September 29th, 2014

Riding Without Training Wheels

“It was an extraordinary beauty of the kind she most admired, dark, large-eyed, with that quality which, since she hadn’t got it herself, she always envied – a sort of abandonment. as if she could say anything, do anything…” — Mrs. Dalloway

I’m 15 and on top of the three meter diving board. I’m standing backwards, unable to see the water and only able to hear the coach telling me that I’ll be ok. That I just lean myself backwards in the same way that I’ve nearly mastered on the one meter. I stand, my heels dripping over the edge of the board, willing myself to just go. To let myself fall backwards into the water as I have so many times from lower heights.

There’s a boy next in line. He’s 8 or 9, fearless – jumping and diving and smiling the whole way through each stinging slap on the surface of the water.

Every time I watch him take his turn I think that I should be less afraid. I’m older and wiser. And terrified.

The Augusts of my childhood were spent on the side of the pool. I dangled my feet in, sometimes stood on the steps and splashed around. I could be occasionally coaxed in further with a tube around my waist. But mostly I stood off to the the side and watched everyone else lose themselves to the joy of swimming.

Until I was in 7th grade, I couldn’t swim. It wasn’t until a dear friend gently coaxed me into the deep, until it was too much to watch the tiny kids hold their breath and kick their feet and go, that I finally, somehow, got the guts to do something that I had grown more and more afraid that I would never learn.

Two years later I’m on the high dive telling myself that I have to do it. I have to dive backwards into the deep water. I can’t let an 8 year old know that he’s so much braver than I am.

I crouch down, hold the sides of the board with my hands. It’s more stable that way. I’m not so high up.

I roll back and I hit the water with absolutely no grace.

 

******

Fast forward twenty years and I’m standing on the sidewalk of a city park, my six year old in tears in front of me. The training wheels came off her bike a few months back, but then we went on vacation and the heat set in, rendering any prolonged outdoor activity pretty miserable. Today is supposed to be the day she masters her bike with two wheels. It’s supposed to be fun, but instead, just like I was so many years ago, she’s scared.

I want to let her quit, let her just get back in the car and drive home, but I can’t. I talk to her about not knowing how to swim. About watching from the sidelines. About getting older and more afraid. About learning, finally, to trust myself.

We move forward towards the grass still wholly unsure. She comments on all the four-year-olds zipping past on their two wheels. She feels scared and shamed that they are younger and already adept at what she thinks she cannot do.

I’ve been exactly there, I tell her. I know how you feel, I tell her.

I guess I remember it so well because that looking on from the side, that feeling too cautious, that yearning to be in the middle but not having the guts to push myself there, it seems so much a part of who I was for so long – who I still am on many days. I see others just go out and claim what they want, put big words and big dreams out into the open, run after it all with so much self-assurance. Part of me is envious. Part of me knows now that’s just not who I am. On rare days, however, I spy in myself the beauty of abandonment.

And some days I see it in her too.

In the shade on the lawn she lets her dad push her as she pedals forward, as she suddenly, on her own two wheels, rides away without even realizing it. Pedaling faster and faster, over the bumps of the grass, she rides.

I watch her and I’m in awe.

 

 

DallowayAbandonment

 

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September 18th, 2014

Handwriting and Handwringing

She’s sitting on the bathroom counter with a book propped in her lap. She’s holding the tiny sparkly pen she earned out of the prize box at school last week and I’m giving her words to spell. The lines on her paper don’t match the lines on the paper from school – the blue and red lines, some solid and some dotted, the lines meant to guide her towards understanding of which letters are tall and which are short and how they should all look in relation to one another.

“Cat,” I say, and she sets off to make the c and a the same short size and the t a bit taller.

She insists these words I’m throwing her way are too easy, so I ask her to spell soap (she gets it wrong) and driveway (she gets it right).

She tells me which letters should be tall and which ones short. She sounds out the words and hears the sounds they make roll off her tongue and then slip onto the paper in their assigned shapes.

She’s practicing her handwriting and her spelling.

This isn’t her homework. This is her pleasure.

*****

I picked her up today at 5 from her after school art program. She was outside with her teacher and the rest of the class, wandering in the huge city park with the skyline looming behind her. They were making a movie, writing scenes with fairies and robots and I forgot what else. Their first grade excitement was palpable as I saw them walking towards me. “Our story is awesome!” one of them screamed. “The whole world should see it!”

Yesterday she had been picked up from a computer lab where she was using a program to animate stick figures on the screen.

Last week she made three dimensional art using clay and paper and cardboard.

