Childhood’s a Blur…and So Are the Pictures

how to slow down and enjoy childhood via @lizzylit

We didn’t do the last day of school right.

All six of us woke up late—we had already started easing into slack summer bedtimes a few days early, and we all slept in.

So the last morning of school turned into a whirlwind of cereal-shoveling and lunch-packing and gift-wrapping, all to a frantic soundtrack:

“Please tell me someone found that library book!”

“Quick, tie a bow around that teacher gift!”

“Mommy, did you remember to buy water bottles?”

“I forgot—just grab your broken Thermos.”

“Mommy, you promised!”


We stumbled out the door, a flurry of backpacks and uncombed hair and teacher gifts with bows half-tied. We made it just in time.

After the kids sprinted to class, I knocked on the door of my son’s second-grade classroom for the last time, to deliver his teacher a gift from her students: a framed photo collage, our attempt to preserve a memory so she could keep it forever.

This spring she had organized a 24-hour “Skype-a-thon.” Mrs. L and her students camped out for 24 hours at school, Skyping other classrooms in time zones they could never contact during normal school hours. Mrs. L found a way to stretch class time long enough so her students could meet other children across the globe.

Overnight she helped her students “travel” to every time zone, to places few will ever visit in person—to Palestine, Nepal, South Africa, Australia, Malaysia, Belgium… 27 countries and 3 U.S. States in all. In those wondrous 24 hours my son and his friends met other students “face-to-face,” talking school and history and favorite soccer teams. They giggled and shared and built bridges, one cinderblock classroom to another, on cheap computers with unreliable Internet signals—but they did it. They pulled it off. She pulled it off.

It was a herculean feat, a one-of-a-kind, world’s-first type event. It was worthy of a photo collage, and so much more—maybe a World’s Best Teacher award, or better yet a Nobel Peace Prize. In lieu of a Nobel Prize, Mrs. L’s students did the best they could: they made a photo collage. The pictures were blurry, taken by weary parents with cell phones in the middle of the night; the kids’ signatures were sloppy, scrawled in their second-grade style… but somehow Mrs. L got teary-eyed anyway. I left to the sound of happy chatter, as she tried to hold on to a few last hours with her students.

But halfway across the school parking lot, I stopped, stricken. I’d forgotten to photograph the moment. I’d been so caught up in it—wanting her to feel our gratitude, wishing the kids could fully grasp this great experience she had given them, this lifelong gift—that I forgot to take a picture to memorialize the memorializing. I stood debating: Should I go back and interrupt, waste their dwindling class time, embarrass my son for the sake of posterity? Or just let it go?

I decided to let it go, but the memory-maker inside me died a little.

And so there will be no Last Day of School picture of my son with his second-grade teacher and the gift we gave her. (Really, the gift she gave him.)

And thanks to our family’s hectic morning, there will be no cute split-screen, first day-last day pictures of my kids on social media, the ones that show how much they’ve grown during the school year. There just wasn’t time.

And that’s the trouble with time, and with childhood… there’s never enough. Not during the school day. Not on the last day of school, or the first, or even in the summer. Because even today, with six vacation weeks stretching out ahead of us, sparkling with possibility, I feel the tug of the real-life calendar: the work that still has to be done, the summer reading list I should probably enforce, the dozens of fun family memories we want to cram into such a short span.

And sad as I feel today about the last day of school, in six weeks I know I’ll be mourning the end of another blink-of-an-eye summer, wishing for more. Wishing for more lazy mornings; for more days that end with sand in the bathtub and wet towels on the floor; for more long stormy afternoons when everyone’s bored and it’s all I can do to keep them off electronics and using their imaginations instead. Those days too will fade, faster than they should.

So it all has me thinking: How do I want to spend these glorious, too-few summer days?

And how should we have spent that last day of kindergarten, second, and third grades? Should we have gotten up a little earlier? Rushed a little faster, pushed a little harder to do it all right, take the pictures, mark the moment?


Maybe not.

Because the thing is, on that last morning, somehow the kids made it to school with clothes on—clothes that weren’t photo-worthy, but were perfect for one final romp on the playground with friends. All the teachers got gifts from the heart, and most of the gifts even had crooked bows on them. And all my kids had lunches in hand—composed of weird, end-of-the-paycheck-so-the-pantry-is-bare kind of foods—but still, food. More food than some of the students we met in the Skype-a-thon will ever see in their lunchboxes.

