Back to Nature


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Why, you might ask, would a slightly cranky aging teacher agree to lead a three day field trip for seventy fifth graders into the wild woods of New Hampshire? Why would she agree to sleep in a small, damp, musty cabin for two nights, knowing that she’d need to walk through the mud and rain to get to the bathroom for the nightly 3AM nature call?

Why in the world would a somewhat demoralized old fashioned teacher agree to eat in a big camp “eating lodge” for three days, passing around plates of chicken fingers and pouring water for the ten kids at the table, when she’d really love to be sitting down to a dinner of homemade ravioli and a glass of chianti at home?

When the weather forecast is for rain and wind and possible lightning, when the trip involves no less than three hours on a packed school bus (each way), and when the camp experience will include at least 5 miles of traipsing up and down various hills and trails, why would the aging teacher agree to go along once again?

Let me tell you why.

From the vantage point of just having arrived back home at last, and having changed into clean, dry clothes, I am ready to share my adventures. From the lovely viewpoint of a woman who has just had two good glasses of wine and a huge plate of Asian take-out, I am ready to share the secret joys of the annual fifth grade trip to the woods.

Please forgive any typos, grammatical errors, confusing references or dropped ideas.  I still have the “Moose Song” reverberating through my skull. I’m reallllllllllllly tired.

But here are a few of the highlights of our three day trip to Camp Merrowvista in New Hampshire.

In the days leading up to the trip, when I thought I had done everything I could to reassure my nervous little travelers, I finally said, “Listen, I know you might get homesick. I’ll be right there with you, and you all know me. I know I’m not your Mom, but I do care about you.”  And one of my sweet little smarties replied, “Well, you’re not Mom, but you’re the next best thing.”

On the bus heading up to the Camp, one of the kids asked me, “If I get lonely at night, will you come to say good night?”

And as we arrived and the kids fanned out to meet with their Camp Counselors, and the teachers and chaperones drew back to let them get to know each other, I was struck by how grateful I am to the parents who are willing to trust me and my colleagues with the care of the people they love the most on earth. A very, very humbling thought.

Late on the first night at camp, I was stationed at the door of the bathroom, shooing the boys to the right and the girls to the left. Making sure that no one would be accused of “peeking” at anyone else, making sure that everyone was clean and toothbrushed and ready to sleep.  I greeted each set of “bathroom buddies” and then wished them “good night” on their return trip.  Finally, after almost two hours of coming and going and washing and brushing and changing and marching to and fro, I began to wear out. My colleagues and I found ourselves telling the kids to just stay in bed already. At one point, as two lovely pink clad ladies wandered back to the bathroom for the fourth time in an hour, I heard myself barking out medical advice. “I know how the human body works!”, I informed them firmly. “You have emptied your bladders. Its impossible for you to need to pee again before six am.  GOOD NIGHT!” I ushered them out the bathroom door and back to bed.

As fate would have it, I woke up at 6 and headed back to the bathroom to shower before the horde of little girls arrived. As I stood at the sink brushing my teeth, who should walk in but the same two little pink wrapped bathroom buddies. “Good morning!”, I chirped, as I tried to casually spit into the sink.  The two girls stood there, mouths agape.  “Um….” one of them began.  The other chimed in, with awe, “Were you here all night?!”

And there were the moments just before each meal, when the kids were all seated and the adults were looking for places to sit.  The kids who reached out, who called my name, who said, “Karen, sit with us!”   The greatest gift in the world. Nothing, nothing, nothing could mean more to a worn out old teacher who is tired of rigorous assessments and data and testing. Nothing could ever mean more to me than those smiles and beckons of welcome.

The beauty of spending three days in the woods with the children is that I become reacquainted with the true meaning of education.  I step away from the worksheets, where I have to poke and prod and beg the children to do the work with focus and energy.  I get to watch them march through the mud, picking up sticks, asking about plants, looking for bugs. I get to listen as they let their minds soar. I am overwhelmed by the sheer power of their thoughts and ideas, and the flexibility and speed of their connections. “Do you think this is a moose footprint?” “No, moose don’t have round feet.” “Deer have pointy feet.” “My feet are soaked.” “You have to step over the mucky spots.” “I think monarch caterpillars have spots.” “Right. And this is milkweed.” “I can knock it down with this stick.” “You can’t knock down a moose.” “You can if its small.” “But not with a milkweed.” “I know. Its because of global warming.”

