Safe Harbor: Reflections from Portland, OR

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 10.22.40 AMI have been “home” this past 10 days in Portland, Oregon (as much as a person can be home in a place they have not lived in for a long, long time). The quietude of my years in Vermont have erased much of my city savvy. Portland’s noise seems more jarring, the concrete harder.  Brand new construction, all angles and glass, replace the familiar craftsman lines of vanished homes in the neighborhoods where I grew up. I feel a bit adrift, like my compass does not read true.

Was this a bit what Leon felt, his first day in my first grade so many years ago? Leon, a child of artists, raised in moss-hung forests along the creek,  his life rich in creativity, poor in ammenities (no phone, no TV).  We had earlier toured the cafeteria, our kindly cook aquainting my new students about lunchtime procedures. I checked in to see how they were doing. In a room swimming with children, amidst flowing channels of purposeful chaos, only Leon stood still. Wide-eyed,  brown hair tumbling past his shoulders, arms clutching his lunchbox from home he exclaimed, “I am lost in a sea of color!” I took his small hand. We walked to the table where his classmates had settled, and soon through the doors that spilled out into the play fields, to the shade of ancient trees. Safe Harbor.

Today, I made my way across the city to connect with my youngest son. Isaac works downtown. I navigated traffic and pedestrians, bridges, bicycles, and one-way streets finally finding a berth for my borrowed car in the shady recesses of a multi-level garage. Once parked, I continued on foot. Across the street I watched a flotilla of preschoolers, their tiny hands mooring them to a central line, like so many small skiffs towed through the crowded river of sidewalk. Teachers like pilot boats, gently guiding all to their destination. Safe Harbor. I remember Isaac’s hands once also so tiny. My ability to steer him away from danger once seemed so sure.

Our journey has contained twists and unexpected turns. Lately, there has been much distance and time between common ports. Calm seas too eerily quiet, and communication too often down. Parenting this bearded son has me feeling more like a lighthouse. Watchful, yet distant. Hoping he will see the shine of my light, the constancy of my caring. “Beware of the rocks, Isaac. Beware of the rocks.” Find. Safe. Harbor.




8 thoughts on “Safe Harbor: Reflections from Portland, OR

  1. Every piece of this slice is wonderful. I like how you connected your past experience with a 1st grader, to what is going on right now in your life in Portland. The imagery of the light house was perfect. It sounds like you too would enjoy and like some peace but you are doing what you need to do, much like you did for your 1st grade student long ago. Don’t forget how wonderful you are and take care of yourself too!! Barb Brown


  2. I read your post about 5 times. Every time, I found a new “nuance” or hint at the delicate balance of holding on and letting go….yes it is sort of like being a light house even when you WANT to be a tug boat or a big strong barge taking them where YOU think they should be. This is a beautiful poetic piece on parenting adult children. Thank you.


  3. I really loved this. I think it’s the appropriate length for these slices, but…I really wanted more. I wondered if you were able to provide a safe spot for Leon, how he felt in your class as a child of artists among children of…I don’t know, Muggles?!… I wanted more paragraphs on who your son was, why you feel like a lighthouse… Beautiful imagery. I felt like this was the beginning of a long essay that I would not be able to put down.


    • Kate thanks for the suggestion. I really struggled at first thinking what to write this week, then the imagery of the preschoolers added to my notebook finally gave me a direction. Leon became a musician, and his younger brother an artist. Teaching both these unique and brilliant young minds remains one of the gems of my teaching career. I think I learned equally as much. I suppose that could be a slice in itself!


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