A failing school from the inside out.

Let’s pretend, for a moment, you are standing in the hall outside my 2nd grade classroom. As you cross the threshold, I’ll shake your hand (as I do with my students each morning) and introduce myself, “Hi! Welcome! Come in and sit on one of my tiny chairs!” We’ll walk past the potted lily and the two ivies (your eyebrows may raise at the one which has grown so long it covers the tops of three bookcases, a feat which is terribly impressive to my 7 and 8 year old students). Before sitting together at my green kidney table, you’ll notice a blue box labeled “Affirmations”, into which my students place kind notes they’ve written to one another. Then, once we’ve been seated on those little blue chairs, (“She wasn’t kidding about the tiny chairs!” you’ll think to yourself), I’ll look you full on and tell you my story, which is as follows:
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I’m an urban teacher. For the entirety of my 13 year teaching career, I’ve taught in the inner city. A school population’s poverty level is often determined by the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunches; the three schools in which I’ve taught have all scored above 90%. I’ve been in the trenches for a long time. I tell you this not to impress, but to attach credentials to what I’m about to say.
Last week, the families of the students attending my school received letters from the state threatening to close the doors of our school indefinitely this June because something “must be done to prepare children for life after high school”. It offered suggestions for alternate districts and explained that the state “wants all students to have a good life after high school”. As insulting as it was to read those words as a teacher who fights for the positive future of her students every day, it was more degrading to know this “failing” status was gauged by the results of a single standardized test.
One.
Single.
Test.
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My inclination here is to tell you all the ways in which this test has been criticized far and wide in its content and delivery. I want to tell you of the days, evenings, weekends, and summers our staff has forfeited to sit in seminars and speeches and conferences in a constant effort to better ourselves as educators. I want to tell you all of the times state demands have been sprung upon us, or of stakes sporadically raised, or of assurances retracted. I want to tell you of the unbelievable gains we’ve made across the board, ones which are ignored just because not enough increase has been shown on the only window our state seems willing to look through.
But those words have been said and you’ve already heard them in one form or another. No one needs another disgruntled teacher posting about the difficulty of the profession.
What I AM going to share with you is the reality of shutting down a school like ours. I want to flood your mind with stories so when you hear of so-called “failing” schools, you can balance the media hype with some brutal and beautiful reality.
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We are a staff. We are led by a principal who is fair and trustworthy and has never, not one time, allowed us to doubt he has our backs. We are a staff who hugs in the hallways and texts on the weekends because we are friends before we are coworkers. We exchange Secret Santa gifts. We have breakfast potlucks. We cry or celebrate together over our children- those we’re raising at home and those we’re raising at school.
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We are families from impoverished and working class homes. Families who gather around tables in homes they own, in homes they rent, in homes they share with extended family while in transition, and in the local homeless shelter. We are parents who drop their children off in the morning, entering through the same doors they opened when they were in elementary school because this was their school, too. Our parents share with us their fears and successes and we hold these admissions with reverence because it is the highest of honors to be entrusted with educating their child. Sometimes, we are their only consistently reliable ear or aid and we offer both as freely and openly as we are able because we recognize the meaning of supporting a child best by supporting her from the ground up. Our families are an extension of ours even when complications or disagreements arise (and they do) because we have learned to look below the surface and see the questions underlying every interaction:  “Do you see my child? Are you doing right by my child? Can I trust you with this task?” We are aware.
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We are children, hundreds of them. We feed them. We clothe them. We dry their tears. We bandage their wounds. (I do not mean any of those in the figurative sense.) They carry with them their stories, which they reveal in hugs or tantrums or laughter or aggression. They test us until they can trust us because they are skeptical and often weary. They come to us with full bellies and empty ones, from warm beds and from naked mattresses infested with bedbugs, (something we know because we’ve seen them crawl out of backpacks and homework notebooks and clothing). The children we teach write us love letters and scream that they hate us, sometimes both from the same child in the same day, because they crave affection as deeply as they fear losing it. They play together on the playground, the well dressed children and the ones wearing their older (or younger) sibling’s ill fitting clothes. They are the reason we choose to stay at a school with such a demanding range of needs. They are worth every difficulty and we mourn and rejoice and worry and celebrate over them as though they were our own. (Because, we consider them so.)
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We are a community, one who has risen up  in droves to speak affirmations loud enough to rise above the condescension  of those who’ve never set foot in our school. We are a community who has rallied together with petitions and letters and verbal outrage. We are members of a body who have witnessed the value of a public, neighborhood school who rally around the academic and emotional and physical needs of its children and families. A community who knows of our growth first hand because they’ve witnessed it in person, in our school, and in our city at large.
Do not misunderstand my words to be a refusal to admit our deficits. Any member of our staff is aware of our shortcomings and the goals we’ve set to stand on firmer footing. Though we know the reasons it can feel next to impossible to raise academic achievement, we are not comfortable here nor do we accept it as an excuse.
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DO hear me when I say, WE ARE MORE THAN A TEST SCORE. We are a staff and families and students and a community and we know our worth. We are resilient, each one of us, and we know better than to buy into the opinions of someone who can’t see the school behind the scores. We are fighters, the students even more than the adults, and we will hold our heads above the mire. We are necessary and important, and we will not allow a label from on high to change our minds. When you hear of us, think first of our stories, for they will always, always, reveal more than our scores.