They might not be scientifically correct, but they are thinking, and comparing, and asking questions. They are wondering. They are filled with wonder.

On the first night of our trip, we went on our “Night Walk”.  The Merrowvista staff dressed up in awesome costumes, and we all walked quietly into the woods, with all lights off. It was a very dark, misty night with no natural light to guide us. The kids walked in a nervous clump, followed by smiling, but slightly anxious chaperones. The Merrowvista leader remained calm and in control as the children sat in a circle on the damp ground. As one of the adults sitting behind them, I tried to stay silent as I listened in.  In the course of a half hour, the young camp counselor taught the children about animal adaptations, night vision, echolocation and why pirates wore eyepatches. He managed to impart all of this knowledge while the kids shared these whispered comments. “This is scary!” “I see a light!” “I think those are zombies.” “Dude, zombies don’t use lights, they just attack.” “I don’t want to be attacked by zombies.” “SHSHSHSH. I’m learning about rhodopsin.” “I still think there are zombies.” “Oh, my God, my tooth fell out!”

And finally, on this last morning of our trip, as I sat in the dry dining lodge, nursing a second cup of hot coffee, I looked out the windows to the garden area just outside of the lodge.  Two children were playing in the rain, completely unaware of any watching adult eyes.  The girl was wearing a pair of pink flannel pants and a bright kerchief.  The boy was in muddy jeans and a gray t-shirt.  The rain that had been pouring down all night was now falling in a gentle mist. The kids were already wet, but they had just finished breakfast and were eager to set out on their next adventure.  Each one stood on a wet gray stone, and they were face to face.  Although neither of them spoke, they began to jump from stone to stone, in a perfectly synchronized rhythm.  He jumped to her stone, splashing the water that lay on top. As he did, she jumped to the stone where he’d been standing, turning around at once to face him again. Their heads were bent, toward the muddy ground. The rain fell steadily and gently on their shoulders and heads. They didn’t speak, but both were smiling.  After a few minutes, the sun began to shine its way through the melting clouds, and the kids were almost coated with light.

I stood inside, looking at them. Realizing that without a single word or plan, two children had instinctively created a beautiful, natural dance pattern on the wet stones. There was no competition, no sense of purpose. They simply jumped and danced and changed places. They were simply there in the moment, enjoying the fact that they were alive and young and dancing in the warm rain.

Who knows what lessons were learned in that brief time while the sun worked to show its face? There was no rubric. No data was collected. I can’t begin to assess the progress of the children toward any academic goal.  But make no mistake: those kids were thinking and cooperating and problem solving and taking in the lessons from all around them.

That, my friend, is education.  And that is why a tired old teacher finds it worth her while to give up the comforts of home for a few short days to have adventures in the woods with the kids who are entrusted to her care.

Changing my image


It is definitely time for me to update my image.  Probably past time.  But I’m not sure that I can do it.

Let me start by telling you a story.

About 15 years ago, when my Nana was in her 80’s, she told me that every morning she would wake up and her first thought would be, “Oh, good. I’m not dead.”  Then she’d get up and walk to the bathroom. On her way there, she would have an image of herself in her mind. An image of her twenty year old self, bright and beautiful.  She’d get to the mirror and have her second thought of the day. “Who the hell is the old lady in my bathroom?”

I’m starting to feel that way.  In my own internal image, I look a lot like this:

You mean, I don't look like this anymore?

You mean, I don’t look like this anymore?

Smooth skin, dark hair, big bright eyes that aren’t all wrapped in wrinkles.  That’s the “me” that lives inside.  I think I need to update her, because sometimes now the shock of the real me is hard to handle.

And I’m not as hale and hearty as I used to be; I don’t want to kill myself by having a heart attack when I look in the mirror to brush my teeth.

The teeth I have left.

I have spent 58 years thinking of myself as strong and healthy, too, and all that seems to be changing.  A good friend once referred to me as “robust” as I bounced back from a tough pregnancy and delivery.

