Monday, March 5, 2012

Fries with That

Tonight I took my sons out to eat after my middle son, Nicholas, completed his Kung Fu testing with a terrific performance. We just went to a fast food place and we had items on the value menu, so it was not a lavish excursion. But they loved it, especially the cookies (which at this particular restaurant are amazing)!And even more than the pseudo-50s decor, or the cheap, delicious burgers, the boys loved the comment cards left at each table. They read each question aloud and conferred about the right answer. They even wrote in their own comments about the deliciousness of their comments about those fabulous cookies. Looking at their three blonde heads hovering over the card, I was reminded that we all want to have a voice -- even if it's just about fast food-- and I am glad the boys used theirs.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I'm Moving...

No, not to Hawaii.  Or Alabama.  Or even around the corner.  I'm just moving my blog.  It occurred to me that it might be nice if the URL and the title of the blog were actually the same.  I know -- some of us have to get things messy before we can figure out how to clean stuff up :)  Anyway, all posts will now be at More Than I Should Bear,  In addition to the new address, I am developing a couple of new features, the first of which is Teacher Testimony, and a new look, which I am still fiddling with, so "bear" with me.  Hope to see you at the new home!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Change...For the Better?

We are not cisterns made for hoarding, we are channels made for sharing.
Billy Graham
I am making some changes to my blog and for the few of you out there who are on this journey with me, I hope the changes are only for the good.  Essentially, I want to expand what I am doing here -- venture into some new areas in terms of my writing and sharing it with you.  I have been following The Pioneer Woman and one of the many things I love about her blog is that she has a place for everything -- confessions, cooking, photography -- they each have their own space.  As I have been writing the last few months, I have been inspired to do a variety of things, but I wasn't sure if they "fit."  Looking at my house, my car, my classroom, you would never suspect that I adore organization, but I actually do.  So, this is my first step.  From now on, this will be the "control center" for my blog -- the place to begin.  From here, you will be able to go to More Than I Should Bear to continue reading about how the various parts of my life -- teacher, mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend -- intersect and how I learn from those overlapping moments.  
In addition to that, though, I am hoping to have a few new adventures here.  I am thinking about sharing my poetry more frequently.  I am thinking about sharing more about the craft of teaching, specific practices, lessons, issues associated with the classroom and education.  I am thinking about sharing the stories of the amazing teachers we have serving our communities -- perhaps some interviews with educators making an impact on the lives of children.  I have some more ideas, too (of course I do!) but I'll save those for later.  Simply put, I am thinking about sharing.  I want to do more because I love it so much.  I hope you do, too.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Breaking Away

A colleague brought a yearbook to school the other day from the year I graduated high school.  It wasn't from my school, but the other high school in my city at that time.  We were looking through the book to find a picture of the mother of one of my current students.  (As a side note, I am a bit horrified that I have now been teaching long enough to have a student whose mother graduated from high school in the same year as me!) 

On the same page as the student's mother's senior picture were pictures of several other people I knew at that time.  My best friend early in high school, M-, was on that page and when I saw her senior picture it immediately took me back to some of the times we had shared together.  I was definitely a rule-follower in high school (much as I am now), but I did have a few tiffs with my parents.  These episodes were very rare though, and because of that, I remember exactly what they were concerning.  One was about M-'s boyfriend -- a Robert Smith-styled guy with wild black hair, unusual clothing and the occasional red lipstick.  I just couldn't understand why my parents were wary of this young man and reluctant to let me trot around Southern California as the third wheel with him and M-.

A natural part of a teenager's life is separating himself from his parents, becoming his own person, independent from and sometimes in direct opposition to the authority figures in his life. I did not want to hear my parents' opinions or cautionary tales because I wanted to prove them wrong as a means of becoming myself.  Yet, even though I remember this feeling completely, I find myself doing the same thing with the students in my classes, particularly the seniors.  The poor dears -- they leave their own parents each morning hoping for some respite, only to find themselves in my class baraged with even more advice and unsolicited words of wisdom.  But I cannot stop myself.  And sometimes, it helps.

For National Poetry Month, I have been sharing poems in a variety of ways with my students.  On a few ocasions I have read poems I have written.  Last week, one of those poems came with a Public Service Announcement.  One of my cousins passed away at the age of 19 due to meningococcal disease.  What she thought was a bad cold or flu ended up taking her life. I shared her story with my students and suggested they read what they can about the disease and decide if vaccination would be appropriate.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states: "The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends routine vaccination of all persons 11-18 years of age with 1 dose of meningococcal conjugate vaccine at the earliest opportunity. Pre-teens who are 11-12 years old should be routinely vaccinated at the 11-12 year old check-up as recommended by ACIP. This visit is the best time for adolescents to receive meningococcal conjugate vaccine. Also, since the occurrence of meningococcal disease increases during adolescence, health-care providers should vaccinate previously unvaccinated pre-teens and teens 11-18 years of age with meningococcal conjugate vaccine at the earliest possible health-care visit.

