Snapshot at 13

They are thirteen.

There is hair: so much hair, and hair care, and grooming, and maintenance, and styling, and products. There are rapidly multiplying piles of shoes, in various colors and styles, and sizes that are increasingly closer to adult. There is wariness about friendship, unsure about what real friendship looks like and how to tell whether what you think is actually true and how to get to know a girl better if you think she’d be the kind of friend you think you’d like to have. There are hurt feelings and then waves of giggles and then hurt feelings again. There are girls running far ahead of you while you call out instructions or reminders, and then there are girls tucking their arms into yours so they can confide or rejoice about their day. There are cupcakes and vanilla bean Frappucinos and glitter and lotion that smells like cupcakes and vanilla bean and nail polish that has glitter in it. There are lessons on how to use the oven and soon there will be lessons on laundry. There are adorable moments when she says “Cherry-oke” instead of “Cherokee” and you laugh and she doesn’t and then she does. There are many pairs of leggings and legs that are smoothly muscled and freshly shaved. There are curves and sharp angles and tender spots and scars. There are long walks and trips to eat chicken nuggets so that while they are relaxed, maybe you can ask them a few leading questions and they might even answer. There is homework–so much homework–projects and quizzes and tests and then more projects that require posterboard and trips to classmates’ houses and research about Winston Churchill and Spanish flashcards and questions about details from To Kill a Mockingbird which you haven’t read in twenty years but why can’t you remember the name of the mean neighbor? There is teasing about your own “loud” and “distinctive” laugh and there are so many jokes and quips and comebacks that you can’t help but laugh, over and over.

They are thirteen, and they are lovely and complex. They are thirteen, and the kaleidoscope of their selves is constantly shifting, from color to shadow to light. They are thirteen, and each petal of their mind is unfurling. They are thirteen, and the gears of their hearts turn and click smoothly, then shudder to a halt, then leap forward again. They are thirteen, and they turn to the sun with fear and bravery; they swim towards the future with strong strokes.

They are thirteen.

Structure inspired by Elisabeth’s lovely snapshot slice.

In the Middle of the Ride

It just takes some time
Little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride
Everything, everything will be just fine
Everything, everything will be all right

I’m no little girl anymore, but as I always have, I’ve been looking to music for joy, uplift, hope, and inspiration as I struggle through “the middle” of the this tough transitional time.

Yesterday, I realized I’d made a goofy financial mistake compounded by forgetting I had made it, and while I am able to fix it all, I had a rush of, “Who am I kidding? Who left me in charge? When will I ever get that responsibility trophy?! Why is adulting so stupid-hard?!”

Once I hit the interrobang stage, I know I need to get a grip.

The past few months, as part of my nightly journaling, I’ve been adding affirmations, and it’s really helped me retrain my thinking and understand the deeper roots of my feelings. I open my book, flip through the pages, and stop when I find one I want to copy down, one that immediately speaks to what I’ve been feeling that day. They all are phrased to offer positive encouragement while still focused on being honest with yourself, in that moral inventory kind of way (though I am not in a 12-step program). Sometimes I just copy one or two, other times, I keep flipping until I feel like I’ve reflected enough to shift into reading until I fall asleep.

But in the mornings, I need uplift. I need anthems. I turn to songs like “In the Middle” or Invincible or Grown Woman. Nicki Minaj is there for me with Beez in the Trap, and I can remind myself that I am a conqueror. I know I’ve got bills I’ve got to pay, and I know I’ve earned it.

I’m in the middle of this ride, and I know I can hang on and ride it all the way home.

SOLS: Two Weeks

Two weeks.

Two weeks to pack the clothes, tag the pictures, sort the books, scavenge for boxes, wrap the dishes, wonder why I ever bought that sweater and just how many books I actually own.

Two weeks to forward the mail, change the address, call the cable guy, call the utility people, get the shot records for the cats, get my first-ever renter’s insurance policy.

Two weeks to pick out paint colors, choose shower curtains, take measurements, shop for furniture, realize how expensive furniture is, say yes to that old coffee table in my sister’s basement and that table that’s been hanging out in my dad’s garage and is going to be perfect in my new dining room.

Two weeks to say goodbye to yardwork, clawfoot tub, window AC units, the flowers I transplanted from my dad’s garden, the kitchen with no dishwasher and no garbage disposal that was the heart of our home, and eight years of memories.

Two weeks.

Dear Poet: Triumph!

A highlight of my spring poetry unit the past few years has been requiring my students to participate in whatever interactive project the Academy of American Poets proposes for National Poetry Month. The projects always comprise multimedia, engaging contemporary poems, lesson plans and more to make it easy for teachers to incorporate the projects into the classroom, and writing for an authentic (not-just-her-teacher) audience is such a valuable experience for my students to have as developing writers.

