Dr. Pepper & Life Lessons

Part of Slice of Life on Two Writing Teachers

After a doctor’s appointment, you stop for a little treat. A drink, lunch to bring back to school, something.

I don’t know if you have this tradition, or where this tradition started. I do know that when I was little, I’d always get grape gum after the doctor — the kind that has some sort of grape flavored juice that gushes out when you chew the gum.

So today after his appointment, I took my youngest to grab a snack. Dr. Pepper Zero Sugar was the choice drink. Now this makes so much more sense, I think. Doctor appointment equals Dr. Pepper!

Apparently, according to my almost 13-year-old, Dr. Pepper Zero Sugar is the best Dr. Pepper there is. I’m not sure John Green agrees, but I’ll let the opinion stand.

As we walked out of the store, I realized that we could have easily picked up a drink for my older son as well. I had told him we couldn’t when I dropped him off at school this morning, but why?

“I feel bad!” I said to E. “It would have been easy to grab an extra bottle of Dr. Pepper for your brother.”

E and I quickly discussed — the line was long now, and we really needed to get back to school.

“It’s okay,” we both said to each other as we crossed the parking lot. We reminded ourselves that it’s the person who has to go to the doctor’s appointment who gets the special treat. It was fine.

E said, “It’s just our empathy talking. It’s actually okay to not get him one.”

“Plus,” I added, “It’s not our job to make other people happy.”

E looked at me, raised his eyebrows and said, “Well, you might have taken it a little too far there.”

I had to try to explain. “It’s true. It’s not our job to take care of other people. (Aside from how I take care of you and your brother and your sister. That actually is my job.)”

I think I got a sigh from him as we got into the car.

It’s hard to explain this concept to your child, who it actually is your job to take care of!

But, maybe teaching it to my kids will help me get it straight in my own empathetic soul.

It’s not my job to make you happy.
It’s not my job to take care of you.
My needs are just as important as yours.

Say it with me, friends.

It’s not my job to make you happy.
It’s not my job to take care of you.
My needs are just as important as yours.

Snow Poem

Part of Slice of Life on Two Writing Teachers

Snow falls
outside of classroom windows
Kids yell,
Teachers say, “Yep. It’s snowing.”
“Does snow have anything to do with math?”

My classroom didn’t have windows
Can you believe it?
Somehow we always knew when there was snow
Somehow kids still yelled, “Snow!”
Did they sense it through the tiny window in our door?
Did they hear the snow silence outside?

Now it must be that soft blanketing (definitely not just the forecasted dusting)
Or the sound of boots squeaking down the hall
That transports me to
All my classroom winters
The snows of classrooms’ past. . .
The good old days

For a minute I wonder
If I wander the halls
Could I find a class to interrupt?
We could write snow poems on paper snowflakes
as the snow falls
outside of classroom windows

You know when? A slice of feeling old. Or young. Or something.

Part of Slice of Life on Two Writing Teachers

You know when you go vote but since you lost your mail-in-ballot you need a provisional one?

No? Well, you definitely have your life more together than me.

The polling place was pretty slow when I went, which sucks — but also, it made it less embarrassing that I had to keep walking back and forth in front of all the poll-workers as they got me situated with the provisional ballot.

You know how you feel old when the poll worker says, “It’s been steady, but we need some young people to come in here.”

I said, “Wait. Don’t I count?” And I laughed at my own expense as she told me “If you’re under 35 you do!”

They really make you work for those provisional ballots. I feel like I wrote my address down like 16 times.

Fine, it was two. Two times.

As I finished voting the poll worker said, “Oh! Ona! I know your mom. I worked with her on campus years ago.”

Cool connection.

“Your mom is a very eclectic person,” she added. “And her sister! The artist. I bet you’re just like them.”

I mean she isn’t wrong.

You know how you feel young when poll worker says, “Actually, I babysat you once!”

I can’t remember the last time anyone babysat me. . . So I guess that actually also makes me feel old. But also young?

Voting is cool, and everyone should do it. But my favorite part of it all was when the poll worker looked at me and added, “you were a really cool kid to babysit.”

So there. You are hearing it here first. If nothing else, I was a really cool kid to babysit.

A surprising night

Part of Slice of Life on Two Writing Teachers

The boys are home early from their dad’s. Thats not the surprise. Neither is their wrestling that starts almost immediately.

It’s a little surprising that they stop when I ask them to, but they also start right up again in the kitchen this time.

I am a little startled to hear the shattering of a wine glass in the sink. But I do live with two teenage boys, and I do enjoy a glass of wine some nights.

Some nights.

We stare at each other for a bit. The silence a few beats longer than usual as I collect my thoughts, take deep breaths and implore them with my eyes to stop the fooling around. No, I’m not exactly sure what parenting technique this is. But it’s been a long week and it’s only Tuesday so it’s all I got, I guess.

