Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ten on Tuesday: 10 things I did in 2015 that made me proud

Proud of myself? Proud of others? Maybe I'll do proud in general...

1. Watched Brooklyn go to high school. She continues to be the bravest. She's on the swim team and she played tennis already this fall.

2. Watched London be a seahorse in The Little Mermaid down at the Ivory Theater. She got the details on how to try out all by herself. Then she picked a song and tried out and got herself a part. Rehearsals all autumn long and then there she was on stage. It was a proud moment.

3. I helped hire my partner teacher. My principal trusted me enough to have me sit in on the interview and then weigh in on the decision.

4. Niles graduating from kindergarten. It's not a great big thing but I was proud that I was able to send him to Sacred Heart Villa and be a part of that little community.

5. Passing my high school math certification test in November. I say this tentatively because I don't have the official result yet but the preliminary result was PASS.

6. Running in a 5K. I did that. All by myself I trained and ran a 5K.

7. In the spring, my 8th graders wrote letters to teachers who had influenced or been special to them. The letters I got are things I should frame.

8. When my 6th grader, Joe, handed me that book, just stuck his hand out and said, "here." And it was about a student who has a teacher who sees her for the first time. This is my year of "I see you" with my 6th graders. And I know they know.

9. I spent a whole week with my brother and we didn't fight once.

10. I submitted something and I decided to try something. I said no and I said yes. I said hello and goodbye and I forgave and surprised. I don't know where these will lead in the end but I'm proud of myself for these slight adjustments to the norm.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Thoughts on the upcoming year of mercy, on a very very micro level because I cannot do all things but I can do one thing. Very well.

Been ruminating. My silence lately has to do with some thinking I've been working through.

My little guy, my sad little guy with parents who feel like lies? Then this happened. He got sick one day and wound up in the nurse's office. There was an interaction there I won't write here, but the end result is that I referred him to our school's care team, which is a group of administrators and teachers who meet to discuss plans for students who are hurting--in trouble or causing trouble. I used to serve on the care team, and I probably will again.

Since then I've pretty much decided I'm going to be the teacher who notices him for who he is. I realize, now that I made that decision, that he slips past folks easily. He is unseen. It is strange when I talk about him with the lower grade teachers who had him in homeroom. They always assume I'm talking about another boy with the same name, one who is two years ahead of him. When I correct them--and when I say "always assume," I mean 100% of them have reacted thinking I was talking about another boy--they sum it up the same way, as if they got together and decided what to say to me. That he was present in their class but not really present. That he slipped past them.

Imagine slipping past 5 teachers in a row, 5 years of your life and you don't make an impression on anyone, so much so that your name triggers another boy's life in their memory.

He's beautiful. I talk to him about sports sometimes. I asked him for his advice on how to split up groups for a religion project. "Do you think this will work? Can you work ok with the partner I assigned you?" When really I want to ask him other questions.

In the end, at the care team meeting, what I took away is that the best I can do is the best I can do. Be the person he needs me to be. I'm good at that. So good in fact, there's an 8th grade boy who still pulls me aside in the hall to unpack hard parts of his day. I have learned to harness my powers for good.

In the process of becoming the first teacher who wants to know him [which reminds me of my former boss, whom I feel was the first boss who ever wanted to know me as well], I've attracted a lot of other people who want me to see them, too. It's like trying to reach the sad little abused kitten in the corner of the pen while all the outgoing resilient kittens rub up against your leg and paw at your hand for attention.

My school is wealthy. Parents do well for themselves. Children are clean and fed and have several layers of Maslow totally taken care of. No one is eating expired pop-tarts in the counselor's office; no one is taking home a box from the food pantry. And yet these are the most expressively emotionally hungry children I've ever taught (meaning, it is very possible that other years had children with greater needs, but they clearly seek it out here).

And that's ok. I will love all the kittens, even if my friend Trisha tells me I can't hug every cat. No, I can't. But I can love this one.

Trisha then said, when I was talking about this boy, about my kids, that she sees these people when they are adults [she's a physical therapist]. "When all this shit is over with." She paused. "But it still comes up. Touch."

Yeah. It still comes up.

I had a teacher friend one time tell me that teaching was like being a waitress. You get them what they ask for, anticipate their little needs, chat them up a bit, and then wave them out the door. "But you don't let yourself get to know them."

Why the fuck not?

And I think it comes down to the fact that they are children. Adults don't get to know children, beyond their own children. Unless they're creepy, right? Eh. I don't know.

The other night, I was at a book club meeting and we were talking about a banned book. Someone asked why it was banned, and a discussion of the wide and varied reasons why something would be banned began. They came back round to that book, surmising it must be the teenage sex contained within.

"Yeah," I agreed. "Folks usually don't like books that focus on underaged people having sex."

"Underage people," one of the women laughed. She emphasized the people in that statement. Not in a derogatory way. More like it struck her as funny that those two words would go together.

A teacher reminded us at a professional development meeting about how to deal with difficult students. She mentioned that she always remembers there's a mom out there rooting for this kid. She has to remember that. And I thought, "but what if there isn't?" Can't I approach someone, some underage someone, with love and respect simply because of our shared humanity? Perhaps even more so, because we are called to protect the vulnerable?

Who is more vulnerable in my life right now than a skinny 11 year old who has purposefully made himself invisible for years?

So I'm ruminating. And watching. And praying and hoping for all the underage people who come share my home(room) so many hours of the day. May it be a refuge. May I be the person, the teacher, they need.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Rock star siblings, happy families, and lies

Parent Teacher Conferences 2015 Edition.

My school has some high stress families. I'm not sure what that's all about because although sometimes my family is in high stress situations (lead paint remediation summer, or, you know, anytime Bix goes out of town for longer than a day), we are not really high stress. There's a lot of focus on achievement and there's an assumption that children of bright high-achieving parents are going to always be bright and high-achieving. Not always so.

So when I walk in with a couple and sit at the table, oftentimes there's some stress in the room with me. Pretty much I'm there to give good news, though, so that's nice. I like my kids and I'm super tolerant of ADHD behavior. I'm here to teach math. So most people who come to talk to me, I can feel the stress melt away as we talk. I'm also really good, now, at being the person someone needs me to be in a conversation. So parents like me for the most part and students do, too.

Except this one 6th grade boy I can't get a handle on. At first I thought it was a mismatch between my extreme extroverted teaching style and his obvious reserved introverted life. Introverted boys take a while to warm up to me, but this one backed away when I approached him. Flinched sometimes. It always looked like he was gathering a huge amount of courage to talk to me. I mentioned this to the teacher next door, who is reserved and introverted herself (her classroom is very quiet and orderly, as opposed to...). She had similar things to say. So we started watching and thinking about what to do. The resource teacher suggested a conference, and the parents met with her. Right afterward, they met with me. I started in on the basics--grades, standardized tests, and mom covered the papers with her hand.

"I need to talk about what the resource lady said to us just now," she told me.

So I let her talk. How happy her son was, how involved in how many things, how happy their family was, everything they did together. And on and on.

And something was wrong. I picked up her nervous stress, of course, but I could explain that away with the fact that this was a stressful time. But something else was just weird. While she sat there explaining her perfect life, I glanced over at dad--he was sitting about 4 feet away from her and neither of them were interacting with the other--no glances, no physical contact. She didn't even reference him while she spoke.

He kept putting his hands up to his eyes, and I realized what was so weird. He was pretending he wasn't crying. He was wiping away tears as his wife talked about how happy everyone was.

"I'm so glad to hear you say that," I lied. "Because that's not what we're seeing and I just don't want him to be sad here at school." Then I talked about Brooklyn, the introvert who treats school like her job, for the most part (although she is happier this year). I mentioned that the counselor was really excellent (she is) and if he wanted to talk to her?

"Tell me more about her," dad said, the first thing since he'd shook my hand and introduced himself.

"Well," I started, and mom put her hand up.

"I'm going to fix it. He needs to not be like that at school. I'll talk to him."

So that was the lies, not the happy family.

