Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Kids in the snow

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Nohhh!" "Out!" "Ang-yul!" "Boots!" "Ang-yul!" Little Sweetie is prancing back and forth beside the sliding glass door, pointing outside and back at our winter clothes strewn haphazardly on the doormat from our first snow on Sunday. With one hand, I attempt to pull on my snowpants and boots while simultaneously gathering up her scattered fleece suit, snowpants, boots, coat, and mittens. Daylight is fading fast out the window, but I've been waiting for this all day as I watched the fluffy flakes fall. Quickly, I plunk her down on my knee and stuff her into layer after layer. By the time I finish wrangling her tiny mittens down and out the arms of her coat, I'm so hot I consider just leaving my own coat off to go outside, but I throw it on anyway.

"Down-down!" Her little legs squirm as I carry her down the deck stairs. "Wwalk-ing!" She toddles off into the yard, making little "ooh-ooh" noises.

"Ang-yul!" "Mannn!"

"Our snowman fell down, but we can fix him!" I find the intact-but-separated balls from Sunday's snowman, quickly roll them a few times to add some new snow, and stick them together.

"Mannn!" "Pat!" "Hugggg!"

"Are you the very sweetest?" My heart wants to burst as she pats the snowman's shoulder and snuggles up to him for a hug. She just loves everything and everyone so much!

"Ang-yul!"

"Do you want to make a snow angel?" I remember how cute she was when we helped her make one on Sunday, spreading her legs back and forth and flailing her arms, and I can't wait to help her try again.

"No. Mommy!" Her succinct, clipped "no" with a slight head shake is definitely "no", not "nohh" (snow).

"You want Mommy to make a snow angel?" I'd rather have her make an adorably tiny one, but... whatever makes her happy!

"Mommy!" "Ang-yul!" "Make!"

"Ok, you can watch Mommy make a snow angel!" I plop down, savoring the soft cushion of snow underneath me, and start wiggling. As she grins and giggles, I'm suddenly stunned by the gentle beauty of delicate flakes falling onto my face under a backdrop of gray winter sky. It's impossible to be anything but purely happy while making a snow angel! The last lingering bits of school stress melt away, and I'm a kid again, even as I sit up to look back into my own toddler's eyes.

"Do you want to make a snow angel now?"

"No! Walking!" She takes off, little legs plowing through the snow, and I follow. "Weeeee!" Our two sets of tracks crisscross through the pristine white expanse of the yard: two kids playing in the snow.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

What I really love

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Oh, you LOVE talking in front of people! I'll just sit over to the side and nod, maybe click the slides..." My colleague laughs and winks at me, joking-but-not-joking about her nervousness for our upcoming PD presentation about modifying assessments.

I grin, because she's right-but-not-right, and I like the me that she sees. I like that she doesn't see the anxious tension that ties my muscles tight before a presentation or the restless intensity that courses through me as I check and rework my slides. I like that she doesn't see my jittery knees and hands, the fierce heat that pours into sweat as I talk, or the flurry of thoughts that floods my brain as I fight to appear calm, knowledgeable, and relatable. I love that she sees my enthusiasm instead of my fear and doubt. Because I actually hate "talking in front of people", but I love teaching them.

I love nudging people to change their thinking, whether they are students or adults. I love opening minds to new possibilities, designing opportunities for focused practice, and settling down elbow-to-elbow to guide and encourage. I love lit-up eyes and heads bent in concentration. I love building communities that center on learning and growth. I love sparking change. Most of all, I love my kids, and I know that I can make a bigger difference for them by stepping out of my comfort zone to be a resource to my colleagues.

So while I'm rehearsing my exact words for the millionth time, pressing my hands across my laptop case to savor its calming smoothness, subtly stretching my rigid back, and sucking in deep breaths, I'll take a moment to float above the room and see myself as I jump in: energetic, determined, and grateful for every chance to change the world for my kids.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thank FULL

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"I love godmother"

"đŸ’• THANK YOU đŸ’• "

"Dear Mama, Thank you for loving me..."

My heart does a few flips in my chest as I glance around the table at the thank-you cards my beginner ELLs are making for people they are thankful for. "Aww, your people are going to LOVE these!" I squeal, and the warmth spreading through my body grows as I peer closer over their shoulders.

"Thank you for supporting me in everything..."

"I appreciate when you listen to me..."

"I am grateful for your patience even when I am unruly"

"I love when we talk in the kitchen..."

