Columns

Still afloat on the pond of English 101

I am absolutely not going to tell you how many years ago I took English 101.

For one thing, I’m not good at math – something my college transcript verifies. For another thing, it was a really long time ago. How long ago? Well, let’s just say all of my essays were handwritten. In cursive. In pen. No, not with quill and ink.

Memories of that class were triggered when our youngest son headed out the door to Eastern Washington University last week. He’s not taking 101 – he’s teaching it.

Sam’s first day of teaching English 101/First day of kindergarten.

Sam is in the final year of his graduate degree and is a composition instructor in the English Graduate Student Assistantship Program. His 22nd birthday was Friday, but he’s already teaching a class of 24 students.

He’s relishing his new role, and I’m sure his students will benefit from his enthusiasm. For many of them, English 101 will be just another required class to get out of the way, but perhaps for some the class will trigger a desire to learn more about writing.

That’s exactly what happened to me at Spokane Falls Community College.

At 18, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. The career aptitude tests I took my senior year of high school pointed me toward fashion merchandising. I’m pretty sure that’s just a fancy way to say retail sales clerk, but I could be wrong.

Dad said college would be a better place to discover my aptitudes and paid for my first quarter at SFCC. I’d been the editor of our school newspaper and co-editor of the yearbook, so English classes didn’t scare me. I was far more terrified of classes involving math – a justified fear as evidenced in the above-mentioned transcripts.

I’m sorry to say, I don’t remember the name of my English 101 instructor. I do remember he was also the tennis coach and often wore his tennis whites to class. Maybe fashion merchandising should have been my thing, after all.

Yet, he’s the one who lit the spark of interest – who first made me wonder if perhaps writing was something I could actually be good at. To be sure, 101 is the most basic of college classes. Students typically learn the different stages of writing: gathering material, drafting ideas, revising drafts, editing and proofreading.

Sitting on my desk is one of the first essays I wrote for that class. The title? “From Duckling to Swan,” in which I related my middle school to high school transformation.

Honestly, reading it now is cringe-inducing, but I’ve saved it all these years because of the comment the instructor wrote in pencil on the title page.

“An essay like this can keep you afloat in the pond of 101.”

When that paper landed on my desk, after he first read it to the class, it was an a-ha moment for me. I thought, “This is it! This is what I want to do. I want to write and I want people to read what I’ve written.”

And here we are.

Now, it’s Sam’s turn to make a difference.

Who knows? Maybe someday a writer will sit down to pen a newspaper column or write a book, and remember an English 101 class at EWU, and the instructor who encouraged her to believe that she had a way with words. And perhaps that teacher’s name will be Sam Hval.

It wouldn’t surprise me a bit.

Columns

Sometimes the Simplest Prayers Mean Most

We eagerly scanned the swarms of blue-robed students filing into the McCarthey Athletic Center on Friday evening. The strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” swelled, and then we spotted our baby boy – not much of a baby anymore.

As Sam received his diploma and was recognized as an honors student who’s already earned 87 credits through the Running Start program at Eastern Washington University, another chapter in our parenting lives closed.

Our fourth and final son graduated from high school.

It was an occasion I couldn’t even imagine 18 years ago when he struggled for every breath in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at now-Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.

On a golden September day, Sam, our grand finale, had entered the world weighing in at a whopping 9 pounds, 9 ounces. He had his father’s broad shoulders and the trace of a dimple in his chin.

He also had a hole in his diaphragm.

Within hours of his birth we were told our baby had congenital diaphragmatic hernia. A hole in his diaphragm hadn’t closed early in gestation. As a result, his internal organs pushed into his chest cavity, squashing his developing lungs. Only Sam’s right lung was fully formed. Our newborn was given a 50/50 chance of survival.

Milestones like a commencement ceremony remind us of how close we came to losing this child.

Late Friday night following the celebration, while the rest of the household slept, Derek and I quietly recalled Sam’s desperate first days.

He’d been flown by helicopter from Holy Family Hospital to Sacred Heart Medical Center an hour after his birth. Having just given birth I was forced to stay behind while Derek drove downtown.

“When I walked into the NICU, they had Sam restrained on a table,” he recalled. “His back was arched, his face red. He was screaming his head off. They told me he was a fighter, but that I needed to leave the room for a minute. They said they were going to sedate him, that his blood pressure was dangerously high. When they let me back in, Sam was silent and still. So very still.”