“Robust”.

I like it!

I just don’t match it anymore.  I mean, I’m lucky overall, and I have nothing dire to complain about.  But you get to the point where you have to time your coffee so it doesn’t interfere with your prednisone and your inhaler, and you start to feel…..well, what’s the opposite of “robust”?  You decide to take a nice long walk in the woods, and you realize that you’re going to end up with knee pain and neck pain and back pain, so you choose a short walk and a nice sit down on the deck instead.

So not robust.

I know my allergies will get better, and I know that I live a very active and happy life.  I know I shouldn’t complain, blah, blah, blah.

But I hobble to the mirror, coughing all the way, and I wonder where that bright eyed, easy breathing girl went.

Way past time to update that internal image…….!

Familiar Faces


One of the interesting things about living in one place for a long time is the way that the faces around you change with the passage of time.

Of course, the people I see every day have aged along with me in the nearly 25 years since we moved to this little town.  I don’t really notice the changes in their faces.  When I look at my friends, I see the person, not the skin or the hair or the shape.

But once in a while I see someone that I once knew slightly, someone I may have chatted with once or twice, but haven’t seen in a long time.  Seeing the changes of time in those faces is like watching time lapsed photography of my own life.  I’ll give you an example.

I used to shop at a grocery store in the town to our south.  Every week I would push my cart, often with my children along for the trip, up and down the aisles of that store.  I would smile at other Moms and chat with the cashiers and baggers. We weren’t friends, but we recognized each other. Familiar faces. If I saw one of them at the local library or coffee shop, we’d greet each other and wave.  Passing acquaintances, right?

Then a new store opened, in the town to our north, and I took my shopping that way. For years now, I have gone to the new store, and have come to recognize new faces. I have lost track of those older acquaintances.

Last week, I stopped in at the old store, to our south. My daughter lives near there, and I was at her house. I stopped by the store for a few things, and I saw some of those once so familiar faces.

One was a man who I know to be at least ten years younger than I am.  When I met him, my daughter was only a little one, sitting in the seat of my grocery cart.   He was tall, thin, dark haired. He smiled a lopsided smile as he bagged my groceries. He told me that he and his girlfriend had just had a baby girl themselves.  I could tell from the words that he chose and the way that he strung them together that he was a young man with some cognitive challenges.  But he was bright eyed, cheerful, charming my little one and myself.  I tried to connect with him every week.  I liked him. His good humor and friendly chatter always made my kids and I grin. He was a friendly, familiar presence in our lives.

And the years rolled by.  I stopped seeing him, and forgot about those gentle interactions.

I saw the man again the other evening, still bagging groceries where he’s been for at least the past 25 years.  His shoulders were stooped. His hair, thin and lank, is pure white now.  His eyes, the ones that used to sparkle with pleasure as he talked with pride about his little girl, were dull and blank. He didn’t speak to anyone as he carefully placed each item in the bags. His jaw was slack, and I could see that he had lost several of his teeth.

It was a shock. I wanted to ask him, “Do you remember me? You used to talk to my kids every week.” I wanted to ask him about his daughter.  But the years had clearly not been as good to him as they might have been. I smiled at him when it was my turn at the register.  He looked blankly back at me.  I chatted with the young cashier, thinking that she was just about the same age that the man had been when we’d met.  I thanked the man as I took my carriage, but he didn’t answer.  He had already turned his empty eyes to the next order, and had begun to carefully put each item into a bag.

That magical moon


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It was a normal morning. Boring and prosaic, completely devoid of magic. A shower, a coffee, the long commute. The students, and math and emails and correcting. Busses, a hair cut, home to feed the dogs and sweep the floor.  An unremarkable dinner and a glass of unremarkable wine.

And then the day was over.  I yawned, stretched, trudged down the hallway to my bedroom. Wrapping myself in my furry red robe, I rubbed my tired eyes and stepped onto the deck.

And magic poured down over me like honey.

The moon was full, or near enough to make no difference.  I slipped into the hot tub, and the briny mist rose past my face and reached into the sky. The black tops of the pine trees made a curtain of lace in front of the moon’s silver face.  I lay back in the water, watching the sky above me.