The language teacher in me is excited that they're doing a great job applying the sentence structures and vocabulary from my mini-lesson, but the so-much-more-than-language teacher in me wants to skip across the room. My kids are the absolute sweetest. They do not have all the words they need, but they are not afraid to try to say exactly what is in their hearts.

The bell is about to ring, and I want to hug them all, wishing I could see each of them give these cards to the special people in their lives, when H. waves me over to her seat. "Mrs. M, how do you spell your name?" And in case my heart couldn't get any fuller, she fills my name into the blank space she had left after "Dear" and hands her card to me.

There is no better feeling than knowing that your students see you exactly as you hope they do.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

In person

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"I voted on Saturday."
"I mailed mine in weeks ago."

Around the lunch table yesterday, it seemed like hardly any of my colleagues were going to vote in person today. Everyone did their civic duty, but in their attempts to avoid lines and crowds, I think they missed out on the magic.

When I was little, my mom always made a big deal out of taking me to vote with her. We'd go inside the little blue cloth stall and excitedly close the thick, velvety curtain behind us. Firmly, with purpose and enthusiasm, she would push the switches to select her chosen candidates, telling me how important and special this process was. I don't remember exactly what she said, but I definitely remember walking away, voting stickers on our shirts, with a sense that we had done something BIG.

"I just love going on Tuesday to push those buttons myself!" I tried to convey to my colleagues the impression my mom gave me on all those Tuesday trips to the little blue stalls.

And so, as I unbuckled Sweetie from her carseat this afternoon, I put some extra sparkle in my eyes. "We're going to vote, Sweetie!"
"Boat!"
"Vote! We're going to vote for the president!" I swung her onto my hip, straightened her stars-and-stripes dress, and marched up to the "VOTING TODAY" sign.

The poll workers oohed and ahhhed as they swiped my ID. "What a cutie! She looks so patriotic!" Beaming, they got her a sticker and grinned when she tenderly patted it as I put it on her dress.

No heavy blue curtains or metal switches anymore, but the touchscreen machine certainly got Sweetie's attention as soon as I started to push my selections. As it chortled and chirped, spitting out the little paper on the side, she wiggled and giggled against me, pointing her tiny finger back and forth between the screen and the paper.

"See, that was fun, right?" As soon as I touched the final green button, I pushed my forehead against hers, squeezing her tight. "Your first presidential election!"

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Already a storyteller

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Sorry, we went to Boo At the Zoo!" As we burst into my parents' house 20 minutes late for Sunday dinner, I breathe in deep whiffs of my mom's spaghetti sauce, which, luckily for us, just gets better the longer it cooks.

Little Sweetie yanks her hand out of mine and toddles over to my dad, looking even more adorable than usual in her BB-8 costume. "Did you have fun at the zoo?" he asks.

Fish mouth. Fish mouth. Fish mouth. Her eyes bulge with excitement as her lips pop open and closed.

"Oh, did you see some fishies there?"

"Tur-tur-tle-tle!"

"Oh, and some turtles?"

"Burrrrrr!" She flaps her arms so hard I think she might actually lift herself off the ground. "Uh MOU!" She sticks out her tongue and then dramatically pokes her pointer finger into her wide-open mouth.

"Oh, Granddaddy," I interpret, giggling, "after we saw the fish and the turtles, we got to feed the birds in the Lorikeet Garden! They used their tongues to put our food in their mouths! It was so exciting!"
While we were there, I think she flapped her arms and squawked more than the birds did!

She may only be 17 months old, but she is already quite the storyteller!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Forgetting

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
I forgot it was Tuesday. Writing day. Slice of Life day!

I don't feel like writing. I'm tired and stressed, and because I forgot what day it was, I forgot to be thinking about writing all day. I forgot to roll writing ideas around in my head as I showered, walked down the hallways, and drove to and from school. I forgot to notice the wispy, glittering hints of writing ideas half-hidden all around me. I forgot to start giving myself pep talks, to remind myself why I write, to sweep out the dark corners of my brain and make room for writing.

So, at 7:30, when I begrudgingly pull my laptop out of my bag and settle onto the couch, committed to keeping my assigned appointment with myself, I am not in a writing mood. I am like a kid staring down a pile of homework.

Strong Jennifer and Frazzled Jennifer start to argue:

If I don't write tonight, I'll have to tell my students next week that I didn't even come close to my goal... again!

But I don't have anything to write about...

