Monday, August 29, 2016

Oh Bon Appetit...You Lost Me

Published August 29, 2016 at Huffington Post

Dear Bon Appetit,
  You may have just lost me.  I have been, until today, a lover of all things you.  I subscribe to your magazine and gush over the pictures.  My husband and I shout recipe ideas over the sound of our screaming children.  "We should make this on Saturday," I'll say.  He'll agree and offer to make a list of whatever ingredients we may not have in our pantry.  We dream up dinner parties  as we page through each new edition.  And I love your emails.  My husband and I race to forward them to one and other.  "Subject: Tonight?"
  But I thought you understood me too.  I thought we were simpatico.  But now, I know, we are as far apart as Earth from the most recently identified planet with the possibility of life.  You just don't get me.  Today, I received this in my inbox: 30-quick-easy-school-lunches-to pack for kids.  I got excited.  My two children go to school.  My two children need lunch.  I need these lunches to be "quick and easy" as I am a teacher, who needs to be out of the house by 6:30.  I do not have time to labor over the oven in the morning.  I require speed and convenience.  I assumed that was what I was getting when I clicked on your oh so tempting link.  But, Bon Appetit, this time, you failed me.
  You gave me zucchini pancakes, and pinto bean and ham tortas.  You gave me vegetarian sushi and fresh herb falafel.  You gave me noodle salad with chile scallion oil.  You were wrong on so many levels, that it became hard for me to click through the slideshow of insanity.  It's not that my children don't like good food.  Well, at least one of them inherited our foodie genes.  My daughter eats raw oysters and crumbled blue cheese.  She loves tuna and avocado sushi.  But she is 6 and 1/2 and does not love spice.  So, chili oil, maybe not so much.  But it's not even the ingredients your recipes call for.  There is nothing quick or easy, or even lunch-box-compatible in these meals.  Is my daughter meant to know how to construct her own tofu summer roll out of lettuce, fresh basil, cucumbers and carrots, each placed neatly in their own adorable container?  And when exactly are my husband and I supposed to have the time to be stirring in "thinly sliced scallions (green parts), toasted sesame seeds, and chopped peanuts" to my daughter's "quick fried rice"?  This is, of course, ignoring the fact that my son eats only cream cheese sandwiches (to which you suggest adding sliced salami and pickles), or Wow butter and jelly sandwiches (because peanuts aren't allowed).  So, forgive me if I'm not seeing how this relates in any way to me, or any mother I know, for that matter.
  It pains me to say, that you may have lost touch with us "normals."  Our kids run around the kitchen island screaming, often naked, with a granola bar in one hand and their sibling's favorite stuffy in the other.  Their lunches consist of basic sandwiches.  These may include the gourmet turkey and cheese, with a vegetable/fruit pouch, and a bar of sorts.  I have bought sandwich rounds (circular bread) so that I don't have to take the time to cut off the crust for my son.  That is to say that our mornings are about survival.  They are about getting out the door.  They are about brushing teeth, wearing clothes that approximate the weather outside, and finding shoes.  Because, god knows, the pair is never together.  The right one is behind the chair, and the left is under the couch.  Or upside down at the bottom of the stairs.  Or under a bed in the wrong child's room.  
  Perhaps Gwyneth Paltrow is now doing your editing.  It is clearly no longer someone in touch with those of us who work, and don't have nannies. Because we are all about the basics.  We are all about just making it by the skin of our teeth through the mornings.  We are not making sweet potato and black bean burritos on a week day.  I'm not sure who is.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Great Divide

