THAT is a mighty mouse…..


It all started at about 11 o’clock. it was the first day back after a week of school vacation.  After a week of getting up at 9 and enjoying a leisurely breakfast at 10, I had found myself swaying groggily by my bed at 5:30 AM.  I’d managed to make and drink a cup of coffee before rushing out the door to school.

By 11 AM, I had put away the “American Revolution” and taken out “Water Transformations”. I had corrected a math test, answered emails, run morning meeting, met with the Librarian, set up bins of “Memoir” books, taught a lesson in spelling, taken the kids to chorus and picked them up again.

I was starved.

I was ready to eat anything that wasn’t made of plastic.

So hungry.

I got the kids ready to start our math lesson on “Customary Units of Length” and I casually pulled open my “Snack Drawer.”  Now, this is a drawer in my teacher desk where I usually store a couple of items that just might help me make it through the day.   I usually have a roll of rice cakes, a jar of Sunbutter and a whole bunch of coffee and tea.

I have never had a problem with these items in this drawer.

Today was different, though.  I looked into the drawer as I gave the kids directions about how to convert inches into yards.  I had just remembered that the day before vacation I’d placed a plastic container of salted, spicy dried peas in my Snack Drawer.   Yum-o-rama; just what the doctor ordered!!!

I am a highly skilled, highly paid professional teacher, as many of you know.  I am fully capable of pulling out a drawer, rummaging around for my snack and sneaking a handful of deliciousness into my mouth while I coach kids on how to convert feet into miles.  So I talked about feet per mile, blah, blah, blah as I rooted around for the container of peas.

Ahhhh, there it was! My fingers felt the familiar firm plastic of the dried pea container.  As I lifted up to my desk, my slightly preoccupied brain suddenly wondered, “Why is it so light?”  I gave it a shake, but I kept on talking. “So you can see, boys and girls, that when I convert from feet into miles, I am going from a smaller unit to a larger one……”

I looked at the container, and my voice trailed off into silence.

There was one corner of the little plastic box that was completely missing.  Chewed right off the box.  There were no whole peas left inside, although there were a few pathetic bits of pea skin and salt rattling around in the bottom.

I gasped a little, and every student was suddenly actually tuned in to what I was doing.

Not wanting to upset any of my delicate charges, I dropped the chewed box into the trash and leaned forward to peer into my Snack Drawer.

It’s a little messy in there, but even so, it was pretty clear that there had been an awesome rodent party going on while I was away on vacation.

I found myself looking at the remains of shredded peas, some bits of salt, a pile of tiny yellow plastic bits that turned out to be the chewed edges of my Sunbutter jar.

There was also a prodigious amount of teeny weeny mouse poop spread all over the drawer.  They looked like the world’s smallest sausages, all carefully arranged around the bits of plastic and tiny salted pea snacks.

I looked a little bit closer.

Along with the poopie piles, there were also a whole bunch of tiny black spheres spread out in the bottom of the drawer.

What the……..????

I moved a few things around.  Nope, they didn’t get into the packet of hot chocolate.  They didn’t touch the tea.

Wait…..what’s this……?

I started to laugh, and I couldn’t stop.

I lifted up a brand new, full bag of Starbucks Espresso ground coffee.  One corner had been chewed open, and a stream of coffee was pouring out.

I had a sudden image of the poor little mice, feeling all happy and festive, partying in the drawer full of spicy peas. Feeling all Saturday Night, dancing with the lady mice and pooping up a storm. I could just see the Alpha mouse, chewing away for all he was worth at the silver wrapping on the coffee bag.

“Just you wait, ladies” I can practically hear him gloating. “You’re gonna just love what’s in this awesome shiny bag!  Smells like a human, so its gotta be gooooooood.”

I can see his sharp little teeth finally penetrating the metallic shield and his mouth filling with an unexpected and most unwelcome pile of coffee grounds.

“Gah!!!!!!!!” I can just hear him scream, as he chokes down the pile of bitter, dry coffee bean flecks. “What the hell is THIS?”

The other mice must have cracked up and pooped themselves into a real uproar as they watched him try to clear the awful pellets from his mouth.

It must have been a hoot.

I looked up at my expectant students.

“Um”, I said. “I think there may be an incredibly hyper mouse racing around in our basement today.”

Then I made them go back to converting yards into inches and vice versa.  We got through the rest of our day without any more excitement.

But I can’t get the image of that caffeine crazed mouse out of my head.

Apodemus_sylvaticus_bosmuis

And did I mention that there wasn’t one single nibble on the package of rice cakes?   Who knew that mice were so smart.

Sheepish in New York


IMG_1597

I am such a good Host Mother.

Really.  I am.

I make pancakes and waffles for my German temporary son.   I do his laundry.  I pick him up from his girlfriend’s house three days a week, at least, and I never bug him about homework.

