Monday, March 30, 2015


Last night we all went to bed early.

1. It was the night before the first day of the two-day fourth-grade writing STAAR.
2. Katie is a fourth-grader.
3. Katie gets a little anxious about testing.
4. I am a fourth-grade teacher.
5. Administering the STAAR test requires stamina.
6. I get a tiny bit anxious myself before testing.
7. Cooper is a teenager and is therefore constantly running a sleep deficit.
8. Cooper takes the eighth-grade reading STAAR test on Tuesday.

Before bed, I was looking for a specific book. I couldn't find it in the usual spot, so I searched the drawers of my bedside table. I rifled through and couldn't locate the book.

A bit of familiar handwriting caught my eye, though.

I don't remember this note, possibly because Steve and I often left each other notes. (Blub was our silly code word for "I love you, and I'm thinking of you, and you make me happy, and thank you," all rolled in to one.) I'm not even sure why I saved this particular one. Its rediscovery was perfect timing, though.

I feel asleep in no time, completely at peace.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Acts of Kindness in good company

The best day of the year is November 4. It's the day that hundreds of people help us celebrate Steve's birthday by performing acts of kindness.

(You can read more about it here and here and here and here.)

My friend Kari is a director of supply chain operations at Frito-Lay and the president of that company's Women's Inclusion Network. Each March, in celebration of Women's History Month, Frito-Lay devotes a gallery at its North American headquarters to honor women, as chosen by the Women's Inclusion Network. The gallery includes inspiring pioneers, Frito-Lay leaders, modern women and young women.

This year Kari nominated me to be included, in recognition of our family's tradition of remembering Steve.

So, in a twist that I never expected, my photo and a brief description of our Acts of Kindness movement is posted in a display case with larger-than-life women such as J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series, of course) and Ursula Burns (the first African-American CEO of a Fortune 500 company).

This afternoon, Cooper, Katie and I visited Kari at Frito-Lay. We received a tour of the lovely campus and admired the women's history gallery.

Thank you, Kari, for including our family in gallery!

And thank you, friends across the world, for helping us celebrate Steve's memory and for sharing love and kindness!

(The Women's Inclusion Network partners with Attitudes & Attire, a Dallas nonprofit that supports women seeking self-sufficiency.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Water works

At last, we've had plenty of rain around here.

North Texas has been in a drought, and though recent rains aren't enough to pull us out completely (read here if you're interested), we are thankful for every drop.

Saturday I noticed some standing water in the grass between our sidewalk and street. I sought advice, and the consensus was all the rain has made drainage difficult. Wait a little. 

Monday afternoon, the rest of the neighborhood was dry. My little strip of grass, not so much.

So, I called the city, who dispatched a guy, who arrived in the dark to dig and discover a leak, not on the city side but on my side. Of course, this means the city guy can't fix it. Meanwhile, I'm donating water (so much water!) to our street. 

I asked the city guy about my next steps. He replied the way almost every repairman has answered in the past few years: Ask your husband.


(This, in and of itself, speaks volumes about all kinds of assumptions, but that's not my point today.)

The city guy left. Katie was already bathed and asleep. Cooper showered. The night's dishes were almost washed. The most recent load of laundry was in the dryer.

I had two jobs: Find a plumber to arrive early Tuesday. And turn off the water for nighttime.

I pulled in some referrals, made calls, left messages where I could.

Then I knocked on Ron's door across the street. Ron is one of our many unsung heroes, ready to help whenever we ask. He has one of those long metal key things (technically a water meter key) that can turn off the water at the city line, and I asked him to teach me how.

At this point, it's very dark. There's no way we can see the knob underground, as it's surrounded by water. And all that water is surrounded by globby mud. Nevertheless, Ron patiently teaches me and Cooper how to find it with the water meter key. We successfully shut off the water.

I showered at Andy and Julie's house (across the alley from us), finished some schoolwork, then slept for a few hours. 

At 5:30 a.m., I returned with the key and turned the water back on so that the kids and I could get ready. An hour later, I turned it off again. (Thank goodness for rain boots for slogging in and out of the mud pit.)

