Summer Swimming

Summer swimming

Four sprites bob up

And down in the water

The cool of the water worn off

They turn on each other

 “He splashed me!”

                 “She took my beach ball!”

                                   “He pulled my hair!”

                                                       “She dunked me!”

I breathe deep

“Then get out,” I suggest

 They recoil into the deep

Pretending the sirens

Called from beneath

A few minutes of peace pass

Then the battle begins again

the shouting, arguing

dissolves into name-calling

I seethe

Can they really be brothers? Can they really be sisters?

“Then get out,” I command

Teeth clenched

Four bodies heave

Themselves onto the pool deck

Arms crossed

Eyeballs rolling

Frowns and eyebrows knitted down

Grace please, I choke silently

To the God who made water, who made them

I don’t know what to do, Lord

I stare them down

Speechless, thinking frantically

Their bodies relax

All four like stair steps

Standing in a row

Maybe she won’t lecture,  their thoughts

Flicker like ticker tape

Across their foreheads

They stand perilously close

To the water’s edge

What if…

My wicked grin flashes





I push them in quickly

Two at a time

Before they can react

They break the surface sputtering

But laughing

And they finally unite together

To splash and soak me

~suelarkinsweems ’11

*no children were harmed in the creation of this poem*


I bought medicine for a woman yesterday and then left her to die. At least that is what it felt like.

Cavalier was her name.  My four-year-old Jet and I were trying to finish shopping (I was shopping, Jet was whining *cue wah track*) when she approached us, a frail elderly woman in one of the store’s motorized carts. Could I help her buy her heart medicine? She asked.  We walked over to the pharmacy. Between Jet’s whimpering about how he never gets to buy any thing, and Cavalier’s ramblings about her heart and being sick, I learned from the pharmacist that she has an antibiotic on her file.  Cavalier began what I suspect was a well-rehearsed story about her health and troubles.  Jet droned on about just picking out one small toy. Cavalier’s medicine would cost $20.  As I reached out to pay the cashier, Cavalier said, wait, maybe she would just like some food and something different. Jet let out a wail that he just wanted one Green Lantern or maybe some gum.  PLEASE, Momma!  I looked from the frail woman to the tow-headed boy, exasperated with them both.

Jet wanted another action figure.  Cavalier wanted more than her medicine.  I told them both no.  I paid for the antibiotic, and hugged Cavalier as I handed her the medicine.  I dragged my four-year-old to the car.

Then I couldn’t sleep. 

I replayed the scene in my mind a hundred times. My heart was not right toward Jet or Cavalier.  I wanted the quickest way out with both of them. Perhaps grace would have bought a bag of grapes and animal crackers and sat down to eat on the pharmacy benches. At that moment, they were both crying out to me, and maybe ‘no’ was the best answer, but I left and took Jet with me.  I left Cavalier behind.  Cavalier…God has quite a sense of humor.  He named her Cavalier, but I was the careless one, the haughty one. 



We have been among old friends this week.  We hugged them, looking at the landscape behind them that has not changed in the last ten years.  We are a little wistful.  They hug us, a little wistful, too.  “I wish we could travel and live in different places like you all!” they say.  And we shake our heads and declare back, “We wish we could settle into one place!”  And in unison, we all say, “Oh, no, you don’t!”  We laugh. 

One day the boats will come into port and leave us all on the dock. We will wave goodbye to this crazy, beautiful military life. Until then, we work at peace—which is mostly an ongoing struggle of waiting and accepting, grieving and celebrating. 

The cycle reminds me that I have wasted too much time trying to get back somewhere.  Each time we return to a place we have lived, we find it has tilted.  We arrive with great anticipation, excited to feel back, to feel comfortable, and then as we step into place, we find that the place has changed.  We have changed.  We can’t get back.  The grieving begins again.  The accepting begins again.  All that is left is the relationships that we nurtured, and sometimes those have shifted too.  I often feel like hibernating—hiding from the joy and pain and grief.  Or, I can keep my arms open, accepting the fullness of loving people where they are and being accepted for where I am.  Thank you to so many of our friends and family who continue to welcome us as we are– you all who remind us of the sweetness of fellowship, regardless of the time that has passed.  I am grateful for the reminder that I must choose to live today.  It really is all I have, for I won’t pass this way again.

Down to the Foundation

We drove by Joplin and some other tornado torn areas this week on our way to Oklahoma.  Groves of old trees were snapped in half like a huge sickle came by and sliced off the tops, splintering them like toothpicks.  Brick homes look like the roof blew in and imploded.  It’s a topsy turvy sight—things are not where they should be.  We were silent as we drove.  It was all we could offer.  Our breathing and tears were our prayers.