I’m awesome.

And my awesomeness hit its peak when I offered to take him and a friend to New York City during our April vacation.  I knew that he wanted to go, knew that he had always dreamed of seeing the Big Apple.  And he is a boy from Berlin, stuck out here in the backwoods of New England.  Stuck in a place where the biggest excitement comes when a moose wanders into town.

I kinda figured I owed him the trip, you know?

Even though I’m wicked scared of big cities. Even though I’ve hated New York ever since my grad school days at Rutgers, when I had too many run-ins with rude, obnoxious native New Yorkers. Even though I’m pretty neurotic about being in charge of two teenaged boys in the City That Never Sleeps.

So…….

I contacted a friend who knows and loves NY and who I knew would be kind enough to host us for a couple of nights at her house on Long Island.  I packed up a carload of snacks and made plans to drive from our house to the famous “High Line”.  I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best, and off we went.

We got to the city without the slightest mishap.  Ha!

That should have been a clue.

But all was well as we made our way down the West side and looked at the river. The boys were incredibly excited, chattering away in a charming mix of German and English.  They took pictures of everything, pointed out every building, every boat, every flashy sign.  My heart was pounding as I tried to hear the tinny voice of the GPS app over the mixed voices and the German hip hop coming out of the speakers. Did she say “14th St” or “13th St”? Should I be in the middle lane here, or the left?

The music and the boys were starting to give me a headache, but I pressed on. I had no idea what the German artists were singing, but it sounded a lot like “Shishka-shishka-shishkabab, baby!” and it had a beat that seemed to match the rhythm of the traffic.  “Boys…..”, I tried to get one of them to read the map on my iPhone, but they were shishkababbing too hard to hear me.   I gulped and turned left onto 14th Street, and then followed the little voice on the phone.  A left, a right, a right.

Whoah!!!!

There it was.   Like a miraculous mirage. The golden light of the sun poured down on it.  I’m pretty sure that angels were singing.

An empty parking spot!  With a meter!   Allelujah!!

I pulled in and parked, my heart still pounding. Oh, my God!  I’d done it! I’d brought the boys to New York, I’d driven through the city streets and now I had found a PARKING SPOT!!!!

We all hopped out, and I went to look at the meter.  The directions were a little……..um……..vague.  And I was still nervous. And the sun was shining directly on the face of the meter, so I was having a hard time reading it.  The boys were trilling like little German birds behind me, delighted by the realization that we had parked directly in front of a German Bier Garten.  I half listened to them as I slid my credit card into the slot.  “Nine dollars for two hours”, I read. Yikes!   It was expensive, but I shrugged.  Hell of a lot cheaper than a lot, I told myself.  It took me four tries to get the meter to read my card, but I finally managed to put the two hours on there.  The next button read, “Print receipt”, so I did.   The boys were asking me to unlock the car again because they needed something, so I pulled out the receipt and popped it into my purse.

We got our cameras and jackets and off we went.   It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and we walked for an hour and half, seeing the city from the elevated gardens on the High Line, eating hot dogs from a truck, and shopping for athletic shoes.  We checked our watches and headed back toward the car.

I was sooooooo proud of myself!  Yay, me!!  I pictured the headlines, “Chicken hearted older lady takes two German boys to New York!”  I hadn’t gotten lost once!!  And I had found on street parking!  And I had saved at least thirty bucks on parking!   There was quite the little strut in my step as we wound our way back to the car.  I was extra proud that we were getting there with 20 minutes left on the meter!

I was chatting along with Marvin about our fun day when suddenly Lucas stopped walking.

“Um.  Where’s our car?”

I heard him ask the question, but my brain refused to register the words.  There was our street.  There was the adorable German restaurant.  There was the meter. There was the empty spot in front of the meter.

Gulp!

The world stopped turning.  The angels stopped singing and started snickering.  I tried to speak, but all the air had left my lungs.

It. Must. Be. A. Mistake.

I looked at the restaurant. Yep. Same cute Alpine sign.  Same German menu.

I closed my eyes, squeezed hard.  I slowly opened them again, willing the bright red Sonata to appear at the curb.

Nein.

I stood there with my mouth gaping.  I’m pretty sure that a little drool escaped.

The boys dashed across the street and into the outdoor bier garten.  I saw them talking to the pretty young waitress and saw her point to the curb.  I couldn’t hear what she was saying, though, what with being immobilized on the opposite side of the street and the screaming noise going on in my head.

I slowly wobbled my way across to the boys, and Lucas met me with a steadying hand on my elbow and the words, “Good news. It wasn’t stolen.  It got towed.”

Towed?!    TOWED?!!!?