My kids rushed out the door that last-day morning, true to youth. Rushing, rushing—over too quickly, gone too soon.

No, I didn’t stop to photograph it, this fleeting childhood moment… instead we fumbled it together, raced through it together, tried to make each other laugh when we all felt like crying. I didn’t photograph it, but I experienced it with them, as present as time would allow.

Maybe that’s the way our morning should have gone after all.

It’s the way I hope our summer goes, minus the running late part: all of us together, trundling along in a sandy minivan, off to make a mess, and maybe new friends, in a new place. Embracing the chaos, forgetting to take pictures because there isn’t time for anything but each other—anything but now, this moment, this memory-in-progress. Making the most of what time we have. Knowing that even if we stopped to take pictures, they’d turn out blurry anyway.

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 how to slow down and enjoy childhood via @lizzylit

 Photo credit: Sara Engel of Sara Engel Photography

A Letter to My Children’s Teachers, from a Grateful Parent

A thank you to teachers

Dear Teacher,

It’s the season of grand finales, the time of last things.

I took my kids’ first-day-of-school pictures, shook your hand at the Open House, blinked, and now here we are: sprinting down the home stretch of another school year. Caught in the dizzying whirlwind of end-of-grade tests and end-of-year assemblies and end-of-everything parties.

It’s exhausting. Expensive. And a little depressing.

It’s bittersweet that my kids are another year older, scribbling closing lines in another ending-too-soon childhood chapter—but it’s more than that. I’m sad that my children’s time with you is drawing to a close. Not just their time in this grade, with these friends. Their time with you. Their teacher.

When I look at you, I see someone with sparkling talent: Clever. Creative. Charismatic. Compassionate.

You could have used those gifts to pursue any career you wanted.

You chose teaching, the noblest profession of all.

You chose to get up early and stay up late.

You chose to be underpaid and rarely thanked.

You chose to help raise other people’s kids.

You chose to tolerate “the system” because you believe in the children.

You chose to find ways to put your own innovative spin on education, in spite of the complex requirements thrust upon you from Distant Powers that Be.

A thank you to teachers

You chose to push through on days when you were sick or overwhelmed or tired—because your students needed you.

You chose to give your kids—my kids—second, third, fourth, and fortieth chances, and to always believe they could be better tomorrow.

You chose to worry about children whose difficult home lives are beyond your power to improve.

You chose to care even though it was a gamble.

You chose to care even when the kids didn’t care back.

You chose to care, period.

This could have been just another year you had to survive.

Another year to slog through, counting the days till summer.

Another year closer to that too-small, still-have-to-moonlight-as-a-tutor-in-order-to-make-it retirement package.

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How to Find God—and Joy—When Life Is Hard

My child could have been just another project.

Just another name, on just another class roster.

Just another number, one of twenty-five.

But they weren’t. Not to you.

For the past nine months, you chose to love my child, though you did not have to. (Nine months! The time it takes to grow a person . . . coincidence? Perhaps not.)

And it’s not like you had the luxury of handpicking each of your students, choosing the ones who would make a perfect match for your methods, your style. No, someone handed you a roster one hot afternoon as last year’s summer waned. You read down that list and took these children—these people-still-becoming—into your class, and into your heart.

From that first butterflies-in-tummies morning, that day of new shoes and perfect pigtails and fresh pencils, you decided to love those kids—all twenty-five of them. It was a risk, that decision to love. To fully invest. To put your own heart and happiness on the line. To intertwine your grown-up joys and struggles and successes with their growing-up ones.

You took that risk.

I could see it in your eyes, the way you laughed at their endless immature jokes and anticipated, even came to enjoy, all their crazy quirks. After a few months, you understood things about my kids that I thought only I knew: the way she chews her eraser when she’s nervous; the way he gets quiet when he’s got hurt feelings; the way she melts down when she doesn’t get her homework just right.

And it’s not just my kids—you’ve done it for the whole classroom, all twenty-five kids. You’ve cared enough to study them. To figure out what makes sense to them, what motivates them, so you could teach each one in the best way you know how.

When I walked into your classroom to volunteer, I could feel the sense of “we,” the community you had built among those twenty-five young souls. I felt like an outsider—not because you or the kids were rude, but because you were all so close. I wanted in on all your class secrets, your silent pacts, your private jokes. Your crazy “remember when we all fell out of our chairs laughing” stories that only the twenty-six of you can fully appreciate. Your funny sayings that you all shout out at the same time. Your silly songs you sing when it’s time to “flash-flash-ding-ding, change that sign” (whatever that means—I still don’t know).

