Miss Night's Marbles

Musings, mumbles, marvels, and sometimes mockery, live from kindergarten.

The last waltz should be forever

In April, my grandma turned 97. We celebrated with her favourite thing: Chinese food surrounded by her children, grandchildren, great-grandson, in the nursing home dining room. A candle on a cupcake before she asked to go back to her room, but instructed us to stay and enjoy one another.

She’s the longest-standing resident ever of the nursing home. She has lived there for 12 years, since she had the stroke that took away control of her right side. Before the stroke, she filled her days by making stuff: cookies, bread, baby quilts, afghans, watercolours, oil paintings, clothes for all of us. She sewed all of my dance costumes; I have a fully-boned, custom-made white tutu that is a goddamn work of art. If I ever have a wedding, some part of that tutu will be some part of my wedding dress. My cousins and I had the best-dressed Cabbage Patch Kids in town, with hand-sewn, hand-knitted wardrobes finished to couture standards. One afternoon spent at her house, when I tore the seat of my shorts while hopping a chain-link fence, she sewed me up a whole new outfit in what seemed like minutes. Every time I came home from university, she sent me back to the dorm with at least 3 dozen cookies. One Christmas, her three granddaughters each received a fully-jointed, handmade plush teddy bear. Grandma was a maker before making was A Thing.

After the stroke, and some rehab, she somehow started making stuff again. She asked me for the kindergarten printing workbook from my school (my first school had workbooks, but that is a different story) and at 85 years old, re-taught herself to print with her left hand. She mastered left-handed, one-handed large-point needlepoint and it does not seem like an exaggeration to say she has completed at least 100 wall hangings and cushion covers.

As I write this, Grandma is walking the tightrope between this world and the next. She is not sick, nothing is broken, her body is just worn out. She can’t swallow solid food, has refused liquid nutrition. For 4 days, her children and grandchildren have rotated through her room. Her breathing is steadily slower, her lucid moments further apart. The nursing home staff keep the lights dim, stock a cart of juice and water and cookies for us. We hold her hand, kiss her brow, wipe her face with a cool cloth.

Even when she is awake, she is often far away, withdrawn into herself, her eyes unfocused. But when she is clear, her message is the same each time: “I love you. Love you so much. I love you.” Most of her grandchildren are unmarried, and don’t have kids. She has told each of us, firmly and repeatedly:

Find love.
Get married.
Have babies.

I love you.

I can’t promise Grandma that I will get married (it could happen), or have babies (extremely unlikely), so I am choosing to believe that “find love” is the most important part of her instructions. Build a life such that, when you are 97 and one eye is already looking into heaven, and you have to muster all your energy and strength to speak, “I love you” are the most important words.

In the end, “I love you” is really the only thing that matters.
It’s the only thing that ever mattered.


(*Edit September 3rd: When I first drafted this 2 days ago, Grandma was having lucid moments. When I saw her yesterday, she was no longer oriented to where she was or who was with her.  She is still hanging on, but we are all at peace with her letting go whenever she is ready.)


No Comments »

The thing that had to be written…

This is the post that has to be written, before anything else can be posted or written.

For 2 years, I have barely written anything here. I have started many posts, and they linger in my drafts folder. I visit them regularly, add a few sentences, tinker with the words. Some of those posts, I think, are very good, or will be very good, with a little more tinkering. Some of them are beautiful. Some of them are sad. But before you can read any of them, I have to write this one. Some of you have reached out, asking where I have gone, if I am writing elsewhere…

The answer is simple and infinitely complex: 2 years ago, for 2 reasons, I lost my voice, here.

This is why:

1: I wrote about That Kid, which went viral in (what I have since learned is) the purest, most genuine way of going viral. I had no promotion strategy, no plan, no intention. I wrote a thing, and millions of people read it. Millions. Many, multiple millions. If we include the translations, probably tens of millions. Amazing, yes. A thrill-ride, exciting, amazing, often terrifying. I am terribly, terribly proud of that post, and I stand behind my message. But also: it stripped away my quasi-anonymity while also opening the door to deeply disturbing comments, hate mail, threats. How do you (I) follow that? How do I go back to silly throw-away posts about my dog? How do I live up to the expectation that created?