When it’s better to be broken.

Parent-teacher conferences were tonight at my school. I love the chance to talk with my families about their children. I love laughing at the stories and I love sharing our concerns about the child for whom we both care. They, in turn, love hearing about how a teacher enjoys their child and I never have to pretend that I do. (Even the ones who exhaust me in every sense of the word. Even those little crazy babies.)

Sometimes though, once in a while, there are families who break me down. Kids in these families? Their chance at getting out of poverty, out of trauma, out of a life of hardship born of limited choices… it seems bleak at best. The adults in their lives just can’t seem to get themselves together and the weight of that falls so heavy on their kids. Those little humans hold it all but have to act like they don’t and so it comes out as hyperactivity and anger and poor grades which means they leave one stressful situation only to come to school and have to handle an entire other set of rules they can’t seem to get straight.

I try to make my room a safe place. I try to love them well. I try my damnedest to be a shelter. I try to find the upside, to stay positive, to shine light into darkness when my mind wants to sit there, depressed in the corner.

Most times I can manage it.

Tonight, I could not.

I cried after a particularly tough conference. I can’t fix it for this kid, I can’t take away what he’s heard and seen, and I can’t produce for him a parent who is capable of supporting and caring for him the way he so desperately needs. It isn’t in my power; I’m just his teacher. I see him only enough to love him and see his potential, but not enough to actually make those imperative changes for him.

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//School garden–Goldfish pond\\

I know all the pat answers about what a difference a teacher can make. I know all of that. (I even believe it sometimes.) But the children I work with, have worked with for more than a decade? I see the same things year after year after year and it wears on you. I know about trauma; I’ve been around it for a long time now. I see what it does when combined with poverty. You have to beat down the cynicism.

Usually, I can pull myself out. But sometimes, it is good and right to sit in grief for a little while and stop trying to reboot. I will continually stand by my belief that we are worse for the wear when we listen to society’s advice on rushing through grief. Deep sadness is useful for reminding us why it is important to continue to rage and fight and stand up for the change you want to see. It removes calluses and strengthens your resolve and in a job in which you are continually confronted by brokenness, you will not survive if you do not stop to do this work of mourning from time to time.

I’m taking some time to mourn. It is the only way I know to keep going into my classroom everyday, every month, every year and seeing the same scenes replayed- different players, same game.

I try to be positive. I look for the good. But sometimes, you have to be broken anew in order to remember why it is you’ve got to do the unrelenting but necessary work to remain there.

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//Classroom window–class plants bizarre antique store find\\

This is how we fix it.

The world is so very, very broken right now, is it not? People are doing horrible things to one another, saying horrible things to one another, manifesting some form of hell on Earth daily. I don’t think I’d get much push back on that. The human race en masse? We’re not handling life so well lately.

But then there’s also this. There’s most IMPORTANTLY this.

Today, at my school, hundreds of volunteers from a local church swept in and took our lives over for the day. They decorated the entire building in snowy, Christmas beauty. They acted as personal shoppers to our kids as each picked out brand new coats, hats, mittens, boots. They clapped as the little girls spun in front of mirrors, admiring their faux fur hood lined, beaming faces. They guided the crafting of pillows and ornaments, delivered pizza, sang ‘Let it go’ at a concert during lunch. They poured hot chocolate, colored pictures, and pushed on swings.

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They loved my kids so well.

My small, resilient, grieving, exuberant, abused, malnourished, forgiving, imaginative, underprivileged, frustrating, lovable, beautiful kids.