Down to the Foundation

I know You give and take away

Gave a hundred years to these trees

Now jagged and naked, the tops snapped away

Gave thirty years to this family home

The roof blown in, bricks crumbling

It’s hard to keep Your time

To understand Your ways

But I look through the wreckage

And I see the cement foundations

The smooth places in the dust

You remind me that what I build

Is ultimately rubble

Unless I invest in love

Love that rises from the carnage

Of the wind, of the water

These storms that rattle our lives

And send us seeking shelter and help

Maybe they bring us back to love

Stripping away our comfort and security

Reminding us of our vulnerability

Impressing our need for each other

In that, perhaps hope rises again

When we get back

Back down to the Foundation

~ SLW ’11

Of Miles and Misery

We have been rambling.  I would love to share with you our sure-fire-six-step plan for blissful travel with four children ages ten and under, but well, I don’t know how.  Each time we plan a trip, I read the travel blogs and books, soaking in their knowledge and expertise– again.  I pack snacks, educational games, not-so-educational games, movies, books, audiobooks, favorite blankets, horses, dolls, Batmans, ipods, and anything else we can stuff into every available crevice in the vehicle.  I pray.  A LOT.  We load up the car, everyone nestles into their place, and I think Finally!  Our time has come!

And then we pull out of the garage.

“How long is this going to take again?”

 “I have to go to the bathroom now.  I know we just stopped and I SWORE I didn’t have to go (and I didn’t), but now I do have to go.  Yes, it’s an em-errrrrrr-gen-ceeeeeeee.”

“If I have to listen to The Little Mermaid one more time, I am pretty sure I will need a barf bag.”

“She’s on my side!  He’s looking at me!  His left big toe is pointed in my direction and I am sure that means that he is calling me a name we’re not allowed to say!”

“Everyone be quiet!  We are having FUN!”  grumble, grumble, grumble.

Oh, the mandatory family fun we have.  Still, I love to travel, especially with my kids, who invariably teeter between hysterical and downright embarrassing with their honesty and zest for all new experiences.  This week, we traveled a new route from the East coast to Oklahoma, driving through West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Misery. 

No, it’s not a typo.  I learned that my oldest daughter Mem does not know how to pronounce Missouri.  Even better, she neatly pronounces it “Misery” every time, which makes me laugh uncontrollably, because frankly, it is so fitting when we are sixteen hours into a road trip. 

“How long until we get to Misery?”  she asks. 

“Are we STILL in Misery?”

“Yea!  We’ve left Misery!  I thought it would never end.” 

I just hope that when people at church ask her about the trip, she will reply, “Well, we drove through Misery, but we made it here just fine!”



Titan of Sound

I wrote this for my dad in 1999, some time after he moved from the band room to the library.  If you know my dad, you know he won’t ever retire; he just gets a new gig.  He was an elementary, middle school, and high school band director for over twenty years.  Now that I have experienced the acute auditory PAIN, I mean joy, of a young one learning a new instrument, I have a newfound respect for Dad.  He invested in so many students’ lives during his time at Payson Schools, and continues to be a champion for the arts today.  Love you Dad!

Titan of Sound

He stands on the stage

His back to the crowd

Shooshing for soft

And flapping for loud

His hands are batons

That twirl magic spells

His knees keep the time

As his feet tap in swells

With one small wave

the music begins

with another hand closing

it soon quits again

His frame ebbs and flows

With the rip of the song

His hair falls in wild waves

As if swept along

Then the song slows

And comes to an end

The crowd stands clapping

The band plays again

When it’s all finished

The playing is done

The people all left

The instruments gone

My father sits smiling

To bask in the glow

Of an ocean of symphony

Caught in its tow

~SLW 99

A Little Pomp and Circumstance

In a couple weeks he will be eleven.  Today, we attended his 5th grade promotion.  I tried not to let the tears blur my vision; I knew if one escaped I would dissolve into a sobbing pile of mush in the front row.  I’m embarrassing now, you know, just ask my kids.

I usually think these types of ceremonies (kindergarten graduation with caps and gowns, 5th grade promotions with pomp and circumstance) exist to create additional opportunities for kids to wear their Easter clothes, the ones we spent too much money on and want to see them in one more time before they disappear somewhere in the far away galaxy called “the back of the closet.” Or, if they belong to my children, before they become costume fodder for the original production of “Zombies On Easter Parade.”

But today, I grudgingly admit that it was a needed ceremony of closure for him—for us.  He has completed an extremely difficult year.  He has had to look an adult teacher in the eye and tell her calmly that he can’t hear her when she yells, that fidgeting is ok for boys, and that she needn’t worry about his ‘transition skills’ as he has been in more schools in the last six years than she has seen in her entire career.  As many times as I bit my tongue and wrote letters recommending her resignation (which I didn’t send), I am thankful for the way it has grown my son this year.  At times, it was too much, and we let him stay home for mental health days.  Other times, we felt adult intervention was necessary, and we wrote emails, attended conferences, and asked for help.  The hardest part is seeing him hurt, and breathing long enough to think through whether it is something he can handle or if we need to step in.

Should we have pulled him out at Christmas, like I wanted to do?  Probably.  But I would have missed the opportunity to learn how to hear him—to know when he just needs to unload and when he is asking for help.  I saw him handle stress—sometimes well, and other times poorly, and at times, we were able to guide and help him articulate appropriate responses.

