Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Flying free

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Ok, climb on.. oof!" I shift the hard wood to keep it from digging into my legs as little hands and knees start pummeling my back. Dead weight on my neck shoves my head forward, and I have to laugh. "Wait, you're too far forward! Scoot back!!!" Wriggly limbs squirm to a more comfortable position above me, and I tighten my grip around the bar in my hands.

"Ready?! Hold on tight! Hug Mommy really big!" Precious arms squeeze my shoulders, and I shove my boots against the ground.

"FAST!" M&M squeals as my feet scramble to get us to the edge of the hill.

and we're flying!

Wind rushing in our ears,
clear air tickling our rosy cheeks,
Giggling, shrieking, gliding, flying!


We careen to a jarring halt,
frigid snow bits clumping in our eyelashes, biting our faces, clinging to our pigtails.

We tumble off the sled, and I can't remember lesson plans, emails, or a to-do list. I can't remember anything but our twinkling blue eyes, our toothy grins, her little arms hugging my neck, and that flying feeling. Purely, joyfully free.

Whatever I used to do on snow days, it wasn't nearly as sweet as this.

Monday, January 1, 2018

I will rise (OLW 2018)

Ever since I found my first "one little word" in 2012, I've spent December days seeking out my next word. Sometimes, a word finds me, jumping out, lighting up, or slamming into my brain. Those years, I just know I've found my word, or rather, that it has found me. Other years, I let a few words bounce around in my head, turning them over, letting them roll through my mind, trying them out to see if they fit. And a few years, I go actively seeking them, scrolling through favorite quotes or contemplating symbolic images.

Regardless, I've always managed to choose 6 words that have filled my life perfectly for the past 6 years: guiding me, pushing me, and encouraging me through sometimes unimaginable changes. It's incredible to realize that when I chose that first word, I was a young middle-school Spanish teacher on a cart who had only been blogging for a few months. Now, as I savor my seventh word, I'm an experienced high school ELL teacher and mom of an amazing toddler. Those words have taken me so far: 2012: connect --> 2013: delight --> 2014: spark --> 2015: love --> 2016: strong --> 2017: anyway

Usually, I like to reflect on the previous year, but I'm so ready to leave 2017 behind. Let's just say that I couldn't have possibly imagined how much I'd really need the word "anyway". In fact, I probably should have clung to it even more than I remembered to, but it got me through, nonetheless. Here I am, ready to choose another word.

This year, my word definitely found me, as surely as if it had appeared in the sky with shimmering lights. In 2018, I will RISE.
I love making my word with Drawing Desk & Font Candy!
I will RISE to continually improve my instruction.
I will RISE to provide feedback that enables a focus on learning.
I will RISE to show more love and grace to every student.
I will RISE to build a stronger classroom culture with more student ownership.
I will RISE to hold the line high every moment, every day.

I will RISE to "brave the wilderness" and work with authenticity. 
I will RISE to stand firm in doing what is best for students.
I will RISE to center myself in trust, kindness, and hope.
I will RISE to seek out and strengthen colleagues who work with purpose, integrity, and joy.
I will RISE to create widening ripples of positive change.

I will RISE to cherish small moments.
I will RISE to bring my best self home.
I will RISE to be careful with the feelings I create in those who matter most.
I will RISE to love with patience and presence.

I will RISE to keep my body healthy and my mind & heart strong.
I will RISE to choose courage over fear and gratitude over pain.
I will RISE to remember how far I've come, not just how far I have to go.
I will RISE to be gentle with myself.

"Just like hopes springing high, / still I'll rise." -- Maya Angelou

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Bootiful bodies

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Mommy's body's OUT!!!" As I start to change into my running clothes, M&M throws her arms into the air and charges across the room towards me, a flailing windmill of delight.

My mind flashes back to before I had her, when I used to laugh at stories of moms complaining they couldn't even go to the bathroom alone, wondering if that was really true. It is, of course, but it turns out that having a small person put her hands on your knees and stare up at you while you pee (even if she announces "Mommy's peeing in the potty!" in a public restroom) is much more cute than annoying, at least when the small person is the sweet, perfect miracle you grew in your belly.