Pep talk from Mrs. L via @lizzylit

It couldn’t have been easy, forging this connection, creating community from chaos. You took a hodge-podge group of random students—children with varying abilities, from every imaginable family structure, from a broad sampling of cultures and religions—and you built a culture and family of your own. If the whole world could see what you have accomplished in these short months, in this cinderblock classroom, with these precious, different-but-same children, I have to believe the whole planet would be different. Better.

And you know what? The world is different, the world is better, because of what you have achieved here in this tiny room, with this growing group.

And while building unity may have been one of your biggest accomplishments this year, I also treasure the countless small gifts you gave my kids along the way.

You hugged them when they fell on the playground, and I wasn’t there.

You talked them down when they were fighting with friends.

You drew them out when they were quiet or worried or discouraged.

You cheered the loudest when they finally got it, that thing that had them confused for so long.

You put up with my kids when they were less than they could have been. I’m sure they annoyed you sometimes. Stumped you. Maybe even made you mad. (Believe me, I know what their bad days are like. I live with them.) But you pushed on anyway. You chose to keep giving.

And this letter is to say thank you, from me and my children.

Your name is inscribed in the pages of our family history: Who was your very first preschool teacher? Your kindergarten teacher? Your second-grade teacher? Your third-grade teacher? Your eighth-grade English teacher? Your name will forever live on in that list, and in our hearts.

Your influence is a thread woven into our family fabric. Your teaching has shaped my children’s upbringing, character, and path. You have changed them, helped them on their way to becoming the people they’re going to be.

For all this, and so much more, to all my kids’ teachers—past, present, and future—thank you for who you are, what you do, and all you give. We will never forget you.

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13 Killer Beach Reads

I’ve moved twice in the past ten months, and I’m afraid that in the chaos, blogging had to go on the backburner. Actually, blogging wasn’t really on the stove at all—it was in storage, along with half my stuff. But the boxes are (sort of) unpacked now, and I’m gradually rediscovering my brain and rekindling my creativity. And so I thought it would be fun to refocus the Lizzylit Blog for the next few months. In honor of The Thirteenth Summer, I’m going to start posting Lists of Thirteen Things. What kinds of things, you ask? Well . . . a lot of them will have to do with books (as in, Thirteen Book Villains You Never Want to Meet in a Dark Alley, that kind of thing); some will have to do with Rage and Crystal and their Thirteenth Summer world; and some will be ridiculously random (as in, Thirteen Songs That I Would Dance to, if Only I Knew How to Dance), just for kicks.

And now to introduce the first list: Thirteen Killer Beach Reads.

We’re going on our summer vacation soon, and I always want to have, not just A book to read, but a KILLER book to read—one that transforms me into a horribly neglectful wife and mother, incapable of speaking in more than grunts and monosyllables as I give myself paper cuts from feverishly flipping the pages. (I know, I know—I really should jump on the digital bandwagon.) I always crave a good mystery on vacation, something to set my scalp to tingling. And I don’t particularly like to cry my eyes out on vacation, so I usually don’t go for depressing books about mothers dying of cancer and such—although I don’t mind a meaningful story, or a dark, Gothic yarn.

So here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite beach reads—it’s an eclectic list that spans many genres and age ranges, but they’re all fun books in their own way. (Disclaimer: Some of these books may not be appropriate for younger readers.)

Thirteen Killer Beach Reads

1. The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—Hands down, my favorite Sherlock Holmes tale. Ghost stories don’t get any better than this. Or is it a ghost story?

2. A Great and Terrible Beauty (first in the Gemma Doyle trilogy), by Libba Bray—A spine-tingling, Gothic thriller that’s also beautifully written.

3. Delirium, by Lauren Oliver—Lose yourself in gorgeous poetry, a loveless dystopian society, and a romance that makes you ache.

4. Clockwork Angel (first in the Infernal Devices series), by Cassandra Clare—A mind-bending mystery, complete with demon-slayers and vampires and the like (not usually my thing, but I guess they work better for me in an old-fashioned setting), and the start of a fascinating love triangle.

5. The Maze Runner, by James Dashner—A shout-out to guy readers here . . . Fast-paced, fascinating scenario set in an awesome labyrinth with some truly disgusting monsters. (I actually convinced my husband, aka Mr. Tall Dark & Handsome, to read the sequel to this novel—The Scorch Trials—and he is loving it.)