The happy family was a high school teacher, an elementary teacher, and their two happy kids that I get to teach math to. Dad's a high school math teacher, so we talked in code about what each student needed to know to move on successfully next year. Dad admitted that he doesn't check grades much, and mom interrupted him. "No, say it right. Say, 'Teresa does it all.'"

"Ah yes," he nodded. "What I meant to say is that Teresa does it all."

Both kids are totally comfortable sitting next to their parents. They listen to me talk about one of them and then move on to the next. The genuine happiness at the table is a relief. And as they leave I'm reminded that this family goes to national parks for summer vacation like we do. Happy families are all alike, right Tolstoy (they're not, and his prelude to Anna Karenina is false, but anyway).

Finally, rock stars.

Last year my favorite student was an 8th grade boy named Patrick. Serious favorite. This year his younger brother Joe is in my homeroom. I don't know a thing about Joe when he walks in except what mom has said on the side, implying essentially that he might not be the same rock star that Patrick was.

The open house the Sunday before school starts, that family is standing in the back of my room looking at the black butcher papers I've hung up with questions on them like "What did you learn this summer?" "Where did you go this summer?" and so on.

"You should put something up there," mom suggests to Joe.

"I'm not Patrick," he says back to her, which doesn't make much sense, it's not like it's asking him to solve quadratics. But in that moment I promised myself I would never mention Patrick. I would never compare and I would never tell him he reminded me of Patrick or didn't. Nothing. Clean slate starts here.

He loves me. I knew that would happen, of course, because he's bright and funny and the edge of some ADHD and that's my favorite boy archetype. He gets my jokes and is comfortable in my class and all is great.

So it's parent teacher conferences. His mom stops by, not for a conference, but just to say hi and get his standardized test scores. A few minutes later I'm in the hall waiting for my next (late) scheduled conferencee's, and Joe comes walking up the hall.

"Forget something?" I ask him. He's grinning and holding some book. He thrusts it out towards me. I take it.

"For me?"

"Yep," he smiles, and walks away as I thank him.

It's the book fair, and teachers are supposed to have wish lists in the parish center. Mine was small--I teach math, not literature or social studies. Always a few books about sports statistics, not much else. Students and their families purchase books for us and the book fair drops them off with a to/from included. But this book wasn't on my list. It was called Fish in a Tree. Novel. Never heard of it.

I opened it, and the top quote on the dust jacket is "If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." A story about a student and a teacher who knows she isn't the loser she's convinced herself she is.

Oh baby I hear you. Loud and clear. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

We interrupt this class

We were working on fractions. It was a 6th grade class doing a 4th grade lesson, but they needed it. Cut pieces of shapes and problems to solve and aha moments from the kids who have struggled with fractions for the last two years. I was ROCKING IT and they were learning and it was awesome.

Boooooop. Booooooop. ......Booooooooooop.

The intercom. But not the single boop followed by Brenda the secretary's voice. Not the triple quick boop boop boop for the all-call when the secretary comes on and asks for the tech teacher to go to the office (that is almost always what the all-call is for, to call the tech teacher). But three long drawn out tones.

And then silence.

My kids looked at me. Fires have buzzer alarms. Tornadoes have sirens outside and gloomy skies. This was not a fire and it was not a tornado.

"Close the door, Finn," I said to the mohawked blond kid getting something out of the closet next to my door. He did exactly what I said without question. Pulled the blackout curtain down on the little window.

Without telling anyone a thing, all the students moved to the corner together and looked at me. I took the chair I was taught to use and wedged it in the door handle.

"It's probably nothing," I whispered, coming over next to them. Silent.

"Was there supposed to be a drill?" Rachel asked. There wasn't.

"Is that the alarm for an intruder?" Will asked.

"There is no alarm for intruders, and I don't think this is a thing, guys, but we're going to treat it like a drill."

They nod. They are silent. Trey points to the windows. It's raining.

"No, not yet," I whisper back. We wait for just a moment, and then I go over to the door. Look out my little window and see my partner teacher looking at me through her darkened window. I listen. I hear children's voices. Chatter. I move the chair and open the door. My kids don't move or make any sound.

The first grade is using the bathroom down by the office. It's not a thing. We're fine. No intruder. No death. I feel a little stupid, but my kids don't think it's stupid. I reflect on it. Whatever that weird noise from the office was, what if it had been Brenda's last move, grasping up at the intercom phone, as she collapsed onto the floor in a pool of blood? And if I'd stood there and blew it off and went on? And if we'd all died because, whatev, it's just a weird noise.

Turned out, all the middle school teachers treated it as a thing. The science teacher even grabbed an aide out of the hall and pulled her into the room before she shut it down.

I opened my door and we went back to normal. And then Greta, the little sister of one of my favorite 8th grade boys, walked up to me as I was getting back to teaching.

"Can we shut the door again?" she asked. Her eyes were scared. I wanted to hug her.

I shut the door again.

I started teaching again.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ten on Today: What's happening in my classroom these days?

At school these days:

1. I love my partner teacher. She's a first-year right out of the gate teacher and she's wonderful. She's good at her job, reflective, dynamic, and she loves girls. My neighbor across the hall and I love boys, so she's a good balance. And in the middle school, the six of us, it's an even balance, or even a little bit tipping in the positive (my) direction, between old-school and new-school. If that makes sense.

2. I have fallen in love with 8th grade again. I did it my first year somewhat (I only taught 16 8th graders that year, one little math class), and I fell for them hard last year. They graduated and I naively thought that this next class couldn't replace them. But they have. It's a harder class. The kids in it come from more challenging backgrounds and carry more obvious pain. But they have the same loves and humor and deep need for connection. And I have their attention.

3.I worry about some of my people, but I don't take it home as much as I once did. Two children in particular. I try to make my classroom the right kind of place for them to look forward to each day and that's what I can do right now.

4. My students do math on the windows in dry erase markers. They love this.

5. My homeroom, this week, we are having a class meeting on Wednesday and I'm showing them a Jon Gordon video and they're going to pick their word for the year. Mine, remember, is "fishing." I think I'm going to put them up on the lockers.

6. Conferences are this week. I'm only worried about one of the conferences signed up for, well, one and a half. Something may surprise me, but I think a lot of it will be pleasant conversation. I don't fear them anymore.

7. I'm in charge of the faculty lounge this month, and we're still arguing over who gets to drink coffee. It's a strange place when it comes to some of the adults sometimes.

8. I've started having lunch with students, one at a time. Starting with my 8th grade math class students, then I'll move to 8th grade algebra, and then down to 7th and then 6th. So far, three boys and then tomorrow is a girl from that class. I'm learning a lot. I now can have a conversation about trap shooting vs. skeet shooting. I have a glimpse into the world of select soccer. Families are complicated but sometimes that's all right. Picking a school no one else in your class is going to go to for high school is scary but exciting.

9. About those lunches--I thought they would balk, that it would be weird, they wouldn't want to, and at first they teased each other about eating with the teacher, but each of them has come up with their tray of pizza and grapes and carton of milk smiling. Two of them, I had to chase them out to recess when I realized their lunch was over. I think this is going to be my thing.

10. I'm torn. Torn between staying and leaving. Afraid of getting stuck and not being able to afford high school for London. Wanting to stay at least a bit longer to see certain things pan out. Wondering how long I can risk it. Hoping I pass the high school math exam so that I can find a high school job and leave gracefully. Torn.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

I heart you.

I collect things.

There's a collection of marbles, many of which I found while gardening in my yard. My house was a rental property in its first incarnation (second incarnation was a boarding house, and now it is ours). I figure there were quite a few young families who made their way through and left their boys' marbles behind.

I have books. Machinist dies. Quilts (I have a vow to myself now that I will not buy a quilt that I can make, which means I have a growing collection of appliqued lovelies but no patchwork). Sewing machines...starting to at least...yarn and fabric (although that's a different sort of collection). Christmas ornaments. Teacher Christmas ornaments...

I don't collect things that are limited edition collectible kinds of things--nothing I collect will be worth anything when I die. My kids won't inherit a bunch of statuettes that they will need to figure out how to split up or arrange.