And 18 years later, the tears fell as he remembered his helplessness in the face of his son’s need.

My own memories of that day still haunt.

Twelve hours after his birth, I stood next to Sam’s bed. Tubes and wires protruded from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. The ominous whooshing of the ventilator and the beeping and whirring of machines filled the room. He was so fragile that the sound of a voice raised above a whisper sent his blood pressure skyrocketing.

I believe in the power of prayer. I always have. But that morning I could find no words. So I reached two fingers under the maze of wires, rested them on his laboring chest and whispered, please. When he exhaled I whispered thank you.

In the weeks that followed those words became a ritual.

Even as he grew healthy and strong, with no lingering complications, each breath simply seemed miraculous to me. Life is a gift, but how casually we treat it, until we’re forced to confront its fragility.

More nights than I can count, I’d slip into Sam’s room, lay my hand on his chest and whisper please and thank you as he breathed. Over the years that prayer grew to encompass much more than his physical health.

Like his dad, Sam’s going to continue his education at EWU. He plans to become a high school English teacher and will live at home for a while, so our nest won’t be empty anytime soon.

Following the commencement ceremony, we posed for photos. Sam now towers above me, and when I wrap my arms around him, my head rests near his heart.

Once again I found myself whispering please when he inhaled, thank you when he exhaled.

It’s a prayer that’s served me well.

Sam's graduation

War Bonds

Birthday letter from my son

My heart is full and I am so thankful.
Cindy

Dear Mom,

I don’t think I’ve ever posted on your Facebook for your birthday before. But that’s just one of the many mistakes I have made, and continue to make. I’m not a perfect son. Sometimes I don’t fold the laundry when I’m told. Sometimes I leave dirty dishes in the sink. Sometimes I say things I shouldn’t. Sometimes I lie. Sometimes I make you cry. Sometimes I make you furious.
But despite all of my faults, you have never once stopped loving me with all of your being every second I’m alive. You spent sleepless nights wondering if you would ever be able to see your son healthy and living before I could even speak or understand what that meant. You’ve had to listen to me rant, rave, and ramble. You’ve given me harsh, but much needed advice. You don’t mince words, or hold back the truth. You’re the first one to ask me what’s wrong when I’m gloomy. You’re the first one to make me laugh when I’ve had a bad day.
Sometimes I’ll attempt to walk past you, eyes on the ground, grumpy and angry, and you’ll quickly grab me and wrap your arms around me. You’re the strongest person I know, and also the funniest. Your words have touched the hearts of me and people all over the country. You inspire me, challenge me, and keep me alive with love and hope.
I want you to know that every hug in the morning was real, that every compliment was the truth, and that a Facebook post, a card, or a present will never be able to describe how important you are to not just me, but to thousands of other people.

Happy Birthday, and thank you for giving me life and all that it entails. Your existence has been one of the best gifts in the world.

Sam

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War Bonds

Author Podcasts: Would you? Could you? Should you?

I have a confession to make. I’ve never listened to a podcast. My sons have played bits and blurbs of their favorite podcast for me, but I’ve never actually listened to one.

Until now.

I’m right in the  middle of writing my second book, Life, Love and Raising Sons (Not Necessarily in That Order) and the opportunity to host a podcast about the same topics featured in my book opened up.

Never one to wade in and test the waters, I jumped in and drug 2 of my 4 sons with me.

In the first episode we talk about spoilers and ruin Star Wars, Santa and a classic novel or two. Undaunted, in the next episode we talk about summer movies, and board games you shouldn’t play with the family.

Produced by Spokane Talks Online, the forum offers a behind-the-scenes look at the fodder for my Spokesman Review columns, magazine articles and of course my inspiration for the new book. The podcast can be downloaded at Spokane Talks Online and iTunes etc.

It’s been a bit of learning curve, but awfully fun to hang out with my sons and spill the family secrets.

I’m not yet sure if a podcast is a valuable marketing tool for a fairly new author in the middle of writing her second book. Time will tell.

In the meanwhile, I’d love to hear your thoughts about your favorite podcasts– especially if you listen to any author podcasts!
And please tune in to Love, Life & Raising Sons here http://www.spokanetalksonline.com/category/podcasts/life-love-and-raising-sons/

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Sam Hval, Cindy Hval, Zach Hval