6. The City of Ember (first in the Books of Ember series), by Jeanne DuPrau—This one’s for younger readers. I loved the way the mystery unfolded and I felt like I got to analyze the clues along with the characters.

7. The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan—Another one for younger readers. This one made me laugh out loud many, many times. I recommend reading it privately, so you don’t embarrass yourself.

8. Juliet, by Anne Fortier—This one’s an adult novel (I hardly ever read Big Girl books, but this is one that the young at heart like me can connect to). It’s a dual twist on the story of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers: One storyline is set in 1340, and one is interpreted in a sassy, modern framework, with a compelling mystery tying both together.

9. Holes, by Louis Sachar—This is one of those amazing books where everything means something, and all the pieces and storylines eventually tie together in one of those tingly moments where you sit back and just go, “Now THAT was cool.”

10. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte—The most epic of epic novels. Be prepared not to sleep at all until you’re done.

11. Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier—This is a classic novel I missed out on until recently. It’s dark and brooding, but—wow. Haunting.

12. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares—On friendship, boys, mothers, and the best pair of jeans ever. It will make you laugh and cry, sometimes both at the same time.

13. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins—If you’re the last holdout in America who hasn’t read this book, it really is the ultimate adrenaline read.

Life Lessons from the We Buy Gold Guy

I have a new hero.

The first time I drove past him, it was 11:00 on a brutal August morning in Georgia. The heat and humidity had already exceeded the Dangerous for Old People and Sensitive Writers level—it felt like walking around the inside of a dragon’s mouth, being steam-boiled alive. This time of year, in deliberate over-compensation, I crank the AC in my minivan so high that it’s like the North Pole on wheels.

As my children and I shivered in our van at a busy intersection, waiting for the light to change, I spotted him holding court on the sidewalk in front of a decaying strip mall. I don’t know his name, but I’ll always think of him as the We Buy Gold Guy. He was a stocky white kid, maybe in his early twenties; his baseball cap was cocked at a jaunty sideways tilt, and he held a gaudy gold sign in the shape of an arrow. Large black letters screamed, “We Buy Gold!”

Sign-holders like this guy have been, for me, one of the most memorable—well, signs—of the recent recession. I’ve seen dozens of people holding signs like this one during the past few years: Close-Out Sale! Debt Solutions! $5 Pizza! I always feel a jolt of sympathy for the poor sign-holders. How miserable they look, standing on the side of the road for hours, braving the heat, the cold, the rain—surely these people have fantastic talents, big dreams for their futures—and yet a miserable job market has forced them to spend hours of life waving signs at passing drivers, who are too busy yakking on cell phones to bother sparing them a glance. Some of the sign-holders stand there, enthusiastic as dead-eyed zombies; a few give their signs a weary wiggle every so often; all are clearly counting the minutes until their sentence is complete.

But the We Buy Gold Guy was different. The dude was dancing—not just pumping the sign up and down halfheartedly, like, “Hey, they’re paying me minimum wage to shake this sign and grow skin cancer out here”—but seriously jamming, like he was out to win “Dancing with the Stars.” We’re talking Michael Jackson smoothness, and awesome behind-the-back tricks, spinning and tossing his sign like a baton-twirler in a parade, all to the beat of the old-school boom box sitting at his feet. My jaw dropped open in awe, not just in envy of his rhythmic prowess, but in amazement at his pure enthusiasm, his unbridled joie de vivre. I couldn’t help but grin. (For more on my minivan socializing habits, see The Biker Wave.)

I smiled and chuckled the rest of the way home.

I drove by him again a few days later—the heat was even worse, and yet the We Buy Gold Guy was still out there, break dancing to his own music as the world drove past. Nobody clapped, nobody honked, nobody tossed coins in a hat at his feet. He danced for the sheer joy of it, because hey—if you have to hold a stupid sign on the side of the road, you might as well do it right.

I want to be like that guy. Really, I do. I don’t care what the world throws at me—minimum wage job, spine-melting heat, stinky exhaust fumes—I only get one life, only so many summers, falls, winters, springs, and I don’t want to waste a single minute. I want to live with abandon, dance my rhythm-less heart out no matter who’s watching, make my own party wherever I go. We only get one shot—we might as well dance.

Firefly Nights

Images courtesy of Pixabay

There’s magic in a summer night.

