May 10th, 2015

My Mother, Myself

I was on the news this week, an interview that lasted all of 7 seconds. I watched it with my own kids piled around me, watching for their mom’s moment on the screen. And suddenly there I was, pink shirt and straightened hair, talking about education and changing the way we do things.

I watched and I saw myself.

I watched and I saw my mother.

My mother is a thinker, someone with ideas and passion and lots to say about the things that matter to her – that matter to me too. She thinks and talks and her eyes close as she processes the next best word to use, the most precise way to make her point.

I’ve always noticed she does this.

I’ve never noticed that I do too.

Lately I can see the truth in the statement, “I’m becoming my mother.” I’ve always heard people say this as a negative, in the ugh can you believe this is happening to me kind of way.

But if I’m becoming my mother, I certainly won’t complain.

Last year I took a strengths test as a part of a special program at work. We took a 30 minute online questionnaire and it spat back out my top five strengths.

As I read the descriptions of who this test thought I was, I couldn’t help but marvel at how exactly right it was. And I also immediately wondered what it would say about my mother since I had the immediate realization that many of these strengths, the best parts of me, also described her.

She took the test too. And, sure enough, 4 out of 5 of our strengths are the same.

We are thinkers.

We are diligent.

We are learners.

We are keepers of information (I’m also a keeper of stuff and my mother is most certainly not).

My mother is also a developer – someone who gets satisfaction from the growth of others. And while this is her strength that she says most surprised her, it is not surprising to me.

These days, I take risks and push myself, stand confidently in places that used to terrify me and I know that, while yes I’ve worked hard to earn those things, it’s all of my mother’s careful work of developing me into a strong and confident woman who knew the power of words and ideas and careful diligence that propels me forward, that keeps me developing into a better and stronger version of myself.

I watched myself close my eyes as I spoke on television and I thought, maybe that means I’m becoming my mother.

And for that I am grateful.

My Mother, Myself

 

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May 3rd, 2015

How To Appreciate A Teacher

A few years ago when I was first on twitter, I couldn’t resist responding to a local journalist who had shared three negative news stories in a row about educators and education. Didn’t she know it was teacher appreciation week? Couldn’t she balance out the bad with some good?

She responded to me that the good wasn’t news and the bad was what the public wanted to hear.

There is so much good, I responded to her. So. Much. Good.

But the sad thing? The good in education almost always gets ignored.

Last year I wrote a plea in the local paper to look for the good. To find the things that mattered to the real students and real teachers and real community of the school. Look beyond the scores, I pleaded. Talk about the students challenging themselves to learn, the teachers pushing students to think creatively, the multitude of ways that teachers go above and beyond to make a truly well-rounded educational experience possible for all kids.

This week there will be countless teachers who are appreciated with homemade cards, pinterest inspired crafts, poems and mugs, candies and free meals. Parents and students will do their best to make us know that they appreciate us, that they see our hard work, understand our dedication. We will love those small gestures, the tokens left on our desks and in the teacher’s lounge for us to enjoy.

But this year, I want something more. I want something that doesn’t cost any money and hardly takes any time or effort. I want the story to change. And I want you to help change it.

This week, I want you to take to all your social platforms and post something positive about a teacher you know. Hopefully, if you are a parent, it is your child’s teacher. Maybe it is a teacher you once had. Maybe it is a teacher you know well. I want your photos on Instagram and your quick tales on twitter and your status updates on facebook to help change the tone of negativity so often dealt to my profession. Help tell the story this week of what teachers really do.

Stories are what change the world, what connect us together, what inspire us to be better. And if all the media cares to share most times are the negatives, it is up to us to change that. To insist that there is more, that there is better, and that we do want to hear it.

Share a teacher’s story.

Share your stories. Our stories. Share our expertise and our compassion. Share our creativity and our ingenuity. Share our tiny successes and our big celebrations. Share them always but especially this week.

Change the tone.

Change the conversation.

That’s how you can really appreciate a teacher.

 

teacher appreciation

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April 13th, 2015

Hatching

At the toy store on Saturday he picked a dinosaur egg. The egg contained the promise of a baby T. Rex in exchange for about 48 hours of patience and $3.

He held the egg gingerly as I filled a cup with warm water, holding it down to his height once it was full for him to slip his egg into.

“It’s going to take a while,” I explained. “When you wake up tomorrow it will have started cracking open, I think.”

