Friday, December 12, 2014

brown socks and black shoes

I am acutely aware that I am wearing brown socks today.  Brown socks with grey corduroys and black shoes.  Today, my clothes don’t match.  I am not wearing jewelry.  My mother would be horrified.  It is one of those days.  Three people at work told me I looked tired before 8:00 A.M.  I’m sure many more of these comments will follow.  Since I got up from bed (cursing, cursing, cursing all the way), all I have thought about is getting back into it.

I am tired.

My husband has the last stainless steel travel mug for coffee.  I brought my third cup in a Frozen themed, plastic insulated cup (Tervis Frozen Cup).  Today, I hate princesses.

I am pretty sure I babbled incomprehensibly to my 10th grade students in my first period class.  I wrote words on the board and spoke words from my mouth, but I do not feel responsible for the order in which those words came out.  The students listened to these words, and then did work.  I am not changing anyone’s life today.

It is one of THOSE days.

I yelled at my daughter this morning (quietly, so as not to wake up her brother) when she got up for the 500th time at what must have been 4:30, and she cried because I didn’t call her baby.  She just wanted to know if it was one or two days until her 5th birthday party.  And when was Grandma going to pick her up for their special dinner together, again?  I told her to go back to sleep and crawled back to my bed.  I knew it wouldn’t work.  It didn’t.

It is hard to be a sympathetic listener at 4:30 in the morning.

In my classes, we are talking about hard things.  We are discussing race and privilege and education reform.  We are debating controversial topics in the news.  We are WORKING.  My brain is quiet and still.  Their buzzing brains will have to carry the weight today.  I am still asleep.

I lack the energy I need to cry.  But I want to.  I want to yell, and throw things at the world.  I hear the privilege wrapped in my emotions.  I hate it.  I have a job I love.  I have a consistent salary and a house and children for whom I can buy clothes and food.  I have extraordinary, silly, happy (most of the time) children and a husband who makes sure that I don’t drown in credit card debt and is generous with his love.  I have family within a mile of my house who would do anything for me, and friends for whom I care deeply.  Yes, but today.  Today these gifts are just obstructing the path to my bed.  

I can not embrace my world today. 

My coffee is not doing its job.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Me Time

What if I gave myself time? 
What if I said that I deserved it?  That the me time I give myself now makes the us and the you and the we time better, stronger, dare I say it, happier? 
When I first started teaching, my department head told me that I shouldn’t be involved in theater.  I shouldn’t be doing other things that took my attention away from my job.  I should be at school working, grading, prepping every day until 5 or later.  Anything else could come when I was a veteran teacher.  I looked at her like she was crazy.  Acting in plays made me tired…yes.  But acting in plays made me ME.  It energized me.  It allowed me to come into class the next day, excited to teach and eager to act.  All of my senses were activated by the fullness of my life.  My brain and heart worked in tandem.  I was at my best.
I don’t act anymore (well not on stage.  We all play our roles all the time don’t we?).  I have small children, and any extra time belongs to them.  So where is the me in my day these days? 
It is in the teaching, of course.  I could never be less than myself with the teenagers who fill my classroom.  They would see right through it and rebel.  So I am silly, and tangential, and forceful with my expectations, and loud.  I am always loud. 
It is in the mothering of course.  I am laughter, and concern and joyful at their growth.  I am silliness and tickles and hugs. 
But sometimes I am tired.  Sometimes with all of the being me for other people, I forget to be me for myself.  Instead of the run that I know will fill me up with energy, and confidence, and spirit, sometimes I just collapse (oftener than not) on the sofa in front of the television and stare.  I am paralysis, frustration, and stress.  I have given too much away and left myself with…emptiness. 
So, what if I gave myself time?  What if I said that two days a week, or three (gasp), I would give myself an hour and a half.  I would not grade.  I would not plan.  I would not clean or launder.  I would read.  I would run.  I would write.  I would spend some time remembering who I am apart from my job, and my mothering. 

Wouldn’t everything be stronger for it?  

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Beauty in the Dishes

I just did the dishes.  Last night we made a gorgeous meatloaf, with a mushroom demi-glace sauce, and shredded Brussels sprouts.  It was a normal week-night meal for us, and I imagine it would sound impressive to some that this is how two harried, exhausted parents of a 4 ½ year old and a 2 year old unwind at the end of the day.  But, that’s for another post.  If you’ve ever made meatloaf, you know the mess it can make.  The fat drips and coats the sheet pan leaving serious stickiness behind to be scraped off.  We used multiple cutting boards, two saute pans, a glass measuring cup and of course our chef’s knives.  It’s a lot of mess for a week night, and I imagine for many, the mess is why they stay as close to “one pot” dinners as possible.  We, however are a multi-pot family.  It’s one of the things I love about us.  We enjoy the mess. 
Today, I enjoyed the clean up more.  Strange as that may sound.
I am a teacher.  I see 120 students a day each surrounded by their own virtual pig sty.  They carry with them the traumas they have seen, the stresses they don’t speak to me about, the anger and the drama of their daily lives.  They also laugh and smile a lot.  As I force-feed them The Catcher in the Rye, they groan at Holden’s whining, but grow serious when we speak of the brother he lost at the young age of 13.  They balance on the precarious edge of childhood and adulthood and they all understand his fear of growing up.  They roll their eyes and smirk, but I see it in the set of their shoulders, in their bangs that mask their faces, in the way their fingers grip the sleeves of their shirts.  In the way they won’t meet my eyes when I ask them simple questions… “No homework again?  What’s going on?”  “Where’s the essay you promised me?”  Most of the time there is an apology, an excuse, a timeline created to fix the problem.  But all too often there is something there at the edge of their eyes.  There is a problem that won’t be solved by another night at home with the essay question.  All too often there is the mess that is there when they walk out of my classroom to consume them.  I go home worrying that I’ve just added another dirty dish to the stack that is threatening to tumble.
So at home I do the dishes.  I scrub and splash hot water everywhere.  I am vigorous in my approach to grease and fat.  I scrape and polish.  I roll my sleeves up and get into it.  My dishes feel my wrath. 
As a teacher, I rarely see the product of what I do.  I may see improvement in writing.  There is a topic sentence without my having to ask for it.  There are fluid words on a page, where before they jangled in discord.  But I rarely see the impact that I make.  I hold onto thank you notes and emails.  Once in a while I get lucky and one of my kids (years after I taught them-adults now but never in my eyes) looks me up on Facebook and I get to feel that glow.  I am remembered. That’s where meaning lies for me.  But it comes so rarely.

