Archive for January, 2021

Sunday Sit-down #3: The Neighborhood

January 31, 2021

Olivette was good to me growing up.

So was Stoneyside Lane.

I knew that I could always go wandering around, exploring my neighborhood or the streets around me. I knew how much fun it was to walk into town and visit the stores up there. I knew that there was always a mix of black and white kids on my street and in the neighborhood that I played with.

I didn’t know my history, though. I didn’t know that Olivette may have been a sundown town, that even though I saw black and brown faces in the community, they were not always welcome on my side of Olive Street Road, especially after dark. I did not know that the way Olivette residents were treated in my neighborhood was different and the way they were treated in the Indian Meadows subdivision.

What else did I miss when I was little? Was I oblivious to differential treatment from teachers? Was I blissfully unaware of how shopkeepers and workers treated me differently when I went to Glaser drugstore?

The truth is, I don’t know. The only way to find out is to reach out to my childhood and elementary school friends. I can ask them about their experiences, and learn if or how they were different from mine.

Olivette was good to me growing up. Was it good for everyone? There’s only one way to find out.

Slice of Life: Pre-Emptive Gratitude

January 26, 2021

We don’t have a snow day today, and I’m about as happy as a wet cat.

Something deep within me ached for a day back at home, even if it still involved a full day of classes and meetings. The thought of getting up early, bundling up, clearing off the car, of navigating barely passable roads, and repeating the process at day’s end just seemed…disheartening.

But here I am, standing at my desk and ready for my first meeting of the day. And on days like this, it’s easy for me to give in to discouragement and crabbiness. Grouchiness fits like an old pair of jeans.

Unfortunately, that makes for a REALLY long day.

Instead, I’m setting my sights on the moments of gratitude and joy that I know await me today, in no particular order:

warm chai
colleagues who check in…and mean it
a women’s night with folks who ground and inspire me
fresh grapefruit
soft socks
the wisdom of eleven year-olds
the Slice of Life writing community
a dog who’s happy to see me
deadlifts in the garage
the perfect hard-boiled egg, dipped in salt
podcasts
helping folks do what they do, only better
long, deep breaths

…and all of the surprises this day has awaiting me…

Sunday Sitdown #2: And So It Begins

January 24, 2021

Where does my racial story begin?

At my own birth?
At the first moments I can remember?
The very first time I noticed people were different?

Or with
Parents and
Grandparents,
With the many ways they interacted with
Without
Above
Others who were different?
(All while they tried hard
So very hard
To become the not-different themselves)

How can I even
Start
To explain my own upbringing without
A long
Look
At how the people who shaped me
Were shaped?

How
They always had a “girl” –
I best remember Katie,
Grown woman in starched white
Always there to clean
To smile
To say “Yes, ma’am”
Even as she grumbled through the Friday evening dishes
Even though I wondered how someone that old
Could still be a girl

Or Johnny from Westwood,
Starched black and white suit,
Impeccably shined shoes,
Always there to bring
More bread to the table,
The day’s specials
A smile, a laugh, a joke –
I can’t remember, but only hope
He wasn’t called “boy”

This is where I started,
What I was born into
What I carry

I don’t want
To come from there,
Don’t want to own
That piece of me –
But where there is pain
There is love
Where there is honesty
There is vision
Where there is reckoning
There is growth

And I have oh, so far to grow.


A Teacher’s Guide to Inauguration in 36 Easy Steps

January 19, 2021

or, Reflections from the Evening of January 19, 2021: How to Manage to Stay Afloat for the Next Eighteen Hours and Hold up the Walls of the World While it Watches, Waits, Breathless