Yes, yes I do! Dumb excuse! I have a whole list of writing ideas in Evernote!(scrolling through list of ideas)

  Nope. Not that one, too much work. Nope, not that one, not in the mood. Nope... Nope... Nope... None of these are any good. 

Oh hush, yes they are! There are so many great ideas in there!

Well, all the good ones are too much work. Or they don't match my mood right now.

How about a slice about not wanting to write?

But I've done those before! Who wants to read another one of those?!

Let's put a new twist on it! I can think of a new twist! Besides, they're great for showing kids!

But I'm so sleeeepy! We just finished the first nine weeks! I could take a break this week...

No! No more breaks! It's only part of one evening! There are plenty of other breaks in the week, and if I start writing only when I feel like it, I won't do it nearly enough! I'm forever telling kids how sometimes we have to work even when we don't feel like it! 

But, you know, that one extra stressy thing... IMPENDING DOOM! (gritted teeth and tightness in my neck, for extra drama)

Oh, come on, it's not even that bad. Just one dumb thing. It will almost certainly turn out better than I imagine. And not writing is not going to help. In fact, not writing will make me feel worse! 

Yeah, ok, I know, totally right. But... sleepiness! Snuggly couch! 

If I start right now, I'll have time to relax afterwards! And then I can really enjoy the relaxing, instead of feeling annoyed and guilty that I didn't write when I had the chance!

Oh fine. Here we go. I suppose we can do a new "I don't want to write" one...

(Fingers clicking.
Brain spinning.
Words flying.
Writing.
Playing.)

See, that wasn't so bad, right? Actually pretty fun? And how about this proud, STRONG feeling?!

That's what I don't want to forget.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Reset

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
Tight shoulders, gritted teeth, buzzing brain. I slam my laptop shut with a little extra oomph and shove it into my bag, barely noticing the usually-calming texture of my case and decals. That email, rrrRRRR, seriously?!... I didn't get to write my plans on the board and tomorrow morning is collaboration time... Have to get those book reviews graded in time for the kids to make corrections... and grade those projects... Still haven't responded to that other email... So much to... "Ma-ma-ma!"

Little Sweetie tugs at my pants leg, peering up half-sideways with her signature grin. "Ok, are you ready to go buh-bye with Mommy? Let's go have some fun!" I take a deep breath, pick up my bag, and grab her warm little hand. Her tiny fingers cling to mine, and those once-pressing thoughts drift away like fog in sunshine. Her neon pink shoes patter on the tile beside me, stopping periodically to investigate open doorways, lockers, and fascinating spots on the floor.

"Are you ready to go to the zzzzzzzoo, since Meemaw had to drop you off early?" She stops, flips her eyes wide open, and does her best fish-mouth. "That's right! We can see the fishies!" I giggle, and she continues with her famous extended version of her favorite word: "Tur-tur-tle-tle!"

"Yeah, and the turtles! We can see the fishies and turtles at the zoo!" The language teacher in me is in constant awe of how huge her receptive vocabulary already is, especially now that she is really starting to be able to produce a wider range of words and gestures to communicate her understanding.

By the time we're driving up the road with the windows cracked and sunlight streaming through the moon roof, my shoulders have loosened and my jaw hangs in an easy smile. As we walk up to the distinctive yellow entrance with its towering sign, my mind empties and opens to take in all the zoo joy that awaits:

rich, creamy Black Cherry ice cream in a crisp waffle cone, and Sweetie's hysterical puckered face each time I give her a lick...

her spindly legs bouncing as she crouches to peep through the barn slats at the goats, stretching her little hand out to pet any that come close enough...

she sticks out her tongue and pants heavily (her signal for "dog") as the black bear waddles right up to the glass in its newly redesigned enclosure...

"Beehhhh!" she shrieks when we approach the polar bear, who lazily lounges by his pool...

her tiny finger curls and straightens at each new habitat, then her little hand opens into a floppy wave as I name each animal for her...


her toothy grin as she pats, then slaps, then hugs the baby polar bear statue on the arctic playground...

she toddles up to the small blue slides, unsteadily sets herself down at the top, slowly hangs her legs down, grins, sticks her tongue out, and slides herself down like a very big girl, no longer needing Mommy to hold her like she did this summer...

and, best of all, her squealing, cackling, shrieking windmill of writhing legs and flailing arms each time the cougar paces past her, the beaver dives in front of her, or a flock of sparrows flutters by us on the path.