She always asks to stay late. And we’ve been obliging her despite the fact that I can’t really imagine a six year old wanting to be at school from 7:45 until 5. But she does and she’s handling it well and she’s doing pretty amazing stuff.

*****

Ken is out tonight and I am tired from a cold I’ve somehow caught only three weeks in to school. Rather than torturing myself with the thought of cooking dinner, we went out to a restaurant where we sat, the three of us, in a huge booth and I let the kids eat breakfast for dinner because why not.

We ate and paid our bill and ran in the rain over to the half-priced book store where we stocked up on superhero books and all of the Cam Jansen’s Nora has yet to read, which isn’t many.

We got home and Nora ran off to start reading.

“Wait!” I said. “You have to finish your homework!”

“Ugh. But I want to read.”

“I know, but you have to finish. It’s due back tomorrow.”

“I hate homework,” she said as she moped over to the dining room table.

Homework came home with her on Monday – a scavenger hunt for doubles around our house and neighborhood, a language arts worksheet asking her to write about the beginning, middle and end of a book, a social studies page asking her to write about a family tradition and a double-sided math worksheet that was marked as a challenge.

Monday she was excited to do homework. It was her very first homework ever to be assigned. Guess what she did first? The challenge. She struggled through it, thought it was fun. Then she moved on to the doubles sheet since that is the one that was actually due back to class. It was engaging since it asked her to look around the house and outside, just to notice things that have always been there from a slightly new perspective (what all good education should do, I believe). Then she stopped and we pretty much forgot about it until today.

She’s in bed now. The one paper to bring back tomorrow is done – she had actually finished it on Monday we realized. But the story paper, the beginning, middle and end paper is blank. She didn’t want to do it and I didn’t want to make her. She did the same one at school last week and did it really well. It didn’t seem like something I thought she really needed to practice.

Here’s the thing about this, though. I always, every. single, day. did my homework. All of it. All the time. And if I forgot it at home or accidentally left off one part, I was devastated. Upset. Chances are I probably cried about it.

But now, as a parent, as a teacher who reads so much educational research that says homework is of no value and probably of some harm to young kids in their education, I couldn’t make her do it. I know that kids might be better off with no homework – “that there are no academic benefits to homework for kids in primary grades”. I know that parents report better attitudes towards school and learning in general when a school assigns no homework to the youngest students. I know that there is immense value to reading at home daily.  I know that there is some value to homework as students get older, as they need to practice more complex skills. But we aren’t there yet.

So while part of me wanted her to finish every sheet in that homework packet because it is what I would have done. Because even looking at it sitting blank over there makes me nervous. I didn’t make her. Instead I let her tell me more about the awesome movie she is making with her friends. I took her to a bookstore to get more books. I let her practice spelling and handwriting because she wanted to. I let her read three chapters of her new book in her bed, headlamp shining on the pages like it does every night – not because it is homework, but because reading is awesome.

I’m not sure what I’ll do when she has more homework or when the paper in question is the one that is supposed to go back to the teacher. I like to think that I’ll stand up against homework that is just a worksheet and up for the learning that happens organically around here every night. I like to think that she’ll only get homework that matters, that helps her see things in a new way. I like to think I won’t force my compulsion to do it all and do it perfectly onto her. But I’m not so sure. I guess we’ll just see what happens when the time comes. But for now, the worksheet is staying blank.

Handwriting and Handwringing

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September 8th, 2014

Turning It Round In the Light

“…the power of taking hold of experience, of turning it round, slowly, in the light.” — Mrs. Dalloway

I make lunches at night now. For six years I’ve resisted spreading peanut butter on bread, pouring goldfish into bags, cutting fruit into bite-sized pieces every evening. I know why.

It feels a bit like torture.

I stand at the kitchen counter and I think about all that is ahead. I think of all the to-dos that tomorrow will bring. The unfinished papers waiting to be graded. The inevitable morning struggle over clothing or shoes. The meetings I’ll have to squeeze in. The groceries I need to buy.

Making lunches at night is supposed to make me feel more prepared. It’s supposed to earn me time and peace the next morning. It’s supposed to make me feel like a responsible adult.

But instead it just makes me anxious and a little bit mad.

Every night lately I wonder why I just don’t go back to the old way. To making them in the morning in a bit of a rush, to accidentally getting jelly on my shirt and having to hurry up and change. To sitting the night before with a blank screen and words and thinking instead about the good that’s passed and not ahead to all the rest that sits undone.

For some reason I keep making the lunches at night.

