Thursday, December 29, 2016


Christmas kind of passed me by this year.

There are several reasons behind that feeling. The biggest of course is that my grandmother died on December 23rd. She's been in hospice a while so it wasn't a shock. She was 89 and dying of end stage liver disease.

There are smaller things too. Money is tight. I am bracing for the fact that I'm probably looking for work starting in January and it's hard on my heart because I've gotten comfortable where I am at the little private school that can't pay me. It's understood that I'm looking and why I'm looking. I will leave on good terms. But I don't want to.

And there's this sense that my life is passing me by. Maybe it's a midlife problem. My kids are getting older and I feel like I'm failing them.

My aunt had to put her husband into hospice.

One of my cousins was nearly killed in a hit and run accident.

It's a lot.

But there were some very good moments from this Christmas:

I'm moving the kids' rooms. Brooklyn wanted to move to the guest room on the second floor, which was newly redone for our exchange student so it was clean and freshly painted. London is taking her old room, and we are rearranging the rest of the attic so that Niles has the same size space as London, and there will be a little sitting area with at TV and the game systems in between them. I'll post pictures when they're all done. But things are coming along. Both girls' rooms feel nicely grown up. They will suit them until they move out. Niles' room is still in process, and that is tomorrow's full day job.

I made that quilt.

I made some very pretty little stained glass.

I sat with a friend for hours talking and laughing.

I'm going to coffee with another friend in the morning.

My sister Bevin gave me a vintage mink stole. She told this story: "I was at this antique mall and there was this booth and I saw the stole in the back on a hanger, but when I see something like that, that I know I want, I can't just walk right up to it. I kind of have to approach it from the side, not looking directly at it. Like a cat, kind of sidling up to it, pretending to be interested in other things. But once I touched it, the man in charge of that booth said, 'I see you're interested in the mink, I can make you a deal,' and I knew I was taking it home."

My partner teacher gave me a coffee cup (we are coffee buddies) that reads, "I'd love to stay and chat...but I'm lying."

A friend took some words from this blog and turned them into a beautiful gift. I cherish it and her.

I got Brooklyn the drivers rule book and she's been highlighting away at it.She also went to a party with school friends. My little introvert is growing up.

London is having a friend over tomorrow night. We've decided not to move schools after all. I think we can make things work. Bloom where you're planted.

Niles went over to a (girl)friend's house all afternoon today. Her grandmother told me, "Your son is a polite young man." And her husband said, "He can come over anytime."

It's a small little Christmas here. And I've been crying for days and not sleeping well and things aren't great.

But in the end, I'm walking out of 2016 with enough. Happy kids, a few wonderful friends, a (mostly) clean house, some hopeful plans.

I'm holding tight to those. They're enough. They're enough. They're enough.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Quilt Post #2

It was a frugal Christmas this year. I have definitely been a Martha this year instead of a Mary--and trust me, I'm usually a Mary--but I am worried about many things. There's no alleviating this worry, either, and trust me, I've tried. But one of the things I worked hard to do this year was make Christmas happen on a tight budget without my kids noticing.

Part of the plan was working through my stash, and remembering how to do things and doing them as well as I could for others. I made table runners out of scrap fabrics for teacher gifts. I worked some copper foil stained glass for a couple other folks on my list. I trimmed down the list, I focused on my kids, but the people I could make something for, I did.

I had these blocks I'd found at an antique mall. They were in two ziploc bags in my cedar chest. I'd picked them up years ago with the hopes of putting them together and quilting it. This year was my chance. I got them out and examined them. Almost all cotton, shirt fabrics, mostly from the 50s and 60s. About 180 blocks, each with a solid on one edge.

They're called Rail Fence blocks. It's a simple beginner's pattern. I'm not sure why this set caught my eye, frankly, except that they were squared up and well sewn. And I don't like seeing blocks and quilt tops unfinished, languishing in flea markets and antique shops.

I started laying them out and realized that the anonymous woman who made them had a plan. They were probably days from being a quilt top when she--what? Set it aside? Got a job and ran out of time? Died?

The fabric had to be collected over a decade, unless she was a professional seamstress and her seams aren't that precise. All the blouses and little girls' skirts and dresses, the scraps in cardboard boxes waiting to be quilt blocks. Then one day sitting down and cutting out the rectangles and assembling them with an amazing eye for color and tone. For such a simple block design, this woman produced a work of art.

I was texting a friend while I laid it out and pinned it for quilting. It was a gift for my sister, who appreciates vintage fabric and loves quilts and afghans. I was telling Maggie about this anonymous woman who left these pieces behind. How satisfying it felt to put them together for her now, make them into something beautiful, which was obviously her intention, and give the finished product to someone who would love it.

These weren't broken--they were unfinished. So it's a different impulse than to take unwanted or broken things and make them good again. This is more a desire to bring something to what it always should have been if it hadn't been waylaid.

If it hadn't languished in a dusty antique shop.

If he'd had better teachers.

If she'd just let go of the grudge.

If we had enough love.

Bring something to the light. To fruition.

It's not too late to be what you might have been.


Quilt Post #1

When I was 17 years old, I had a boyfriend I liked very much, named Troy. We had been dating for about 9 months when I headed off to college 900 miles away. I took what could fit in the roof carrier we put on top of the family minivan that drove me away from Texas forever. Well, sort of forever. I would be coming back, but not to stay.

I didn't know that in August, though, and one of the items I squeezed into that roof carrier was my graduation present from my grandmother, an antique sewing machine, an off-brand Singer with gold filigree and a single running stitch, forward and backward. Its motor would overheat if I used it for too long at a stretch and it always smelled a little bit like burning, but we got along just fine.

I brought fabric with me, too. A red cotton with tiny white stars, thinking of the nights when Troy and I would sit on the back of my car down at the Brazoria County Airport and stare up at them. A green floral print. A white that had a bit of a sheen to it. What I knew about fabric back then could fit in a thimble. But I got what I liked and brought it with me to college.

I remember sitting in my dorm room at my built-in desk making these blocks. They were called "Homeward Bound" and that was my hope. I was homesick often that first semester away. I spent many weekends at my aunt's house. And I made these blocks. Red, white, green, thinking of Christmas, the long break I would spend back in Texas with my family and friends.

That's not the way it worked.

I did go home, and I gave Troy this quilt. I had a nice time but it was wrong. It was different. In 4 1/2 months everything seemed to have changed. This is not a rare experience, but I was surprised that it happened to me. I went back to college discombobulated and spent the spring semester wrestling with what to do.

I broke up with him. Obviously. Again, not a rare experience, but I was surprised it had happened to me.

I went home at Christmas that year, and there in a cardboard box in my room was this quilt. He'd given it back to me. We never spoke again. I took the quilt to St. Louis with me, and treated it badly. It faded in the sun on the porch of my first apartment. Our old dog Dara liked it a lot. It slowly but surely fell apart, especially along the seams of the white sateen.

I should have thrown it away. It was an amateur effort, compared to quilts I made later. It was ratty and tacky.

But it reminded me of something that wasn't there anymore. My first really serious relationship, and this was the only remnant.

So last Advent, I spread it out on the guest bed and thought it over. I patched it in places with the same color scheme. Patches left over from quilts I'd made for neighbors and friends and children. I backed it in a red toile and put it into circulation again.

My middle daughter fell in love with it. She used it on her bed, she dragged it around the house and curled up on the couch with it. And here, a year later, it is a rag again. Shabby and torn, every single original white square with threadbare rips and holes.

"I think I'm going to throw that away," I announce one evening as I stuff it back in the blanket drawer in the living room. But we both know I won't.

I will patch it up again, covering the bits of old with bits of new. Take something broken and try to make it whole again.

That might just be my grandmother coming out in me--I still have that old overheating sewing machine--but I think it's something more. I think it's something the Benedictines understand about God and I try to emulate. Fall and get back up. Keep trying.

Practice on more quilts and get better at it.

Learn from failed relationships and do better next time.

Learn more about fabric and don't use cotton sateen in quilts you're going to take on picnics.

Learn more about yourself and don't try to be what you aren't.
Do your best, and when you know better, do that.

Patch it up and let someone love it. Patch yourself up and let someone love you.

We are all homeward bound. By the time we get there, may our souls be like this quilt, made new over and over as we let God work in us and through us. I'm not the person I was at 17 when I made this. I'm patched and redesigned and worked over. Not necessarily beautiful in the end, but interesting and full of stories and texture.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Ten Good Things

I need a list of ten good things today. It's been a long week in a series of long weeks. I know there are people out there who keep "gratitude journals" in which they write three good things that happened that day--I'm afraid some days I wouldn't have anything real to say and then I'd be even more depressed about things. Or that I would write the same three things every day: my three kids, for instance. And then it wouldn't seem special and instead just taking for granted.

Lately I haven't been blogging, I know. I am worried about many things. Lately my life has felt a little bit like a list of shit I have to get done. Now, this happens sometimes, but usually in anticipation for something large like a trip or the beginning of a new job. These days it just feels like an endless list.

So I need to make some nice little lists. So here are 10 things that are good.

1. We got a new doctor for London--a dermatologist--and he had answers for us.

2. I talked to London's principal about some things that are going on and I cried in her office and I could tell that she really liked me.