My favorite collection, though, is my heart shaped rocks. I started collecting them after a walk on a retreat one time when one appeared in the path in front of me. I love those little coincidences or moments or postcards from God or whatever you want to call them. So I started looking, and finding, them everywhere. They became my souvenirs. Someone goes on a trip, bring me a heart shaped rock. I go on a trip...I bring home heart shaped rocks. They sit in my bathroom and bedroom and dining room and kitchen. And when I die? My kids can dump them in the back garden. There.

My parents just returned from a trip out west. Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota. They spent a few days in Jackson Hole, at a house that belongs to my godmother, Ann. She was my mom's friend from college. I know her best from her annual Christmas ornament she sent me (sometimes a year late as it caught up with us through our moves). I haven't seen her since I was 10, and the last ornament was the year I got married, which seems fitting.

While they were there, talking about their families, my mom mentioned that I collect heart shaped rocks. Ann gave her a look and opened a drawer. A drawer full of heart shaped rocks.She sent this one home with my mom to give to me.

You can't tell me this isn't a thing. It's a thing.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Church Decorating of Christmas Past

Years ago, Sister asked me to help with church decorating. I said sure, because I was a joiner, easily persuaded, still young, and I liked to spend time at church. Helping with church decorating meant going to some meetings and a beautiful collaboration around the altar one evening in November, where a group of very strong personalities, all women, designed a set of banners for Advent and Christmas. I made them. We still use them, what, 9 years later?

The decision was made that there would be a new altar cloth, one purple for Advent and one this gold end of white for Christmas. I was asked to hem them as well. I liked--still like--the Advent version. But the Christmas one felt cheap and thin and too gauzy and flimsy. It was also not very well put together. People claimed to like it but my heart wasn't in it.

Things were set up for Christmas. It was all so magnificent. I will say this: everything was beautiful and fit together in a lovely awesome way, even if my altar cloth just didn't seem quite right.

I'm not sure of the details any longer. All I know is that there was a parishioner, Evelyn, who had, until that year, been in charge of the decorating and I realized sometime in the process that she had either bowed out or been left out of the decision making process.

Sometimes I have these moments when I come to the edge of awareness of my situation. Sort of meta. And I came to one of those on Christmas Eve. The altar was bare when I walked in early--just to make sure all was well. There were folks getting ready to dress the altar as part of midnight mass. And there was another altar cloth waiting to be used, in the back, draped over a pew.

I don't recall anymore how it all came about. I just know that it was replaced, with mine, and Evelyn was very angry.

It was my altar cloth that was causing the strife.

And I didn't even care about my altar cloth. I wasn't especially proud of it and I liked the other one, frankly. And I could tell she really, really, wanted to use the one she'd always used. I felt uneasy.

I don't like feeling uneasy.

I had to make it better or at least make it clear that I was trying to make it better. I needed to get brave.

I found Evelyn in the sacristy, actually in the little tunnel between the sacristies in the back of church. I had the other altar cloth in my hands. And as she looked at me the anger and hurt in her eyes just soaked in and overwhelmed me and I started to cry.

"I don't care what altar cloth we use," I told her, holding the other one out to her. "Use this one."

She shook her head. "No, it's fine."

But it wasn't fine. But I nodded anyway and withdrew my arm.

"I know this is now," I tried to explain, waving my other hand in the air. "But some day Sister will be gone and lots of other people will be gone and it'll be me and you and I can't have this driving a wedge between us."

She hugged me. "I know it's not you," she summed up.

I went back and sat in the congregation. Did a little more crying. Pulled myself together.

It was the first time I'd done something like that, decided I didn't have a dog in a fight and gave another person that knowledge. Let my guard down purposefully. Became vulnerable. And that was good. And that was hard. And I prayed that we'd get along and it wouldn't become some weird rift. And I wondered about the interconnectedness of us all.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
As I sat at the light in Carondelet Park this evening, waiting to take my middle daughter to a mixer down at my older daughter's high school, I thought about time passing and that moment behind the wall in the sacristy whispered to me.

Sister is gone.

And even though I thought I saw the future a certain way, Evelyn is gone.

And so are so many others.

My heart ached for them, wherever they are.

New people come to church. New relationships are formed. There's a turning of seasons and pastors and friendships and conflicts. Communities are always in flux. There is new energy and new fun and our brains love novelty. It's weird to be the stability now.

We still have those altar cloths, but neither is used very often, in favor of two handmade linen beauties made by another member of the parish.

I stick to banners now.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Year of Fishing

Today I went to a professional development day at a local high school, where most of my favorite boys from last year are attending now. I like the school and what it is trying to do (strive to be better, always, just to sum it up).

Before the day even started, the campus minister got up and read that passage from the bible where Jesus walks on water. And Peter wants to, too, and Jesus calls to him to go ahead. Peter gets out of the boat, heads Jesus' way, and then falters.

I have always focused on the faltering. Always. Lack of faith.

The speaker guided us to look at that first part. The part when Peter gets out of the boat. Out of the perfectly good boat into the choppy waves. It wasn't "a boat sitting in a driveway in south county" but a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Boat's your best bet, buddy.

In order to follow Christ, in order to do what must be done, we must get out of the boat.

Of all the readings he could have chosen, biblical or later Christian writing, he chose that one to read to us today. And you know how I love connections.

I'm going fishing.

Cast your nets into deep water.

Get out of the boat.

Our speaker was Jon Gordon for the morning, and Jimmy Casas for the afternoon. They were both a little intangible compared to the past few years, but I was open to intangible today. Jon Gordon spoke about his book The Energy Bus, and how he started picking a word to focus on for the year. How focusing on a single word changes you, your actions, thoughts, perspective. It is a lens through which you see your whole life.

I have never done this, although I have done this. I can look at the last three years: hospitality, nichevo, and vulnerability. I settled on them during the summer and they guided my life throughout the year. Each year summer came along and another idea teased itself out. Each year they led to deepened faith and living with purpose. I wasn't doing it on purpose and it was only in retrospect that I saw the themes. But I like the idea of moving in a forward direction too.

He stood up there and asked us about what our word would be this school year.


A little harder to explain than "joy" or "determination." Makes it sound like I'm heading out for a weekend in waders.

I've never even been fishing. It's really just a metaphor for risk and faith and hope. But it's nicely tangible and I know what it means.

Because I'm pretty sure at this point that God is talking to me through these stories of Simon Peter's profession.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

All Caught Up

I'm having an all-caught-up evening.

My house is clean. I'm on the front porch in the 65 degree fall evening. Just finished entering my grades.

I have a full tank of gas and properly inflated tires and all the checks that were sitting around the house have been deposited. The overdue library book has been returned.

The garden is picked. A ton of green tomatoes still on the vines and it'll be several weeks before they're damaged. Let them be. They're fine.

Spent the weekend with different non-overlapping euler diagrams. Good times.

I ran my culminating 5K this morning at a cemetery. I can't quite touch the irony there, but I'm sure it's there. Running to save myself from getting there too soon? It was a beautiful morning; I ran with a friend who runs faster than I do and it was good. She slowed and I sped up and we ran together. She could still talk after the first mile; I couldn't, but I'm good at the minimal response. There were too many very large hills. It was hard at times. But I did it and now I have a time to beat. Because I'm going to do it again.

Early fall is my favorite time on my block. A few porch sitters, yes, but more of it has to do with the general sagging feeling that matches our houses under this streetlight better than hot summers or a dusting of snow. Or mud. Dry crisp evening and older brick houses with lights still on.

Bix took the girls to the zoo and Niles had a playdate. I cleaned a bit, graded a bit, played our old nintendo a bit. We had dinner at the pub we always go to, and London complained that they hadn't seen the polar bear exhibit yet. I pointed out that there is time. We could go in a few weekends. It's free and....we're here.

The cat bolted out the back door while we were weeding. She came back.

This week is a new wave. I start a class with about 2/3 of my faculty that will run long and frustrate me and everyone else but we need to take it because. And Friday I have intruder training, which I hear is quite intense and involves a SWAT team presenter. Lots of the conventional wisdom we've been believing for no good reason, I hear, is pretty much false. More on that, I'm sure, after I experience it. Brooklyn has tennis matches every day. And my parents go on a trip, leaving me without afternoon carpool.

