Remembering “My” Kids


I went into my daughter’s classroom for a visit last week. She teaches a loop, so she has her students for two years. Now it’s June of her second year with these lovely sixth graders, and everyone is tired, emotional, and ready to move on. I brought Kate’s kids in to the classroom to say goodbye.

Naturally, just stepping into the school building where I taught for more than two decades had me nostalgic.

All the way home that afternoon, I thought about “my” kids from over the years. Here are a few of the stories that have been on my mind.

The Bombs Below

One year I had a boy in my class who had spent about half of his ten years of life in his native Pakistan. His family had moved back and forth from the U.S. to Pakistan a couple of times, and were intending to return again. My student went through the year with one foot here and one over there.

In the early fall of that fifth grade year, we all went on a three day trip to the mountains. The trip included environmental studies and team building. It was hard work for this old teacher, but it was fun! One of the best parts was a hike up to a small mountain peak near the camp. We would all scramble through the woods for an hour or so until we came out to the summit, where the students would gather and gaze down at the camp, far below. Part of our tradition was to call out a greeting from the summit to the camp below. The kids below would hear us and call back.

That particular year, there was some construction going on at the camp. From the summit, we could hear distant hammers and faint booms as piles of wood were unloaded from trucks.

I stood with my Pakistani student, asking him if he could hear the kids calling up from below. He frowned behind his large glasses, squinting at the lake in the distance. “Listen carefully,” I told him. “We’ll yell and the kids on the athletic field will yell back.”

The kids gathered around me, giggling and clearing their throats.  “How, How!” we yelled. We waited, and then it came, “How, How!” from below. I turned to my student with a smile. “Did you hear it?”

He shook his head.

“All I can hear is those bombs down there.”

That’s what it’s like to leave a war zone. This poor kid heard distant hammering and simply assumed that bombs were going off.

He didn’t even react.

What grade am I in?

Many years ago, before I became a classroom teacher, I was the speech/language specialist in our school. I worked with kids who had communication disorders due to learning disabilities, hearing impairment, intellectual impairments and other challenges.

One year I was asked to evaluate a student who had recently immigrated to the U.S. from Brazil. The boy was tall, gangly armed in the way of pre-adolescent boys. He had a huge grin and sparkling brown eyes. Everything made him laugh.

His English was poor, but growing rapidly. He had a quick wit and warm charm that made him instantly popular with his classmates and teachers. He had very few academic skills, which was why I was doing my assessment. We weren’t sure if this young man had an underlying learning disorder that had held back his ability to read in his native Portuguese. We needed to find the best way to help catch up.

Although this student was old enough to be enrolled in our fifth grade, he had been placed in the fourth grade to give him time to catch up.

When I began my language assessment with a casual conversation, I learned why he was struggling so much.

“What grade were you in when you were in Brazil?”

“What grade? I don’t know. How do I know what grade I am in?”

“Honey, how many years of school did you do?”

“Oh. I don’t know.” I remember that he shrugged and grinned, looking up from beneath the brim of his cap. “I would go when there was a teacher. Sometimes I would go but there would be no teacher, so we just played or went home.”

I found out later, through an interpreter at a meeting with his Mom, that this boy had never completed a single year of school. There was no set curriculum, no continuity of lessons from year to year. Most troubling of all, teachers would come and go all year, often missing weeks of teaching time without replacements.

“This is why we left our country,” the Mom explained. “We wanted him to go to school.”

That handsome, charismatic, bright little guy was at our school for only a year. After that, we lost track of him as his family struggled to find a place to settle safely.

I think about him often.

book-112117_640

In honor of every single child who needs safety, education, and love.

Advertisements

I Am Officially Ridiculous


Oh, brother.

What a wuss. What a jerk. What a stupid, weepy old woman.

I can’t stop the tears.

Some of them are from the horrors going on at our border, but others are more personal. It’s the personal tears for which I am apologizing now.

As some of you know, I have the best job on earth. I live a life that most humans can only dream about.

