Monday, December 28, 2015

Battle Wounds

Published @
Before I had kids, I made all sorts of judgments about the parents I saw around me.  I am a teacher, so I was always conferencing with and questioning the motives of my students’ parents.  It seemed inevitable.  I couldn’t believe the choices they seemed to knowingly be making.  How could they let their kids talk to them that way?  Why couldn’t they control them?  Why were they over-programming their kids?  Why were they under-programming their kids?  I imagined all of the things I would do differently.  Couldn’t they see that they weren’t doing things right?
I am now a parent.  I have two young children.  I am still a teacher, but parenting has changed the way I look at not only the other parents I see, but also at the kids I teach.  There are so many choices we all make each day, but trying to understand each other should be the first one.
Probably the most important thing that I have learned through this exhausting, yet wonderful process of motherhood, is that support from my community is sometimes the only thing that makes a difference.  I cannot do this job without other parents.  I cannot get through a day without asking questions and telling stories, and laughing and swearing and just drawing in and drawing from my community of parents. 
This summer, I sat at the baby pool with my 3-year-old son and watched a young mother with her toddler.  I knew the anxious look on her face.  I recognized my own expression from 5 years ago as I sat alone at the same baby pool hoping someone would welcome me into the fold.  I didn’t know how to ask to be included.  I didn’t know how to ask for help.  Was this all supposed to just come naturally, as it seemed to for others?  How would I know if I was doing it wrong?  It turned out to be a very lonely summer.  So, when I saw this young mom, I moved closer to her in the pool.  I smiled.  I asked her questions.  She was new to town, and I gave her my number.  I texted her when I got home and told her that she could ask me any question about the town or the schools or anything at all.  I would help her any way I could.  Though I wasn’t new to town when I sat in that baby pool 5 years ago, I was new to mommyhood, and I wish someone had done the same for me.
We need to remember that parenthood can feel like a minefield.  And no one should be left to figure it out by him/herself.  I have developed my community, but it took time.  I have found the other parents in my sphere with whom I can laugh as we all just barely survive, but not everyone has, and when they do what they must, and cast into the void that is the internet, they do so at their own risk.  There is so much criticism, so much negativity. 

So let’s all use to make the choice to extend the support I did to my young friend at the baby pool.  Let us truly be a community of peers.  Let us remember that parenthood is the hardest and most important job of them all, and that we have all stepped on a mine at one time or another.  I’ll show you my scars, if you show me yours!

Friday, July 31, 2015

One High School Teacher's Top Ten List for Success in High School

Published on 7/31/15

After reading a professor's top 10 list for kids going to college, I decided to write my top ten list for those of you going into high school (or getting ready to go back).  Think of this list as some words of wisdom from a teacher who has seen it all!  These rules work.  To boil it down even more succinctly for you: Build relationships from the very beginning, and be honest.  Everything else will fall into place!
1.  Know what is expected of you over the summer. Many of your classes (not just English) now require summer reading, or some sort of summer work in preparation for the class.  Coming into class unprepared on day one sends a clear message to the teacher.

  • However, if you haven't done the work, cop to it right away.  I would always rather a student come up to me on day one, and say I didn't do the summer reading, what can I do so that I am prepared?  This shows maturity and ambition.  Both of which are necessary to do well in any class.

    2.  Work hard on the first assignment.  This is your chance to show your teacher what you can do, and what he/she can expect from you.  Read thoroughly, write as well as you can, and participate fully in the activities of the first week.

  • It is hard to change someone's impression of you, and you want the person grading your work to feel that you are trying from the very beginning.  He or she will be more accepting of slip ups later in the year, if you have shown that you are willing to work in the beginning.

    3.  Participate.  Participate.  Participate.  This is the way your teacher will get to know you.  Your teacher doesn't care particularly that you are 100% correct in your answer, but that you are putting effort forth and paying attention to what has already been said.  Remember that putting your hand up shouldn't result in your ears shutting down.  Listen to what your classmates are saying and respond appropriately: "I agree with Caitlyn, but think..." One of the most frustrating things for teachers and classmates, is when someone repeats a comment that has just been spoken.