I know that I can’t describe it. I know that I lack the special talent that it would take to let you see and feel and hear the wonder of tonight in the skies above my house.

I don’t have the words to catch and hold it, but I can tell you that the sky itself was further away than I have ever seen it. It was stretched above me, so very far above. It was a deeper, richer blue/gray, and tonight it looked like the vault that it is so often called.  And up there, so far up, there were glittering, dancing stars, high, high up. Clinging to the deep blue velvet sky.

Below them, in the magical air between the moon and stars, great piles and pillows of the whitest clouds were rushing northward, moving up and over me as I lay there in silence below. The moon was closer to me, just rising at this evening hour.

I could see the layers of the sky!  Closest to me, closets to earth, were the tips of the pine trees, tossing back and forth in the wind. Dusted with silver from the moonlight that lit them. Above them were those rushing piles of stacking white clouds, running away, brightly lit from below by the huge white moon.  And then the farthest layer, the so distant sky, displaying its tiny diamond chip stars. So far away!

The stars were still, held in that blue ceiling. Below them the clouds were moving, marching, flying north. They raced past the winking stars, giving a rare depth to my view of the sky.

And far below, nearest to my view, the strong old pines stood tall, held to the earth by their solid roots. As the stars winked, and the mountains of clouds marched on, they reached out their lacy hands and waved goodbye.

That, my friends, was a true glimpse of nature’s magic.

Say, Wha?


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Don’t you just hate it when you think you’re pretty smart, and all of a sudden you realize you’re an idiot?

Yeah.  Me too.

Especially when it happens in a room full of other teachers.  It’s a little disheartening, to say the least.

Let me give you a little glimpse into the Attack of the Killer Acronyms.

It seems that a few years ago, the federal government (the USDOE) became upset with our state education department, (the MADESE) because of its failure to help our ELLs make progress on the MCAS.  So the USDOE formed a consortium called the RETELL to make a plan. RETELL then ordered the MADESE to train all of its teachers to become SEI certified.

You with me so far?

So I signed up to earn my SEI Endorsement under RETELL. Of course, to enroll in RETELL, I had to go to the MADESE ELAR page.  And naturally, I wanted to put the SEI on my IPDP.  I did all that, and felt pretty darn good about life.  I was almost sure that the IPDP (fondly referred to by teachers as the “Ippdip”) had something to do with keeping my teaching license and I thought that “RETELL” must mean something about repeating a good joke.

When the day finally rolled around, I went to the class and greeted my colleagues. I’m pretty interested in languages and language development, and I’m eager to help my non-English speaking students.  So I was looking forward to learning more about them.  Plus, I like a good joke.

Within a half hour, though, my head was spinning, and I was feeling like a complete idiot.

The nice instructor lady was showing us slides and guiding us through the text book that went with the class. And she was moving really fast.  REALLY fast.

“OK”, she said as the class started. “So the RETELL is intended to make sure that every teacher can provide SEI to our ELLs using ESL and ELE.  They need to be helped to pass the ACCESS (which used to be the MEPA, just like the PARCC used to be the MCAS).”

Uh.  Ok…….so, SEI for ELL with ESL and ELE….got it…..ACCESS not MEPA……My mouth was getting a little dry, and I was glancing furtively around at the other teachers.  Did they understand what this was all about?  At this point, I wasn’t sure exactly what was a test, what was a kid and what was a book……

I gulped and tried to stick with the discussion. I was sure that after a while it would start to make some sense.  That was when we turned to a discussion of standards.  We heard that the WIDA was sort of the CCSS for the ELLs.   Wait, what? WIDA?

My left eye began to twitch.

I was trying to take notes, but when I tried to jot down ELL, I sometimes got mixed up and put ELE or ESL instead.

Yeesh.

There certainly seemed to be a lot of E’s and L’s around here!

The teacher guided us into small groups where we began to read about the changes in the educational law that had lead to the current RETELL situation.  (Or was it the SEI situation? Crap. I’m not sure.) I know a little bit about education law, so I gave a small sigh of relief and started to read.

And you know I found out? That a law passed in the early 2000’s stated that “In order to provide services to an LEP, a teacher must have demonstrated ELP.”