“Your shenanigans has got to stop!” I say sternly as I pick up the shards of glass. I mean, what would you say? Plus, I love that word. Shenanigans. I keep going as I start to clean up the shards of glass. “Please unload the dishwasher.”

For some reason this daily request is always a surprise to them. A shock actually. They look at me with utter disappointment.

“I liked it better when you weren’t talking,” A teenager says.

Someone picks up a Halloween cup from the counter refill their water, and is about to take a drink when I realize I hear something in their glass.

“I thought that was ice,” he says. “I almost gulped down that broken glass.”

Suddenly I notice that our new faucet is leaking from right above the nozzle

So weird.

We try to tighten it, but we loosen it instead so the hose gets sucked all the way into the faucet and disappears.


E feels bad and wants to fix it. I want to call the plumber. Well, really I want to call my dad, but he’s out of town and very busy. I think briefly about how I’m supposed to YouTube things like this. That’s what strong single moms do these days, you know.

But in a rare moment of clarity, I realize that I don’t have the brain space to start plumbing projects.

I call the plumber and as it rings and rings, H comes in the kitchen, opens the cabinet under the sink.

“Please don’t mess with it,” I say, imagining two teenagers unscrewing pipes and water shooting out everywhere.

Of course, the plumber doesn’t pick up so I leave a voicemail, struggling to figure out how to explain the situation. What are the real words for this nozzle and this hose, and the long part of the fixture?

“So my faucet was leaking and I tried to tighten it but the hose just…” I get out. Then the hose is pushed up into the faucet, and it just hangs there.

“Actually, my son just got it while I was explaining this. So, um. . . If it doesn’t work, I’ll call you back! Goodbye!”

H looks at me and sighs. “That’s why you don’t call someone before you ask me to fix it, mom.”

And, he’s not wrong. Lessons learned, right?

Ask for the help around you, trust your kids, and always — I mean always make sure you have more than one wine glass.

I’m sorry

You were in my 6th grade class over a decade ago. You were cool. You laughed and joked, fooled around with your friends, did your work (Mostly. With reminders…) We got along.

One day, you made a mistake. I wondered if I could ignore it until read aloud was over, but soon the whole class saw it. That’s when it really became a thing. A thing I had to deal with. I didn’t want to deal with it though, especially after I saw your face when you noticed me notice the hidden project you had in your hoodie.

I had to make a quick decision. There’s a teacher brain thing that happens. It’s a mode where you are still teaching or reading, or talking, but your brain is making a decision. Your brain is engaging in a very short, seconds-long debate. Mine probably went something like this:

He shouldn’t have done that. It could hurt someone. He’s not going to hurt someone. He’s just joking around. It’s a stupid joke, I need to take that away from him. Can we talk about this later at recess maybe? All the other kids see it now, I have to acknowledge it. The handbook is very clear on this. My gut says this isn’t really textbook handbook stuff. I’m supposed to do what the rules say to do. I don’t want to make this a bigger deal than it is. Is this really zero tolerance stuff? What about that kid I read about in the news who was suspended for accidentally bringing a nail file to school? I have to follow the rules. But he doesn’t need a 10 day suspension for this, that’s overkill. Rules like that really do show kids that adults don’t have it together. But ugh. I have to do what I’m supposed to do. I really hope the principal can handle this in a nurturing way.

I took you into the hall. I took a deep breath. You already could barely look at me.

“I’m going to have to give this to the principal.” I said. I think I said it kindly. I hope I said something to show you I understood.

You looked so uncomfortable.

I probably made a face with my lips curled in and my nose scrunched up. It’s supposed to mean, “I know this sucks. But it’s going to be okay.”

It was a long walk down to the office and you trailed behind me the whole way, sobbing.

When we got there, I tried to explain the situation to the substitute vice principal:

I’m here because he needs to turn this in, and it isn’t okay that he made it. But he didn’t make it to hurt anyone. It’s not a weapon. I hope we can be reasonable with consequences.

She nodded. Told me she would take care of it, and to send you in.

The next day you started your 10 day suspension.

I didn’t take any data, and it was a long time ago. But, when you came back you were never really the same kid. There was less laughter, less chatting, less fooling around, but that wasn’t a good thing. There was also less engagement and fewer friends. We didn’t NOT get along after that, you and I. It’s just that the relationship was damaged.

Maybe you didn’t want to have anything to do with me because I didn’t fight hard enough for the grey in the situation, I didn’t advocate for you enough. Maybe you were just embarrassed about the vulnerability I saw in all of your sobbing.

Maybe it was all of the above and more.

I’m sorry.

I should have done better.

I’m really sorry.