  1. Pull yourself away from noise.
  2. Pet your dog.
  3. If you don’t have a dog, pretend to have a dog.
  4. Drink something warm.
  5. Listen, just for a moment, to tomorrow’s poet, Amanda Gorman.
  6. No. I mean really. Go listen. It’ll take you two minutes.
  7. Pass the tissues.
  8. Get a good bedtime.
  9. Wake up. Look at yourself in the mirror.
  10. Don’t just find the visage in the glass. Find the PERSON behind it.
  11. Don’t tell yourself “You’ve got this.” You’re tired of hearing that.
  12. Don’t tell yourself to breathe. You’re tired of hearing that, too.
  13. Tell yourself that you will get through today.
  14. Just like you do every day.
  15. Even the most difficult ones.
  16. Because that’s what we do.
  17. Get yourself to school, or to your Zoom, on time.
  18. Or not. Folks aren’t taking tardies today.
  19. Remember that our children are the reason we get up each day.
  20. Put your suffocating dread in its own breakout room.
  21. Tell your students you have faith in them.
  22. Tell your students you have faith in this world.
  23. Tell them again. Most of them won’t believe you the first time.
  24. Tell them they are part of history, that future children will hold their lives between the pages of a textbook.
  25. You will get through the day.
  26. Just like you do every day.
  27. Even the most difficult ones.
  28. Because that’s what we do.
  29. Close your computer and walk away.
  30. Do what you need to do to unclinch your white-knuckled grasp from your fear and anxiety.
  31. Because tomorrow your children will be waiting for you.
  32. They will need to hear, again, of your faith in the world.
  33. They will need to hear, again, of your faith in them.
  34. And again.
  35. And again.
  36. And again.

Sunday Sitdown #1: Here I Go

January 17, 2021

I’m a member of my school district’s newfound committee on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.*

For our last meeting, we were asked to compose a racial autobiography, to craft a reckoning of our experiences with race and identity. (Check out the Pacific Educational Group to learn about their work!)

There were a LOT of questions. And as someone who’s been thinking about and reflecting on race for a really, REALLY long time, I didn’t know how I could put it all together. I’m a person of words, but I couldn’t imagine the number of words I’d have to summon to do the assignment justice.

So I did whatever I do in situations where I need a direct connection with my thoughts: DOODLE. I grabbed my flair pens and started drawing. Instead of a written document, I came up with this:

As I drew, it occurred to me how very MUCH there is here for me to unpack. There’s a lot more here than pictures can convey. I’m going to HAVE to put words to these ideas. And I’ll have to do it one step at a time.

That’s where you come in. I’d love for you to join me on this exploration.

Each Sunday, I’m going to work my way through this autobiography, one image at a time. I’ll share the stories and memories that connect with each part. I know I’ll encounter moments of growth that I wish I could relive. I’ll also have to think back on choices that I wish I could remake.

Here’s hoping I see you right back here next week!

*Yes, I have some general thoughts about committees for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. And also thoughts about those words needing to be capitalized. We won’t get into that right now. The good news is, I’m hopeful about what our group can accomplish. So there’s that. It’s also led by Regina Armour. So there’s also THAT.

Why I’m in the Living Room

January 13, 2021

watching the British Bake Show
and not in the family room
watching TV
at the end of a long day
right by my husband
is because

after enough time
standing on my feet
rubbing my eyes
taking a breath
shaking my head as I
stare at the world about me

I have decided
that I am done
watching
fictional shows

about the real world

One Little Word…For Now

January 12, 2021

I’ve been a member of the Slice of Life writing community for nine months now. It’s been a source of inspiration, support and validation as I work to become braver in my writing.

As time goes on, I learn more about the rituals and traditions that “slicers” have. Most recently, I learned that each New Year’s brings with it the challenge to come up with One Little Word to frame ourselves for the new year.

I didn’t know that was a thing the week most folks posted, but I promised myself to write a post with my own One Little Word. Which is…

gather.

For me, for right now, I have come to rely on the power of gathering.

Which, now that I think about it, is strange, given that the literal meaning is so very impossible right now.

But in the metaphorical sense, I have come to rely on gathering…

Thoughts. Some days, it takes everything I have to bring my attention and focus to heel. My brain slides in one direction and the other. Like right now, for instance. I feel in my bones…how I feel, which means I feel…how? I can’t name it. My thoughts slip past and that’s strange to me. I’m used to being able to spend time with my thoughts. I’m used to being able to stop and articulate what’s going on in my inner self. And lately, that’s been tricky.

Life. These past months in particular, I’ve experienced shattering and loss. For several weeks, I sat, cross-legged and dumbstruck, among the wreckage. I’m finally standing now. Tentatively. And as I look around the room, I’m witnessing all of the routines and habits and structure I’ve let fall to pieces. And seeing them reminds me of ways I’ve failed myself, or those I love most. One by one, I’m gathering those pieces. It’s still an armful, so this one is going to take a while.

