lyla colorDear Lyla,

Sometimes change is hard. Often when it seems like you have a handle on this game called life, someone comes along and changes the rules. Getting used to new ideas and experiences can be a little scary. When you came home from the first day of school and I asked you how it went and you replied, “Mrs. Taylor did not do her job last year;” I knew you had inherited my predisposition to be a bit wary of change. Apparently, according to you, Mrs. Taylor (whom you adore by the way) did not do things in precisely the manner in which Mrs. M. (whom you also adore) does and thus….”first grade is going to be really hard and Mrs. M. says there is going to be A LOT of homework.” Now that you are almost a month into your first grade experience it seems that your apprehension has all but dissipated. The stubborn little girl who insisted on not reading and only making up her own stories (because Mrs. Taylor said that was acceptable) has now demanded that after mommy reads it is Lyla’s turn. A looming fear of any pain that would come with losing a tooth has been replaced with anticipation for the return of the Tooth Fairy (mostly because Daddy instructed her to put a $5 bill under your pillow for the first one). Anxiety over homework becomes a celebration of  “Mommy-Lyla” time and you seem to love school now more than ever. I am sure that to your six-year-old psyche it seems ages ago since you had any trepidation over beginning a new school year; and that is the lesson to remember Little One. Change is inevitable and sometimes scary; but time has a way of softening our memories and dulling the ache of fear associated with the anticipation of something new and different. Life will continue to offer new and exciting adventures; not all will be welcome but they will come just the same. My hope for you Little One is that you remember that without change we cease to grow both in body and in spirit.

batgirl bwDear Lyla,

It has been a long since I have written a letter. I am ashamed to admit that I have not been so good about the work/life balance lately. I suppose the rush I have experienced in the last few weeks is normal when the semester is about to end. One thing you will learn is that our household runs on the academic calendar; the first of the year for us begins at the  end of August. Most of us embrace the comfort and consistency of routine even when it may not be in our best interest. It is possible to be too dependent upon routine, too resistant to change and too unwilling to engage the messiness of life.  I admit, I like to plan. I want to know what, when, who, why and for how long. I like the comfort  a “to-do” list written reverently on a post-it note provides. But alas Little One, the sacrifice of spontaneity for the sense of comfort can act like a false prophet leading us to fatigue and creative exhaustion. I suppose this is why I have not written for a while. Over the past few weeks I have been so focused on the minutiae of the end of the semester that I have forgotten the big picture. I have neglected to nurture the part of my personality that loves to turn a phrase, snap some photos and whip up bakery confections to share with my colleagues. I have missed out on the joy I find in mentally visiting my past in order to create a narrative for you to explore when you are ready. While this letter may not introduce you to some new character on your family tree or expose the adolescent adventures of one of your aunts or uncles, I do hope that you will find something valuable within the text. While it is noble and right to meet the deadlines that you are given and to honor your obligations, it is important that you allow yourself time for reflection and rest. The soberness of life must be balanced by silliness if you are to maintain a sense of self in this very fast paced world.  How blessed I am Little One that between you and Daddy I have a bounty of silliness in my life to keep me centered.

hello kitty lylaDear Lyla,

Tomorrow Dr. Seuss would be celebrating his 109th birthday. I imagine that on this Friday kindergarten classrooms like yours all over the country will be reading his beloved books. Since a young age his writing has been inextricably linked with your bedtime rituals. Because of Dr. Seuss you have learned that “Unless”; we may lose our precious trees and wildlife. You understand that one should not be afraid of green pants, that leaders must not crack the shells of others for their own gain and that not everyone has stars upon thars, and that’s OK.  I am sure that this will be a special day for you and your friends; that you will delight in hearing your teacher’s melodious voice recite your favorite Seuss stories. Today is special for another reason; it is the first day of March which is Women’s History Month. As you get older you will begin to understand the importance of this month; suffice it to say that men and women have not always been treated equally. I know this may be hard for you to understand because you have been taught to be fair, share with others and treat everyone with kindness. That is how it should be Little One and my hope is that your generation will do its best to ensure that very thing. But history must not be ignored or we are doomed to repeat it. So this month we celebrate the accomplishments of women, the struggles that were fought in the name of fairness and recognize the work that we still have ahead of us. I imagine that the good Doctor (Seuss) might have a few words for your generation on the subject; perhaps he would inspire you with the immortal refrain of “Oh the places you’ll go.” And so you will Little One, so you will.