I’m not kidding.   I didn’t want to seem stupid, but it was starting to feel like a big spilled bowl of alphabet soup.  I turned to the attractive, intelligent high school teacher beside me.  She didn’t look dazed and confused. I felt so inferior.  I decided to bluff.

“Obviously”, I said to her with what I hoped sounded like supreme confidence. “If you want to teach an LEP, you’d have to be ELP. Right? I mean, really!”  I lifted my palms up, showing how silly it would be for a non ELP to try to teach an LEP.  My colleague frowned a bit, “Well, of course, ” she agreed, “Unless the student is a FLEP.”

My jaw dropped.  As the high school smarty pants turned to talk to the instructor, both my eyelids were twitching.  I decided not to say another word. I think I might have been drooling a little.

After a few minutes of deep breathing, I tuned back into the classroom discussion.  The instructor seemed to be talking about vocabulary growth.  Hooray!  A subject I actually understood!  I sat up straighter.  I looked at the screen in the front of the room.

And I read,   “How to differentiate between BICS and CALPS in an ELL under SEI.”

My forehead hit the table as I slumped into a friendly little coma.

Glossary of terms.  Really.   No, I didn’t make these up.

ELL= English Language Learner    aka   LEP= Limited English Proficient                                                                                   ESL= English as a Second Language           ELE= English Language Education                                                                               ELP=English Language Proficient                                                                                                                                             FLEP= Formerly Limited English Language                                                                                                                                        SEI=Sheltered English Immersion   also  Sheltered English Instruction                                                                     RETELL=Rethinking Equity and Teaching for English Language Learners                                                                            ACCESS for ELLS=Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State for English Language Learners. MCAS= Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System                                                                                                 WIDA= Word Class Instruction Design and Assessment                                                                                                  BICS=Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills                                                                                                     CALPS=Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency                                                                                                 CCSS=Common Core State Standards                                              

Sudden Sunset


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It’s early fall here in New England.  As is typical for this time of year in this fickle place, we have been swinging gently between cool, crisp air and the heat and humidity of summer.  The air smells of late summer; browning leaves, cooling earth, a breeze from the north.

Today was a steamy day.  My classroom was thick with heat and moisture and excited fifth graders. I came home with my blouse damp and clinging, my hair lank, my spirits slightly sagging.

The sky was a uniform slate gray; we desperately need rain, but we seem to be limited to occasional cloudy days.  Rain has been glaringly absent for the past couple of months.

I made dinner, cleaned up the house a bit, checked my email.  I set up tomorrow’s coffee and made my lunch. Paul came home and we ate supper quietly. The air stayed damp and warm, the sky stayed gray.  I thought for sure that rain was coming.  I thought that the solid silver cover over us would be there for a long time.

When dinner was over and all cleaned up, I sat on the couch, ready to do some lesson plans.  The news was on in the background, but I wasn’t fully tuned in.  The big bay window on my left showed the yellowing leaves of the trees against the dark metallic sky.

But all of a sudden, without any warning, the sky turned the most beautiful shade of rose gold. The clouds lit up, the air suddenly felt cool.  I ran outside to try to take a photo, knowing that I couldn’t possibly capture that beauty with a smartphone.  Still, I gave in to the powerful demand to capture and hold the image of that sky.

I was right.

I couldn’t really grasp it. I couldn’t hold onto the shifting shades of pink and salmon and mauve.  I couldn’t find a way to frame the golden leaves against that amazing backdrop.

Still, I had to try.

A sudden, unexpected burst of glory like that has to be grabbed and held and described, no matter how feeble the effort.

Otherwise, how can I be sure that it was even real?

Well, gee. What a coincidence.


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Well, go figure.

Just as my little town gears up for a battle against the giant Kinder-Morgan Company and its proposed natural gas pipeline, we are told that our electricity costs are going to skyrocket by 37% this winter.

Why, you ask?

Well, obviously! Because there is a desperate shortage of natural gas, and that’s how the electricity is generated.

Duh!

The big energy companies obviously figure that we’ll all panic at the high costs, and will immediately throw ourselves into supporting the pipeline.