3. The third grade teacher at their school said that she'd spent part of thanksgiving with a junior in high school who is dating her niece and my name came up at dinner because he'd gone to the school where I taught. "She is the BEST TEACHER I EVER HAD."

Best part? I knew immediately who the young man must be. And I was right. Oh baby.

4. My own principal nominated me for a math and science teacher award. I won't get it--but she nominated *me. I think she sees me.

5. I really, really, really like my partner teacher.

6. I got out my stained glass stuff and I remember what to do and how to do it and I am happy with it.

7. Niles made his first reconciliation and didn't faint in the confessional like he was afraid he would.

8. My sisters took me to coffee a couple weeks ago and we talked real talk.

9. I have a couple of friends who see me. Who listen to me and share with me and see me and hold my heart gently. And I'm holding onto them tight because the world is tossing my little ship on huge angry waves these days.

10. One time many years ago I held a handmade brown stuffed rabbit made from a couple of old spare socks with an embroidered face that my mother was making for a friend's baby. She gave it to me instead. I named it Skessarow and it is one of the things I still have. And it makes me happy.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Ten on Tuesday: My 10 favorite Van Morrison songs

#7 showed up on my pandora station Sunday afternoon, on my birthday, and I couldn't believe that I had forgotten how much I loved that song. And I started thinking in lists, like I do, realizing that most of my favorites are songs that most of the people I know probably don't know. Van Morrison holds a special place for me--he can show up on any pandora station and I don't thumb him down. This isn't true for anyone else. I have stations built around several different genres, but he's the only one that transcends.

10. And it Stoned Me. This song was sent to me on a mix tape by my best friend at the time, Robin. She also introduced me to the Grateful Dead, but it took me longer to develop an appreciation. My favorite lines are from the very beginning: Me and Billy standing there, with a silver half a crown/hands all full of fishing rods and the tackle on our backs/we just stood there getting wet with our backs against the fence. Just give in to the rain.

9. Gypsy Queen. Dance on, you know it's all right, Gypsy Queen. 

8. Caravan. Turn on your electric light, so we can get down to what is really wrong. So many nights of my life spent at a kitchen table or front seat of a car or in a corner of a living room getting down to what is really wrong.

7. Bulbs. This is more of a stream of consciousness song, I'm pretty sure, not really telling one story but bits and pieces of them. So many bits evoke images in my brain. This:
I'm kicking off from center fieldA question of being down for the gameThe one shot deal don't matterAnd the other one's the sameOh! My friend I see youWant you to come through (alright)And she's standing in the shadowsWhere the street lights all turn blueShe leaving for an American (uhuh)Suitcase in her handI said her brothers and her sistersAre all on Atlantic sandShe's screaming through the alley wayI hear the lonely cry, why can't you?And her batteries are corrodedAnd her hundred watt bulb just blew
6. Cyprus Avenue. This is the first song on this list from Astral Weeks, which has to be his best album ever. When it showed up on my sister-in-law's Christmas list last year I snatched that right up for her. It really is perfect. My favorite lines: I'm conquered in a car seat/not a thing that I can do. And: yeah baby my tongue gets tied, every time I try to speak, my tongue gets tied, every every time I try to speak, and my inside shakes just like a leaf on a tree. 

5. Slim Slow Slider. Also from Astral Weeks, the last song on the album. It's just so raw. You're gone for something/and I know you won't be back/I know you're dying baby, and I know you know it too/every time I see you, I just don't know what to do. Because that is what I have felt so many times at so many partings with so many people.

4. Ballerina.

Well, I may be wrongBut something deep in my heart tells me I'm right and I don't think soYou know I saw the writing on the wallWhen you came up to meChild, you were heading for a fall 
And this time I forget to slip into your slumberThe light is on the left side of your headAnd I'm standing in your doorwayAnd I'm mumbling and I can't remember the last thing that ran through my head

3. Sweet Thing. Also from Astral Weeks. This line is a mantra of mine, something I find myself repeating when I step outside into a beautiful day or even just walk through life: And I will never ever grow so old again. Because I've been old. I've given up on living before, really living. I've given up on trying. I've walked blankly through life and not allowed myself to really live. But I keep trying. I keep working on not growing so old again.

2.  St. Dominic's Preview. This song means something to me that doesn't apply to what Morrison was aiming for. I've read his background on it but the line that gets me is:

All the orange boxes are scattered
Against the safeway supermarket in the rain
And everybody feels so determined
Not to feel anyone else's pain
I heard this song for the first time the week after my aunt died. Only a Blake would understand why it hit me so hard. But everybody does feel so determined not to feel anyone else's pain.

Except I can't not.

1. Astral Weeks. Obviously, also from Astral Weeks.

If I ventured in the slipstream
Between the viaducts of your dream
Where immobile steel rims crack
And the ditch in the back roads stop
Could you find me?
Could you?

Tryin to do my very best.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Ten reasons I teach middle school math

1. I tend towards the ADHD end of the spectrum. Scattered, bright, anxious. I am not cut out to be the calm presence a first grader needs. I made first graders cry, in fact. By mistake, I mean. My room is not a pinterest worthy picture but it is comfortable. Nothing is cute, nothing is perfect, and I sometimes have to switch gears quickly. This is not good for primary kids.

2. On the other end of the spectrum, I still love kids. As kids. So although I'm certified for high school math, I'm not sure if I'm ready to make that move just yet (I will eventually, I'm sure). I still like a little goofiness, giggling at accidental double entendres, and even appreciate real tears and frustrations when I'm not the cause--I mean, I like to try to make things better. Most older teens are moving beyond that kind of transparency.

3. Speaking of transparency, I like that middle schoolers are plain. I can see through them. If they are being sarcastic, it is deeply obvious. I sometimes miss sarcasm with adults--I assume that people are speaking their truth to me, unless, again, it is deeply obvious that we are joking around. So I get caught pretty easily in conversation. Maybe I'm naive about adults. But middle schoolers mean what they say--and when they don't, I know what they mean.

4. But there is humor. As opposed to first graders, who would never catch anything I said as funny because it wasn't funny to 6 year olds, middle schoolers get it. Not all of them, but enough of them that as a group they like to come to my classes. I love looking across the room and seeing that somebody caught what I said. Perhaps my favorite parts of the days.

5. Related to that, I can feel emotion in the room. They are adult enough to have a range of emotions that perhaps very small children don't in the same way. Oh, I can feel little kids' emotions. But in a middle school classroom, it's more of a challenge. And I know that I feed off emotion, good and bad, and in a room of 28 middle schoolers, I'm on fire. I feed off them and give back and the reciprocity of math and life and authenticity is just the best.

6. I remember middle school. I went to a small catholic grade school for 6th and 7th, and then a large public middle school for 8th grade. And the memories from that time are technicolor vivid. It was so hard and so real and awful and good and...just so hard. I can only hope that most of them in my classroom have an easier time than that, but I know some of them are having a hard time. So I want to do my best. I hardly remember first or second grade. I don't know how to relate to them. I can't downshift far enough.

7. They are hungry for authentic relationships and real adults to see them. And that is what I am best at.

8. I can only make things better. There were many things I could have screwed up with a first grader in my classroom. But the basics are covered by 6th and 7th grade--they read, they know basic bookkeeping skills, their brains are developing pretty well. Things might be hard for them, they may hate school, hate math, hate life. I can't make it worse. All I can do is love them and teach them math and try to make things a little bit better. I got a card at the end of the year from one of my 6th graders that read: You are the part of my day that doesn't suck. That's my goal.

9. I hated math. And 100% of my math teachers from K-12 and beyond, were terrible at their jobs. Terrible. I take it as my life's work to be the best math teacher these kids have ever had and will ever have. My self worth is tied up in this, in their success and understanding. I want them to walk into high school and have it be ok even when their Algebra I teacher sucks. Because it is likely that she or he will. One of my favorite things is when a freshman or sophomore comes back to visit, looks out at my 8th graders in the room and says, "Listen to her. You will miss this bad when she's not in front of the room anymore."

10. I can phone in the math. I do middle school math for a living! This is not hard stuff for me. So I can concentrate on why students are making errors, why students don't get the nuances or even the basics of what we're learning. And more than that, I can put my energy into relationship. Because I teach middle schoolers. Math is just my method. In the end, they walk out the door to high school math and beyond and hopefully I've set a nice foundation for them. But what I want is for them to reflect back on our time together and know that they were safe with me. And that maybe they missed me when I wasn't in front of the room.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Ten Little Mysteries at My School

1. Ice. We have a refrigerator in the faculty lounge with an ice maker in the freezer. It is not the most powerful ice maker in the world, which is fine. But every morning, one coworker arrives and steals all the ice, all the hard-earned ice that the ice maker has been working on all night. Every morning she does this. Then, at lunch, she comes back to the lounge. And she does it again. I don’t use a lot of ice at work--I can’t, because she steals it all--but I’m just curious about this. Is there no ice at her home? Does she live so far away that all her homemade ice is melted? Ice is free if you make it at home with ice trays. You could probably make your own ice trays, too, improvise somehow. It’s just a mystery to me.