I stay at home, all day, every day, with my two grandchildren. These kids are also known as the cutest, sweetest, funniest, most easy going babies on earth.

Seriously. These are the people I play with all day.

The world’s cutest kids, right?

So, what’s the problem?

Oh, boo-hoo, poor me. In one short week, I will be heading off to Europe with my husband. We will celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. We’ll spend some time with our dear friends in Germany, then head into Italy. Our two sons and their partners will join us.

Heaven, right?

The Alps, the Mediterranean, the food, the wine, the music, the beaches, the desserts!!!!

Oh, sole mio! It will be (not kidding) the trip of a lifetime!!!! I am SO excited that I have already packed and repacked my suitcase three times! I’m ready! I am so. ready. to. go.

But.

(the sound of brakes screeching)

What do you mean, three weeks away from Ellie’s eyes? What do you even MEAN, three weeks without one single Johnny hug??? What if he takes his first steps? What if she forgets our morning ballet routine? What if when I get back they don’t even care?

Oh, this old Nonni is a nutcake. She knows it.

But.

I love my days with these goofy, happy, messy, exhausting little people. I can’t imagine surviving three long weeks without them.

Please tell me that I’m an idiot. Please remind me that the kids will be with their Mom and Dad, and this is how it’s supposed to be.

Tell me to shut up and get over it.

Remind me that I’ll be soaking up the sun and drinking great wine with the love of my life.

I’ll nod, and smile, and tell you that you’re right. Then I’ll no doubt sob a little and pull up pics of the kids on my phone.

Sigh.

I’m ridiculous.

Dear American Adults,


Dear fellow American adults,

I submit the following for your edification, enlightenment and possible humbling mortification.

I used to teach fifth grade. The kids in my class were all about ten years old. They were old enough to understand the basic rules of how to get along, but young enough to still need a lot of guidance.

They were kids.

Young, young kids.

This essay is a composite of about 853 such conversations that I had with students over my ten years as a classroom teacher. The names were changed because, seriously, this could have been any fifth grader at any time in any place.

“Karen, I need your help! Jackie was mean to me!”

“Jackie, what did you do to Jason?”

“Nothin. I just called him a fat wussy pants jerk face noodle head.”

Jason sniffles and looks at me with huge blue eyes, filled with righteous pain and anger. “See? He was so. MEAN.”

I sigh. I rub my forehead. I look at the culprit, sitting in front of me in his baggy blue shirt, with his recess sweaty hair in his big brown eyes. He looks away. He knows he did something mean. Fifth graders know mean when they see it, even if it comes from themselves.

“Jackie? What do you have to say about this?”

A shrug. “Well, I didn’t mean it. It was a joke.”

(Are you following this line of reasoning, Roseanne Barr, Michelle Wolf, Orrin Hatch, Ted CruzKelly Sadler, Donald Trump?)

I look at my little student with my most serious teacher face.

“Jackie,” I say sternly. “You know what a joke is. What makes something a joke?”

He drops his head. The shrug reappears.

“A joke is something that makes everybody in the room laugh. A joke makes people feel happy inside. Did your words today make everybody laugh? Did everyone feel happy?”

“No.” It’s only a whisper, but, still, he said it and I am proud of him.

“What you said wasn’t a joke because it hurt someone. It hurt just as much has hitting with a fist would hurt. What you said wasn’t a joke. What was it?”

Now the shoulders are drooping, the chin is almost on the chest. Now my ten year old student is truly feeling bad about what he did.

“I was being mean. I was making fun of someone.”

“I’m proud of you!” I tell him honestly. “You admitted that you were wrong. You are a strong and brave boy. Good for you. Now what do you think you should do?”

Jackie looks at Jason, a classmate he’s known for years. Both boys are teary eyed. Both are tender.

“I’m sorry.”

Jackie thinks that he means it, but I have to push a little bit more.

“OK,” I say. “You said you were sorry. Do you think that takes away your bad choice? Does it take away Jason’s sadness?”

