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


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.


"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.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

You never know until you try

Day 31 of 31!!!! at TWT!
I did it! I seriously, actually did it! I wrote all 31 days. With Little Sweetie! Without even very much stress! 

The first Marches, there was never any question that I'd do it. Of course I would write every day! That was the whole point! I don't start things without finishing them. I'm too much of a perfectionist to allow myself to come short. Sure enough, 2012-2014 were three perfectly triumphant Marches.

Annnnd then there was last year. Oh, yikes, last year. Pregnant, swamped with testing, and so stressed I could barely breathe. I almost didn't even try, because I didn't think I could do it, and I didn't want it to be one more heavy weight pushing down on me. But not trying would have broken my heart, so I did. And I was decidedly not perfect. I only wrote 14 posts. However, as I tell my kids, that's 14 posts more than I would have written if I wouldn't have tried, and I still had a fulfilling experience.

This year, I didn't know what would happen. Could I really do it? I'd done a pretty good job all school year navigating my new teacher-mom identity, but... could I really blog every day, on top of all of that? I knew I was much stronger, more confident, and better balanced than last year, but... would trying to do this challenge upset the teetering stability I'd so carefully crafted over the past few months? I wasn't sure, but I knew I wanted to try. After all, I'd probably do better than last year, right? 

For the first half of March, the new, chill, not-freaking-out-all-the-time me chugged along, mostly free of pressure and pleasantly surprised at how well I was doing. Then, somewhere around Day 20, it hit me: I might actually DO this! Whoa. Suddenly, my perfectionist self woke up: I was so close! I had to do it! The old clenched jaw, tight neck muscles, and clock-watching (would I have enough time to write today?!) started to creep back, but still not as intensely as old, stressed, lots-of-worrying me. And by the time I got through Easter, I knew, with the proud weight of absolute certainty: I was going to do this! Sweeping through the remaining evenings with glee, I suddenly found myself waking up this morning with that surreally proud feeling I sometimes get on Friday mornings and at the end of the quarter: Wait, did I really make it through? Look, I did it! That wasn't so bad! 

As it turns out, having an adorable Little Sweetie around actually makes it easier to write. I've had a dedicated, uninterruptible time slot each night to write after she goes to bed, complete with 30-45 minutes of peaceful brainstorming time while she eats her bedtime meal. Moreover, she's a perpetual source of fun writing ideas! In fact, this was the first March that my "writing possibilities" list in Evernote actually got longer, because every time I'd come up with a new idea, she'd do something else irresistibly cute!

And so, here I am, in my usual spot on the couch, at the usual writing time, crafting my 31st slice in a row. I did it! Super Strong Teacher-Reader-Writer-Mom to the rescue! You never know until you try, and, as always, I'm so glad I did.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Raising readers

Day 30 of 31 at TWT!
"I don't like reading because in my country [UAE] baby don't like to read, and when they grow bigger they still don't like." Sadly, I'm not even surprised when I get to this part of A's reflection letter.

The first time one of my Middle Eastern students told me in a reading conference that he had never read a book before, I almost fell out of my chair. Never read a book?! How could someone get to high school having never read a book?! I knew reading was a less common pastime in some other countries than it is here, but...?! No wonder it was such a struggle to help these kids find "just right" books in English -- they'd never even done that in Arabic!

But after several years of getting that exact response nearly every time I conference with another new student from the Middle East, I've come to expect it. "In my country, I was weird because I read books," admitted J, the one Iraqi student who came to me already identifying as a reader. "I love being here because there are so many books, and other people read! I'm not weird for reading stories here."

Turning kids into readers is one of the absolute best parts of my job, but even many high schoolers who "hate" reading have chosen books before, read books before, and often even have fond memories of a time in their childhoods, long ago, when they did enjoy reading. Winning back those reluctant readers is a much different task than starting from absolute scratch with kids who have no concept of what's it's like to choose a book and no cultural frame of reference for the idea that reading is something that people do for fun. While I'm used to this by now, hearing students identify and articulate that cultural norm still jars me.

A.'s insightful reflection illustrates how crucial it is to grow readers from the moment they are born. I don't know if he would have noticed the cultural difference anyway, like J, or if all the pictures I show of my baby reveling in her books helped him realize and articulate it. Either way, it's such a powerful statement:
"I don't like reading because in my country baby don't like to read..."

Not in my country, thank goodness. And definitely not in my house!

Even the Easter Bunny knows...
... Little Sweetie is already a reader!
"Look, Mommy!"
Raising readers is important, magical work, whether they're ten months old or in tenth grade. So grateful that I get to share the joy of reading with one very special kid who wiggles with glee at the sight of a book... but just as thankful that I also get to spread it to so many others who have either lost that delight or never even knew it at all.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

New mornings

Day 29 of 31 at TWT!
Mornings were always the worst. The very worst! The abrupt beep of the alarm jarring me out of peaceful sleep. Peeling my eyes open, only to be greeted by thick, bleak darkness. Who decided high schools should start when it's still dark out, anyway?! Sluggishly convincing myself to peel back the cozy cocoon of covers that protected me from not only the cold, but also the inevitably looming weight of stress and exhaustion.

Sweet Husband tried everything to make that early hour more bearable. He'd get up early with me even though he goes to work much later. He bought me a cheerful Wake-up Light to repel the darkness and greet us with a gentle, tinkling chime. He even created a special "wake-up" playlist for me to listen to while I plodded listlessly through the nearly insurmountable task of getting ready each morning.

Each improvement brightened the day and lightened my steps a little, but I still hated mornings. Hated them. And the more stressed I got, the more miserable those mornings became.


Tiny squeaks and yelps emerge from down the hallway. "Ba-ba-ba-ba. Woooo!" She babbles to herself. Rustle-rustle. Thump! Thud! A smile sneaks its way across my face and sleepiness quickly slips away as I picture her squirming and swimming on her Nemo crib sheet, rolling from side to side to reach her dainty fingers out the bars of her crib, and lifting both feet high just to thump them down again. "Aaah, she's SO CUTE!!!" I whisper in Husband's ear and throw an arm happily across his chest.

Flutter, flap, flail! She always convulses with pure joy when one of us walks into her room to get her out of her crib, stretching her signature smile so wide open it seems it might split her face in two.

"That's Nemo! And there's Brutus! There's Nemo with the seahorse! That's Brutus again! That's your big bunny. There's Nemo and Squirt! Hi, Nemo and Squirt!" I know she's pointing and waving at all her favorite "friends" in her room as Husband carries her to the changing table. How can I be anything but happy as I listen to those two sweeties chatter and play?

"Ha-aaAAH!" She squeals and cackles, and I peer through the doorway to glimpse her tugging on his hair as he bends over to search through her dresser for the latest adorable outfit. "What do you want to wear today, Sweetie?" He croons in the softest, sweetest, just-for-her voice.

"That's Daddy's nose! Boop! There's your nose!"
"Are you getting Daddy's arm? Are you gonna eat Daddy's arm?!"
"That's Nemo. And that's Squirt! Hi, friends!"
"Whoooooop!" I know that's the sound of him pulling a shirt over her head. She's not a fan of getting clothes pulled over her head, but she doesn't mind nearly as much when he makes this cute little sound effect!

"Yes, we're going to go see Mama. She's getting your restaurant ready!"

They round the corner and there's an immediate storm of squirm-flap-flail-thrashing. She bounces up and down in his arms, panting, grabbing his shirt with clenched fists and pointing & waving at me. "Ma-ma-ma."

"Hi, sweetie!" All traces of sleepiness are long gone, lost in these happy, sweet, precious morning moments. The very best.