So most days, I find it in the dishes.  They were filthy and chaotic and I cleaned them.  There is some beauty in the ease of that.

Monday, September 15, 2014

My Thoughts On Educational Reform

People keep asking me what I think of the Common Core State Standards.  This is a difficult question for me, about which I might have a different answer if I weren't both a high school teacher, and a mother of a little girl who has just started kindergarten.
You see, in my high school, we already have a pretty rigorous curriculum.  We have always (at least in the 7 years I've been there) expected our kids at all levels to work harder than they thought they could.  It has always been our motto that any student who asked, could take an Advanced Placement course. The idea, as I saw it, was that just being exposed to college level teaching and materials, was worth the difficulties and (admittedly) the frustrations that may occur if his/her brain was stretched a bit past its limits.  My department head, therefore, never harped on scores when it came to the A.P. Exams, because he understood that you can't have it both ways.  You can not ask students to work past their ability, and then also expect everyone to average a 4 or a 5 on the exam.  It just doesn't work.  Some of those kids will get 2s and 3s, and that might be awesome for them.  It might mean that they came in unable to understand the complex writing in front of them at all, and by the end of the course could, with time, parse at least one reading out of 4.  For that student, that might be a remarkable achievement and therefore, prove the worthiness of the course for him/her.  This is what we call open enrollment, and for the most part I support it wholeheartedly.  I have always challenged my students and this gels well with my style of teaching.  However, with Common Core, came the national test.  Also with common core came stricter teacher evaluations.  Part of these new evaluations enable the district to evaluate me based on my students' success (or lack thereof) on this national test and/or A.P. Test scores.  So, as we are asking students to challenge themselves, and to push past their limits, we are also grading our teachers.  As you read further, you will understand why this is a monumental mistake.
There are currently two tests that are being piloted: The Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).  I can only speak to SBAC, as that is the test for which we, in Connecticut, are responsible.    SBAC, currently, is almost impossible to pass.  The questions are incredibly difficult, and far transcend the type of thinking our students have been asked to do in the past.  This is true in my school, and will be true for most schools around the country.  The test is also all online.  In theory, this is a great idea: Catch up with the times!  Tests to get into graduate school have been online for years!  What's the problem? The problem is that, even in a suburb with relatively high property taxes, our computers are woefully outdated.  I can only imagine that this is the case in other districts as well.  Our nation is not ready to have every Junior take this test online.  It will fail.  These are serious issues, however the real problem is much larger than either of these issues.
The real problem, as I see it, is the roll out of this new test and this new curriculum.  It seems that when government decides on a solution to "solve the American Education crisis," that solution needs to be put into place RIGHT NOW!  The intelligent way to have rolled this out, would have been to do it incrementally.  Let's start in kindergarten and work our way up.  So that by the time this test and new curriculum reached the high school, those students would have been prepared for it.  However, this was not the chosen path, and millions of upper level elementary school students, middle school students, and high school students will pay the price.  They will pay with a loss of confidence.  The tax for them will be mostly emotional; They will feel, no matter what we tell them, that they are not smart enough, not good enough.  They will feel like failures. And that is the most unfortunate part of this whole thing.
Because government, in its infinite wisdom, wants to make sure their new solution is working, they have decided to test the kids as much as possible.  This is true as early on as kindergarten.  
Up until now, I have been speaking as a teacher, but for a moment, I must speak as a mother.  I want my daughter to continue to be curious about every bug she sees.  I want her to follow the path of an ant until he has found a way out of her sight.  I want her to be as desperate to read always as she is right now, because there is no better way to obtain knowledge about human nature and the ways of the world than through written work.  I want her to question every assumption she hears, until she has an answer that works for her, even if it means questioning the teacher, or an adult or another child.  Questioning everything is the only way to true understanding.  In kindergarten, she will be timed as she identifies letters and numbers.  She will be 4 1/2 and will be forced to prove herself.  
Each year elementary school teachers complain (rightly so) that more and more time is taken away from play, and put into testing and evaluation.  But if we are trying to be more like Finland (always at the top in regards to education) then perhaps we need to think differently about getting rid of play.  According to How Finland Keeps Kids Focused Through Free Play, Tim Walker's recent article in The Atlantic, free play is hugely important to the development of the student mind.  Yet here we are, getting rid of it in favor of testing.  Decade after decade, we make the wrong choices.  Our students, our children, need time to play in order to understand how to be social human beings, and without these skills, all of the math and reading skills will be useless.  One mother recently told me that her second grader was coming home on a regular basis feeling dejected and sad.  He does not want to go to school.  Ever.  It is a constant battle.  This is not what elementary school teachers signed on for, and it should not be what we, as parents, want for our children.  Children should not dread school. They should not enter their elementary schools with fear or dread in their hearts.  Save that for high school. Sadly, we are used to it there.
While I try to instill humor into every lesson, I know that my students are anxious and stressed out.  I see it in their faces every day.  It is especially a problem in my advanced classes, as they internalize so much.  However, in my standard level classes, what I see is even more disheartening.  I see a shut down.  I see dejection, and I see hopelessness.  They hear every day how important school is, and yet they see challenges in front of them that they are not sure they can overcome.  Instead of helping and supporting them, we continue to put more obstacles in their paths.  Now we are doing this even earlier.  We are teaching our babies, our 5 year olds, that they may not be up to par.  They may already be behind.  This is what testing does.  And this can not be the answer.

Friday, September 12, 2014

What if we changed everything about how we teach reading and writing in the high school?

What do you like about reading?  For me, it is the constant interaction between myself and the characters.  I love, especially, getting the chance to interact with people I might otherwise never meet in real life. Reading has always been enjoyable, a way to set aside the day to day, moment to moment minutia of my life and to become immersed in someone else's moment.  But it has always bothered me, as a teacher, that perhaps because of the way we teach writing, we destroy any chance for the child who will not become a poet, or a novelist, or an English teacher, to love reading in this very way.

English teachers begin each year talking to parents about instilling a lifelong love of reading in their children.  Most of us give an inner chuckle when when we say these words, as unless you are new to the profession, you know that this very rarely happens.  Most kids suffer through our books.  At best, they enjoy them as they read them, and suffer through the post-mortem.  But if we break it down, the reason most students hate the books we teach, has nothing to do with the book itself.  If given the time and space to read the book on his/her own, the student might actually enjoy the story.  But we don't let that enjoyment blossom.  Let me give you some insight into the current process for grades 8-11 standard English classes.