My Turn

Part of Slice of Life at Two Writing Teachers!

When I walk into second-grade, I’m happy to see that the guest teacher is not only one I know and love, but one I used to request when I was a classroom teacher. I had hoped it would be her!

“My dream has come true! It’s you!” I tell her.

“Ms. Gabriel! You’re here!” A girl says with a big smile, and I feel loved. Then she adds, “I knew it would be close to recess when you got here!”

The students clean up from reading and join me on the carpet for some phonics routines.

I’m not lying when I remind the class that I am just learning phonics, and the routines too. I mean, you should see how many times I have to text one of the other Instructional Coaches about this stuff.

Is gi_ the same as gi without the line after it? Sounds like Jump?
How do I know what the spelling focus is for each word in the spelling focus routine?

I make sticky notes to myself at the bottom of pages to remind myself of the sounds for the sound spelling review, because my brain has just never worked this way.

When I started teaching, decades ago, I used to have to ask my lovely para to remind me about long vowels vs. short.

So basically the fact that I can now do any of this is a miracle.

Why does the spelling card for ring say that “ng” can be spelled with _n_? The substitute teacher and I quickly discuss. Isn’t it always a short vowel, n, then a g or k?

Stamp is an interesting word to blend. You really have to dig into vowel sounds with that one.

The second-graders are wonderful though. Great critics. I’ve asked them to rate me at the end of each routine: Thumbs up, thumbs sideways, thumbs down.

They give me way more thumbs up than I deserve. But, I’ll take it

Before we started I told them I found stickers while I cleaned out my basement this weekend. I wasn’t sure they’d care. But, wow. Second-graders really love stickers. I don’t know why I had forgotten that. . .

“What do you think you need to do to earn a sticker?” I asked them, knowing full well there was no way I wasn’t going to give them all a sticker.

“Be good?” One of them said.

“Well, you are all good!” I said

“Pay attention!” Someone offered

“Participate!” Another student said.

“Those are all great ideas,” I told them. “But really there’s one big thing. You are going to have to have to help me practice these phonics routines!”

They were all in for that, especially the one student sitting right in front. Last week when I came in to do these routines for the first time, he said to me, “I’m going to be a phonics teacher one day.”

This time he sneaks it in again. In between a routine, after a thumbs up check, I tell them they are the ones that really deserved the double thumbs up for such amazing reading. I hear him, very quietly say, “Yea. I’m ready to be a phonics professor.”

At some point I ask the students how they got so good at this.

“We’ve been doing it for three years!” They say, like they are some sort of commercial for a vertical articulated curriculum.

We finish the routines, (something I always feel like I deserve a sticker for, to be honest!) so it’s sticker time!

They chose without argument, taking turns.

They sweetly ask if they can put their stickers on their hand, their backpack, their lunchbox, their chrome book, their water bottle.

I advise them that paper would be the best place, or on a notebook – because they might fall off otherwise.

The guest teacher says, “Ms. Gabriel’s been doing this a long time. I’d take her advice.”

One of the last kids to choose a sticker asks if he can take the little sticker on the side of sticker sheet – a tiny rectangle with, I don’t know, the item number printed on it.

“Sure…” I say.

“Does this count as a sticker?” He asks.

“If you want it to,” I say.

“Okay!” He says and walks away with that teeny tiny rectangle.

The class is outside, and if you walked by the classroom you would hear me and the guest teacher sounding out words, discussing why it’s so hard to sound out anything that has an an or am.

Caaaannnnn, Mannnnnn, Raaaaannn . . .
. . .

“Great to see you!” I tell her as I leave.

“You too,” she says “Thanks for coming to teach the phonics. I always learn more by watching it.”

“Thanks for not laughing at me while I was doing it!” I say

“Oh I was,” she smiles, “I was laughing WITH you though.”


Part of Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life

Clyde is a busy kitten
He runs toys up and down the stairs,
Hisses at the dog
Chases the other cats.

So you’ll understand why it’s such a gift
that he has decided to sit next to me while I write —
First to stretch and look cute on the cushion next to mine
Then right up against my thigh.

He cleans his feet – six toes splayed out
Licks his belly
He lets me scratch his soft soft head
But tries to kill my hand when I rub his belly

Sleeping on my other side,
not noticing Clyde-
The dog is clueless
But, the battle is imminent

Some Writing Advice

Part of Slice of Life on Two Writing Teachers

You should carry a notebook
If you want to be a writer
Like me

So if you think of something
hear something
see something
you can collect it
to remember to write later

Any notebook will do
I use my notes App
Because I can’t be trusted
to carry more things around with me
I mean, are you kidding me?