After all I went through with that meter?!  I don’t think so!   My face got hot, and my ears started to burn.   “B.b.b.b.b.b.bb.b….”I began to sputter, “But I….but there…..wait, but……..”  The sweet young waitress was trying to figure out what had happened, and I was getting madder by the minute.   I was steaming!   We had 20 minutes left!!!!   I could prove it, dammit!

I forced my shaking fingers to open the tiny purse I had chosen and packed specifically for this trip.  It was so tiny that I could barely shove my fingers inside, but at last I managed to pull out my parking receipt.  “Ha!”, I crowed, waving the ticket in the air over my head.  “I can PROVE that we were legally parked!!!!!”  The waitress and a very handsome dyed blonde young waiter by her side both turned to look at me.  “See?!” I demanded, “See?!  It says that the meter expires at 3:15 and its only 2:54 right now!  See????”  I pointed to the ticket in my hand.  Both of the kind young waiters leaned in to see, as did the dear German boys who were counting on me to get them safely to Long Island.  “It says the time right here!” My finger jabbed the time stamp and my eyes glanced down one line.

And I read, “Place this receipt on the dashboard on the driver’s side.”

Oopsie.

All the air went out of me. I looked into the confused eyes of my boys and the sympathetic eyes of the young waiters.

“Uh. Um. Ok.”  I gulped a little.  My headache kicked up a notch or three. “Yes. Well. Thank you so much for your help.  We’ll just…..”  I turned to the meter, and read “Call 311 for any questions about the NY transit system.

I called.  I pressed 1. Then 3.  Then 5. Then I waited.  Thank you, dear Lord, the woman who answered the phone was calm, knowledgable and (better yet), sympathetic.  She guided me through the process, informing me that my car was towed away from the meter (are you ready for this?)  TWO MINUTES before we got there.

It was now safely and expensively stored at “Pier 76″ by the NYPD.  We tried to figure out how to get to Pier 76 (why does the GPS App send you to freakin’ New Jersey when you enter “Manhattan NY”????) but finally ended up calling my pal on Long Island.  She and her husband advised us to get a cab.

“OK!” I said, cheerfully, pretending that a shell-shocked middle aged lady from the woods of Central Mass would have some idea of how to hail a cab in the middle of Manhattan.  I put away my phone, fought back my panic and opened my mouth to speak. All that came out was “eeeeeeeeeee????”  The boys patted my back, and Berlin based Lucas began to speak in the same voice you’d use with an out of control toddler, “We’ll just get a cab, OK? It’s OK…..”

“Buh, buh, muh…….” I chittered, as he lead me by the elbow along the street.  How are you supposed to stop a cab in the middle of the zillions of cars whizzing by?  How?  I’d never manage it! Never!  The boys would be stuck forever in Manhattan, and we’d be mugged and terrorists would come and get us and rats would bite our feet and……….

I looked up to see Marvin dashing onto a side street, where a cab was stopped at the corner. “Excuse me, sir!”, he called into the passenger side winder, “Are you free? Our car was towed! We need to get to Pier 76!”  The doors opened and in we piled.

We swerved through NY traffic as the boys swapped stories with the sympathetic cabbie.

Finally, we got to Pier 76.  I got my paperwork and finally we got our car back.  Everything was fine; nothing had been damaged or stolen. We were only about an hour behind schedule.

I settled behind the wheel and booted up the GPS App.

“OK!  No more Shishkababbing while I drive!” I ordered.  We got on the road to my friend’s house, where it occurred to me that in an effort to save 30 bucks, I’d ended up paying about 300.

No more big city adventures for me!!!!!!!!

A woman of words


url

When I teach my fifth grade students about poetry, I always start with a lovely poem about writing.

“Take a pen in your uncertain fingers”, it reads, “and trust that all the world is a bright blue butterfly, and words the net to hold it.”

I love that idea, the thought of holding all the world within my words.

Maybe that’s why I don’t seem to be able to stop thinking in words.  I try to be “mindful”, to simply relax and rest and be.  I try to turn off my thoughts, my words, my judgments.  I sit in a quiet place, I breathe in deeply.

I look at the warm evening sky, this first lovely evening of spring.  I sit in a quiet place.   I try not to think, to simply look, to observe, to be a part of the moment.

But I can’t stop the words from flowing. “I look at the feeder, at the remains of the suet that I put out last night.  I see the clumps of seeds and fat, piled and spilled across the deck, a reminder of the orgy of feeding that must go on all day, when I am not here. I scan the trees.  No birds.  Did they hear me come out?  Are they afraid?”

I sit, I am still.  I breathe.  “A swoop of wings, a flutter near my ear.  A chick-a-dee, of course!  That bold little bird, he won’t let me scare him away from his dinner!”

It makes me smile to see him, perching on the tip of pine branch just above me.  Cocking his head from side to side.  He calls out, “Chirrup!”