I give my students a book/play (let's call it The Crucible by Arthur Miller for the sake of this exchange).  I, as the knowledgeable one in the front of the room, give them some background information (stressing the fact that there are witches involved to get them interested) about Puritans and the beginnings of America, and the colonies at the time.  I then tell them that a theme they will be asked to prove is that "Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely."  We talk about this a bit, and then as we read, we look for this theme to be proven accurate.  It must be true because I said it was true.  I am the teacher.  I know these things.  As we read, we discuss the characters and their actions, but I have already set them up to look for theme.  They know that they will write an essay at the end of the play, proving this theme to be true.  As a direct result of this, as they read, they become miners, jotting down page numbers and quotes.  If I want their work to be their own, this clear objective makes it difficult to allow them to work in groups.  This objective also makes it difficult for any original thought to happen at any time.  However, what this objective does do, is let me assess one thing, and one thing only, very well.  This type of writing works brilliantly for testing and assessment purposes. It feeds into our societal need for evaluation very well.  At the end of the unit, I can prove that my students can use textual evidence to prove that a theme exists in a book/play.  (Now is where you applaud my fantastic, if uninspired, teaching!).

What if, instead, I handed them this same play.  I gave them some background information about the time period, maybe had them do some of their own research to inspire their curiosity.  And then, instead of telling them what to look for, I said "As we read this play, find something that intrigues you.  Find a character with whom you feel a connection (it doesn't have to be a positive one!) and delve into that.  Think about how this connection changes throughout the play.  Think about why you feel strongly about a moment in the play or about a character.  What enrages you and why?  Bring your own background to bear on this play.  What is it about your context that inspires you to feel as you do?  At the end of the unit, you will choose what to write your Literary Inquiry about.  You will find a focus as you read, and see how it develops.  Then, you will come up with a thesis statement.  Perhaps it will be about a theme you found interesting, perhaps not.  Perhaps it will be an in-depth analysis of the actions and reactions of a specific character.  But, regardless, it will be up to you.  I will aid you in clarifying your ideas, but the writing will be powered by your mind, not mine.  We will work in groups to bounce ideas off of each other, because our brains work better that way.  We will collaborate and think about why this play resounded, as it did, for so many, for so long.  As you read, look for an idea or a moment or a character and OWN it.  And then you will write about it."

Of course, this will terrify some kids.  Most of my students would choose passivity any day of the week.  They would much rather that I tell them what I want them to do, so that they can just do it and get on with their lives.  But, on the other hand, think of the freedom that I have just given them.  I have just told them that what they think matters.  I have given them the opportunity to embrace their backgrounds and use them to analyze and understand someone else's background.  I have given them the chance to read for the pleasure of the language and characterization, as long as they remain active in this reading.

This will also terrify some teachers.  The system we use is easy.  Formulaic essays are easy to grade.  The student did or did not do what was asked.  However, in the process, the student has learned little. And after high school, these same students will never be asked to write the five paragraph formulaic essay again.  So for what have we actually prepared them?  College teachers want to see that students can think.  Bosses want to hire young adults who can analyze a situation quickly and come up with a solution...ON THEIR OWN.  We are not preparing students for either eventuality.  And until we give them authority, until we tell them that their thoughts and ideas matter, we are doing them a disservice.  

Now, don't ask me how to develop a nationwide standardized test to see if I'm right.  That's another conversation altogether.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Woman of Extremes

I am a woman of extremes.  I have said it before, and will repeat it here because while I love this about myself, I also find it intensely frustrating.  I am either all in or out completely.  Growing up, I was either in love or icy-cold.  I could end a relationship without a tear if I had decided it was over.  I couldn’t understand why the other person needed time to process, or wanted to talk about it first.  I had decided, and that was enough.  Someone once told me I would leave a trail of discarded corpses behind me.  I didn’t get it then.  I do now.
I am all passion with my children.  They see and hear my every emotion.  I am overjoyed at their triumphs, and dismayed and angered by their weaknesses.  When my daughter acts like the 4 ½ year old she is, when she has accidents though she was one room away from the bathroom, when she throws tantrums because she does not get enough sleep, my first emotion is anger.  I know this is not helpful, and yet, there it is.  This is true with my students as well.  When a student plagiarizes a paper in my class, I feel hurt and betrayed.  I speak frankly to them and share my disappointment as well as my anger.  We had a deal.  You broke it.  I expect that they understand, and feel remorse.  It is a contract.  I cannot understand them not holding up their end of the bargain.  It happens again and again and yet I am mystified and enraged every time.  I air all of my feelings.  Otherwise I will carry them with me.  They will lodge themselves within my organs until I feel bloated and explosive. 
In most cases, I can rationalize my emotional reactions.  Mostly because I love as strongly as I anger.  My pride in my children, my happiness for my friends always outweighs the negative.  My daughter draws a beautiful picture and I hug her tightly and praise praise praise.  My student finally feels safe enough to raise her hand in class and I will cheer (silently so as not to embarrass her), praise the response (whatever it may be), and smile at her until her confidence soars.  But I also excuse my over-reactions to the moment to moment, because I can’t, and have never been able to, hold a grudge.  My anger is a quick blue flame.  Once the air is cleared the flame goes out. 
In my professional life, my extremes can be a nuisance.  I hold high expectations for everyone around me and am disappointed when they fail to achieve them.  But in meetings, I am the person who gets the glares.  Because I can never be merely present anywhere.  I need to be involved.  In meetings, even the ones I don’t care about, I feel an itch to raise my hand, to voice an opinion, to be a part (or if we’re really being honest), to be in charge.  Even as I start to speak, I can sense my co-workers’ rage.  “If she shuts up, we can leave!”  But if I do not talk, it is worse.  If I do not aid in the presentation in some way, I will be forced to detract from it.  I will gossip in the back of the room.  I will let the negativity roll over my table and myself.  I will get angry at the time that is being sucked from my life.  I am a woman of extremes, after all.  It is much better for everyone if I am involved in a positive way.   
I look at my parents and I get it.  My mom is all passion and fire.  My father, all intellect and strength.  My mother walks into a room and owns it.  My father hangs back and surveys it, making Seinfeldian observations to himself and wishing he were home.  He finds the people he knows.  She finds people to know.  They are opposites in so many ways but have supported and strengthened each other for 45 years.  I have taken the best and worst from both and made them my own. 

