Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Coming back

Tuesdays at TWT!
"This keeps getting more complicated." Over the dull din of other diners at Panera, my colleague tosses his head back and laughs. "I keep finding that teaching is so much more complicated than I ever imagined."

"So do I!" I giggle, but I feel a surge of silent gratitude to be sitting here on a summer afternoon, discussing the joys and challenges of this job career profession calling life I love with a colleague who, despite a first year that absolutely kicked him in the gut, somehow loves it too, just like me.

We're working on our presentation for next week's district conference about supporting ELLs in content classes, but our teacher brains, too used to running a thousand programs at the same time, keep taking us other places. As we screenshot the best examples from our adventures together in his 3rd period Physical Science class, we drift back and forth through time, reflecting on last year and looking ahead.

Now that it's on the topic of school, my brain is spinning hard. "I really want to do more with my kids this fall to help them learn how to learn in their regular classes!" I'd thought of this in the spring, but it almost slipped my mind until we started remembering the utter lack of academic skills my kids ("ALL freshmen, really!" he interjects) have. "I mean, nobody tells you in your education classes that in addition to your content, you're going to have to teach your kids how to study, how to take notes, how to focus, how to regulate their emotions, how to set goals..."

The sheer BIGness of teaching hits me with its full force. It IS complicated. And amazing.

And out of the haze of a baby-filled summer, I remember, in a visceral surging way: I LOVE this job career profession calling life.

This crazy, stressful, fun, demanding, soul-crushing, uplifting, life-changing job career profession calling life. Am I looking forward to returning to lunches gulped in fifteen minutes, one scheduled bathroom break, and work that piles up far faster than I can ever get it done? Not really. Do I love feeling like I constantly have to settle for "good enough", knowing I could do so much better if I just had more time to prepare, reflect, and collaborate? Definitely not -- it's that much harder when you're a perfectionist.

But I love it. I love sharing my love of literacy with my kids. I love getting to know my kids and learning about their cultures, their languages, and their incredible lives. I love encouraging them in their learning and supporting them through their many challenges. I love being an expert who helps my colleagues teach my kids better, and I love being a learner who is constantly looking for new ways to improve my own instruction. And mostly, I. love. my. kids!

And while I'm grateful for the rejuvenation summer brings, I can't wait. I can't wait for booktalks and read-alouds, brainstorming and revision, messy thinking and proud products. I can't wait for purposeful conferences and quick conversations, joyful hugs and hallway tears. I can't wait for those cinder block walls to become a little home. I also can't wait for family meetings, for collegial collaboration with hearts like mine, for failed and successful experiments in new ways to help all students learn.

This is a colossal, complicated, challenging job career profession calling life. And an awesome one. And I'm so thankful that for all the ways it beats us up, it holds so many joys and promises that keep us coming back, whether it's our second year or our tenth.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Learning to fly

Tuesdays at TWT!
In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams wrote that learning to fly consists of "learning to throw yourself at the ground and miss".

Watching my 14-month old lately, I realized that learning to walk is pretty much the same thing. She took a few of those first tottering steps this weekend, in the midst of a hundred hilarious kerplunks, tumbles and flops. And every time she fell, she giggled, squealed, chortled, and clambered back up to try again.

Getting there!
Splat! (with a big smile!)
So while pondering how to make this post more than a series of cute baby pictures, I remembered an article I saw recently (which alas, I did not save, and now cannot find) about how the role of persistence is often undervalued in creative pursuits. And how I immediately thought of writing, and the sheer persistence that is required to be a writer.

I remembered so many Tuesdays and March days where I've had to absolutely drag myself to the couch, pry my laptop open, and make myself write. Throwing myself at the ground, over and over, whether I have a huge spark of a story that begs to be written, or a tiny hiding inkling of a maybe-idea, or no ideas at all.

However I start, the important thing is that I started. Something always comes out. Something great comes out! In that repeated persistence, I end up with stories that might not have been told, craft moves I might never have tried, conclusions and revelations I might never have arrived at, and connections I might never have made. Only in repeatedly throwing myself down do I learn to miss the ground: to conquer my fears, rise above the minutiae of being "too busy", vanquish tiredness, and dispel the myth of having "nothing to write about".