2. The faculty restroom. For some reason, the building I work in, although relatively young compared to previous workplaces and the house I live in, has mysterious plumbing issues. This is most apparent in the faculty restroom. The sink runs, a steady stream, and does not turn off. And the toilet does not flush. Well, it does. After four flushes. So every time you go into the restroom, anyone in the conference room next door thinks you must have experienced some incredible intestinal disaster. Every time. 

3. The One Note Printer. For some reason, my computer loves the One Note Printer. I don’t know what the One Note Printer is or where it is located. But every time I start to print things, my computer eagerly offers to send it there. I want it to go to the copier in the the faculty work room. I have told my computer that the One Note Printer isn’t for me. I have talked to our IT person about it. She has fixed it a couple of times. I have stopped asking because my computer fixes it back for her. It wouldn’t want me to miss out on using the One Note Printer! 

4. Paper. Paper is a commodity in a school. We are no longer in the era of slates and chalk, although I have used them in classrooms in the past. I have. Here, we have unlimited copies. There is no code for the copier. There is no accountability. And twinned with this is a miserly approach towards paper. We simply get told we use too much. But...wouldn’t it make more sense to track who uses it? Or maybe nah.

5. Lockers. My kids have lockers. This is awesome because their desks are on the small side and I hate cloakroom hooks and the messiness of sweatshirts on the floor and so forth. But my lockers are about 5 inches wide. Two of them next to each other, and above a pair, two “top lockers” that will fit some books. Five inches wide. Twenty six lockers in a row. Most of my kids carry huge backpacks. Sometimes they bring stuff for soccer or sleepovers. All of that gets stored on the floor. There really isn’t a solution for this. It’s just a mystery.

6. Kleenex. My homeroom kids are given a supply list over the summer that includes two boxes of kleenex. Right now I have over 50 boxes of kleenex above my lockers. I have 22 homeroom students and the year is well underway. I will never run out of kleenex. I pulled out a box of it the other day with a name written on sharpie, the last name of a student who graduated last year. I want to tell parents not to bother next year...but that will be the year I run out. Do I risk it?

7. The Pen Bin. In the faculty workroom, there are shevles with VHS tapes and boxes of paperclips and binder machine parts and on and on. There is also a bin the size of a shoebox full of pens. Broken pens. Dead pens. Not one of these pens is functional.

8. Chairs. The chairs in my room are navy blue. Standard chair has one square hole in the back of the molded plastic. But a large majority of my chairs have two smaller holes in the back of the molded plastic and seem to be a slightly nicer chair. To make matters worse, I have one light blue chair and one yellow chair, each with three slits in the back of the molded plastic. They don’t like to stack with chairs that don’t match. We are supposed to stack our chairs at the end of each day. I walk through the halls and everyone else’s chairs appear to match exactly.  I wonder many things: why do we have different colors and different shapes? Why don’t I have a matched set? Why am I the only one? 

9. Our Lady of Fatima. I teach at a Catholic school. So there’s a crucifix in every classroom. I also have a picture of Mary that my grandmother gave me. And a poster from my monastery. All of this is fine. The weird thing is that every classroom has a statue of Our Lady of Fatima, encased in a plastic box. We aren’t Our Lady of Fatima School. Why not Perpetual Help? Sorrows? Lourdes? Grace? There are so many Marys. I don’t have anything against Fatima. But...were they on sale at a Catholic Outlet somewhere? Was she a special devotion of a former principal? It’s a mystery. Our Lady of Fatima, Pray for Us.

10. Coffee. I’ve talked about this before. Coffee is provided by the school. But the janitor is in charge of the pots and sometimes takes them away if he thinks we’ve been bad. If we aren’t standard coffee drinkers, we shouldn’t take coffee  And we certainly shouldn’t use any of the creamer in the fridge that I’m not using anyway because it has soybean oil in it. And the coffee is pretty carefully measured out. So if you drink any, it messes it up for the other coffee drinkers. Even though it’s free and provided by the school. And we all know how to make a second pot. My new partner decided we were going to fix this ourselves. We are going to bring in a pour over or a french press (she has such things) and I’m going to bring in my electric kettle. And we will have our own coffee. Our own good coffee. With real milk instead of soybean creamer. As much as we want.

Of course, at any school or workplace there are weird things.And hard coworkers. And bewildering rules. These are just my benign mysteries...

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Boats, Danger, Fortitude

I read this to my 6th graders today and had them draw a symbol of fortitude to tape in their lockers. Most drew anchors. xoxo I think I might be their teacher after all.


Once upon a time, my sisters and I got in a canoe. We were staying down on the Gasconade River, on a little slough off the river, a side stream without much current. The owners of the property kept canoes down there, and we pushed one into the water and began to paddle around in the still water under the shade of pretty late spring trees.

Bevin was in the middle, sitting on the bottom of the canoe. She’s 8 years younger than me. Colleen, 11 years younger than me, was in the front.  We paddled around and chatted and then suddenly Bevin stood up.

Bevin stood up in the canoe.

You don’t stand up in canoes. It isn’t really a thing. You stand up in a canoe and you’re gonna wind up in the water.

But there she was, standing up in the middle of the canoe.

“Bevin, I swear to God, if there is a spider in the boat and you’re freaking out--” I started. I imagined us all in the dark water because she was scared of a spider.

“No Bridgett!” she yelled back. “There’s a snake!”

There was a snake in our boat. A dark snake. Small. But not like a little garter snake. Nope nope. It was a snake. And we were together in a boat with a snake.

Have you ever seen a bee? And you think, aww, a bee, and you watch it go from flower to flower? Now, have you ever been in the car and realized there’s a bee with you? And you freak all the way out and panic and have to pull the car over because that bee IS GOING TO KILL YOU IN YOUR CAR?

Multiply that panic by a zillion and that’s what was happening in our canoe.

Colleen started screaming. Just imagine it the whole time: “I can’t steer the boat! I’m too weak!” repeated again and again. Bevin, in the middle, stirred the snake with her paddle. We couldn’t pick up the snake. We couldn’t tip us into the water.

“We have to kill it,” I said, realizing I was standing as well.

Bevin agreed. But I wasn’t sure how I would kill it with a plastic end of a canoe paddle. And then Bevin reached under the snake with the paddle, like a scoop, and lifted it up. I got it. I yelled at Colleen to keep the boat from hitting the log, from hitting the shore, from capsizing, while Bevin scooped the snake, and then I caught it on my paddle, and then on hers, and then on mine, all the way into the water.

The snake dropped into the river and we watched it swim about six feet away.

And then turn, lift its head out of the water, and come back at our boat with its mouth open.

With its white cottony mouth open.

The three of us stared.

“That’s a water moccasin,” one of us said.

We paddled the canoe back over to the shore, thinking about this. Thinking about how we were a half mile straight down from our cabin. How, once we were to reach our car, we were 45 minutes from the nearest hospital.

One of us would have died. Probably Bevin. Maybe me. There’s no cell service on the river. There’s no first aid kit. No antidote. We would have died. If not for Bevin’s clear thinking and Colleen not keeping us from capsizing and my cooperating and all of it--if we hadn’t bravely tried to get that snake out of the boat and keep us in it, we wouldn’t have survived.

We walked up the hill, the adrenaline draining from our bodies. Reached the cabin and crashed hard. I’m pretty sure I cried from the what-ifs. So many what-ifs.

But I have another story about a boat.

The apostles were on the Sea of Galilee, fishing, which is what they did, when suddenly they saw what they first thought was a ghost, but then began to realize was Jesus, walking on the water. I’m sure that some of them were in deep denial about what was happening--you can’t walk on water, silly, I must be seeing things. I’m sure that some were terrified. Perhaps all of them were terrified. But Peter saw Jesus and knew who he was and got out of the boat, starting to walk towards him on the water.

If you know this story, you know what happens next. He begins to realize what he’s doing, how crazy it is, how impossible, and he begins to fall into the sea. Jesus saves him and asks him why he doubted.

Lots of preachers and writers criticize Peter because of his lack of faith. If only he had believed more fully, he could have walked all the way across that sea to Jesus. Right?

But think about it. Peter got out of the boat.

We’re not talking about a boat parked on somebody’s driveway. This isn’t a rowboat sitting on the shore of a lake and you have to put your foot down into the mushy sand to push off the shore. This is a fishing boat on the sea. On a stormy sea. The best place to be when you are in a stormy sea is IN A BOAT. There’s not a single reason to get out of the boat. Nothing.

We are all in our boats. In our comfortable places. We all look around us and are comforted by strong walls and routines and expected things and knowing what comes next and being able to do what we need to do. Peter was a fisherman, had been his whole life. He knew boats like you know the soccer field or your mom’s SUV or your classrooms. It was familiar, comfortable, easy.

And he got out of the boat.

That is fortitude.

His 11 friends still in the boat? They were careful, sure. They were maybe afraid. Curious. Intimidated. You could say that perhaps they were wise to stay in the boat. I can imagine Thomas turning to Andrew and saying, “No way that is Jesus.” And then Andrew shaking his head and saying, “Actually, I’m pretty sure that is.” And the two of them standing on the deck staring out at the sea, unsure of what was happening, baffled, confused, amazed. But they stayed on the boat.

