The early morning
hours, when the house sleeps still—
these are life-giving.
At times, alone can
be a breath of fresh air—when
one is a parent.
The scratch of a pen
against paper is one of
my favorite sounds.
These are excerpts from The Book of Uncommon Hours, a book of haiku poetry. For more of Rachel’s poems, visit her Reader Library page, where you can get a few volumes for free.
(Photo by Brooke Campbell on Unsplash)
I’m probably what you could consider a super-fan of Jason Reynolds. I read practically everything he writes—his stories for young adults, his stories for kids, his well-compiled essays that print every so often.
The most recent Reynolds read I picked up was his 2018 Newbery Honor book Long Way Down.
This book is outstanding. Not only is it a fantastically told tale, written in poetry, but it is also an important one—one that examines revenge and gun violence.
Here are three things I enjoyed most about it:
- The story. There’s not a whole lot that happens in this book; it takes place in the span of an elevator ride. But there is still so much that happens this story. A boy examines whether he will seek revenge for his brother’s gun death. He talks with people who have been killed before his brother. He agonizes over his decision. The story was unique and emotional and, at times, difficult.
- The window into gang life. Reynolds highlighted some of the street rules that exist in gang areas. He highlighted the cycles of revenge and violence. I read this book at the same time I was reading a research book on gangs to learn more about them, and I found that I understood them on a much deeper level after reading both books in tandem. There are never simple answers to anything, or simple reasons for why people do what they do. This book proved it.
- The poetry. I’m always a sucker for novels in verse, and this one absolutely did not disappoint. Will’s voice was engaging, connective, and intelligent, and Reynolds’s language was fluid and lyrical.
One of the things I’ve come to know about Reynolds, in reading so many of his books, is that he is a master at giving the voiceless a voice, and this is yet another book that achieves this laudable goal.
Here’s the first sentence, to get you started:
It never fails: by the time we get to Spring Break, my kids are done with school.
They’re done with homework, done with getting dressed, done with packing up in a timely manner. And, honestly, I’m so done with making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches they’ve become just jelly sandwiches.
The other morning, one of my school-aged sons came downstairs in his pajamas. I thought maybe he’d forgotten today was a school day.
“What are you doing?” I said.
“Going to school,” he said.
“You forgot to change,” I said.
“No?” he said, like he wasn’t quite sure. He looked down at his pajamas. “This is what I’m wearing.”
“You can’t wear pajamas to school,” I said. “Sorry.”
He groaned all the way up the stairs.
The school morning routine has become complicated.
I tell the 11-year-old to get up (multiple times), and he will still act like I’m the worst mom ever (for not getting him up) when I suddenly call out that it’s time to go (he didn’t hear me the twelve times I said it was time to get up). He hasn’t eaten breakfast, and he was supposed to take a shower this morning. I think it’s all an act. He’s allergic to showers; I think it’s been…well, you don’t want to know how long since the last shower I know about.
There’s so much chaos in the kitchen they have to yell to be heard. The other morning one of them was trying to tell me something, and it was so loud that I leaned close and said, “Say it in my ear. Maybe that will help.”
Not only did he say it, but he also sprayed it, and I got to both smell the delightful breath and wear the fragrant spit of a boy who hadn’t yet brushed his teeth this morning.
They can never find their shoes. The shoes are right in front of their eyes. They could trip over them and still not see them.
Maybe they’re just afternoon people, instead of morning people.
Several of them have forgotten what school mornings even look like (it’s usually the ones who have been doing this routine for several years); they immediately head into the LEGO room, rather than sitting down at the table or packing up their folders or attempting to tie their shoes.
Most mornings, one of them is running to catch up on the walk to school, and it’s not a silent catching up, it’s a whining—usually a scream-whining—one. My favorite.
On a typical morning, when I get back home, I see that someone forgot to close the back door and all our air conditioning has filtered out into the great wide world because that surely helps bring the Texas temperature down.
I didn’t know until I became a parent that March madness was actually a thing.
I’ve stopped signing folders, I get notes about overdue library books, I don’t even enforce homework anymore. Guess I’m ready for summer, too.
Wait. No. I take that back. I’m not ready for summer at all.
But it’s coming at me like a comet. Ready or not.
(Photo by This is Now Photography.)
If you ever want to know how much you don’t know, just spend about a minute with a kid.
Do you think there were rattlesnakes in the water?
No. Water moccasins, maybe.
Are they poisonous?
Do they just bite you if you’re in the water, or do they have to have a reason?
I think if you disturb the nest they’ll bite you [this information comes from an episode of “Lonesome Dove” that I remember my mother watching when I was a child. I was slightly traumatized by it.]
Where do they nest—in the shallow water or the deep end?
I don’t know.
How many nest together?
I don’t know.
Do they have families?
I don’t know.
Can you describe them to me?
How long does it take them to have babies?
How many babies do they have?
Do they lay eggs?
Are the eggs waterproof?
Turns out, I don’t know very much at all.
Everything takes twice
as long when you bring with you
a parcel of kids.
He talks nonstop of
Minecraft; I find attention
quite hard to give him.
They jump rope in the
house, which makes me want to trip
them up and then laugh.
These are excerpts from Life: a definition of terms, a book of haiku poetry. For more of Rachel’s poems, visit her Reader Library page, where you can get a couple of volumes for free.
(Photo by This is Now Photography.)