*****

We are watching My So Called Life. I just watched this one yesterday, I think every time we press play on a new episode. But I didn’t; I watched it 20 years ago. It just seems like yesterday.

Yesterday I was Angela Chase, dying my hair a deep shade or red/purple to stand out and fit in and find myself. Or, at least I tried to – the color never really took. Yesterday I was worried about what I wore and who was looking at me and what if the English teacher asked me a question in class and I didn’t answer it well?

Today I am the English teacher. My hair is my natural color and my natural frizz and maybe one day I’ll have time or care to do something to it again, but today is not that day.

I watch Angela Chase and Brian Krakow and Jordan Catalano and I remember being them and there and slamming my locker and feeling awkward and writing in my diary instead of on a blog.

It’s different now, watching it from a totally new world. I am Angela searching for myself and I am her mother worrying about her and I am the teacher wondering how best to find Ricky help.

*****

I get in the car in the afternoon and it is so hot I feel like my skin might start to melt. The air blowing out of the vents seems like a cruel joke until finally it decides to live up to its name and air condition the space. I wait in the line of cars to leave my parking lot and feel the sweat start to drip. I wonder when the first days of relief will come.

I walk into Miles class to pick him up and he’s always busy. He’s playing with puzzles or blocks or sitting and listening to a book. He’s happy. And as soon as he sees me, he leaves his spot to run at top speed into my arms and hug me with a might I never imagined would feel like the biggest gift of every day. He kisses me on the cheek and reaches up to hold my hand as soon as I put him down.

We walk hand in hand to the hot car and I buckle him in, careful not to let the hot metal of the buckles touch his skin in the process. He talks at me as I buckle, as I close the door and walk around to my side. He’s full of words these days. And with each one he speaks I start to feel lighter.

He tells me he loves me. He laughs at himself as he relays stories of he and his friends being silly. He screams with joy as we pass school buses and city buses and his favorite – the fast bus.

The fast bus is never moving. Ken or I told him a few weeks ago about the new city bus that stops near our house – it is faster and can change the lights. They were running so many buses by our street, training the drivers on the new routes. We must have talked about it and he listens to everything and soaks it in.

“THE FAST BUS!” he screams with pure joy.

“There it is.” I say.

“But it’s not going bery fast,” he points out.

“It’s picking up people,” I say.

“And then it will go fast. It’s learning how. Buses need to learn too.”

Turning It Round In The Light

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September 1st, 2014

And I’ll Trust

On Monday she forgot.

I wrote it down. I spoke it aloud. Clear directions. 10:30 and 2:30. Please give her the inhaler.

She didn’t.

On Tuesday I was still beyond mad. I marched into the nurse’s office and asked how she dared. How did she dare to forget my girl. And her breathing? How dare she make me feel ignored?

She blamed the teacher.

I told her that wouldn’t fly.

She didn’t know what to say.

She didn’t forget again.

But neither have I. I haven’t forgotten the sound of her cough, the one she gets now only every so often. The one she used to get too frequently. The one that led us to doctor’s visit upon doctor’s visit,  that had us sitting on the couch watching videos while she inhaled air through the nebulizer. I haven’t forgotten the way she gasps between breaths when it’s bad, the sounds of her wheezing and rasping. I haven’t forgotten the first time it happened all of a sudden, out of the blue, shockingly fast. The rush for the inhaler and the steamy air of the bathroom with the shower running.

All week I kissed her goodbye at her classroom door, sent her in to settle her things, turned to go and remind the nurse that she must never forget. That she shouldn’t need reminding. That this is indeed her job. I reminded and then I left.

Trusted.

And I worried

All week I went to my classes, my first classes, summoned my best teacher energy, looked at the students in front of me grateful for their smiles and their cooperation and their questions. The distraction from my worry.

Worrying is exhausting.

Tomorrow, rested from a long weekend, I’ll send her off again. Send her off with a cough that’s subsiding, that doesn’t need constant medication. I’ll send her off and I’ll worry less. I’ll remind her to take care of herself, to speak up for what she needs. I’ll meet the eye of the teacher who understands a mother’s worry.

I’ll kiss her goodbye and send her into class.

And I’ll trust.

Worrying

 

 

 

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August 18th, 2014

My Teacher Summer

One family vacation.

More reading for pleasure than I’ve done in years.

Many afternoons at the pool.

Two week-long workshops.

Two professional texts read and annotated.

Many half-days at school

     working on schedules

          and interviews

               and materials.

A week of planning for next year.

 

“Are you sad it’s over?” They ask.

“Aren’t you lucky to have three months off,” they say.

