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.