Contemplating success at the corner bus stop

contemplating success at the corner bus stop - www.alliepottswrites.comIt was my morning with the kids and their cousins. My morning to supervise them as they pulled out every toy I had so painstakingly put away just days before. My morning to ensure they reached the bus stop with backpacks and lunch sacks intact.

Some mornings those tasks are easier than others.

I informed the crew that it was time to clean up. My youngest, LT, pouted. “Now, honey,” I started. He pouted some more. “Five-year-olds are big enough to pick up their own mess.” He grumbled and whined, but I was satisfied to see the toy go back into its spot.

Now typically on my morning, I drop LT off with the wonderful woman who watches him while I work before taking the rest of the kids to their destination. But this morning, one of the kids asked if LT might come to the bus stop with them instead. Another chimed in – they wanted to race. I looked at the clock. We’d have to wait outside longer than normal, were they sure?

Spring has come early to my neck of the woods this year. We’ve spent the last two weekends with the kids outside and the windows open. Already the trees and flowers are budding and small pink petals dot the streets. My concern about a few minutes extra exposure to the great outdoors fell on deaf ears.

Fine. I’d be democratic about it – this time.

I altered our course and soon we were at the stop. The children dumped their bags at the corner by my feet and congregated a few yards away – close enough for me to keep an eye on them, but far enough that they might whisper among themselves unheard. The next thing I knew they were running down the sidewalk back toward me.

Or more specifically, LT ran. Kiddo, my eldest, and my nephew, Casimir, took turns moving in what can only be described as spastic hop, yet tiny tip-toe sized step that might have only impressed a snail with progress. LT, passing them with ease, ran around me, grinning from ear to ear. As LT returned to their starting point/finish line both Kiddo and Casimir tried to one-up each other in exaggerated groans about how fast their youngest competitor now was. It was a far cry from the fits and tantrums we used to experience about ‘unfair’ contests and proof of how mature the boys had become.

Before long other children began to arrive, filling up the sidewalk and preventing further races. One child shouted “Bus,” like a whaler of old spotting a blowhole out at sea as the big yellow vehicle appeared from around the corner. The kids scrambled to pick up their backpacks and gathered in a line as LT returned to my side.

Picking him up, we waved at the faces grinning at us from the other side of the windows. “That’s going to be you soon,” I told my youngest as the bus pulled away. “Are you ready?”

He smiled and nodded, undoubtedly thinking that the coming school year would be filled with fun and games like the time he’d just had.

Recalling the display at being asked to put toys away, I decided to make this a teachable moment. “You know, when you are in school, you are going to have to listen to your teacher when he or she tells you to do things.”

LT looked at me and cocked his head to one side. “Why?”

“Because you don’t want to go to the principal’s office or get bad grades.”

The look of confusion on LT’s face only deepened. He repeated, “Why?”

“Because they will call mommy then or give mommy a bad report. You don’t want that.”

He chewed on my answer for a moment or two. “Okay mommy, I’ll listen to my teacher.” I smiled and patted his head. Then, so softly, I almost missed it, LT muttered, “sometimes.”

LT might think he is ready for school, but I now have to wonder if his school will be ready for him.

Later, our conversation made me think of my own plans for the future and some of the stumbling blocks I’ve already encountered. Often, I complain about how long these plans are taking as patience is not my best virtue. The morning then became a good reminder that while I might achieve the measures by which I currently judge my success, there will always be challenges I have yet to envision.

Therefore, I cannot, will not let those unforeseen bumps discourage me completely. I have to remind myself of those that traveled a similar path before me, of those who didn’t know then what they know now, and how they matured along the way. Every day, as I take another step down that path, I tell myself, I am closer now than ever before, even if I am forced to retrace a few steps or take the occasional detour.

Because that is what I do. That is what I’ve done.

Though it sometimes seems I still have a long way yet to go, I know that when (not if) I finally do reach the future of my dreams, the bigger question is now will my dreams be ready for me?

A bump in the night and why not to be afraid

A bump in the night and why not to be afraid -

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Bump. Muffle. Jingle. Thump.

My eyes snapped open. The room was dark, except for the clock’s display which showed it was only a few minutes past three in the morning.

Bump. Muffle. Jingle. Thump.

My heart raced. However, my husband’s rhythmic breathing to my side was a clear indicator that the sound from the downstairs hadn’t yet penetrated through his dreams as it had mine. It wasn’t the first time I cursed the sensitivity of my ‘mom’ ears.

Bump. Muffle. Jingle. Thump.

I sat up as I tried to imagine what could be causing the sound. We’d had unseasonably warm weather recently, enjoying a weekend of open doors and windows. Could an animal have gotten inside? It wouldn’t be the first time. I still recall the time several years ago when a neighbor’s cat managed to sneak through a pet door only to become confused and disoriented inside. But, I reminded myself, the pet doors were now sealed.