  • Don't speak just to speak, speak to add to the discussion.

    4.  Ask questions when you don't understand something.  Generally, if you have a question, someone else has the same one.  Probably many people have the same question, but are too shy to ask.  If the question doesn't get asked, it probably won't get answered.  Don't be left wondering.

  • Ask the question.  This is the only way I know what you understand, and what you don't.

    5.  Be honest in all areas of your work.  I have forgiven many transgressions on the basis of honesty.   No matter how close you think you are to your classmates, 9 times out of 10 they will throw you under the bus to save themselves.  The truth will come out.  Mistakes are made. We all make bad choices when under stress or overwhelmed.  It is the way you deal with the choice and the consequence that tells me who you are.

  • If you cheat in my class, I will be upset.  But if you are honest about it when caught, or (better yet) before being caught, I will more than likely either give you another assignment to make up for part of the grade, or help you to find a way to strengthen your grade after the fact.  I want you to understand that what you did was wrong, but I don't ever want you to fail because of it.  No teacher wants that.  Your honesty will help me help you.  

   6.  If the class is a reach for you (an honors class, or A.P. class you wanted to try), be prepared to ask for help.  You can not grow on your own.  Advocate for yourself.  Help can come from any number of places, but should always start with the teacher.  She knows that you are struggling, but wants to know that care about your own success.  If you find that you don't get the help you're looking for from your teacher, find another resource.  But always let your teacher know you are working hard. Mention that you purchased (or got from the library) an A.P. practice book.  Tell her that you've been getting tutored by an older student or an adult.

  • If your teacher knows you are trying to grow, he or she will be more likely to help you achieve your goal.

    7.  If you don't do an assignment, or had trouble with an assignment, or even if you were just overloaded and couldn't get to an assignment, do not wait until class time to tell your teacher.  Seek him/her out before period 1, and, once again, be honest.

  • Your teacher knows how stressful each year can be, and may be more understanding than you think about the pressures of extracurriculars, and/or family stress.  

    8.  Develop a relationship with at least three teachers by the middle of Junior year.  You will need at least two teachers to write a college recommendation, or to be a job reference, and you don't want to put yourself in a precarious position when the time comes to ask.

  • Know who will be your best advocate, and talk to that teacher face to face.  The worst thing that can happen is that the teacher says no.  That's why you want to have that third teacher in your back pocket.

   9.  Get to know your guidance counselor.  It's easy to forget that each guidance counselor has hundreds of students for which he/she is responsible.  Don't wait until you are in crisis to seek her out.  The better she knows you at your best, the better she can help you at your worst.  Make appointments to check in, see that you're on the right track, and ask questions about what is missing in your high school schedule.

  • They are experts in their areas, but it's hard for them to guide you if they don't know you.  

10.  Join something.  Find a club or an activity that suits you.  At my high school kids have created robotics clubs, anime clubs, rugby clubs, movie clubs....any type of club that you can imagine.  There is something for everyone.  Not only will you find your "people" through this club, but you will find ways to stretch yourself, your creativity, and your intellect in completely new and different ways.

  • If you find a way to connect to the school community, you will be more likely to keep yourself on track for success in general.  