2: Three weeks after That Kid, just as things were settling down, The Most Terrible Thing happened. For this, it is no longer the finding of these words, but rather the saying of them, that paralyzes me: My friend was murdered. That changed everything. Every. Thing. Loss changes everything. Grief changes everything. Murder changes loss and grief in ways I never wanted to know. There were times when I wrote hard and true and raw, in the deep of night, about what murder does to grief, to love, to the mind and the heart and the spirit. Those words, though, did not, do not, belong here (yet?) because they do not only belong to me, but also to people I love very much, and never, NEVER, do I want my healing to cause them pain. And my friend’s life matters so very very much more than her death.

These 2 things, coming one after the other, not equal or related, but somehow, inextricably connected, have left me so, so, different. I am still who I was, in many ways. I love my dog and my house (I have a new house! One that belongs to ME!), my family and friends, my books, my city, my work, but also…

I am more tender-hearted, more empathetic, more sensitive. I cry more easily, at my own pain and the pain of others.

I am both more and less patient, tolerant, generous.

I am more fearful and also more confident.

My view of the world is clearer and also more infinitely complicated.

I am more connected to, and grateful for, my job and school community, but also more able to put my work in context as one part of my life and world.

I am quieter and more vocal.

I am so much more grateful for the good in my life, the comforts and friends and resources and opportunities, and also so excruciatingly aware of the fragility of it all.

I am different. My voice is different. The things I want to write about are different, and so is the way I want to write. I might disappoint you. I might delight you.

I WANT to write again, but this is the post that had to be written, before anything else can be posted or written.


You might stay, or you might leave.

I hope you’ll stay.

Happy New Year




One year later.

One year, today, since the most terrible thing.

A year ago, a year seemed like a long time – long enough for things to look different, long enough to “get used to” the fact of her absence. And, on the one hand, it is a long time: I don’t cry every single day any more, and very rarely at school. The fact of her death no longer feels quite so much like a pistol-whip every time it crosses my brain.

In the last 2 weeks, as we have approached this terrible anniversary, I have felt myself regressing, and only in doing so did I realise how physical my intense grief was. Yesterday afternoon, as I felt the minutes tick by, bringing me closer to December 1st, I swear I could feel my eyes drawing back into my head, feel my smile unhook at the edges, my skin start to hurt where my clothes touched.

By feeling it all come back, I realise how bad it was. And yet…

Over and over again, I have learned the power of powerlessness. Over and over again, I have had to admit to frailty, to fear, to loneliness. I have had to say “I can’t. “I won’t.” “I need help.” “I’m scared.” And over and over again, I have found the most strength in the moments I have admitted weakness, the most relief in the moments I have admitted pain.

I am less scared now, than I was a year, even six months, ago. I walk my dog in my neighbourhood after dark. I sleep with the window open again.

I have social anxiety that I did not have, before. I still struggle with small-talk, afraid that I will somehow stumble into the conversational landmine that is Lauren’s death.

I have been overwhelmed by the kindness that surrounds me, from the people who love me best and also from total strangers.  I still, once in a while, have a flash of someone who called, sent a note, a card, a text, a prayer in those dark days of last December and January, when I was so deep in the hole of grief that I could not respond to everyone. My gratitude defies words.

A year ago, I was terrified that this would break us, that we would discover that Lauren was the glue that held us all together, and that without her, we would melt apart. I am proud that we are still holding on to one another, that we have burrowed into one another instead of spiralling away. At each milestone, we have reached out to one another, holding hands and hearts across miles and months.

More than all of this, though, I have come to categorically reject the rhetoric of glass-half-full-look-on-the-bright-side-there-is-a-reason-for-everything optimistic fatalism. Sometimes, there simply is no bright side. Sometimes, there simply is no reason. For me, the strangest hopefulness  has come from embracing that. Because, if a good thing does not outweigh and erase the terrible thing, then the reverse is also true – no terrible thing can outweigh or erase a good thing. Hot chocolate, with whipped cream and sprinkles, delivered to my office by a kind colleague, does not erase an unexpected dark, teary, lonely moment in the middle of a school day. But the dark moment also does not erase the hot chocolate, or the kindness. Appreciating, treasuring my friendship with Lauren does not erase the violent tragedy of her death, but nor does her death erase the magic of our friendship. 


We cannot measure good and evil against one another and see which one wins. This is not a zero-sum game. Both simply are. Good and evil. Light and dark. Sun and shadow. Friendship and loss.