Collect those stories and ideas
In meetings
During D&D Campaigns
(Especially, during D&D Campaigns)
Before you fall asleep

Only then will you
Be a Writer
Like me

Just this past week I collected stories and ideas
In meetings:
You get to take the cactus in the end
During a D&D Campaign:
I might be intimidating without the mockery
And my personal favorite …
Before I fell asleep:
My sfuccte oh c oh dd
I be should get f in or hi if cjkefw

So much potential in
Collected ideas
Plus –
Never forget
revision, writers

I might be intimidating without the mockery
You get to take the cactus in the end

My sfuccte oh c oh dd
I be should get f in or hi if cjkefw

I may never know what I really wanted to write about the other night. But, at least I wrote it down. At least I wrote it down. Let that be a lesson to you, writers.

Last night, This morning. (So proud, I just know it)

Last night, like every night, I did the few remaining dishes in the sink. I wanted to put them in the dishwasher. But I hadn’t asked the boys to put away the clean dishes, and it just wasn’t worth the extra effort. So instead I piled more clean dishes on top of the drying rack, and hoped no cat mischief would knock any plates to their death like last week. I rescued my favorite plate and put it in the cabinet just in case. So proud!

Last night, like every night, I set the coffee up for this morning. I love that “Brew Later” button. Even if I’ve fallen asleep on the couch, or watched one too many episodes of something, I can convince myself that my“6-am self” will really appreciate the 2 minutes of effort tonight. So proud!

Last night, like every night, I started reading in bed but only made it a chapter or two before my eyes started closing. Somehow, I noticed this, and turned off my bedside lamp before falling asleep. I even took my glasses off! So proud!

This morning, like every morning, I woke up way before my 6:00 alarm. I turn off the “Brew Later” button, and click “Brew Now.” I heat up some oatmilk for my coffee, and stare at the pile of dishes. I think about how some people would use this extra morning hour to put away those clean dishes. I should use this time, I just know it!

This morning, like every morning, I get tired of waiting for the slow coffee pot to finish up. I take the pot out, hoping it’s a pause and serve. I pour my cup, replace the pot, and walk to the couch. The coffee finishes brewing by the time I sit down. I wonder if this is an analogy that I’m supposed to learn form. Something about patience, I bet. The coffee is done literally moments after I can’t wait any longer — every day. I’m supposed to learn from this, I just know it!

This morning, like every morning, I sit on the couch and watch the cats figure out their social order. I tell myself I should be getting stuff done in these quiet early bird hours. Soon I might close my eyes again. I might even fall asleep until my next alarm tells me it is time to get ready for school. There will be time later to get stuff done later, I just know it.

Happy Birthday, Sara

You had a request for your birthday
Asked me for a gift of writing
No gift, you said
I mean it, you said.

So I keep writing to you
in my head
as I walk to my car
from classroom to classroom
around the block with my dog

Yesterday, I saw an inspirational quote –
it said once you’ve known someone for 10 years
they become family.
I wonder what happens after 35 years.
Has it been 35? Friendship math is hard
especially when you have to decide if you count from the first bus ride

At 20, we were 10 years in – a decade.
I could have written then—
stories about
bus stops, bus seat, late busses, saltines and hot chocolate
Bat Mitzvahs and scrabble
crushes and sewing class and secrets
boyfriends, drives to school, moving, graduation
the importance of sour cream cheddar chips and peanut chews
Hub Salads with ranch and important conversations at Eat-n-Park

At 30
2 decades in
Aunt Sara and Aunt Ona to our kids
I could have written then —
Stories about
college graduation and more moving,
planning weddings, wedding speeches and periwinkle dresses and also
planning babies, showers and
calls in the middle of the night about emergency C-sections,
bravery, love, the NICU
nursing and pumping and sleeping on Elmo couches and 24-hour nurses and eventually babies meeting each other and cribs and toddlers and more babies and the absolute exhaustion, and oh – husbands too.

We are past 40 now (yikes)
Over 3 decades in
Our families are family
Our kids like cousins
Every so often we pile all 7 kids together on a couch for a picture,
and there was that one time we piled them in your car and took them to Ikea.

I know I promised you a gift of writing
but there’s a problem.
you can’t fit 35 years onto a page
I thought I could write articulately, but I don’t know how to shout it with words how you are a
a soft place
a holder of my memories
a cheerleader
I’d be lucky just to know you
but I get to love you to!
I couldn’t live without sending you memes, and exchanging pictures of our wine pours

One day, decades ago,
we stood at a bus stop in the snow.
we sat in your car driving to school.
we hung out at the mall.
we had saltines and secrets
we said goodbye and you moved to Florida.
you came back and left again
It was decades ago we cried at each other’s weddings

I don’t know how it’s been decades
since we’re

Happy Birthday, Sara.

A Gift of Writing for You:

Roses are red
So is your hair
It’s amazing how
you’re always there