This year’s Dear Poet project was especially enriching for me because I fell in love with some of the poetry involved and challenged myself to write a mentor text for my students to guide them as they wrote. It also dovetailed nicely with a presentation I saw at NCTE from Nancie Atwell on “letter-essays”; I’m still thinking about how to work those more solidly into my curriculum for next year, but seeing my students inspired to write and chatting eagerly about who might be published or receive a response was truly gratifying.

Last year, I was so proud when one of my student’s poems was chosen for publication, and this Friday, I was excited to inform two of my students that their letters will be published on the Academy of American Poets’ website!

As any teacher knows, mid-May is the perfect time to get a piece of good news that reminds you why you spend time seeking out creative lesson plans and that perhaps we can make it to the end of the year after all!

Pleasure in Prior Preparation

Last summer, I tackled two sessions with a program for gifted children, and both times, I was assigned to those courses with about two weeks’ notice, using books and curricula someone else had chosen or designed. As an adjunct, I used to do this pretty regularly, but years in my own classroom, with autonomy over my curricula and materials and a great deal of familiarity with the school community I was teaching in, had softened me up, made me less adept at swimming in strange waters.

This year, I’m teaching those same courses, and already, I feel more excited. I spent a few hours, in a local bookstore and on Amazon, reviewing books and submitted my book orders today, making big changes in texts, based on some topics I saw spark interest in my students last summer. I have ideas for projects and resources, and I will have materials on hand to replicate some of my most successful projects, from making miniature yurts while studying Genghis Khan to a Model United Nations simulation on the digital divide in Latin America. I can envision the classrooms in my mind that I will be using again, and I know the routines and procedures I’ll be following. I am observing a few of the Lower School teachers here to get some tips on classroom management and handling transitions, and I’m scouring Pinterest for ideas and inspiration.

What I’ve learned about myself as a teacher is that I’m a planner: I like to have a global sense of each lesson and how it fits into each unit and how that unit builds on or transitions from the other units. I also like to have frameworks for how each chunk of time will be structured throughout a lesson or day; even if I don’t stick to that framework religiously, I like to know it’s there. Having that security makes me more comfortable if I do add something spontaneously or choose to expand or contract a particular topic. Not having that comfort level with the material last year was nerve-wracking, and I think that this year, feeling more grounded in each of my courses will help me feel more creative and inspired as I move through each day and week.

SOLS: This Year

This is the year that never ends, it just goes on and on, my friend…..

I wrote that in an email to a colleague this morning, because I just am struggling to cross the finish line of this school year, and I’m at the point where the end seems at once so close and so far away.

I’ll be working this summer again, so it’s not like I’m looking forward to the bright horizon of a full summer’s worth of relaxation. But amidst the swirl of end-of-the-year events, birthday parties, final exams and projects, preparing to move into our new apartment, and wrapping up all the loose ends that arrive with the end of the school year, I sometimes seriously question how I’ll make it to the end.

Of course, I’ve been running my own personal endurance course this year, one full of pain, obstacles, tests, and pitfalls. I know it makes sense that my emotional and physical stamina are low. I know the year will end, and everything will get done somehow, and I’ll be left standing, if a little worst for wear. But the fact remains: I have to finish the year and accomplish everything on my to-do list, and today, it just seems like too much.

Anyone in the trenches with me, wondering if this year is somehow on a continuous loop we can’t escape?

Watching

I wrote this short piece about ten years ago, and I share it today to remind us all that the roots of what is happening in Baltimore go deep, that so much of the city does not feel protected by those paid to serve them, and that, as Martin Luther King Jr said, “Rioting is the language of the unheard.” Who will hear the people of Baltimore today?

Watching

It was a warm spring day, the kind where everyone emerges and blinks dazedly in the sunlight, when the boy came loping down our street and the police car followed.

We were out in front of our rowhouse, kids playing on the sidewalk, pushing cars, toting baby dolls, scribbling with chalk. It was the kind of block where the stoops and sidewalks merged together to form a communal front porch, the kind of block where a Asian PhD student at Hopkins lived next door to an elderly black woman on Social Security lived next door to lanky tall young men who smelled sweetly of a certain kind of smoke.

None of us knew this boy, and at first, I didn’t realize why he was making his way towards our block, not quite running, not quite walking. Then I saw the second police car two blocks away, and then the first police car stopped and the officers got out. Two more got out of the second car, and the boy got closer to us, and everyone on the sidewalk straightened up, tensed.