The answer is obvious to any ten year old. A simple, “sorry” doesn’t erase the pain or the hurt. It doesn’t mean that you didn’t screw up. It doesn’t mean that you don’t need to make amends.

At this point I would usually let my two students hug or shake hands or say, “It’s OK.” I’d send them back to class.

But before the end of that day, I’d catch up with “Jackie” again, and ask him if he had thought about what he could do to show Jason that he didn’t mean those cruel words. That he had respect for his classmate and that he wanted to make it right again.

In the world of elementary school teaching, this is called an “apology of action.” It is designed to make the one who did the hurting take some kind of definitive action to elevate the one who was hurt. In that world, it means picking the one you targeted for the recess basketball team, or letting them sit in the best spot in the library. It means giving them some of your snack or choosing them for your math buddy.

Ten year old kids are able to understand that “It was a joke” is a very feeble excuse for being a jerk. They were able to grasp that a simple, “Sorry” can’t take away the hurt that words have caused.

They are little kids. But they get it.

Are you listening, adults in Washington DC, Hollywood, the media, the networks? Are you listening?

We know you by your words and by your actions. And we know it isn’t a joke if most of us aren’t laughing.

royalty-free-photos-angel-and-devil-kindness-and-evil-12174545

 

 

Joyful, Joyful….


Children have so many skills that are lost to the rest of us. They have such gifts that we have somehow let fade in ourselves.

Today was a cool, sunny day.  It was nice. Not hot, not spectacular, just really nice.

Ellie and Johnny were here, and we spent the morning playing, making pancakes, eating said pancakes, and watching the sweet movie “Trolls”, which Ellie loves.

We ate lunch, and suddenly Ellie looked at me with her huge brown eyes and said, “Nonni! We forgot to play outside!”

As if that was her job. As if she had an inborn responsibility to play outside.

What could I do but agree with her?

Given the cool temperatures, I gave her a pair of shorts and T shirt, telling her it was too cool to play in her blow up pool. I put Johnny in pants and a shirt and a big old floppy sun hat, then greased them both up with citronella bug goo.

We stepped outside into the sunshine.

On my lawn sat a big blue pool. A blow up pool. A ten dollar pool. We had put about six inches of water into it yesterday and the kids had played near it. But we have a very very very deep well here, so the water was absolutely FREEZING. Yesterday Ellie had splashed a bit, but wasn’t able to get herself into the icy water.

But. The water had sat out all night (in the rain) and all morning in the bright sun. By the time we got outside today, it had warmed just enough to entice her.

And off she went.

I sat on a lawn chair, just watching. Johnny touched the water carefully, then sat back down. Up again, touch again, smile at Nonni, sit back down in the grass. That was his schedule for the next hour.

But Ellie?

Oh, my sweet, beautiful Ellie.

Once again this little girl, not yet three years old, has taught me what it means to live a good life.

Ellie raced onto the grass, danced in a circle and crowed, “This is a great day!!!!” Her invisible pals, “Elsa and Anna” were there with her right away. Ellie touched the water and shouted “It’s warm!” Then she peeled off her jeans and jumped into the pool.

For the next hour, she jumped in and out of the little pool, splashing, screaming, pouring water over her head. “Elsa and Anna are washing their hair!!! Look at Elsa’s face!” After pouring water over herself, she’d throw back her head and shriek.

She screamed. She yelled. She howled with joy.

She jumped, splashed, poured water onto the grass, onto her head, onto her feet, onto her baby brother.

And the whole time, the joy was just pouring out of her. Out of ever pore, every molecule, every tiny speck of that little girl, nothing but pure, pure joy came rushing out.

I sat there in awe.

She was the absolute epitome of happiness. She WAS joy incarnate.

She experienced that one hour outside today as one of absolute and total euphoria.

In a ten dollar pool, on a crabgrass and dandelion filled lawn, this sweet, pure soul danced and played and felt herself to be filled with the most innocent and unsoiled joy. She had no thought for how she looked, or who was listening, or what was happening outside of her circle of happiness.