Peter was always the first apostle to see clearly. He denied Jesus, he wasn’t perfect. None of us is. But what he did that day in the boat was SEE what was going on. He saw Jesus there on the water. And he wanted nothing more than to follow him. To be with him. To do as he was doing.

And so he got out of his boat.

“Look at crazy Peter, he’s going to drown,” James shook his head.

“I wish I had thought to get out of the boat,” Simon thought to himself. “But I just can’t.”

“I still don’t think that was the right idea, I still don’t think that’s Jesus,” insisted Thomas to himself.

But Peter knew. Perhaps he acted without thinking it all the way through--perhaps he’s not the best example of Prudence, which is a virtue for another month--but he knew. And he tried.

God revels in weakness that tries, a Benedictine once told me. Fortitude is the virtue that lets us try. It lets us get out of our boats and into the water with all the messiness of the sea, of life. With the danger and the potential loss and risk. But with Jesus, with Fortitude, we can try.

We might slip under the waves. Peter did, and he was the rock Jesus built his church upon. But he tried. He didn’t stand on the boat just marveling at what was happening in front of him. He participated.

That is what we are called to do. To participate in life. In its messiness and sadness and glory and hard truths and losses and trials. We are supposed to get out of our boats. Roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty. Keep trying. Stand up for what is right. Stand up for those who have no one to support them. Reach out to Jesus. Reach out to each other.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Love Letter to my high school darkroom

I was holding my camera. It's a 10 year old canon digital camera, nothing special, not one of those dslr things. Just the run of the mill this is what I have. It has a nice heft to it, though, like a good 35 mm would, and it brought me back to another camera I owned, my father's, that I used throughout my senior year of high school in a photojournalism class. My dad had a set of macro lenses and I used them to take a picture of the laces of my converse all-star lace up high tops, back when they came in black, cream, and red. I had a pair of black and a pair of red. Back when no one wore them. But after the point when basketball players wore them. I placed 3rd in a regional school competition in photography with that picture. Nothing awesome but that was fun.

And I was in this photojournalism class, with this camera with quirks--you couldn't use the timer anymore, for instance. You had to load film just-so. But it worked and I learned how to take a photo. I like taking things with quirks and making them sing; finding semi-broken things that are still usable and using them for their best purpose.

I'm sitting in that darkroom in 1991, transferring film from my camera to the canisters where it will develop. Fumbling in darkness, hoping I don't drop anything necessary on the floor where I'll never find it. And then after developing it, going out into the bright classroom and using the little black machine to roll another canister of film off the bulk roll Mr. Sarver kept in a black bag.

I realized that more than cell phones vs. land lines, more than microwave ovens, more than the internet, actually, that this is the difference for me, the difference between me and now. My kids will never roll film or develop photos in a dark room, sitting on those metal stools that are never balanced right, chatting with John or trying not to chat with Heather, hoping we didn't expose anything, being trusted to do this task. They'll never take that film canister and take pictures at some ultra-boring sports banquet or NHS induction.

We don't have to make our own butter or know how to butcher pigs, either, and this isn't an "oh, these kids today don't understand" kind of thing I'm going for.

I just realized, looking down at my digital camera, that this is my version of my father's tooling around with a British sports car. I know how to do this thing that I never need to know how to do anymore--and when I learned it, I totally thought it would always be a thing. I was glad to learn it, glad to have this skill. My grandfather on my dad's side had a darkroom and I liked that I had a skill that was something from my family.

Now it's just a relic. Like most relics, I don't need it, but I'm happy I have it.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Ten on Thursday: 10 things I like about my daughter's tennis playing

Brooklyn attends an all-girls high school. Because one of their goals seems to be letting girls grow into women who aren't afraid to try new things and branch out of their little boxes, they have a policy that they don't cut freshmen from sports teams. They will cut girls as they get older, but only if there isn't room on the team. There is room on the tennis team.

1. Her team wears white skirts. Ok, so they are skorts, but I still have to smile when I watch them. Because it looks cute--but they are working hard. They could have shorts on. But tennis seems to call for skirts.

2. Except for one team (below), matches have been congenial and full of parents on both sides saying things like, "Nice point, ______ (other team)!"

3. Girls introduce themselves to their opponents and use each other's names.

4. There are no officials, which leads to the temptation to cheat, just fudge the teeniest bit. BROOKLYN NEVER FUDGES. And I've even heard her say, "are you sure it was out?" when she tires of certain opponents.

5. Like the opponent yesterday who called all the line balls out and then Brooklyn decided she was angry enough to beat her. And she did. "I'm not playing bouncy ball badminton with her anymore," she told me in the car later. But...on the court there was nothing but tennis.

6. The crowd is restrained. I love a rowdy soccer or basketball crowd. But tennis calls for silence and restraint. So we are all restrained together. And it's good.

7. When yesterday's team got on the bus and were terrible people, and had been terrible people the whole time, and whose coach shrugged at it all and said, "I can't control them!", our coach pulled our girls aside and told them how proud he was of their sportsmanship and integrity. And then today the athletic director showed up to the match and let us know that the team wouldn't be playing that school again. That was enough.

8. She plays on a new team (this is their third year) and this year has been so chill with no player drama. Zero.

9. She walked onto the team as a freshman and the coach taught her how to play tennis. It wasn't a prerequisite to know how already. And so now she has a lifetime sport in her pocket that she wouldn't have known otherwise.

10. And she's improving. Every time I go see her. She has a good eye and she plans her returns. Again: she knows how to do something I don't.

And that's my goal as a parent in the end.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Kings Speech (repost)

I mentioned to a friend recently that Colin Firth is my favorite actor. She obviously didn't know who Colin Firth was, because this morning she texted me and asked me what was wrong with me. I think she was expecting someone...prettier?

But Kings Speech.

And so many others, but Kings Speech.

And so I went through my former blog to find this entry about that movie and how it made me feel, and as I read it I realized I needed to update it. Which I do here at the end.


The night before the Oscars, I went to see The King's Speech. It was the only movie, besides Toy Story III, that I saw that was up for an Oscar. Pretty sure anyway.

Somewhere in the middle of this movie, about the time when I stopped saying "Colin Firth" and started saying "Bertie" (completely lost him in the character, which of course is the point of acting, but trust me, losing Colin Firth is hard for me to do), I also stopped saying "stutter" and started saying "dyslexia".

I know dyslexia and stuttering have nothing to do with each other. Completely different parts of the brain, different causes, different approaches. That wasn't what I was seeing. What I was seeing was an adult with a severe social disability (he wasn't blind, he wasn't paralyzed, he hadn't been burned by acid, but he couldn't hold a conversation) who wasn't getting any better.

Until everyone around him stopped yelling at him to DO BETTER. Just spit it out. Just say it. I stopped hearing that and started thinking about spelling and reading and things that have been said to Brooklyn. I know many of you know Brooklyn. And I know she is charming and quirky and lovely. But the girl couldn't read until late third grade. This isn't just a blip, it isn't a lack of good phonics teaching or laziness or montessori hippies turning her into an illiterate. Trust me. And those of you who don't know Brooklyn, again, she's really smart. She has a huge verbal vocabulary. She is a big-picture do-it-in-her-head math student. I'm not grasping at straws here. Dyslexia fools you, and it fooled me for a long time. There is nothing about talking to her that indicates that she would ever in a million years in your wildest dreams have a problem learning to read.

And as opposed to someone who might have a language processing problem or gaps in her education, dyslexia is not going to go away or lessen its grip on Brooklyn. I don't say this in a hopeless way, because unlike many other learning disabilities, dyslexia often comes with positives. It is only because our world is so so verbal that people with dyslexia have problems. They are spatial thinkers, they are creative, adapt easily to change, follow patterns, and, often, due to schooling, are hard workers.

In the movie, after he is crowned king of England and then war is declared, Bertie (King George VI) is handed a speech that he will be reading on the radio. The first thing he does is tell one of his assistants to call Logue, the character played by Geoffrey Rush, the self-taught speech therapist. Logue arrives and they go through this speech. They go through all the tricks and all the accommodations. They go, together, into the room where he will read the speech. Logue has draped the room in fabric to lower the ceiling and block out distractions. He opens a window. He has the folks from the BBC keep the "on air" light turned off so it won't stare at them the whole time. And as Bertie glances down at the speech, it is covered in slashes and marks to help him remember the little cues and tricks he needs to read this speech.

And he reads it. He slogs through it slowly and carefully and painfully and he does it.

As opposed to a certain genre of miracle worker teacher movies, Logue doesn't walk off into the sunset at this point. The afterward mentions that Logue was present at every wartime speech. Every one. I don't know how true to life the movie is, but I imagine that every single speech involved practice and annotations and tricks and accommodations. The speech impediment isn't gone. He isn't cured. It is still there.

But he does what he has to do. With accommodations.

I want Brooklyn's teachers to see this movie with that thought in mind. Brooklyn reads on grade level, but she does best if she's listening to the story as she reads. Brooklyn can copy from a handwritten page onto a word processor, but it helps if she has a post-it note to keep her place, and scratches off the lines as she goes (thus destroying the first copy). Brooklyn will never be a good speller, but she can still learn what words mean. She can still use words. Do I want her to rely forever on a Franklin speller or other electronic device? No, of course not. Will she probably need to anyway? Yup.