I crack up as she flings her skinny arms around me, only slightly embarrassed that she is making such a production of what used to be a private activity. Suddenly calm, she strokes my belly and gazes up at me. "It's bootiful!" she softly declares.

I look down, not sure we're seeing the same belly. Freckles, pale skin, too much squishiness and pudge that never goes away, no matter how much I run and work out or how well-toned the rest of my body gets. I love the strength that shows in my arms and legs, which are scrawny enough otherwise that they display my muscles in a way that makes me quite proud, but I'm not a fan of my belly. (And yes, I know, it grew her into a person, but it was already too squishy before that!)

"Thank you, Sweetie!" I kneel down and squeeze her into a big hug, feeling like I'm going to split open and a radiant star is going to burst out of my body. This is important. This is my chance to stop passing on body hatred. "Your body's beautiful, too!" I tug her shirt up and sprinkle kisses all over her belly. I bump her belly with mine. "Look at our beautiful bellies!" Her best-sound-in-the-world giggle tinkles around the room.

"Hey, let's take some selfies with our beautiful bodies!" I want to freeze this moment and remember it forever. Stretching out my arm, I start pushing the white button. "Bootiful bodies! Bootiful bellies!" she squeals.

A minute later, I scroll through the pictures: Her head nestled against my sports bra as she wraps her arms around my belly, cooing and grinning as she squeezes that squishiness I hate into a loving hug. Her proudly posing beside me, rubbing her bare tummy with one hand and patting mine with the other. Her patting my neck, gazing at me and then playfully stretching out a tiny finger to poke my belly button.

I did freeze the moment, but I don't even need the pictures to replay it. Every time I start to look at my belly with less-than-positive thoughts, I hear her little voice again. "It's bootiful!"And just this morning, after several days had passed, she rubbed her belly as I changed her, saying "Bootiful body!" And then she reached for mine again. The other night, as Husband and I held her before bed, she exclaimed, "Mommy's bootiful! Daddy's bootiful too!" and patted both of us.

And I started to believe her.

All she sees is love. She doesn't see that Mommy and Daddy do not exactly look like we stepped out of a fashion magazine. She sees Mommy and Daddy, who love her.

She also loves our hair, face, eyes, teeth... <3
I know that no matter how hard we try to protect her, she will eventually be bombarded with the message that she's not good enough, not pretty enough, not perfect enough. But I refuse to be part of that, and the first step is not sharing the cycle of negative self-talk. So yes, Sweetie, Mommy and Daddy are "bootiful." So are you. So are we all.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Just perfect

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
May 9, 2015, 2:15 a.m.

"Um, c-c-can you wipe my face?" Squirming my hands in a futile attempt to gesture, I strained against the straps that held my arms down.

"Oh, are you hot?" the nurse looked up from whatever she was doing down by my legs.

"N-no... I, um... the tears are running into my ears..." I bit my lip and squeaked out the words, my face burning. It's bad enough be so filled with terror on the operating table during what is supposed to be one of the happiest moments of your life that you can't keep the tears from leaking out, but even worse to have to admit it out loud to a roomful of strangers. If the tears could have run down my face, I wouldn't have minded, but in my horizontal state, those salty warm droplets were tickling my ears in an unbearably annoying way that might have been funny if I wasn't such a mess.

"Oh!" the nurse's face softened and she wiped my face, thankfully without asking why I was crying. Maybe she thought they were happy tears, like normal moms must cry when they're getting ready to give birth? If so, she must not have seen my wide, terrified eyes peeking out of my tense face. I'm not ready for this. I'm so not ready for this! She isn't supposed to come for another 3 weeks! Oh, I'm so not ready to do this. There's no way I'm going to be a good mom. Good moms aren't petrified at the thought of having their babies. What on EARTH was I thinking?! I don't even like babies! What if I don't like her? Some moms don't fall in love with their babies right away! Oh gosh, I totally can't do this...!!!