And so, what I choose to cling to most is the reality, the evidence, of Lauren being my friend.  At her memorial service, Becky and I held hands and eulogized our friend, remembering the magic, the belly-aching laughter, the miracle of the friendship-turned-family we had all built. I return often to the words I wrote and read on that day, reciting some of them like prayers when I miss her the most. While you can read the whole text here, the parts I return to most are this:

When you consider all of this, it is nothing short of a miracle that not only did we tolerate one another, but that we continued, day after day, and year after year, to LIKE one another, to enjoy one another’s company, to laugh together until our bellies ached and tears dripped from our faces, and also to turn to one another in our darkest and saddest moments.

and then, the very end:

And so, our dear friend Lauren, our missing piece: Our story is still going. This is not a chapter we ever expected or wanted, but all of our shared stories will go on: our friendship with one another; our love for your daughter, our stewardship of Coppercreek. We will miss you with every beat of our broken hearts. We know that you will let us be sad for now, and we promise not to be sad forever. We will learn the things we need to learn, and we will take care of each other along the way.  Someday soon, we will laugh until the tears drip from our faces, and when we do, we will raise a glass to you.


My heart is still broken, but my glass is raised. My story is still going.


Earlier today, I wrote a post for the camp blog, about how we can live Lauren’s legacy of light and love. You can read it, here. 


No Comments »

No gifts, please.

A friend asked me, a few days ago, about “back to school teacher gifts.” She wanted to know if these were A Thing at my school. My shocked response quickly clarified that these are very much NOT A Thing at my school, but a quick scan of social media and mommy blogs showed me that they appear to be a growing THING, out there in the world. WHO CAME UP WITH THIS FRESH HELL?

Let’s back up for a second: I’m a girl who likes presents, both the giving and the receiving. I pride myself on selecting and planning thoughtful, personal gifts for others, and I accept gifts with enthusiasm, gratitude and grace. As a classroom teacher, I enjoyed and appreciated the tokens of appreciation I received from my students and their families over the years. I. Like. Presents.

And knowing THAT about me should add even more weight to my words, when I say this:

I’m a teacher (ok, I’m now an admin, and out of the classroom, but I remain a teacher, in my heart, as well as by certification and profession…), and I’m here to set the record straight:

We do not need gifts, from students or parents, on the first day of school.



The first day of school is already full of enough pressure and stress, for parents and students. As a parent, you have had to get your family out of summer mode. You have bought new school clothes and new school supplies, and you may even be helping your child face a new school, altogether. You have sorted out your family’s routines so that everybody gets where they need to go, on time, with the right stuff, on that first day. Many of you have taken a little time off work to accompany your little ones to the classroom door. The last thing you need to do or remember is to package up some mints or hand sanitizer, or candy, in a cute jar with a pun-ny note.

And if you do find yourself with a little extra pocket of time, in the waning days of summer, please don’t waste it researching, buying, or making, a gift for me.  Take one more trip to the pool with your kids. Read an extra chapter of Harry Potter together. Eat ice cream. Count shooting stars. Please don’t spend one minute trying to figure out how to make me a vase out of crayons. (Insider tip: my house is not decorated in a crayon-chalk-apple motif…) Take those crayons, sit down and colour with your kiddo. If colouring is not your thing: watch a movie. Go to a new playground. Sit on the front step and eat a popsicle. Soak up every last minute of summer.

Here’s the thing: for me, and for most teachers, the first day of school is already on par with Christmas. It is already a day full of gifts, one we have anticipated for weeks. We have spent days preparing our classrooms, writing the children’s names on 847 different things, sharpening pencils, arranging chairs, selecting the book for our first read-aloud of the year. We have pored over our class lists for at least a week, trying to guess what personalities and faces and quirks lay behind those inscrutable names. Ida. Marco. Polly. Tyrone.

We have been waiting, anxiously and excitedly, for them to arrive. We have endured hours of meetings, late nights of planning. We have awakened at night in a cold sweat, after the ubiquitous first-day-of-school teacher nightmare: that the first day of school arrived, and we were not ready (Seriously. We ALL have this dream at least once every year). Our hallways and classrooms and gyms and libraries have echoed with the sparse and hollow footsteps of grownups for DAYS. Our schools are not schools until the children arrive.

And then, finally, FINALLY, on that first day: the cars and buses pull up, the playground fills. The gifts we have been waiting for are finally here. In stiff new shoes, too-big backpacks, freshly-scrubbed faces, shy smiles, our gifts file in.