I can think of a word, say, hippopotamus, and I know in my head how to spell it. I know that if I write it hippopotamos that it will look instantly wrong and I will change that o to u. Brooklyn doesn't have this innate ability, but she can be taught the rules required to spell a word like hippopotamus--except that final schwa, which tends to be a random choice (or, more often, based on the spelling rules from its language of origin). She can learn why we double the /p/ sound the first time but not the second. Why we don't double the /s/ at the end even though we do on single syllable words that are not plurals that end in /s/ (like floss or kiss). But I have a hunch that these will never reach the point of "unknowingly knowing" like spelling is for most folks. She will always carry them around in the forefront, unlike, say, how she can hear three bars of music and know if she dances a jig, a reel, or a hornpipe to that tune. Some things become innate. Others probably won't.


And then there's Niles. As I watch him on the soccer field and know that this won't ever be his sport, not due to a lack of enthusiasm or speed or ball skills, but simply due to apraxia. Too many variables to make a motor plan. It will never go away. I still can hear it in the cadence of his speech. It will always be there. Brooklyn will always sweetly read the wrong words and then frown with her whole face trying to figure out what that could possibly mean, and Niles will always have to make a couple of extra mental steps in the split second before speaking or moving.


But that doesn't mean they're going to fail at life. It just means they needs to learn how to change their world to make it fit them. That, of course, reminds me of another movie, Silverado, which I just cannot stop loving. Stella, played by Linda Hunt, walks behind the bar, gradually becoming tall enough to serve drinks to customers. Paden (Kevin Klein) is amused, and she just shrugs: The world is what you make of it, friend. If it doesn't fit, you make alterations.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Zapatos Bonitos

It's starting to feel like fall, and so I didn't put on a pair of sandals today but instead a pair of green suede mary janes that I have owned for many years and were the first non-essential shoe purchase I made after becoming a stay at home mom. Back then the idea of buying something I didn't really need was so far off my radar, I wore pretty much blue jeans and black t-shirts for 10 years.


But this was when Brooklyn would have been 5 or 6, back when she kind of went to half-day first grade like no on else in the country does, so I had her at home a lot during the day and we would go shopping together with London in the shopping cart sneaking drinks of my iced coffee.

We were in Marshalls, which for those of you not here, is a discount department store that sells clothes that are from last season or have flaws, etc. I don't remember what I was there for, but I found myself in the shoe department. I was never a shoe girl. But I was looking idly at shoes and Brooklyn saw these.

"Mom, try those on," she said, and she sounded almost desperate to have me do so. I looked through the European sizing on the size of the boxes. I wear a 40 or a 41, depending on the shoe, and I found a 40 and took it out to try on.

"Sorry baby," I sighed. It wouldn't fit over my cotton socks, for sure.

Brooklyn burst into tears. "But they're so pretty," she cried.

I was shocked at her behavior. She was never very spoiled or tantrum-prone, plus it wasn't her we were buying them for. I looked in the box again and slipped my sock off. The shoes fit.

Of course I would wear them with thin socks or tights, not athletic socks.

"Look," I showed her, and she instantly recovered, sniffling and wiping away tears. "I'll get them."

They weren't too expensive, but on the way home I wondered what on earth I would wear them with. Where I would wear them to. Perhaps it would become clear over time.

On the way home, as well, Brooklyn held onto the box of shoes, open, looking at them and touching them all over.

"Mom, you're not very bonita, are you?" she asked.


"Bonita. We learned it in Spanish. It means pretty."

I thought about myself. I thought about my journey to where I was.

"No, sweetheart. You're right, I'm not very bonita."

She kept petting the shoes.

"That's ok," she decided.

It is.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Ridiculous Brain Stuff

Whoever it is out there who has the sympathetic magic voodoo doll that looks like me (or perhaps like a middle aged Georgia O'Keeffe), please, could we come to a compromise of some sort?

I was in my classroom Friday during pre-algebra. They were taking a test (I give a test every other Friday, regardless of where we are, we just stop and take a test right then and there, I put them on the calendar in August and I do not move them). I started grading some of the tests that came in early, while also glancing back and forth at my computer screen at my gradebook.

The computer screen left an afterimage in my vision, like a camera flash. but then I realized that it wasn't rectangular like the screen or like anything on the screen. It was like a tiny jumble or scribble. And flashing. And creating a blindspot in the center of my vision.

Oh my God, I'm going blind, I thought to myself. Why hadn't my magic eye doctor caught this, seen it coming? Then, thinking of things he had tested on me in the past, I closed my left eye and still had the blind spot. I switched eyes and still had the blind spot. It's not in my eyes. I have a brain tumor.

I looked down at the test I was grading at the blank area was larger. A student came up to my desk and I had to flit my eyes back and forth to see who it was. I was freaking out. I googled "sparkly floater blind spot" and immediately went to the page about scintillating scotoma.

I was having a migraine aura.

Those of you who know me know that I have 99 problems and migraine auras are one of them. But I have never had one of these. Other people have described them to me, but my migraine auras were always a bad smell, deja vu, and a sense of not being real. And then BAM, headache. Or BAM, no headache. Just depends.

But this had never happened. I went next door and told the teacher in that room that I was going to the nurse's office. And I did.

Where I promptly had a panic attack.

She took my vitals. My blood pressure was 116/68. Reassured that I wasn't having a stroke, she gave me a ton of ibuprofen and tylenol and a full strength coca-cola. Sat with me until I calmed down.

I started to notice that the weirdness was spreading out in the shape of a backwards C, made up of flashing TV static and jagged lines. It was kind of fascinating. It had started as a tight little knot and was now becoming kind of a crescent boundary of my vision. I had central vision again and was able to have a normal conversation about my history of migraines with the nurse and with my boss. They decided to send me home.

And then it was gone. I didn't notice it leave, but it spread all the way out and was gone. So I told the nurse I would drive myself, which I did, and when I got home, I lay on the couch and got comfy, waiting for a raging migraine.

Which never came.

I took more ibuprofen at 5 in the afternoon. Still nothing.

Woke up this morning and I was fine.

It's been a ridiculous year for me healthwise. I have a dead knee. I don't need a funky new brain pattern. So if you are the person who just stuck the pin in my doll's eye or occiptal lobe, could we please negotiate a settlement, a truce? Because I'm ready to be normal again.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

An open letter to an entity unlikely to respond

Dear 8th grade class: I am tired. Something about repeating the answer to #7 eleven times makes me dream of a vacation on the beach far away from the madding crowd of your youthful self-centered egos. I just want to speak in normal tones of voice to a room of 20 students. I don't want to yell. I'm not going to yell anymore. 

Today when I sat with my back turned to you and typed, it never occurred to you that time was being wasted. That I was doing this to prove a point. My fault, because I know you are not intuitive and you do not care. Perhaps tomorrow on the test you will care.

The worst part? The Algebra I class I get to teach every year, and when I say "get to teach" I mean it, is always, hands-down, my favorite part of my day and my year. I love my Algebra I students. They tend to be nerdy and fun and a little bit deviant but in the nerdiest most creative way. But something went wrong with your class. Some of you individually may be lovely people, but I can't find a way in. You talk and talk and interrupt me while I teach, while I answer other students' questions, while I attempt to impart a little bit of skill and knowledge to you in order to give 9th grade just a little bit of space for you, a break in your day when math isn't your hardest subject--I know this works. Ask the current sophomores and juniors. My methods work. My teaching works. But for some reason it doesn't work for you.

And I'm sad about it. I'm a little sad for you when you must hear older and younger students talk about me and my classes and it's not your experience. I'm not fun for you. It could be that we bring out the worst in each other. Or it could be that it's you, not me. Because it usually brings out the best in all of us.

But I know you cannot change. You are counting the days until graduation already, here in the week of Labor Day. So I will grind Algebra I into your brains, you will not care, we will fail to connect, and you will move on to high school. I hope it's better for you.

And now, I go teach 7th grade pre-algebra. full of awesome quirky kids and bright funny girls and boys who can't believe they are in the honors math section. When people talk over me, it's on topic or it's out of excitement or happiness and conversational. It is never a sly look over the shoulder and then turning to talk to a friend, ignoring the lesson.

And then asking again what the answer to #7 is.

With warm regards,
Your teacher

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Ten On Tuesday: 10 People I Can't Handle Today

Not specific people. More like archetypes I encounter. Too often.

1. Oblivious drivers. Please notice that I'm behind you. Please notice that you need to pull forward. Please put your phone down. Please consider giving up your license.

2. That guy in the lane you need to merge into that speeds up when he sees your blinker.

3. People who task me. The hedgehogging specialty teacher who gives me work to pass back or collect or hunt down. The subject teacher who wants me to write the demerit. The other teacher who considers homeroom teacher and parent to be equivalent positions and therefore, complaining to me about one of my homeroom students takes care of the problem.

4. People who make inane small talk. Not the "how was your weekend?" sort, which is fine and sometimes an invitation to better talk. The "hot enough for ya?" or "thank God it's Friday, am I right?" people. Dear Lord just don't talk to me.

