erin f. wasinger

stories of loving our neighbors, discernment, & other hard things

Category: community (Page 2 of 10)

Consequences of a commute to school (that’s not carsickness, I promise)

The sounds of the neighbor’s air conditioner, a cardinal’s cry, and a big yellow bus’s “pfssht” all congeal in my last-minute dreams during those minutes just before I have to get out of bed. Those sounds are native to Alpha Street at 7 o’clock on any weekday.  

Our windows are open, the blinds are up. From our bed under the window sill, I prop my chin on the pillow to watch the world awaken. The bus turn on its flashing lights to stop. Neighbors start cars, dogs bark. A minute later, I abandon my post to brush my teeth in our attic bedroom’s half-bath.

Usually, I think about my kids sleeping downstairs. How they were supposed to be on that particular bus; how the Lansing school district assigned them to that route as late as last month. How I put that letter in the recycling bin.

That letter was our latest “Instead.”

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Coming a little closer to the fire

We were grilling when our friends called: their daughter had a 104 fever and they needed help. I set my six-month-old in her bouncy chair, kissed Dave, and drove to their apartment about five minutes away. Taking the stairs two at a time, I arrived at their door ready to save the world. Or, um, to help my friends.

I remember feeling so proud of myself for no longer breathing shallowly when the smells from a half-dozen nationalities’ cuisines filled the hallway. (Tumeric? Coriander? Ginger? Curry? All?) So proud of myself that this refugee family, these newcomers, had called my family. I know people from Burma: I thought that a lot back then.

In their tiny apartment, the mother held her lethargic daughter while the dad showed me the tiny bottle of infant painkiller he’d brought from Thailand. “Hot,” her mom said. “Hot.” Very.

They knew what I knew: she needed a doctor.

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Checking in on a neighbor …

I hadn’t seen the neighbor behind our house for a few days, which is rare because she’s got this garden she’s been tending for 40 years now and she’s always pruning, weeding, transplanting. When the humidity is 107 percent and it’s 107 degrees, the 80-some year-old woman is still out there, picking up leaf by leaf, placing each into the yard-waste bag.

Louisa and I took a walk today with the dog, loping past our neighbor’s house — no sign of life. I was a bit nervous about ringing the bell (“Hi, are you trapped under something heavy?”), so I noted which curtains were open and that her recycling can wasn’t out, and we walked home.

In our driveway a few minutes later, dread held me from going inside. “We’ve got to go back,” I told Louisa. We locked the dog in the house and traced our steps around the block her house. The same curtains were open; the house still was quiet.

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Bonus post: ‘The Year of Small Things’ cover

Of my four children (stay with me), two are at school. One is eating Froot Loops. The other …

Is on Amazon.

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Wonder upon wonder; wonder after wonder

This semester, Mrs. H’s sixth-graders at Mt. Hope School in Lansing are “doing journalism” with me. While I’m volunteering there twice a month, I’ll be helping them form story ideas, learn to ask good questions, and write a story about the world around them.

The first day of our lesson, I turned the corner from the folk-tale lessons we did this winter. The two topics aren’t totally unrelated. A lot of information’s conveyed in a newspaper or storybook: what the writer values, what the culture considers important. The difference in reciting The Little Red Hen or writing about cafeteria fare is simply enabling a student to investigate what’s important to them.

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Like when I was an editor at a daily paper in Wisconsin, all good stories begin with some wondering. Any sentence that begins with “I wonder” is fair game — it’s like pitching a dozen story ideas to an editor and letting her choose the best one. 

“I’ll be your editor. So, what do you wonder about?” I waited. No one bit. “OK, I’ll start: I wonder how long some of the teachers at this school have been teaching. I wonder how the district can keep up with old school buildings.” Hands started going up. “Yes! What do you wonder about?”

“I wonder why cafeteria food is so bad,” someone said.

Another: “I wonder why this school building has a bomb shelter in the basement.”

“These are great. What else do you wonder?” Three-quarters of the kids’ arms shot up.

“I wonder why all the rich people live on this side of the street and all the poor people live on that side.” Oh. That got heavy fast.

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A Big Nag, a namaste, an invitation

The Big Nag began a couple months ago; January maybe?

Let me back up. One morning, I was in one of Lansing’s elementary schools on a preschool tour. Louisa’s old enough to go next year and I’m old enough to see the value in free childcare, should we get in (please, sweet baby Jesus). This particular building is a public Montessori school called Wexford. Sounds very British (it’s not). Its neighborhood is near ours; it’s full of small, tired houses and potholes. Koi swim in a small pond outside the front door.

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On our visit, the principal walked Louisa and I by another fish tank in the lobby and into a preschool/ kindergarten room. I’d braced myself to see typical preschool fare: glitter glue, blocks, someone crying. I have children; I know what this looks like.

Instead, hear me: all was quiet. Children’s bodies lay in a loose circle on a big piece of carpet. Their little eyes were closed; they inhaled and exhaled at the teacher’s yoga instruction. We watched, mesmerized (my children are never this quiet, not even in sleep). After a minute, the class returned to “pretzel legs.”

Namaste, they all said.  

“What’s that word mean?” the teacher asked.  

A boy said, “It means, I see the good in you and you see the good in me.”

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We told stories

Dave set up a video camera last Friday in Mrs. H’s class. The sixth-graders  nervously milled around, found their seats. One girl’s hand went up as a volunteer to go first. “I just want to get it over with,” she said to the floor, a smile on her face.

She stood in front of the camera, waited for the three-two-one signal from Dave. “My story is,” she said, putting her hands inside her sleeves and swaying back and forth. When she was finished, we clapped and the others looked around to see who would volunteer next. She collapsed into her seat, smiling, and began twisting her hair into a bun.

Twenty kids went after her, each looking at their classmates or out the windows behind us, each retelling tales they’d spent weeks on as part of a Friday afternoons storytelling project I led in their classroom over a semester or so.

Their hard work was my reward. The story-collector in me heard so many that afternoon: so many folk tales, so many yarns woven with laughter and personal style. For really, a story doesn’t live on a page any more than people do. Sharing stories is what brings them to life.

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