“As soon as his call fades, a flurry of wings and twitching tails, all flowing over the roof of the house and into the pines above my deck.  I pick out each one, watching them as they line up on the branches.  A pair of slate gray juncos, like proper little nuns, waiting their turns to eat.  A nut hatch, his long sharp beak stabbing one bit of suet after another off the railing.  A gentle phoebe, hopping along the deck and finding scattered seeds.”

A tiny flash of brilliance catches my eye, and the words increase in speed. “A goldfinch!  Wearing his bright spring coat, wanting to be brave enough to land, but flying instead from the rooftop to the branch and back again!  Finally, he gets his courage up, and flings himself onto the feeder.  Looking nearly panicked, he gulps down a few quick bites, seems to cast a wary eye my way, then shoots straight up into the sky.”

I laugh to myself.  I wonder why I don’t just grab a camera.

I guess its because, for me, nothing in life seems real until I have tried to capture it in the net of my words.

My misanthropic dreams


I love words. I love how they feel on my tongue and how they hiss on their way past my lips.

I love their meanings, their symbolism, their ability to grab an emotion and wrap it in luscious sound so that it brings pleasure just to say it out loud.

“I am”, I pause, “a misanthrope.”

Right now, I am.  I am, truly, an old curmudgeon who loves no human company.   I walk into the darkness of my bedroom, the TV noise fading behind me. I cross into the shadowy bathroom, closing the door so that I feel alone.  I don’t turn on the light.

I lean on edge of the sink, my palms holding me upright as I gaze at my shadowed face in the mirror.

“I am a misanthrope.”, I say.  I nod to myself in response, gray hair lifting in the breeze of the open window.

“I don’t like anyone.”, I tell the frowning face who looks back at me from the dark mirror.  “Not. Anyone.”

Misanthrope.

I don’t want to talk to anyone, please anyone, feed anyone, hug anyone, give to anyone any more.

I want to buy a tiny house on the beach, where I will spend my days collecting shells on the waterline, and my nights gazing at the stars in the silence of my living room.

Misanthrope.

I don’t want to smile or chat or agree or coddle or suck up or reassure or support or argue.

I want to be the only human in my world.

Misanthrope.

What a word.  What a wonderfully awful word.

Misanthrope:
mis·an·thrope
ˈmis(ə)nˌTHrōp,ˈmiz(ə)nˌTHrōp/
noun
 
  1. a person who dislikes humankind and avoids human society.
    Jolly_Miss_Misanthrope

Boston Strong


B_Strong_badge

Boston Strong.

I love the idea of it.

I grew up in a Boston suburb.  I went to my first marathon in 1975, when I was a student at Boston College.  I stood on “Heartbreak Hill” and handed out oranges to the runners who passed me.

I think of myself as a Bostonian.  Growing up, before I studied to become a speech/language pathologist, my speech was filled with “popcohn” and “pahk” and “wicked pissah”.

I’ve cheered for the Red Sox since 1967.  I learned about the “Pats” when they were still located in the hub.

Patriots Day is my holiday: I have watched the parade in Lexington a dozen times. I’ve been to North Bridge in Concord for the reenactment.  I have walked the “Freedom Trail”, visited Paul Revere’s house, and participated in the town meeting at Olde South Meeting House.

I went to college at UMass Boston.

So you get it, right?  Boston is MY city.

When the bombs went off at the Marathon on April 15, 2013, I had just come home from a morning spent in Concord and Acton.  My husband and my friends and I had celebrated the beautiful cool spring morning by applauding the courage of those militiamen of long ago.  We had cheered and clapped as the mock militia met the mock Redcoats on North Bridge.  We’d marched with a group of kids and bands and Girl Scout Troops, walking from Concord to Acton.  We’d had breakfast at the famous Concord Inn, and had enjoyed the warmth and the fun and the mood of celebration.

What we hadn’t known then was that while we were enjoying the lovely morning, two homemade bombs had gone off at the Marathon. People had died.  People had been maimed and shocked and hurt in ways that would mark them forever.

When I heard the news, about an hour after we’d gotten home from our morning trip to Concord, and about two hours after the blasts, I was shocked and scared.  My friends were there! They were RIGHT. THERE.   Some had run the race, some had been there to cheer on family, some had been officials at the finish line.

I spent a frantic hour tracking everyone down, reassuring myself that they were all OK.  That none of my friends of family had been hurt.

But the thing is, my friends and family were within feet of dying, of losing legs, or having their lives forever changed.

This time, for me, the terrorism was personal.

And it became more personal when the terrorists chose to flee the city and ended up facing police in the town where my oldest child was living.  The day and night of the Boston Lockdown were the longest and most stressful of my life.

Those terrible, deadly, homicidal young men were in my child’s neighborhood.  I couldn’t get to her, and I couldn’t get her out of there.

