Gains and Losses

Like so many of you, I can’t help but make this post a reflection on all I’ve learned in the past month. I feel a bit like I’m cheating, like I should summon some story about my day, but this, this is what’s on my mind as we reach the last day of this practice.

 

I’ve gained an appreciation for the comment that reaches beyond the content and pushes into the craft. You’ve pushed me, challenged me, and validated me.

I’ve lost any lingering belief that we write for ourselves. Every single comment I got buoyed me and gave me energy to write more.

I’ve gained empathy for the classrooms full of kids who say, “I don’t know what to write!” Writing at a prescribed time, every day, is HARD WORK, and some days, it seems like there’s nothing to say.

I’ve lost my slightly vicious self-editor. The voice in my head that said that my writing wasn’t good enough. Some days, I write just to practice writing, without demanding it be good.

I’ve gained energy, not just for writing but for so much in my life. Engaging in a challenge, something hard but attainable, has filled me up with the fire to do more challenging, attainable things.

I’ve lost patience for teachers who think they don’t need to write to teach writing. Most of the other excuses I can hear the challenges with, but the hubris to think that there’s nothing to learn by writing everyday – that is under my skin.

I’ve gained respect for the community of educators. Knowing that all these readers and writers are out there, engaging in the same work I am, on behalf of themselves and their kids, has been inspiring.

I’ve lost the need to think about writing narrative so narrowly. I’ve seen so many forms of writing this month that remind me there are ways to hook anyone into writing an entry.

 

Thank you, thank you, Stacey and team, thank you, thank you, readers, thank you, thank you, commenters, thank you, thank you, writers.

I am transformed.

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Anxiety

Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to live anxiety free. I don’t mean clinical anxiety, but just that type-A, goody-two-shoes, teacher-mom, lifelong introvert anxiety that surrounds the things I do. To live in that kind of Namaste, you-do-you world that the ladies on the front of Self magazine seem to have embraced.

Today, little N had a birthday party to go to, the first party for a classmate he’s been invited to. A short catalog of my anxieties:

– Will I have to have a birthday party for Little N? Who will I invite?
– Are lots of kids having birthday parties, and is this just the first one N is invited to?

– Are other kids having lots of play dates?

– Is it my fault that N doesn’t have play dates and get invited to birthday parties?

– Is the book I bought for the book exchange something all the kids will like?
– Is the wrapping paper good enough? Is it too “boy”?

– Is N going to stand out like a sore thumb as the only boy in the room?

– Is it OK for little N to change in the women’s room with me, when most of the party attendants, his classmates, are girls?
– Is my bathing suit the right kind of bathing suit? Too cheap? Too revealing? Too big?

– What will the other parents think of me?

– How is it going to work? Are we going to swim first? Are we going to party first?

– What if N has a meltdown over something? What if he doesn’t want to play with the other kids?

– When is N going to take his nap?

– What if N can tell I’m worrying about the party?

 

No wonder I’m always tired!

 

Coffee

Every morning, my husband manages the kids while I get ready for work or sleep in a bit on the weekend. First thing, they gather around the coffee grinder, counting scoops of beans in long, slow toddler counting. “Oooooonnnnnnee. Twooooooooo.  Fweeeeeeeeee.”

They wrap the grinder in an old kitchen towel to stifle the noise and then whiz the beans around, crushing them to a fine powder. They work together to tap them into the French press, and then in no time the tea kettle whistles and they pour. They munch their eggs and bacon while the coffee steeps. Odd days and even days, little N and little S alternate turns to plunge the filter down to the bottom. There has been known to be cheering when Daddy pours his first cup of coffee.

This little coffee routine is the bane of my existence. 

I don’t know precisely which part I find the most aggravating. Is it the coffee grinder waking me up during my “sleep in” time? Is it the fine powder of coffee grounds that litter the counter? Maybe it’s the errant coffee beans that hide under my cabinets, skating out into the middle of the floor as I approach with bare feet.

 A leading contender was the coffee cup circles on the counter, but that’s mostly been mitigated with some new travel mugs.

Then, there’s the washing of the French press. The slosh of coffee grounds into the compost bin, but the inevitability that most of the coffee grounds will scatter themselves across my white kitchen sin. The many rinses it takes to get every last coffee ground down the drain. The way that my sponges never quite look clean after attacking the press. The stench of old, stale coffee lingering on my hands after the dishes are done.

I think it’s fair to say that morning coffee is my worst part of waking up.  

 

This is Why

A few gems from the educational adventures of my niece and nephew, in Kindergarten and senior year, respectively.

From Kindergarten, I submit:

– A class that spent two weeks of their literacy work on lowercase b. And I don’t mean, they spent two weeks until every student had mastered lowercase b. I mean, that’s what the whole group studied (did worksheets on) for Two. Weeks.

– A teacher who called a meeting with the PreK teacher to give her a “talking to” because too many kids were coming to her knowing their letters. Yes, that’s too MANY kids.

