[POEM] the last time we had rain 

the last time we had rain 

I can’t remember the last time we had rain

I said tonight

as the first drops fell from the sky

and the wind whipped through the foyer

in the kitchen, he made a pizza while I heated leftovers

with the front door open we felt the first autumn breeze

and the smell of rain on hot asphalt leftover from summer

this week we transitioned from one season to the next

finally

it took too long

patience was never a virtue I possessed

even for the unpredictability

of weather

or whether we will or will not

but tonight a breeze brought us fall

and a rain took away summer

/ / /

Gina Thompson
29 September 2017
Bellefonte PA

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an essay about my mom, and the beginning of something more to come…

After I lift her from the chair, help to maneuver her body on the toilet, I sit in the wheelchair while she poops. We talk. Well, I talk. She replies with phrases you might only speak if you had half a functioning brain. The part that does work understands it all. Every sideways glance, every half smile, every tear, every word, every feeling. We laugh together over morning coffee. I show her pictures from my phone. An old friend that just got married. I have to admit, I tell her more of my secrets now that she can’t talk to others about them. I confide in her, just like I always did, but in a different way. And she still gives me advice, just like she always did, but in a different way. I can tell by the tone of her words what she is thinking. “I know,” I tell her.

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I look up at the framed pictures from the beach. A hotel pool with the ocean in the background, her feet in the sand, sandals covered in sand. Sea shells line the wall shelf below. God, she loved the beach. I never understood it. While she lay baking in the unforgiving sun, I was cooling my body off in the water. Thrusting my body into waves, riding them back to shore. If I couldn’t escape the heat, I could at least stay wet. Our beach vacations for me were a constant struggle to find shade. I grew up with the feel of sand rubbing between body and wet polyurethane, the lesson of sunblock (despite my mom’s preference for baby oil), and a love/hate relationship for all things beach.

I looked from the shelf of seashells to my mom, sitting naked on the toilet, waiting for my dad to wash her. This has been the morning routine for every day since she came home from the rehabilitation center over two years ago. She looks sad. I want to ask her if she’s happy, but I’m afraid to hear her answer. I wouldn’t be. I know she’s not. I know she hates that she survived this wicked stroke that took her speech and ability to move the whole right side of her body. I know my mom. She would rather be dead than be living this way. But she’s not. She’s still alive, unconditionally dependent on my dad and others to take care of her. She still has her family, and that’s something. But she sits in quiet contemplation instead of flamboyant, aggressive conversation. She finds ways to make herself the center of attention. We appreciate the ways in which she is still the same. We are grateful for any amount of mom we still get to retain.

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I remember walking from the beach to our rented condo in Myrtle Beach. I had just finished digging holes and building castles by the shoreline. There wasn’t an inch on my body not covered in sand. My thick brown hair was matted with salted water and sand. I was maybe seven. I thought I had pooped my pants, only to realize I was carrying half the beach back with me in my bathing suit bottom. My brother’s teased me. I pulled it out and threw it at them. When we got back to the condo, I would shower and take a nap. The ocean made me tired. We’d eat some food and head to the pool. At least there I could find an umbrella, some palm tree shade (stupid thin leaves). My mom would read or sunbathe in the reclining chairs by the pool. If we were vacationing with friends, she talked to them. We might talk, but mostly she just wanted a break from her three children. I found some kids to play with.

When my husband first suggested we go to the mountains on vacation, I didn’t understand. “People vacation at the beach,” I told him. He asked, “Do you want to go to the beach?” “No, I don’t like the beach all that much. It’s too hot and there’s no shade.” “You know there isn’t a rule about what makes a vacation a vacation. It still counts if we go hiking.” So we did. And so began a new way of vacationing for me: active, adventurous, exciting. I never went on a beach vacation again.

My mom had her stroke on a Thursday. The Tuesday before she and my dad were in State College. We all (my husband, daughter, and my parents) had dinner at a fancy restaurant in town. My mom and I had been fighting about a former friend of mine. She was right, of course. But at the time, I didn’t want to hear it. God, was she stubborn. So abrasive with her advice and opinions. The day after when she told me she threw up in the middle of the night we thought it was food poisoning from the restaurant. But my husband had the same dish and he didn’t get sick. Weird. Maybe she was getting sick. But my mom doesn’t get sick. Weird. The next time I would see her she would be barely conscious in the ICU at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh. My mom was going to die. I was certain of it.