I watched, unable to look away, during the whole day of police searches, false alarms and basement searches.  I watched in terror and horror as that young boy- younger than my own youngest son- huddled in that covered boat.  I watched him being shot, and I watched him being arrested.

I sobbed with relief when it was over.

I am a Bostonian.  This is my city.  These were my people in pain.

And so I find myself oddly conflicted now, as that young terrorist is convicted of his crimes and faces his awful future.

Do I want him to be killed?

No.

I don’t.

And here is exactly why.

He was just a boy.  A terrible, delusional, angry, boy.  But a boy.

Killing him will make us as awful as he is.  I truly believe this.  Killing someone for killing someone makes as much sense as biting a dog because it bit you.  I don’t believe that any lesson would be learned.

But mostly, I do not want my government to kill this man because I do not want us to become the very thing that deluded young men like him tell themselves that we are.

I do not want this man’s death to be the proof that other angry young men need to attack my country, my city, my friends.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

If I were unlucky enough to be on the jury that is deciding his fate, I would keep that quote in mind.

I am Boston Strong.

Strong enough to endure and to flourish without the death of another young person.  Strong enough to hope that life and hope can achieve more than any lethal injection ever could.

A Lesson (ouch) Learned


1

Oy.

When will I learn?  When will I finally come to terms with the fact that I am not 25 anymore? Or 35?  Or 50?

When will I begin to accept my own physical limitations?

Not yet, apparently.

I’ve been in a bit of a funk the past few days. I’ve been crabby, tired, irritable. You know, the typical curmudgeon of an old lady.  My brain’s been sort of fried, and that has been the root of my problems.

I mean, I don’t know about you, but I don’t sleep real well when my thoughts are running around in circles like a crazed hamster on a wheel.  I drift off, then jolt myself awake thinking of things I haven’t done, things I meant to do, things I’m supposed to do but am refusing to do, things I think maybe I should do if I was a really healthy person but which I don’t want to do now that I know I’m not.   You know.  Hamster. Wheel.  Awake all night.

Anyway, I came home from work yesterday with my brain in a fog and my spirits low.

And I was greeted at the door by my tall, handsome, grinning-with-his dimples-twinkling German boychik, Lucas.  He held up his phone, showing the face of his beautiful Momma with whom he was Skyping.  I spent a few minutes chatting with her, smiling at him, and walking around my intensely muddy garden. It was very uplifting!

When I came inside, Lucas and I started talking about baseball.  And that got us thinking about my old, dusty Wii.  And he challenged me to a game of baseball.  First I just laughed.

Then I accepted.

Because I am dumb.

Very, very dumb.

I got dinner started, then grabbed my controller.  And Lucas and I played “Wakeboard”.  I lost by about 3, 000 points, but it was fun! I was jumping around, pretending to be at the beach, swinging my arms……  Then we decided to try “Bowling”.  And “Table Tennis”.  And “Archery” (where I came within striking distance of almost sort of catching him,     -ish, kinda.) Lucas stood like a sedate old elm, flicking his wrists and scoring big. I continued to jump around and flail, like a gorilla with a paintbrush in his hand.

So fun!  Ha, ha!

This went on for quite a while.  Lucas scored points, I flailed and twitched.

By the time we ate our pork chops and cleaned up, I was feeling all relaxed and happy.  My brain was focused on jumping over the wake, and my body felt all loose and stretchy.

I was like a limber, athletic older jock lady, you know?  Pretty sweet!

I fell into bed around 9, and slept the gentle sleep of the physically fit.

I hardly snored at all.

When my alarm trilled at 6 AM, I rolled over.  I yawned, feeling incredibly refreshed and relaxed.

Then I stood up, and every single nerve I have ever had or dreamed of having went into a spasm of silent screaming.  I couldn’t stand up straight. My back ached. My butt ached. My right shoulder felt like I’d pitched 9 innings for the Sox.  I sucked in a breath, and tried to hobble to the bathroom.  I managed to claw the door open, but I couldn’t even get my PJ’s off.  How could I shower or shampoo?

I did my best, emerging from the bathroom 20 minutes later with lather still in my hair, my pants unbuttoned and my back in the shape of a wobbly question mark.

When will I learn?

Some people my age run marathons.  Some compete in ski races.

But some of us are only engaged in competitive cooking, meatball eating competitions and falling asleep races.  We simply cannot spend two hours playing Wii with 17 year old German princes.

Not if we want to be able to tie our own shoes in the morning.

Good night.

I am off to the hot tub with my ibuprofin in hand.  Planning to slather on the menthol cream when I get out.

Empty and Full


283549_2270776286383_1579211_n

Empty and Full.  All at once.

I feel so empty and yet so full.

Frustrated, tired, but blessed at the very same time.

How do I write about that?

Why would I write about that?

Let me start with why.  I’ll try to capture it in writing because if I don’t it will eat me from the inside out.  I’ll try because I need to frame my thoughts and my emotions and my fears; if I don’t, they become too big for me.