Thursday, May 7, 2015


My daughter told me the other day that she wishes she didn't have to wear glasses. Only two kids in her kindergarten class wear glasses, and she wishes that she could be more like the rest of the class.  I put on my brave face (screaming inside, angry and sad, 5 years old and she can already see difference, and it already equals wrong or bad) and try to frame my words with care.  "Your glasses are a part of who you are!  They make you special, and besides that you NEED them to see." I am equal parts cheerleader and pragmatist.
She says, "But when can I wear contacts?"  She means, when can I blend in?  This whole conversation hurts.
My husband is legally blind.  He has extreme myopia.  He wears contacts, and no one would know how strong his prescription is, unless they saw his glasses.  Then they would know.  When Abby was a baby, she held every book right in front of her eyes.  She stood an inch away from the television screen.  When her teachers read to her in daycare, she insisted on sitting on their laps so that she could be closest to the book.  They asked us to get her eyesight tested and we did.  The pediatrician did the eye test they do for all of the little ones.  She passed.  We smiled, but knew they were wrong. Later, when daycare asked again about her vision, we took her to an ophthalmologist.  He went through lens after lens.  He was horrified.  She was 2 1/2 and she, too, was legally blind.  I will never forget the doctor's response when I asked how we could expect an active 2 year old to keep track of, and not break, her $600.00 glasses.  He looked me squarely in the eyes, and said, "If you were outside in -5 degree temperatures, and someone handed you a coat, would you lose it?" I couldn't speak.  I had left my daughter out in the cold without a coat for 2 1/2 years.  I hugged her close.  My husband cried when I told him the news.
Now, I know that glasses are not a big deal in this day and age.  I also understand that there are many situations much worse than hers.  I have not lost all perspective, believe me.  However, as a mother, any time limitations are placed on your child, your heart breaks just a bit.  My husband suffered differently.  Her diagnosis placed him immediately back in elementary school, peering at the world through "coke-bottle" lenses, getting into fights, and suffering the way kids do.  And then there was the guilt of passing down this trait.  I could tell him that the glasses were different now (which he knew), that they were cute and pink and the edges of the lenses could be shaved down to almost nothing.  I could tell him other children wore glasses at this age too.  She wouldn't be alone.  I could tell him that this would change her world.  All of this he knew, but needed to hear anyways.  I couldn't take away the guilt, though.  That is every parent's burden.
The eye doctor was right, of course.  She has had her glasses for 2 1/2 years and has never lost them or broken them.  But I have been waiting for this moment.  The moment when she would recognize her difference and the wall we have built around her would begin to weaken. Just the tiniest crack, but a foreshadowing of future fissures.  I had hoped it would come later, of course.  I had hoped she would be older and I would have had more time to help her build up her defenses.  I had hoped for stronger mortar between the bricks.  But she is 5 and she has already realized that in this world, it is easier to look the same.  I teach high school girls.  I know high school girls.  For God's sake, I was a high school girl.  Insecurity is a rite of passage.  We are taught in so many ways, by so many people that we must be beautiful in the "right" way, and whether she can verbalize it or not, at the age of 5, she already believes that she is not.  That her beauty is somehow "wrong."
Someday, she will wear contact lenses. And then the differences will be harder to see from the outside.  I can't know now what those differences may be, but they are there in all of us.  We each look through our own lenses and see the world in a different way.  I didn't cherish my own perspective until I went to college.  Perhaps if her insecurities have come earlier, then her security will as well.  I can only hope that each time my daughter realizes that what she sees is not what others see, for whatever reason, that she will take the time to show them her world.  Because that would be invaluable.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Advice to my seniors

This year, I have a senior homeroom.  These 15 students have been in my homeroom since they were freshmen.  In a few months, I will send them off into the world with a catch in my voice and trepidation in my heart.  I do not fear their readiness academically.  They have been given all that we could give them, and they are prepared to take college classes, or join the army, or hold down jobs.  I know this.  What I worry about is the rest of it.  I worry that they are unprepared for independence.
Recently, there have been news stories about fraternities doing shameful things, but this is nothing new.  There has been report after report about rapes on college campuses, and the lack of action or follow through in response to these rapes.  None of this is new.  But how do I prepare my students for these things?
As teachers, we walk a line every day.  For some of us, this line is clearly marked with permanent marker.  The line dictates what we will and will not talk about.  Rather than take the risk of reprimand, we may choose just to teach our subjects.  We stick to math.  We stick to science.  We talk about a book or a poem, avoiding the topics that might burst the imagined bubble of innocence around our students.  We hide behind our subjects and our jobs.
But I look at my students in my homeroom, these young adults, sitting safely behind their desks, whom I have known for four years, and I know I must say something.
Here's what I would like to tell them:
Soon, you will be free; You will no longer have an adult watching you for 7 hours a day.  There will be no one concerned about why your eyes look red this morning, or why your head is on the desk today.  There will be no adult who knows you well enough to worry that today you are acting differently, more withdrawn or angry, or even to ask why you seem to be walking on a cloud, why the smile, the laughing lilt to your voice?  So, yes, you are free, but you are also alone.  Perhaps for the first time.  It will be scary, but know that we have given you the tools you need.
Breathe in all of that strength that I know you have within you.  Hold that breath as long as you can, and remember who you are.
Look around you at the strangers in your dorm, or your unit, or wherever the world takes you. Choose your friends carefully.  Find a person you can trust, someone with whom you are comfortable, someone who lets you be vulnerable, and does not judge you for it.  Be a pair, a duo, a team and a shield for one and other.  There will be a moment when you know in your gut that something is off, and you will need that person by your side.  If it feels wrong, it is wrong.  Leave.  Trust each other, and leave.  More often then not, your gut will know before your brain does.  Let it be your compass. Having a hand to hold at this point makes all the difference.
Find your voice.  Be a presence wherever you are so that it becomes clear to you and those around you, that your choices are just that.  They are yours.  If your voice is clear, then people will listen. I would rather be wrong at top volume, than silently right.
Allow yourself to make a mistake.  Once.  Then learn from it, and don't do it again.  There is no point in regret.  Regret allows you to wallow, and wallowing is lazy.  Get up.  Apologize.  Move on.
Most of all, learn.  Take in the world around you; Soak it up.  Because every new experience will teach you more about yourself.  And when the world tries to beat you down, as it will from time to time, those who know themselves rise up.  Again and again.
Be that survivor.  And remember, no matter what, this too shall pass.  It always does.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