So, yes.  I am a woman of extremes.  I hope to never be anything less.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

American Myopia

I made the mistake of turning on the news today.  It was a big mistake.  Bombed out children in Gaza, tornado ravaged camp sites (young boy in critical condition) with more bad weather to come, planes lost, passengers killed, Middle East, Middle East, Middle East.  And finally, of course, the current immigration debate.  I was exhausted and depressed within minutes.  I vowed not to turn the news on again today. 

I am overwhelmed by our world and its seemingly infinite woes.  But what strikes me the most, always, is our capacity for short-sightedness.  In the past weeks there have been many news stories about children being left in cars and parks.  Children abandoned for moments or longer by adults for many reasons (most of them economic).  We are horrified (perhaps rightly so in many of these cases) by these instances of neglect and abuse.  We cry out for the children hurt by these adults, and beg for laws to help them.  We all want to parent these children, to be their extended family, so that they have hope and the chance to succeed and to grow.  And yet.

And yet, we have the border crisis, where there is a 99% upsurge in unaccompanied minors coming from Central America, and much of America seems to be more than willing to unceremoniously kick them out.  Many would be more than willing to send them back to countries where their lives are suffused with poverty, crime, and  a more than indeterminate future.  What has happened to us?  What has happened to our collective memory?  Have we never had to ask for help for our children?  Perhaps not.  Perhaps the people who want to send these children home have never been desperate.  Perhaps they have never looked for aid from the hands of a stranger.  Or perhaps they just don’t understand that while the American Dream may have changed drastically for those living here already, it remains in its shiniest golden package, fully intact, outside of our country.  It remains in the hearts of people in war torn countries who dream of something better for their children.  Things are hard for us here.  The economy refuses to fully rebound, the middle class shrinks, and many people are struggling, but even at the worst of times, I thought, that children would be allowed to be separated from all this.  I thought that we would never look into the eyes of a needy child and turn our backs, when we had the capacity to help.

But then, I suppose I should not be surprised.  How can I be when we, as a country, have the money and the wherewithal to feed our impoverished and hungry children, and yet they go hungry?  When poor children are denied access to preschools because there is no money to pay for it, and yet we, as taxpayers, find the money to put them in jail in record numbers later in their lives?  When we see that the method of educating our children may not be the best and most practical, and the only answer we can come up with is to make school harder and test more? 

When it comes down to it, Americans suffer from myopia.  We see what is in front of us right now, but refuse to look further.  We refuse to see that by saving these children, by helping all of our children, we are also ensuring our own futures.  Our world’s many ills will not be cured in a day or a week, but making each child’s world a bit safer, and a lot healthier, will mean a better world for us all down the road.  If only we could see that far.

Monday, June 30, 2014

I Never Want This Night to End

It's not often that we have this time.  The night sky is an open swath and though the stars are dim, It's enough that they are there.  My husband's touch is light upon my back and for right now, I can believe that this small group of us shines brighter than any of us have on our own in years.
The occasion seems insignificant, really. But so much goes into a night out, that it means more than it should.  Around us, people who are not my people chant and sing and drink tall boys.  There are more cowboy hats and daisy dukes than I would normally be comfortable with and though I have professed again and again to dislike country music as a matter of course (I am a Northeastern liberal after all), I am clearly participating joyfully, singing even, with all of these fans at a Zach Brown Band concert.  I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
As we all do, in this age of wearable technology, I often find it difficult to turn everything off, including and especially my insatiable mind, and yet for 3 hours, from the moment we get our tickets scanned to the last song, I am here.  Present on the lawn of this vast arena, surrounded by what I can only imagine are mostly ironic cowboys in brand new garb bought just for the occasion, and I am here and now in a way I have not been in so very long.
My beautiful friend dances, curls flying, unapologetically drunk on the night (and on copious amounts of vodka) and screams at the top of her lungs, "I never want this night to end!"  I am laughing and clapping and in response to her wish, I let out what can only be described as a war whoop. At this moment I am ageless and childless and this is every summer concert I have danced my way through.  There is nothing other than this night.
I so believe in this night's power that I am caught off guard as my husband rolls up our blanket.  Even as we join the mass exodus to the stairs, surrounded by chants of USA, USA, I am taken aback by his questions about how much we owe the sitter and about whether we need to stop for more cash on our way home.  The crash to Earth seems sudden and cruel.  But looking around, I see we are separated from our friends, our people, and I am being crushed by fake cowboys and sorority girls.  I sigh and check my phone and start thinking about tomorrow as I put this night behind me.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

death to mickey

Sometimes I just want to throttle Mickey Mouse.  Is that wrong?
Tonight, my daughter was a train wreck.  She is in the process of giving up her nap and so, as you can imagine, the evening is not a joyful time for her.  More often than not, I come downstairs from making her dinner, to find her passed out on the couch.  When I awaken her, she wants nothing to do with food or me or her brother who will then do everything he can to get her attention, while she kicks and pushes him.  Tonight she even growled at him! honestly, when she is like this, she becomes downright ferile.  While I am trying to force feed both of them and they are trying to stick forks in each other's eyes, who is singing happily in the background?  You guessed it...Mickey Mouse.  
At this moment, I usually find it best to take a sip (read gulp) of my wine and calmly turn off the television.  This usually gets the insane children's attention so that I can reseat Josh and convince Abby to listen to logic (read dessert bribery).  A few bites of food, tv back on, another sip (gulp) of wine and it is just about bath time and daddy will be home soon and then it will be bedtime and then...ahhhh.
But are asleep, all is quiet and I turn on the tv and who is still singing his happy tune?
You guessed it.  
So, yeah. Sometimes I just want to throttle Mickey Mouse!

Why do I blog?