Are they going to fire at him, I wondered. What has he done to warrant this much attention? The boy was wearing a t-shirt, jeans, had nothing in his open hands. He didn’t seem to be trying to escape, certainly not moving fast enough to have any chance at that. My neighbors rustled and murmured around me, and I started to grow anxious. My two-year-old twins were on the sidewalk too, having a tea party with three stuffed cats. Should I get them inside? Are we in danger? Would there be shooting?

The boy came closer, and so did the officers, all moving slow and deliberate. Why is he coming this way, straight toward us, instead of making for one of the alleys, I wondered. Isn’t he trying to escape the consequences for whatever he’s done? The officers approached, but they seemed to be watching us as much as the boy, scanning the small sidewalk crowd that did seem to have multiplied.
Then one of my neighbors said loudly, “Yeah, we watching!” and others grunted in assent. “Yeah, we see you, officers,” another said, and the chorus grew slightly louder. “Can’t do nothing with us all out here, can you,” said my teenage neighbor Marcus, and his mother Denise nodded, her eyes never leaving the men in blue uniforms and silver badges.

I realized then that I was the only one afraid for myself, or even thinking of myself. The boy, now quietly handcuffed, had been running toward us to stay out in the open, where he could be seen by my neighbors, who recognized a boy in need of witness, of support. He needed us to be eyes that would see any rough treatment at the hands of the police, hands that might intervene if shit got real out here. I was the only one afraid for myself, the only one who saw the officers as a corrective force instead of a dangerous one in their own right, who didn’t see the potential victim running toward me and assumed he must have done something criminal to deserve the attention of three police officers. Was it because I was the only white person living on our block? Would I feel this way in a few years, when I had been living longer in one of the most dangerous cities in America?

I do know that when I hear the whir of the police helicopter now, ten years later, I still wonder what young boy might be running through the dark streets of Baltimore, and who is there to watch him.

SOLS: How Are You?

I was in the small grocery store across from my school yesterday when I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in years, a friend whose son had run around the kindergarten playground with my girls years ago.

“How are you?” she said. “What are you up to these days?”

I paused; I hesitated.

One of my epiphanies lately has been how often, in the past few years, I would have answered that question with a quick, “Good! How are you?” turning the attention back to the other person and avoiding talking about myself. How often, in general, I’ve deflected attention from myself, my feelings and my needs, and tried instead to keep my head down, working as hard as I can to push forward. It’s made me wonder if this is why when I do exhibit some stress, so often people say to me, “Oh, you’ll be fine! You’ll work it out!” Do we not want to engage further, or is it because I so rarely talk openly about what isn’t fine, what isn’t working out so well?

In the past few months, that’s changed, and instead of my usual answer, I told her exactly how I was, and what I’ve been up to, and what it’s meant for me. And a quick superficial conversation never happened, and instead, we laughed and shared and hugged there, in the aisle of the grocery store, while other shoppers came and went, and my friend balanced a heavy cut of meat in one hand and told tales of life and wisdom as I nodded and felt heard, understood.

Does this sound familiar to you? Do you work hard to keep a glossy false surface on your life?

Think about how you are, how you’re really doing. Be honest with yourself. Show that openness, that wound or pain, to the people around you. You may be surprised, like I have been, at how much they will embrace you.

I Wait, I Wait, I Wait

I’m waiting right now to hear the results of an important question, a question that would determine a big part of the next year of my life. I’ve done everything I can do (I think), I’ve put myself in the best position for success that I could (I hope), and now I’m waiting to see if I’ll get the object of my dreams and hopes.

It’s terrible.

I did the best I could to distract myself this weekend and find some sources of joy and comfort: I met a friend for dinner, went dancing with another friend, shopped for spring flowers with my sister, saw our spring play here at school, went for a sunrise five-mile walk with a third friend, and had lunch with a fourth! It was definitely the most socializing I’ve done in a compressed span of time in many months, and all of it fed my soul in different ways…….but I’m still waiting. Still no news. Hoping to hear today or tomorrow. No guarantee.

Keep your fingers crossed for me?

SOLS: Nuggets

I’ve always been a salty girl:
the golden crunch of chips,
the crisped chicken-skin that leaves
glimmer-grease on my fingertips,
chunky sourdough pretzels,
cylindrical cured meat.
I’d say they were my guilty pleasures,
but I’d be lying;
I rejoice in the ocean of their taste.

At the end of a long day,
a fresh paycheck’s worth of cash
snuggled cozily in my bank account,
I know they’re waiting for me.
Juicy round nuggets,
waffle-cut fries;
sometimes, that’s all
that gets me from 6 am to 6 pm,
knowing I’ll be sliding
into a booth and biting
down and sighing with relief
and joy, the flavor of my life
both salty and sweet.

Come join me and share slices of your life!