In the morning, sleepy-eyed, he looked for cracks, small signs that the dinosaur egg wasn’t an empty promise. There was a bulge on the side and flakes of egg making their way into the water, lining the sides of the cup.

He watched it and marveled at it for a while before he walked away to watch TV and read books and bother his sister.

At noon the dinosaur head was visible through a hole now appearing on top of the egg.

“Put me up there,” he asked, bringing his beloved dinosaurs with him, a blue T. Rex named Dine and a red Stegosaurus named Steg. Miles and Steg and Dine watched that egg intently, guarding it and looking for any signs of more cracks or scales or flakes.

Hatching

It was a test of four year old patience and he was passing.

He waited.

And waited.

Today after school he ran inside to find the whole dinosaur out of the egg, or at least clearly ready for his small hands to remove it the rest of the way. There is only so much waiting a kid can do.

“It hatched!” He yelled. “I waited and it hatched!”  He had waited almost two days. Waited patiently and trusted that the egg would hatch and free the dino he couldn’t wait to have. I admired his patience and his enthusiasm. I marveled at his trust in the process and his ability to just sit back and watch. He had waited. And it had hatched.

All night he nurtured his baby T. Rex, wrapping it in a blanket, rocking it in his two hands, holding it on his shoulder, introducing it to the rest of his dinosaur clan. He named him “Cutie” and he took care of him like he really was a freshly hatched dinosaur.

Hatching

 

Hatching

******

Sometimes I read more than I write because I am impatient with words. I am loathe to wait for them to come to me, to work hard to extract them, to do the work of making myself vulnerable enough to write words that are true enough to be worthy of existing in this space.

Sometimes I want the egg to hatch right now. No waiting. And when I’m impatient I wonder if the words will ever come easily again, if my patience will pay off, if all the effort of living a writing life is worth it.

Today I woke up to an email that told me one of my blogs has been selected as a BlogHer Voice of the Year. I submitted it myself on a whim a few months ago and never dreamed that it would be chosen. It was a post that I had written after much thinking, a post perhaps more vulnerable than many that find their way here. I am proud that I wrote it.

Reading that email this morning and seeing my name on the list with so many amazing writers makes me want to be patient, to wait for the words, the right ones, to know that they are there even when I doubt the effort to find them is worth it.

To wait patiently for the next story to hatch.

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April 12th, 2015

Words In – What I’m Reading

My ratio of words in to words out is totally skewed towards in right now. This hasn’t been the case since I started this blog almost 6 years ago now. But it feels right for the moment I’m in.

I’m a reader with an addictive personality. If I start a book that speaks to me, I dedicate myself to it fully and completely, letting nothing get in the way of my finishing it right now this minute. I feel the words feeding me and I can’t let them stop. This week, after a string of days where I didn’t get my much needed introvert time, I fed my introverted word-loving reading soul with Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. This book? Perfection. I read almost all day Thursday – in every moment I could spare and finished it that day. I read Eleanor & Park at this time last year. And I’ve reread it a few times since. It is my favorite. So good. I was afraid to ruin my absolute love of Rainbow Rowell by reading another of her books since I was pretty sure that none could live up to Eleanor and Park. And I was also pretty sure that I am not a big enough dork to love a book about a nerdy girl who reads and write fanfiction. As much as I love words and reading, fanfic has never been my thing.

But Cath and Wren and Levi won me over quickly. Rowell depicts socially awkward word-loving girls with such accuracy I took photos of so many pages that reached that place that good books do – the place where you think the author might actually be writing about you. Her depiction of college life and a budding relationship between a word nerd and a more outgoing adventurer were so spot on. It was like she watched Ken and I dating back in 1998 and wrote about it in this book. And Rowell’s writing is just so easy to read. So truthful in its simplicity.

I think I’m a Rainbow Rowell fangirl.

I also read two Jandy Nelson books this month. I’m reading off of the Mock Printz 2015 list and so I went to the bookstores searching for I’ll Give You The Sun. I couldn’t find it, so I bought The Sky Is Everywhere instead. This book took a little while to grow on me. I was worried at first that it was a story of a girl who could only be saved from her grief by a boy. And I don’t really love books that use the damsel in distress archetype in traditional ways (that’s why I loved Gabi A Girl in Pieces – no typical damsel there). But I kept reading and I was really glad I did. Nelson blended poetry into the book beautifully, with the main character writing pieces of her grief (her sister dies suddenly) on scraps of paper. She finds her strength outside of just the boys who come in to her life and the trajectory of the story is well-done. The family dynamics in the books are really interesting and the cinematic way that she creates some of her scenes in the novel was really beautiful. I recommend the book, especially as an alternative to or companion to The Fault In Our Stars (which I also loved).