I sat in awe. I watched her. I wanted to cry, because I couldn’t remember ever feeling that must pure happiness in such a simple way.

I watched her. I listened as she threw her head back and screamed, “I love this pool so much!!!!”

Ellie is joy. She is innocence. She is love.

So is every other child on the face of this beautiful, joyful earth.

In honor of Ellie and John, I need to continue speaking out on behalf of all of the joy filled children in this country, in Africa, in Syria, in Iran, in Iraq, in Russia, in Chechnya, in Puerto Rico.

They are joy.

We really need to find a way to learn from them.

pool kiew

Let’s Pretend


When I watch my granddaughter Ellie at play, I am reminded of just how amazing and fantastical the world can be. At the very young age of two and a half, Ellie has an imagination that takes her to incredible places and lets her be a hundred different characters in one short day.

She is amazing.

I sit back to watch, and I marvel at how effortless it is for her to create her own world and to inhabit that world with total abandon.

Today, for example, we were outside on the lawn. The kiddie pool was filled and a bunch of toys were spread around the yard. Baby Johnny, at only 11 months, was happy to splash in the pool and touch the water coming out of the hose. He chewed on grass, and kicked his feet. He pulled himself to standing on my lawn chair. He was happy to be in the moment, touching and mouthing every concrete novelty in front of him.

But Ellie. Ellie was in another place entirely.

IMG_20180502_132030

“Nonni!” she called, “Elsa and Anna are here today!”

“Hi, girls!” I answered as she ran toward me with her arms wide open.

I’m not sure why Ellie so often pretends to be both Anna and Elsa, but they were on my lawn today. Maybe it’s because the two stars of the movie “Frozen” are sisters, and Ellie is in need of a young companion. Maybe it’s because the two young women in the movie have adventures and face dangers and rush from one exciting moment to the next.

Maybe its the beautiful clothes that they wear, or the endearing little snowman who befriends them.

I don’t know.

All I know is that today, in the 85 degree heat, Ellie rushed all around the yard, from the pool to the bikes to the strawberry patch and back again.

“Elsa! Come with me! We need to go home!”

“I’m coming, Anna! I have to bring these puppies!”

“Oh, no! Nonni, there is a flood and Elsa and Anna have to save the puppies!”

Little was required of me, for which I was grateful. I was busy pulling sticks and bugs out of Johnny’s mouth. But I was so enthralled watching her, listening to her running dialogue.

“Anna, wait! The puppies need to have food!”

“Elsa, come with me! I have puppy food here in my frozen castle!”

I could almost see the scenes she was describing as she ran from the pool to the spot on the lawn where her “puppies” were recovering from their ordeal. She was there. She was Anna or Elsa in that moment. She believed that there were cold and hungry puppies on the grass before her, and as I watched her, so did I.

So now, as the sun has set, and the kids are at home with their parents, now I find myself thinking.

When did I lose the ability to create a whole new world with just my words? When did I stop pretending?

I wonder.

What was the last game that I ever played? Who played with me? Where did I put my own personal “Elsa and Anna” and how did I let them die without a thought?

Childhood is magic.

Watching it unfold before me every day is a gift that I will never take for granted.

 

Oh, Boys


I’ve been thinking about boys lately.

I am one of those progressive, feminist women who have given a LOT of thought to the biases that we show toward our female kids. A little more than two years ago, I became the daycare provider for my first grandchild, Ellie.

My daughter and I talked a lot about how we wanted to talk to her. We were very conscious of using words like “pretty” and “sweet” and “good girl”.  We wanted Ellie to see herself as strong, capable, independent.

Two and a half years into her life, it’s very clear that we have succeeded. Ellie is smart, opinionated and confident. She is loving and kind, but doesn’t worry about being “pretty’. Yay, us. We have helped to set a young woman on a positive path.

But what about her brother?