I’ll write because its the only way that I can have even the illusion of control.

So now to the question of “how”.

I don’t know.

My jumbled thoughts and feelings can’t be easily shaped into one of the accepted “genres” of writing that I am told to teach.  They don’t really lend themselves to a “story arc” or a “main idea” or a “conflict/resolution” paradigm.

My thoughts and feelings this weekend are as looped and whirled as the knitting that I cannot seem to master.  They are interwoven and as contradictory as the weeds that so far are the only life to show itself in my garden.

So how do I write it all down?

I’ll give up any pretext of “story form” and I’ll rely instead on my “stream of consciousness”, a writing style that I loved in my pre-rubric past.

Here I go.  Try to hold on for the ride.

I love my family, and am so incredibly grateful to have them in my life.  I love my children more than I ever thought I could love anyone, and they are as always my greatest pride and my greatest source of strength.   I love my family, including my sisters and brothers and mother and even my now gone Dad, who keeps his hand in every major decision and his loving arms around every worry.  I love my family, even when they are no blood kin of mine.  This weekend I have found the magic and strength in family who are tied to me through the marriage of a sibling.  Tied to me through love of that same sibling and her husband, through our shared love of their children.   I love my family.

I am tired. I need a chance to refill my well, to gather my thoughts, to refresh my strength and my stamina.  I am so, so tired. I wish that a night of sleep could fix it, but I know that it won’t.  I am simply out of gas.

I love my job. In spite of the frustrations, the sadness, the struggles to remain relevant.  The truth is, I love my job, my students, my role in their lives. I love the moments when I laugh out loud with 24 children I love.  I am so grateful for the daily smiles, the hugs, the twinkling eyed humor. I am so lucky to spend my life in the company of children, to whom the world is entirely new and always amazing.

I love my life, but I still don’t know how to be what everybody needs, what everybody wants. I still don’t know how to balance the needs of those I love with my own limitations in strength.    I love my life.

I need a rest. I need a way to get it.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

A Quarter of a Century


It was March 30, 1990.  It was a cold day, raw and wet, the way that early spring in Massachusetts so often feels.

I remember that Paul had gone to work in the morning, and that I met him later in the day.  I got my little girl dressed.  My beautiful first born, my sweet Katie, my little girl.  I packed her little pink backback.  Snacks, a juice box, a coloring book and crayons, paper so that she could draw.  Two or three little books.

We got in the car to drive the hour or so that it would take for us to get to the lawyer’s office.

I was pregnant.  About twenty weeks. I was excited, tired, a little bit anxious.  This was a big day for our young family!

I parked the car, took my baby girl by the hand, carrying her backpack and my purse.  I put a hand on my belly, knowing that this day was an investment for the baby boy I carried as much as it was for the little girl who skipped along the sidewalk by my side.  We walked into the lawyer’s office. I remember feeling awkward, off balance, a little bit giddy.

I remember the long polished table, the pages and pages of documents. I remember being mostly aware of Katie, of hoping that she’d stay quiet. I remember her chatting, laughing, showing me her pictures. I remember her bright spirit filing up the room.  I remember signing, and and signing and signing again. I remember glancing at Paul, my nerves probably showing in my anxious smile.

And then I remember that it was done.  We were officially home owners.

We’d done it.  We had signed a mortgage.

We went to the new house, where Paul shook up the bottle of champagne that I was dying to sip after 20 weeks of abstinence, and let it fly off the deck and into the woods. I remember Katie laughing. 10928170_10205765881363753_4035390159804004719_n

The details are fading now, but the feelings are still there.  The thoughts and reactions, the gulping sense of “Oh, my God….”, the excitement as I looked out at OUR trees, OUR woods, OUR yard.

This little house, this modest place in this struggling town, has held and cherished so much that is the best part of my life. My children learned to read here, learned to ride bikes, learned to set the table, learned to make pasta here. This is the home where we hosted our first family Christmas party.  This where they went Trick or Treating, where they found their first Lady Slipper, where they walked our first dog.

This is where they held birthday parties. Where they got ready for their first dates.

This is home.

Twenty five years have gone by now.  So many old trees have come down, so many new plants have been added. The deck has been rebuilt; my beloved hot tub has been added. The basement, once a cold damp storage room, has seen a wood stove, a pellet stove, bookshelves, a big TV. It has housed too many hockey games, and it has hosted an entire heavy metal band. Now it holds books, and games and a not-very-much-used elliptical machine.

Twenty five years have gone by.  Where I was once the pregnant mother, now it my daughter who is awaiting her first child. She is due on the very same day, twenty five years later, that I was told to expect her younger brother.

That little girl is a woman now.  She is almost a Mom in her own right.

The house needs work, the yard has changed, the latest dogs are getting older.