It's good that I'm all caught up. Because I'm about to start swimming again.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Cast Your Nets

Peter:Fishing as Sally:Teaching

Winter, 2013. I didn't know what was coming next in my life. The job I thought I wanted, teaching art for just enough compensation to send Niles to preschool, building an art portfolio, using it as a possible springboard to more art teaching in the future, hadn't panned out that past autumn. In a big way.

Our relationship with the school crumbled quickly after that. I'd already pulled London out and sent her to the little school she graduated from (and Brooklyn and Niles still attend).

I was subbing in a lower-middle-class suburb. I knew I needed a classroom job for the fall, or walk away from teaching for good. I was at a sort of crossroads. Everything seemed kind of barren for me. I wondered if I could manage something else. I wondered if I was even good at anything else.

The Gospel reading that Sunday was the one where Peter and Andrew are in the boat with Jesus and he tells them to cast their nets into deep water. Fr. Miguel told the story about how we are asked to cast our own nets into deep water, see what we draw up, see what bounty we find.

I knew I needed to try again. I needed to get my life in order and my portfolio and find a teaching job. So I got to work even though it felt kind of hopeless, like a useless effort. I was older. I'd been home for 13 years. I didn't have a master's degree. Talk about deep water.

Easter Season, 2013. The Gospel reading that Sunday was the one where Peter, sitting on the shore with other disciples, gets up and says, "I'm going fishing." I'd always read that with a sort of disgust in his voice, like, damn it, I'm outta here.

But Fr. Miguel said it like he was searching. Fishing. Searching. Hunting. This is what Peter did before Christ arrived in his life. And now that seemed over. What do I know? What am I good at? I need my life to make sense again and fishing was part of what made sense. I need to go do the one thing I know how to do.

I left that mass kind of shaken. I'm going teaching. It's the one thing I know what to do and I need my life to make sense again and I need to get this done. Now.

That week I got the permanent sub job out west, teaching in an art classroom for what was probably the only time I would be paid to teach art. And it was fun and perfect and poignant. Right after that job, I got the job I have now. Catholic school. Huge pay cut. Lots of fringe benefits--intangibles, you might say. In many ways, it has been a soft place to land, to start again, to go back to what I know from before.

This week, my class went to mass on Thursday.

The weekday reading was cast your nets into deep water. Again. I thought about Fr. Miguel's words from 2 1/2 years ago. I listened to the school's pastor's words, which were nearly the same. Cast your damned nets into deep water, Sally. Go outside your comfort zone. Do what seems contrary or useless or hopeless and see what God brings.

I drove to London's tennis match thinking about it. On the way home, she mentioned she'd gone to mass as well that afternoon during her activity period. Served mass, in fact. Got donut holes afterwards as a reward. And she talked about the Gospel. Cast your nets.

I'm not a "God gives me a sign" kind of girl. But I thought about fishing and teaching and how easy and comfortable my job is and how I am very very uncomfortable with the comfort. I thought about Peter on the shore searching for something that would fit, something that made sense. I felt like that, like I was uncomfortably waiting for something else bad to happen. And instead I needed to go do what I do best.

I need to go fishing.

I need to cast my nets into deep water.

I think I have a chance to draw up a catch beyond what I can hold.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Ten on Tuesday:10 Simple Ordinary Things That Bring Me Joy

1. When people wave. Like when I let them in the lane they need in order to turn left, or even people who stand outside the church on the main drag on Friday mornings and wave at drivers for Happy Friday. There's a strange man who lives about a mile from my house in a little place with tinfoil in the windows. Either he waves at everyone or he has learned which car is mine. Because he always waves at me.

I also love it when a student waves at me in the hallway or when I'm out of context, like at the grocery store.

2. Clean clothes folded in drawers.

3. Sotto voce comments made to me in class by students who think we are in on the joke together. Because we are.

4. Math problems worked in my head quickly in front of others. Perhaps it is a job related disorder. But I love when I can use the distributive property to quickly do computation. I can see the lines where numbers connect and separate on these occasions.

5. Planning trips. I'm in the midst of planning three. One for summer, one for winter break that might not pan out in the end due to timing, and one for spring break. Oh and the one we want to take London on when she graduates from high school. That's in the serious long term planning stage.

6. Weed flowers gathered in a vase. Little daisy-like blooms combined with those weird hard pink things and some tall grass gone to seed. In a milk glass vase.

7. A completed project. A quilt, a clean room, a sweater. I love sleeping under it for the first time or wearing it the first time, and so forth.

8. Snow falling.

9. Waking up and there's a kid in my bed. And they didn't wake me up before they crawled in next to me. It's cozy and perfect.

10. Making connections about history, either genealogy or about my house or neighborhood or whatnot. Putting the pieces together is very satisfying.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Perfect students don't need teachers

This is a teaching post. And kind of a long one.

My new partner teacher and I started using interactive notebooks this year. It's the anti-technology for math. Our whole school and whole world moving to an online learning environment and here we are with scissors and glue.

We teach lessons and create foldables and study aids for kids to cut out and glue in their notebooks. Like this (this isn't one of mine directly, but from Math = Love. I used this one this past week):
Those little doors close and you have each of the operations on the outside. It allows for a different sort of organized thinking. More spatial, more visual.

I teach tracked math classes (you are either average or advanced, there's no remedial). Except for a few boys who thought cutting and pasting was "hard" (I teach 6th-8th, remember), the reaction to the notebook system has been overwhelmingly positive.

The most positive reactions? Reasonably smart girls who are nervous about math. The group I have the hardest time reaching in a classroom setting, but my favorite group to tutor. And I decided to move to this system last year when, sitting in my algebra class with printouts and cut-and-paste work about radicals, a couple of my really bright boys said, "These are the best notes we've taken all year, I really get this stuff right now." So I knew that it wasn't just for kids who struggled. It is clear, it is personalized, and it's more fun than copying stuff I scribble on the board in a hurry.

On the test this past Friday, the last question was an evaluation of my teaching: what is working in math this year? What isn't? What are you worried about? How can I help? Of course this sort of question leads to lots of positive comments (some of them dishonestly so), but I did get comments like "I don't understand word problems" and "You talk too fast". Ok. I can dig it. I will work on that.

But one of my algebra students (advanced 8th grade) ripped me apart about the notebooks. He hates them. He doesn't need them. He resents that math has become this arts and crafts lesson and he doesn't see any value in it. He urged me to give it up and be a normal teacher. He was not nice in his urging. I would call him brave, except...

This child's father called out a teacher at our open house this week in front of a classroom full of parents. She was explaining the new math series and how it focuses on problem solving. She brought up an example on her smart board that showed how to determine if an answer is reasonable. He shouted out, "It's not REASONABLE. It's RIGHT. Who cares if it's reasonable?"

I was once at a classroom party with this student's mother, at which she got a little tipsy (no, not really, I'm just kidding, there was no alcohol) and started making fun of homeless people. In front of me, the other moms, and some kids who overheard.

She was the only parent who was disappointed when we stopped having math groups in 6th grade (we have since gone back to them, unfortunately), because her younger son was so looking forward to math on "his level" without the other kids dragging it down all the time.

The arrogance is doing me in.

So I wrote back to this child on his test. You certainly don't have to take notes this way if you don't find it helpful. That's what I wrote. This is what I thought, but did not write:

Everyone else will get an easy 15 point notebook check grade and you will get "NA", meaning it doesn't count for or against you (if you don't have your notebook on that day, you get "NA" as well).

And if there is any justice in the world, eventually something will be hard and you will come up to my desk and ask for help and I'll ask you to bring me your notebook.

But most likely, you will make an A+ in my class because you are gifted and hard working and don't need me. And that'll be good too. Because you are already angry at the whole damned world at 14. I'm glad math is easy. But I'm still going to teach everyone else this way. Sorry that I moved 8 more students up into your elitist advanced class and therefore we move a little more slowly for the good of those who don't have your giftedness, abilities, and advantages but can certainly learn algebra in eighth grade if I guide them.

If you want to be separate from them, I suggest you find a school you have to test into. Or a homeschool program so your mom doesn't have to worry about the word "Common Core" showing up on the front of a textbook. Or, God forbid, rubbing shoulders with someone a little less perfect.