The Tennessee Gas Pipeline (a subsidiary of said Kinder-Morgan) is supposed to stretch from upstate NY to almost the coast of Massachusetts, running through pristine wetlands, forests, fields and streams. If built, it will run right through neighborhoods, and even through backyards.  You see, once the fossil fuel giants convince the government that we desperately need the natural gas, they will be allowed to take any property by eminent domain.

So what is a rural homeowner to do? I don’t want to pay 37% more for my winter energy! Yikes! Should I support the pipeline? Maybe we really do need more gas!

But that gas will be accessed through fracking.  Is this process safe?  I did some research, which was harder than you’d think. I dismissed any reports generated by either the gas industry or any environmental organization. I went to the NY Times, which ran a very non-committal pros and cons article, telling us that though there may be dangers, there may also be benefits.   Here is an excerpt from the article: (NY Times: “The Facts on Fracking”)

“The fracking cocktail includes acids, detergents and poisons that are not regulated by federal laws but can be problematic if they seep into drinking water. Fracking since the 1990s has used greater volumes of cocktail-laden water, injected at higher pressures. Methane gas can escape into the environment out of any gas well, creating the real though remote possibility of dangerous explosions. Water from all gas wells often returns to the surface containing extremely low but measurable concentrations of radioactive elements and huge concentrations of salt. This brine can be detrimental if not disposed of properly. Injection of brine into deep wells for disposal has in rare cases triggered small earthquakes.

In addition to these local effects, natural gas extraction has global environmental consequences, because the methane gas that is accessed through extraction and the carbon dioxide released during methane burning are both greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change. New fracking technologies allow for the extraction of more gas, thus contributing more to climate change than previous natural gas extraction.”

Earthquakes? Unregulated acids and poisons in the water? Radioactive elements in the soil?  And this article was neutral on fracking?!!?

But, gee, aren’t we in desperate need of natural gas?

Funny thing about that.   I was watching the news on CNN the other day (you know, just to keep my blood pressure up, I track the beheadings and bombings and Ebola deaths).  While watching the endless parade of “Breaking News” stories, I noticed that pretty much every 7-9 minutes, I saw an ad featuring happy, smiling people who were extolling the virtues of natural gas. And one ad in particular, by ChooseEnergy.Org, kept breathlessly informing us that “America is now the #1 producer of natural gas in the world!!”

So…..could it be?……Do you think that, possibly, just maybe……a giant multinational corporation and its giant multinational buddies might be putting the squeeze on us in Massachusetts, just so they can force through a dangerous, unnecessary pipeline in order to make even more money?

Shocking, isn’t it?

Please go to these sights for more information:

No Fracked Gas in Mass

Berkshire Environmental Action Team

Good bye, good luck, and thanks.


MLB 2013: Yankees vs Dodgers JUL 30

I’ve been a Red Sox fan since in 1967.  I love my Sox. I hate those Yankees.

In the midst of the glorious, dramatic, emotional, incredible fall of 2004, when my team was fighting back against those Damn Yankees to win the World Series for the first time in 86 years, I was as eager as any other New Englander to hate everyone in pinstripes.  Fans and players and coaches alike, we despised them all.

But when it was all over, and the crazy euphoria of the miracle year began to fade, I realized that I didn’t actually hate them all in quite the same way.

I knew pretty early on his career that I would have nothing but disdain for the self-absorbed pretty boy known as A-Rod.  I feel sorry for him, in many ways, but I have always thought that he was the quintessential jerk.  And it was pretty easy to dislike guys like Mike “I went to an Ivy League School” Mussina and Jason “I’m a thug” Giambi. I was able to whip myself up against Joe Torre, Jorge Posada, and all the rest of those loud mouthed, bad accented, New York jack asses.

But somehow, try as I might, I couldn’t get myself to hate Derek Jeter.

I mean, sure I wished him ill.  I wished him strikeouts and dropped balls and maybe even the occasional pulled hammy.

But I couldn’t get myself to hate the man himself.

Derek Jeter always seemed like an old time baseball hero.  He was a guy who could have swaggered and postured like Manny Ramirez.  But he didn’t.  He could have been a womanizing, bragging, A-list-actress dating ass.  But he wasn’t. He was more like the guy I always thought Honus Wagner must have been.  He was the NY version of Gentleman Jim Lonborg.