Pure delight. So much joy. The perfect reset to my day.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Joy, love, and strength

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Let's watch Mommy now!" The little blonde girl tugs at her toddling brother's hand as their mom lines up in the lane beside me. "Ok honey," her husband mutters in her ear, "let's see what you've got left: one more lap!" She takes off like a tightly coiled spring let loose: smooth and powerful.

She doesn't look like a mom. She looks like a runner.

I'm halfway through my run, and this family has been my adorable entertainment since I got to the track. I've seen both parents run serious laps, the dad run with the little girl, the mom push the toddler in the jogging stroller, the boy toddle along beside the mom, and both kids run/toddle behind the dad. Together, they absolutely exude joy, love, and strength.

"Go, Mommy, go!" Over my shoulder, the girl and boy are jumping up and down as their mom rounds the last curve. "You can do it! Just a little farther! GO MOMMY!!!"

Little Sweetie is at home in bed, but I hear her little voice in my head and run a little harder. In a few years, that could be her, watching and cheering for me, knowing that her mommy works hard to be strong. Knowing that she is part of a family who treasures joy, love, and strength.

I pound down the straightaway and head into my last two laps, watching Blond Runner Family pack themselves into their SUV. Their giggles fade into the lengthening shadows and the track fills with its usual serenity. I let my mind drift open and absorb everything I love about running outside.

Bright white lines cut cleanly through the soft murkiness of dusk. Tree silhouettes stand like giant heads of broccoli against the fiery brushstrokes of sunset. Crickets and cicadas trill soaring songs that rise and fall against the stillness. A refreshing breeze swishes across my skin, chilling the beaded drops of sweat before they can run into the rivulets of summer. And in my pumping legs and arms, tight muscles strain to learn new strength.

As the shadows threaten to overtake the red rubber entirely, I push my shoulders back and kick it around the last turn. I just have to grin as my legs and arms launch me towards the finish line. Look at me! I've come so far! The unassuming middle school bleachers are empty, but cheers ring in my head. Go Mommy! 

Little Sweetie will be watching, and she will know joy, love, and strength.
She already loves to look up to me!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Science, too!

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
If you would have asked me ten years ago where I'd be today, this would not be it. It's the middle of 6th period, and I'm suddenly having one of those random moments of acute self-awareness, as if I'm floating above myself, watching a scene unfold while also acting in it.

My small group of students is huddled around me on one side of the biology lab: two Muslim boys, a Korean boy, a Chinese girl and boy, and three Muslim girls in hijab. As we work together to scrutinize cell diagrams, I hear myself saying things like, "Remember, cells with a nucleus are eukaryotic..." Look at me, teaching science, haha!

"Ok, 5c: 'Based on your answer to the previous question, what can you infer about the cells without this structure?'... This question wants us to use our answer from 5b to make a guess. We said the flagellum, that little tail, helps the cell move..." If my engineer dad, who can't picture what I do in my science push-ins, walked in here right now and saw me pointing to a cell diagram with one hand while waving my other hand behind my rear end like a little swishing fish tail, he would die laughing... "So what can we guess about the cells that don't have one?"

I like this activity. My kids are getting it! At first glance, I didn't think it would be helpful. Too wordy, too boring, another packet in the Sea of Too Many Worksheets otherwise known as high school. But upon closer inspection, the diagrams were clear and well-labeled, and the questions (once we decoded their academic language together) were carefully targeted to help us closely read the diagrams to learn the most important characteristics of each type of cell.

I seriously love teaching. I feel like skipping down the hallway. We are making such a difference!

Before my colleague and I pushed into content classes, our ELLs spent most of their day drifting, lost, silent. In their own ways, our colleagues were just as lost, feeling like they had no idea what to do with kids who didn't speak English.

Now, I spend two periods of my day in science class, right there to support everyone, and I love it. I love seeing my kids fully engaged with rigorous academic content. I love working with my awesome science colleagues to design and implement more linguistically appropriate activities and assessments to enable that engagement. We still have so much work to do, but I truly believe we are on the right track.

Most of all, I love moments like one of my favorite snapshots from this fall, when a "regular American" freshman, frantically looking for one of my colleagues in the hallway, saw me and exclaimed, "Hey! You're my science teacher, too!"

"That's right! What do you need?" My grin stretched so much wider than his. I'm your science teacher, too! 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

After all

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Hi :-) Mrs. M teacher! :-)" As I settled into my chair to check my morning emails, my eyes flicked from the subject line to the Korean characters in the "sent" column to the English version of the name beside them. Oh my gosh. It's K.

