looking for the Mrs. Nelsons

Tolliver knows about gap years, the time some students take between high school and college in an effort to figure out what's next. 

Last week we let him take a gap day between Tuesday and Thursday, 
knowing the tall stack of pancakes and the old brass bugle and the friendly geese, 
knowing the generosity of men who make time to talk to children and the patches they pass along to hang on bedroom walls and inspire dreams 
might add up to something.

What You Missed that Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade 
by Brad Aaron Modlin 

Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen 
to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas, 
how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took 
questions on how not to feel lost in the dark. 
After lunch she distributed worksheets 
that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s 
voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep 
without feeling you had forgotten to do something else— 
something important—and how to believe 
the house you wake in is your home. This prompted 
Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing 
how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks, 
and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts 
are all you hear; also, that you have enough. 
The English lesson was that I am 
is a complete sentence. 
And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation look easy. 
The one that proves that hundreds of questions, 
and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking 
for whatever it was you lost, and one person 
add up to something. 



Dear Tolliver,

You are twelve!

All summer long, from sunup to sundown, you were set free in the woods, meeting the world with slides on your feet and hands in the dirt. Most days you're required to attend sixth grade now, but after school and on the weekends you remain outside and impervious to things like cold and hunger and time. Even in the rain, you always seem to do something good with bad weather. It's like the outside is inside everything you do.

You are both a wild animal, and the best boy. You are resolute and self-possesed, both cautious and paradoxically not. I hope to steer you in ways you might feel steadied by, but to mostly get out of your path. You have so much main character energy. You are a friend magnet, and your cousins' favorite playmate. You do not despise many things, but math homework is not your favorite and you tend to push around those papers like lima beans on a plate. I love the way freckles spill across your face, your red hair the dazzling expression of a recessive gene and the winning smile of a natural-born athlete. You step up to every plate and expect to hit a grand slam, and I'm not sure what fuels your impatience or grandiosity. It's okay to be a beginner - hard work, frustration, and discomfort all mean you're getting better. It would be tragic if the treasure and talents within you were buried under the expectations and opinions of others, or behind your own fear of failure. 

For your birthday we found a flight simulation so you could learn to take off and land a commercial 737. As a passenger I was overwhelmed by all the instructions for flipping switches and pressing buttons and pushing the pedals and pulling the yoke, but you handled it like a pro. We also have an appointment with the Ohio National Guard state historian, so you'll continue your traditional request to skip school, but we've managed to fill the day with a few otherwise enriching activities. Last week you visited the Violin Loft to trade for a larger viola, and your saxophone lessons with grandpa Rod are coming right along. When you're not practicing one of three instruments or playing outside, you're likely eating peanut butter.

Tollie you are responsible and resilient and you are just right. While you blow out your birthday candles, we will always blow confidence your way! You seem to possess a clear trust, rooted in your body, the muscle and bones that hold you together and say move. And I have complete faith in your brilliant brain.

Go outside! But please come home. We will always love you here.



I feel like I've revisited this theme every month for years, writing a version of the same thing over and over, how swamped I am with gratitude.


for the beauty of the earth

We spent a sunny Sunday afternoon on a friend's property in the hills of Hocking county. 
The boys are ready to move south.


ideas for hands

Over the weekend Hank built a marble run that went from the primary bedroom upstairs down the steps and through the dining room below before it took a hard right into the boys' hallway. Hank's mood shifted as sharply as the track, from slightly satisfied to wildly disappointed, so when he needed an alternative to perfecting that course he kept himself busy folding approximately seventy three types of origami creations. A single Sunday afternoon of paper crafts can, it seems, feel like six months or more. Although I did try really hard to cast aside most of my motherly notions of mess, to leave all the clean up thoughts firmly inside my head, where they belong. Hank has ideas for hands and dreams for feet and I love that about him. 


ordinary contentment

The sun sets before six now and, not to be dramatic, but it could nearly ruin my life.
Except I know a thing or two about having it out with melancholy, and so do these kids.