Pencils and grief



If I had to name my top struggle of the week it would be pencils.

I cannot speak for all teachers, but feel quite certain I represent many elementary teachers when I say pencils are one of the biggest annoyances. Ever.

The amount of drama surrounding pencils in any given classroom is draining.
For starters, there are never enough pencils.  Even though I sharpened 20 pencils in the morning before the students arrived, by 9:00 all of them are gone.  The happy pencil pot is now bare and dry. If pots could frown, I think mine would.

Neala, when you start school I will be the gold star mom who brings in pre-sharpened pencils throughout the year. Your teacher will love me and of course you will be their favorite student.

The lack of pencils always shows up at the wrong time.  We are taking a timed math test. My finger is on the timer. Students are ready and excited to see if they can finish before time runs out.   Inevitably someone will yell out, “I need a pencil!”, and run to the pencil pot.  Of course the pot is empty.
Of course.
Because it’s 9:03. And students around the world have an unwritten code to remove all  pencils from the pot on or before 9 a.m.

Even on the rare occasion there are a few remaining pencils in the pot, there’s still trouble.  Because the pencils have clearly been chewed on and no one wants to use them, for fear of getting cooties.  (Cooties is a very real & serious thing in 2nd grade).
Or the erasers are mangled and hanging by a thread. I swear those little squirrels kids are eating them. 


The best is when students break the pencil in half, then throw both pieces in the pot. When I question the class, of course no one did this.  Don’t I know pencils have been known to mysteriously break themselves in half?


This week was book fair at school. My happy little second graders hopped in the room with their envelopes and baggies of money for the book fair.  Only most of them didn’t buy books.
They bought posters of kittens sleeping.
They bought erases shaped like Twizzlers and mushrooms and dollar bills.
And they bought drumstick pencils.


In addition to being completely frustrated with my classroom’s pencil saga, I also wrestled with grief this week.
I know, I know.  It’s quite a jump from pencils to grief. But they have a lot in common if you give it some thought.

Like the pencil drama, grief has also drained me. At a time when I need to feel sharp and together, I feel dull and broken.  Like a worn down pencil, I’m not quite my best.

Unfortunately, grief brought out the worst in me.  I felt and behaved like a chewed up pencil. No one wants to be around a chewed up pencil.


This week I was rude to your father. I was not slow to speak, or slow to anger like the  Bible instructs.  Instead, I rattled off exactly what I was thinking with no filter whatsoever.  Moments later I wished for an eraser to fix my mistake, only to realize my eraser had been chewed off by frustration and anger.

I so badly want to use my grief and brokenness to help others.  Instead, I find myself being short with the people I love the most.  Including you, Neala.
You are only 14 months, so you will not remember this week. But I will.  I will remember my lack of patience and low level of tolerance.

I will remember screaming up at the heavens and telling daddy I wish he were here.  I need him right now to talk with me about all the changes happening in my life.  I will remember asking God through tears why he chose the same year to give and take life from me? Your little brother is coming in 12 weeks and my father won’t be there to hold him.  Every time I think about it, my eyes well with tears and my heart fills with sadness.

You are too little to understand the roller coaster of grief I am on.  But I think you know when mommy is grumpy.  You know when mommy doesn’t feel like playing and just wants to sit on the couch staring mindlessly out the window.

If I were a pencil, I’m pretty sure this week I would appear broken, chewed up, and missing an eraser. The good thing is, I’m not beyond repair.
I can be sharpened. A new eraser can be put on. The dents and scratches won’t go away, but I can still get the job done, right?

Neala, there will be times in your life you will feel loss.  You will feel brokenness.  You will feel as if life has scratched you or tried to chew you up. You may feel dull and worn out. During a moment of anger or frustration you may rip off your eraser.

In those moments, ask God for grace.

The great thing about God is his loving way of sharpening pencils.
The most wonderful thing about God is he specializes in erasers.

3 thoughts on “Pencils and grief

  1. Mistie, I remember you telling the story of your interview to be hired as a “teacher.” I forget the exact question you were asked; but, I remember your reply, “because I am good at it.” That you have proven! You superbly teach academics inside your classroom and life’s lessons outside your classroom. Whichever road you choose you will continue to “teach.”


  2. Mistie, I so enjoy your writing. Of course you are grieving, but you also have a lot going on in your life right now. You are going to have a baby, you are wanting to move, you have a 14 month old, you are trying to make a decision about your job and the list goes on. You will get through it all and look back and wonder how and much later on you will almost forget the turmoil.


  3. Mistie…What an awesome article!! You are gifted & Neala is so lucky to have you as her Mommy! I know your Dad is smiling down on you right now and always!! Love, Karen


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