Published at 08/2016

When I started teaching English, I thought the job was about the books.  Don’t get me wrong, I was always in it for the kids, but I thought I was going to teach them to love books.  I thought I was there to instill in them a love of Literature.  But more and more I realized that the books were the tools, the wrenches and pliers, and it was my job to teach my kids to use those tools to build bridges between the kids and their world.
More than anything, my students need to understand how they connect to each other and how they can communicate that connection. 
Because, really, isn’t that the problem we have in our world today?  Watch the news.  I dare you.  It’s awful out there.  As the divide between the police and the people they protect grows, as the divide between those who have more and more, and those who have less and less grows, as the divide between the cultures we understand and those we do not grows (even as our world seems to shrink), the thing we are lacking is that basic human connection.
And so I try to teach my students to connect.  It starts with connecting to me.  From the first day of school, they learn my life.  I talk to them about my kids.  I talk to them about my beliefs.  No longer do they see a teacher who keeps her ideologies silent.  I am the first book they learn.  And because of that, we connect.  Then, they connect to each other.  We have discussions and debates.  We talk about the problems in the world.  We talk about the possibilities in the world.  We talk about books, but we focus on how they connect to our world.  What they can teach us about the people around us, and how they can help us empathize and reach out.
I grew up in this town.  I went to high school in this town, left for college and stayed away for another 5 years, and then I came back to this town to teach.  But, this town, my town, could be anywhere in the United States right now.  Every year we grow more diverse, not less.  Every year it becomes more and more important to find ways to sympathize if not empathize, to reach over the divide and find the similarity, the humanity, the “us” in the “other.”  When I was in high school in the ‘90s, my school was mostly white.  My classes were homogenous, and my friends were as well.  The connections were implicit.  Of course, there were cliques.  Of course kids were different from one and other, but my high school photos show a very different group of kids, from those of today.   
Looking around my tenth grade English class today, my former self would be shocked by the diversity.  Just shy of half the class are minorities, and the socio economic status of the kids runs the gamut.  This class is a microcosm of the larger world.  Yet, in my class they work together, in our cafeteria they eat together, in our hallways they mix and match in ways my younger self wouldn’t have thought possible.  So, the connections can happen. 
The problem comes when they leave.  Because though the world looks a lot like our school, the adults in their lives, and the adults they will meet, have not grown up going to schools like theirs.  They never learned to connect.  They learned to categorize and separate.  That is what they know. 
So, perhaps my students will be strong enough to overcome instead of be overtaken.  Hopefully one of the tools they will carry out of this building will build the bridge for my generation to walk over as well. 

Because, right now, all I see when I turn on the news is the great divide.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Lessons Learned

The other night I awoke at one in the morning and lay tossing and turning for an hour or so.  Many things raced through my mind as I tried to find comfort in my twisted sheets, but it wasn’t until I got up in the morning that I realized what really woke me up.  Another academic year is over.  I have seen my seniors for the last time,  and have watched them graduate into the lives they will lead; I have said goodbye to my younger students.  This year is a hard one to let go of, but not for the reasons you would think.
I have been teaching for 16 years, and this was the first year I spent any time on the computer searching for another career.  This year marked my moment at the crossroads.  I looked closely at my teaching, at my students, and at myself and wondered if there was anything else that I could do.  I never thought of leaving education entirely, mind you, just pondered where I could be more helpful.  Where I could enact the kind of change that would truly make a difference.  Because, in so many ways, and for so many reasons, I think we have forgotten that that’s why most of us enter this profession.  Yes, the job has changed.  We have become data crunchers and curriculum writers, editors, and re-writers.  We have become “accountable” to everyone and for everything, and the definition of accountability seems to be constantly in flux.  We have been told to raise our standards, make our courses more rigorous, and always to recommend every student for the toughest course possible.  Everyone takes AP English, but no one learns how to craft a letter to his boss, or craft a budget.  All of these anxieties about EDUCATION as an ideal, about EDUCATION as a concept, frustrated me and angered me throughout the year.  I lost two former students to gang violence and blamed it on our schools.  I sat through mind numbing professional development and got angrier.  Nothing seemed to be helping the students I most wanted to help.  What were we really doing here?  What was I doing at all? 
But today.  Today, I think of my students, the ones who struggled and the ones who soared, and I am flooded with joy at my choice of career.  I know each of these individuals.  Over the year, we have laughed so hard together (mostly at my life’s foibles, which I tend to hold up proudly for them day after day).  We have created nick names and in so doing created trust.  We have shared some brutally honest moments in discussing our world and ourselves.  I have learned toughness from some and compassion from others.  And I have watched them work, harder than they thought they could.  I have seen them strive.  In their last days of school, I saw their pride and I matched it with my own, and I knew finally and completely that I should not be anywhere else, doing anything else. I am exactly where I need to be, and this has been true all along.