I cried twice on the WAY to work thinking about it, but not as hard as I’m crying now recounting it.

Seven volunteers were specifically assigned to our class for the day. I watched my students hold hands with, get hugs from, laugh with, talk with, color with these people for hours. At the end of the day, I asked each student to share their favorite part of the day. Do you know what virtually every child said? “I liked hanging out with *classroom volunteer’s name*.”

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It caught me off guard, you know? They’d just gotten all of these new winter clothes, coloring books, treats, and prizes from games and the thing they loved most about the day was the PEOPLE. It damn near literally broke my heart into pieces. All of that stuff took second place to someone genuinely caring for them, listening to them, CHOOSING them. It was the best part of my day, listening to one after the other share this out.

However, despite leaving with warmer winter gear, many of my kids still went home to their painful realities. It kills me daily that I can’t fix it for them. New mittens won’t fix it, sparkly garlands won’t fix it, and whatever unimaginable sum of money it cost to put on that kind of amazing production won’t fix it which, on the surface, can feel terribly hopeless.

But,

BUT,

BUT!

For one day, those kids felt kindness from complete strangers. For one day, they didn’t have to work through academics when their minds are drifting to homefront issues. All day, through actions as well as words, they heard: “You are special, you are enjoyable, you are fun to be around, you are smart, you are funny, you are polite, you are important.”

Their realities didn’t change today but, perhaps, by the grace of God and goodness, their mindsets did.

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Do you see what this means for us? It means, (despite the dire need for these actions), no matter how much money we give to charities, how many clothes we donate, no matter how many food drives we support, we actually make the most impact with OURSELVES. When we love others well, when we are present, when we listen, when we make it known we are choosing the presence of another, we are in tiny but powerful ways healing the horrors surrounding us.

Never underestimate the power of your presence and affection for people- familiar or unknown. You, as it happens, are your most valuable influence on the world’s brokenness, one person at a time.

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A letter to my students.

To my students,

I need you to look at me because I have to tell you something very important. I see you, okay? I’m not talking about your pants that come to your mid-calves because they still button around your skinny middle or the ones that reach your ankles but are rolled 3 times to compensate for the waist of the older sibling from whom you borrowed them. I’m not talking about the unruly hair you’re hiding under that hoodie because your mama hasn’t had the time or the money this week to take you to get your hair done. I’m not talking about the shoes you’re wearing like slippers, breaking those heels down because your toes were crammed up in those things so tight you winced when you walked. And I’m not talking about the times you come to school wearing brand new, tags still attached outfits because your mama just got paid and wanted to make the rest of those outfits up to you.

That’s not what I’m talking about.

I see YOU in there, who you can become. I’m never going to lie to you and tell you I know what it’s like. My daily proximity to you does not give me the right to assume I understand what it means to wake up with the joys, fears, and experiences you wake up to each morning. I will never get it. Let’s get that out of the way right now because the important part is coming up:

I NEED YOU TO FIGHT. (No, not like that.) I need you to fight past all of those hurdles the world has set up for you just because of where you live. I need you to run right through, over, under those things. The world is unfair and you’re going to need to work twice, three times, FOUR times as hard as the kid a school district over. BUT YOU CAN DO THIS. I just know it. Your other teachers? They know it too. That’s why we are on you, all the time, about everything- because we know how much further you have to go to get to the same finish line. You’re going to have to block out what other people say about you and what you can or can’t accomplish. You’re going to have to push through all of those things you see and hear that you shouldn’t have to be exposed to. You’re going to have to wrestle those memories (the ones of the adults in your family worrying over money, over food, over safe places to live) into fuel for your fire to burn up and out of here like a rocket.

The girl who drew the picture of the shelter? She is living in one. Notice the other column? That’s why ALL kids need ALL types of experiences or ALL you know is what you see. While there is certainly nothing wrong with any of the jobs listed, if those are the only ones of which you’re aware, your world is severely limited.

You have so much beauty. So much potential. The world may be uncomfortable with you because truly seeing you makes them rethink how much their talk about the current state of poverty and educational disparities outweighs the actions they’ve actually taken to make change. You’re going to have to trust me when I tell you how desperately you need to focus on your studies now. Yes, even at 6 years old, 7 years old, 8 years old. I need you to understand that this is why I push you so hard. It is because I see you. I believe in you. I know you can do this. You’ve already got so much fight in you, Tiny Thing. We’re gonna focus that and get you anywhere you want to go. The world is your oyster, baby. Kick those legs, muffle out the noise, and take what is yours.