I've always loved how Thomas Mann said that "A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." I pour so much of myself into my writing. I agonize over words and phrases, play with hooks and conclusions, spin and weave the pieces of a story until they fit just write. I purposefully use strategies I've learned over time. It's hard work, not some magical cloud of golden inspiration.

I don't want my students to look at me and just see "a good writer". It's so easy to look at "talent" and think "That's not me. I can't do that!" Right? We all have our myths we've created: I'm not a good artist, I'm not athletic, I just can't do whatever like so-and-so does.

Soon, my baby will be walking everywhere without giving it a second thought. But other babies won't look at her and say, "oh, that kid's just a good walker. I can't do that." No! They, too, will someday fling themselves at the ground enough times to eventually learn to miss, and then off they'll go, walking everywhere too!

I work hard to make sure my students see me as someone who works really hard to make herself write, to learn about good writing, and to try different strategies to make her writing better. That's why I write in front of them, and that's why I share my writing life with them.

In fact, that's why I share my life with them: so they can see that success is not luck or some magical fairy dust, but rather the result of habitual, intentional tenacity over time. Writers write. Readers read. "Good students" study with purpose and intensity. Success comes from being strong, and being strong comes from being brave enough to keep throwing ourselves down, over and over, until we miss the ground and just take right off.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A walk with elsie

Tuesdays at TWT!
I love the feeling of possibility of a winding path cutting through a wooded field. The sunlight shines through the opening like an invitation, full of the hope of more beauty.

Little Sweetie, more asleep than awake in the stroller, stirs and gently fusses as I stop to take a picture. Maybe I can slice about this walk! I've been in such a writing rut, and Elsie always writes such fun slices about her walks! 

Around the bend, the promise of beauty is fulfilled as the fountain glitters like a firework shooting out of the pond ahead.

And to the other side, a bursting flowerbed that I would normally walk right by with just a quick glance. But Elsie would take a picture of those flowers... And find a story in them! So I flip the brake on the stroller:
ok, but...
I almost keep walking, but oooh, but the other end would show those pink ones that are hiding now! I sneak a few yards backwards and take another.
much better!

Little Sweetie is now flopped limply under her canopy, breathing with that steady rhythm of pure sleep.

When the gentle jostle of wooden bridge slats doesn't stir her, I decide to brave the stronger bounce of bumping her across the grass to a bench by the next pond. Sure enough, she stays asleep, and I settle on the rough wood and open my Blogger app. 

A spiky seat is a small price to pay for this exclusive view: my sweet baby asleep on my left and a picture-perfect window of branches framing the pond just for me.

Squeak! To my surprise, a tiny brown frog leaps in the mud in front of me. I'm used to the big bullfrogs everywhere, but this little guy is new! When I stand up for a closer look, several more scamper through the mud and sticks too! A whole little community of little friends that I would never have known about if I hadn't sat on this particular bench!
Do you see him?
So thanks, elsie! Even though you're states away and we've never met in person, we sure had a lovely walk together today! 

And thank you, TWT and all my slicing friends, for teaching me to walk like a writer, with my eyes, ears, and heart more open.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

House and home

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Ok, bye-bye, park!" Even though I'm so excited about our new house, tears sprout at the corners of my eyes as I get M&M to wave. I'm just terrible at endings of any kind, and really, this park is one of the things I'll miss most about this neighborhood. We've relished so many sweet, sunny afternoons here throughout the past year, and the playground has a few unique toys that most others don't. I don't know anywhere else that has a bouncy turtle and a bird teeter-totter!

This house, our first house, has been a wonderful one, but we always knew we wouldn't stay here. Still, nearly seven years of happy memories is a lot to leave behind.

Pure wonder when a spindly-legged spotted fawn wandered gracefully into our yard as we ate dinner one evening. Silly squirrels refusing to be baffled by the squirrel baffle. Scampering bunnies and gorgeous roses that somehow always blossomed in spite of our lack of careful attention to their wellbeing. Snow days, snow forts, and snow rollers. Birthday scavenger hunts.

Four years ago (almost exactly this week, probably!), I was soaking up sunshine and bird chatter when my phone rang with our district ELL coordinator offering me my current job. From traveling Spanish teacher to ELL teacher at a building I might stay at for the rest of my career: what a moment!