Not everyone was born for a profession, but I was born to teach.  This is my life’s blood and that more than anything is the lesson of this year.  But even passion is a muscle that needs to be stretched.  When we get too comfortable, it reminds us through its throbbing pain that attention must be paid.  So this summer I will read and revamp and ready myself to attack another year with the emotion and excitement that comes with this renewed dedication to my job.  And little by little, the concept and ideals of EDUCATION will change, because so many of us are working from within our classrooms, in our own small ways to make sure that every child within our reach has what he needs to lead a life of excellence (whatever that may look like).  It’s worth it to remember that by changing the conversation in my classroom, I am changing the conversation in the world.  And that’s enough for this one teacher.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Expectations of a senior

Previously published on

Last week, on a daily basis, my seniors counted down the days and minutes until the end of the semester.  Daily they reminded me that school would cease to matter in 5, no 4, no 3 days and 100 minutes.  Daily I reminded them that I begged to differ.  But I and they knew the truth.  Second semester of senior year is something to be cherished.  It is something to be glorified.  They have worked and studied and waited, and now, today they will be rewarded.  Well, yes and no.  I will still hand them an article to read and annotate.  I will still expect them to think and discuss and write and, yes, work.  But the pressure is off.  I await their smiles as they float, weightless, into my room, and we will start the class by breathing into this next phase of life.  Because, in reality, for the last year and a half, many of them have been holding their breath.  I have watched as they filled out applications, took test after test, bubbling in the bubbles, checking and rechecking answers that grow more confusing the more they reread them, feeling their future weighing heavily on their shoulders, more heavy for the expectations of parents and teachers and administrators riding along.  But today, the boys will stretch out their long legs beneath desks that can barely contain them.  They will lean back into their seats.  The girls will smile and laugh just a bit more freely (always more contained than the boys who can not help but put it all out there, laughter too loud, but impossibly infectious), eyes glittering with the future in their view. 
I always avoided teaching seniors because of this time of year.  How would I keep them interested?  How would I keep them engaged?  As teachers, we crave the carrot on the end of the stick, but what is the carrot for the second semester senior?  It is freedom.  It is the world of adulthood.  These are things I can not give them, and only seem to be making more elusive as I force them to sit in my classroom, and somehow be present for 48 minutes, when they could be sleeping.  But what I have realized in the last two years of witnessing "senioritis" is that my expectations, as they usually are, were misguided.  Yes, they are excited, and impatient, and ready, so ready for the next phase of their lives to begin.  But many are also terrified, and nervous beyond any explanation, and ridden with anxieties as they gaze into the unknown.  Because until now, they have known what every minute of every day would hold.  We have fed to them the routines that shape them.  Each day follows a pattern much the same as the day before down to the minute.  They respond to bells and alarms and ref’s whistles and alerts on their phones.  They are trained to live in this world of understood patterns.
But next year is a world where alarms will ring only if set by them.  Routines will change and parents may not be there to remind them of their obligations to classes and sports and clubs.  They will oversleep and forget and miss due dates and have to address professors and deans themselves.  And they are terrified of who they are being somehow not enough to live this un-tethered life.  Because no matter how much confidence we have instilled in them, there is a tiny part in their brains, that says they are somehow not ready, woefully unprepared. 
So, in my class, we will talk about expectations.  We will read about authentic experiences, and what it means to truly be in the moment.  We will write about their prepackaged expectations of college life, and we will talk about the possible pitfalls of those expectations.  Because life is about what we think will happen paving the way for what will really happen.  I will listen closely to them so that I can find the words behind the words revealing their anxieties, and I will speak to those with confidence and laughter, and I will let them know that they are prepared. They are enough.  And if for some reason, they are not, there are protections in place, and homes and arms ready to offer them what they lack. 

When it comes down to it, it is all about our expectations after all.  If our expectations are realistic, then our reality will not surprise us with its sharp edges when we fall.  