"Hi, honey!" Husband walked in, covered in funny blue hospital scrubby clothes. I shot panic from my eyes to him, and as he started to talk to me, the whirlwind of the last six hours blended, blurred, and slowed. Our dramatic trip to the hospital, texting and Facebook posts, checkups, me napping while he sat in an uncomfortable chair. Feeling like a solitary island in a swirling sea of medical staff while he had to wait outside: echoes of everyone constantly announcing my name and what they were doing, calling out words and phrases I'd only heard on Scrubs. Calm, kind Dr. Gee (the chief resident, that's like J.D. or Turk in the later seasons, right?) telling me they were going to paint me with some blue Cookie Monster paint, trying to get a giggle out of me. Perching on the edge of the cot while he held my hands and looked right into my eyes, helping me taking slow breaths and talking about how important it was to stay absolutely still. Getting my legs swung up to lie down and the shocking feeling of my arms in straps. (Who knew your arms got strapped down for a C-section?!) The now-infamous tears-in-ears display. And after those tumultuous minutes of bobbing alone with my thoughts and these strangers, Husband in this funny blue alien outfit.

Someone asked if I could feel anything as they ran a knife across my skin. When I said no, they started jiggling my belly. Such a strange sensation! Down there behind the blue curtain, they were playing with my belly, shaking and wiggling it! I couldn't help giggling. "They're jiggling my belly!" I grinned at Husband.

"Do you want us to lower the curtain?" the OB asked. While curious, I had visions of ruining the moment by getting sick, even though I'm usually fine with blood. "Um, no thanks!" And the next thing we knew, a squirmy little red bundle appeared in a pair of gloved hands above the curtain. The next thing I knew, Husband was gazing at me with glistening eyes, cradling the tiny bundle in his arms. We were a little family! Someone put my glasses back on so I could really see her. She was so perfect! Her serene, dainty little face was the cutest thing I'd ever seen. A nurse took a quick picture of the THREE of us with Husband's phone and another with our real camera. My heart was so light and full it seemed like it would fly right up out of my chest and burst out of the ceiling.

When they took her over to a corner of the room to wash her off and check her out, we could hear her making the most adorable yelps, yips, and squeaks. I didn't know babies could sound like little animals! I thought they just cried all the time! We giggled and grinned, squeezing each other's hands.

More gloved hands brought her back and set her on my chest, and I couldn't take my eyes off of her. Her tiny mouth! Her flat little nose! Her tranquil closed eyes! Her minuscule fingers! I loved her. I really loved her!

From the other side of the blue curtain, Dr. Gee exclaimed, "Your belly's gone!" From the small weight gain I'd had, that was no surprise. But I didn't care what was happening down there, because something amazing was curled up on my chest.

I loved everything about her, and I wasn't scared anymore. She was just perfect.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Mommy come!

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Mommy tome! Mommy look for dem!" A tiny hand tugged on the bottom of my robe and a warm little arm wrapped itself around my leg. In a rush to drag me across the kitchen, a small, wiggly body strained to pull me along as scampering feet stumbled over my big bunny slippers.

It was 8:30 on Easter morning and we'd already been hunting eggs around our downstairs for nearly a half hour. (Apparently, this is how long it takes when you have to open every egg immediately upon finding it, even when they are hidden in plain sight for toddler eyes!)

From the moment we met Little Sweetie in her room and told her it was Easter, the morning had been nothing but pure joy. "Easter Bunny COMES!" she screeched. "EGGS! PRESENTS!" (Just like in December, with "Santa! Presents!", my mom had made sure she knew what to expect!) As we changed her diaper, she craned her neck backwards towards the rest of the house, throwing back her arms and waving her little hands in the direction of the great room. "Eggs! Downstairs! Easter Bunny brings eggs! Hi, eggs!"

We'd watched her scurry around the great room, narrating the hunt as she went.
"Other egg! Run to it! RUNNING! Open it! PRIZE!" Pitter patter. "Other egg! See it! Get it! Open it! Prize is hiding!" Pitter patter. "More up there! Easter Bunny CAME! Kitty n Baba watched! MORE EGGS! Hiding! Open them! Basket!" Pitter patter. "Look for more! M. looking! OTHER EGGS! Get them out!" Pitter patter...

