love and here, we are meant to know that love comes from investing in other people. Tonight, on the way to volleyball (AGAIN), Lizzie asked me if having kids is worth it. “It kind of seems like it ruins your life,”she said. She is fifteen. All I can tell you is that you are my rose. Every single minute of you has been worth it.

I am no longer in the scene with the rose. Now, I am the fox. The fox lets the Little Prince go (spoiler, I know) even though it is heartbreakingly hard. Before he leaves though, Fox tells him: “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Some people spend their entire lives trying to figure that out. You? You have known since the very beginning. Continue to live life through your heart. I know that you carry your worry in your stomach … let your heart win. Let your heart untangle your knots. I love you. Happiest of all birthdays to you, your first one away from home.

Mom

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Since You Asked …

motherhood

I went to my cousin Noel’s baby shower. She is having a girl. Due soon. Luke’s birthday. There were little recipe cards at the shower and we were supposed to write down advice for the parents to be on them. I had to leave mine blank. I have been thinking about it ever since.

In many ways, blank is the right answer.

It’s either blank or fill an entire recipe box, right?

So from a seasoned momma to one to be, I say this:

Teach empathy above all else and in a world that is full of a million critics, don’t be one for your daughter. When you look at her newborn face and imagine a world full of possibility, an open, uncharted life, choose to be her biggest cheerleader. That will be easier when she is three than when she is fifteen. So just don’t forget because it’s super easy to become The Critic when she turns fifteen. She will make friends with someone you don’t particularly like, she will wear a sheer top to school, she will wear too much eye makeup, she will fail a test, she will drink vodka.  A million people will tell her that she is wrong or not good enough (today a boy in my daughter’s class snap-chatted pictures of her legs because he said she was grotesque), or she will find out the hard way that she fucked up, or she will be unbelievably hard on herself, so trust me when I say that the job of critic is already taken.

Sometimes she will want your advice, but mostly she will just want to collapse into you. She will want to cry in your bed and have you assure her that everything is going to be just fine. Even if you personally worry that it won’t be fine, just slip your aging fingers through her unruly hair, biting your tongue at the suggestion to brush it, and simply say, “let it be, baby.” Again, easy at three. Hard at fifteen. If you want her to trust you when she is fifteen, never lie to her when she is six. Never punish her for mistakes anyone can make.

Sometimes you will live vicariously through her.

Sometimes, though,  you will scream at her. Loudly. So loudly that it startles you. On the day she is born you won’t believe that. When she is thirteen and calls you a “such a bitch,” “you are being ridiculous,””you just don’t get it,” you will find empathy an incredibly hard thing to find. Dig deep, momma. When my grandma Jean’s kid would shout to her that he hated her, she would reply “That’s okay, I have enough love in my heart for both of us.”

Love her. Love her by lifting her up, by telling her she is already perfect, by laughing with her, by getting to know her friends, by setting a routine, by making birthdays really important, by not having too many rules, by giving her permission to fail. Tell her that she is lovable and capable. Don’t wrap your dreams up in hers; let her live her own dream. Love her in all of the ways you wish to be loved yourself.

Today, an acquaintance of mine lost her mother suddenly. No goodbye. No last hug. Suddenly. If all things go in the order that you hope they do, one day your daughter will lose you too. Leave a legacy of compassion, of long drives and road trips, of your favorite recipes and family traditions … so that when you are gone, she can still feel you. And it feels warm.

 

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Letting Go

Sometimes drawing takes over and writing takes a backseat.

I have finished the Greta and the Angels book and and felt pretty good about the drawings, but when the book came, I hated the typeface (Quinn didn’t care). I am starting from scratch and have been letting it stew … disheartened at the cost of self publishing and hoping a legit publisher (I have visions of Slugworth from Willy Wonka) will be seeking a good story for children about death and dying. In the meantime, a few of the drawings are up on Behance (https://www.behance.net/gallery/35940883/Greta-and-the-Angels).

While the book stews, I have been stuck in a grey, cold, snowy Wisconsin April, having a financial and mental crisis. I waver between panic and bed, headaches and candy, Netflix and whiskey. Luke comes home in four weeks (one year of college done already) and I am still adjusting to a house without him. Life feels unsteady and stale. I watched CNN’s The Eighties and just had my mouth open the whole time. The eighties? Wasn’t that yesterday? Oh. No. Wait. Where did my life go? What’s left of it?

A new series of drawings was born. A witness to heartache. A remedy for depression. Sharing them here with you, hoping perhaps they will find a home even though I don’t want to let them go. Ironic, right?

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Titles for the works, along with descriptions, can also be found on Behance (https://www.behance.net/gallery/35940051/Letting-Go).

 

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Suck it UP

Lizzie’s commitment to volleyball has started to rub off on me in unexpected ways (I watched Aaron Rodgers make two hail mary passes and even though I had to Google “hail mary pass” I can now say I have officially watched an entire Packer game). When I watch professional athletes now, I think of their mothers. I have said this before. I know. I think of the long drives to practice in all kinds of weather. Little Aaron in all of his oversized football gear …

Yesterday I woke up at 4am to drive Lizzie to a remote location in Illinois for the second day of a tournament. I drove, while she slept, past farms and barns (with their wee early morning yellow lights on). I drove past white churches, still lit with giant white light stars from Christmas. I fell in love with the land (white scattered snow, white foggy pre-dawn sky, dark brown stick trees) and I sang John Denver songs and thought about Luke (because seriously, how can you listen to Leaving on a Jet Plane and NOT think Luke and Haley). I listened, the only car on the road, to Joni Mitchell and Simon and Garfunkel and Carol King. To me, any road trip reminds me of being three years old and lying in my parents lap on the trips from Missouri to Milwaukee. Pre-seatbelts. Pre-airbags.  Singing the songs they played on the cassette tape of their blue Hornet makes me feel home.