College freshmen living in dormitories are at increased risk for meningococcal disease and should be vaccinated with meningococcal conjugate vaccine before college entry if they have not previously been vaccinated. The risk for meningococcal disease among nonfreshmen college students is similar to that for the general population of similar age (age 18-24 years). However, since the vaccines are safe and produce immunity, they can be provided to nonfreshmen college students who want to reduce their risk for meningococcal disease."

I followed this information with a poem I wrote one year after my cousin Amanda passed away.  The poem is written from a mother's point of view, though I did not discuss the poem with my aunt.  It was written before I became a mother myself; and when I read it now, it has an even stronger impact on me.  I'd like to share the poem with you:


I bought you twenty balloons
colored like licorice
          like sunshine
          like the Mediterranean Sea,
things you love, things you have never seen.

I bought you all twenty,
had them blown up big
and tied to curly ribbon.

They tug at my fist,
wanting me to
set them free, let them loose,
see them soar,
until they are only tiny dots
disappearing into distance, but
bought these twenty balloons
and I do not want to let go,
will not let go,
cannot let go.

I close my fist up tight
'til my nails are leaving half-moons
in my palm
and tears itch the corners
of my eyes,

but while I
the one in the middle
wiggles right out
and dances off to tomorrow.

I watch
                and I watch
                                               and I watch
until all I see is the space
it left behind.

                                                      While I blinked,
                                                      my baby danced out of my sight.

                                                      The tug is on my heart,
                                                      the half-moons on my soul.

                                                      You were only nineteen;
                                                      you will never be twenty.

                                                      And all I feel is the space you left behind.

I experience tremendous joy as a teacher.  I care so much for my students and hope the lessons they learn in my class, both academic and personal, will inspire in them a balance of curiosity, peace and confidence that will allow them to find joy in their lives as well.  And if that means sounding a bit like their moms at times, I think I am okay with that.   As parents always say, someday they will thank me for it.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Poetry Month!

For National Poetry Month, I am celebrating in a number of ways.  Daily, I am posting a short poem or line from a poem on my classroom whiteboard, posting a poem on my class website, and reading a poem (some of which I have written) to my AP Literature classes.  I decided it might be nice to share some of my poems with you as we go through the month -- maybe not every day, but with some consistency :)

Here are the ones I read today and yesterday to my classes:

Bitter Winds
My father lies on the floor
     beside the sliding glass door, open,
     listening to the Santa Ana’s.
Almost 300 pounds, his heaviness looks odd on its side.
Getting up will take work, but
he cannot help himself.

He has never explained what it is,
what the witch’s wind says to seduce him to her side,
but – without fail –
her howl lullabies him.

I have heard tales, how the friction of her swirling winds
brings the devil out of people,
causes sleepless nights and high anxiety,
coerces some to commit crimes they would never consider
in the calm.

These winds that turn chaparral into fuel for fire
quench something in him.

Maybe it is her whisper
     blades of cut late summer grass
     brushed with her breath
which deepens to a mother’s moan
he thought lived only in his stomach.

Maybe her song is his,
as David’s lamentings are our own,
timeless cries giving voice to our shame,
giving voice to our need
for a home in God’s heart.

When my father lies on the floor
and listens to the wind,
I tease him for his adolescent devotion
          a boy lost in daydream of a girl
          who does not know his name.

But, what I wish I would do
is lay down next to him
     my own heaviness on the floor
so that I might finally hear
my father’s song.

On a Grandmother's Passing
English teapots and ruby rings
peridot bracelets
a cameo pin
Barbie dolls and black shoes

closets and cabinets cluttered
with what Grandma did not have time
to give away

Now the children
and their children
and their children
through the things she had collected
the things she left behind
hoping to heal themselves with objects
just as she had tried to do
all those years.

But the Virgin statue on my mantle
and the bracelet around my wrist
really remind me nothing of
my grandmother,
a round woman worn thin as apron strings,
fragile like a hollow Christmas tree ornament,
but packaged ina a thick skin and snapping tongue.

She pranced, danced around her kitchen,
skin dewy from the heat,
eyes flickeringwith the flame of the gas stove,
eyes flickering with worry and want.

She was a woman
who wanted to be Scarlet O'Hara
or someone, at least.
Instead, she was
Evangelina turned Vangie
turned Susan,
turned Eve,
wife and mother,
grandma and great-ma,
enough for us,
too little for herself.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Baby Chicks and Spring Break

Double the blessings?  Double the trouble?  My friend, K. had her twin girls about two months ago and finally has both little dolls under her roof together after they spent weeks at the NICU. While I know that she and her husband are thrilled with finally having both girls at home, the uncertainties of parenting are only beginning for them.