March of the Juniors

Image result for stressed out teens
This piece was first published in

Every year around this time I have a talk about stress and anxiety with my junior year A.P. students.  Most of these students are your typical high achievers.  They have been working toward college for as long as they can remember.  Many of them know where they will apply, and have known the grades they need and the test scores they need to achieve, since middle school.  Many of them are taking 4 or 5 Advanced Placement classes, are involved in clubs and sports, and have a part time job.  They generally have ridden out the storm until now.  It is in March when I begin to see the changes.

In March, 2nd semester is in full swing.  We are halfway through quarter 3 and progress reports have gone out.  While most of us are eagerly awaiting spring and warmer weather, my students are fully aware that with the spring comes testing.  They are gearing up to take S.A.T.s, to take or re-take A.C.T.s (most now take both), the Smarter Balance Assessment (S.B.A.C), which is the new junior year test/graduation requirement in Connecticut, and A.P. exams.  They have been told by guidance counselors that if they don’t get a certain score on their S.A.T.s, the top colleges won’t even look at their applications.  They have been told that they need to go to graduate school to get a good job.  College is no longer good enough.  They have been told that if they don’t get into a “good” college, then they won’t get into a “good” graduate school.  They are terrified.

One student said to me that he has never been as stressed out as he is right now.  He said he is working harder than he has ever worked, and yet his grades have not changed.  He feels he understands the material he is learning and has proved it, yet he only has Bs.  He can’t wrap his brain around this fact.  I can.  I have known it all year.  He is an incredibly bright young man, who is spread way too thin.  He is currently taking 5 A.P. classes.  Each of these classes is equivalent to a college course.  In college, each of these classes would meet every other day, and he would have time in between classes to work.  In high school, each of these classes meets every day.  He may have an hour of homework from each of these classes a night.  He also has one or two other classes.  He is in the music program, performing in concerts throughout the year, and often practicing after school.  He is involved in a club which travels to different schools, in order to hear panels of fantastic speakers.  This club meets once a month and the trips often take hours.  He does not “take” a lunch, so that he can include another class in his schedule instead.    This may sound extreme, but I have many students following similar schedules. 

In another class, my students talk about how they feel like their parents are more anxious than they are.  They hear mixed messages.  One student says that Mom says, “Don’t worry, just do your best!” and then the next day asks why she only received a B on her test and doesn’t she care about her future?  She works hard.  She is doing her best, but she can see that Mom is worried.  Others told her it was because she was the oldest, and I tried my best to explain how as parents we want so much for our children to have everything, to have every option under the sun.  We want to be in that classroom, taking the tests, controlling for every possible situation, so that there is no further obstacle.  It drives us crazy that we can’t help more, and that turns into anxiety.