I see you.

You can do this.

Let’s go.

Dear teacher of my ((adopted)) son.

Dear teacher of my son,

My name is Sara, and I should tell you first that I’m a teacher too. I want to tell you that so I’ve got some credibility for what I’m about to say. I know how hard you work and I know how much it exhausts you. I know how there are at least a couple of kids in your class who make you turn your back and make a “Dear Jesus, come quickly” face to the wall. I also know how there are some kids who just get right into your heart and literally make you cry over their stories. I have these kids, too. I’m worried that my child is going to be one of these two for you.

If my son drives you up the wall because we are honing his bossiness into leadership, please be patient. If my son makes you do a lot of those deep, dramatic sighs because he feels everything really BIG (like his mama), please help him to temper his emotions into words. If my son acts impulsively out of frustration, YOU CALL ME. But seriously, help me to raise my son in the way he should go and dig deeply before you make a judgement call. See, because I’m his mama I worry about the studies on boys, (particularly black boys), in school. I know what people mean when they hear that I teach in a high poverty, urban school and ask, “Do you have mostly black students?” My son is not naughty because he is black. He may be naughty sometimes, but that’s because he is a stinker-child and not because of his skin color.

On the other hand, if my son’s history in foster care makes you pity him, please stop. If my son’s early life experiences make you go easy on him, please don’t. If my son’s having been adopted makes your heart leap, please remember that there are some truly painful aspects of adoption and it isn’t a perfect solution. I’m telling you this because I don’t want my son to get special treatment. If he is struggling in something, I am begging you, push him as hard as you would push a child who still lives with his biological family. Please don’t go easy on him because you’ve read the research about how early trauma affects children. Please don’t knowingly nod your head if he is having a difficult time grasping something and write it off as a side effect of his history. I have the same expectations as any other mother. I left much of your back to school questionnaire blank because I’ll wait to tell you pertinent information if the need arises, but I don’t want you starting a full year with my son and your mind already made up. Trust me when I say that I never forget what my son has experienced, but that hasn’t stopped us from setting the same high expectations we’d set for him if he hadn’t.

I know how hard you work, I do. I know that you get families in there all the time asking you to watch over their child in one form or another and I know how honestly impossible it is to meet all of the requests made of you. I would just really, really, from the bottom of my heart, like to ask you to see my son as a teachable, beautiful, original child. I want the same things as all of those mamas who carried their children and it would be an immense relief and blessing if you could see those things for him too.

Sincerely,

Isaac’s mom

PS:

If you could please talk to your administration about getting this form changed, I’d greatly appreciate not having to mark myself as “other”.

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On missing parent-teacher conferences.

I’m a teacher and tonight was parent-teacher conferences. I’ve worked in urban school districts for more than a decade and have led 21 parent-teacher conference nights which amounts to somewhere around 400 conferences.  Tonight I had 5 no shows, which isn’t unusual. I’ve never had a year where I got 100% right off the bat. It usually takes a lot of phone calls and rescheduling and more phone calls… and there is a lot of frustration involved.

As a teacher and a parent, I am quick to get judgmental. Who misses their child’s conference?! Who responds that they will attend and then doesn’t show up?! Who shows up to their kid’s conference reeking of weed?! WHO DOES THAT?!

My kids’ families do. And it frustrates the hell out of me. Seriously. I work so hard with these little kids. I worry about them and tailor centers for them and hold them when they cry because they are living in the homeless shelter and they are tired and scared. WHY AREN’T THEIR PARENTS HERE?!

Except.

Except.

I always come back to this thought: Once, these parents were little kids. Their teachers held them and worked late nights to meet their unrelenting needs and their parents didn’t show up for their conferences either. Their teachers didn’t blame them for the parents’ no shows. They were just little kids.

And then they grew up.

And had kids.

And repeated the cycle.

This is what gets me. We don’t blame kids for all of the societal norms they lack. We say, “They aren’t being taught this stuff. No one is modeling for them.” But we do blame their parents… who were once those kids.

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My logical husband says, “You have to be held accountable at some point, Sara,” and he’s right. He’s completely right. It’s just that I need that reminder- that visualization of my kids’ parents as kids themselves- because otherwise I am too quick to anger. There is a fuzzy grey line at which point we stop excusing kids for what they didn’t learn and start blaming them for it as adults. It is utterly depressing, but it centers me. It reminds me that, despite the need to hold parents to a high standard, there is always enough grace to go around.