Recently, a lot of my friends have been asking me why I started blogging?  What brought this on?  I usually just smile and blame it on my friend who did it first.  But today I have an answer for them. 
I write because it’s breath.  It’s the feeling of release when I get to yell and scream and bitch and moan and say what is truly in my heart, all while seated in the most beautiful space in my home in absolute silence.  Writing is the only thing I do in silence.  It is required.
I never expected to have anyone read my writing.  I’ve kept diaries since I was in middle school and written poetry for friends and family when the moment has caught me, but this blogging thing…I write because I can, because now that I know I can, I must. 
I had a terrible night’s sleep last night.  This is not new.  My kids are not as loveable during the night as they are during the day.  My schedule has destroyed them for late sleeping. I wake up at 5:30 for work, so they wake up at 5:30 whether I’m working or not.  They have also gotten my insominac genes…so one or both wakes up two to three times a night.  My husband does not love me for this. 
But here’s the great thing.  Recently, instead of lying in bed waiting for sleep, now I write in my head.  Ideas flap their wings, batting about and I hear the words of my next blog and I am- yes, angry that I am awake- but thrilled to have the voices of my day drowned out by my own voice.  I feel as if I have reclaimed myself through words.
There’s something about motherhood.  It claims all of you for itself.  I used to call my babies parasites when they were in the womb, and the term still works.  They feed off of us, and sap us of any energy necessary to sustain life.  So anything that allows me to reinvigorate (if for no other reason than so that I have enough in me to supply them with their next meal) must be positive.  Right?

So why do I blog?  Because it is the healthiest thing I can do for my family. And it keeps me from drinking in the morning.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

How to get through high school with your child! From a teacher’s perspective. (Just published at

It’s September.  You are sitting, legs crossed, foot shaking, in a high school desk.  Somebody has carved initials on the fake wood (what is this material anyways?)…The desks are aligned in neat rows, and the walls are covered with posters of grammar rules (flashback to the nightmares of comma usage!)…You look around the room at the other parents, some deflecting nerves into their phones, others lining up pens and notebooks to take notes (damn, was I supposed to bring a writing utensil???)…and in walks the teacher.  But how could she be in charge?  She’s tiny and looks 12.  And then she begins:
  “Hello!  My name is Emily Genser and I have been teaching English for 14 years.  I have taught every grade, 6-12 for at least one year, so I like to say I know where your child is coming from and I know where he’s going.  I have taught every level from remedial to Advanced Placement.  I promise this: I will make your child laugh.  I will make your child work.  I will introduce him to ideas that make him stretch and that challenge him.  I will teach him.”  Now you can stop shaking and let her take over.
As high school teachers, we understand that your kids are coming from the no man’s land of middle school.  In middle school, emotions rule, grades mean nothing, and the only thing that truly matters is persistence.  Kids learn to balance their wants with their needs.  They are beginning to see the world for what it can be (sometimes cruel, sometimes wonderful) and to figure out where they will stand in this world.  They will go through personality changes like clothing trends, and may find that each new attitude is more constricting than the last.  As parents, we just try to survive this time, looking for glimpses of the child we knew and hoping that the personality they choose allows space for us.  Sometimes parents look at school as a place where they can still be in control, and they will try to foist that control on the teacher.  So lets get down to the nitty gritty.
9th Grade: At the beginning of this year, you will get a chance to meet the teachers.  TRUST THEM.  You will be nervous, you will be worried about how big the classes are and you will worry that you child will get lost in the fray.  You will think about your daughter’s anxiety, or your son’s reticence.  You will worry about your 14 year old being unfocused or lost and not asking for help.  All of these worries are normal, and the teacher in front of you has seen everything and more before your son or daughter walks into her room.  Remember that the teacher is a professional.  Most states require that teachers have a Masters Degree in teaching their subject.  Every teacher wants your child to succeed and most will do whatever it takes to help them do just that.  If you keep that in mind, you and the teacher will start off just fine.             
MY SUGGESTION: Email the teacher.  They might ask you to fill out a parent information form at the open house.  Email them anyway.  Most of those forms sit in a desk until they notice a problem.  Don’t send a long email, but introduce yourself and your child.  Include major concerns to look out for and provide any and all phone numbers.  If your information is easy to access, the teacher will be more likely to get in touch. 
Stay up to date with your kid’s grades.  Most schools use automated-web based grading programs now.  Because of this, a lot of schools are not sending home progress reports and teachers will not update you until things are dire.  If you see a trend in dropping grades across subjects, it is up to you to get in touch.  We don’t know how your son/daughter is doing in other subjects, so what you see as an issue, we might not catch.  Send an email.  Check in at the midpoint of the year and again toward the end.  These emails don’t go unnoticed.  They keep your child on the radar.  However, don’t over-email.  Squeaky wheels get annoying, but don’t necessarily get results.  No one wants to be hovered over. 
about helping with homework.  It may come from a place of goodness in you, but it doesn’t ensure any sort of success for your child.  If anything, when your child’s teacher notices it, and she will, it will make her upset.  It will make things harder for your child, not easier.  When in doubt, email the teacher.  Ask questions about how long an assignment is taking.  Sometimes, one question could clear up the whole thing, and your child will be able to do the work. If he sees you asking questions and getting answers, perhaps he will model this behavior at school as well.  Especially if he sees it working. 
10th Grade: Okay, year one is through and with each new year, we raise the bar for your child and lower it for you.  Take a step back and breathe through it.  It’s now time for your child to learn to advocate for himself.  Go to open house.  Meet the teachers. Feel free to email the teachers your information and some notes about your son or daughter.  But only once, at the beginning of the year.  Stay up to date with his grades, and ask him what projects are upcoming, but stand back and let him learn to plan his work, and to balance the load.  He will hit potholes and sometimes fall in.  Let him climb out.  Let him fix what breaks.  This is the year to screw up and work it out.  This is the year to let him grow into himself.  Only step in when there is no other choice.
11th Grade:  AAAAAH Junior year!!!!  This is the year.  There is so much stress on your child in his junior year that you will go gray, go without sleep and you will not understand how he seems able to sleep comfortably at night.  Teenagers have an amazing ability to hide their anxiety.  Whether or not he shows it, he will be feeling frantic this year.  He may be taking A.P. courses, is probably involved with extra-curriculars of some sort, and he’s getting lots of homework.  His classes are all harder now, and he’s hearing almost daily from counselors about how his future depends on what he is doing right now.  Let home be a refuge from this.  Keep things much the same as they have always been and try not to apply more pressure.  He needs a place to breathe and this year, it is not at school.  If he can wait another year to get a job, that might be a good idea.  If he can’t, then make sure he doesn’t work too many hours.  School comes first and always this year.  It is that important. 
ONE BIG SUGGESTION: Talk to your child about his teachers.  Help him to figure out to whom he can go for a strong, personal recommendation.  I have the most difficulties writing rec’s for the quiet students.  If I don’t know your child well, my recommendation will be bland and generic.  Also, make sure your child asks the teacher IN PERSON for a recommendation.  He is asking us to do something extra, that is not required and for which we can barely find the time.  It is a favor.  Act accordingly.
12th grade: Home stretch.  Once applications are in, the whole family can breathe more easily.  There will be less pressure in school this year, overall, so just make sure that you are on top of the application process.  Go to guidance meetings, if your school has them and make sure your child is meeting deadlines.  Other than that, give him a bit of room to enjoy his last year of high school.  He will have less homework and more long-term projects.  Check on grades periodically, but start treating him like an adult.  He’ll need to feel responsible for himself if he is leaving the house in a year.  You’ll both be better for it, if you start the process of letting go now.