Joy. Thankfully, I haven’t lost my ability to notice and name those things, big and small, that provide me with delight, that offer reasons to get out of bed each day, that fill my heart to bursting. I can’t forget to bring these things in and together.

Strength. Remember what I said about how all those pieces of my life were an armful? It’s a LOT to carry. I am indescribably grateful for the amazing humans who situate themselves near me in one way or another. It is through the care and compassion of others who help me with the heavy lifting.

Gather. I’ll always need this word, for sure, but I’m hoping that I’ll be ready for a new one before I know it.

On Days After: Picking Up The Pieces

January 7, 2021

There are parts of my job I love beyond belief. Those things get me up every day, remind me why I teach and steel my commitment as an educator.

And there are times like today, where we sit in the aftermath of history in the making. I’ve been here before as an educator.
For the Oklahoma City bombing.
For Columbine.
For 9/11.
For Sandy Hook.
For Parkland.
For George Floyd.

Each and every one of those times, I wrestled with my own fears, my own grief, my own confusion and doubt. And each and every one of those times, I have had to consider how I will get up the next morning, put my game face on, and support my students as they wrestle with the same.

And now.

It’s strange and sad to me that I know how to do this, how to counsel children in times of national grief. I’ve done this time and time and time and time again.

Some kids will not know anything has happened at all. Some kids will be steeped in news and news and news and conversation. I know our words together need to be mindful and supportive of both.

I know my kids will need time and space to sit, both in silence and in conversation. I know that I will start with questions. Sometimes I will have answers I can give in language short and clear and honest. Sometimes I will have to say, “I wish I only knew.”

And then? Sometimes that’s it. Sometimes a conversation of seventeen minutes or two hours is enough to bring us into a healthier space.

Sometimes it takes further action, development, thought, reflection.

Today I asked my fourth-grade students, home in each of their respective Zoom corners, to grab their social studies book and open it to a random historical event. I had kids read the events on the page they selected.

And then I said someday, in ten years or in twenty-five or fifty or one hundred, there will be a kid with a social studies book. And they will hold that book in their hands, just like you are holding this book in your hands. And they will read about the events that happened on January 6, 2021. And you! You are living through this. YOU are living this history. You are a person with a family and thoughts and feelings and hopes, and this history is happening to YOU.

And then I invited them to read, one more time, the historical event in their book. I said friends, as you read I want for you to think about the kid who was a kid when this was all happening. I want you to realize that there were PEOPLE at the time this history, people those events were happening to.

They read. They reflected and shared. As always, they were sincere, honest and insightful.

And I can only hope that each one of them will carry something from today forward, something wise or hopeful or helpful.

And I can also hope I won’t have another opportunity to get better at this.

Offerings: Slice of Life Tuesday

January 5, 2021

Today, I bring you a bouquet of wonderfulness, plucked by my own hands from the bounty around me, gathered with care and bound with a length of twine I found in my kitchen drawer:

A video a student sent me, just because she knows I love animated shorts, and this one was beautiful and sweet and wonderful.

A student, who loves to play with language, becoming excited when I explain appositives, shouting, “I call those COMMA TWINS!” [see what I did there?] Which, for the record, is absolutely BRILLIANT.

That same student, who gets super excited to be noticed, basking in the spotlight because we then introduced “comma twins” as a literary term.

A group of fourth-graders who somehow stumble both onto the idea of “oxymorons” and “fatal flaws” within the space of a single hour lesson.

A fifth-grader who thinks it’s cool that I don’t care if people know how old I am, after I explain that today is my half birthday and that officially makes me forty-eight-and-a-half.

Turkey barley soup, served up for lunch out of a favorite mug.

Second-graders coming to realize that not every kid has everything they need to be healthy and happy.

A kid who notices an appositive in her book and thinks to email me a picture of it.

The musical videos a student sent me of him playing the ukulele with his sometimes-willing brother at his side. Oh, the beauty and the joy that he radiates.

There were so many other flowers by the side of the road it was tough to choose just a few.

A good problem to have.