Johnny is 10 months old. He is big (only three pounds less than his sister who is 20 months older than he is.) He is active, and curious and energetic.

When I put Johnny down on the floor to play, he is immediately drawn to every outlet, every electrical cord, every electronic device. He climbs on everything. He opens every cabinet he can find and pulls out all of the contents.

Johnny goes to the top of the stairs in our living room and grabs the baby gate. He shakes it as hard as he can. When I take him away, he howls his outrage and throws himself to the floor. Sometimes he even bangs his head on the floor.

And I have found myself reacting to him as a hyperactive little wild child. I have heard myself calling him, “Butter ball” and “chunky monkey”.  I have noticed that I refer to him as “wild” and “hyper.”

But the other day I looked through a bunch of old photos. I noticed the ones where ten month old Ellie was pulling herself up on the very same baby gate. My caption read: “She is so strong!”

I found pictures of Ellie pulling things out of the very same kitchen cabinets, and I saw that I had written, “My little kitchen helper.”

I was shocked. Shocked at my so called progressive old self.

What was I doing?

Johnny is active and physical, as so many babies are. He is strong and he is sturdy. He is enormously curious.

My job is not to label him or criticize or shake my head and tell my friends, “He is exhausting!”

My job is to say, “John, you are so strong.” and “You are such a good explorer!”

My job is to let this boy know that his energy is his strength. That his curiosity is intelligence. And when he begins to react to his emotions physically rather than verbally, my job will be to show him that he can be both physical and loving.

I have noticed myself and other progressive, liberal, gender neutral adults reacting to our little boys differently than we react to our little girls.

One example: last summer I hosted a second birthday party for our Ellie. The kids were playing with bubbles and balls and sidewalk chalk. One of the bubble wands broke when a little girl was playing with it. The adults around her scooped her up to comfort her when it broke. They said things like, “Oh, honey! I’m so sorry that it broke!”

Ten minutes later, a little boy had his bubble wand break in his hand. He responded by saying, “I’m sorry. I broke it.” The adults around him, all loving and wonderful parents, said, “What did you do?”

It was just such an eye opener for me.

And I am using that memory to guide my reactions to Johnny as he pulls himself up to yank things off of my coffee table. He isn’t being “wild” or “hyper” or “bad”.  He is using his strength and his problem solving skills to figure out the world around him.

He is doing exactly what nature has set him up to do.

He is no more active than his sister was. He isn’t particularly more physical or more active than she was.

The only difference, really, is how his grandmother and the rest of the world sees his development.

Johnny is a boy. An active, sweet, loving, musical, funny, physical little boy. He is exactly what he is supposed to be.

Johnny train

Touching Our Lives


One of the things I loved best about teaching was knowing that I touched the lives of children, that I meant something important to some of them. After teaching for such a long time, I have had the enormous joy of hearing from former students who have grown up and who still remember our time together.

What I don’t think people realize, though, is just how deeply the kids impact and change the lives of their teachers. Good teachers care about their classes. We love our students. We laugh with them, grow with them, argue with them and hug them when one of us is sad.

That love and those memories stay with us at least as much as with the kids. Maybe even more.

And I know that this is a very improper thing to say, but some kids just stay with you more than others do.

For me, the kids who will always stay in my heart are the ones who struggled. Some struggled with learning disabilities. Some with hearing loss and language disorders. Some kids fought battles with depression and anxiety that made school a constant challenge. Some worked harder than any child should work just to keep their emotions and behaviors under control.

Many of my students became my heroes. Their willingness to grab their backpacks and come back day after day to the place of their greatest struggles was a constant inspiration to me. I knew kids who felt friendless and alone. But they still showed up, every single day, to try again.

I knew kids who expected perfection from themselves. When math came to them without effort, but writing felt beyond their abilities, I watched them swallow hard, blink back tears, and finish that story.

Those kids stay in my heart. They stay in my memory. I call on their example when I feel overwhelmed and unsure of myself.