Most of all, through all of this, remember that we all want the same things.  Teachers and parents all want to create leaders.  We want to feel that we are helping individuals to find themselves and to become good, strong-minded adults who can take on the world in an informed way.  If we work together, and give them a supportive foundation, then they will be ready for anything.

Monday, June 23, 2014

37 is the new happy

I can’t stop grinning.  I got some great news this morning, but it’s not about that.  It’s about right now, this minute, this phase.  I am happy.  It’s strange.  To feel fulfilled in all realms of life.  I am staring at the screen trying to put it into words, and for the first time ever, I’m not sure how to do it.
It’s been a long road.  I’ve often felt that if I had one thing about which I could be proud, then I was doing pretty well.  In my teens that was hard to come by.  I always felt like the sidekick, the tagalong.  The little girl with the big voice and the caustic wit.  I got to college and there were boys, suddenly, and well, that was fun.  But still, the age old insecurity…I wrote poems and played with the boys and danced at gay bars and surrounded myself with New Orleans, and I could feel myself living and laughing, but always cynical...always waiting for the shoe to drop, the fa├žade to fall, for everyone to find out I didn’t belong.  It nagged me, held me back.
I graduated from college, moved to Boston and temped and went to graduate school for teaching and played too much and drank too much and waited for my life to begin.  I had this future constructed for myself, but could only go through the motions to reach it.   I met a guy who was bad for me and I stayed with him far too long and then a restraining order and then 9/11 and then I was back home.  And something clicked. 
My mother is the most confident person I know.  I have rarely seen her falter.  My father, on the other hand, is one of the most insecure people I know.  He seems to trust only his skill as a physician, and assume the worst about every other trait.  I was raised between these two extremes, and rather than be the convergence of the two, I often just feel schizoid.  I at once feel extremely confident in my teaching ability, and fear that someone will find out that I am nothing but a poseur.  I love people and need to be social, but am terrified of new situations and always worry no one at the party will talk to me. 

But, I moved home and got a teaching job, and over the next few years met my husband online, moved up to teaching high school from the middle school, acted in community theater, popped out a couple of kids (which curtailed the acting), and now I am 37, in love with my life and writing about it.  I feel…settled and comfortable, and tired and stressed and worried for my kids, but…finally content. While the insecurities will always be there, at this stage of the game, I know which ones to listen to and which ones to brush aside.  God, I love my late 30s and who would have ever thought I’d say that?

Friday, June 20, 2014

My Pocket of Solitude

I am sitting inside on a beautiful day.  I am sitting inside when I could be outside on a beautiful day.  I am sitting inside and my kids are at school (probably playing outside), and I could be doing a million different things.  But for right now, I am sitting inside and typing these words and trying to remember how to be this me.
I am a teacher.  I am a teacher and a mother.  I am a teacher and a mother and a wife.  I am a teacher and a mother and a wife and a daughter and a heavily relied on friend.  I am all of these things and sometimes I forget that there was a point in my life when I was maybe just me.  But then, maybe not. I have always been attached to people.  I have been the support for so many people, I can not begin to count them on my fingers.  I have loved that role.  Giving advice and helping people talk through issues has always come easily to me.  I started listening to my mother when I was in middle and high school, and moved onto friends and boyfriends, and I loved, love, that feeling of being needed.  It is my energy.
But right now.  Right now I want to be selfish.  In my small way, I am rebelling against this constant need.  I have small children.  They NEED me.  In that way that no one else in all my years of helping other people, has ever NEEDED me.  They cling and whine and grab and grasp and stomp and hit and push and pull on every fiber of my physical and mental being until I am nothing more than MOMMY!  And most of the time, I love this need.  I love that when they stub a toe or cry in the night, I can solve their ache with a hug and a kiss.  Theirs is a generally easy need to satiate.  But last night it was hard.  Last night I wanted to walk out of my house with my laptop and a book.  Or better yet I wanted to pop in my ear buds and RUN and run and run.  Because last night they would not let me sit.
I used to have a ritual when my school year ended (as it did yesterday).  I would, of course, go to happy hour (whatever time that was for us) with my teacher friends to celebrate one more year's survival.  But the next day, on my first day off, I would go and sit in Barnes and Nobles.  I would collect ten, twenty, sometimes more, books, and pile them in front of me on a table.  I would sit in the cafe with a coffee and the piped in Starbucks music mix of the day, and I would read.  Just the first chapter of each.  I would place the books in piles, making categories, weeding out the uninspired, until I had 5 or 10 to get me through my summer.  It took hours to decide, and I loved every moment.  It was the excitement of knowing my soul would be fed for months with these books, that I could get lost in these new worlds.  Each time I sat down to read one of these books, I fell into a pocket of solitude that I adored.  I never felt the need to share the books except to say "I'm reading...I think you'd like it."  It wasn't about the conversations I could have with others.  It was about the act of being alone, with and inside a book.  Reading is the only alone time I've ever cherished.
But now that I have so little alone time.  That so few of my moments belong to me alone, I am desperate to find those pockets of solitude.  Every part of me is telling me use this time well.  I have to pick up the kids in 20 minutes (oh God, 19 minutes now!) and I should should should clean and launder and figure out dinner and ahhh everything in this house is on the floor and I should have gone for a run earlier and picked up and done and called and written and...well, you get the point.
But no.  I have selfishly carved out these last hours for myself.  I finished a book, lying luxuriously on my couch, listening to children from neighboring yards shout and giggle, and now I am writing.  And in 20 minutes (make it 17 now), I will pick up my children and resume the MOMMY dance.  And it will be easier tonight because I was selfish today.  But is it really selfish if I will be a better Mommy for it?
Perhaps, instead, I'll call it peaceful and leave it at that.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A New Era?