I thought there was nothing better than watching this little whirlwind of excitement tear around the downstairs... until she grabbed my leg and insisted that I come with her. "Mommy tome! Mommy look for dem!" I'm not sure what made her decide that I suddenly needed to join the hunt, but as I tried to keep us both from falling down in the midst of her frenzied tugging, I wanted to freeze time forever. "Daddy..." I shot him a you-better-get-a-picture-of-this look and concentrated on the feeling of her squrimy little self dragging my leg forward while her squeaky voice chirped.

"Looking for eggs!!! 'Gether! With MOMmy!"

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Raising their voices

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"I read every one. So powerful!"
"These are amazing! Thanks for sharing!"
"I love these!" "These are beautiful!" "This is fantastic!"
"Very inspiring!" "What a great idea!"
"Thanks for doing this!"
"Their stories deserve to be heard!"

Each social media notification and email from a friend or colleagues is another balloon of hope and joy, gently lifting a little more until I'm ready to float away like the house in UP. When people see my students like I see them, they can't help but love them like I love them. Maybe, just maybe, the lawmakers I mailed their stories to will start to see them, and love them, too.

As soon as the President's immigration ban threw airports, homes, and families into chaos that Saturday night, my heart and brain started pounding. What could I do? My students would be upset. How could I honor their feelings? How could we make a difference? My mind drifted back to Inauguration Day, when my friends loved my students' quick reaction notes, and some encouraged me to send them to our legislators. That's what we could do! So much of this fear comes from ignorance. All that Saturday evening, I turned over ideas in my head for a template that would help my students teach lawmakers how hard it is to be an immigrant or refugee, and what amazing young people they really are. People need to understand how long it takes to prepare to come here and be approved, the severity of what many of them are fleeing, and the simple fact that these are innocent, sensitive, hardworking, incredible kids and families! That Sunday afternoon, as Husband kept Sweetie occupied with books and toys, I scrapped my original lesson plans for Monday and designed a one-page template that would help my students get to the heart of these important ideas.

I knew that if I framed it right, my kids would be excited to share their experiences, especially with a real chance to make a difference. Hope and power sparkled in their eyes as I explained that they should not write their names because we would really mail these to our lawmakers. Even so, I was astonished by how purposefully they spread out around the room and settled in to write, some with tear-filled eyes, so dedicated that they spent more than a class period and we had to continue on Tuesday.

When I began reading and compiling their responses, I found that, as well as I know my kids, there is always more to learn. And the more I learn, the more I love them:

You don't just decide you'll go to America and then go on Monday.
Responses ranged from a few months to 12 years!
"there are many gangs in El Salvador"

"India is not safe for girls."
"I can not study in schools because the school bombed."
"Every day people die. The people in my country now like monsters and the schools bad and no future."
"Arbil is better than other place in Iraq because if we go to the other places some people can kill us."
"That was so hard to live without dad."
"My dad has a kidney disease and he is come here to seek treatment."
"Hope to reduce my academic pressure... have a relaxed and happy school life and weekend" (from a Chinese student)
"Every day there was news about a thief who killed someone to steal something from that person. We felt that this could happen to us. People are starving."

"I was felt sad and scary living in Iraq and Syria because of the war. I can't go to school."
"distance my friends, so I can't see long time and I won't be able to school events with classmates."

"But that happened a lot of bad thing I suffered because we walked during the night and we had to cross a big river."
"...to finish our transactions was in Aman it was take 2 h to be in Aman at 7 a.m. We was do that for 10 years."
"We get interview and it is four interviews so it wait between the interviews years and years."
"because Trump became President and he want to kick us out of America that makes me mad and actually he ban the refugees for month so I was happy that my dad is coming, I don't see him for 6 years but now I don't gonna see him because of the bad rule from Trump!"

"happy because my life is preserved from the war / sad because I will miss my family in Iraq."
"I hope still living here because this country is wonderful."
Fear and hope, pain and happiness, education and family. Rugged determination, patience, wonder, and love. From China to Venezuela, the same dreams spread around my classroom.