He was a true ball player.  He was grateful for the chance to play the game.  Unlike the JD Drew and Manny types on my team, he didn’t take days off for fatigue or hangnails or bad haircuts.  He showed up, and he played. He always gave it his best.

But here is the reason why I most admire the Captain of the New York Yankees.

I once heard him interviewed on an ESPN special. He talked about being nine years old, and lying in bed, dreaming of playing shortstop for the Yanks. He was a New Jersey kid, and the Yankees were his team.  Like ten million kids before and after him, Jeter dreamed of playing for his home team.  He talked about how he got up from bed, a little boy with a big dream, and went into his parents’ bedroom. He woke them up so that he could tell them what he dreamed of doing with his life. “Someday”, he said, “I’m going to play shortstop for the Yankees.”  His parents’ reaction is what I love the most about this story. They listened to him seriously, and then they told him to go for it. “You’re going to have to work really hard.”, they said. “You can do it if you really want to.  Now go back to bed.”

I love that story.  I love that Derek Jeter took that work ethic to heart, and made his dream come true.

When my fifth graders talk about their dreams, they sometimes add the words, “But it probably won’t come true.” I always tell them about Derek Jeter, and about the night he woke his parents up to announce his intentions. I repeat their wise advice, and I tell my students that they will have to work hard, but that they can achieve any dream they seek.

Thank you, Derek Jeter. Thank you for the drama and delicious euphoria of 2004. Thank you for being a real live, honest to God role model. Thank you for being someone I can refer to when I talk to my students about goals and dreams.

I’m still glad that the Yanks didn’t make the playoffs, but I am truly sad tonight as I watch Derek Jeter play his last game at Yankee Stadium.  It is truly the end of an age.

Baby Therapy


Ahhhhhhhhh.

There is nothing on earth quite as therapeutic as rocking a little baby.  The silky cheek resting against yours, the sweet powdery baby smell of his skin, the impossibly delicate brush of his fingers on your neck.

Life goes flying by us, zooming beyond the speed of light or sound or love or thought.  We hold a tiny one in our arms, closing our eyes to breathe in the tenderness, and before we can even release that breath, the baby is a woman, tall and strong and smart. Married and ready to hold a baby of her own.  We cuddle a toddler close to our chest, one hand on his sturdy little back, another feeling his velvety curls.  We rock and we dream and when we open our eyes, he is a man, independent and solid and standing on his own two capable feet.

We’re left off balance, blinking in surprise.  Didn’t I just fall in love with that little one?  Wasn’t it only a day ago that I first held her, kissed her, tucked the softest blanket around her?

As my children have grown, I have begun to wonder if I’ve lost my place in the world of babies.  If perhaps I have lost that special loving touch that once made me the only comfort for those I loved so much.  I started to feel that I’d been passed by, and that it was simply no longer my turn to rest my cheek on the head of a sleeping baby.

I remember a day, almost eleven years ago.  A young colleague of mine brought her new baby boy to a meeting at school. I took him from her arms, and settled into a rocking chair in the meeting room. As the baby relaxed and turned his head to rest against my shoulder, I felt all of the tensions and worries of the day drain away from me. My arms still knew how to cradle him, how to rest one hand under his bottom and one behind his warm head.  I rocked and I hummed, and the little baby boy settled into the comfort of my touch.  I felt renewed. I closed my eyes, and breathed in his sweet baby smell, and I felt his tiny fingers reaching out to me.

But time has passed swiftly once again.  Now that beautiful baby is a tall handsome fifth grader with a mischievous grin and the brightest blue eyes.  He is in my class this year, and I am getting to know him as a student.  That sweet baby memory is something that I have to keep as my secret, so that I can be his teacher.

Its been a long time now since I have held and rocked a baby.  Oh, every now and then I get a few minutes with a grand niece or nephew, or with the baby of a colleague or the grandchild of a friend.  But I have been feeling myself getting rusty once again, wondering if I would still know how to comfort and soothe, how to snuggle and hug, how to hold a baby in my aging loving arms.