Recently, I have noticed that a number of my female friends, in their 30s, are opting out of motherhood.  They are married, or getting married, and are professionals, and I am sure they have tons of reasons to make this decision.  All of them are personal, and I do not for a second judge this choice.  It is absolutely theirs to make.  But it has made me wonder about this generation.  It speaks to more than just these women, you see.  It speaks to all of us in their (relative) age bracket, who are choosing to speak out about parenting.  In many ways, it seems to be all in one to me.
I have been a free speaker all of my life.  In middle school I often questioned whether I was too sarcastic for people, too loud, too outspoken.  I questioned, through high school, whether my sense of humor turned people away.  I was never quiet or sheepish or meek.  I was (am?) an actress, whose voice carried without training to the back of the auditorium, and I never learned to whisper or to be nice for the sake of being nice.  Since high school, I have gravitated to women who, like me, speak their minds.  I see this in my virtual world as well.  The bloggers I enjoy most tout the realities of parenting.  We are working women and men, who love our jobs, almost as much as we love our families.  We are people who want to be super human...who long to soar in their careers, and in parenthood.  We are trying to do the impossible.  Because of the fact that the balancing act only works sometimes, and because of the fact that we feel the need to speak, we blog.
But this, like the women who freely admit to not wanting to be parents, is new to our world.  This public speaking about our difficulties would not have been okay in any other decade.  A woman who said that she enjoyed her life as it was, and that she and her husband loved being able to go out at a moment's notice, to travel unimpeded, to sleep in and laze the day away on a Sunday (clearly I miss all of these things) would have been castigated, ostracized, or at least looked at askance.  Just as, those of us who question our daily tight rope walk, who wonder every day if the next day will be easier, who watch our tantruming (totally not a word) toddlers in grocery store aisles and try not to bare our teeth, and then blog, or Facebook, or tweet, about these things moments (or hours) later, would have been made to feel ashamed.  We would have heard in response from mothers who loved every moment and cherished every second.  There would have been few, if any, empathetic comments.
I am trying to be more aware, these days, of the possible mothers around me at work.  I am trying to remember to say all of the wonderful things that come with being a mother.  I am trying to remember to tell them that if I weren't Abby's mom and Josh's mom, everything else (and I do mean this with all my heart) would mean less.  I would be more cynical.  I would laugh less.  I might be better rested (although I've never been good at sleeping), but I would feel their lack in ways I can't imagine now.
So perhaps there's good and bad to this new era of free speaking parents.  I find solace in reading about other POTY (parent of the year- when you know you are not winning the war) moments, and it helps me breathe to know that other people out there have similar frustrations and difficulties.  It certainly helps me to work out my thinking on issues, as I share them with you all.  But I wonder if it's also turning other women off to hear us speak so frankly.  I don't know.  Perhaps when and if they choose motherhood, they'll benefit from doing it with open eyes and not those shaded by rosie hued glasses.  Or perhaps they will opt for more rest and nights out.
For me, it was never a question.  Now off to my glass of wine and bed, so that I can wake up at 5:15 with whomever cries first.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Graduations big and small

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Another shooting.  I have nothing left to say.  Every week there is something in the news.  Every week someone has a gun or a knife and a wound to avenge.  I will focus on the good.  I could easily get bogged down by this. I could watch hours of footage where analysts try to find motive and industries blame each other.  I could read every news posting and try to figure it out for myself.  Or I could focus on my kids.  The ones I raise at home and those I help to raise at school. 
This evening I will watch my daughter, in a new dress and pink shoes “graduate” from pre-school.  She will sing God Bless America and two other songs and will get a “prize” at the end, and she will move on to kindergarten, and she will not know the extent of this occasion.  She will love the limelight (she creates her own wherever she goes), and she will adore the stage and the cheering from her biggest fans, but she will not understand the meaning of it all. 
Abigail will bound into kindergarten and will not know that there was ever a school shooting in an elementary school in our state.  She will dance through her classes, pretending to be in tap shoes, and will not know that 2 twelve year olds stabbed a classmate or that a 16 year old stabbed his crush.  I will not tell her. 
I will let her enjoy school as long as she can.  She will see the new tests she has to take in kindergarten as contests and games.  She will drive herself to win and she will laugh.  I will watch her swing and run and play.  And no matter what, I will keep what I know about the world to myself.  She will figure it all out soon enough. 
On Tuesday of next week, I will watch my high schoolers graduate.  I will send them off with hugs and messages of hope and huge smiles.  I will tell them in their yearbooks to be smart, to have fun, and to take care of each other.  I will tell them to come back to school to see us.  Most of them will follow some of my advice.  All of them will walk away with at least one teacher worrying about them and the choices they will make.  Unlike my daughter, these young men and women believe they know what this next step means for them.  I hope they are right and that they can feel us in their shadows, holding our collective breath. 

Most of these young adults have the same sense of innocence and excitement for this next phase as my Abigail does.  They do not think that unemployment will affect them or that there is anything possible besides success.  I hope they do not learn the truth too quickly.  But even if they do, I hope they find the strength they need to remember when they too were four and ½, dancing through the world in imaginary tap shoes.  I hope, like Abigail, they carry their own limelight with them wherever those tap shoes take them.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

For Betty on her Birthday

This is a day when I think of my grandmother.  It would have been her birthday.  In the ten or so years before she passed away, she would always come to visit from Pennsylvania at this time of year.  I would walk in from high school to see her seated at my parents’ kitchen table with a mug of coffee that had long since gone cold, and a book.  She always had a book and a card from my mother for a bookmark; After a hug and a kiss on her paper thin cheek, I would sit down with her and ask her what she was reading.  She introduced me to Elizabeth George and P.D. James, whom I read to this day.  But what I most loved was simply sitting in the living room with her.  She would sit in the arm chair by the window and I would lie on the couch and we would immerse ourselves in whatever we were reading at the time.  It was enough just to share the room.

