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Learning on the yellow couch!

I’ve been at the Lucy Calkins Writers Workshop for this past week and have learned more about how to write this week than I have in 42 years, which is concerning because I have been a teacher for 22 of those years, and most of them have included teaching writing!

The through-line of the workshop was to write, which in itself I found surprising. To go to a writing workshop and write! The surprising-ness surprised me too. We always say “practice what you preach”. This has been a week of “practice WHEN you preach” (or at least when you are being preached to!). So, practice I did.

We had session after session and learned, session by session, how to improve our writing. Focus on small things. Stretch the heart. Add dialogue. Use descriptive language. Most of all… write.

Write a lot. Cross things out. Write like you are possessed. Take risks. Use words you haven’t used before. Read it out aloud. Really loud! Shout your story.

So I wrote. And here it is. Enjoy.


It’s Thursday morning, the sky is grey and unhappy and I’m smiling to myself.

I’m sitting in a stuffy classroom in Columbia Teachers College, New York City, listening to a how-to-teach-writing expert and an air conditioner.

Simultaneously droning.

I’m thinking about my daughter.

We’re snuggled closely on a slightly worn yellow couch. She’s freshly bathed and smells of the apple bubble bath I bought her last week and she’s playing with her loose tooth. “The third one!” she’s unhesitatingly proud to tell me. She wiggles it with her tongue like the cat flap on our back door.

“That’s going to need a pull soon”, I think to myself. Mum’s job. I don’t do teeth.

She’s just spent two minutes on her hands and knees at the book shelf. The shelf on the bottom. The one with all HER books. HER shelf. “Not this one.” “This one’s boring.” “I don’t like him!” “OK Daddy, this one,” as she bounced onto the couch like Tigger running to Pooh. Big eyes. Legs everywhere. Beaming. I thought I saw a tail.

Snuggled in, we’re on the third page. We’ve read the cover, “Oh, The PLACES You Will Go.” We’ve read the cover page, “Oh! The places YOU will go.” We’ve even read the title page, “Oh the places you WILL go.” Her eagerness to get to the story has us three pages in and I haven’t been listening. She’s been reading each page, at least what she calls reading. She points to a word, sounds it out, “P…L…A…CK… E… S”. “Plackess” she says triumphantly.

“Places”. I correct her.

“Places”, she says and reads on. I’m not listening. I’m far, far away.

I’m wondering if I’ll be able to do this with her children. If she’ll even decide to have children. Where will we all be in however many years between now and her having children? I’m wondering how long this will last. Will we still do this when she’s twelve? Sixteen? And suddenly I find myself listening again.

“Steer”, I correct her.

“Steer”, she says and reads on. And then I’m away again.

Will she remember snuggling up to Daddy on the yellow couch smelling of apples, reading HER books from HER shelf? Will she remember when she couldn’t read and twisted the corner of her pillowslip as her Daddy made the stories come to life? Does she know that I read to her every night as she lay in her crib? Looking up at me with big eyes and wriggly legs? I find myself listening, again.

“And… you… will… know… what… you… know!,” she reads, turning to look up at me because she knows she read the whole line without a mistake. I smile and brush her hair back from her forehead. She falls back into the story and I think to myself, “Yes, you WILL know what you know.” She reads on.

Ding, dong. The doorbell rings. She leaps up, book clattering to the floor, legs everywhere, tail swishing, and races to the door.
I reach to pick up the book. Her Mum calls out, “ Look through the peep hole to make sure you know who it is first.” The door is opened and there is mumbled this and that and Mum goes to find out who’s visiting.

My smell of apples is gone but I’m still warm from the little body that was reading beside me. There’s even a small imprint in the couch where that swishing tail was stilled for a moment by the pages of a book.

And then the visitors have gone and Mum has decided now is a good time to head to bed and I’m suddenly alone downstairs, sitting on a slightly worn yellow couch, holding a book in my hand. I absently turn the first pages, keenly aware of the fading warmth and the bedtime noises upstairs and find myself looking at the first page.

“Congratulations!” it reads. “Today is your day, you’re off to great places! You’re off and away!”

And I’m smiling to myself, again.

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