Bump. Muffle. Jingle. Thump.

My imagination expanded in the darkness. While the sound was quiet enough to be caused by an animal, it seemed unnaturally controlled and repetitive to be caused by something wild, but still not out of the realm of possibilities. I turned to my sleeping husband. Someone was going to have to risk the unknown. Someone had to go investigate. Someone needed to wake up.

Bump. Muffle. Jingle. Thump.

It seemed my preferred someone had developed an immunity to my glares over our years of marriage. I debated shaking him awake. Reminding myself that I am a strong woman capable of fighting my own battles (or at least screaming loud enough to alert the neighbors), I decided against it. It wasn’t as if I was going back to sleep without knowing the cause of the sound. While telling myself the sound could be a mouse, our dog or maybe even one of our children, as I’d caught Kiddo sleepwalking once before, I left the bed and slowly opened the bedroom door.

Bump. Muffle. Jingle. Thump.

Swallowing my fear, I crept toward the staircase and peered over the banister.

Bump. Muffle. Jingle. Thump.

Movement caught my eye.

Bump. Muffle. Thump.

The sound was coming from . . . I squinted in the darkness . . .

Bump. Muffle. Thump.

. . . the robotic sweeper vacuum I’d received for Christmas, a device we’d programmed to clean while we slept. An array of blue LEDs appeared in the darkness as the white disk-shaped robot attempted to maneuver its way out from under our dining room table. Bump. Hitting one of the chair legs, it rotated a fraction of an inch and tried again.

Bump. Whirl.

The robot turned once more, disappearing once again under the table only to return a moment later for another attempt at escape.

Adrenaline fled my system, as my body reminded me exactly how early it was. Now that I understood where the sound was coming from, there was no more reason to fear. Instead, it became no more than white noise and something I could ignore. I returned to bed as the robot continued its chore.

It seems that we are being bombarded by new things to fear. Things to lose sleep over. I am reminded often of the words of Franklin Roosevelt who said during his first inaugural address, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

But there is even more to the speech than this one memorable quote. He went on to call this fear of fear a “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

He called upon the American people to recognize that it was fear, above all, that was the nation’s enemy and introduced the policy of the good neighbor – “the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others.”

History has a way of repeating itself and I find the words of this particular speech as true now as they were during the time they were first spoken. It is only the size of the stage that has changed.

We are in danger of losing our ability to respect the views of others – those that live differently, speak differently, pray differently or in cases, vote differently and in doing so jeopardize respect for ourselves. We are in danger of losing the battle with fear. And so I implore you, no matter where you call home, or side of an issue’s spectrum you take, to never lay awake in fear at the sound of a bump in the night. Instead, get out of your comfort zone. Investigate its source so that you might better understand it from all angles.

That bump in the night may prove to be something terrible, to be fought, but it might just as easily be something or someone trying to help you as best they can. You’ll only know for sure how best to react if you first break the paralysis of fear, step forward and risk a look.

A celebration five years in the making

A celebration five years in the making - www.alliepottswrites.comLT woke to the sounds of his family singing. He grinned a sleepy grin as he stretched underneath the covers, rubbing eyes which weren’t quite as ready to wake up. This was it. His birthday. His fifth birthday. It was the culmination of every wish he’d held most dear since, well . . . since the last one.

If you’d asked him, he likely would have told you that mommy and daddy had tricked him this time last year. Other than dropping the guard rails from his bed, four hadn’t been nearly the magical age that they’d led him to believe. He still wasn’t big enough to cross the street unattended. Or go on the big kid bus to the elementary school. Or do any number of things that he felt were his due.

But five. Five was going to be different. He just knew it.

Still grinning his sleepy grin, LT made his way into the bathroom he shared with his brother, Kiddo, only to stop in front of the colorful staircase that led to his toothbrush at the bathroom sink. He looked to his father. “I don’t need the stairs anymore daddy,” he announced. “I’m a big boy now.”

His father, always the one most likely to indulge the boys, pulled the steps away while answering “Is that so?”

LT grinned again and approached the sink fully expecting that somehow in the middle of the night his arms and legs would have stretched to lengths more fitting of a boy of his new maturity. He reached. And reached. And reached. And yet the faucet remained stubbornly just beyond his fingers’ touch.

“How about we use the steps, just a little bit longer,” his father suggested.

This minor setback was not enough to spoil his mood. At breakfast, LT’s grin might have been seen from space if it weren’t for the kitchen’s ceiling. “I’m five. I’m going to graduate [from preschool],” he proudly announced to his brother in between spoonfuls of cereal.

“Not until this summer, honey,” his mother corrected him. “Soon.” She gave him a squeeze. “But not too soon.”