A year and a half ago, I gleefully ran downstairs when Husband got home and surprised him with the "Which hand?" game. (That's a family tradition where you hide something behind your back, making the other person guess which hand it's in but moving it every time until you both collapse in giggles and they wrestle it away from you!) His initial puzzlement at being handed some weird blue plastic contraption gave way to happy tears for both of us when he turned it over and saw the little screen displaying one word:

Just over a year ago, we pulled into the driveway, dazed and overflowing with love, incredulous that the hospital had actually let us loose to just take care of this little wiggly bundle of squeaks on our own. "You've never seen a place like this in your whole life!" we told her, seeing it with new eyes ourselves.

Over the next couple of weeks, I was determined to work my way up to walking to the park. One hand over the wrap on my belly, with Husband pushing that sleepy, squirmy bundle of animal noises coiled in the carseat-stroller, I shuffled along the sidewalk: down the street, then around the corner. A whole block, then several blocks! Down to the first major junction, within sight of the park. And finally, just before Husband's paternity leave expired, to the park and back!

At first, I was afraid to take her out of the house by myself. What if she started crying and wouldn't stop? What if she wanted to eat again really soon? What if she spit up everywhere or had a diaper blowout? What if... I don't know what else I thought might happen, but it seemed scary! Getting out the door the first time was a major accomplishment. Look at me! I could take my baby someplace! And it was fun!

From then on, the park was our place. At first, every tiny bump in the heaved-up sidewalks made her fling her arms and legs sideways in full startle mode, so the blacktop bike path in the park was a relief for both of us. I reveled in my newfound strength: in my legs, my belly, and my heart. We relaxed on our favorite bench in the shade. She started noticing trees, staring wide-eyed at them and cooing. She began babbling at me and flailing when she saw something exciting: a dog, a bird, a person, a branch swaying in the wind. Eventually, she was shrieking and giggling on the swings, waving to everyone she saw.

One gorgeous fall day, Husband and I were both walking her to the park as she lounged contentedly in her seat, gazing up at the trees and us, when she looked me right in the eyes and said, "Ma-ma". Pure magic.

Her first giggles and babbles. Rolling over, sitting up, pulling up. Cackling with delight to see us every morning. Stretching out her tiny finger to point at all her favorite things: her toys, her wall decals, the headboard of our bed, our bags, clothes, and water bottles.

Snuggling up and reading her good-morning book. Her eyes getting huge each time we pulled into the darkness of the garage after being out somewhere. Panting and squealing with excitement at the sound of Husband opening the door after work, then thumping her tiny hands and knees across the floor with determination to go see him once she finally figured out how to crawl forwards. Sweet, snuggly evenings filled with so much love. One of us creeping upstairs with her limp body snuggled into one of our shoulders, one arm dangling straight down.

Chortles and flails as the neighbors opened their doors on Trick-or-Treat night. Staring at the Christmas tree with wide eyes and tearing through wrapping paper on Christmas morning. Pondering the cold feeling of the first snowflakes on her soft skin. Meeting the Easter Bunny and doing her first egg hunt in the park.

But a house is just a building, and everything that I treasure most still lies ahead: an apartment full of anticipation, and then a lifetime of memories in our dream house, with every detail just the way we want it. The toothy smiles and shrieking laughs will bounce off new walls, and we'll snuggle up with books on the same comfy couches, just in a different arrangement. Little Sweetie will take her first steps, play with her first friends, do her first homework, and so much more.

Our first house has been a good one. But more importantly, our home is a wonderful one, no matter where we are.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

What a difference

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Awwww, look how tiny and floppy she was!" I burrow my head farther into Husband's shoulder and crane my neck to look up at him. Our eyes sparkle at each other briefly, then return to his iPad. "Her skin is so red! And look at her scrunched eyes, like 'this place is so bright'!"

Ever since the anniversary of the night Little Sweetie decided to make her dramatic entrance, we've added a new component to our nightly routine: snuggling up to swipe through the "Rediscover this day" feature on Google Photos. What a difference a year makes!

Daddy? What is this place?
Swipe. Droopy, drowsy Little Sweetie sags in Husband's hands as he tries to burp her. It seems like ages ago that he had to hold her in a sitting position to burp because she'd flop right off his shoulder. Now, burping is an active sport as she often climbs off our shoulders to sit, stand, crawl or lunge around on our laps!