Nelson’s other book, I’ll Give You the Sun, the one that won the Printz award, wasn’t my favorite. I was really glad that I had read The Sky Is Everywhere first, otherwise I wouldn’t have been drawn to keep reading her writing. This book felt forced to me. The writing seemed to be trying to hard at some points. The characters were less likable and less believable (they seemed like they were college-aged and they were only 13 and 16). And I figured out how all the pieces would connect far too early in the book. I had been looking forward to reading it – with its themes of artistic drive, the difficulty for teens to come out as openly gay, love and betrayal. But the whole thing fell flat for me.

Once a month, after reading YA books, a friend and I meet for our book lifestyle club. Just the two of us, talking about books and life and books as life. I needed that today.  To talk about these characters and words and what they mean to us and how we see them similarly and totally differently.

Sunday morning book church.

After I drank coffee and talked lovingly of Levi and Cath with someone else who loved them just as much, I drove Nora to a birthday party. I explained what I had done – met a friend who loves books like me and and just talked about the awesomeness of words. She got it. She’s been reading all of everything Beverly Cleary ever wrote. Ramona is her favorite (and was totally mine too when I was 7) and she loved Socks too.

After we discussed my book club and Beverly Cleary’s 99th birthday (it’s today!), Nora said, “Reading is pretty much life.”

Yes. It is.

Words In

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March 26th, 2015

Even In The Scary Darkness

“Dad, why do people sometimes go into schools with guns and shoot kids?” she asked on the way home from school today.

“Well, that’s something I really don’t have a good answer for,” he tells me he said.

They had a lockdown drill this week at her school. They gathered together in the dark and were supposed to sit quietly. But they are seven and stillness doesn’t come easy to most of them. Why, they asked. Why did they have to do this silly drill thing in the darkness? Why did they have to practice being quiet and still?

And so a teacher must have explained. She must have uttered the words Sandy Hook. Gun. Shoot.

And they must have quieted down to practice.

I’ve sat under tables and in the dark, hushing groups of teenagers as I hear the police come and check doors and windows in drills at my own school. The teenagers know why we do it and they agreeably huddle closer together than they’d like with their cell phones dark while we practice for what used to seem unimaginable.

I know why the teacher wants to make sure the kids know to be so absolutely still and quiet.

I know.

I just don’t like thinking about my own child huddled, scared, away from windows. I don’t like that this is something schools have to prepare for. I don’t like that she now is a bit closer to knowing that nowhere is completely safe.

My parents had under-the-desk atom bomb drills. And my children will have darkest corner away from windows active shooter drills. My generation was lucky that we just worried about fire drills.

It’s not so simple anymore.

I guess we are never ready for another layer of innocence to shatter. There’s never enough warning and there’s never a good time. We are never ready for the questions for which we have no good answers. The questions we wish there was never an occasion to ask.

“What’s that school with an S where it happened 2 years ago?” she asked at dinner tonight.

“Sandy Hook,” I said, a lump in my throat.

My husband says he talked to her on their ride home about statistics. About the way that it feels more dangerous to fly in a plane but it is statistically safer than driving a car. He tried to confront her questions with statistical justification that she could worry a little less. He talked to her about the way humans have always found ways to be horrible to each other and the fact that hundreds and hundreds of years haven’t solved that problem. That unexplainable problem. This isn’t new, he said.

But, worrying about my own child, it feels new to me.

She wrote a month or so ago about her dream. They were studying Martin Luther King Jr. and the class had to think of what they wanted for our world. She wrote about looking for the good in people.

Sometimes that isn’t easy to do. But I hope even in the scary darkness, we can all remember to do at least that much.

Look For The Good

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March 24th, 2015

Merely Herself

“She may pick up her pen and follow it with her hand as it moves across the paper; she may pick up her pen and find that she’s merely herself, a woman in a housecoat holding a pen, afraid and uncertain, only mildly competent, with no idea about where to begin or what to write.” –The Hours

I’m tired. The kind of tired when a word or a whine or a simple request for more water or a new napkin can make me tear up. I cry when I’m tired and I try to hold it back or hold it in, but sometimes I just can’t anymore.