A quarter of a century has passed.  Everything has changed.  Nothing has changed at all.

A Day in the Life


photo

It’s pretty hard to be a public school teacher in the US right now.

We are in the middle of administering the annual state tests here in Massachusetts.  You know, the ones that are supposed to assess a fifth grader’s ability to read, but really assess his ability to read ninth grade level materials and then write a pithy, on point analysis in one sitting.

Yep.  Those awesome tests.

The ones that are beginning to count more and more toward our teacher evaluations. The ones that help to decide which schools are successful and which aren’t.

The tests that use words like “spectrometry” and “minutiae” and “chirring cicadas”.   For ten year olds to decipher.

I don’t feel very good about myself during these tests.   You know why?

Because I have to make kids sit still for 5 hours in a row.

Because I have to tell them that I can’t explain what the word means.

Because I have to hope that they will remember to “include evidence from the text” when they compare the article on scientific discoveries in a far distant part of the world to a poem about nature.

I don’t feel good about myself on test days.

This year, I don’t feel particularly good about myself as a teacher at all.  I am aware of my age.  I am acutely aware of my obsolescence.   My outdated pedagogy.   I feel a little bit useless.

I am sad.

At the end of these long, tiring days, when my back aches and my legs feel weak, I walk slowly to my car, wondering if I have done a decent job today.  I think about the kids, so young and fresh, so eager for the energy and life of youth.  I worry.  Am I failing them because I am too old to connect with their lives?  Am I failing them because I don’t know the latest research on reading comprehension?  Am I too cranky? Too worn down?  Is the constant struggle to meet the standards taking away the soul of my classroom?  Do they wake up in the early mornings wishing that they could stay home and avoid me and my lessons?

I don’t know.

I am sad.

Then I get to my classroom, in the early morning light.  I turn on the Smartboard, move the trash barrels into place. I gather yesterday’s worksheets from the “hand in” bin.  I boot up my computer, make a morning message that pokes fun at the testing. “MCAS”, I write. “Mango Chocolate Awesome Sauce”.  I put out the morning work, file corrected work, turn the compost.

I’m still sad.

This isn’t why I became a teacher.  To make children fill in bubble sheets.  To make them “restate the prompt” and “find evidence from the text.”   I am not here because I love data or because I think its a good idea to measure each child’s ability to copy the writing style of a so called “educational expert”.

Still.  I am a professional.  I do what is expected of me.  I greet the kids, make sure that each has a freshly sharpened number 2 pencil.  I remind them to bring in snack, to have a book on hand.  I chat with the nervous ones, hug the tearful ones.  Two are clearly sick; I hand them tissues, remind them that they can get water when they need it.  I run a short, quiet “morning meeting”, then get them all into their seats.  I remind them that I believe in them.  I remind them that we will have some “math fun” when all of this is over.

I hand out the answer booklets.  And the test booklets.  And the erasers and highlighters.  I read the directions. “Cheating in any form is forbidden.  You may not use dictionaries.  Or cell phones.”  I take a breath.  I remind them to “Make a dark mark” and to “erase completely any mark that you wish you change”.

I am sad.

As the kids settle in to take the test, lollipops or Jolly Ranchers arranged in neat rows on their desks, I click on my email.

And I read this, coming from a colleague whose son was in my class a couple of years ago:

Hi there,
I tried to find you this morning to let you know that you will be reviewed by the MCAS scorers this summer.
The 7th grade long comp prompt was:
write about a teacher/coach who has made an impact on your life…..my son wrote about you:)
He was bragging that he wrote 10 paragraphs…..
Thought this would make your day.
xo
Wow.
This didn’t make my day, my friend. This made my week. My month.
This made me stand up taller as I walked around my classroom.
This reminded me that sometimes it is enough to love the kids and love my job. That sometimes I am doing a really good job just because I am able to make a connection to a struggling learner who isn’t sure that he has what it takes.
I am no longer sad.
I am so incredibly happy that this wonderful young man remembers me as someone who helped him to grow.
This is why I teach.
Thank you, my friend! You’ve given me the courage to keep it up for a little bit longer!

Islamists?


10407663_10205822617982133_7886578795423327463_n

I find myself in an odd place.  I know I’m not alone, but I still want to share this strange experience with you.   Maybe I can make some sense of things if I do.

Forty two years ago I was an exchange student. I was seventeen years old, completely and unbelievably naive. I was sent to Tunisia, to live with an Islamic family.   I had a fantastic time!  I’ve written about my experience before, thinking about how comforting it was to find a family across the world that was so very much like my own.

But in the past three days, I’ve been really looking back, and thinking about my time in Tunisia.

I remember that my family had an Uncle, a jovial man of middle age, who was a retired general in the Tunisian military.  He had a lovely little house just outside of Tunis. I remember going there for dinner. I remember that he hunted for little birds, which he brought back to the house in the afternoon. They were dressed and cooked and served over couscous. I remember that he was so proud of himself, and I remember that the dinner was delicious.

