The Universality of Motherhood


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When I was a new mother, I felt sorry for every other Mom on earth. I felt badly for them, because they didn’t have MY little one to love. I felt sorry for them because I knew, deep deep down in my heart, that there was no possible way that they could love their babies as much as I loved mine.

I was a jerk.

OK, I was a jerk in the most life affirming way, believing that my kids were the most beautiful, most beloved little beings in the universe. But, let’s face it, I was a delusional, mother-hormone-crazy woman.

Now I know the truth.

Now I know that ALL mothers love their babies just as intensely and profoundly as I loved mine.

I know because I see it every day.

I leave my house every morning and drive for 15 minutes to pick up my grandchildren for the day. I wind through the little streets of our small community. I stop every day for the school bus that seems to inevitably be right in front of me.

So I have had many, many mornings to watch the moms in our community putting the kids on the bus. I’ve come to look forward to seeing them every day. I watch how they interact with their young children.

And I know that no matter who they are, they adore those sweet little munchkins heading off to school.

There is one Mom who has caught my eye this school year. She stand outside every morning, rain or shine. She looks to be in her late 30s or early 40s. She is round, in both face and form. He hair is dark, thick, and curly, like my daughter’s. Her skin is a light coffee color, and her eyes are wide and dark. Although I usually only see her as I pass slowly by the bus stop, I know that she spends these precious before school moments with her son. She looks at him. They grin at each other. One day I saw them dancing.

I have seen them standing in the humid mornings of September, gazing up at the yellow leaves above them. I’ve watched them hold each other under a big black umbrella on rainy mornings. I’ve seen him running around his Mom, grinning and calling something that I couldn’t hear. I’ve seen her laughing at him as he does.

And I’ve seen this woman waving, and waving, and blowing kisses as her boy climbs the steps of the big yellow bus and settles into his seat.

I’ve watched her stand with a hand shading her eyes as she waves him off to school.

And I know that she loves this happy little curly headed boy just as much as I loved my own first born. I know that wherever she goes after he gets onto that bus, she is thinking of him all day long.

I don’t know this woman. She wouldn’t ever recognize me. Still, I know that we share the universal bond of crazy pants mother love.

She probably feels bad for all the other Mom’s she meets, too. Thinking how sad it is for them that they don’t have her little guy to love.

 

What used to be…


For so many years, this was the week when I felt my energy rise and flood into every pore. This was the week when I thought about the new kids who would be in my care for ten months. It was the week when I unpacked the boxes of new folders, new notebooks, new pencils, new markers, new crayons.

For so many years, this was my week of starting over.

THIS would be the year when I’d finally understand the science curriculum and I’d engage the kids in such excitement about heating and cooling! Or THIS would finally be the year when I’d be able to make perfect small math groups so that every single child would finally grasp the wonder and joy of multiplying fractions.

The last week of August, for this teacher, meant a chance to really get it right. To forget the errors of the past, to embrace the shiny new textbooks of the new year, and to charge forward into a year of challenge and growth.

The last week of August is the time to shrug off your doubts and open your heart to your new classroom family. It is a chance to reinvent yourself and to create a new, harmonious home for your teacher heart.

I used to love this week.

Now I am in a different place. Now I watch my teaching colleagues set up their classrooms, label their desks, put names on their hallway cubbies.

Now I sit at home, feeling the cool evening air. Now I set up the pack n’ play, string the toys across the top, and organize all of the toddler snacks.

Now I sit back and appreciate the cool breeze. I think about the apple farms and the local parks. I plan trips to the lake, knowing that the only people there will be young mothers and happy grandmothers, all of us chasing little ones who are too young to worry about the first day of school.

Life is a big old circle. And I am riding around and around.

 

What I miss every day


 

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“Hand in that homework or else!”

I retired from teaching almost two years ago.

It wasn’t exactly a planned retirement. In fact, the decision came in mid May of my last year. It came after my evaluating administrator made it real clear that I was going to be rated as a bad teacher, even though for the previous 21 years I had only had great evaluations.

It came after the Principal at my school accidentally let it slip that I was on his short list of “old teachers who need to be eased out the door.”