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JoJo’s 4th birthday party

 

We used to walk the shoreline and collect shells. It was one of the few things I liked about our beach vacations. My mom loved collecting shells. She used to fill up those plastic cheeseball containers with seashells from her beach vacations. There’s so many of them, scattered in various nooks and crannies throughout the house. We look for the perfect ones. No cracks, only that little hole that, as a child, didn’t know how it got there. A mystery of God, I thought. I believed in God back then.

When we went to Hilton Head we collected sand dollars from the sandy bottoms of the shallow water. Adult, nature-lover me is screaming inside that we did this. Such a selfish, unnecessary, greedy thing to do. Once we got home, my mom would wash them and bleach them. Then she might paint them or do calligraphy art on them. We’d get them as Christmas tree ornaments with the year and destination of our vacation. I am reminded of these every second weekend of December when I travel to Pittsburgh to chop down and decorate a tree with my dad. There are some traditions you don’t stop doing just because you grow up and become an adult.

Sometimes when we’re sitting together at the kitchen table I’ll ask her what it’s like to only have half a brain. She chuckles, says, “Well, I see.” But it’s the intonation in her voice and the expression in her face that tells me what I need to know. Its frustrating. She knows what to say but can’t say it. She understands what everyone else is saying but can’t contribute to conversation. It takes a lot of effort to tell someone her wants and needs. I wonder what it’s like to hear the right words in your head and then hear the mumbling mess that comes out. The consonants and sounds that don’t quite match up. That our family can understand a lot of what she does say or mean or need is sort of remarkable. Or just telling of how in tune we all are with one another.

My mom is the oldest of four siblings. She has two brothers and a sister. I have eight cousins. Our family gatherings were always large.  A controlled chaos. On holidays our house was consumed with gregarious Italians. It was exhausting. I usually tried to hide somewhere to nap or find some quiet moments among the chaos. But I loved it. I miss those holiday gatherings. I miss having a large, crazy family. My mom’s dad died when she was in her early thirties. He had a brain tumor. He maybe had a stroke, but I can’t remember. That would be ironic. Her best friend also died that same year from Diabetes. I was just a tiny kid, but that was a really difficult year for my mom. I don’t know that she ever recovered emotionally. Maybe.

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My mom (left) and her brothers and sister

 

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All of the cousins

My grandma, my Nunnie, died of Diabetes in 2006. I was completing my student teaching in Sweden. She died in November and my mom didn’t tell me until I got back in December. I was angry at first, but I understood. What could I do from thousands of miles and the Atlantic Ocean between me and my family? I was angry at my grandma for a long time after her death. She was emotionally unstable and caused a lot of unnecessary drama between her kids. Even after her death they still fought about her. I hated the senseless fighting. But she was a good woman and had so much unconditional love for her grandkids.

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A very brave little girl.

Explaining to JoJo what happened to her Mimi was really difficult. She was three and didn’t really understand. She wasn’t really scared. She wanted to see her Mimi and touch her and kiss her. She was so remarkable in that hospital. She grew up a lot… saw things she didn’t understand but that would have to learn quickly. She learned about brains and strokes and what happens when people get sick. She just continued to love her Mimi. And I know that strengthened my mom’s spirit. Jo was her world. Her absolute world. Any friend or family could confirm that without hesitation. And visa-versa. They loved each other “to the moon and back.”

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besties

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our home in the ICU at AGH in Pittsburgh

When I arrived at the hospital early Friday morning, around 3am, most of my extended family was already there. I had never driven so fast from State College to Pittsburgh. I don’t remember much about that drive, except wiping my face so I could see the road in between sobs. My mom looked terrible. She looked like someone who was about to die. Her eyes were sunken in and dark. Her skin was wrinkly and saggy. The next three days would be some of the scariest days of my life. Sitting, waiting, wondering… was my mom going to die? On the second day they called my dad and said they had to operate on her brain because there was too much pressure from the clot. The pressure would kill her. The surgery might kill her too, but it was the best of the two options. The surgery gave her a fighting chance. Our family was already familiar with the waiting area of the ICU at AGH. A few years before my uncle had a brain aneurysm and for days we were in and out of the third floor of AGH. This was no different. We had brought blankets and pillows. Coolers of food. Toys and books for JoJo. There were flowers. Chargers for our phones. I brought my school work. I was still teaching at the high school. I hated that I would have to go back to work while my mother sat in a hospital bed.

