The line is a familiar one if you’re a parent or a teacher. It’s from a sweet book about a brown bear and purple cat and yellow duck and a blue horse. It has singsong phrasing and can be memorized after only a couple readings. Yesterday I pulled it out to read with my 4-month-old before his afternoon nap. He was cooing on my lap as I read the question about each animal, Brown bear, brown bear what do you see? and so on. But that last question caught in my throat. My mind was not on the book filled with colorful animals and creative pictures. It was instead on our world filled with hurting people and hateful ideologies.
Children, children, what do you see?
The sky was emotional on that early July night last year. Like a mirror for my day.
The great expanse started calm and peaceful, content with its place. Visiting family back home in Montana, I started my day with a pedicure with my cousin and we caught up on life and love, teaching and moving.
Then the sky wanted to show off a bit. The sun turned more and more vibrant as it dipped over the mountains, leaving behind clouds tinged in pink against a purple-red sky. After getting my toes painted, I spent the rest of my day family hopping. My three-year-old daughter learned to play golf with her grandparents; she ran with bare feet through the grass with her cousins; we checked out the new brewery and listened to local music with our parents; and we made plans to go hiking the next day with my brother.
Our deadline is quickly approaching. The expiration date we hastily scribbled on this adventure is just around the corner. We promised ourselves three years. Three years in New York City, and then we would reevaluate. If I’m honest, there were moments before we arrived that I didn’t even think we would last one full year.
Yet here we are – approaching three years with a renewed lease on our apartment, a child enrolled in Kindergarten, a career with roots, friends who easily became family, and a church we are certain we are called to grow with and help grow. And for me? Well, there are stories hovering in the air of this city just waiting to be written.
A few months ago I attended a women’s conference here in New York City. The theme of the conference was hope. On Saturday, we had the opportunity to attend one of about 20 different breakout sessions offered. One title caught my eye. I wanted to go to it, but felt I didn’t really belong there. I was sure the other women attending would see right through me and label me an imposter immediately. As my eyes wandered to other session titles, I let fear drive my feet away from the room where women were gathering for the session I wanted to attend. Then the emcee walked back on the stage and grabbed the microphone.
“I just want to encourage you for a moment. What is the one session you are too scared to attend?” I froze as my eyes darted back to the scary title. “Would you consider going there today? Don’t let fear or embarrassment hold you back from where you should be.” I was certain she was talking directly to me. I gathered up some confidence, and turned around. My heart raced as I walked back in to the session titled “Hope as an Artist”.
“What was the hardest transition for you? Zero to one? One to two? Two to three?” This question was posed at a baby shower for my friend who was pregnant with her fifth child.
I was pregnant for the first time so I listened in eagerly, rubbing my 4-month baby bump and silently taking notes.
“Definitely from no kids to one kid,” she answered. “But maybe that’s just because my first was a difficult baby and she never slept.”
I braced myself for a tough transition five months down the road. And then Norah was born.
Can I tell you a secret? I’m kind of scared to have a son. I always thought I would have two daughters. Obviously, there is no reason for this. It wasn’t even a longing, a hope, or a wish; although there is some comfort in being a “girl mom” that would bring a bit of familiarity to having two children of the same gender. Mostly though, it was just a thought that cemented itself more and more firmly in my mind over the past four years raising a daughter until I started to envision a future with two little girls in tow. I didn’t really believe that first ultrasound picture that clearly (at least to Brett – I still think all ultrasound pictures look like creepy aliens) showed that a boy was growing in my womb, not a girl as I had thought.
I remember this time of year in the classroom. It’s the time of year when I drove to and from school in the dark. Every so often I would catch a glimpse of the sun either rising or setting, but that probably meant I was taking lots of work home in order to spend less time in the classroom. It’s the time of year when you know your students well enough to read their mood when they walk in the door in the morning and have a fairly good idea of why they are feeling that way.
This is that time of year when things are fairly silent in regards to you and what you do. At the beginning of the school year there are all kinds of pump up messages and “we’re so thankful we were placed in your class!” notes. At the end of the year there are the accolades and the teary hugs good-bye as you hear that you were the best teacher they ever had.
A school is being built outside our apartment window. Every morning at 7:00 an air horn signals to the construction workers that it’s time to get to work. The structure is slowly stealing our view of the Hudson River. At certain times of year we can stand in the corner of our living room and still see the sky painted pink, purple, orange and red as the sun dips lower over New Jersey, but for the most part, our view is now of silver beams and orange netting as the building climbs skyward.
Everyone in our family voted on Tuesday, even my three-year-old daughter. She, along with her classmates, voted for cupcakes. Chocolate or vanilla. Since she is my daughter and was therefore born with a constant craving for chocolate, she was confident in her vote and that the outcome would result in eating a delicious, chocolaty cupcake with her classmates on Wednesday afternoon. I didn’t do much to prepare her for the unexpected outcome of vanilla being the winner. She was giddy and energized when I dropped her off, ready to let her voice be heard.
A family of rhinos took my attention away from my daughter. The parents were coaxing the two young ones to move along towards the next treat station. They had to maneuver past several princesses, a clunky Thomas the Train, and our very own two-year-old little Statue of Liberty to reach the prized bowl of Twix bars. The plaza at Lincoln Center offered only five candy stations, but the costume watching made it worth spending Halloween morning in the company of hundreds of other New York families.