The timing for me was good. My first child, my daughter, my teaching colleague, was due to deliver her first child. The problem of finding good childcare was on all of our minds.

When I realized that I was going to be the target of intense pressure to move my old fashioned ass out of our school, it wasn’t hard for me to decide to retire and take on the role of full time daycare provider for my new grandchild.

I made the move. The year ended. I left.

I took on the role of Nonni with love and joy and a huge sense of gratitude. I had never been able to be a stay at home Mom, and now I was able to give myself fully to the daily raising of a beloved child.

But.

I miss teaching. I miss it so much.

I was a good teacher. I was a teacher who connected with kids. I loved my job. I loved my students, so much. I loved their humor, their warmth, their vulnerability.

I remember so many kids who made me smile. Kids who only wanted to sit beside me. Kids who thrived because I greeted them in the morning and asked them how last night’s game had gone.

I loved their sassiness, the way that they challenged me. I remember kids who sat in front of me with tears in their eyes as they said, with shaky voices, “Yeah, but I disagree.”

I loved helping them find the best parts of themselves. I remember the shy children who lead the morning meeting. I remember the unpopular kids who directed our class plays. I remember the moments when the very cool kids independently reached out to the struggling kids.

Every night, I dream of school. Every night. I dream of teaching. I dream of my colleagues and my friends. I dream of rooms full of smiling kids.

Every night I dream that someone is trying to keep me out of my classroom. Or that it is my last day of teaching, and I have to say goodbye to the kids, but in every dream there is no real way for me to do that.

I dream that I am on the outside of school, looking in at kids I loved so much. I dream that I am a substitute teacher, but that no one one knows I’m a “real” teacher inside. I see myself on the edges of my old life. I feel myself sobbing as I say goodbye to a line of children I once knew.

I love my new life. I am happy to be at home with Ellie.

But, oh, man. I so miss read aloud. And birthday songs. And recess. I so miss those moments when the kids light up about a history lesson.

I miss the social connections. I miss the afternoon game. I miss the greetings. The math lessons. I miss the bursting out laughing with 24 people who all share the joke.

I was a good teacher.

It should have lasted longer.

 

Taking Care of Momma


Today was the first day of school in my former district. My friends all gathered for long, most likely boring meetings and discussions.  A big room full of adults, talking about teaching.

I hate to be left out, but I was delighted NOT to be in that big room with the AC on high and the meeting packets on the tables and the latest mandates under discussion.

As it turns out, I was at home, surrounded by a group of wonderful teaching friends who are no longer teaching. There were fellow retirees, a teacher on maternity leave, a teacher who has stayed home to be with her kids, and my own daughter at the start of her own maternity break.  We had good food, a lot of laughs, prosecco with sherbet, a little gossip.

I wasn’t too sad to be away from school today.

But on Wednesday, the kids will come back to school.  The kids, wearing their new sneakers and their nervous smiles.  The kids will come into the classrooms, where they’ll be greeted by their teachers and introduced to their new classmates.  The new fifth grade families will be created, and I will not be there.

On Wednesday, I’ll be sad. I’ll be thinking of the kids I will never know. The kids I could have loved and supported.  I’ll be feeling a little bit lost on Wednesday, knowing that no children will be rushing in their front doors to yell, “Hey, Mom! She’s NICE!”

But I will be OK on Wednesday, even without a new group of children at my feet.  I’ll be OK because my son, my youngest child, will come home to spend a day at the beach with his Momma.

He tells me that he just loves the beach, and that he can’t wait to swim and hang out on the sand.  But the truth?  The truth, I’m pretty sure, is that this smart young man knows that his Momma is going to need a good distraction on the first “real” day of school.

So we’ll have our iced coffees, and we’ll pack the car and drive to the beach. We’ll jump in the water, walk along the shore, find some pretty shells. We’ll eat our sandwiches and our chips and we’ll probably stop for ice cream on the way back home.  And I’ll be distracted and entertained.  And I won’t be sad that I’m not at school on the first day, holding up the first “read aloud” book of the year.