Usually I answer that of course I’m a little sad that summer is over. Aren’t we all?

But I’m also a little glad. Because it is time and just like any other parent, I can think of many many reasons that going back to the routine of the school year is a good thing right about now.

And, really, if you know a teacher, you know that we don’t really have the summer “off” as much as people like to believe. We keep working and learning and planning. We travel and we read for pleasure, yes. But I would argue that time – to simply read for the joy of it and to explore life from some new perspectives – is some of the most valuable professional development I could have given myself this summer.

And this summer? It’s been an amazing one.

 

 

My Teacher Summer

 

Want to help me better inspire readers this year? You can click on over to donors choose and give any amount – large or small – to help some of the struggling readers I’ll teach this year know that reading is so much more than just a chore for a test. (And if you feel so inclined to donate in the next 7 days, enter the code INSPIRE and donors choose will match your contribution!)

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August 7th, 2014

I’m The Mom Who (Still) Cries On Daycare Move-Up Day

“Why are you crying, Mom?” Nora asked as I buckled her in the car seat.

“I don’t really know,” I told her. Because, truthfully, I don’t really know why I was crying.

Today was Miles’ last day in his class at daycare. On Monday he will move up to the next class with a teacher I already know and love. His name is already on her door, I am not afraid of what’s to come in that room, these weren’t tears brought on by a fear of the unknown like I suspected they were my first time through this journey. But even so, I hugged his teacher goodbye and I just couldn’t help but tear up.

Yesterday I sat next to my friend Faith at lunch and assured her that it was normal to be so wary of your first baby moving up, leaving one class to go to the next. I assured her that her tears and her anxiety about her baby growing up and the unknown of the next phase were normal.

“I used to cry at move up too,” I told her.

But, guess what? The truth is that I still cry at move up.

“Why are you crying,” Nora asked again. I had been caught – by another mom friend and two of the teachers – with tears in my eyes as I walked Miles to the car. And now Nora was wondering, just like I did all those many times when my own mother’s tears hadn’t made sense to me, what I could possibly be upset about.

I tried to explain it to her.

I cry on move up day because it is a beginning. A beginning of a new year where he is older, where things will change, where he might stop pronouncing the -ed at the end of words, where he might take interest in his ABCs. It is the beginning of another year where he’ll grow and look less and less like my baby and more and more like my little boy.  It’s the beginning of a new year and they are partly tears of excitement and partly tears born out of the fear that he is growing up faster than I’d like.

I cry on move up day because it is an ending. It is the end of a year with a teacher who loved my baby better than I could have ever asked anyone to love him. The end of a year where he learned to use his words, to share with friends, to use the potty. The end of a year where his teacher embraced his love of super heroes, pinned capes on him for so many days in a row, decorated the tables with superman plates for his birthday, wore her own Captain American shirt on days she knew would be hard for him. It’s the end of a great year and they are partly tears of sadness.

I cry on move up day because as I hand the teachers flowers and gift cards, as I fish for words to say the tremendous thank you that all of their work deserves, I fail. Nothing seems enough. Tears come because I don’t know what else to do, there is so much I’m thankful for and they are moslty tears of gratitude.

I told Nora they were motherhood tears. Tears of pride and love and fear and gratitude and sadness and happiness and anxiety and celebration. Tears my fellow day care moms cry and I understand. Tears Nora will only understand one day when she’s a mother.

I still cry at day care move up

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August 6th, 2014

Six Word Wednesday

hula-hooping

This summer she mastered hula-hooping.

 

 

Click here to watch a video of her hooping (she told me “video this for your blog!”): hooping movie

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August 5th, 2014

Conversations I Thought I Was Done Having

She was trimming my son’s hair when we struck up conversation. It was the forced kind of talking you do when silence is somewhat awkward and you think since you are two adults standing next to each other for the next thirty minutes you might as well talk to each other.

First we talked about our summer vacation. She also had been to Maine once upon a time to a town she couldn’t remember the name of. She was older, grandmotherly. She said she loved the beach and the mountains and how beautiful Maine is in the summer. Once that topic was exhausted we started talking about summer and pools and our favorite spots around town. Somehow we got to the fact that summer was ending soon and I said I would be going back to school.

“You’re a teacher?” she asked.

“Yes. I teach 9th and 11th grade and I’m the department chair at a local high school.”

“So you work?”

I thought I was done having this conversation. I thought it was a silly question, given what I had just told her, but I obliged.

“Yep. I’m a teacher.”

“Do you have to work?”