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My mother was beyond frightened. I remember feeling this when I held her hand and looked in her eyes. She had tubes connected and inserted in all parts of her body. She understood it all. She knew her life, should she survive, would never be the same. I thought she would be a vegetable for the rest of her life. After her surgery, half of her head was shaved and her left side of her brain was sunken in. It made her look like Quasimodo. Her glasses didn’t stay on her face. Her mouth drooped. Her hair was greasy and matted against her head. My uncle sat beside her and told jokes, tried to be the asshole we all accept and love. My dad tried to be practical, telling us kids to return to work. There was nothing to be done except let time work it’s healing magic. My brother set up a radio to play this God stuff that I didn’t like at all. It was on a loop and I swear it annoyed my mom. But my brother believed it would help to heal her. And he needed something to believe in.

It was March 23, 2015 when my mom had a massive ischemic stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. She was doing laundry. She was alone in the house. When my dad came home from work, another long day for a CPA during tax season, he found her mostly unconscious on the floor of the laundry room, sitting in her blood and bodily fluids. She probably hit her head on the washer as she fell to the ground. We don’t know how long she was alone. Maybe as much as three hours. Spring was just beginning. We didn’t know it then, but our family was also just beginning… to fall apart.

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I want to be at the beach with her, walking the shoreline and finding seashells. I want to hear her tell me how stupid I’m being about love. I want to be cleaning my house with her. I want to be digging in soil and planting flowers. I want to hear her laugh and yell and say the word “fuck” over and over again. I want her mean and I want her loving and I just want all of her again, without limitations. I want my mom.

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My mom sent this to me when I was struggling with depression in 2014.

 

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JoJo and Mimi, after she was moved out of ICU.

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[POEM] the reluctance of the forest

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the reluctance of the forest

On the car ride to school she asked if today was Fall. I thought about this. Was it? Yes, today is the first day of fall, I told her. It’s finally arrived.

But in the woods, there’s still so much green. I feel the tug and pull of the forest. The trees groan as leaves drop from their branches. I’m surrounded by reluctance: branches holding tight to leaves, moss clinging to rocks, ferns refusing to yellow. But there’s a fervor among the forest. To move on. To see what this next season holds. Vibrant colors of golds, oranges, yellows, reds. The browning of grasses. The slowing down of streams.

Along the trail are fallen leaves, some various shades of autumn and some with the vibrant green of summer. Did they fall on their own accord? Or were they coerced into leaving their branches by a more powerful force?

I understand how the forest feels. The constant tug and pull. This resistance to let go of what once was and the eagerness to move on to the new. We don’t always get to control how each moment happens. The seasons change with or without our permission. The best we can hope for is a gentle transition from what once was to what will now.


Inspired by the WordPress writing daily prompt: Leaf

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(poem) nothing good can stay

by Robert Frost

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[POEM] the day of the spiderwebs

the day of the spiderwebs

this day
was the day of spiderwebs
so many of them
illuminated by sunlight
glistening from early morning dew
hanging from tree branches
draped across bushes

no phone camera could capture the magic
between each string of silk
some of them too large for the frame
some too small to show detail
others wrapped around the body
as it passed along the trail

nothing could capture the magic
of that morning among the spiderwebs

/ / /

Gina Thompson
20 September 2017
Bellefonte PA

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[PHOTOS] My weekend in Rothrock 

I spent the better part of the weekend in a place I love more than any other: Rothrock State Forest.

Saturday I took The Kids (my husband and daughter) on a 3ish mile hike in Bear Meadows. Stacy and I don’t get out too much, what with our crazy teaching lives and the little Tidbit. So date nights are few and far between. But I’m perfectly fine with our “dates” being spent in the forest. And I love that JoJo (5) wants to hike and go on adventures in the woods. I hope someday soon she can do more than three miles, but… patience. Even though Stacy and I have hiked many times around Bear Meadows and other parts, it was still great to “show” the kids my forest. (Yes, I know I have to share it with others, but shhhhhh). It would only have been better if we had spent an overnight in the forest. Perhaps that will be placed on the fall agenda. Perhaps for our anniversary.

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she did it!

 


On Sunday I went for an early(ish) morning run. Ok, so it was 8 by the time I finally got out there! The morning was thick with fog, draping across everything. Gorgeous. I decided I needed to go deep in the forest, clear my head, run if I could but not put pressure on myself to do so. I went to a place I had only been once before, called Coopers Gap. I had wanted to take Stacy and JoJo there the day before. Because it’s magical, and everyone deserves to experience a little magic. But we ran out of time and had to hike not as deep in the woods. So I went to scout out some new territory there to see where might be best to take The Kids on our next adventure. Did I mention this forest is enchanted?

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Here’s where the magic started, driving past Alan Seager into Coopers Gap

 

The purple lizard changes with the seasons. Seems appropriate.