Funny thing is, after I watched the soccer game the other night, and then after curriculum night was over and the whole staff gathered for a little happy hour, I started wondering if I was selling this place short. And then this happened and I remembered, no, I'm not.

I know there are difficult families everywhere. I know that there are asshole students everywhere. I think it comes down to the BRAND of difficult here. The assumptions and the arrogance. I'm tired of square peg/round hole-ing myself for the few families who like me. Because I won't be an elitist. I won't celebrate advantage. I won't make fun of homeless people with you.

I'm in the wrong place.

I know--just one kid, Sally, don't let it bring you down. I know--it's a job, Sally, that's why they have to pay you to do it. But you know what? I've had jobs that I didn't feel like I had to change who I was in order to teach there.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Negative Space

But if there's one thing in my life
That these years have taught
It's that you can always see it coming
But you can never stop it.

You sit at my table, you live in my house, you learn in my classroom, you ride in my car, you live on my street, whatever it is--I don't let people go all the way. I just don't. Even if they let go of me. I still think and pray and hope.

A text tonight: Sally, they took my son. From Troy. One of my people. Even though all the "even thoughs".

I called him and we talked, but he's bad at maintaining a personal narrative of his life. Details and timelines are not his strength. But there was a visit from a social worker last night that must not have gone well. He didn't even know there was an investigation. The state came to school today and placed his son in foster care. Troy said a social worker told him he may be charged with child abuse. And that there were three open cases about their family. I don't even know enough to know what any of that means. But I think it means he's fucked. I hope that child lands softly.

Thinking about that summer, sitting on my porch with him, with a lot of success under his belt. It had been a great summer. He and his son were great together. He was saving money. He was starting to fix things. There was hope when he moved on.

But dysfunctional, toxic, dangerous relationships involving children and mutual dependency are hard to walk away from. And when you have nightmares all the time and can't read people and have no boundaries and are filled with grief and rage from your own history of abuse, well, you have so many needs and so few skills you wind up caught up in a cycle that cannot be broken on your own. You have no bootstraps to pull yourself up by.

And then you wind up turning into the sort of person who gave you the nightmares in the first place.

I lay back on my porch floor, my phone resting on my chest, staring up at the negative space between the leaves of the oak tree in my front yard.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Right here. Right now.

I am sitting on my front porch. It is still my broke-down old front porch; we have the plans for the new one but it involves Bixby taking them downtown and, you know, he's working. I didn't even bother to go downtown with them. I don't know the answers to any of the questions.

It is barely 70 degrees. Rain came through at some point today, or maybe it never got hot? I don't know. My life is climate controlled and I never even managed to open my blinds in my classroom. So I'm enjoying the overcast mosquito-free situation on the broke-down porch listening to traffic on the main drag a half a block away.

I've just gotten back from a run. A run. I still love writing that and saying it. A coworker who runs marathons and works for a running STORE, for goodness sake, offered to evaluate my form. She's so excited that I've started running. I hope I can keep it up.

I needed the run to kind of clear the head-space I'm in right now. I had a root canal last week and the tooth behind it, it seems pretty clear, needs one as well. Going in tomorrow to have it looked at. Being in moderate dental pain for almost a month is wearing me down.

I am becoming my own worst enemy.
Plus I went back to teaching in my climate controlled classroom. So I have to be "on" the whole time and it's hard. Luckily, I think this is the Year of the Fragile Girl, in comparison to last year, the Year of the Extroverted Intuitive Feeler Boy, which was EXHAUSTING. My homeroom is quiet. My math classes are adjusting to some of the new things I'm doing with them. So it's only moderately exhausting instead of thoroughly so.

London started school this week. She loves it more than I ever could have hoped for. I cried on the phone with the learning consultant last night. I'm a little raw these days.

Niles and Brooklyn started school today. Their opinions were more balanced. But I think it'll be ok.

Everyone is getting into the routine of autumn and the weather is starting to match. The guy who runs my writers group wants to read more of my novel. I love his feedback. He's helped me see through so many stumbling points while still knowing that I need constant praise and attention (that's all I need, after all...).

Troy asked to move back in. I told him no. But then I brainstormed with him about other options. He'll probably move in at his brother's until he leaves again with the Army (brother, not Troy). Another Extroverted Intuitive Feeler I can't very well explain. His felony charges are still pending. The drug charges seemed to have evaporated. That's too many lucky chances. He left the toxic girl. Again.

He was over at the house when Bix's cousins were visiting from western Missouri. I'd been talking to them about him over the course of all of it. Her comment? "He looks so young." I hope. And I sit on my front porch as the weather gets cooler, knowing how that makes him start feeling, and I run and I teach and I live here.

Stabilitas. It's so good. And so hard. And the coworker who made my heart sick last year is being nice to me. Summer helps, I think.

I'm thinking about a change, though. In fact, I"m not thinking about it anymore. I've decided. Seeing my big old graduated 8th grade ENF boys today flipped the switch for sure and for good.

Because I can do more. Because I'm suffocating. Because I'm ready.

So that's the too long/didn't read version of my life right now. Clouds are gathering. October is on its way.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Mammoth Cave National Park

 This past weekend we went to Mammoth Cave National Park. There are lots of facts and history and whatnot. But here are some pictures! Above, the historic entrance. It's a big old cave, 400+ miles of cave in approximately a 49 square mile area of Kentucky.
There are several of these terrifying holes on the tour we took. Interestingly terrifying of course. Brooklyn was not amused.
In the 19th century, people signed their names to the ceiling of the cave, using a candle flame. Patience.
London went on a wild cave tour with other kids her age. They dressed her in coveralls and helmets with lamps. She had a great time. Above is the before picture. Below, the after picture. But she doesn't look as exhausted as I thought she would be!
While she caved, Brooklyn and I did a six and a half mile hike. We earned a patch for this, so we took a selfie at the furthest point from the trailhead (it was a loop). We will pretty much do anything for an embroidered patch. Girl Scouts trained us well. I should mention here that running has gotten me into such better shape. Yikes.
And below is the rat snake Brooklyn almost stepped on. Yeah. It was a little bit frightening, that moment. I tried to get the camera out in time to take the photo on the trail but instead, of course, I tracked it a bit off the path.
What you don't see when I tripped over the root and fell about a mile and a half in.  Like all the way down. Like sliding into home plate. I have some lovely bruises. As I was falling, I had that millisecond to think, and I thought, oh, I'll catch myself. No problem. Easy. Nope, not going to make it, going to fall. Falling right now. Don't catch yourself with your wrist bent, Bridgett, slide, slide, slide....and I did. Whee.

So I was exceptionally sore. But it was good. And I earned a patch. Did I mention the patch?

We took another cave tour this morning, in a part of the cave that is still forming--the cave is limestone, but in almost all of Mammoth Cave, the top of the cave has a sandstone roof protecting it from further water seepage. At one end, though, the cave extends past the sandstone and formations like stalactites form. And cave bacon. Who doesn't like cave bacon?
They had to be very still for this to work. It sort of worked. We were there. I promise. It was good.

The weird thing? The clientele wasn't the typical National Park Junkies we are used to spending time near. People seemed far more passive, like they expected to be entertained. Bix thought perhaps, because the one major thing to do in the park was cave tours, we were noticing more of the "drive to the national park and look at the vista" kind of folks than we usually encounter. Most visitors were from quite nearby. They weren't bad folks. They were just, well, different than the usual. For instance: we approached the rangers asking for hikes, and they pulled out the brochure for paved walks near the visitor center. We said maybe something longer than that, and she pointed out that you could do both of them in 30 minutes. Finally, I asked her if there were any fire towers (there weren't) and described some of the hikes we've done in the past. She produced the patch and got out a back country map. Then, when we were on the hike, Brooklyn and I, and we saw 6 other hikers. There were 3 cars in the trailhead lot. We've been to trailheads out west that were filled past capacity.

So we're going to go back in a few years and test Bix's theory by taking the more extensive tours (6 hours, for instance).