It is amazing the amnesia (mom-nesia?) that hits at the end of most days. Consider this: We are on a family vacation with my parents. On Monday, my husband and father went to play golf.  My mother and I stayed with my two kids, who are 5 1/2 and 3 years old.  The day was pure insanity from the get go. There was screaming and toys were broken.  There were tantrums and tears and punches and bites.  Some from the kids, others not so much.  We did not make it to the beach until 11, though preparations started much earlier.  My mother adores my children, always and forever, until she has had enough and reserves the right to close her eyes, sigh, and leave them to me.  She's earned the privilege of ignoring them at their worst, and then some.  But I digress; by noon, I felt I had lived through three days at the very least, and there was so much time before the monsters went to bed...My 3 year old's horrible behavior continued unabated and when I finally cracked, it was the sand throwing that did it.  Though that was the least of the problem behaviors of the day. I picked him up, put him in the wagon and dragged him back to the house (by the handle of the wagon, not by his sandy locks, though I was tempted), where he refused to nap for 45 minutes. When we woke up from our much needed nap...something had happened.  The air had shifted.  My chest felt suspiciously lighter, like it wasn't holding back the screams of generations of mothers.  I could breathe, and looking over at my son, I noticed that he too felt it.  He was giggling and suddenly I was laughing and there was a ball and toys and playing and merriment and when my husband got home and offered to watch the kids while my mom and I went out to dinner, I actually found myself protesting!
I mention all of this, because, as every mother knows, it is not an anomaly.  Every mother suffers from (sometimes debilitating) mom-nesia.  It gets in the way of our drop offs, and time outs.  It gets in the way of dinner reservations and drinks with friends.  It is a problem.
There are points during many of my days, when all I want is space to breathe.  All I want is time away from my attention needing, constantly fighting, mommy calling, children.  But by the end of a nap, or a glass of wine or a hug-cuddle-tickle session, mom-nesia kicks in again, and all seems right with my crazy little world.  It is not news that we forget the pain and horrors of childbirth, but no one told me about the day to day forgetfulness that allows me to continue this job.  Oh yes, there are moments...moments when I want to get in my car and drive.  When I want to scream and curse and shake and growl.  When I want to just give up.  But then we are on a beach and they are running after each other and laughing. They are lying in the wet sand, letting the waves crash over them, and they are pure unadulterated joy and I can not imagine any other life.  There are moments when we are in our house amidst a chaos of toys and they are moving chairs and stuffies and blankets and jumping and spinning and creating rules that make no sense to my adult ears, and I am entranced on the stairs, for once not waiting for the next shedding of tears, or the next scream, because I am seeing their hearts and loving their noise and I am thankful, so thankful for the now.  And the screaming of five minutes ago, which was so intense and angry is just...gone.  But the most amazing element of this psychosis (if it's not listed in the DSM, it should be!) is that when I do get away, when I take my husband up on the chance for a drink or a day off or moment alone, when the babysitter has been hired, or playdate arranged, mom-nesia really kicks in.  The scene may be blissful; I am on a terrace, high above the sea, glass of white grenache in my hands, crab dip at my fingertips, and a confidant across the table.  But I am thinking of their smiles, and that freckle above her right eyebrow.  I am wondering if they are engaged or zoning out.  Are they missing me or playing at a high pitch, mommy far from their minds?  And when given the option for more time away, or time to go back, the psychosis answers for me.
Take me home.