The “high country” in Coopers Gap. Here’s a line white pine.

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In the thick of the enchanted forest

 

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This post was also inspired by the WordPress daily prompt: Glorious

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[POEM] the trouble with letting go

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the trouble with letting go

you must wash away memories
(no one says you have to)
you must form the words “goodbye”
(but if you don’t, is it still so?)

to sit in the stillness of motion
watch seasons change around
your own reluctance
find ways to fill the hole
recreate the story so it begins
and ends the way it should have

but even the forest clings to green
as autumn approaches

/ / /

Gina Thompson
16 September 2017
Bellefonte PA
#porchpoems

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[POEM] among the forests

among the forests

It’s as close to an ocean as we get these days
A small state park lake 
Man made by damming the water
Sand trucked in, dumped over dirt
30 yards from water’s edge to grass

I prefer my beaches with trees
Maples thick with leaves
Creating shade and shadows against a tan ground
As long as I can still dig my feet in
Feel the grains of sand between my toes

Instead of seashells I collect rocks
Instead of surfing waves I jump over wakes from passing motor boats and jet skis
In this landlocked state we make do
Climb mountains before breakfast
And make beaches inside the forests

/ / /

Gina Thompson
4 September 2017
Bald Eagle State Park, PA

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my first week at my new job!

Last night I had my first Wegmans dream since my last day. In the dream, I was accidentally scheduled to work two weeks after my last day (which would be around now). So I worked, being the responsible person that I am, but it was riddled with difficulties managing my working in the cheese shop with my teaching job. (It might have been the weekend in the dream, I can’t remember.) What I do remember most is that Wegmans had developed this really yummy oatmeal recipe that had to be prepared in the cheese shop, which didn’t make sense considering it didn’t include any cheese. But it was incredibly popular and people were lining up to by our new oatmeal, so there was a lot of hustle and bustle in the cheese shop to make more batches of it. I told my boss that I could work today but that she needed to remember I didn’t work there anymore and could she please take me off the schedule, as sad as that was for me.

Yesterday completed my first week back in the classroom after my 1 1/2 year hiatus. I can’t put into words how very excited I am to be teaching again. While I was carrying a crate of classroom goodies to my car (stapler, 3-hole puncher, label maker, history books, decorations, mug, and tea) I was beaming. I was so happy that I started to tear up. And what made that feeling so powerful for me was that I had never felt that excitement at the beginning of the school year before now. Yes, I loved my students at [former school where I worked]. I was excited to teach them and get to know them and grow together. But I wasn’t excited about… all the other stuff.

The “other stuff” at my new teaching gig is just as exciting as the students. Well, I don’t know yet because I haven’t met them. But that’s my point. This past week I spent my time in meetings and setting up the classroom and preparing materials. And all of that left me feeling energized and excited, instead of deflated, demoralized, and anxious. My colleagues are inspiring and fun. I love their passion and energy and sense of humor. They have an incredible amount of love for and dedication to their students. There’s also so much mutual respect for each other. And they have welcomed me love, support, humor, companionship, and so much more. I finally feel as though I’ve found “my people” in the education world.

I remember my first year teaching (2007) and I had colleagues (not all, but a select few) that said, “Whatever you do, don’t talk your first year. Don’t say anything in meetings. Don’t voice your opinion. Don’t ask questions. Just follow along. You’re new, no one wants to hear what you have to say.” Now, I don’t know if that was an exception if the person(s) who told me that had a bad experience or if they were just riddled with fear. And maybe there’s some truth to it because my exodus from [former school where I worked] was in part because I stood up for myself. (Long story, my bias.) But I don’t feel that way in my new teaching gig. In fact, my colleagues have gone out of the way to ask my opinion, to listen, to consider my past teaching experiences. They value the knowledge and outside experience that I have to bring to our little community.

I’m grateful for my time away from teaching. I don’t feel that I lost anything (except the unhealthy cynicism) and it gave me time to regroup mentally and figure out what I wanted for myself. I wasn’t happy in my former teaching gig. I needed that hiatus to figure out whether it was teaching, the education system, or just that environment. This past year and a half I’ve focused on taking care of all aspects of me. It’s been the most important work I’ve done in my life. Rediscovering my love for the trails, eating healthier, therapy, having a job… those and more are some of the things that have helped me get to a good place. A great place, in fact. And I am unconditionally grateful to Wegmans for giving me a home and meaningful work for a year. Working in the cheese shop made such a positive impact on my life. I learned what it was like to work in a supportive and respectful work environment and to be valued and cared for by an employer.