I am doing what I can in my classroom, but so many of my kids are just missing out on someone outside of the classroom to show them that there are alternatives. I listened to a This American Life podcast recently that addressed the disparity between children in poverty and children born into the middle/upper class by following the post-high-school years of students from a low-income school who did an exchange with students from a wealthy school. You don’t know where to aim if you don’t know your possibilities.

My plea? Help our kids, please. Mentor. Volunteer. Pray. Vote for bills and millages that support education. Big Brothers/Big SistersKids Hope, and Communites in Schools are all programs I’ve seen first hand make a deep impact. Take a kid under your wing from church. As frustrated as I can get with my families, I love them. They are doing the best they can with what they’ve been given and, despite the fact that many of us would score them sub-par at best, they were kids once. Their kids need something to aim for so they make sure they don’t miss conferences when they’re grown. And, as a reminder to you as much as to myself, try to remember that those adults who seem like they are falling so sadly short of the needs of their kids were kids once too. There is enough grace. I promise.

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On being an Emotional. Capital E.

I’m what I would call an Emotional. I wish SO dang much I could call myself an Intellectual, but I’ve sat through enough discussions with friends who genuinely ARE Intellectuals and honestly, I’m not one of them. I can’t hold my own despite the best efforts of NPR, The New Yorker, and BBC News.

What I DO is feel things really big. I mean, I’d like to say there’s more to it, but a lot of times… there’s not. I feel REAL big.

I’m an adorer of books but, even with books I’ve read multiple times, I can’t remember all of the names or the sequence of the plots. This also goes for movies and tv shows.

Things I do remember (ALL emotional):

1. The degree to which I felt repelled or connected to a character or setting. (Examples: Repelled- every single character in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo book; Connected- Matilda, Jo March, Jane Eyre; Setting connection- The March girls’ attic, the trail to Ms. Honey’s cottage)

2. The level of grief I went through over character relationships. (Examples: Low- Hunger Games; High- Divergent)

3. The intensity with which I still visualize the settings I created upon first readings. (Movies can sometimes mess with this, but not the firmly implanted ones.)

My brain’s not big on remembering events and times and dates and names. If I’m being honest, I wish I could change this about myself. I am jealous of those who can step  into well articulated debates and speak with eloquence with educated points. It isn’t as though I want any part of me to disappear, I just want more parts to APPEAR along with the others. An Emotional Intellectual. (Call me greedy.)

A negative side effect of being an Emotional is that I often get overwhelmed with the level of atrocities around us on a local and global scale. At one point last year it was so heavy that my body literally felt heavier. I felt physically weighted down with grief at all of the awfulness. Do you know this feeling?

A few weeks ago, the father of one of my students died unexpectedly, leaving an 8 and a 5 year old behind. The 8 year old is in my class and he was a personal favorite of mine before this- already this tough little boy with this soft heart. (I’ve always got a soft spot for the naughty little boys.) After his dad died, it was awful. He would act out in class and a few seconds later I’d look over and he’d be crying these silent tears or he’d just lie down on the floor under his desk and not move.

That’s the kind of heavy I deal with daily. It is heavy enough without the rest of the world dropping the ball with hunger and poverty and AIDS and unclean water and sex trafficking… and… and…

I’m an Emotional.

So I reached out via Facebook to ask for some new clothes or art materials for the two boys. Certainly it wouldn’t bring their dad back, but I also believe in the power of goodness and DEAR GOD, those boys needed some good.

Social media can be so unbelievable in the best ways. Friends of mine shared my post. People I didn’t even know started contacting me. I set up a Paypal account for donations at the suggestion of others. They brought clothes to me, sent money, gave art supplies. In a week, I had 4 full boxes to give to those boys and $300 to be able to take them shopping with their mom to let the boys pick out some things on their own.

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Most of the people who gave had never met either of the boys. 

**COLLECTIVE SIGH OF RELIEF**

People are good. People are waiting for ways to help. Not everything is broken!

(Except maybe my Intellectualism. I’m still waiting for that gear to kick in.)

Less wallowing. More chickens.

Tonight I worried a lot about the size of my ass. (A little bit just now I worried about what some of you would think of me for writing ass instead of butt. I will continue to worry about it after I post this- probably even more so- but, as a lover of words, I firmly believe that there are times when an obscenity just suits better than its watered down counterpart.) I was worrying about my ass because I haven’t been working out as much as I’d like and I fear it is getting closer to the point of no return. I worry about this because I am self-centered and conceited.