5. People who participate in the same activity I do, but they do in the most branded way possible.

6. That one Facebook friend who keeps posting disproved urban legends and enraged political lies.

7. White people with dreadlocks, especially if they are in line in front of me and also barefoot and wearing dashikis. Although sometimes I can get a contact high simply by inhaling next to them.

8. Students who interrupt a lesson to exclaim, "I don't get it!"

9. Acquaintances and strangers who hug.

10. Anyone smug, especially when combined with any of the above. You will get what's due to you. One way or another.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Ten on Labor Day: 10 things I look forward to about fall

And none of them are pumpkin spice lattes.

1. Pencils. Sharp pencils with erasers that are still mostly intact. The smell of a freshly sharpened pencil. Yes I teach math.

2. Crickets. The windows are open now at night and I hear the crickets. I'm sure they are out there during the summer but I'm not.

3. Orange + blue = beautiful

4. Maybe I'll knit something. Sometimes it happens, but the hope that it will happen is more perennial.

5. Slipping on a cardigan in the morning before I walk out the door in the gray dusk (instead of the already bright humid sunshiny morning)

6. Fires. Intentional ones, I mean, in fireplaces or firepits or campground rings. In the summer these are oppressive, even if you are forced to have them to heat up food on a camping trip. But in the fall they are lovely, wood smoke lingering on your clothes and in your hair.

7. Girl scout camp. I'm probably on the edge of this just being a memory of fall instead of something I look forward to. But I love driving down to Pevely or up to Troy and pulling up to the comfortable sagging camp structures and having tame adventures together.

8. Porch sitting. I like it when the mosquitoes go away and I can sit for a long while, day or night, on the porch watching the world go by.

9. Harvest Moon and Hunters Moon.

10. Sunflowers and sagging gardens and seed heads and the smell of the prairie and then that first frost finally and all is gray.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Coloring, Racism, Teaching, Friday

It was an incredibly hard week. I had a hard time adjusting to the knee stuff and I was worried about Niles' ankle and then I started physical therapy, which I love but is making my hips sore (I have weak hips, I've learned). I didn't sleep well at all, all week long, and found myself feeling my age a bit and worrying about the future.

So on Friday, my math students weren't scheduled for a test (we stop and take a test every other Friday, but the Fridays in between I use as a catch-up day or as a project day), and I decided, you know what, we're coloring.

I started with my 6th graders. Had them grab their art supplies and passed out squares of cardboard. We turned them into tessellation pieces and traced them on white paper. Let them color them however they pleased--markers, colored pencils, crayons, I don't care. Trace in black marker or don't. Fill with solid colors or designs. Just enjoy the geometry and take a little break.

"This is the best math class we've ever had," one of my girls blurted out. She didn't mean that day. She meant 6th grade as opposed to previous classes. I sat at my desk coloring and listened to them talk to each other about past experiences in math.

I'm glad I'm their teacher.

Seventh grade came in and started circular designs, using circumference and division to create even sections of concentric circles that could then be connected to form intricate patterns. We didn't get to the coloring but that was ok--there was the promise of future coloring, which is good too.

Algebra was supposed to do a thinking problem that I like, cutting cubes into different smaller cubes and analyzing patterns. But it turned out I'd given them this problem last year in pre-algebra. So I took a deep breath...and got out the compasses and had them do the circle pattern as well. Instead of a group project they got an art project. They were ecstatic.

My 8th grade regular math class after lunch came in and I knew the circles would be frustrating for several of them, just knowing them from previous years. So we did a simple Op-Art design and sat together coloring.

Talk in that class turned to the recent football player who didn't stand for the national anthem. And I knew they weren't really holding their own opinions yet, at least not informed ones, and so I let them talk for a few minutes together. But then I had to cut in.

"You know, if you take the experience in America of African-Americans, if you take the history as well as the current state of affairs, I think instead of thinking he's a bad person for not standing during a song, you should consider the reasons why he doesn't feel comfortable standing."

"Yeah, I know," one boy said, "but I just don't get why he decided to mix sports and politics."

"Well," I continued, still coloring, "he got your attention, didn't he?"

"I just don't think he should have done that kind of thing," another boy said."

I stole directly from some meme I'd seen. "When Ferguson happened," I reminded them of a couple years back in our own community. "People complained that Black people were angrily protesting and setting fires and being loud and angry. They thought they should protest quietly--"

"And that's what he did," yet another boy blurted out, taking my conclusion away.

"Exactly," I nodded. "And now people are mad about that. So maybe the question should be, why are WE mad? What is it about us and about racism in our country that makes us mad when people point out that things aren't perfect?"

The blurter continued: "Shelby doesn't think racism is real."

I glanced at Shelby in the front row right next to the table where I was sitting. "That's because Shelby is a blond white girl and has never directly experienced racism."

I watched as Shelby turned bright red and laughed nervously. Some of the boys yelled stuff like "Aw snap!" from the back row. I looked up at Shelby and smiled at her.

"Once you see it, you can't unsee it."

"Mrs. Bridge!" the boys continued. "Burn!"

"Hey, I got a box of 64 here, I can do this all day."

It was a good end to a hard week. Because even a year ago, I would have been uncomfortable with the conversation but wouldn't have been able to articulate it. But maybe I was just tired enough. Of everything. And I was coloring and relaxed and ready for a three day weekend.

I ended the day in the computer lab with my 6th grade religion class writing about the wonder of Creation. And I stared out the window at the bright sun in our little Mary Garden and I was glad.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Some things probably won't change.

When I was 5, I attended kindergarten in Palm Desert, California. At the end of the year,we packed up and drove across the southwest desert to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. We lived there long enough for me to get a half year of first grade. Then we moved back to St. Louis over Christmas break and lived with my grandparents for a bit of time and I jumped into the middle of second grade. We found a house and I started 3rd grade at a small Catholic school near the National Cemetery and for the only time in my life until college, I stayed at one school for 3 years. We moved houses during that 3 years but I stayed at the same school.

 Writing that paragraph above, I feel things that you can't read. But read this one.

 We moved after fifth grade and my first day of school in 6th grade I got dressed in a hotel bathroom but went home to the house where we lived for two years. Then we moved to Dallas for 8th grade and part of 9th, moving over Christmas break again to Georgia. We stayed there until the end of my 10th grade year and then drove across I-10 down to Houston. I graduated from high school in Houston and went to SLU and bought a house in South St. Louis 18 years ago and haven't left.

 At some point, it has to stop breaking me.

 But I don't know when that point is ever going to come.

 I require routine. It's not that I prefer it. I require it. Life must be predictable. I don't even like good surprises. I would be terrible at a surprise birthday party. After the initial entrance, I would never adjust my thinking and would probably totally shut down.

 I hate endings. I cling to things, like grade schools my kids attended, far longer than I ever should have.

 I am terrified of being alone. Of being left. Of being new. Of being invisible.

 I keep waiting for this to go away. But it isn't going to.

 My brain is that old pair of jeans that you keep patching together because you can't bear to part with them but you really shouldn't wear them in public anymore. I'm stuck wearing them. At least they're comfortable.

 There are broken things in the world and I'm coming to accept that my brain is one of them. It doesn't mean it doesn't work. It just means I have to work around it sometime. I have to remember that the clutch is tricky and the brakes are loose. It runs fast and hot.

 And that's just the way it is.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The good, the bad, the health care

The bad news is my knee is dead. Not exactly: part of my femur was necrotic. But in early stages and caught by chance and holes have been drilled in the bone (it's called "microfractures", yummy) and it's maybe going to be ok.

The good news is all of that about catching it early. But I drive to school alone, thinking, and asking myself the what if they hadn't caught it? questions. Which suck.

The bad news is that I need a new primary care doctor and the new doctor I need to find somewhere in a haystack has to keep me on my thyroid medication and guess what, some doctors don't, and it causes me a great deal of anxiety thinking about getting this done somehow somewhere and lots of good doctors that are recommended to me aren't taking new patients.

The good news is a friend recommended one that is. I go next week to try.

The bad news is that I worried about my knee and kept looking at Niles and worrying about his ankle and started to get to a tipping point in that worry and jumping into panic.

The good news is that the same friend recommended a pediatric orthopedist and we went today and she listened to me and Niles and took x-rays and all is well! All is well!

The bad news is that I have yet again new cavities to be filled. Really? I'm 41. Come on.

The good news is I really like my new dentist.

The bad news, back to my knee, is that I'm now scheduled for a month of PT three days a week.

The good news is that it's just what I need and the rehab place is right by where I work.

The bad news is that I'm terribly anxious that it's not going to work. That my knee is really dead. And that no doctor will ever prescribe my thyroid medication again and my hair will fall out and I won't stay awake all day and I'll gain 30 pounds. That my teeth will fall out or rot away in my head.

That I won't be listened to.

That I won't be believed.

That I will be invisible.

But I'm going to keep trying. Because I have a lot to live for and a lot to get healthy for.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

It's like this

It's like this. You get to 41, almost 42, and you hurt. You're tired and need medication to stay awake during the day and by the end of it, you hurt so bad you almost cry when you lie down in bed.