So to say things are going well for me, at least professionally, would be an understatement. I can’t wait until Monday when I get to meet our students and the real, exciting, dirty work of teaching begins. I can’t wait for the new challenges that await. I’m not counting down the days until Thanksgiving break, Christmas, Spring Break, the end of the year. I’m looking forward to all the time ahead of me to get to know my students and my colleagues and to be a part of this amazing learning community.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Thank you to everyone who has given me unconditional support and love over the years. It hasn’t been easy, and there’s still a bit more to work on personally. But I couldn’t have dealt with the stuff I’ve gone through over the years without my family and friends and the outpouring of love, support, and positive energy. #liveisbetterwithlove

I love you keep going.

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working on lessons in my new classroom!

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crate of classroom goodies!

 

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your patience will be rewarded

I’m not a very patient person (thanks mom). I wouldn’t say I’m overly impatient either (thanks dad). I am capable of rational and logic thinking when it comes to waiting for the goods, the this, the that. But that rational thought only gets me so far. Sooner or later I just want something to happen! Just a couple weeks ago I wrote about my current lack of forward progress. I wrote about how things in my life just aren’t moving quickly enough for me. And I concluded with the understanding that I needed to just be patient.

I’ve been patiently waiting for over a year. I left the classroom bruised and beaten, and with a heavy chip on my shoulder for public school. I won’t get into the dirty details, but those of you close to me know at least some parts of this story.

For a year I hemmed and hawed on education. It’s my passion, no doubt. But every time someone asked me if I was going to teach again, I’d say, “Well, not in a traditional public school.” I elaborated to say that I would teach in an “alternative” setting — like a private school or a charter school or a specialized school. Although around here, those opportunities are few and far between. But teaching in a “non-traditional” setting was always my preference. It’s how I taught (for better or worse) in my more “traditional” classroom, given some obvious limitations. For nine years my dream job was teaching at our district’s alternative program. It was like a charter school within the district. But that opportunity didn’t happen during my tenure.

After the chaos of leaving the high school mid-year, I needed to take a break from education, as much as I loved it. So this past year I’ve been working part-time in the cheese shop of a local, uh, grocery store. It’s really more than just your average grocery store. It’s a fancied-up version. And it’s been a really wonderful and meaningful experience for me. I never had the experience of working retail. Let me tell you — it’s not easy. You miss out on a lot of stuff. Your schedule isn’t consistent. And the public is not always nice. (But actually, I rarely encountered rude or ungrateful customers.)

I loved almost every single minute of that job. No, it wasn’t intellectually demanding. No, it wasn’t high stakes, high-pressure work. But it was fun and warm and friendly. I found ways of making it challenging. And I felt valued and important. No, we weren’t solving life’s problems in our little cheese shop, but we were doing meaningful work because we believed in providing a quality product (in this case, fancy cheese) to our customers.

Another side benefit of working in the cheese shop is it allowed me time and flexibility to grow in other areas of my life. Particularly my trail running. Retail hours suit trail running very nicely. I could run in the morning on my days off or before work. And even though I missed out on a lot of evenings with my kid and husband, I had a lot of unique time slots with them — both individually and together. The cheese shop gig also gave me stability while I continued the very important, hard work on my self. That job, the friendships I made there, the people I worked with, the value and importance I felt as an employee — these all were paramount to my personal growth. When I left the classroom I was fighting a lot of demons. A year and a half later and I feel like a whole different person. I’m alive and hopeful and joyful and excited about all the little adventures and challenges that come my way.

It’s been a great year in the cheese shop. And just shortly after I celebrated my one-year anniversary with the company, I had a very serendipitous conversation with a local teacher. This led to me applying for and accepting a teaching position at a local charter school. And so now I am transitioning away from this job I called home for the past year and back into the classroom, in an environment I believe will suit my education philosophy much better. I’m sad to be leaving my cheese family, but I’m so over-the-moon excited for this new chapter in my life. I can’t wait to meet my kids and get to know them, to teach and love and support them, to connect with colleagues and make new friendships, and to be a part of a community of teachers with like-minded philosophies.

I can already foresee how this new career will present some personal challenges: time for trail running, logistics of scheduling pickups and drop-offs, the strain on certain friendships. But life is not perfect, and there’s always going to be an element of stress and challenges. I’m ok with this. It will all work out. As long as there is patience and understanding and support, all those little challenges will work themselves out over time.

But, you guys…. I get to be a teacher again!

I have been patient… and forward progress is happening.

ILYKG

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