The problem, of course, is that that anxiety sits squarely on the shoulders of our teens.  So, they shoulder their own anxiety, and they shoulder their parents’ anxiety.  And to make matters worse, they are feeling the anxiety from their teachers as well.  One student told me that the first day of 2nd semester, even his most “laid back” teachers amped up the pressure.  I remembered that day.  I did it too.  They walked in and I reminded them that the A.P. exam was in May.  We would start taking two multiple choice practices in one day, instead of one.  We would be holding more firm with timed essays.  No rewrites.  No more messing around.  I think those were my words.  Today, I apologized. 
What I find so interesting about this is that when I asked if they were planning on taking it easy next year, they looked at me like I was crazy.  Many of them are planning on taking just as many A.P. classes their senior year.  They will not see relief until they leave high school.  Ironically, for many of them, college will be easier than their junior and senior years of high school. 

This all feels like madness to me. 

So, what can we do?  I try to do my part.  My class, though it is an A.P. is not heavy on homework.  They will often have reading and annotating to do, but all of their writing is done in class.  They sometimes re-write essays for me on their own time, but I have a policy of only giving homework when it is absolutely necessary.  For some, mine might be the only class that does not pile it on.  I think we, as teachers, sometimes forget how much they have to do, and how little time they actually have.  We forget that they have other classes as well, and that the pressure and anxiety they feel is very real and immediate.

We need to remember that the score they get on the exam is less important than the experience they have in the class.  I am lucky to work in a school where the class is not taken away from me, if my scores aren’t perfect.  This should be the culture at every school.  Pressure trickles down. If my department head makes sure that I feel it, you can be sure my students will feel it too.
As parents, we need to remember that almost any school can be the “best” school for a kid.  Unless the student has specific needs, if he has been raised to be strong and confident, he will make his way no matter where he goes.  Support him, work with him if he needs it, but let him lead you.  If you see a change in his behavior, ask about it.  And give yourself days off too.  Maybe Thursday and Fridays are “no college talk days,” or some such variation.  Mostly, as hard as it may be to do, trust him.  He wants this just as much as you do.

So, around this time of year, as they trudge into my class, I try to keep it light.  I give them time to talk, as a class, about their stresses.  We still write essays and discuss texts, but we also look inward, and laugh and breathe.  I say as often as I can that what they do in college is more important than where they go, and hope that they hear my voice. 

I wish I had better answers.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Teachable Moments

Today, I was out of patience.  All day, while teaching, my mind was on my son.  I did that horrible thing that we sometimes have to do, and sent him to daycare even though he should have been home sick.  In my defense, he did not have a fever this morning, but he's 2 1/2 and has a terrible cough and a runny nose, and was not his enthusiastic self, and maybe on another day, I would have kept him home.  But I am a teacher.  Today, I had to teach.  Which is not to say that there are days that I do not have to do my job, but there are days when I can stop and create manageable substitute plans.  There are days when I have an article that someone can hand out, or questions that my students can work on, or anything available at all that will be not be a complete throw-away day for my students.  Today, I had nothing.  And my desk (as it usually is) was a complete tornado of papers.  I did not want someone to sit there and try to make sense of it.  So, I sent my kid to daycare.  Even though he was sick.  Yup.

All day, I waited for the phone call from them telling me to come and take him home.  It didn't come.  Which was fine and great.  But by eighth period (the last of the day), I was at maximum guilt and minimum patience.  So when my Seniors wandered in, when they didn't sit down, when they kept on talking regardless of my voice (not easily dismissed), when they then questioned and groaned at my plan for the day, I wanted to scream.  I wanted to get angry and yell that "I am here.  I could be home cuddling my son, but I am here, for you.  Instead of there for him.  So listen.  Be grateful."  I didn't say those things.  What I did was keep to my plan.  I reminded them of the article we had finished, I explained the direction in which we would now move, and I told them that we would watch a Ted Talk to bridge the gap between the article and the book we would be starting.  When a student had the nerve to groan at this plan, I let my icy glare do its work, and turned on the projector.  Within moments they were rapt.  We watched a young British man talk about skiing across the North Pole, and listened as he asked us whether we were content using so little of our potential?  I didn't have an answer.  I wondered if my students did.  We discussed what they saw, and what they heard, and then I gave them some time to talk amongst themselves.  Funny how they never gripe about this.  I listened to a group of them discuss a former student who had just been arrested for felony assault.  They were sad for him.  They were upset that he was going to jail.  The boys agreed that to defend a family member, they would do the same thing.  I chose that moment to lose it.  "Listen to yourselves.  Of course this is sad.  But let's for a moment be sad about the right things.  Let's be sad about the situation that led a boy to this moment.  Let's be sad for his victim, and maybe take a moment to think about having control over our instincts toward violence."  I wanted to scream.