Most of those kids have grown up and gone, and I can only remember them with fondness. With the miracle of social media, though, some of them have reached out and told me about their lives today. A few are friends who I get to see once in a while.

And some of them are gone. For some, the pressures of life were too much, and they chose to step away. They are still, every one of them, my heroes.

Some have been lost to accidents or to illness. For some the lifelong health struggles have finally come to an end.

They are still my heroes.

Dear parents of kids with extra needs and concerns, dear moms and dads of spirited kids and challenging kids and kids who push the teacher hard,

Please know that your kids are the kids who kept some of us coming in every day. Your kid was the one who made us throw up our fists and shout “Yes!!!!” when they finally finished that book report. Yours is the one who made us sneak into the bathroom to cry when he asked another kid to sit with him and was accepted. Your child is the one who made us think, “If she can keep going, so can I.”

Thank you, kids. Thank you, parents who trusted me with your kids.

You will all be a part of me for the rest of my life.

imgres

This is how I saw myself sometimes…..

A Parable For Today


ITR-PCL-00045234

Once there was a village. It was deep in the forest, in a place filled with trees and grasses and beautiful birds.

The people of the village worked hard, but they had a good life. There was enough food and there were safe places to sleep.

A stream ran through the village. It was clean and clear, but it was powerful, too. The people used the water to drink, to stay clean and to cool off on hot days. Every adult used the stream, and some of the kids learned to swim there.

As time went on, and the generations passed, the little village grew in size and prosperity. The settlement became a town, with paved roads and stores and groups of houses. The stream still ran through it, winding gently along the main street. Some people still used the water for everyday chores, although most people had plumbing in their houses by now.

The stream became a place for recreation and sport, but was no longer key to the survival of the townspeople. It was just a nice little relic of the past. A good place for picnics on hot summer days.

One day someone decided that it would be fun to dam up the water. He wanted to make a pool where people could not only fish, but also swim, dive and jump off the steep banks. It sounded like fun, and so it was done.

As the years passed, people got used to the pool and to the bigger, more powerful flow of water that moved through town below the dam. Some people used the pool but feared the faster stream. Some loved  all of the water and used it everyday.

Life went on.

A few more generations passed, and another water-user decided that it would be fun to narrow the flow of water below the dam. “It will go faster,” he thought, “It will have more power.” When he presented the idea to the townspeople, some told him that they thought the water was powerful enough already.

“We have water in our homes to drink and bathe. We have a pool for fun, and a quick running stream for excitement. Why would we need a more powerful flow of water?”

The water-user and his friends thought about this for a bit. They really wanted to play around with stronger, faster water. How could they convince people to let them have more a powerful water source to play with?

“I know!” said one water-user. “The water can protect us! If invaders come to our town, we can escape quickly on the fast moving stream!”

People are funny. Even though the town had never once been invaded in its entire history, the threat of war was enough to convince the leaders to invest in the narrower, stronger stream.

Little by little, year by year, the water-users of the town continued to work on the pool and the stream. Most people paid little attention to the changes that were made. They were busy with jobs and families and school and sports.

Slowly and steadily the water grew higher, faster and less controlled. It began to frighten people when two small children were swept to their deaths one winter evening. A few people suggested that it might be time to slow the water down. But many people enjoyed swimming in the pool, kayaking on the upper stream and even riding the white waters of the swift lower channel. So an argument broke out.

“Let’s not overreact,” they said. “We need the water for fun. And what would happen if the running water in our pipes ever stopped, or if dangerous invaders came through? We need our water! It’s our right to have this water!”

Heads nodded. Beards were stroked. Nothing was changed.

Every year that passed saw slight changes to the riverbed and the water’s flow.

And every year that passed saw more people dying from the increasingly powerful waters. At times of heavy rain, the lower stream would flood. Entire families were swept away, scooped right out of their beds by the raging torrent.

Now the people of the town began to complain to their leaders.

“We’re afraid of this water! It’s just too much. Something MUST be done!”

The leaders were confused, unsure of what to do. But the water-users offered to help.