How's that for a weekend trip that makes me feel superior to my fellow visitors? It wouldn't have struck me, honestly, if it hadn't been so danged obvious that they thought this was a tourist cave destination. My favorite quote, outside the national park store: "They call this a GIFT SHOP? Are they out of their minds?"

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dentist meets the math teacher

I woke up in pain this morning. Tooth pain, which always knocks me flat. I took ibuprofen and waited for my dentist office to open.

This has happened before. I have four teeth with root canals. Each of them woke me up in pain. In 2012, I was in pain for months before the dentist believed me.

And not my dentist, but one of the other partners in the office. His quote: "If I touched it with cold it would hurt for a FEW MINUTES? You need a root canal!"

I have a high tolerance for pain, I know this is true, and 800 mg of ibuprofen took the edge off this morning. But I was dreading the root canal. More than the actual root canal, I was dreading the process, the confirmation of decay, the waiting, the waiting, the waiting.

My appointment was near lunch time, and I wasn't hurting as bad when I sat down in the chair. The same dentist who confirmed my last situation was going to see me, and I was glad, because I'm starting to get suspicious of my actual dentist's attention to detail. That's all I'll say about that. I'm debating my choices.

After the initial "does this hurt? Does this?" he decided I didn't need a root canal. I'd had a filling done last week (yes, I'm an adult who gets cavities, yes, I brush my teeth, yes, I floss, yes, genetics suck sometimes), and it was the same tooth causing the trouble.

Causing the trouble because the filling didn't cover all of the area where my dentist had drilled. Perhaps it had fallen out. Already. In 5 days. Sure. Or perhaps my dentist, well, that's all I'll say about that.

But here's the kicker. I was sitting there getting numb, and he asked me what I did for a living. I told him: I'm a middle school math teacher.

And there was this pause. He looked at his assistant. And then his assistant said, "Wow, I can't even imagine doing that, that's crazy."

About at this moment, the dentist begins his work, and so there's like 6 instruments and just as many hands working on one of my back molars. So I'm not talking.

But they are. The assistant proceeds to tell me not one, but FOUR stories about math, how much math sucks, how much he hates math, why, where, by whom, for what purpose, and so forth.

The dentist takes his time. He does a spectacular job. I am eternally grateful when health professionals are kind and efficient and talented. I thanked him and his assistant.

The dentist shook my hand, told me to let the office know if the tooth gave me trouble, take ibuprofen for a few days, etc. "And good luck going back to school this fall. I couldn't do it."

You're a DENTIST. And you there, you're his ASSISTANT.

What on earth do you think I do each day in the classroom? Burlesque lion taming while operating a crane on a barge? I mean, seriously.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Solvitur Ambulando

Over the 4th of July weekend, we went to New Harmony, Indiana. It's a former utopian colony. Actually, it's the home of two former utopian colonies. The first were the Harmonists, a German Christian group led by Fr. Rapp, who wasn't a priest, but their leader. They left Germany for the New World, settled in Harmony, Pennsylvania. There were too many distractions there, though, so they moved to New Harmony. They stayed in Indiana for 10 years, long enough to build a town and church and groves and so forth. And then they packed up and went back to Pennsylvania to form the town of Economy, where they lived until they died out.

New Harmony was founded in 1814. The Harmonists stayed until 1824 and then sold the town to Robert Owens, a Scottish industrialist who filled the town with scientists and forward-thinking social experimenters. Women could own property and wore the same peasant-style pants and blouse as the men. The schools they ran according to Pestalozzian methods, which struck a chord with me because my parents live on Pestalozzi Street! He was a forerunner of Montessori, influencing Froebel and then with him, Susan Blow. Kindergarten was taught at New Harmony, and the first free public library in Indiana (the Working Man's Institute) was established. Scientists surveyed the animals and plants and geology of the area. Some went on to help found the Smithsonian. The Owens group left New Harmony in a trickle--not all at once like the Harmonists--and the after effects were still visible into the 1860s.

Now it is a small town. Luckily, an oil baron's daughter married into the Owens clan and decided that philanthropy fit her well, and she saved many of the buildings. But she also brought in modern sculptors to create public religious art. There are two labyrinths in town--one is Harmonist and one is based on the Chartes Cathedral labyrinth. The town has a tiny main street with a great ice cream shop. Everyone in town rides around on golf carts.

I loved it. Bix did too. And our kids? They were oddly agreeable and peaceful. It was lovely. Pictures follow.

 This is a Harmonist Sundial. Below, the Harmonist cemetery. Note there are no headstones. Equal in life, equal in death. But once the Owen community started to drift apart, Harmonists traveled back to Indiana, dismantled their huge brick church, and built a wall around the cemetery. There are also pre-columbian mounds inside the cemetery. It's eerily peaceful and lovely in its simplicity.

Below, what is left of the church that became the wall. The flower at the top has the inscription "Micha 4v5" and Brooklyn figured out that it was Micah 4:5, which reads, "Though all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, We will walk in the name of the LORD, our God, forever and ever."

 Below, a Harmonist house. They were all 2 stories and an attic, measuring 20x30. Some were wood, some brick. They were lovely.
One of the labyrinths is done in polished and unpolished granite, with a fountain on one side. Carved in the stone next to the fountain is written "Solvitur Ambulando" which I was so hoping meant something interesting, and it does. I was so happy to discover: "It is solved by walking."

Here are a few photos from the roofless church. It was kind of hard to explain or get a handle on. So I liked it a lot:

Below, a modernist representation of the Pieta. That's another head emerging from the chest of the standing figure.
Inside the doorway of the old church is this fountain:

In yet another public garden was this sign: "raise the stone and you shall find me, split the wood and I am there." Ooh.

And...4th of July isn't complete without a parade. A golf cart parade....

And kids: look at them over there by a fountain. That was the 4th fountain they hung out at together. 

Really: it good ice cream at Bliss.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

TL/DR: The one when Sally went on and on about race relations

I'm having a hard time articulating what's been going through my head lately about national events. I've been thinking about recent stuff--the Supreme Court, Charleston shootings, church burnings--but besides Bix (those conversations go like this: [something is said] [the other person agrees] [repeat 150 times]), I haven't managed to really talk about all of this.

My cousin posted a forwarded picture that read: "My facebook feed looks like a war broke out between the Confederacy and a Skittles factory." And it's all overwhelming me with so many conflicting feelings and damn it, it's supposed to be summer.

Another FB friend posted a lengthy message last night about how fruitful she has found the discussion on facebook lately regarding racism, how social media seems to be helping white folk (at least those who are open to it) see the world through different lenses, that the past year has brought American racism out into the open in a way that we've been denying for, well, decades.

But she said how dismayed she was at all the rainbow colored profile pictures after the Supreme Court decision last week.

Not that she was upset that people were excited or happy about it, not that we shouldn't be allies in the struggle for civil rights, but she was bothered by the discrepancy: so many people had come to the decision in their hearts that being able to legalize a relationship, with whomever we love, is a basic civil right that should be defended, but so few people were coming to the public decision that black folks deserved the right not to be gunned down at church, or have their churches burned, or their sons shot in the streets. Few people seemed riled up about it.

I thought about St. Louis. I thought about when Ferguson "happened", how I'd never even been to Ferguson. Seriously. I live in South St. Louis, and the furthest north I ever go is Overland. In addition, I live in a minority majority city (minorities, specifically African Americans, are the majority race here), but on my block, out of the 100 people who live and breathe here, give or take a college student or part-time stepchildren, there is 1 black person. In the 17 years I've lived here, there have been a total of 5 black people, two of whom were adopted children of white folk.

In comparison, in the time I've lived here, I can count 9 gay people who have lived on my block. Probably more, since I don't go around with a clipboard quizzing people about their sexual orientation. Next door neighbors Keith and Ron, when we moved in, were the first people who were nice to us, this young hoosier couple with rundown cars and no clue.

In addition, I can look at my facebook friend list and I can count a large number of gay and lesbian folks. Some of my favorite people, and I don't pretend that in "some of my best friends are gay" kind of straight middle class white girl way. But definitely "some of my favorite casual friends and people who make my life rich and amazing are gay" kind of way.