Spring Break

me and lylaDear Lyla,

Spring break starts at the end of this week and my students can hardly contain their excitement; it has been a long winter and we both need a break from each other. Many of my students are going on service trips or vacationing somewhere warm. When I was an undergraduate spring break meant one thing, an opportunity to get in a 40 hour work week!  To me breaks were a time to replenish my savings account so that I could make my car payment and have spending money. I never regretted not taking a spring break because I didn’t know what I was missing and having a car was motivation enough for me to not mourn the opportunity. It wasn’t until I was almost at the end of my PhD that I was invited to go on spring break. Daddy and I were living in Columbia, MO while I went to Mizzou; a year or two before I graduated Bumpa realized just how close that was to a variety of civil war battlefields and Eureka Springs. Bumpa proposed that we spend my spring break together touring the Ozarks. I did not get to spend a lot of quality time by myself with Bumpa while growing up since he worked a great deal and most of our time together focused on work. While possessing wonderful qualities; patience with his children was not one that Bumpa could claim. It was not until I reached adulthood that he and I began to understand each other and so I was grateful for some quality time with my dad. We had a wonderful week as we were not rushed as our only constraint was how tired our bodies got before we called it a day. We spent hours at civil war battlefields and Bumpa was lucky enough to stumble upon a group of men reenacting a battle; I knew that we would not depart anytime soon.  After the reenactment Bumpa spent hours talking to the gentlemen, inspecting their weapons and discussing the authenticity of their clothing. While I have a healthy respect for history, this is not the period that intrigues me the most; however, dutifully I sat through these musings as it brought joy to my dad. We also spent time in Eureka Springs where we marveled at the statue of Christ, wondered at a tree decorated with running shoes and had the most delicious barbecue at the seediest joint I have ever been in to date. Bumpa and I stayed up late playing cards and talking politics. I learned more about my dad in that one week that I had my entire life prior to that trip. I discovered that he and I had similar passions and personality traits and that we were capable of communicating with love and respect. It has been fifteen years since Bumpa and I went on that trip together and the sights, sounds and smells that we encountered are as fresh as if we had traveled just yesterday. I treasure that time I had with my dad as our relationship had not always been as solid as I would have liked and in my younger days we often tread on rocky ground. Those days that I spent with Bumpa are even more precious as less than a year later he would go to heaven.  The lesson for both of us Little One is that sometimes you just need to take a break and hang out with the ones you love, work will always be waiting but we never know how long we will have each other. I look forward to all of the possibilities that lie ahead for you, Daddy and me; spring break here we come!

I Want My Mommy

lyla grandmaDear Lyla,

Today’s letter will be very short as I am feeling, as Bumpa would say, sicker than a dog that has eaten a chocolate bar. All I want to do today is sleep on the couch curled up in a blanket, dog behind my knees with the TV making noise in the background; today I want my Mommy. If Grandma were here she would make me some soup and bring me liquids to drink and I wouldn’t have a care in the world because mom’s make it all feel better if you are sick. But Grandma Jo isn’t here and I have to work because the thought of canceling class makes me feel worse. My hope for you Little One is that when you are older you will feel the same say about me that I feel about my mom. I guess you are never too old to want the familiar comfort of your parents; life lesson learned!

Today we celebrate Josh’ life…and in his memory it will be a two thumbs up day. Rest in Peace Josh.

Letters To Lyla

lyla josh and bearDear Lyla,

You are unique, one of a kind; my proudest accomplishment to date. I think you are perfect just the way you are. Many parents share my sentiments with regard to their own children, which is the natural order of things. You are easy to love; you are precocious, cute, lively, witty and have the vocabulary of a college sophomore. The attention that is showered on you by my college students makes you one lucky duck; you are loved Little One. I am grateful every day that I have been called to a profession that allows me to meet so many different families; one that allows me to become a part of my students’ extended family. How fortunate we both are to meet a variety of people, to share in their accomplishment, their joys and sometimes their sorrows. In the fall of 2005 I met a very special family…

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Snow Day

lyla snowDear Lyla,

Last night as we were watching the weather and waiting to see if the “snowpocalypse”  would find its way to our neighborhood I was surprised to hear you hope for school to be cancelled. You love school and miss your friends terribly over the weekend. Then it dawned on me; you have been hanging around Daddy too much. I find it amusing that high school teachers are just as thrilled to have a snow day as their students. Perhaps you were excited at the prospect of Daddy staying home with you so you could spend some time together. Maybe you will convince Daddy to bundle you up so you can make snow angels and then come in for some well-deserved cocoa and a viewing of one of your many animated films. Whatever mischief you two decide to get into on your snow day I am sure that by the time you are my age you will look back with nostalgia. As you know I grew up in north central Minnesota; we had lots of snow and cold weather but snow days weren’t as common as you might imagine. Minnesotans are well equipped for snow and it is a rare occasion that the fluffy white stuff stops them in their tracks. When I think back to the snow days I spent at home when I was your age I remember two things; hot cocoa and the fireplace. Bumpa worked regardless of the weather; he had things to check on and he wasn’t going to let a little snow get in his way. That left us home with poor Grandma who was used to spending her mornings in relative peace. She would indulge us on snow days by letting us stay in our jammies until mid-morning. Then we were instructed to put on our winter gear and head outside. I know that my sister and I would haul in wood on those days, as the fireplace was our central form of heat in the main house, but it is but a fleeting memory. What I do remember is rolling down the big hill to the lake and trudging back up again. I remember making snowmen, snow-angels and forts and getting my hat and mittens so caked with snow that you could not make out the original color of the fabric. Grandma would call us back in before we turned to little blocks of ice ourselves. As soon as we stepped inside the heat from the fireplace immediately started to melt the snow. It wasn’t until we felt the warm air on our skin did we realize how cold we had been and just how wet we were.  The feeling of my socks and pant legs wet and sticky after being outside in the elements is still one of the most unpleasant sensations to date. Grandma would instruct us to shed our wet clothes as she made hot cocoa on the stove for us from scratch. My sister and I would head to the living room and sit either on the hearth right next to the fire or curl up close by in a chair with a blanket and the dog. Back then we didn’t have 24/7 cable or satellite and reception was spotty at best during snow storms so we would settle in for the day with a good book. My sister preferred Nancy Drew books while I was drawn to Little House on the Prairie and the Anne of Green Gables series; Grandma read romance novels. Those days seemed so perfect in retrospect. As if somehow for a day time stopped and all rules were suspended. It was as if Mother Nature was making sure we took a mental health day. While I am at work today I hope that you and Daddy break some rules. Have some fun and go play in the snow and when you are utterly exhausted I am sure that Gigi would love to snuggle up with her human on the couch. Ask Daddy to read your new book aloud to you, string some beads, play in some cardboard boxes or create some art. However you choose to spend your time, enjoy your snow day Little One.

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