“We know what to do” they said. “We will offer free swimming lessons to every person in town! We will sell fabulous water wings in the local stores.”

That quieted things down for a bit, and the demands to slow the water faded away. But not for long.

After a few more years,  the water-users had created waterfalls, rapids and even faster and narrower streams running through town.

“So much safety!!!” they cheered. “No invaders will ever be able to defeat us!”

Then one spring, without warning, the weather turned terrible and stormy. The rains fell for weeks on end. The waters in the pool rose ever higher. The stream below the dam became a raging, screaming whirlpool. Some people in town were terrified, but others found it exciting.

Exciting, that is, right up until the moment when the flood burst through its banks and smashed in all the windows at the nearby school. As the children screamed and drowned, all of the adults raced to the rescue. They cried as they pulled the drowning children through the broken glass. They treated the survivors with tenderness and care. They sobbed and they grieved as they buried the little ones who could not be saved.

They were united in their sorrow and in their determination to make the town a safer place. One grieving mother asked,

“Now should we do something to slow down the water? Now can we drain the pool?”

The town leaders and the water-users thought about it. They were just as sad as everyone else, but they weren’t ready to let go of their best defense against potential dangers. They weren’t ready to let go of all the fun that the water offered.

“How about if we rebuild the school so that it has no windows anymore?” they suggested. This would certainly take care of the problem of water breaking the windows.

The school was rebuilt without a single window. The children and the teachers went back in to recreate their learning space in the darkness. They huddled there in fear, but they hoped that the leaders were right and that now at last they were safe.

But one year the raging river flooded again, and this time it was the door that was broken. More children and teachers died.

Again, the town grieved and wept and swore to make things safer.

This time they bricked up all the doors and put a locked bulkhead on the roof to let the children and teachers in. Every morning, the children watched as their teachers pulled the bulkhead door open. Every morning, they climbed down into the darkness.

And when the bulkhead was swept away in the next flood, the town leaders gathered once again.

“Now what?” they asked the water-users. “Now how do we keep our children safe?”

This time they decided that every classroom should contain a boat. A special safety boat that would be deployed only in the event of another flood.

By now they knew that the river was out of control, that the cataract could not be contained, that the school would once again be hammered by the deadly force of the water.

They put their hope in the boats.

When one timid child asked why they didn’t try to slow the water instead of imprisoning the kids in a school filled with rising water, the leaders only patted her on the head and told her to leave it to the adults.

I know, I know. I am not subtle. And I’m clearly not a fiction writer. But today I watched America’s children marching out of their classrooms because they are terrified that they will be murdered in the place that should be the safest place in their lives. Some of them were babies, as young as third or fourth grade. They had tears on their cheeks. I watched, I sobbed, I paced. I am a mother, a grandmother, a teacher. My entire life is about nurturing and protecting children.

Now I am watching them fight to protect themselves. I can’t get over my anger, rage, sorrow and shame. I WILL march on the 24th. I will scream, yell, cry and clap. And I WILL vote very, very carefully.

 

 

I’m Thinking of Writing a Cookbook


I actually am thinking about writing a cookbook.

I need a source of additional income, and my only two reasonable skills are cooking and writing. Hence: a cookbook!

I know, I know. The market is absolutely flooded with cookbooks right now.

But MINE will be special.

You see, I have been experimenting with some truly unique recipes.

Here’s the backstory.

My grandson Johnny loves to eat. His nicknames include “Johnny Cheeks”, “Big Goomba” and “Johnny Pork Chop,” At a mere nine months old, the kid can chow down with the best of them.

johnny's first pastina

Good for him, right? Nothing makes Nonni happier than feeding babies.

The thing is, he’s still an infant. He’s supposed to be getting his nutrition mostly from breast milk. His mother is a milk producer par excellence. Think Holstein and you get the picture. She has enough of nature’s perfect nutrition to feed a whole barnful of Johnnys. She wants him to have her milk. She says it’s the best possible food for him.