Growing up? I didn't know anyone who was out to me. Except for one cousin, I didn't know anyone who was gay, personally, until I moved here.

Now, repeat that for black folks. Not until high school did I have any friends who weren't white (and Catholic, frankly). In college and throughout young adulthood, all my friends were white. My kids are at a mostly white Catholic school. I've taught black kids...but when I look at the kids I still know, they're all white or Vietnamese.

And now I teach in a 100% white school. 11 out of 10 students are white at the school where I teach. I have a lovely integrated Catholic church where I am involved and very happy, but I'm not really close to anyone who isn't white.

I have two facebook friends who are black. In comparison, I am friends with a dog and with a cat. I am friends with my sister's burlesque dancing persona. I am friends with more fake people than I am with black people. What the hell is wrong with me? How has this happened?

I'm not saying "Golly, I need to go rustle up some more black friends, STAT!" Because that sounds like I'm trying to collect a set of Pokemon.

(Although, side note, my mom met a woman while visiting my grandmother in the hospital. They talked about crochet and crafts and so forth and she gave my mom her number, saying, "My last white friend moved away, I need more white friends.").

I think this is part of the problem. As time goes by and the culture relaxes (slowly), more of our friends and relatives feel safe sharing with us, with the world, that they are gay. And when your favorite cousin comes out, moves to New York to dress socialites, and writes books telling women how to work with their personal style, it gets easier to say, "oh, that's not wrong or foreign or weird or awful, because I love someone who identifies that way." When your next door neighbors bring you back a Christmas ornament from the Netherlands and every year when you hang it on your tree you get a little teary-eyed because Keith died of cancer 3 years ago, well, it's like this: gay people aren't outsiders. They are your friends and neighbors and coworkers and they are people just like you.

But black folks can never be in the closet. You can never get to know them not knowing that they're black. There's never the moment when she tells you, "hey, you know I'm black, right?" He never shows up at your parents' Christmas party and introduces his partner and make it loud and clear that, yeah, you were right about your hunch, he's black, so make him a cosmo, would you? and let's hang out just like before.

In my life, it is harder to break the color barrier than the sexual orientation barrier.

Even worse, it never struck me, not once, until this past year. Until Ferguson and trying to explain where I live to a group of sheltered white kids. And realizing that I was just like them, except that my neighborhood had better restaurants and my church had better music.

So I'm coming to see that I'm part of the problem. I would never fly a Confederate flag. I would never say the n-word. I would never tell my kids they couldn't be friends with someone who wasn't white. I wouldn't forbid them from dating someone based on race. I think of myself as progressive. Open minded. My girl scout troop, at its peak membership, was nearly half and half, black and white. In fact, the PR gal at Girl Scouts loved my troop because of this, because it wasn't segregated in either direction, and pictures of my girls adorn the walls of the conference room. Troy and his biracial son lived with us for 3 months. I am not a racist.

But I'm finding myself in situations where it's hard to articulate what I'm thinking. At work especially. When I was told that I could talk about the protests in Ferguson with my students but I couldn't bring up race? Then I guess the conversation is over. I didn't even argue. Because I couldn't figure out how. I couldn't figure out how to be an advocate. An ally. In comparison, and remember I teach at a Catholic school, I found intelligent articulate grace-filled ways to discuss homosexuality and the Church with my 8th grade religion class. I can do that. So why on earth can't I talk about race, about racism, about white privilege? What the hell is the matter with me?

What the hell is the matter with me?

So I'm thinking. And maybe I'm starting to talk.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Lessons in Persevering

I'm beginning to realize, now that I'm 40, that I have some edges of ADHD. Not the "H" part, it's not hyperactivity, but there's definitely the attention deficit piece. I'm not using this as an excuse for why I'm late, why I change everything on a whim, why my house is a mess, but it is definitely a part of the puzzle. I can work on it now that I know it's part of my brain.

I look around my life and see the unfinished projects and many many interests and fun and talents and a lot of talking and extroversion and coffee drinking and laughing and I like me. I like who I am and what I do and how I try and keep trying.

But I would like to finish something sometime somewhere soon. You know? And I'm exhausted and panic sometimes about it all.

And then I started working on this running thing with Brooklyn. It's a slow program, a "couch to 5K" thing that baby steps you from "I haven't run in 12 years" to actually perhaps making it 3 miles. Maybe. Not sure if it will or not. But I'm obeying my phone as the dramatic female voice tells me to start running, how many intervals I have left, when to start walking.

And it's working. Baby steps are actually working. And I'm looking forward to getting the shoes on and going across to the park.

It's giving me an insight into how I work best right now.

So now I'm spending 10 minutes twice a day in the garden and yard. And that's working. I knit two squares for the blanket I'm making, just about each day. I volunteered to make table runners for Bixby's cousin's baby shower, and instead of staying up all night the night before, I'm doing one at a time each day. I am looking at the details for like the first time and not getting lost in the big picture.

It's showing me how to be a better worker, a better parent, a better housekeeper. It is summer...and that makes things easier in general, but even so, the change is dramatic.

It's like...for the first time in years, since probably my diagnosis with Hashimoto's in 2006, life doesn't feel like it's drowning me.

Life. Isn't. Drowning. Me.

I'm starting to learn how to swim again.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Porch Sitting

We moved to our little place in 1998. There was no porch sitting then. No stoop sitting either. We knew a total of 4 neighbors until the Crime Wave brought us all together.

Then the stoop sitting began. Kids running up and down the block and playing and it's too hard to just stand around the whole time. So Zelda's steps or Gretchen's steps became the go-to stoop, in the center of the population of young children although not precisely in the center of the block. The top of our block is mostly 2-family flat buildings on the north side, and frankly, across the street from them are one-family buildings but not super-interactive dwellers in those structures. We are west-heavy.

Porch sitting became a more structured event as time went on. Evenings, Zelda and Travis would be on their porch and I was inevitably coming home from a meeting at church while they were out there. The summer Troy lived with us and they had their own houseguests, porch sitting took on a form of therapy. What I did at my kitchen table with other people, the porch-sitting friends did for me. Let me tease out truth and laugh at my own weakness and foibles and get to know this adult version of me.

Porch sitting also was an escape. Out on the porch in the heat of the day, no one else was going to bother me. I could listen to my grateful dead pandora station and read novel after novel while I drank iced coffee or lime water. Wifi means I could write or work or waste time.

One of the things about city living, or, more properly, about living in a neighborhood with alleys, is that the fronts of houses are welcoming to people. All the garage and trash and wires are in the back. The stoop is the public interaction contact location, and the porch is a welcoming into my life or your life in a slightly more private, but still quite public, way. People live here. Come talk to them.

We are building a new porch this summer. The old one is a deck, really--no roof, so it's useless for porch sitting in the rain. Our house was a boarding house for a good chunk of its existence and slowly fell into neglect--sometime in the late 90s the porch started falling away from the house and the owner's brother tore it off and built what's there now. It has about 2 good months left in it before it falls down itself of its own accord. Time for new. It will be a family affair--Bix's dad is a contractor and has us loosely on his schedule.

I cannot wait; I've wanted a new porch since, oh, 1998. I almost didn't buy our house due to the current porch. Luckily I--or rather our awesome real estate agent--could see past the idiosyncracies, neglect, poor decisions, and haphazard repairs to a welcoming sturdy structure in a beautiful place.

Here's hoping the people I encounter can do the same with me.

So I'm going to do some porch sitting.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Rainy Day

It is raining, still raining, always raining. Didn't send Niles to camp today because camp (at a nearby suburb, cheap as all get out and for 6 weeks) even admitted all they were doing with the kids was eating popcorn and watching Alvin and the Chipmunks. Everyone has given up and given over to the rain.

So instead Niles and London played Katamari Forever, which has screenshots that look like this:
It's a little trippy. And I love it. Plus the groovy Japanese pop soundtrack. In between rounds, complete with arguments about how well they are playing (that is my family's tradition, sitting around watching people play video games and criticizing them, usually loudly), I try to get them to get up and do a chore or two. They are expert work avoiders.