This New Year's Eve

Previously published on

This New Year's Eve, you are six and your brother is 3 1/2.  Your mom is 39 and your dad is 47.  We will all be here together tonight , but unlike last year and the year before, we've decided to celebrate this one without any hoopla.  This year will be just us.  Our family, in our house.  I may do some clean up of toys and perhaps even some vacuuming, but there will not be the chaotic straightening up that comes when people are coming over.  I have done the dishes, so that we can begin defiling them again when your father gets home from work.  I have warmed the extra room, so that we can all be together on the same floor as your dad and I cook, and that is probably all I will do right now.  I have thought about putting up decorations, and perhaps we will do that in a bit, but right now, I am enjoying the quiet.  The end of this year deserves quiet.
It has been a tumultuous year in some ways, and yet, looking back, I cannot put my finger on any one thing that happened.  We were in many ways, just us, a family, firmly ensconced in the middle class of a wealthy state in a relatively well off nation.  We hit some financial bumps, where we questioned the way we were choosing to live, and while your dad and I got a bit snarky with one and other, we did not let it rock us.  I have faith that your father will keep my accounts balanced in all ways figuratively and literally, and I reminded him of that when he needed it.  I have faith in him.  I have faith in us.  There were days when I worried about you as you passed milestone after milestone.  But, while relishing in each new success, your first soccer trophy, your first lost tooth, chapter books begun, and math equations finished, you didn't let a single disappointment mar your day.  You have found your stride, and I am in awe of your pace as you wind your way through this life.  I could spend time worrying about your brother's smash 'em bash 'em lifestyle, but I have chosen to seek comfort in his morning and evening snuggles, and his silliness.  He is quick like his big sister, learning his ABC song, and recognizing more numbers and letters every day.  He is very much three years old with his temper and his attempts to control the world around him aggressively, but he is also filled top to bottom with love for his family, and hugs and kisses, and quick "I love you" check ins, when he can't find one of us.  As they were and are for you, his transgressions are easy to forgive.  He would follow you anywhere, and you must remember this as you and he will be each other's touchstones throughout your lives.  You will always be his first idol.  Be careful with him.  He is more fragile than he appears.  We all are.
Outside of our family, things were more driven by confusion and chaos.  This is one of the reasons I am happy to put up our family shield, enclose us in our bubble and ignore the rest.  There has been unrest everywhere I looked this year, and while I can't and won't shield you from it, we have kept it from you for now.  Friends have gotten sick, and gotten better.  Families have dissolved, and ties have weakened.  My understanding of our small and larger world seems to grown foggier.  There is so little clarity in the violence of our cities and suburbs.  I pose question after question, and find no answers. But if there is any lesson I can take away from this year, is that it all comes down to where you choose to lay your faith.  It seems to me the safest place to put it, is in the people you hold close, but never all in one person's hands.  Because some will misuse it.  Some will get greedy with it, assuming it can not be destroyed.  But faith is tenuous at best.  It must be cradled, and often rocked.  It must be soothed when need be.  It must be reminded that the one who holds it is deserving.  It is a precious gift.
So my beautiful daughter, this New Year's Eve, place your faith in me, and your father, but not only in us.  Give some to the magic of your world.  I am jealous of your forceful belief in the tooth fairy and Santa, but I am also jealous of your passionate faith in the adults of your world.  You have given your teachers, and your parents and your grandparents the gift of being superheroes in your life.  So, here's to your faith in all those around you.  May we all regain a bit of it just by being near you this year, and may we all remain deserving of it always.

Have I destroyed parenting for my younger friends?

Previously published on

Don't get me wrong.  I don't believe that I am so important in the lives of my millennial friends that I am the deciding factor in whether or not they have kids.  But I have been watching them, and I am wondering.
My generation, those of us born in the '70s, seem to have the loosest lips when it comes to parenting. Some time in the last decade, people started telling the truth.  We started talking about the sleeplessness, the frustrations and the reality that sometimes, even though, we love our children (and we do...we really really do), we don't like them at every moment of every day.  Because frankly, they can drive us to the brink of insanity, and pull us back a moment later.
But I worry.  Because at work, my younger friends see my exhaustion.  When they ask me about it, I tell them that Josh threw tantrums for an hour before bed, again...that Abby is 6 going on 14 and fights me with every ounce of her being, about nothing and everything.  That every morning, just getting them dressed and out the door is a feat of extraordinary heroism.  That Josh clings to me, as his nose runs, and he coughs his craggy cough, and I just want two minutes of me time to do a push up (just one) or read a sentence from my book or stare blankly at the television screen, but if I do leave him alone, even with his sister, within minutes (sometimes seconds) there will be screaming and the sound of something (someone?) falling. And most of the time I just want to scream. I tell them these things, and maybe I shouldn't.
But it's not just me.  I don't believe that I am that powerful.  But there are blogs, and essays ad infinitum from moms and dads, preaching to the world about just how hard this job is...and strangely enough, these young 30 year-olds smile at my tired eyes, give me a hug, and put off having babies for another year, maybe two.
Would I have done it, had I known?  Would I have read all of these blogs, and still had my two monsters?  I think I would have.  But then, I even refused to read What to Expect When You're Expecting, because it was too honest for me.  I didn't want to know what could happen.  I figured I'd learn about it when it did happen.  Now, the truth is so much harder to avoid.  As a mom, I love that the truth is out there.  I love that I can read about others going through what I am, and feel less isolated.  I love that I can speak to my mom friends and hear about the horrors of their mornings, and somehow feel like I can make it through the day now, too.  I especially love that when I did a search on the internet about why my three year old was refusing to swallow his food, leaving it clumped and chewed in his cheek for later investigation, I found story after story from parents experiencing the same thing.  No one had an answer, but I no longer felt like my child was a complete freak.  It was a phase, and he would get over it (which, thank goodness, he has).
But are we giving these millennials too much information, or is it just enough for Darwin to do his thing?  Maybe we need a bit more survival of the fittest when it comes to parenting?  I don't know, but for now, I like that we're all talking.