Your weekends are spent shuttling kids around, kids you love more than anything and used to lie next to in bed and sob thinking of how much life would hurt them as they got older. God I don't want you to hurt.

You go to church after a month away, you keep trying and it keeps not working, you feel like it's broken or maybe you're broken or maybe God is trying to show you something. And your new pastor has done some ugly ass shit to your sanctuary and you realize that the word sanctuary applies here. Not only are there now ugly handrails in the sanctuary but this new priest has wrecked the sanctuary you used to have in your cozy little south side church. And you don't know what to do.

The department of transportation seems hell bent on ruining your life specifically with the highway shutdowns and bridge closings and ridiculous roadwork.You don't even have road rage anymore. Just road-numb.

Your knee breaks down and you have surgery and find out it was more broken down than you ever could have thought.

You stand in the frozen food aisle on a Sunday night and kind of break down in a softer way than your knee has, overcome by exhaustion and the dull aching pain that covers your body.

You drive home on automatic knowing that 5:37 in the morning is going to hit hard, you are going to lean over to your bedtable and stare at the electronic device beeping at you and you won't even believe it is time to start moving again.

You have three doctors appointments to look forward to at the beginning of the week--two for yourself and one for a child who has started to hurt and the pediatrician isn't listening.

You will stand in your classroom, engaged and obliterated, ignoring the pain and laughing with your middle school students who come to your room knowing that they get 45 minutes without so much drudgery and hurt. You do that for them. You pour it out every day all day long. And then your colleagues wonder why you can't eat in the lounge.

Because you hurt. And you're tired. And you're allergic to leather and your sandals are making your feet itch. And you just need 45 minutes to watch youtube videos designed to make you cry good tears because otherwise you're going to cry real ones.

But it's like this as well. You daughter makes the best chocolate cake you've ever had and you sit in bed with your blog no one reads and eat that cake and rest your knee and wish you still had some percoset but really, you're glad you don't and maybe the tylenol will work. The tylenol and warm bath and a bit of chocolate cake and maybe you'll take a couple benadryl because the leather sandals and the bonus might be sleep, rock hard sleep.

You text a friend and she tells you about her day, her kids, her pain, her loves. And you don't feel so alone.

And you start to kind of hope. Yes, 5:37 is going to be really hard in just a few hours. Yes, you're going to pour your life out to 13 year old kids all day long all week long, but you know they'll give back because they can't even help but give back.

Yes, it is a long time and miles to go before you sleep again but you will, and maybe there'll be good news from doctors and less pain and more hope for the next day and the next and the next and your daughter will be in plays and your other daughter will win tennis matches and your son will become a minecraft master for whatever that will do for him and you will keep breathing and thinking and loving and being.

It's just like this.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Doing it Right

On Monday one of my sixth graders walked in during 2nd period. I was teaching 8th grade. I had marked her absent that morning, and here she was with her backpack and lunch bag. I work hard to not call attention to people who walk in and out of my room while I'm teaching--6th graders often forget their materials and sneak in to grab the dictionary or notebook they've forgotten. If I engaged each of them, teaching would never happen. So I let her get her things together and kept on with what I was doing with the hooligans assigned to my class.

(I say hooligan in the warmest way).

There was only a bit left to 2nd period, and I noticed that she stood in the back by my lockers, just standing still. I told her she could go on to class, that it was fine to be late. Then I went back to my job.

When the bell rang, I noticed she was still standing there. I urged her to just head on to her next class, and then I went out into the hall to watch students (and hooligans) move between rooms.

When I came back in again to begin teaching 7th grade, there she was.

"You need to head on to class," I said, more firmly.

She did. Twenty minutes later the nurse was at my door to gather her things because she was going home. I figured that she'd been ill that morning, thought she could do it, but realized it was a mistake. Been there, done that.

Or maybe she was frozen in fear.

I talked to a friend about it, and she said, "why not just ask her?" I have learned to do this in the last year or so. If I want an answer, ask the right question. I got good at this last spring with my homeroom. They kept religion journals and this was a safe way to communicate with me. And oh did they communicate.

But I was afraid to ask her. Not because of her answer, not because it was scary to talk to 12 year old people, not because of any of that.

I'm afraid of falling in love with my homeroom this year. Like I did last year. Like I did with the current sophomore class. Like I do.

I am leaving. I cannot financially afford to stay here longer than one more year after this current one. Then I will have two girls in private high school and every year is like buying a used car, and that year will be two cars. Plus I have a girl who will need an actual car. I teach in a situation that allows my young children to attend Catholic grade school for free--but high school isn't included in the deal. So as London graduates, I lose her grade school benefit and need cash on hand to get her freshman year done. I can't stay much longer.

In fact, I was going to leave this year. I started looking. I got my high school certification.

And then I fell in love with my homeroom. With three of them specifically. And I watched them fall for me too and I needed to see this out. I told my boss, who understands that I will eventually leave her, that my work wasn't done here yet. It isn't. I need to help bring a couple of these folks to fruition.

So I stayed and all I can do is assume the universe is unfolding as it should and I will find the job I need when I need it.

When I told my brother why I was staying, he said, quite astutely like he does, "Aren't you just going to get attached to the next class of kids? Like, each year?"

And since he was right, I started thinking about how to be everything I needed to be without letting my heart open. How to make 6th grade right for these very timid young people without letting them affect me at all.

And last night talking it over, I knew I couldn't. I can't be here for my older kids and not for my new ones. I either have to shut it down entirely and punch a clock and be a terrible person for a  year and walk away unhappy and disappointed and disappointing, or I need to be who I am.

So this morning I told my little scared 6th grade student to just think for a few days: how can I make it easier? And we would talk again soon.

I need to just be brave and be who I am.

And know that it's going to hurt like hell when I leave.

Like it always does when I do it right.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sometimes it's not fine

I went to a wedding shower this weekend over in Illinois, my inlaws, kind of deep in the list, like I think the bride is my husband's second cousin. This doesn't happen in my family. I'm not sure I could pick all my first cousins out of a crowd.

One of the people in attendance was a first cousin that I have known since she was very small, like three or four years old. She is now an adult, married with a one year old baby boy. I had heard from my mother in law and a couple of other folks that she was nervous about him. She's a teacher as well, special education, and she was worried that something wasn't right with him. Everyone keeps assuring her that all is well.

I watched her before the shower started, playing with him on the floor, having people help with feeding him at a table, holding him, passing him to her mom, to my mother-in-law. It all did seem fine to me. It didn't seem like anything was amiss. I knew why everyone was reassuring her.

But I've been there.

Niles was not an early talker. That doesn't really cover it. He wasn't an early communicator. And I worried while everyone told me he was fine.

So after lunch but before the bride to be opened gifts, I sat down next to her at her table.

"So I thought Niles had autism," I opened the conversation. She laughed a little nervous laugh. But I pushed on. I told her his symptoms. I told her how he would say a word one time and then never again. How he'd had some language and lost it. How he never imitated. Didn't make eye contact. I had two older children and never thought that about them. Something was wrong with Niles. Something was wrong.

"People told me not to worry about it, that boys were different from girls. But it wasn't right and I felt it."

She nodded at me. I could tell she was about to cry.

"So I took him to a speech and language pathologist. I'd done it with Brooklyn, I knew the drill. And the professor came out and said to me, all serious, we are so glad you brought him to us. Because something was wrong. But it wasn't what I thought. It was apraxia, and that was big and scary too, but we were able to work on it."

She started to spill out her worries, the things she was noticing, comparing them to students she had taught.

"Yes," I agreed. "There is something in your heart that says it's not right. I totally get it. And you won't feel ok until it's obvious that everything is better. I didn't feel ok until that professor said the word apraxia and I could look it up and see that it was absolutely what he had. It took until he was two and a half to finally relax. I get it."

We talked a little more.

I have no idea if it helped or not. But I remember. I remember all the "it's fine" comments. They didn't help. What helped was finding the answers.  And that's what she needs to do. In the end, I'll put money on nothing is wrong. But I'm not his mama. And she needs to find out.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Gazelle Gets Brave

First week is winding down. Lunch on Friday and sitting in the teachers lounge and we are all fitting into our little stereotypes and roles already. Two new people at the table and they are finding their place.

Teaching is unique in that (in schools where I've taught at least) there is one, or two, people in charge, but then a large band of equals. Yes, you might have a department head in a big high school, and of course seniority and experience changes interactions, but for the most part, it's all chickens in the henhouse doing their own jobs and not interacting on a professional basis. I meet with my partner and I'm trying to mentor her as best I can, but I am not beholden to the science teacher or the art teacher or the 3rd grade aide. There is little collaboration and our rooms are our tiny kingdoms to be ruled pretty much as we wish.

The teachers lounge can be a toxic place. It can be a place to air grievances about parents or students. It is not a safe place, either--complain about a colleague and watch how fast that smacks you in the face. It is a place to talk about lawncare and vacations and your own childrens' schools and how great or terrible they are. "How are you?" should be met with "I'm fine." Your coworkers are not your friends. Not in the lounge they aren't. You sit after school in a bar with one or two of them as time goes on, maybe. But in the lounge you are an gazelle on the Serengeti. Don't get comfortable or the hyenas will circle.