Sometimes it’s been a week of sick sick kids. Of the flu when it was supposed to be spring break. It’s been a week of being mom in the hardest and best ways. Of nurturing and holding, of sleeping little and giving all I have to everyone but me.

I want to write but I don’t know what to say. It’s been too long to start up with ease. I don’t like to complain, to focus on what I wanted instead of what I got.

But that’s where my mind wants to go right now.

So I look.

I pay close attention to the cold of his hand on my neck as he tries to hold me in his bed with him just a bit longer. I notice it and give thanks that the clamminess and warmth of the fever is gone.

I feel the weight of her seven-year-old body as I hold her, both of us exhausted, and I give thanks that she’s seven and she still wants me to hold her. And I’m thankful I still can.

I hear his whisper in the hallway as he plays out the stories of his imagination with his new dinosaurs, Steg and Dine, as he flies them around and points them towards plants and prey. As he has them ride on cars and creates his own anachronism. And I laugh at my nerdy self that I even think of his games with fancy words.

I watch her push herself beyond her exhaustion on the soccer field. She’s as tired of feeling tired as I am. I watch her push herself forward, watch her try to grow into something new and maybe just a little bit scary. And I think about how I can make myself do that too.

Merely Herself

Linking up with Heather for Just Write.

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March 3rd, 2015

She Waits Patiently For The Light

“She waits patiently for the light.” –The Hours

It’s been dark lately. No sun in what feels like weeks, cold like we don’t usually have here for any sustained periods of time. It’s uninviting, dreary.

I tell Nora and Miles that if there was a bit of snow, I’d push them out into it. We’d go and discover together, bundled in boots and layers of pants and doubled-up mittens. We’d build snowmen or sled down hills, ice skate or try skiing for the first time all together. We’d let our cheeks get red with cold and then we’d come in and warm ourselves up with hot chocolate, feel our fingers tingle against the warmth of the mug.

This is the myth of winter that I’ve created.

The reality is that we have drizzle and rain and we stay inside. It’s too damp and cold and we don’t have coats and hats and scarves at the ready like we would if this was our always, if the cold didn’t take us by surprise. We watch too much TV, get too close to each other, listen to siblings who are fighting more than they usually do and who suddenly can’t stay in a room together for more than five minutes. We get bored and then find a new distraction, make a mess we don’t later want to clean up.

He asks incessant questions. Everything is why. It is amazing and beautiful and I’m in love with his curiosity and the way his brain is waking up even more to the wonder of the world.

But after so many why’s, I just can’t answer anymore.

She wants to be near me, can’t figure out what she wants to do next. She huddles up close and tells me stories, makes silly faces, asks me to draw or paint or read with her. And I do. I love sitting arm to arm and taking in words together.

Until she declares that she’s bored and I just can’t think of one more suggestion to keep her busy.

I’ve lost my patience for the darkness, with the damp and cold. I’ve lost patience with not being able to soak in some sun and breathe in the fresh air.

And I blame the darkness for all the patience I am losing. The way that I am snapping at them more than I’d like, feeling myself losing my calm when I normally have a firm grasp. It all feels off and I am waiting for the light to come, for the days to warm, for the rain to stop so we can fix it.

I’m losing patience with myself.

But I’m trying. I’m trying to wait patiently for the light.

She Waits Patiently For The Light

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February 26th, 2015

I’m Reading

I wrote a few weeks ago how I want to read more this year. How I want to put my phone down and stop playing silly addictive games and pick up a book instead. I want to make my way through this list of Mock Printz Young Adult Award Winners. I don’t think I can (or want) to read all 48 in a year, but having the list is motivating me to keep reading.

And wow! The first two books I picked were AMAZING! The kind of books that make you afraid to start another book because you know it just can’t live up to the one you just finished.

First, Gabi, a Girl in Pieces. I downloaded the book onto my kindle and I’m so sad I did. I wish I had the actual book to hand to friends and to so many of my students for whom I know this will be THE BOOK. The one that reminds them that they are not alone in this world. The one that reminds them that all types of people struggle and persist and that words matter in more ways than one. This book. Man, I loved it so so much. It is full of poetry and beauty. Pain and sadness. Love and triumph. I am not always a huge fan of books written in diary form, but Gabi won me over from the very beginning and her words are words I won’t forget any time soon.