I remember those earliest days of being a parent and how many questions I had.  There is that common joke about how kids don't come with an owner's manual, but there were seriously times when I wish they did!  Recently, one of the dashboard lights came on in our car, and though Chad and I were pretty certain we knew why it had lit up, we were able to take out the Saturn book, look it up and confirm our original assumptions.  Not so easy with a child who has a low-grade fever, or is rubbing his ear a lot or whose appetite has waned.  Before we'd call the doctor with a concern, we had already spent hours determining when the phone call would be made -- "Okay, if the fever doesn't come down in the next two hours, we'll call."  Situations are no more black and white as children get older.  We have to determine when they are old enough to attend a birthday party without us being present, how much to fight over homework, how many cookies are enough...the list does not end and the answers are rarely clear.  It is almost a relief when you can say "Yes, an apple would be a great snack for you!" or, "No, do not run out on front of the moving cars!"

The gray areas are the most challenging types of discussions I have with my students, as well, but they are also the most rewarding.  This week I have spent time with a number of students who are experiencing incredible anxiety about college.  These are not students anxious about getting in to college; these are students already accepted at a  number of schools, who, nevertheless, are still plagued with stress.  Some do not know which school they should attend; they are being pulled in various directions by friends, family, desires to experience a new life, but fears of leaving their old one behind. Other students are worried about maintaining a level of academic performance in order to avoid having their offers of admission rescinded.  I know these young people come to me hoping I can tell them THE answer -- this is the school for you or yes, you will still get to attend your college even if you get a D in this course.  But, I can't.  I cannot guarantee them anything, any more than I could guarantee my own children that they would make friends in kindergarten or that their teachers would like them.  Just like the mother of a newborn who is crying, these kids want the reassurance that everything will turn out well as long as they complete steps A, B and C.  We often want a black-and-white, right-or-wrong, yes-or-no world, but every moment has shades of gray.

Ironically, I find that the clouds offer us the greatest opportunities for beauty.  My sons' elementary school's motto is "We solve problems with our heads and our hearts."  Shouldn't we all solve our problems this way?  We need to act out of compassion and love and allow our ability to reason help us to determine choices with which we can live.  As I guided the students who sought me out this week, I told each of them to try and make a decision that they knew in their hearts they would be fine with, regardless of the outcome. We often want to make the right decision, but I don't know if those exist.  Instead, perhaps we could try to make the decisions that let us breath with more ease and help us to face future days with less anxiety and trepidation. 
Of course, we do not wish for problems, but we know they are inevitable.  And without them, we wouldn't know what it feels like to use our hearts and minds in collaboration to find hope, a source of light, in even the foggiest of circumstances.  Spring Break would not be as invigorating if it did not follow the hibernating winter, but because it does, we can actually find peace in both.  It is the grayness of the world that inspires me to fill it with love.

(Although we would probably pick a warm day at a SoCal beach over gloomy skies and parkas anytime! Thanks Alex and Marie for a pic that should make people smile.)

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Boy Lost

Lucas: This equipment doesn't fit.
Coach: No, it's you that don't fit.

Yesterday, when I opened AOL and the first news story was the death of Corey Haim, I gasped. My students had just started to enter the classroom and they, of course, looked at me with concern.  Even though I was fairly certain what their response would be, I said, "I just found out that Corey Haim died."  As I expected, "Corey Haim?  Who's that?"  My freshmen were born in 1996, after I had already graduated from college and well after the years when Corey Haim was my biggest crush.  In those pre-teen days, the crushes were many, but Corey Haim was the only celebrity I ever sent a fan letter to and when I got back a reply, with a signature that was in ink and not photocopied, I was sure that Corey had read my letter, been touched by it and somehow through the magic of the post office, we were now a part of each other's lives.

This week, my seniors wrote a response to the question, what is a life worth?  We have been discussing how human lives are valued -- the different qualities that have been lauded and loathed in previous eras and the current estimation of what makes a life one of value.  The response varied widely, from those who had definite and unshakable determinants of what makes one life more worthy than another to those who felt that placing value on a life was impossible, and even disgusting, because all human lives should be valued equally.  As the students wrote, I considered how I would respond to this sort of writing exercise. 

Tonight, I would like to offer this: A life is worth another life.

My freshmen are wrapping up A Tale of Two Cities right now and we have been discussing the redemption of Sydney Carton who offers himself up in Charles Darnay's place for execution so that the woman Carton loves, Lucie, can be with the man she loves, Darnay.  Carton lives a rather sordid and sometimes despicable life until he meets Lucie.  The goodness that she exudes helps him to be a better man and he tells Lucie to "think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you."

As a wife and a mother, I know this kind of love.  Each of my boys and my husband know that there is a woman who would give up her life to give them a life they love.  Until my sons are old enough to make this type of statement for themselves, their lives have worth because of my willingness to sacrifice for them.  At some point, their lives will have a renewed worth when they are willing to do this for someone they love. I pray that what I give to them, they will share with another.

As I think about Corey Haim, or any child celebrity Hollywood pretends to mother, but instead offers up on the altar of fame and fortune, I wonder if he had anyone in his life who he would have given his own life for -- if he had ever been shown the kind of unconditional, agape love that inspires one to be willing to put his own wants, desires, compulsions and addictions aside.  If he had, perhaps he would have met a different fate.  Now, he will always be a boy lost.