Swipe. Squinty eyes peer dreamily up at Husband from a coiled bundle of scrawny, limp limbs.

Swipe. Spindly fingers explore the side of her own head, trying to figure out this strange new world she suddenly inhabits.

Swipe. Her half-open eyes are starting to show hints of the bright curiosity to come, and her mouth has found her wrist as she starts to untangle and tame those tricky arms and legs. "Look! A week old, and she's already going for her wrist! We didn't even know that was going to be the way she'd comfort herself!"

Swipe. A slightly bleary-eyed me holds one hand on the wrap on her belly, bravely striving to walk a block outside. In front of me, a teeny folded creature is practically swallowed by the padded infant insert in the stroller.

It's almost unfathomable to transport ourselves back to those hazy whirlwind days of trying to figure out our new world. A constant cycle of feeding, burping, and trying to interpret the squeaks and squawks. Husband changing all the diapers as I worked on sitting, standing, and tottering around with tiny steps, trying not to laugh so my scar wouldn't hurt.

What a difference a year makes! And what a year it has been! The creature who floundered and flailed in the general direction (or not!) of something she wanted has become a small person who points, crawls, cruises, and grasps. The animal noises that evolved into coos and experimental consonants have now developed into purposeful babbles that name the things she loves: Ma-ma, Da-da, book, bird, bag...

I know we can't possibly imagine all the wonder and joy that still awaits us. Today's big milestones will seem unbelievably far away when we "rediscover this day" next year and in every year to come. So we will settle back, snuggle up, and soak in every moment.
Such a (little) big girl!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Surprise!

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
May 8, 2015:

Fluttering sparrows flitted overhead, darting around the vivid umbrellas as if dancing to the lively mariachi music. I pushed my plate toward the center of the table, hoping to avoid having my shirt meet the last bits of enchilada sauce, lettuce, and sour cream. Settling back against the wrought-iron chair, I widened my gaze to the perfect blue sky. Almost summer. Almost like I didn't teach today. Almost pure peace.

Until
suddenly

"Ummmm..." Heat coursed through my body as I tried to find the words to tell Husband that...

His eyes locked onto mine, widened, and I knew I didn't have to bother with the words, but they tumbled out anyway. "Um, I think my water broke... I mean, maybe I'll go to the bathroom and check, but I..." As I scooted back my chair to let my beach ball belly up, I happened to look down at the ground.

"Oh sh*t!"

Blood. Blood was everywhere. There was a puddle of blood under my chair. On the patio. At El Vaquero. And when I'd stood up, more had gushed out. I sat back down. Then stood back up. We should go! Nope, because more gushing, more blood. Back down again, because clearly standing up was making it worse. "Okay, so, um...!!!" What do we do?! I can't get to the car if I can't stand up without gushing blood everywhere! Blood is bad! Is something wrong with the baby?!

For a few seconds-hours-years, we just sat there, clutching each other's hands. Our minds racing, but our bodies paralyzed, trying not to ruin everyone else's dinners on that gorgeous Friday night.

Finally, my mom's secretaries (who we'd said hi to earlier, as they'd sat a few tables away from us by chance) somehow noticed our quiet distress. "Are you guys ok?" one said with a motherly smile, just as Husband began dialing 911.

"No, um, I... there's blood everywhere..." My face burned as I pointed to the concrete below my chair.

"Oh, it's okay!" She pulled up a chair beside me and the other two ladies came over to Husband. "I used to work in an OB office, and sometimes a blood vessel breaks. You're just having the baby today, that's all." She patted my arm. JUST HAVING THE BABY?! She's not due for another three weeks!!! "Have you called your mom?"

"Um, no, he's calling 911..." I gestured helplessly at Husband.

"It's ok, we'll sit with you until the ambulance comes, then." One of her friends began calling my mom, and Husband and I started to breathe again. Before we knew it, the comforting sight of a yellow box with sirens pulled up, and the panic surging through me shifted to a surreal haze.

"Here, you're ok, you can walk to the ambulance," the paramedic gestured toward the patio gate. Walk through all those tables of people? With blood all over my pants?! Obediently mortified, I nodded and shuffled behind him, at first trying to pull my shirt low to cover the blood and then yanking it up again as I realized I didn't want to get blood on it!