“Poetry helps heal wounds.
Makes them tangible.

At the poetry reading I read
a poem.
A prophecy I wrote down.
Almost couldn’t go through with it.

But it came out
hurried and hot
and by the end
my tongue was on fire.”
Isabel Quintero, Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

Next, I read Pointe by Brandy Colbert. This book was tense, full of secrets and silence and tragedy. But it was also full of discovery and friendship and support. I tried to discuss it with a student today and I didn’t know how to talk about it without giving it all away. And this is the kind of book I need to talk about with someone else who read it. It was incredibly tense and heavy. A powerful story about characters who are so unsure of their power. I couldn’t put it down because I couldn’t leave the main character, Theo, until I knew she’d be ok.

“She doesn’t get that it’s scary… to want something so much and not be sure if you’re good enough.”                                 — Brandy Colbert, Pointe

When I finish a good book these days, I tweet the author. I figure, if I wrote a book, I’d love to hear from people to whom my words mattered (just like I love to hear from you all who read my blog). This is my favorite thing about twitter, really, that I’m 140 characters away from starting a conversation with many amazing people. I get so giddy when I get a tweet back from these masters of stories.

Brandy Colbert Tweet

What are you reading? What should I add to my list of must-reads for this year?

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February 24th, 2015

He’s Four (Plus An Awesome Giveaway!)

“He holds up four fingers. ‘Good,’ she says. ‘Very good.’

At this moment she could devour him, not ravenously but adoringly, infinitely gently…She is full of a love so strong, so unambiguous, it resembles appetite.” –The Hours

Four

He thinks he can fly. He wants to. More than anything else, he wishes he could fly up to the clouds. “I think they would be so soft, Mom,” he tells me as he stares out the window on our way home from school. As he looks up to the blue sky that he has named and claimed.

He has powers, he says. He has powers to run really fast. To jump really high and fast and far. To fly for a split second when the running and the jumping combine for the moments of the day that he most looks forward to.

These are the powers he says he has.

I know he has others.

He has the power to melt me with one small smile.

He has the power to make me laugh with his quirky insights into everything he sees.

He has the power to notice things, small things, and to ask question after question after question. The power of curiosity.

He has the power to love, to hug me tighter than I thought a small child could manage, to give me kisses after he sweeps my hair out of the way, to hold my hand as we walk together.

He's four

He turned four this weekend. He celebrated with a few friends, ate pizza in the top of the treehouse, blew out candles perched atop chocolate cupcakes. Opened gifts and said thank you and oohed and aahed over each and every one. He loves everything, this kid. He really does.

He’s four and he loves cars and dragons, dinosaurs and books. He narrates his games aloud as he plays before bedtime, living out one last story for the day. Sometimes I listen in on his tales, of the banter he creates between race cars who can suddenly speak, dragons who are more magic than I can imagine, dinosaurs who suddenly arrive to save the day. I marvel at all he can conjure in his vast imagination.

He sometimes feels his smallness, telling me on many occasions that he cannot accomplish something because he’s still learning. Because he’s still growing. He’s in training, he tells me.

We all are, I tell him.

On Saturday he slid down the fire pole all on his own for the very first time, mustering more courage as he moved into a new year.   Beaming with pride, he ran to hug me, told me how brave he was becoming.

“I’m four now, Mom!” he said.

He's Four

 

My awesome friend Cara made Miles’ birthday shirt. Her shirts are hand-sewn and all designed by Cara. She is so creative and has excellent taste and I’m so excited that she is starting this creative venture! And the exciting part for you? She would love to give one of my readers a shirt too (one custom shirt, size 12 months -5T, shipping in U.S. only)! In order to win, you must comment on this post (make sure to leave a good email address) and like Cara’s facebook page, A Pocket Full of Posey.  I will use random.org to choose a winner next Tuesday.

Disclosure: She gifted me Miles’ shirt because she’s awesome and agrees that he’s really cute (not because she really wanted me to write about her on my blog…) And she made another one for Nora that she obviously adores. 

He's Four

 

Update! Congratulations to Amy! Winner of the giveaway!

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February 18th, 2015

Six Word Wednesday

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