I have also cried a lot this week. It was for a number of reasons: infertility crap (aaaaaaagain), my new chicken pecking Chicken Bicken’s comb to the point of bleeding in introducing the two, feeling overwhelmed with balancing the mom and the teacher and the wife and the working out and the relaxing, over the spilling of the chicken waterer late at night causing me to have to go back inside and refill it again, and about the sudden and unexpected death of the father of one of my favorite students who, God knows, already had more than his fair share of trauma on his 7 year old plate. I cried because I’m a perfectionist , because I try to do too much, because I’m dramatic, and because I have an occasional Messiah complex.

In between all of THAT, it has occurred to me that I am really, really content to be sad or angry or pitiful. You know how I know? Because at one point this week, the type of thought I recognize as a Jesus shoulder nudge noted, “Despite these things all being worthy of grief or anger (some more than others…) it seems like maybe you’d rather just nurse the junk instead of making something of it,” and I immediately recoiled. As in, there is no daaaaaang way I want to stop being sad/angry/pitiful because I’m totally comfortable here.

I saw this quote the other day:

“For those habituated to high levels of internal stress… it is the absence of stress that creates unease, evoking boredom and a sense of meaninglessness. People may become addicted to their own stress hormones, adrenaline, and cortisol… To such persons stress feels desirable, while the absence of it feels like something to be avoided.” (Gabor Maté M.D.) 

I am totally comfortable with wallowing. I can admit that I’ve completely become addicted to the sensation of feeling overwhelmed or sorry for myself or angry at the status quo. I’ve been doing it for so long now that I’m just stuck here and despite it being a place I don’t like inhabiting, change is hard. (Once, I teared up because Ryan wanted to replace the tiny, crappy tv stand I’d bought on clearance and had ZERO attachment to with a larger one that looked nearly identical. I actually devised arguments as to why we shouldn’t replace it which was idiotic because our new tv wouldn’t even fit on the old one.) Change is hard.

While I’ve been snubbing my nose to this gentle shoving out of my comfort zone, I’ve been raising an interested eyebrow to what that could mean. MAYBE, if I stopped worrying about my ass, I could start enjoying working out again as opposed to putting so much pressure on my sorry-self to work out specifically to reshape said ass. MAYBE, if I stopped feeling so sorry for myself for being overburdened, I could spend the time reading a book and learn to listen to my husband when he tells me that the world will not, in fact, implode if I leave the laundry for the weekend. (I am not kidding there. It honestly feels like something really, really awful will happen if I don’t do those dishes. I don’t know what. But bad.) MAYBE, if I stopped moping over the weight of the beyond depressing day-to-day life that most of my students experience, I could spend more time searching for actual solutions like looking into ways to help that newly widowed mom raise money for funeral expenses.

Let’s be honest, this is a far larger issue than a crappy, particle board tv stand. I’m working on it, albeit reluctantly. As in so many situations, this is a perfect opportunity to fall back on wise, blunt, Anne Lamott, who writes:

“Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don’t drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor’s yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper. So I keep trying gently to bring my mind back to what is really there to be seen, maybe to be seen and noted with a kind of reverence. Because if I don’t learn to do this, I think I’ll keep getting things wrong.”

I don’t really believe that I want to stay here… I just need to train that puppy a little more. A lot more. But no drop kicking. Maybe a few more chickens would help though.

 

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Less drop kicking of puppies. More chickens.

 

Sicky sick. Stinker-stink.

Today could have gone better. Or rather, I should have known better when I romanticized staying at home with my sick-with-strep-and-a-full-body-viral-rash son. The day before, Wednesday, I only took the morning off which was spent running Isaac to my school to drop off lesson plans, to the doctor’s, and to Walgreen’s for his meds before dropping him off to Ryan who took him for the afternoon so I could return to my class of 2nd grade kiddos and head to a 2 hour after school meeting. Needless to say, I was optimistic about a whole day with my baby. Here was my PRE-Thursday image of how today would go: cuddling, and movies, and naps, and read alouds.

That didn’t happen.

It is important to note here, that my child is a few weeks away from turning 5. Since he could speak, he has been lying to people when they ask his age and telling them he is 5. Five is an age when adults like to throw around comments like:

“You’re getting to be such a BIG BOY!”

“FIVE?! Woah! That’s big time!”