Those calls I made the night before yield no results. Plumbers are booked up for days. I called a highly recommended company, and the receptionist told me the first opening is Friday.

I tried so hard to keep my composure. I failed. I was crying as I asked for another recommendation. I couldn't bear to think of more trips out to the mud, turning water on and off, wasting water and money, while waiting for service.

The receptionist paused. She asked for my name and phone number. She said she would try to find a way to move schedules around. 

Somehow Amber made some magic happen, and a repairman was booked for an afternoon window. I visited with my assistant principal, who gave me permission to leave a smidge early if necessary, and then I visited with a teammate, who agreed to take on my students should I need to leave early.

Now I am home, and a friendly plumber is in the front yard, repairing a T-joint, which divides water between the house and our sprinkler system. In a few hours, we'll have water again -- in the house and not running down the street.

Four big takeaways from this experience:

1. I feel confident in my ability to take care of the most important tasks of the day. I provide food and shelter for our little family. I make sure we get where we need to go on time. I give 100 percent of myself to my students when I'm teaching. My goal is for my own children and my students to know that they are secure and loved. 

2. More than five years into this single mom life, I still struggle with hiccups. I know that the best routine allows room for getting lost, for leaving something behind, for making mistakes. But there are some moments that aren't easily absorbed. A dead car battery, a broken air conditioner, a water leak -- these create more havoc in a single-parent home (at least this single-parent home) than a dual-parent home.

3. I continue to rely on the kindness of the people around us. I needed Ron to help me with the water meter key. The Morgan and Smith and Sanders families to offer advice. Andy and Julie to provide running water at 11 p.m. Jim and Betty on call, ready to come up to meet the plumber at any time. Loryn, a compassionate leader to allow me to leave a little early. Erin, a teammate who took on extra students. Amber, a receptionist I've never met, to move appointments.

4. Despite the challenges of being a single mom, our blessings are abundant. I live in a safe neighborhood. We have excellent schools. Some of our dearest friends live less than a mile away. Family is nearby. I have a (hard-earned) savings account that will allow me to write a check for today's repair, rather than borrowing money at a high interest rate. I know that my own challenges are small in comparison to single moms who live in poverty, who have zero flexibility in their jobs, who send their children to unsafe or inadequate schools.

I am incredibly thankful for the people who love on us, who answer my phone calls, who send supportive notes, who step in when we need a little (or a lot) of extra help. This life I lead now is in no way what I prayed for long ago -- but it's without a doubt easier because of the people who surround us.

Monday, March 2, 2015

So much more than a photo

Steve and Tyra, days before official diagnosis
Katie, Tyra, Steve and Cooper, three months before Steve passed away
Katie and I hosted a meeting at the house yesterday. One of the girls noticed two photos -- one in the dining room and another near the stairs. She walked from one to the other, back and forth, perplexed.

 "Which one of them is Katie's dad?" I heard her murmur matter-of-factly.

"Both of them are," I told her. "Both pictures are of Katie's dad, one before he was really sick and one while he was sick. The medicine made his face and hair look different."

The answer satisfied her curiosity, and she leaped to a different topic.

I see both photos -- and other Steve photos -- every day. I no longer see "pre-cancer" and "post-cancer" Steve. I no longer see the effects of Decadron and chemotherapy in the photos.

I see only Steve.

I see laugh until you can't breathe, sing loudly, dance proudly, work your heart out Steve. I see doting, adoring, proud, mischievous Steve. I see brilliant, creative, analytical, sly Steve. I see Fletch and ZZ Top. George Gershwin and Aaron Copland. Wassily Kandinsky and Alexander Calder. I see Excel spreadsheets and all-caps printed letters. I see the Texas Rangers and the Detroit Tigers. I see the Big House and a block M. I see Siesta Key and the Eiffel Tower, the National Mall and the Santa Monica Pier. I see Harry Potter and Legos, Sandra Boynton and fuzzy baby blankets.

We are exponentially more than our weight or current hairstyle.

We are the words we cultivate, the feelings we share, the memories we store, the light we reflect.

We are the love we receive and the love we lavish on others.

We are not reflections in a mirror or images saved on screen or paper.

We are souls.