All mailed off to our congressmen (local and federal offices) and President Trump!
Immigrants and refugees are not numbers. They are kids and families fighting for better lives, and they need our love to be stronger than our fear.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Daddy holding

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Oh, poor thing, she probably wants you!" Several colleagues around the table nod knowingly, exchanging mom looks as I explain that Little Sweetie is home sick with Husband today.

"Actually, she probably wants him! She's been really attached to him lately since she only sees him for a short time each evening."

"They always want Mommy when they're sick, though!" More commiserating mom looks across the conference room. This whole gender role thing is super out of control! Even though Husband doesn't have to write sub plans and has more time off than I do, and even though I absolutely thrive on putting my whole self into making a difference every day while I'm at school, my colleagues have almost managed to guilt me into feeling bad that I'm not the one staying home today. I feel as if I've broken some sort of unwritten rule that Mom has to be the one to stay home with the sick kid. It's just like when we'd go out after first having her, and everyone would act astonished that Husband was acting like an equal partner in taking care of her. Those first few weeks, we couldn't help but be astonished at the frequency of comments like, "Ooh, he changes diapers?!"

"I didn't want to wake her up when I left, but I'm pretty sure she'll be really excited to spend the whole day with Daddy!" I try not to roll my eyes, because I know my colleagues mean well and are trying to imply that we share some sort of special womanly connection as moms. Forever the fiercely independent tomboy, I don't quite feel it, but I appreciate that they're trying to connect with me.

At the end of the school day, Husband texts me to say that Sweetie is still feeling so bad that they're going to the doctor, so I hurriedly pack up and jump into the car to meet them. The check-in secretary waves me through the waiting room door and a sweet young nurse directs me to an exam room. "She's just the cutest," she gushes, "it's so sad that she's sick!" As I shove the door open, I see Husband hushing me with an urgent finger over his mouth. Little Sweetie is curled up on his chest, sound asleep, sighing huge, heavy breaths.

When my childhood doctor finally comes in, she stirs unhappily, emitting pathetic squeaks and whimpers. "Mommy's here, Sweetie! Look, Mommy left work early to see you!" She stares at me with vacant eyes and starts to cry as the doctor begins trying to look in her ears. "Do you want to come see Mommy?" I offer, and she reaches out for me, but I only hold her for a minute before she leans back toward Husband, shaking and crying harder. "Daddy!" "I think she remembers this place and thinks she has to get shots," he shrugs.

Giving her a final snuggle, I pass her back to him, and she burrows back against him while I settle for patting her arm. The doctor decides it must be a virus, advises us to keep giving her fluids and Tylenol, and sends us back home without any real solution.

"Do you want to ride in Mommy's car or Daddy's?" I ask as we gather our bags and coats. "Mommy!" she mumbles sweetly. "Ok, you can listen to your mirror in Mommy's car!" We walk out, and check again as we approach the cars, since she usually doesn't like when we have to leave somewhere in separate cars. "Do you want to ride with Mommy or Daddy?"

"Mommy!" I open the car door, pull my seat forward, throw my bag on the floor, and reach for her, but she clenches her legs tight against Husband and digs her tiny fists into his shoulders. We glance at each other. "Do you want to ride with Mommy or Daddy?"

"Daddy!" I kiss her and wave bye-bye, and when we meet back at home, she wants to sit all evening on Daddy's lap, while Daddy reads her books and Daddy holds her water bottle. ("Do you want to sit on Mommy's lap?" "Daddy!") And Daddy does, even though he's exhausted from an entire day of holding her and trying to make her feel better.

And after she refuses every dinner choice we offer and then throws up, she nuzzles deeper into his shoulder and mutters, "Hold you. Holding."

"Daddy will hold you!" he whispers in her ear. With teary eyes and shaking shoulders, he hugs her tighter and carries her up to bed. He loves her THAT much! So much that her pain hurts him!

At 20 months old, she doesn't have any ideas about who's supposed to take care of her. She knows we both love her, and she knows that time with Daddy is extra special.

I'm awestruck by how much I love them both.