The postcard arrived a week after school ended, then sat by the door, a bright rainbow with a cheery cloud against a blue sky. On the back of the postcard the teacher asked for her students to write her back and be pen pals for the summer. It was the perfect way to convince students to do writing work over the summer. All we had to do was convince the kid to write her back.

After a week of dreading it, she finally gave in. I laid out stationary with matching envelopes and stickers, fancy! She cried; she just didn’t want to do it. We worked through it slowly, carefully. She put her head down and cried and cried. I put my head down, closed my eyes and waited. Let her feel the emotion fully, the frustration, the dread, all of the times her teacher has asked her to write sentences, the confusion, the fear of disappointing her, the grief at how hard this is. Eventually, it passed.

Seeing that a traditional letter was not a great option, I presented my plan again. Not sentences, a list. I tried calling it a poem, but list made more sense to her. She built on it. There would be two lists, one about what she has done this summer and one for what she wants to do. She divided the page, then added the headings under the introductory sentence that she wrote and the page and the girl were transformed. The space was organized, the mission was clear.

Under “Things I have done,” words appeared, like “Swimming” and “Zoo.” The cryptic phrase, “Watching lizards eat Brussel sprouts,” hints at the wild flora and fauna in the backyard where the resident Texas Spiny Lizards have been feasting on my neglected vegetable garden. The item “Girl Who Drank the Moon,” was a particular pleasure. It’s an audio and read-along book recommended by the teacher, almost half-way complete. I’ve been getting regular updates on the major plot points — it’s a real page turner! Under “To do,” the list is smaller, more concise. “Trip to Wimberly” sketches out our next big plan. “Hike” and “Swim” describe more activity.

At the bottom, carefully, she wrote in fine cursive script, “Have a great summer!” with a heart at the end and her name. Then, she was done. Until the next letter.

Writer, researcher, observer