LT took another mouthful as he chewed on this latest development.

His Nana came to visit that evening, an event that also meant pizza and even more presents. LT, having already enjoyed a cupcake or two at preschool that afternoon, bounced from room to room high on sugary treats and greasy goodness, scattering wrapping paper with abandon. It was his day and he would do whatever he wanted. Or so he thought.

“It’s bedtime.”

LT interpreted the announcement to mean, ‘it’s time to build a blanket waterfall/fort.’

“Bedtime. Now.”

LT threw himself on the stairs in a fit, his body flopping into the same limp dead weight mastered by children around the world in protest at the merest threat that he might be carried to his room like the baby, he knew, he was no longer. Like that, LT’s birthday was over.

There was nothing written on the calendar the following day, a fact that should have meant that life had returned to normal. Gifts were put away. Preschool would resume its regular routine. By all accounts, the day should have been entirely unworthy of note. LT, however, chose not to view the new day that way.

Turning to his mother, he echoed the words uttered unbeknownst to him by one of his cousins the year before, “and now I’m almost six,” proving that while even the best days may include a disappointment or two, and the ordinary days, potentially, even more, there is always something to celebrate as long as you think positively.

The Fair & FoulLT’s big day wasn’t the only one to receive presents last week. I’m pleased to announce that my science fiction/cyberpunk novel, The Fair & Foul – Project Gene Assist Book One, has been gifted with a new cover, and the finalization of the cover of its sequel is not far behind.

And for those who enjoyed my Women’s Fiction/Cozy Mystery novel, An Uncertain Faith, here’s what I hope will be a present for you – I’m on track to finish the first draft of its sequel by the end of March, meaning I may have not one, but two potential book launches in my immediate future.

Like LT and his quest to ride the big kid bus, or even reach the bathroom sink unassisted, I know I still have a number of milestones still left to achieve before any of this can happen, but at least I know I am closer now than I was the day before, and that’s reason enough for me to celebrate.

A part-time job and a lifetime’s worth experience with harrassment

A part-time job and a lifetime's worth experience with #harassment -

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This is not a happy story.

One day, rather out of the blue, I decided that my teenage lifestyle could no longer be supported by the occasional babysitting gig. It was time I found a real job. Within short order, I was hired to work part-time at a nearby bagel shop.

The shop was a franchise with an absentee (putting it lightly) owner. While we saw him occasionally as he walked his dog, he left the day-to-day operations to a pair of men. One supervised the front of the store, let’s call him G. The other was the baker. Let’s call him Paul because that was his name.

Paul was in his late twenties to early thirties. I was in my teens. However, a pesky thing like an age difference or the fact that he was primarily working with minors never seemed to bother Paul. He routinely made comments that made me feel as dirty for hearing them as the dishes I was responsible for washing.

My duties at the store ran the gamut. I manned the cash registers, prepared orders, cleaned surfaces, and shelved inventory. One day when I was in the back of the store, I found Paul already there, facing the wall with his shirt untucked. No, he couldn’t possibly be…, I thought to myself. Hoping beyond hope for an innocent explanation, I asked him what was doing. He smiled at me and shrugged as if what he was doing was nothing out of the ordinary while confirming it was exactly what it appeared.

Stunned, I found G and told him what I had seen. G’s shoulders slumped. Paul’s behavior didn’t surprise him, it was just Paul’s way and I was told there was little either of us could do about it. Paul’s actions and comments were patterned behavior and the owner’s continued silence proved he was either stubbornly in denial or simply didn’t care. Without Paul, there would be no bagels, at least not until a replacement could be found, which would have required work on the owner’s part. However, G and I, on the other hand, were considered replaceable.

I could have walked out, but I didn’t. I suppose my ego got in the way. Why should I be the one to have to quit? The job was a good one – excepting the one co-worker. I suppose I could/should have better investigated my legal rights or called the health department, but I was a kid and that didn’t occur to me until years later. I suppose I might have told my parents, but I didn’t do that either.

Instead, I accepted most of G’s assessment – that very little could be done. After all, I told myself, it really wasn’t as bad as it could be. I accepted that for all his comments, all his suggestions, Paul hadn’t really done anything except make me feel uncomfortable.

I did not, however, let it go. I continued to look for alternative solutions to my problem. A friend allowed me to refer to him as my boyfriend as if my relationship status might redirect Paul’s attention.

It didn’t. If anything the comments became more suggestive.

I took to volunteering to wash more than my share of dishes as it allowed me to frequently carry several knives in each hand. This worked, but only temporarily. When that wasn’t an option, I tried to stay as far away from Paul as the store would allow.

It wasn’t a big store.