– One of the moms went to talk to the teacher. Her son had begun having panic attacks about going to school, and had come home every day shaking. He told his mom that, when the teacher was frustrated, she did some kind of “paper ripping” thing, that terrified him. The teacher responded, “Well, I’ve found your son to be quite the liar. I wouldn’t believe anything he says.”

From the Senior, I submit:

– An English 12 class that has not read one book, nor written one composition this year. They do a “life skills” workbook, and fill out worksheets. English 12.

– A history class in which students watch movie after movie. And not, like, Gandhi. Like, Saw 3.

– My nephew wrote a rap to perform at his talent show. He performed it ahead of time for the music teacher, so she could approve it. After he finished, she replied, “I’m sorry, I can’t allow you to perform that at the talent show. It’s anti-Christian.” Leaving whether that would be grounds for excluding it to the side (for the moment), he asked her what she meant. She referred him to the part where he explained that he used to “go down on his knees and pray every night” to be saved from his family, and now he didn’t have to (becuase my sister is fostering him). He was stunned, and explained that he simply meant to convey how grateful he felt in his current living situation. She replied: “Well, you still pray every night, don’t you?”

 

My sister lives in a small town, in the countryside. There are no private schools around, there are no “choice” schools or option schools. The school principal IS the superintendent. There are no options for other schools, unless she moves.

So, you ask me, why do we need Common Core? Why do we need Danielson? This is why. There are teachers out there like this, who don’t have high standards for their students, who are cruel to their students, who turn school from privilege to terror. And until it stops, I’ll happily take on whatever you throw my way to ensure that no student has to endure that kind of education.  

Bamboo

A small crowd and begun to assemble downstairs. We dispatched my father and husband to mingle and settle, while my mother and I stayed safely secluded upstairs in my bedroom, little N lying contently between us on the bed. Nicole, the mohel’s assistant, had begun dosing him with Tylenol and sugar water, and he was feelin’ good. She was dosing us with anecdote, calming our nerves as we prepared for the bris. 

Dr. Witz jogged up the stairs and told us we were just about ready to start. Nicole scooped up little N, and she and Dr. N began their preparations in earnest.

“So, do you want to keep the foreskin?” she asked. In all my mental preparations for this event, this was one eventuality I’d not contemplated. In fact, when my darling husband, had first asked me about what a bris entailed, I may have joked that we would make the foreskin into a stew that we would all share. The thought that I’d actually keep the foreskin, tick-tacking it into my son’s scrapbook, had never crossed my mind.

 “Uh, no thanks?” I asked.

“Do people really do that??” My mom asked, as we both giggled nervously.

“Oh, sure, well some people keep it and plant it under a tree. Then, when their son gets married, they use the limbs of that tree to construct a chuppah.”

Oh. My heart flipped as I pictured that beautiful symmetry. We were holding the bris to connect him to all the generations and traditions of our family, and now it might also connect him to his future family and descendants as well.

“Oh.” My eyes sparkled with tears. “Oh, then. Yes. Yes, please.”

The next day, we buried this little piece of our son, wrapped in gauze, underneath a bamboo at our home. We had no space to plant a tree in our tiny townhome’s yard, but figured bamboo was close enough, and at least likely to survive.

Next week, nearly 4 years later, we’ll sell that house. We’ll take out our shovel, uproot our precious bamboo, and replant it in our new home, where we hope it will set roots and flourish.

 

 

 

A Perfect Plant

“Hi, Paul,” I said cheerfully, as I walked into his office. I had arrived at the school to walkthrough some of the classrooms I’d been supporting as a coach.

“Good morning, Adrienne! Look, someone gave me a plant!” He nodded to the plant in the corner of his office. Well, not exactly the corner. The giant creature occupied fully half of the counter against the back wall of the office. Spiny leaves gnarled against and around each other as they crowded out of the black container and up toward the sky. It was messy, chaotic, and overwhelming natural in a space predominated by baseball memorabilia and leadership tomes.

“Wow. That’s…quite a plant!”

“I’ve been having some skin issues. It’s an aloe plant. Actually, Mr. K gave it to me.”

Of course he did. There had never been a more Mr. K plant than this plant. Mr. K’s hair blooms white and wild from his enormous head. He fills notebook after notebook with nearly illegible purple handwriting every time we meet. He looks like he walked out of central casting for “aging Hippie, San Francisco.” He is tall, and gentle, and has smiling eyes. He is exactly the kind of man who would hear that someone had a skin problem and immediately bring a 50-pound potted Aloe to school for them. 

I guess this is what is meant by knowing your students!

 

I’m So Excited

“Where’s N?” my husband asked, scanning the sidewalk around him. I pointed lazily to our house. We were catching up with our neighbor, Ben, who we hadn’t seen since the last good weather. We’d been on our way to the park, piled with scooters and balance bikes, but had been waylaid. N, it seemed, had gotten bored and headed back home.

Waving goodbye to Ben, we charged back into the house. “Come on, N! Let’s go the playground! Quick, get your shoes on!