My students are writing college essays this coming week, and one of the questions revolves around the idea of a safe space.  Where are you comfortable?  Where are you content?  Where do you return again and again to feel that sense of calm?  For me, it is to my parents’ living room.  It has changed over the years, but in my memory and thoughts, it is the furniture I grew up with to which I return.  Peach colored sofa and arm chairs.  Tons of light from the windows on all sides.  A hutch filled with beautiful knick knacks (a colorful rooster, antique pen and ink set…). It is early summer, so everything is bright with the sunlight.  Dust motes dance in the air.  A pensive rabbi studies Torah in the painting closest to my grandmother, and a young Asian girl smiles a mysterious smile from the painting above my couch. Everything is light and airy, and we read and share the space. 

I have always found comfort and safety in books.  I am an insomniac by nature, so books have provided me with a way through the night many a time.  When I cannot stop my brain from circling around what during the day seemed innocuous and non-stressworthy, I turn to a book.  I take shelter in someone else’s words and wrap myself in a blanket of characters and dialogue and preferably a completely different setting from my own.  I want someone else’s problems, someone else’s family, someone else’s dysfunction to distract me and to lull me into sleep. 

So perhaps, if I were to respond to this college essay prompt, I would say, my safe spot is on a peach colored couch, with a book in my hand and my grandmother in the corner of the room.  But lacking these things, as I must, I will settle for a book in my hand. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Fake it Till You Make it

So, recently I have been smiling a lot at work.  It’s strange actually.  Because…well…it’s work.  But I am lucky enough to be able to work at a job that means something to me.  I think of it like pizza.  Even when my job sucks, and believe me there are plenty of days when it does, it’s all together pretty darn good.  I teach kids.  Let me explain more clearly.  I teach Sophomores and Juniors (and next year, seniors-gasp!) how to write well and read closely.  More than that, I teach them how to work hard for what they want, and assert themselves if they believe they deserve more than what they got.  I teach them to want, to need, to have independence.  I teach them to read the world like it is a difficult book, written in old English, spotted with words they don’t understand.  I teach them to question what they see and hear and experience.  Because if they don’t question it, then they will just go along with it.  If they just go along with it, nothing will change.  At some point in their lives they will find something that they want to change, and they will need to get into attack mode.  I teach them the ready stance for that moment. 

My kids may not love The Scarlet Letter (although in my utter English teacher geekiness, I really do).  They may not understand every word of Macbeth, or accept that throughout high school they will only read sad books.  They may not hand in every homework assignment or ace every test.  But they will love coming into my class.  There’s no big secret here.  Generally, when they walk into my room, I am smiling.  When they talk to me, I smile and usually laugh.  I laugh a lot.  It makes them laugh.  It lets them breathe. 

A few years ago, I read somewhere that even at your lowest moments, if you fake a smile, you will start to really smile.  You can trick your brain into wanting to smile until you find something to actually smile about.  I know that I am lucky.  I have a job that works for me.  If I don’t want to sit at my computer throughout the day, I don’t have to.  If I want to change things up mid-class, I have that control.  I get to see my successes and failures almost immediately.  And, if I am frustrated with a student, I know he will walk out the door in 48 minutes or less.  But I also have incredibly difficult days when parents and students and administrators all challenge me at once.  And those days, I fake it, until I find a reason to smile.  And usually when I smile, someone else smiles back.  And then I can breathe.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Lost in Translation

Before I had kids, I had a lot of ideas about parenting.  I’m sure that is true for the entire bachelor/ette population.  They go to a restaurant and sneer at the unruly children.  They shake their heads, in fake sympathy, at the exhausted parent, who could be either 25 or 55 (the bags under the eyes make it hard to tell) and think “When I have kids…” and that’s where they should stop.  It’s certainly where I should have stopped.  Because until you’re in that moment, you just don’t know.  I had a conversation with a kid-less friend of mine who asked why I didn’t have my kids doing more crafts instead of watching TV on Saturday mornings, and I wanted to say one word in response “survival.”  But I just smiled and said, instead, “That’s a great idea” and walked away.  She’ll understand down the road.  The word survival will take on a whole new meaning. 
Before kids, my husband and I talked about TV.  We said, with great conviction, “Two shows a day.”  But the reality is this: my kids wake up at 5:30.  I have to get to work by 7:20 (the first Sophomores saunter into my room at 7:10, and school starts at 7:25), which means I have to make lunch for both kids, get them dressed, sun-screened, Abby’s hair brushed, and all appropriate needs for the day packed into bags, make coffee for myself and have a breakfast bar, all before 6:50.  My kids watch TV from 5:30 until my husband takes them to pre-school/day care at 7:30.  Yup.  Then they learn and play all day, and when I pick them up, we play for a bit, and then they eat dinner…in front of the TV.  I tell myself it’s okay because the shows they watch are relatively educational (at least according to the ads on the channel), filled with social skills and early literacy!  But really, I am just trying to survive.  And I worry.  Not so much for right now, but for the future.  Are my kids going to move from the TV to the iPad to the cell phone?  Are my kids going to rely on technology the way my high schoolers do?  Because texts, tweets and snapchats seem to be their life-blood.  They can’t make it through a test without checking their phone.  I can truly say that for many of them the cell phone is an addiction and it worries me.  Because maybe, it started with TV.
Maybe, it was TV, then phones and the Internet.  Maybe these kids are no different than the two 12-year old girls who, after spending hours on a horror site on the web, decided to stab their friend in the woods leaving her to crawl to safety.    And how do I know that my peanut of a daughter, with her big brown curious eyes looking at that TV through her neon pink glasses, won’t turn into those girls? How do I know my blondie of a boy, who gallops through life heedless and carefree, won’t bring a knife to school one day when a girl rejects his advances?
The scary thing is, I don’t know.  But here’s what I hope.
I hope I remember that I am their translator.  I hope that for the time being, while I am in control of what they watch, I can help them to make sense of the messages strewn at them.  And when I am no longer in control (scary as that may be), I hope they will come to me with their confusion. 
For now, when dinner is over, we play together.  We do puzzles and read books, and build, and knock down Lego towers, and all the time we talk.  And maybe that’s what these young people who are killing other young people didn’t have.  Maybe these kids had no one to translate all of the messages they were receiving from the TV, their phones and the web.  Maybe those 12-year old girls just needed a parent or a teacher or ANY adult to see and hear what they were seeing and hearing, and to help them to understand and make sense of it. 

So, let’s make this pact:  I, as a caregiver (parent, teacher, guardian, random adult in the room), will watch and listen.  I will advise when I can, explain what I’ve learned, and learn what I need to.  Because too many kids are hurting too many other kids, and I don’t know how to translate that.