K, who used to be standing outside my classroom door every morning when I got to school, shoulders slumped in and long bangs combed purposefully across his eyes, hiding from the world. K, who scrawled a mixture of astute explanations (often accompanied by impressive diagrams to compensate for his limited English) and heavy-handed, repetitive "I hate..." statements. K, whose monsters would scare him so far into himself that he'd shut down completely, a little ball of lanky teenaged boy over by the window. K, who would then suddenly just let loose in a stream of hesitant-but-perceptive questions and reflections, pouring out his battles in halting beginner English for 20 or 30 minutes after class or before school the next day.

Identifying his triggers. Figuring out coping strategies that might work. The same anxious questions over and over again. Fighting his brain and feeling so frustrated and discouraged by what was "wrong" with him. Apologizing for disappointing me and sweetly thanking me for my help. Creating fascinating analogies, like comparing his energy to a phone battery that ran lower as the week went on, but could be "recharged" by help from his support system at school. Such insight in the midst of such overwhelming challenges.

K, who was suddenly just gone. Withdrawn from school one day last fall and sent back to Korea after an awful incident at home. Just like that. All the hours of listening and talking, of hooking him up with other supports, of keeping in close communication with those team members and wracking our brains to come up with innovative ideas to help him be successful... gone. We didn't even get to say goodbye.

Hours of work off of our plates, but it didn't feel good at all. Just when we were starting to get a really good support system in place, just when we were really feeling good about what we were doing to help him... he was gone. Ripped away from all those new supports. We didn't even get to try the check-in form that I'd worked so hard to make for him. My whole body seemed to be trying to tie itself in knots as I signed his withdrawal paperwork. What would ever happen to him, starting over in Korea?

And here he was, after all this time, right in my inbox this morning. Nothing in the body of the email, just that greeting in the subject line. But it was him. Alive, presumably not in jail or in a hospital, and emailing me to say hi with cute little emoji smiles. Tears spurted from my eyes as I restrained myself from replying IN ALL CAPS! "K, I'm so glad to hear from you!!!"

And later today, in his reply back, this sentence that tugged my heart right back to all those arduous-but-profound conversations: "Thank you for letting thoughts."

We didn't save him. We didn't get him close to graduation. We couldn't even help him avoid blowing up that weekend last fall. But he remembers my classroom as a safe place, and he remembers me as someone who cares. I must be doing a pretty good job, after all.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Home-y

Tuesdays at TWT!
"It's so empty in here!" I scrunch up my face as the newly blank cabinets, walls, and counters of the copy room strike me like a slap.

"Yeah, they worked really hard to get it cleaned up!" The secretary making copies can't see my face. "Isn't it nice?"

"No! I hate blank rooms! They're unfriendly!" I laugh. "That's why my room looks like an elementary school room. I want it to be home-y!"

Actually, I want it to be more than home-y. I want it to be home. And at the start of every new year, love spills out of my heart and flows around those tables and up onto those walls as I implement new tweaks to make it home-ier. As I work, I see shadows of kids huddled in groups, curled up in corners, and gathered in the meeting area: happy, comfortable, determined, enthusiastic, safe.

I've worked hard to create a variety of functional, comfortable learning zones!
Every year, I'm able to optimize our space for learning a little more. This year's improvements include re-arranging to create space for another small group table, adding bigger supply caddies on all the tables, and improving our schedule and learning target displays.
Cards on the schedule board
will help students know where
they should sit during each activity.
Below the calendar display,
a clearer display of specific targets
that are our focus for the day.

 

Color-coded ongoing learning targets will be added to this board
 as we go, since we will build on most throughout the year.
Fidget toys, activity books, and tip sheets
to help manage stress & difficult emotions!
And because my room does become their safe place in the midst of so many struggles, I'm adding a calm-down zone near the reading corner. You can't even begin to reach all those standards I'm throwing at you if your brain is stuck at high alarm!

"You will learn. You will grow. You will find your joy, peace, and strength. And you will know that I love you." As I staple, scoot, organize, and plan, I hum and talk to the shadow-kids that float in front of my dreamer eyes.

Tomorrow, those mind-shadows will crystalize into real kids, and I will start the hard work of stitching classes into families. Today, this home-y space that will become their home is ready, and it is waiting to welcome them.

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.

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.