Perfection VS Goodness

Previously published on

I was thinking today about stress and anxiety and our never ending search for perfection from ourselves and those around us and came across this quote by John Steinbeck: “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good” (East of Eden). Steinbeck’s words stopped me in my tracks, as they usually do.  But I am an English teacher and a writer and I am often left speechless by the language of the greats.  What if we taught our kids not to be perfect, but to be good?  What if we could somehow got away from the competition, from the endless hunt for excellence, and could teach them that being good was more important than being better?  How might that look?  I think the world would look as it does through the eyes of a first grader.  I think it would be beautiful. 
I was watching television with my daughter the other night and she asked why one of the characters was having nightmares about school.  I said that she was worried about not doing well on a test.  Abby looked at me as though I was crazy.  “But she can just do better the next time.  The teacher will give her lots of chances.  They always do.  They want her to do better.”  I hugged her tightly and said that she was right, of course she was right.  Every day is a new chance to do better. 
Abby has not realized, yet, that she is already being set against her classmates in competition.  Her teacher sends home a weekly math sheet filled with addition practice and asks parents to time their kids and mark down how many they did in 5 minutes.  Abby has not thought to check herself against her classmates, to see if she got as far as, or farther than her friends.  It would never cross her mind.  But soon enough it will.  Soon enough a friend will ask to see her work.  They will start comparing, and Abby will want to be better, or will get frustrated that her friend completed more than three rows or five rows or however many rows.  Soon enough, doing the work for the sake of understanding will no longer be acceptable.  She will begin to seek perfection. 
And really, I am torn.  I want her to be her best.  I want her to strive for better from herself always, because that will be her true education.  But I don’t want her to lose the joy of learning to the competition, because it is the rare soul who has both.  Once in a while I meet a student who still just loves to learn.  I have one in mind now.  I taught him for two years and always felt that he was not entirely of our world.  He finds joy in everything, and the more he knows, the more his curiosity grows.  He is so very present in all aspects of his life, and I am utterly in awe of this young man.  But I think he has managed this love of life and learning in spite of, not because of school.  He spent many of his school years in another country, and came here for high school only.  Maybe this is why he does not have that edge, that sharpness, that ache to be better than the rest.  Maybe this is why he is able to always float above the fray.  He has not been taught to compete with anyone but himself.  At his very center is tranquility.  And most of us, who can not claim this same serenity, are drawn to the few who can.  It is so foreign, so mysterious.

Because at my center is a nervous ball of energy.  It radiates chaos that I must control and keep in check, but it also gives me strength to keep moving, keep striving, keep working, keep competing.  I can sense that Abby’s center is my own, that she will have to search for peace to balance out her chaos. As long as she knows she only has to best herself, that perfection ends the journey, and goodness is the goal, then I will feel as though I too have done my best for her.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Don't Quit