Hearing Mom say, “Five minutes, now, I mean it!” And knowing she doesn’t mean it.

Staying up a little late every night, the whole family, the whole neighborhood, our whole world. Feeling like we’re all getting away with something, we’re all in on it together.

Barefoot walking in the grass—the tickle of it beneath your tender toes, the softness where the fresh-cut pieces pile, all in a line. Breathing deep the clean perfume.

summer grass

The sticky heaviness of the air that hugs your shoulders like a favorite, time-worn blanket. You almost feel hot, but no, it’s just right. It’s perfect.

Honeysuckle sweetening the world, surprising you when you catch a breath. You pause, try to catch the scent again, but it never graces the same patch of air twice.

Fireflies sparking in the twilight—ambling, lazy-like across the yard, looping and teasing, hiding at the edge of the woods, begging to be chased, flirting. Fallen stars, now in reach. And maybe one night we realize they are one of the few glittering things we chase that we can catch, and hold on to for a time. And then, somehow, we know that a God who invented fireflies must like to laugh, and He is kind, he must be kind.

Flying downhill on a two-wheeler, heedless of danger. Feeling the humid wind caress your face, flying, flying, squealing to a stop at the bottom. Glancing over to see if your lost-in-laughing-conversation parents will tell you it’s past your bedtime. They don’t. Catching your brother’s twinkling eye: Quick, let’s go again before they stop us! Grinning, sneaking past Mom and Dad together, racing back up the hill again, delighted with your luck. Soaring downhill, again and again, and all is right with the world.

Baseball games droning on forever in the background. Daddy shouts at the game, happy and relaxed, and if you shout with him, you are in—pulled into that safe and mysterious and manly Dad World, where he winks at you and socks you in the shoulder, and it’s only the two of you, and now you are one of the guys, even if you are a little girl. Some happy place inside your chest hums with joy.

Eating foods that drip, and it’s okay: Watermelon, running red down your chin while you spit out the slippery black seeds. Popsicles, sticky and sickly sweet and taking the edge off the heat. Peaches, their strange fuzzy skin hiding a burst of Georgia delight. Tomatoes, fresh from the garden, sliced on a plate in Mema’s kitchen—not too firm and not too squishy—and you never knew tomatoes could taste like sunshine.

Watermelon in summer

Iced tea on a front porch, Mom telling you to run to the garden to grab a sprig of mint to swirl inside it, to make it just right. You are important, trusted with a family mission. Savior of the tea.

Muggy after-dinner walks—unhurried, unplanned. Nodding and waving at smiling neighbors who hibernated inside all winter. Picking flowering weeds as you walk, because even they are beautiful, worthy of the vase on the kitchen windowsill.

The heavy smell of rain nipping the air, friendly thunder rolling in the distance. Wondering if the storm will ever actually show up, or if it will just make a show, rumbling and threatening, like a cranky but lovable relative who makes a fuss then drifts away as if to say, “Just kidding.”

Card games and dominoes at the kitchen table, while an uncle’s banished-to-the-porch cigar smoke sneaks inside through the cracks in the window frames—it’s comforting somehow, and dizzy-making.

Summer weddings, the bride a fallen moonbeam, the groom dazed and not believing his luck. The crowd lingering in the parking lot even after they drive away.

First-love hand-holding. The head-spinning, interlaced fingers kind, where you think, This is how people who are really in love hold hands, and no one else has ever loved like we two. And your heart thuds in your palm, and you know he can feel it, and your hand starts to sweat, and you wonder if you should let go, but he doesn’t let go, so you hang on too. And you think, So this is love. I finally found it.

Frank and Jane, wedding day

Old-love hand-holding. The safe kind, the your-hand-fits-in-mine-and-always-will kind. The kind where you can talk or not talk, and the silence is cozy, too. The wrinkly and worn-in kind. The finishing-sentences kind. The kind you want your parents to have. The kind you want to have.

There’s magic in a summer night.

The soul of childhood, and we all feel it: Firefly nights, old-story-telling nights, baseball-in-the-backyard-by-moonlight nights, everybody-in-love nights.

The whole world is young again, if only for a time. For an extra hour, maybe two, we revel in the lingering daylight, wrapping ourselves in the friendly dark that slowly puts the day to sleep. And in those hours, anything is possible.

There’s magic in a summer night.

Let’s keep in touch! Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send you a free ebook: How to Find God—and Joy—When Life Is Hard

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