We have these moments with these kids.  We have 48 moments every day to help them to become...and then they leave.  For some of them we have meant something.  Some of them will take one of those moments and live it and work it and make of it a life.  But others.  Others will leave and forget and let their lives be lived for them.  And some of them will be behind bars, and others will create their own cells, and every day that is what makes me sad.

Maybe it was good to be here today.  Maybe my son was okay with his wonderful teachers who are molding him and shaping his life.  Because when the bell rang, and I thought I had done nothing, I got another chance.  One of my students, the one who had loudly complained about having to watch a Ted Talk, stayed behind.  I looked at her and knew she was not okay.  I asked her to sit and her friend to shut the door and she told me her father (her heart, her rock, her only stable parent) just had open heart surgery last night and she had spent the night consoling her younger brother.  The tears came and I hugged her, completely there, not looking at my phone, not thinking about why I am hugging, or the effect of this hug, just being a stable adult in a world of instability.

This is why I came in today.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Faith and the 5 Year Old

One of my friends once brought it to my attention that children ask all of their toughest questions in the car.  They wait until you are most distracted and, of course, caged in a vehicle, to ambush you.  But my five year old seems to be especially crafty.  She’ll start off with easy questions.  “Mommy, why do I have to wear boots to jump in muddy puddles (thank you Peppa Pig for making this hobby so popular)?” “Because you don’t want to get your socks wet, silly girl!”  “Mommy, when will Joshy be my age?”  “In 2 ½ years.  But then you will be older too.”  “Oh.  Okay.  Mommy, did Joshy and I both come from your belly?”  “Yes.”  “So, did you make us?”  “Yes.  Mommy and Daddy made you” (uh oh…where is this going?)… “Oh.  But didn't God make us?”

There is silence.  Then the thud of my unreadiness for this moment drops squarely atop the car. 

Religion is a difficult subject for me.  I went to Hebrew school at a reform temple until 10th grade.  I had my Bat-Mitzvah, and when my parents gave me a chance to quit afterwards, I chose to stay on.  This decision was made not because I was devoted to Judaism, but instead because I had a crush on a boy whom I knew to be continuing as well.  I would get to hang out with him two evenings a week, and go on a retreat with him for a whole weekend.  I was not about to pass up that chance!
Generally, I have always been a passive bystander, when it came to religion.  I was never passionate enough or sure enough to be an atheist, never felt strongly enough to even call myself an agnostic.  

There are many things I like about religion.  I like the fact that it creates for me a smaller community within my community.  I like that it brings my family together around the table, at times when we are all too busy to do it on our own.  I even like going to temple events, when I know I will see people I may not see more than once or twice a year, and yet, at that moment, there will be recognition, shared history, and shared acknowledgement that we are a family, extended, but a family nonetheless.  Religion gives all of this to me, and this is nothing small.

But the question of God stops me in my tracks.  Can I consider myself Jewish if I also question his existence?  I think the very ability of its adherents to question, may be what makes Judaism so unique.  But it feels false, somehow, to me.  Like I am getting away with something. 

Obviously, my five year old daughter and I are not going to have this conversation.  We will not have it in the car, while my son cries for gummies and juice, and snow threatens and other cars pass me by.  So I search for the quick answer, and wonder at the same time, how I will discuss something that seems so simple to her, and yet is ultimately so complex for me.