Lizzie has the most amazing coaches right now. I am just in awe of their ability to truly teach. In general, she has had luck with finding good coaches, but every once in awhile there has been a dud or an “eh” kind of coach (she has only had one idiot). The match she has found in this team is so exciting to witness. She has grown so much and I am learning so much about life and teaching by simply taking it all in from the front of my car and a bleacher seat. My daughter has always been an emotional, heart on her sleeve, type of player, which I am learning is not always such a good thing. She had an emotional moment this weekend where her coach said in a super matter of fact tone, “Lizzie, if you cry, you are done for the weekend.”

This reminded me of my fourth grade math teacher, Sr. Joan, pulling me aside and saying, “Kelly, honey, sometimes you just have to cover your buttons.” I still struggle with this … wanting to save the world with an passionate tirade of “shoulds.” It also made me wish that if I cried, someone would let me go home for the day. I would live in my bed.

When Lizzie is practicing and she gets tired, her coaches keep throwing balls at her, and they scream, “SUCK IT UP.” It seems harsh, doesn’t it? It’s so true though. It’s so simple. You are gonna get tired. You are gonna want to give in. You are gonna have bad days. You are going to want to cry. SUCK IT UP. Push past exhaustion, push past pain, push past fear, push past doubt. Suck it up means “don’t give up on you.” I am not so much a sports fan, but as an artist, I am pretty happy to learn some lessons from them. I am happy to watch Aaron Rogers throw a miracle pass and finally understand that it wasn’t a miracle. It was a result of a multitude of failures.

We are a culture that doesn’t work hard enough at making men vulnerable, but at the same time, we don’t do much to teach our girls how to toughen up. We teach them to say yes and please and thank you and no (when it comes to their own bodies and boys). We teach them to be team players and leaders and princesses, but it seems to me that we do that while making sure they smile at the same time. What I like about my daughter’s athlete-self if that it came with mentors who have not just told her to cover her buttons, but they have taught her how and when to do so. They have taught her how to navigate pain, not to ignore it, and they have taught me that art and sports are the same thing.

I used to always share the Anais Nin quote with my portfolio students: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” What Anais Nin meant to say, I think, was “suck it up.” Leap. Make your hail mary pass.

 

 

 

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Quinn’s Song

Lately, when I tuck Quinn in bed, I sing to him. Sean’s been working all night and the older kids tend to be plugged in or never around (or, sigh, living in Seattle), so there are no critics to be found. Five year olds don’t care if my voice can’t quite reach the high notes.

We have had a lot of money worries since Sean’s accident last year and though we are slowly rebounding, we are also spinning in backwards circles. Sometimes I know the energy of that worry transfers to this wee little boy and so tonight I sang Danny’s Song. It’s always been a favorite of mine. It’s the song I sing to myself on long car rides. Barefoot. (Oh summer, how I miss you).

I sang “And even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with ya honey,” and just as I was about to bust out with hand gestures, Quinn tapped my arm and said, “Um, excuse me. I am so sorry to interrupt, but I have a question,” (really, Montessori? Who taught him the phrase ‘sorry to interrupt’?). He asked me if Luke used to be my son. I explained that Luke still is my son (people smile and tell me I’m the lucky one, and we’ve just begun, I think I’m gonna have a son). Quinn shook his head in disagreement, arguing that he alone is my son. We finally agreed that he was my littlest son. A son I can still sing to. Next he asked me if fish poop and then he said, “Okay, go ahead. Start from the beginning of your song.” I stared at his freshly shampooed head and his soft teddy bear pajamas. He laid his head against a textile of puppies.

“And even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with ya honey, and everything will bring a chain of love, and in the morning when I rise, you bring a tear of joy to my eyes, and tell me everything is gonna be alright.” I sang it all the way through, about the girl and the paper cup and the family where there once was none. I sang sans jazz hands and Quinn and I made eye contact throughout the entire song. As he patiently held my gaze, I felt incredibly connected to him. I felt raw, spent, and so deeply in love, until I finished, because then he said, “You are sitting on my leg.” Now every time he hears that song, he will probably just remember his mother crushing him. No worries, I guess. True chains of love seem to circle in forgiveness.

There are so many things to pay attention to in this world and I wonder if the things that hold my stare are worth it. If something that my five year old said is worth talking about, just because it made me laugh. Sometimes I do worry that sharing the smallest moments of motherhood is moot. Who cares, really? That is what I was thinking about after the leg comment. I thought about writing it down and then I thought who cares? Then I remembered what a student wrote on the white board in my classroom today. I took a picture of it because it, too, made me smile. I guess I wasn’t supposed to read it until later.

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For their final project today, my students had to make short videos about their work. One student defined art as “the fibers and minerals of those that create it and the purest form of them that there is.”

Kenny Loggins and white board graffiti. I might not be saving the world, but I can feel a bigger one waiting for me. Love is what I’ve got. The purest form of me there is.

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