One day, while I was wiping down table tops near closing time, Paul came running from the back, laughing to the point of tears. In between giggles, he told me that he’d peeked under the bathroom door thinking I was the room’s occupant only to find that another woman, one he suspected was homeless, there instead. “I saw everything,” he gasped between chuckles. “Everything!” He laughed again like this was supposed to be funny. As terrible as this was on its own, I also had to ask, “Why did you look? If you thought I was in there, why did you look?” His only answer was more laughter.

As terrible as this was on its own, I also had to ask, “Why did you look? If you thought I was in there, why did you look?” His only answer was more laughter.

I wish I could tell you I left that same day and never looked back, but I didn’t. I wish I could tell you that the unfortunate woman called the police or at least registered a complaint, but she didn’t either. Maybe she, like me, was told there was nothing to gain from complaining. But most of all I wish this hadn’t been the first (or last) time I’d been made to feel at risk in surroundings which should have been expected to be safe.

I can’t go back to that time and demand Paul, the owner, or even G be held accountable for what they said, did or didn’t do. I still feel sick to my stomach knowing when I finally said enough – when I finally did walk out – my absence left another, even younger girl, alone in that store without a friend. I can’t change the past.

But I can help shape the future.

And you can too.

This wasn’t a happy story, but this doesn’t have to be a common story.

If a person tells you that they feel scared, threatened, or abused, don’t belittle them – believe them. Do what you can to understand their fears. Recognize that there might be a problem, even if it wasn’t your experience. Ask. Observe. And above all, listen. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. Lend your voice and let those in charge know it isn’t okay. Show the person affected they aren’t isn’t alone and strive for a day when a story like this is the exception.

But whatever you do never, ever, accept you are powerless.

An unexpected lesson on never giving up

An Unexpected Lesson on Never Giving Up -

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I elected to take AP English in my final year of high school. For those not as familiar with the American, specifically, North Carolinian education system, at least during the [decade redacted], an AP class was an advanced course you could take leading up to an exam at the end of the year which could translate into university credits depending on scores. I say ‘elected’ because while all students must pass senior English in order to graduate, no one said you had to do so at the AP level. What can I say? Peer pressure.

I knew from the very first second I stepped into that classroom that this course was not going to be like the ones I’d previously taken. The cinderblock walls that made up the main buildings of my school’s campus, were painted in a mural of literary characters. It was bright and glaring and took a while for my eyes to adjust looking at all that color considering all the other walls around campus were stark white.

The class was barely underway when our teacher began handing out a list of books we would not only be required to read in addition to our regular coursework, we’d be also expected to analyze. I remember thinking repeatedly as more titles were rattled off, what have I gotten myself into?

The question only grew louder in my brain as the class went on. I thought of the rest of my schedule and the demands of my other courses. Classes like science and math. Classes, which I thought would have a greater impact on my future career.

You could still ask to change your schedule during the first two weeks of school, and so after the second class, I approached my teacher to tell her that as much as I liked her style, I was worried I would be overwhelmed and would she mind signing my transfer request.

My teacher listened to my concerns but didn’t pick up her pen. Instead, she looked me in the eyes and told me she thought I had what it took. She asked me to think about it a while longer and if at the end of the second week I still wanted to move to another class she would sign the request without argument. Considering she didn’t know me any more than the other students in the class, I wondered briefly if she had said what she had out of some form of self-interest. Would she get dinged for her performance if kids transferred? I wondered. Then again, I argued, she’d probably get dinged more for kids not passing. Wouldn’t she? Mostly, though, I found myself wanting to believe what she said. I wanted to be that person she thought I was.

I agreed to her suggestion. In the scheme of things, what really, was another day or two?

At the end of the year, we entered the room only to find the mural all but gone with the majority of walls painted the same white as the rest of the campus. Our teacher explained then that for those final days she wanted us to fill in the blank spaces. She would supply the paint and we could pair up however we wanted, but we were to create a mural of our own based on readings we’d done throughout the year for next class to enjoy the following year.

I left behind a piece of myself on the walls of that classroom, if only for as long as an extra year, but I took with me much more.

I’ve blocked out the majority of my high school experience, but not her class, and not the lessons I learned there. For it was there I learned that, while I will be tempted to quit when the work gets difficult or otherwise overwhelming, if I press on the end result will likely prove to be worth the sweat and tears. I also learned that while I might not always believe in myself, there are others out there who are willing to believe enough for the both of us. The trick is to trust them.

It is important to find mentors in life, people who believe enough in you to coach you through the tough times. A simple nod of encouragement by these people can be enough to make the difference between success and failure. And there is no rule to limit a person to just one. You can build yourself a team of mentors if that’s what your path to success requires.

And if you do find yourself one day looking into the eyes of someone considering giving up, think of the people who once believed in you. Look them in the eye and tell them to give it another day. Who knows what a difference your words can make.

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