I remember asking my brother-in-law how he dealt with the topic of religion with his own son and daughter.  I thought his response brilliant and very user-friendly!  He told me to learn three words: “Some people believe…”  And I have used these words on this most recent occasion, and many others as well.  “Some people believe that God created all of the beings on this planet, including, you and Josh, and all of the animals and plants and other people we see all around us.”  And this is fine as far as it goes.  I try to keep my voice neutral, so as not to belittle those other people, because I have no right to do so.  And more than that, I want my children to grow up with the choice of what to believe.  They will attend Hebrew school.  They will go to temple.  They will have both Jewish and non-Jewish friends, as I did.  We are lucky enough to raise them in a diverse community with a sizable Jewish population.  I realize this.  I am thankful for this.  But I still don’t know how to approach the larger problem of my own confusion.

I want the answer to be simple.  More than that, I want all of her questions to be simple.  But there is no simple answer for belief.  It fluctuates, when none of my other opinions do.  But she is 5, and I struggle to explain this to her.  And so, when she inevitably asks the follow up question: “But what do YOU believe?” I say that she and Josh came from my body, and that was a result of being made by her Daddy and by me (that is a discussion for another time), and that is why she looks like me, but wears glasses like Daddy, and why Josh looks like Daddy, but has my dramatic flair (well maybe some of that is from Daddy as well).  And for now, she is satisfied with this. 

However, I’m not sure that I am.  Or that I should be. 

Perhaps it is the teacher in me that wants to tell her to question.  I want my children to question everything they see, and especially anything that tells them what to see, or how to see.  I want them to know that though someone may claim to be an expert, that doesn’t take away from a child’s or a student’s or anyone’s right to question that expertise.  I want them to challenge dogma in all of its forms and to find their own ideology.  And I want them to know that it’s okay for that ideology to be a muddle of lots of different belief systems, and as long as they are honest with themselves, and keep questioning, they will be alright. 

So, for right now, maybe I am okay with the “Some people believe…” response, because it leaves an opening for her belief to grow and change.  And I will continue to try to remember that she is 5, and has probably already forgotten that the topic ever came up.

This post was previously published on Huffington Post at the following link:


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The word on the chalkboard

My daughter has figured me out.
It was only a matter of time.  This mother daughter relationship was always going to turn into a battle; It was always about survival of the fittest.  How could it be about anything else, when two intense personalities cut from the same genetic cloth enter the arena?
The battle has evolved over the 5 short years of my daughter's life.  I just didn't expect it to come this far, this fast.
She has learned that whining will not get her what she wants.
She knows I detest baby talk and coyness.
For awhile she took to yelling to get her way...she thought she could wear me down, her shouts burrowing into my brain, melting my resolve.
But I had the advantage of a house with many rooms.  She had the disadvantage of an abandonment complex.  I walked away.
I was still winning.  I felt good.  I felt strong.
Until recently...
Because recently her attack became personal.
I remember it like it was yesterday (okay, it was only three days ago).  I had just told her it was time to go home; we had to leave Grandma's house.  I expected the screaming.  I expected the refusals.  I expected the sobs.  But I did not expect this:

It's hard not to feel like I've been kicked.
It's hard not to gasp for air.
I am John Proctor, ready to hang, rather than give up his name for so petty a reason: (This is how I feel!)
But then, it was also hard not to laugh.  But I did not.  The moment required more of me than laughter.
She was looking at me.  She sat curled in her grandmother's arms, tears streaming from angry eyes, and awaiting my reaction.  This was a monumental moment.
I kept my face still, tightened my lips, closed my eyes and counted in my head.
I told her she had hurt my feelings and I told her to put on her shoes.
I was actually quite surprised at the brutality of the message.  With one swipe of the chalk, she had negated my existence, taken my power, and made her feelings abundantly clear.  Mommy is bad, Mommy is done.
I must have gotten through to her, because as I helped her to put on her coat, she apologized and said that she didn't know how mean it was.  She asked me to erase it so no one else would know (clearly keeping things confidential is not my strong suit).
We sang and laughed on the way home; she got over it the way she does every mood swing.  But it ate at me.  Though I erased the image from the chalkboard easel, I could not unsee it.  How quickly our children can sting us.  They know us so well, so completely, that in a moment of anger, they can diminish us.  And whether it is done with a flick of the wrist or a word on the tongue, we are lost.
Until the next battle.