He doesn’t particularly agree. Maybe he doesn’t want to seem immature, you know? Or maybe once you taste meatballs there’s no going back. I’m not sure.

All I know is that my boss  daughter leaves me 8 ounces of fresh mother’s milk every day, and my job is to get it into the Goomba. I’ve tried his usual bottle, a sippy cup, a straw, a spoon, and a bottle with handles he can use to feed himself.

No dice. No matter what I try, he pushes it aside and reaches for the nearest ham sandwich.

So I have become an expert at hiding breast milk in everyday foods.

Oatmeal in the morning? Sure! We cool it off with breast milk. Pastina? Yup, breast milk goes in there, too. Scrambled eggs with spinach and breast milk? One of his faves.

I have even given him risotto with carrots, peas and chicken. Made with….you guessed it. Breast milk.

Can’t you just imagine how awesome my cookbook will be once I pull it all together? How unique, how different? How useful?

I’ll need super shiny, fancy photos to grace every page. I figure I know enough cute babies to pose them with my breastmilk and maple sugar pancakes. They can even give the testimonials for each dish.

Johnny oatmeal

“Mmmmmmm. Numnah!”

Naturally, I’ll need to come up with chic hipster names for each recipe. I read “Bon Appetite.” I know how this works. You have to include at least one non-English word in each title, and it has to be served “with” something.  All the new restaurants and cookbooks feature items like “Wild boar ragout with chanterelles and persimmon sauce.”

I have a few recipes already, and plan to spend the next three months perfecting others. Right up until the Pork Chop is fully weaned.

How do these sound to you? Delicious? Be honest. What do you think?

“Bananes frites with mother’s milk and fresh blueberry sauce.”

“Best of the Breast omelette with mushrooms.”

“No Cow Juice For You Fruit Shakes- a healthy mix of Mom’s pride and fresh fruit.”

“Pastina con latte materno.”

“Risotto a la Mamma Mia.”

I think it will catch on. I can’t wait to start working on desserts. Just think of the creamy custards!

Parental Sacrifice


Remember when your kids were little? It was funny, annoying and sweet to catch yourself making ridiculous sacrifices for them.

I know in my house we sacrificed our precious sleep just to keep those little cuties alive. I bet you did, too!

We sacrificed our date nights when we couldn’t find sitters. We sacrificed our weekends to hockey tournaments and band practice and girl scout camping trips. That’s what adults do for kids! We set aside our own needs and preferences for the children who depended on us.

Whether it was the pulp in our orange juice or the crunch in our peanut butter, we were willing to give up our own pleasures to keep our kids happy.

As a teacher, I remember sacrificing my lunch break for kids who needed someone to talk to. We all sacrificed our weekends to lesson plans so that the kids would have the best week possible.

That’s what adults do. That is how every species has managed to survive. We sacrifice our own needs so that the next generation can thrive.

I know that if someone told me that I should give up a dangerous vice in order to protect our children, I would do it. I have skipped that glass of wine with dinner so I could safely drive the kids to a lesson or a game. I have given up the warmth and comfort of our wood stove, knowing that it made it harder for the kids to breathe.

Adults are genetically predisposed to protect children.

So if I was a person who really had a fabulous time juggling hand grenades, I’d be willing to give that up if I knew it might hurt the kids in my neighborhood. If I was a driver who really enjoyed driving a tank around town, I’d grudgingly stop doing it in order to prevent kids from getting squished.

This is what human being are designed to do. We are designed to protect our children.

So.

Why do the “I really have a good time shooting my AR-15” people think that their “fun” is more important than the lives of our kids? It makes no sense. It defies logic.

I know that if I could save the life of one child by giving up my TV, I’d do it. If I could save the lives of a dozen kids by giving up my laptop, it would be gone. Save a hundred kids by giving up my car? Yup, you can have it.

Save thousands of kids every single year by giving up my assault weapon?

Why would any human being say no to that?

I don’t know how these people sleep at night.