Today my friends came to visit, brining their beautiful three month old son.  He fit right into my arms, and my hands and wrists knew what to do. My back knew how to curve around him, and my cheek was drawn to his hard, smooth head as if by magic.  My body remembered the rhythm of baby rocking, back and forth, from right to left, from foot to foot in a gentle, intuitive dance.

I closed my eyes, and breathed in his sweet baby smell. I felt his tiny gentle fingertips, so lightly brushing my skin.

There is nothing on earth, no pill, no drug, no wine so potent as the therapeutic effect of rocking a little baby.59

It isn’t fair.


It just isn’t fair.

Life, I mean.

It isn’t fair at all.

Great good fortune comes to those who have done nothing to deserve it, while sorrow and pain come to so many who have done everything right.

This weekend finds me puzzling over the random effects of fate.  I find myself swaying back and forth between sadness and joy.

Life is just so unfair.

On Friday afternoon, I found out that one of the students from my very first classroom died unexpectedly at the age of 17.   I was shocked, but not surprised.  I didn’t know him well. He was a part of my life for only nine short months, but he made a huge impact.

He was a boy whose intellect and mature vocabulary set him apart from his fifth grade peers, but whose heart and soul made him just like every other child.  I remember him as argumentative, assertive, defiant.  I remember him as tender and caring and sad. I remember that he was struggling on many levels, to find his place in the world.

He once brought a huge bag of popcorn to school for his snack. “People like popcorn,”, he told me seriously. “They’ll like me if I give them some.” He was so eager to find friends. He simply didn’t know how to go about it gracefully.

And I remember him on a class field trip.  I had been stricken with my first bout of vertigo a few weeks before the trip, and had been struggling to feel secure in my footing ever since.  On our field trip, this little eleven year old boy noticed me running my hand along the wall to feel more steady on my feet.  “Put your hand on my arm”, he told me seriously. “If you hold onto me, you won’t feel dizzy.”   I remember us walking the streets of Concord, Mass, looking at each historic site. I was explaining the history to the kids, keeping them engaged and organized.  And all the while, my left hand was resting on the forearm of this defiant, angry boy, who stood like an anchor for me, keeping me on my feet.

Now he is gone.

I don’t know why.  I never spoke to him after he left my classroom and moved out of state with his Mom. I have no way of knowing what difficulties he faced or what struggles he endured. I have no way of knowing how he came to such a terribly early end.

I just know that life is NOT FAIR.

Last night, after I came home from school and talked about the student who left us far too soon, I curled up in my bed and fell asleep.  An hour or so later, I was awakened by the sound of a text coming in on my phone.  I reached for my glasses, and propped myself up on an elbow.

“Mom!”, I read, “I got a free ticket to the Freshgrass show in town tonight! And your favorite band, the Duhks, is performing!”  It was a message from my son, a boy as tender and caring as my student. “Thanks for showing me such great tunes!”, my boy enthused. “Love you!”

Life is so unfair.

Today I went to my mom’s house.  We were planning to have lunch with our former neighbors, our dear friends from many years ago.  The mother of the family is one of my Mom’s oldest and dearest friends. Her daughter is one of mine.  My sister was joining us, and we were all geared up for a “ladies lunch” reunion.

It was wonderful. We laughed, we reminisced, we told funny stories from all of our lives.  We talked about the days when my friend and my sister and I were very young.  We remembered birthdays, and Halloweens and funny Christmas decorations. We laughed about our fixation on the Beatles, back in 1965, and our crushes on the local high school athletes.

We hugged and we smiled and we got a little teary.

On the long ride home, I thought about what it means to be a 58 year old woman who is blessed enough to have had lunch with a friend from first grade. I thought about what it means to have lived as long and as well as I have. To have a husband who is healthy and happy and still by my side. I thought about my children, so happy and whole and safe in lives that they love.

And I come back to my original thought.

It just isn’t fair.

Me, Joanne, and Liz. Three lucky women.

Me, Joanne, and Liz.
Three lucky women.

I am blessed. I am lucky.  I am not in any way deserving of the good fortune that continues to find me.

And I am sharply and sadly aware that others are not so lucky.  I don’t know why some of us are here for such a fleeting time.

I just know that it really, truly, isn’t fair.