“ARE YOU SERIOUS?! FIVE?! HOLY $*^#!” (Well, not really that one… but close. However, I’m pretty sure that this is the level of awesomeness with which my child has been registering these comments.)

So. Today I got up an hour earlier than normal to go into school to prep for a sub so I didn’t have to wake Isaac up and could get back before Ryan had to leave for work. Yesterday, Isaac was horribly uncomfortable: scratchy rash, sore throat, soaring fever. He was doing the cry that immediately produces tears from your own mommy eyes because your kid is so authentically miserable and you are completely incapable of doing a damn thing. My little, feverish, horribly uncomfortable sleeping angel who would benefit from one more day of rest at home. (I didn’t even have guilt this morning about taking a day off: I’m choosing my kid. Family first. My class will not implode with my absence.)

What woke up from that sick bed was a successfully antibiotic’ed, rash reduced, low grade fevered boy for whom Benadryl does not carry any of the side effects which apparently only affect the rest of the world’s children. And he was naughty. You know the kind of naughty? Like since he’s getting sooooo close to 5 he doesn’t actually have to listen to reason or process with logical reasoning skills. At all. But not in REALLY naughty ways. In little, repetitive, naughty ways that chisel away at your parent-patience little by little undercover. Let me replay a few of my day’s comments for you:

“Seriously, bud? Did that seem like a good idea to come up and rub dirt all over my leg?”

“Isaac?! You are supposed to tell me when you want to paint! You have it all over your shirt… and your hands… and the CARPET… and the BATHROOM… AND YOU PUT THE PAINT COVERED BRUSHES BACK INTO THE DRAWERS OF THE FAMILY HEIRLOOM SINGER SEWING CABINET THAT I COMPLETELY REFINISHED WITH MY OWN TWO HANDS!!!” (I said all of that except the last part. I thought it though. Thought it really hard.)

“Yeah, I see that the car trash bag is knocked on the floor, thanks. Is it there because you were crawling around instead of getting into your carseat like you were ASKED? Because that’s really what it looks like…”

“Isaac, turning five does NOT make you grown. You’re not grown.” (Repeat this a few kajillion times. Throw in a couple of time-outs. A period of sitting on the stairs and watching while I steam cleaned the yellow paint drips out of the carpet. Blah, blah, stinker little boy, blah.)

There was also the moment when we ran up to school after the kids were gone and I asked Isaac to stop touching everything on my desk:

“Can I touch ONE more thing?”

“No.”

“But, can I touch THIS?” (Touches one finger to the edge of my desk…)

This is the face you make when your child is making you crazy, but then hands you two yellow leaves for your hair and yells, "Momma! You look so PRETTY! You look like a little MONKEY!"

This is the face you make when your child is making you crazy, but then hands you two yellow leaves for your hair and yells, “Momma! You look so PRETTY! You look like a little MONKEY!”

So when we met up with Ryan for dinner tonight at a restaurant and Isaac continued to be… how should we say… ornery?… I needed a fitting consequence for one of those days without any MAJOR blowouts, but with a bare minimum amount of moments that did not fall into the MINOR infraction category.

I went for the ice cream.

Our favorite fro-yo place was a few doors down from the restaurant and Ryan and I took our kid in there and got ice cream in front of him. Also, in front of the 10 other people on staff or eating their own fro-yo concoctions. All while our child bawled, “But they have all the GOOD flavors today! Oh man! Those sprinkles would be SO YUMMY!”

Ryan was intensely irritated that we were ruining the pleasant dining experience of the other customers. But I? I had had three nights and two straight days of doctor’s appointments, medicine pick-up runs, substitute lesson plan creating, drawn out meetings, middle of the night medicine giving/temperature taking mom moments. Had one of those patrons DARED give me even the HINT of a stink-eye, their face would have been met with a firm right hook. YOU THINK YOU KNOW ME, YOU 19 YEAR OLD COLLEGE KID?! YOU THINK I’M A MEANIE MOM?!!

(Let me tell you. Becoming a mom has SERIOUSLY reduced the judgey-meanie-parent-eyes I used to give out. Now I lean more toward the, “Catch my eye, Momma. See my sympathy-eyes? Yup. You go ahead and ignore that tantruming little thing on the grocery store floor. Been there friend… Been there.”)

On the way home, my sweet baby sat in the back seat and yelled about the sun being in his eyes. And also yelled some more about yummy ice cream.