I hesitated. I wanted to pretend that I didn’t hear her or that I didn’t understand what she meant. I didn’t want to wade through this conversation with a stranger as she held scissors over my three-year-old’s head.

“I guess I do. But I mostly work because I love my job. I wouldn’t want to stay home.”

“Oh,” she observed quietly as she snipped away more of his overgrown curls. “Most of the moms we get in here are stay at home moms. They don’t work. They’re just always with their children. You know, because they’re little like this,” she concluded as she pointed to my own little one.

“I work.” I said, matter of-factly. No apologies.

“I stayed home when my kids were little,” she added. She said it nonchalantly. I couldn’t tell if she was wistfully remembering her stay-at-home mom days or wishing she had made different choices.

She wasn’t being mean, or at least I don’t think she was intentionally being mean, but these are sensitive questions. There’s a whole lot of subtext and assumption in the “Do you have to work?” question.

“I work,” I said again.

It’s been a long road to that confident declaration. Had I stood in that same spot four years ago, had she said that to me when I was still struggling with my own motherhood identity, I would have held in tears until I got us all buckled safely in the car. I would have thought about her words, let them seep into my consciousness, let them force me to question my choices, undermine my confidence.

But here I am, six years into this working mom thing, and I can say with confidence that this is who I am. This is how I like it. This is how it works best for me. I can listen to her questions and read her subtext and walk out of the store surprised by her boldness, but no worse the wear for her tacit judgment.

Maybe I should have called her out on her subtle rudeness so that when a mom less far along on her journey unknowingly steps into this trap she’ll think twice before judging. Maybe I should have asked her personal questions about her financial situation or personal happiness. Maybe I should have ignored the comment altogether and not let her bait me further into the conversation.

Or maybe I should have told her what I’ve come to realize over the six years I’ve been a mother: we all make the choices that fit our families best. Those choices don’t look the same. They don’t feel the same. I’m a mother doing the best I can. Don’t we owe it to other moms just to assume they are doing the same?

Conversations I Thought I Was Done Having

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August 4th, 2014

Ordinary Truth

“…and now and again some chime (it might be a motor horn) tinkling divinely on the grass stalks-all of this, calm and reasonable as it was, made out of ordinary things as it was, was the truth now…” –Mrs. Dalloway

He’s three and he makes up his own truth.

He can fly.

He’s a good guy who spots bad guys around every corner and he fights them with homemade fire shooters or pinwheels that miraculously blow the bad guys away.

He runs and runs and runs and hardly seems tired. He can run to the moon and back in about ten minutes.

I tell him that humans can’t fly.

He keeps trying.

I tell him that good guys don’t shoot.

He keeps aiming.

I tell him that it’s a long long way to the moon.

He doesn’t care.

He’s three and the truth is relative.

*****

He’s three and the truth flies out of him. One minute he’s eating grated cheese for dinner, the next he’s standing on the bench, looking down at me with a smile so subtle and real.

“You’re my own mom,” he says.

“I am.”

“And Nora’s too. But you’re my own.”

“I am your own mom,” I say as I let him climb over to my legs.

He sits down on my lap and kisses my cheek. He’s affectionate, this one. He hugs and kisses and wins me over again and again each moment that he lands his truth on me.

He’s three and he’s discovering the truth every minute that unfolds.

And I’m happy to discover it right along with him.

Ordinary Truth

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July 30th, 2014

Book Shelf Stories

Rooms filled with books feel the most like home to me. Many of my books are marked up, filled with sticky notes and marginal notes and underlined phrases. They tell the story of who I was and what I was thinking when I read it.

Ken finished the new shelves for our front room yesterday. He installed them and I started one of the only processes of organization that I love. I filled the shelves back up with books.

Some people organize books by color (that’s what Ken suggested), some by genre, some by author. I organize by the story they tell about me.

book shelf

I organize by Bread Loaf summer. The summers I spent studying and writing. The summer of the short story. The summer of poetry. The summer in the southwest. The summer of 19th century novels and philosophy. Those summers I spent on green mountains in Vermont, the stark mountains of Santa Fe, wandering the streets of Oxford, those summers are still so much a part of who I am. The books on my shelf remind me of that.

I first read Mrs. Dalloway during my last Bread Loaf summer.

I organize by what the books mean to me. The gifts friends have sent. The books I reference on days that the words stick and I want them to start flowing again. The books I read just for the sole pleasure of getting lost in stories.

I add photos and kid art and now all of the many many many kid books we own.

These shelves tell stories – the stories of the characters, yes – but also the story of me.

book shelves

 

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