The children — your children– are the gifts.

On this day, nothing, NOTHING you could possibly bring me, can compare to the gift that is your child’s presence in my classroom. His fresh haircut, her tight pigtails, their chatter and laughter and endless questions… the water fight at the sink, the spilled milk at lunch time, even those messes are gifts, on this magical day.

Later in the year, there will be time for presents. Once we know each other, feel free to drop off a Starbucks card at Halloween, or some fresh Sharpies on concert day. I’m sure it won’t take long for you to learn about my weakness for chocolate chip cookies. We have a road to travel together, this year, and along the way, we may exchange some gifts.

But right now, on the first day of school?

Your child is the only gift I need.


Weekend Latte & Links: Balance, addiction, joy, and lip balm

Look at me, blogging on time! I’m also realizing that it has been a long time since I have posted anything that was NOT Latte & Links, and I promise there are some things in the works… Patience, grasshopper. As it is, doing this Sunday gig has me posting far more regularly that any previous time in my blogging life.

(As always, full disclosure: All product links on my site are Amazon affiliate links, and if you click through and actually buy stuff, a small percentage of the cost goes to help THAT kid, in a number of ways.) On a related note: if I added a page to the blog, where all my book and product recommendations could be found in one place, would that be useful? Would you look there? What should I call it? Feel free to answer in the comments!

Right now: It is chilly and snowy outside, after a 2 week false spring. There are beef ribs in the slow-cooker and Freddy is asleep in the rocking chair, in front of the fire. There is apparently some sort of sports event on the teevee today, and normally I try to go to the movies on sports days involving cups and bowls, but home feels good, today.


Shiny brilliance of the week:

  • There is no such thing as balance, by fellow blogger Pernille Ripp. This line cuts to the very heart of things: “We forget that as teachers we cannot save the world.  That yes, we can try to change the life of a child in our classrooms but we hold a much greater power at home.” Our work is important, but not more important than our own loved ones.
  • Food is a Death Sentence to These Kids. For many years when I was a teenager, my dad was involved with a woman whose adult daughter had Prader-Willi Syndrome. This gave me a basic education about the realities of PW — a genetic condition that causes mild mental retardation, short stature, and, most signficantly, constant, obsessive hunger combined with an incredibly slow metabolism. I am still surprised at how few people know about the syndrome and the challenges it poses to the kids who have it and their families. This New York Times piece does an excellent job (and also highlights that additional obstacles that arise when a chronic health condition is combined with low-income and poor health insurance….)
  • Joy: A subject Schools Lack. What if it was mandated that schools build JOY into our curriculums, our values, our pedagogy? How would that change everything we do? Why do we cling to the myth that learning can only happen when we “get serious?”
  • The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think. I don’t know about all the science behind this theory, but it is an entirely new framework for considering addiction. “For a century now, we have been singing war songs about addicts. It occurred to me as I wiped his brow, we should have been singing love songs to them all along.”

On the nightstand:

  • Confession: I have not added anything to my book pile this week. I am still reading The Deepest Secret (although I will probably finish it soon), and it is still engrossing, interesting, and also fairly lightweight. I have not touched The Poisonwood Bible in a while, not because it is not good (it is EXCELLENT), but because my attention span has been better suited to lighter fare. I’m still savouring my way through my umpteenth read of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and (spoiler alert) as soon as Harry kills that damn basilisk, I’m going to dive into Wonder.

On the Audible app:

  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I have been listening to this in fits and starts, for a few months. If you are an introvert like me, if you know an introvert, if you just read that sentence and thought “Wait, Amy, YOU are NOT an introvert,” if you are raising an introvert, if you have ever wondered if there is something wrong with you because you would rather be at home in your pyjamas than go just about anywhere, if you think introverted means shy, if you don’t understand what I mean when I say that corporate culture idealizes extroverts, if you HATE ice breaker games**, or if you think people who hate icebreakers are just uptight, YOU NEED TO READ THIS.

One thing you should buy:

  • Rosebud Salve. At great risk of sounding like I am selling snake oil, this stuff is magic. Lip balm, cuticle cream, great for cracked heels and scaly elbows, it smells like heaven and the tin is so pretty. It would be a very fun and affordable little Valentine’s Day present, too!

1 Comment »