I remember, too, that the same smiling, stocky Uncle took me and my Tunisian sisters to the famous Bardo Museum.  I don’t remember many details, but I do recall that the grounds were absolutely lovely, that the exhibits were amazing and inspiring. I remember a mosaic stone floor in the courtyard, and I remember that we were given a special tour because the Uncle was a member of the military.

I watch the news now, as we talk about “Islamists” and “terrorists” and I am struck by how we use the terms interchangeably.  I think about the fact that most American parents now would never send their innocent daughter to live in Tunisia.

And then I close my eyes, and I remember what happened to me when I had to travel across the country by myself, on a bus, to a city I’d never seen. I remember that I got onto the bus in tears: I knew that I was saying goodbye to a family I’d grown to love very much.  And I knew that I would most likely never see them again.

It was the last week of my journey, and I was leaving my host city of Kairouan to join up with the rest of the exchange students in the coastal city of Sfax.  My Tunisian family said goodbye to me at the bus station, and I boarded a big old bus to head southeast.  I was sobbing as the bus pulled out, so I barely noticed the old woman with the chickens in the seat behind me, or the man with the two small goats who sat in front of me.  I wasn’t really aware of the handsome man and his wide eyed son who sat in the seat across the aisle.  At least, I wasn’t aware of them until the man reached across the aisle and patted my shoulder.  He murmured gently in Arabic: I didn’t understand him, but his face showed sympathy and caring.  It made me cry a little harder.  The man and his son moved across the aisle to sit with me, and he kept talking and patting my back.  Little by little, we found a way to communicate. He introduced me to his son, I told him about my Tunisian family.  We gestured, we nodded, we gazed out the window at the passing desert together.

I remember that we came to a stopping place, where small boys sold water from huge clay jars. I remember the man buying me a water, which I sipped gratefully from a shared cup.

And I remember arriving in Sfax, and getting off the bus.  The man and his son embraced me, and he handed me a gift.  It was a beautiful handmade clay ashtray, shaped carefully from the red soil of the country.  I remember him pressing it into my hands, his long white robe touching his shoes as he leaned down toward me. “Pour toi” he said, and I thanked him.

I don’t know his name, and I can’t recall his face.  But his kindness to a weeping young stranger has always stayed with me.

And I remember what happened after I got to Sfax and the bus pulled out.  I sat in the bus station, as I’d been told by our group leader to do.  I’d been told that I should stay in place and wait until he and the other students arrived. So I waited.  And I waited.

The day went by, and sun began to set.  I was the only foreigner sitting in the tiny, dusty bus depot. I began to notice a group of older men, middle aged, in traditional robes.  They stood around, speaking softly to each other, but eyeing me as I sat alone on my bench.   I tried to look confident, to ignore them, but I was starting to worry.

Now this was well before the time of cell phones, and there was no way for me to reach my friends or my group leader.  All I knew was that I was supposed to wait, and that the sun was beginning to set.  I didn’t know what to do.

Finally, I remember, one older man, sporting a full gray beard and bushy eyebrows, came to where I sat. He began to ask me questions in Arabic, which I barely spoke.  I managed to finally understand him, and to explain that I was waiting for others.  He looked upset and began to speak urgently to me. Finally, through a combination of Arabic and broken French, I came to understand that no more busses would be arriving that day, and that the man and his friends were worried about leaving me alone on that little bench.  They asked where I was headed, but I only knew that last name of my group leader, whose family home was my destination.

I remember that the group of men argued and waved their arms and shook their heads as they shot me worried glances. I can only imagine their thoughts.  “What is wrong with those crazy Americans!? They send a little girl halfway across the world and leave her on her own in a strange city?”  They didn’t know what to do with me!

I don’t remember how it happened, or how I managed to understand it all, but I remember that I was placed carefully in the back of a cab, and that the name of my host was given to the driver. I remember that we drove all around the city, and that the young cabbie stopped over and over again to ask if anyone knew where my group leader’s family lived.

At last, after dark, I was brought to the house where I would spend the night.  I don’t have any idea who paid the kind cabbie for his long trip, but I know that it wasn’t me.

I look back now, and I am so touched and so astonished at the gentle, unselfish kindness that was heaped on me that one day in Tunisia.

And I think of the word “Islamist”.  I think of those thoughtful, gentle, fatherly Islamic men who took such care of me that day, with no possibility of reward.

I don’t understand how the Islam that I learned to love could have been twisted into the horror of what happened at my beautiful Bardo Museum.

I don’t understand it.

I find myself in a strange and sad place.

You see, for me the world “Islamist” brings to mind gentle, funny, generous men who go out of their way to take care of strangers.