I love you so much little (LITTLE) almost 5 year old. I love you so much that I will deny you ice cream in front of complete strangers. I love you so much that I will deny you yummy ice cream and then process with you at home when you are calm and read you a bedtime story and kiss your forehead and tell you how much I love you because I really, really do. Being a mom is hard. (Eating ice cream as a consequence though? Not so hard. Sorry. Not sorry.)

 

I should have been a stay at home mom. Or, Telling myself to shut up.

I started this post a couple of weeks ago; it has taken me this long to finish it. I teach, you know, and I’m in the suction of back to school right now which means that basically everything else ceases to exist for a few weeks. Like a vacuum that includes bus lists and mismatched connecting cubes and new germs from little bodies. It also means mourning the loss of things that were a constant presence in the 2 months prior: snacking arbitrarily, peeing WHENEVER I WANT, yoga pants (*sigh*), but most of all, my son.

I am a teacher; I am in the throes of back-to-school.

I am a mother; I am in the throes of mama guilt.

I AM A WORKING MOTHER. (Deep sigh with pathetically raised eyebrows.)

The floor near my desk: A collage of school work (me) and coloring work (Isaac). Home/Work. Work/Home.

The floor near my desk: A collage of school work (me) and coloring work (Isaac). Home/Work. Work/Home.

Currently, I spend an inordinate amount of time repeating the guilty mama’s mantra: I’m not a good mom. I should have stayed home. I’m not a good mom.

I’m not alone. I talk to my other girl friends who work. Even those who can’t imagine staying home feel some level of guilt. As a teacher, mine peaks from September to October because it is the time of year that requires the most out of me. There is so much to set up, so much to prepare, so much to do for a new class of other people’s children. It waxes and wanes, but this time of year is the worst. (I’m a bad mom. I should have stayed home. I’m a bad mom. I should have stayed home….)

I question my intent. Why DO I work? I make lists. They include things like how my salary contributes to the standard of living we enjoy (traveling, foodie dinners out, entertaining friends at home). It includes our health insurance, Isaac attending the preschool we’d like, and the importance of my son seeing a mom who is a strong role model and a hard worker, and other such crap.

The problem is, I have just as many girl friends who stay home with their kids as those who work and they, too, are strong role models for their babies. You don’t need to work outside of the home to model a strong work ethic. You don’t need to be on salary to contribute to the greater good. I don’t need to work in an office setting to teach my son these values. Likewise, if we didn’t travel as much, didn’t eat at as many farm-to-table restaurants, and had a higher medical co-pay, I believe it is entirely possible that we would adjust and be just as happy.

So why, WHY, do I do this? Why am I not home making my son peanut butter sandwiches and asking him how he’d like them cut each day for lunch instead of cursing whatever demon-spawn causes peanut allergies, thus forcing me to smear harder-to-spread-than-peanut-butter almond butter on bread for my son’s lunch at 10:00pm so his classmate’s body doesn’t do whatever it does when he comes into contact with the damn nuts?!

I’m PRETTY sure this is one of those puzzles that doesn’t really have a right answer which irritates me because I’m a perfectionist and I WANT THE RIGHT ANSWER. (I really hate that.) I’m fairly certain that it has to do with my attitude: It doesn’t actually matter how much I love my students (I do) or how well suited I am for my job (I am) if, when I see my son, I immediately double over with the awful, awful guilt of Mom Fail. It basically means I’m sabotaging the goodness in both through the amount of chastisement I feed myself on a regular basis. Working doesn’t make me a bad parent anymore than staying home makes me a good parent, and that’s hard for me to accept because I tend to have an all or nothing personality. So here’s where you picture me doing some form of cheerleading move- which I do often and is absurd because I was never a cheerleader.  (I was in marching band, so…) And then you picture me yelling:

(I should have been a cheerleader.)

(I should have been a cheerleader.)

“YOU DO IT, MAMA! Stop constantly second guessing yourself and do whatever it is you’re doing well. (And it’s alright to actually find enjoyment in it, for crying out loud! Liking your job doesn’t make you a bad mom either!) What is important is that your children see your virtues- your work ethic and your compassion and your joy and your dedication. That stuff pours out regardless of where you spend your days so CUT OUT THAT CRAP about critiquing yourself and quiet that idiot voice!  Underneath whatever else is up around the surface calling you a less-than-mommy, there is a parent who deeply wants to do right by her child and THAT your child needs to see more than anything else.”

*Insert slow clap.* Take a bow. That’s right, Mama!

(I’m still clapping for you…. in my head… as I’m finishing my lesson plans.)