It is time to lift each other up.  No one else will do it.  If we do not praise each other, if we do not remember that we are a community stronger in our numbers than alone, than we lose.  Our numbers are beginning to fall as it is.  All over the country the numbers of people entering teacher preparatory programs are diminishing. You can see it here.  Those in the profession warn others away, and even our most well known and well respected educator, Nancy Atwell, told her audience that they should not become teachers (here).  It is too hard, too unforgiving, too under-compensating.  There is reason in all of this.  But those of us who are already teachers, are in it.  We are here, and more than ever, we need to remember why.  So let me remind you.
Teachers are the absolute best people I know.  They are generous, giving up free time to talk to any student at any time.  They will answer phone calls, respond to emails, edit student work, cover classes, and make copies for absent teachers, even when they know there are a million other things that need doing at that exact moment, all equally urgent.  They will do it all for no extra compensation.  They will do it all knowing full well that they make the same salary 15 years into their job, as many professionals do just starting out. You would be lucky to meet one person who is as good, as understanding, or as open in any other job.  I know this to be true.
Perhaps they are crazy.  Perhaps they should be fighting and refusing to do the extra pieces that those above them keep demanding.  Perhaps they should teach their classes, close their doors, and watch the clock.  Isn't that the perception anyway? 
But the teachers I know, and I consider myself blessed to know so many, live and breathe their jobs.  We raise other people’s children along with our own, and know that each one of them carries a piece of us wherever they go.  That’s our compensation.  We know that we are creating and molding and changing and developing the people who will lead our country, as well as those who will be its backbone and brain in our own lifetime.  We are exposing them to ideas and dreams and characters and passions they might not find if not for us.  That’s our compensation.  We are fighting for them when others will not.  We are fighting their apathy, their anger, and their ignorance, and replacing it with energy, hope and knowledge, and we are doing it even when we are at our lowest.  Because we know that when we are not here, there is no substitute for us.  There may be a body in our chair, but that body is not the one whom our kids rely on.  We know that, and we worry about it every moment that we are not present.  Because this job allows for no true days off.   
This does not mean that we should not fight.  This does not mean that we should not demand, loudly, that we deserve more because we have earned it.  We should yell at the top of our voices, united in our volume, that test scores are numbers, and numbers are not the faces we teach, or the imaginations we spur, or the hope we inspire.  They are only numbers and they change with the day.  We should question.  All the time.  We should question the evaluators who have not stood in our shoes.  We should question the ratings based on seven minutes of an evaluation that someday may determine our pay, or our "worth."  We should remember that every day we tell our students to question the world around them, and we should do no less.
So, teachers, feel free to get angry at the changes coming our way.  Rage at the initiatives, and the meetings, and the lack of understanding of all you do, which comes at you from all sides.  But know that your colleagues all over the country stand with you as you push and pull and work those students.  We are here too.  Let us fuel your imagination when you feel empty, as my colleagues do every day for me.  Let us be your backbone when you don’t feel like you have the strength to stand up to one more parent, or one more principal.  Reach out to us.

But don’t you quit.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Insomnia and the Stay at Home Mother