Last year, I picked a word to guide my thinking and actions. My word was fishing. I was casting my nets into deep water. I was getting out of the boat. I was looking and searching and trying.

Sitting in the lounge today, I knew what my word was going to be.

I have spent three years smiling and nodding at my colleagues. Even when I thought they were ridiculous and pedagogically simple-minded. I can forgive a lot, as long as you're nice to kids and try your best. I spent three years figuring these people out, this building out. And this year is the year I find my voice. I have to be brave when I think something is wrong. I can't value harmony over justice and I need to have an opinion.

But Sally, you say, you always have an opinion! Yes, yes I do. I rail against the administration whenever it rubs me the wrong way. I ask questions at faculty meetings. I propose ideas. Solutions. I hate "that's the way we've always done it." If my boss asks me what I think I always tell her. I am unafraid of speaking truth to power, because inherently I have no power in the situation and therefore little to lose. I am not going to be fired for saying "I don't like the computer review program I'm being forced to use, can we evaluate its effectiveness?" or "I think you should hire her because she understood what I was talking about when I brought up interactive notebooks." I don't bitch about unimportant things and I make sure that any given hill is the one I'm willing to die on before I advance. But I always advance when it's me representing myself, other teachers, or students, and the hill has my boss standing at the top.

But I'm not speaking truth to power when I'm talking to colleagues. I'm speaking as an equal. Yes, I can tell my new partner how I do things and I can try to be a good mentor--but in the end she has to make her own way. But I have never felt it to be my place to tell any other colleague that what was happening in her classroom bothered me. That students came to me worried about his class. That something got back to me in a conference with a parent. I take that information from students and parents and combine it with my own observations and decide what I think about my colleagues. For sure I do that. And I learn who to trust and who to keep it light with and who to avoid because she's a dragon.

I don't, however, give advice, bring up uncomfortable subjects, or confront an equal about something that's going on that needs to change or even that simply needs to be known.

Trust me, they do it to me.

They do it to me all the time. 

"I think the way you set up the math groups is going to come around to bite you in the ass."

"I can't believe you thought she was algebra material."

"You know he acts up all over the school. The fact that you didn't give him a U for behavior undermines the rest of us."

"If you let students pick their own seats, they'll complain about my class where they can't."

"Don't let students back in to get materials, it teaches them they don't have to care."

"Your room gets loud sometimes and I don't want to have to close my own door so you need to."

"Stop talking to my students, this isn't a social time. They need to get to homeroom."

But I would never, ever, ever in a zillion years (I'm a math teacher so I know that's a long time), say anything like that to any of them.

Until today. Today in the lounge I brought something up. Not a bad thing. Not an important thing. A detail. And I framed it in as neutral a way as I could. As one of the sixth grade homeroom teachers, I've noticed that...

And the claws came out.

I was trying to send a semaphore message across the table to this new teacher (not my partner) that she had picked a detail to obsess over that might come back to hurt her. Not something that affects me at all. Not something that even matters to 90% of the students she teaches. But it matters to the small minority.


She did not agree. If they want accommodations, they need to approach her individually.

Right, because 6th and 7th grade students have that kind of chutzpah.

"And if parents attack me at open house, so be it. I don't care about that stuff."

Maybe she doesn't. If so she's made of sturdier stuff than I am.

The conversation turned to how resource handles check out procedures. And then to gossip about families and students that I do not participate in when I'm in the lounge because I'm a freaking gazelle on the Serengeti.

I finished my yogurt.

I threw my trash away.

I went back to my room and clicked on youtube.

But it won't be the last time. Because I've picked my word for the year.

My word is Brave.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Close Call

Sometimes I get caught up in the what-ifs.

And I know many people worry about the future. But I think I'm kind of unique, in a bad way, in that I worry about the past.

When I was 10 or so, I was on a girl scout camping trip that found us by the Meramec River. We were cleaning out a lodge for day use and a leader handed me an armload of cornstalks. There'd been a harvest dance or something like that. She told me to follow the trail down to the river and toss the cornstalks into the Meramec. Easy enough. I carried them down the trail, not really paying attention, until the ground fell out beneath me. I was on the edge of a bluff overlooking the Meramec.

It was a long way down.

I tossed them over the side and walked back to the lodge.

I have thought about how close I came to falling in the river ever since. Three decades of worrying about the alternate universe where I plummeted to my death.

I have had some what-ifs this week.

London and I were in the car on the way home from a movie. We stopped at Target to pick up the three subject notebook we had forgotten to get on the big school supply trip. Heading home on the side streets in the rain, a car pulled out from an alley and kept going.

In the split seconds that I had, I could do the math and see that he was going to run right into London's door. Already the ambulance trip and the emergency room flashed into my mind. Without thinking anything else, I ran up into the median and we narrowly escaped a wreck. By about four inches. The driver gave me the finger (I had complete right of way, I wasn't speeding, I should have been giving him the gesture).

I pulled away slowly and managed myself into a parking lot where I burst into hysterical crying while London tried to reassure me: "Mom, it's ok, we didn't get hit."

But we could have.

I also had knee surgery last week. Arthroscopic, no big deal. Then I went for my "get the stitches out and a pat on the back" appointment and the surgeon sat down with me, looked at my knee, praised it, and then explained all the things he'd done. Yes, I had two tears in my mensicus. But, he showed me the pictures, I also had this thing on my femur.

My friend Trisha called it an osteochondral defect. The doctor used scarier words. Like, "dead bone". He had to go in and drill tiny holes in my femur to try to help boost the blood supply to that part of the bone. He was happy with how my knee seemed to be healing up. And then scheduled another appointment for me in two weeks.

My knee had way more wrong with it than I thought. Than he thought. And maybe that part of the bone wasn't as dead as he seemed to indicate. But if it were, well, I drove home wondering about how I wasn't even going to see a surgeon until my friend Maggie pushed me to. It was fine now that I was home from all my hiking. Fine. But obviously not fine. And the surgery maybe caught something that would have progressed and gotten worse without attention.

Maybe it was a near miss like the car wreck that didn't happen and the fall from the bluff that didn't happen.

But more than just brushes with death or scary moments when I didn't feel safe. I think about my connections to the people on this planet. What if I hadn't moved into my block? What if I hadn't said yes to the librarian at my school and taken that tutoring job with her niece? What if I'd gone to UT instead of SLU? What if I hadn't said yes to going out that night? What if I hadn't sent that letter? What if I'd let it slide? What if I'd been too timid? What if I'd said yes? Or no? What if I'd given up?

Car wrecks, bluffs, and knee surgeries aside, I think about those what ifs more and more these days. And the pattern I see is that when I come to a crossroads, even if I don't know it's a crossroads, when I listen to my heart I'm right. If I would have done some overthinking, I would have lost.

Which makes me wonder, of course, about all the things I've lost by overthinking.

I have a heart bigger than my whole self sometimes and bold as brass.

I keep it in check by thinking too much and worrying and ruminating. And with fear.

But what if I didn't?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Back to school

New school year.

I met my 22 homeroom students this morning during our annual "drop off supplies and visit with the teachers" Sunday morning. School starts Tuesday for real, but this allows parents to get all that stuff in the door and off their hands, kids can see their desks (or in my room, find out that I don't assign desk, just lockers and cubbies) and maybe be put at ease a bit.

New school year.

I met a new student who had been told that I had grown up in a military family. It's a common misconception because I moved every two years. I corrected it, but the facts were still the same. I got it, I told the mom.

"I was new in 6th grade and then in 8th and the middle of 9th."

"Then you get it," she nodded. She introduced me to her husband and her daughter, and all of that was fine. It's fine. I felt bad for the girl, who reminded me just a shade of myself in middle school, only because I knew that detail of course, because she hid her anxiety well. I know she has it, though, because of course she does. And it had been passed to me by the secretary already. Take care of this one.

This is my 4th year at this school, which is the longest I've worked anywhere. The only reason I stayed, at first, was to rebuild my very checkered resume. At this point I stay for a lot of reasons, almost all of them heart ones, but it is hard to stay in one place, even now. Even always. Even forever.

I think part of what allows me to stay is that every school year is its own little mini life. It is new every August, even if my desk is the same and my view of the concession stand and soccer field is unchanged. Not only do I usher in a new generation of 6th graders, bringing them as gently as I can into the realities of middle school, but the 7th graders and 8th graders are changed as well. Even though the parents have a mental image of who I am now and what that means for their child in my class, their children are new again to me because summer changes us.

Summer changes everything. It is subtle, but the changes are there. Girls' faces change. Boys get taller or start shaving. People get bolder, more comfortable, or alternatively, feel unstable where they stand. Summer changes them. Some are glad to be back and some are counting the days to Christmas break. Either way, these taller, tanner, more experienced young people stop by my room and wave at me and it feels new.

And so I can stay. The life around me can change now and I stand there letting it wear down my sharp edges. I look in the mirror in the faculty bathroom and smile, the crows feet around my eyes making me look like maybe I'll be ok, I'll be safe to approach, I'll be the teacher they need.

I put up my pictures and set out my pencils. I shook folks' hands and showed them how to work the lockers. They wished me luck and I told the students I'd see them Tuesday.

I hope it's a good year.