The house smells like, well, what my house smells like after 5 days of constant rain. Wet. The smells that normally reside in the house have retreated, opening up the house's history like a gaping sore of boarding house and derelict alcoholic brothers who piss in the dining room because it's not fair that his sister is dying of liver cancer and he has to move out. He'll show us. Well, he did. It's the gift that keeps on giving. So I light a candle and dream of the day when I have enough time and energy and everything tamed down long enough to sand and refinish the floors. Ah, old houses.

So I was sitting here starting to digest my day, when I get a text from my sister. She was in a car accident down at the River des Peres. Water covered the road, everyone was making a u-turn, she followed suit, and some idiot didn't follow the crowd and ran right into her.

And I got a jury summons for the beginning of August.

The rain has got to stop. It's too much. It is relentless, sometimes a ridiculous downpour, other times just a light rain and mist. No storms, really. Just rain. I went down to pick her up and I fear her car may be totaled. So frustrating. We handled the afternoon best we could and I came back through the rain to my house.

I went upstairs and changed into pajamas.

Bix had taken London to her theater camp for me, taking off the rest of the afternoon to work from home.

Because rain.

Because crazy.

Because I lost my debit card yesterday and had to cancel it.

Because jury summons within two weeks of both my sisters getting a jury summons? Not random.

And because idiots. Everywhere.

My head hurts. And still it rains.

Thoughts on Boundaries on a Rainy Friday Morning with a Desparate Man

Two years ago I started working on boundaries, well, no, two years ago I started realizing that my life didn't have any boundaries, and it took me another year to start trying to fix that. I backslide sometimes, I catch myself soaking up emotion in a room, and I put the net back up--I can't do the cone of silence style of boundaries. I have to breathe. But all your junk can stay on the other side of the net and still let the good stuff through.

Having a semi-permeable membrane separating myself from other people makes me an exceptionally connected teacher in a classroom where I make all the rules and set up the space, but sometimes in the rest of my life, oy vey.

So I actively practice boundaries like other people practice yoga. You don't have to go through life unarmed. Seriously.

It all kind of culminated this morning in a small, gentle "No" that I was able to say today.

I said it for real and someone went to jail. Whoops. No. It's good. It was time to grow up and own up and fess up and all those ups.

I know you got the ultimate raw deal when the Fates dealt our our hands. 

I know you have soulful brown eyes and more courage than the next ten people and cigarette burns on your hands and every other person you know has open warrants and can't help you, or won't answer the phone. 

But I can't. 

More than that: I won't.

So he came by to tell me he was turning himself in.

I hugged him goodbye and wished him good luck.

The rain kept coming down, relentless rain.

I went back inside and ate waffles Brooklyn made. And I wasn't even worried or sad. Because there is plenty to worry about and be sad about. I don't have to own the whole world's suffering.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ten On Tuesday: My Ten Realistic Expectations for Summer

So that was my "bucket list" for summer. Here's my realistic expectations list:

1. I will sit on my porch. Old or new, I will sit on my porch and drink iced coffee and work on my writing or reading or mathing.

2. I will actually probably get the calculus thing done.

3. I will run. I'm reaching the point where I don't feel like I'm going to die 30 seconds after I start running. And funny thing--considering I carry 40 pounds too many, give or take--I don't hurt. I am really taking it slow. Slooooow.

4. I will sit in the air conditioning and complain about the heat. This will be often enough to qualify as its own activity.

5. I will plan, and replan, and replan, a vacation for next summer to the Grand Canyon--And Beyond! (I just wanted to write that).

6. I will gripe at children to put their things away/clean up their food/get off the screens/go to bed. Again, often enough to be its own line-item.

7. I will binge-watch several shows on Netflix. My binge-watching is more like obsessive watching--I don't watch all of a season in one day or something like that, but I will watch one thing to the exclusion of all others. No matter what it is--MASH, Voyager, Luther, 3rd Rock from the Sun, etc. Only that and nothing else until it's done. I'm also weird about "done." I tend to never watch final episodes. I just can't.

8. I will knit with my typical ADHD.

9. I will half-heartedly plan for the school year and then have a huge burst of energy in that department around August 5.

10. I will take naps.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Ten on Tuesday: 10 Things on my bucket list for summer

Summer is underway here; kids are out of school and I just finished up my last tasks at my job for the year. I sit here and write while Niles and his friend Jay play Lego Starwars and hop around my living room. Anyone who says video games are sedentary activities has never watched Niles play.

So ten things I want to get done this summer? Hmm. The last two summers have belonged to other people; this one belongs to me.

1. I want a new porch. My father-in-law is the contractor and we've been planning this for years. It should happen this summer. He's had some health setbacks but while he was at home recuperating, he produced some drawings. So I'm hopeful still.

2. Garden. God Bless America my yard is a mess. I worked on it this weekend a bit and one of my students gave me an astonishingly large gift card to home depot so I picked up some plants and it came to...nothing out of pocket. It's supposed to thunderstorm the rest of the week so we'll see what I get done. The pool is up, though, and most of the yard has been weeded. So that's a good start.

3. Basement. See a theme? Our basement is suffering from serious neglect. I got rid of the loom, finally, giving it back to Lynn. Bix has been working on the gutters, which contribute to the moist floor in the front corner. And then it's time to be ruthless. No hoarding allowed.

4. Now for fun stuff perhaps. I want to take my parents' pop-up somewhere away from the city for a long weekend. Don't know where yet. But need to get away.

5. The guy in charge of my writers group wants to read/critique a big chunk of the novel I'm revising. So that's something.

6. I'm knitting a bunch of squares on giant needles in order to stitch them together into a large, heavy, scratchy wool blanket. I have a large stash of yarn that I need to eat up. And I've been wanting to do this for some time.

7. I am teaching myself calculus. It makes so much more sense to a 40 year old brain than to a 19 year old brain. Wow.

8. I want to, in the same category,  create a guided notes/interactive notebook for calculus so I can stick it in my portfolio. And take a long serious look at interactive notebook activities for middle school math so I can rock this year out.

9. I'm going to run a 5K with Brooklyn. We are training right now. I haven't run since 2003. Seriously.

10. I'd like to bike a century...next summer. The longest I've done is a 45 mile, and that was a couple of years ago. So this summer, my goal is another 45 mile ride.

I'm tired now. Just writing that makes me tired.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Euler, Not Venn

There are Venn Diagrams and there are Euler Diagrams.

Here's a Venn Diagram:
Fruits, Red Things, and Hats.  You can see where Red Things and Hats cross, there are Cardinals caps and Santa hats. Where Red Things and Fruits cross, there are plums (red ones), apples (red ones) and berries (I had to write small; assume strawberries and other red berries). Lastly, where Fruit and Hats cross, there's obviously Carmen Miranda.

Note, however, that there are no Red Things that are also Fruits AND Hats. But the diagram shows the possible location of red fruit hats. It is possible. But, as far as this Venn Diagram goes, no red fruit hats are known. I didn't do a lot of research, frankly.

But they could exist. It could happen. The Venn Diagram says so.

Here's an Euler Diagram.
Note the differences. There are no Red Things that are Fruits and Hats, and so there is no place where they overlap. There are subsets of Red Things, like things with wheels (firetrucks and my 1974 Triumph Spitfire), and things you can eat (beets and red, red wine). Also, there is a set of Maple Trees that are sometimes Red and sometimes not, but are never Hats or Fruits. And of course, the important set of Artists from Bulgaria, who are not Maple Trees, Fruits, Hats, or Red things (except possibly Christo...).

A Venn Diagram of this mess would be, well, a mess. Lots of empty sets where, for instance, Hats and Maple Trees cross. No subsets. Nothing that stands alone and apart. Even though there are no Bulgarian Artists that are also Maple Trees, a Venn Diagram would contain the possibility that they could exist in some ridiculously strained ovoid container.

It would be nearly impossible for me to draw using MS Paint. I'm not even going to try.

Euler Diagrams (named for Leonhard Euler, who happens to be my favorite mathematician) contain only the relationships that actually exist. The way things are is the way things are. All the what-ifs and impossibilities are burned away and what you have is reality. Reality with rounded crayon edges and amusing anecdotes and plenty of strange people.

Hence, this is blog is Euler, not Venn.