Published @  December, 2015

I told a friend of mine the other day, that just as the saying goes, “You don’t know what you can do until you try,” there should also be one that says “You don’t know what you CAN’T do until you try.”  This summer, I learned what I can’t do.  I can’t be a stay at home mother to my two children.  Physically, I can, but mentally, not so much.  I can stay at home with one child.  I could do that for a while (and did this summer, much to my surprise, succeed in staying home with my 3 year old with no mental detriment to either of us).  But staying home with both of my children was altogether too difficult a thing for me to master.
I have mentioned this to other mothers my age, with kids of similar ages, and gotten lots of different responses, but without a doubt, it is always the mother who hasn't done it, who sighs and says "But that's the holy grail!"  I smile and say that I guess it isn't for me.
The funny thing about all of this, is that this shouldn't have come as a surprise. I have always loved working, and have never been great with needy people.  This is not the best of all possible combinations for a stay at home mother.
And yet, when I couldn't do it, and up until very recently, I viewed it as a massive failure.  Deep in my mind, where my nagging insecurities hold sway over all else, I couldn't help but hear the chant of "bad mother...bad mother."  Did it mean that I didn't love them enough?  That they were somehow getting the shortest end of the stick by being my children?  I have wanted to be a mother for my whole life, waited, getting more and more frustrated to meet the man who would be the father of my children, and here I was.  I had achieved the dream!  I had the husband and the son and the daughter.  I had the house in the town where I grew up, near parks and playgrounds.  But it somehow wasn't enough for me. Or maybe it was too much.   
This whole issue came as a surprise to me.  I am a person who believes that she can do everything.  With a little practice, I feel that I can be at least average at anything I set my mind to.  When the daycare called and said that we could take my son out for the summer, with his place for the fall intact, I jumped at the chance.  I don’t often get to be the one bringing money-saving news to my husband.  There was a tiny seed of doubt digging itself in in that aforementioned part of my brain, but I easily ignored it, as summer was months away, and I am his mother, after all.  This should come naturally.  We went ahead and signed my daughter up for camp for the month of July, leaving me with both children for two weeks (yes, only two weeks…how could I fail at that?), before we took a family vacation, and then we all went back to school and work. 
After a few weeks of summer passed, and Josh and I fell into an easy routine of lazy mornings, and swimming afternoons, I was feeling pretty good.  I could do this.  I was doing it!  But in the evenings, that tiny seed of doubt began to grow.  I would pick Abby up from camp, and the fighting would begin.  But, I rationalized, camp was tiring.  She has always been difficult when tired.  This did not foreshadow anything.  I stomped on that larger shoot of doubt.  We would be fine.
As the impending weeks grew closer, I tried to plan a couple of day trips.  But if the whole point of this exercise was to save money, I couldn’t justify more than a couple.  Okay.  We would all just go to the pool in the afternoons.  We could continue the schedule Josh and I had already grown used to.  But Abby did not want to go to the pool. When I took her, she got cold too easily and too quickly.  She wanted to do indoor things.  She wanted to stay home.  She wanted the iPad.  Josh wanted to go to the pool.  He wanted to blow bubbles.  He wanted the iPad.  It got to the point that the night before, with no activities planned, I would start to get anxious.  I would lie in bed, awake, so awake.  I am an insomniac by nature, but never to this extent.  Once a year, I go through a three-day streak of sleeplessness.  But this was ridiculous.  Every night, the same thing.  Even when a doctor prescribed sleeping medication, I couldn’t sleep.  This was unheard of!  What’s odd is that I wasn’t lying there thinking about, or worrying about my kids.  One night I just couldn’t get “The Golden Girls” theme song out of my head.  Other nights I grew angry listening to my husband snore.  I moved to the couch, but there were so many sounds, and there was light everywhere.  But most nights it was just blankness, and no sleep.  I knew it was anxiety when my heart started speeding up the minute I lay down.  But I still didn’t tie it to my children.  And, rapidly, things got worse.  Because now, I wasn’t just trying to entertain my children for 12 hours a day, but I was doing it on one or two hours of sleep.  I was shaky, and short tempered.  I felt sick much of the day.  Everything made me angry.  Sounds and smells were intensified.  I screamed at Abby for dragging her feet in the grocery store.  The scraping sound was making me crazy.  It filled my brain.  She seemed confused.  I can’t blame her. 
Finally I went to a sleep specialist. 
He made me cry.  I hadn’t really done that yet.  He made me talk.  I hadn’t done that either.  He asked me to point to the emotion I felt most often, and I pointed, shakily, to scared.  My finger seemed drawn there of its own accord.  And I finally admitted, “I am scared…all of the time.”  He asked about my schedule.  I went through each day since I had stopped sleeping.  It was not until that moment that I realized that the insomnia started when I became a temporary stay at home mother to my two children.  He sat with me for 2 hours.  I had expected him to tell me to try yoga, to cut out caffeine and alcohol, and to breathe deeply.  He told me to go back to work.  He told me to find me time.  He told me it was okay not to be everybody’s everything all of the time. 
I didn’t sleep better that night.  I wish it were that simple.  But a couple of nights later, when we were on vacation, and the kids were not falling asleep, I broke down crying, and really talked to my husband.  He listened, dealt with the kids, as he had been doing each and every night since this began, and finally, that night I slept. 
I cannot be a stay at home mother to my two children.  I can be a working mom (I do that pretty well), and a wife, and a teacher, and a daughter, and a person I am proud of in most respects. 

But for me, the holy grail is balance, and I'm still trying to learn that lesson.