"We'll get your bill! Here, give us your keys and we'll drive your car to the hospital!" Thank goodness for my mom's secretaries!

"Congratulations!!!" grinned the waiter who held open the patio gate. I winced. OMG, soooooo sorry you have to clean that up...
"Hey, let's take a picture and put it on Facebook!"

"Wow, you're so healthy! I never would have guessed you were 31!" The medic chuckled as he handed my ID back. Healthy? Is that his polite way of saying that I look like I'm twelve? Hooked up to monitors, with qualified medical professionals and on the way to the hospital, I started to settle in and enjoy what a ridiculous story this would make someday. "Can you imagine what all those people back at the restaurant are saying?!" I giggled at Husband. "And those poor workers who have to clean that up?! We'll never be able to eat there again!!!"

"This is so weird! Now WE're the people in the ambulance!" Gazing out the window at the cars we were passing, watching backwards as roads I'd driven all my life became unfamiliar, I felt like I was standing outside myself. "I've never been in one before, have you?"

All at once, the whirlwind of highways was over and we were pulling up to the homelike roads of campus. Oh yikes. This is really happening. We're going to have the baby. My adrenaline began pumping again as they lowered the cot down the ramp under the imposing shadow of the medical center. I turned my head and... There. Was. My. Mom. Flailing across the parking lot with that silly, limp-limbed run of hers. How did she beat us here, when she was 10 minutes farther from the hospital than we were? How did she know where the ambulances would pull up? She's so crazy!!!

My silly, funny mom. Breathlessly running up to our little crew, squeezing her way right in between the medics and blabbering on with a thousand questions as we wove our way up the back hallways of the hospital, completely ignoring my pleas that I don't think you can just walk up the back entrances with the paramedics. Of course she beat us here. Of course she found the right place to go. She's hysterical!

But as funny as it all was, my anxiety was kicking in. I needed more calm, not more excitement. Husband finally shooed my mom into the waiting room and we settled into the little prep room for hours of checks, monitoring, trips to the bathroom and waiting. ("What had you eaten?" the doctor asked as we told the story. "If it was something small, we might not have to wait the whole 8 hours." "Ummm, I ate a whole dinner of enchiladas...")

"Are you having any contractions?" I shook my head uncertainly as the nurse hooked up the monitor to my belly. "Oh, look, that was one!" she exclaimed as a tiny cramp scampered across my belly. Sweet, I can barely even feel them! She may be dramatic, but she's easy too! Husband and I wound down our flurries of texts to friends, and having done the math, I curled up to take a nap. With a C-section coming at 2:30 a.m., I'd better sleep while I can!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

When spring and life are new

Tuesday fun at TWT!
"What do you see?" Through the rearview mirror, I can see Little Sweetie's ever-curious pointer finger declaring that she has made yet another amazing discovery in the world. "Do you see the trees? They're starting to turn green now." The past few months of narrating every detail of the world in response to one tiny, inquisitive finger have me so well-trained that the words just roll off my tongue in a dreamy, absent-minded way... until I realize what I just said. Wait! The trees are turning green!

"Yes! Look! The trees are turning green now because it's spring, Sweetie!" Suddenly, the blurry edges of the world whipping by us become more than just visual white noise. 

I see the trees too. 

I see the fragile leaves bravely pushing to open themselves to the wide world. I see the delicate white flowers barely emerging from buds on fruit trees across the road. I see the brilliant blue sky stretching endlessly above us like a benevolent swath of freedom and hope, and I see the crisp shadows painted around us by the sun's friendly light.

I recall the joy of the awards ceremony we're driving home from: elegant dresses and twisted hair, crisply knotted ties and spotless shirts, warm hugs and proud handshakes. This is the season of celebration and hope, the season of sweet, satisfied breaths absorbing rejuvenation and resilient, confident shoulders rising tall. 

This is the season when new beginnings emerge, graceful and blossoming, from the gritty struggle of fall and winter. 

The words of one of my favorite springtime poems start to cycle through my head: "In time of silver rain / the earth puts forth new life again..."

New buds. New life. Green, growing hope.

"... when spring / and life / are new." Thank you, Langston Hughes, for capturing what springtime really means.