“No, I’m finishing a project for Ben and Julian!” he yelled back. There he sat, sneakers on, hood up, ready for the playground, but inspired to make a “project” for our neighbors. While we’d chatted, he’d drawn some flowers, cut them out, glued them onto a piece of paper, and was no laboring to spell, “To Ben and Julian and Mark.” Finishing, he grabbed my hand as he bounded down our porch.

“I’m so excited to give this to Ben!” N beamed up at me, his face as open as a sunflower. We galloped up Ben’s stairs and put it in the mailbox.

“I’m so excited for Ben to find my project!” N beamed as we walked down the street, to the playground. We arrived, and N dove into the slides and firetrucks and climbers full force. A few minutes later, he ran over to me.

“I’m so excited to walk back home by Ben’s house and see if he found my project yet!” N beamed, before racing back to the playground.

I beamed as he ran away, having been given so much.

 

 

A Short List of Things I Have No Interest in Doing Today

1. Peeling sunchokes for dinner. The thought of wresting those little tubers from their rough skins is more than I can bear on a day so easy and quiet. 

2. Picking up the house. The pillows turned the wrong way on the couch, the ice cream scoop in the middle of the playroom, the salad bowl on the floor of the kitchen. In the yellowy sun of early spring, they look just fine where they are.  

3. Deciding what vacation will look like this summer. Why don’t we just agree, me and Mother Nature, that every day be like this one, bright and clear, heavy with quiet, open to anything?

4. Returning a phone call. We have so much to catch up on, and I want so badly to know what’s going in your life, but the day is so quiet, and I haven’t heard birds sing in ages.

Tomorrow the sun won’t feel like such a novelty, and the workday routine will impose itself on us, so for today, for today, I’ll let my head be still, my eyes be heavy, and my time be my own.

Goals for my Three Year Old

Dear N,

Yesterday, as you know, we had your parent-teacher conference at school. The only people more proud of the little person you are than your teachers were your dad and me. Like all people, as you round into a new season, you have fresh goals for your work, and your dad and I will help you with them at home as best we are able.

Goal 1: Understand that families share responsibilities of work and recreation. Your dad and I will strive to find balance in our lives between work and recreation. We will strive to stop saying that we’re too busy, or there’s no time, and instead find our way to yes. We want you to know that we consider loving you and your brother to be our greatest responsibility of both work and play. We hope that loving your family will be your greatest work and play, too.

Goal 2: Order pictures by sequence to tell a story. We hope that you will pause in your life to look back at what’s happened and see how everything is connected. How your mama’s belief she might go to medical school led in a direct line to not doing junior year abroad, but instead a sophomore winter quarter trip abroad, where she met your dad. How your uncle’s hatred of swimming lessons led in a direct line to earning computer programming languages for him to teach to your dad when they were young, so that your dad might ultimately move to Seattle to work for Microsoft. We hope that you will always, always be moved by story.

Goal 3: Write his full name. Your name took many months of play and work for us to land on. When you hear your first name, I want you to imagine your parents young and full of hope, full of ideas and dreams for you. When you hear your middle, I want you to imagine your great-grandfather, keenly attuned to the richness that beauty and history lend to life. I want you to call to mind, your grandfather, fiercely intellectual and a passionate learner. Your name is long, but we hope every letter will be written on your heart.

Goal 4: Speak in four to ten word sentences in Spanish. We hope that you always approach the world from more than one lens, that you see that the way that you know is not the only way, not the best way. We hope that you meet people who have nothing in common with you, and discover how very much like you they are. We hope that you feel confident in making yourself known to the world, and that you communicate with love and grace.

Goal 5: Recognize own family’s celebrations. We have tried to build a life for you that blends two families rich histories and traditions. We hope that you see these traditions not just as dates on a calendar, or as hassles or interruptions, but as the threads that you connect you to your ancestors. We hope you find these rituals sacred and soothing, and continue to build new celebrations as you grow and build your own family one day.

Goal 6: Use scissors with control to cut along a straight line and a curved line. We hope that you have all the tools of success at your fingertips, and that you choose to wield them deftly and responsibly. We hope you are both flexible and precise, and know that you are the creator of your own story.

Goal 7: Understand that each number is one more than the preceding number. We hope that you never stop growing and believing that there is a next thing to learn, to accomplish, to love. We hope that you know that growing, and learning, and accomplishing carry along with them everything that came before and build on their shoulders.

Goal 8: Understand that air is everywhere. We hope that you open your eyes and heart to the things you cannot see. We hope you remain open-minded and hunt for answers. We hope you neither dismiss things too quickly, nor jump on board too quickly, but instead question and research the world around you, but with a soul ready to believe that there are things that are unknowable.

Goal 9: Draw a human figure with major body parts. You are our little man, every part of you. When you were born, we counted each part over and over again, unable to believe that the creases behind your knees and the curve of your jaw were real, that we had created them. We hope you know that we continue to feel this sense of wonder about every part of you, in and out, and will as long as you live.

Lots of love,

Mama