I have heard him pray for her, which chokes me up just thinking about it.  He has made a leap that I still struggle with—praying for those who hurt us.  He is slipping slowly into the man-skin that God has created for him, and that is worth a little pomp and circumstance.  And enjoy one last look at this white shirt– it’s sure to have red paint and holes by the weekend.

Along the Road

It’s happening again.
The end of a school year—the goodbyes, the relief of summer, the anticipation for the fall not yet begun.
I sit a little misty-eyed as I consider my seniors.  Their beautiful faces register excitement, confidence, and fear.  I know things about them that I shouldn’t.  Things that spilled out in writing assignments and poetry and tearful advisement sessions.  Knowing their weaknesses and their triumphs sweetens this moment all the more though, and I am grateful to have walked alongside them for just a little while.

It occurs to me that teaching is the closest I will venture toward the fountain of youth.  I watch the coming-of-age stories pass before my eyes, as boys and girls become men and women, and I am the one who absorbs the youth somehow.  I cannot live their lives for them.  I do not try.  But our paths cross and parallel for a time and we share our stories along the road, and we feel more whole for it.

This is why I continue to return to teach each fall against all odds.  Because standardized testing, scope and sequence, content core standards, and other legislation cannot create a deep sense of what it truly means to be human.  It is only when we approach each other as fellow sojourners, compassionate and mindful, that we begin the work of living well.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s words hang above my desk and I pray they guide our journey with the people we each influence:

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element.  It is my personal approach that creates the climate.  It is my daily mood that makes the weather.  I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous.  I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration; I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.  In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized.  If we treat people as they are, we make them worse.  If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”   ~Goethe (1749-1832)

I am reminded that I have the power to approach this next day, week, month and year of my life with the dignity that Goethe describes.  I hope to embrace every minute—to savor the sorrow and the joy on the path, for it is all part of this beautiful, fragile thing called life.

4 East Willis Road

I remember the old homeplace in Chandler.  The one across the street from Great-Grandmother Harden’s house with the dirt-filled swimming pool.  Just an acre, it was surrounded by walls of oleanders, pecan trees, and citrus groves.  Everytime I stepped inside, I was enchanted.

I remember the summers we spent there as children, my sister Becky and I.
I remember the parrot Izzador, that would never say “Polly want a cracker” even when you pronounced it very carefully for her to understand.  Over and over.  And the duck Beelzebub, who would nip at small children who stayed in his cage too long.
I remember Popo feeding the cats- cats that came from everywhere- cats that had been thrown into their woodpile, strays and wanderers.  He took time every night and morning to prepare a dish- full of meow mix and milk, meow mix and milk, carefully stirred.  It never mattered how many or who came.  He always fed those who came.  And he let us watch.

I remember begging Granny and Popo to irrigate.

“Can we irrigate today?”
“No, not yet.”



Then, finally, Popo would set his wading boots by the door.  We knew the water was coming.  We went to bed early those nights.  Granny would never allow us to sleep in our swimsuits, but we always had them on before she would come wake us up.  She would come in early those mornings.  Often before the sun.  I remember crawling around in the irrigation ditches.  We became alligators, sharks, and fish.  We were wild and wet, running, splashing uncontrollably through the grass covered with two inches of water.  Granny and Popo never played, but they worked the ditches.

“What are you doing, Popo?”
we would ask, our hair plastered every-which-way, our bellies heaving from breathlessness and joy.  Then he would
stop and smile his wonderful, wrinkly smile.

“I’m helping the water run,” he would reply.

We would smile at his funny way and run away laughing, skipping, ducking away from the wasps that hovered so near the
water’s surface.

I remember the little chest in the room above the garage where Granny kept scraps of material.  It was Granny’s place.  Full of pins, needles, and paper.  I remember her hands showing me how to cut and sew and create life from scraps.
Life from scraps.  I remember the so-called eight hour quilt in Woman’s Day.  The one that took my fourteen years and all Granny’s sixty-two years a whole three weeks to complete, laughing everyday on our knees about our eight-hours-a-day-for-two-weeks-quilt.  I remember learning to crochet with the hook.  To create bags and scarves and rugs made from Aunt Nancy’s holey gym socks dyed in purple and pink RIT dye.  I remember the green plaid capri pants she helped me make for my first day of seventh grade.  How she explained that the cutting was everything- match the plaid as you cut, and you save worry and mismatch later.  Take the extra time to do it right.  I remember the sewing machine she and Popo gave me on my sixteenth birthday, a rite of passage.

But most of all, I remember my Popo, hunched over in his chair at the head of the table, his white crowned head resting in his heavy hand, tired from fighting a battle I did not understand- a battle against the city that would not relent.  I remember crying as my mother told me that the city had won- they would take the land to widen the road.  I remember wandering around the old home place, knowing it would be the last time, snatching memories and roses- roses I wished would dry and keep like Granny’s did.  Memories were all we would have left in the dust of progress for the new freeway.