Beach day with my boy

Beach day with my boy

Teaching as baseball…. a metaphor


MLB 2013: Yankees vs Dodgers JUL 30

The cool thing about Derek Jeter is that he went out while he was still on top. He was still “Derek Jeter”. You know?  He wasn’t a has-been. He wasn’t that sad old guy that made everyone feel bad when he came up to bat.

The same is true of Michael Jordan. He was still “Michael”.  Sigh.  Best looking basketball player since Gerald Henderson.  He was Michael. He was a basketball GOD.

Maybe teaching should be the same.  Maybe those of us who were stars back in the day should learn how to gracefully step aside while we are still “My Favorite Teacher!”   Maybe we should accept the fact that time goes by, teaching trends shift, expectations change.

Today I had a very emotional day.  The PTSO came to show me the books that were purchased in my name for the school library. I read the words: “In appreciation for the many years of service”.  I teared up, big time. I imagined years of children pulling the books off the shelf and seeing my name.

I pictured them asking each other, “Who’s this?”

I suddenly understood: if the old guard doesn’t step aside, the new stars cannot emerge.

I was really good at my job.  Oh, I was no Derek Jeter, but I was a pretty good utility infielder.  I had my time. And now that time is over.

I want to be Derek Jeter. I want to go out gracefully, maybe with a home run to celebrate the end of my career.

I don’t want to be Brett Favre.  I don’t want the young people to feel sad when they see me desperately trying to hang on to my glory days.

Today I met the young man who will be joining our team in my place.  He is alert, energetic, excited.  He is smart and happy and ready to go.

He is the new star.

I need to wish him well, hand over my favorite bat, and bow out gracefully.

For once in my non-athletic life, I need to share something with the admirable Derek Jeter.

When I Go


Serene me.

What is my next adventure?

When I go, when I finally leave my school behind, what will I be thinking?

After 21 Septembers of coming to this school on opening day, what will I be feeling on that September morning when I don’t?

Who will I be, when I’m no longer that “nice teacher” at my school?

What will I miss?

What will I be so happy to have escaped?

Well.

I will NOT miss: the copier, with its insatiable need to eat fifth grade math worksheets.       I will not miss the pencils all over the floor, or the crayons on the heater.    I will most assuredly not miss the sound of my own tired voice, saying “If you can hear my voice, clap once!” or “In line, please!”

I will not miss having to wait until 1 o’clock for lunch, even though breakfast was a banana at 6 AM.

I will NOT miss my commute.  I don’t know why so many people feel it necessary to careen down the highway at 80 mph in a 55 mph zone.  I don’t know why they think it is acceptable to flash me the finger as they do.

I will not miss the early morning wake ups.  The older I get, the less I sleep.  That 6 AM alarm gets earlier every year.

I will not miss the testing, the data, the measurement, the standards, the strands, the Common Core or the stupid shiny boxed kits of curriculum.  I will not miss the mini-lessons, the anchor charts, the obnoxious rubrics or the jargon. I will not miss the buzzwords, the best practices or the formative and summative assessments.

I absolutely, positively will not miss one single thing that reduces a child to a number, a level, a score or a leveled group.

So.

What will I miss in three short weeks, when I leave my teaching career behind me?

I will miss all of those incredible moments with children, when I look at them and they look at me, and when we both realize that a new goal has been reached.

i will miss watching a student with serious learning disabilities as he decodes a four syllable word on his own,  then looks at me with his blue eyes gleaming. I will miss hearing him say, “I did it!”

For sure, I will miss those mornings when I find myself at my desk surrounded by eager children who want to tell me about some little event in their lives. “Karen!  Last night my Dad said the funniest thing!”  or “My puppy was sick last night.” or “I tried to do the homework, but I’m not sure I got it right. Can you help me?”

I will so miss being asked to help.  I will desperately miss the end-of-the day hugs, and the cries of “See you tomorrow!”

I will miss seeing them grow for ten months. They will grow taller, and more confident and more skilled. The boys will begin to show knuckles on their hands and jawbones in their faces.  The girls will grow more beautiful as they approach their adult selves.  And I won’t be there to record it, or comment on it, or help them to come to grips with it.

I will miss those moments when they know that they have written a wonderful story. I will miss the excitement that they’ll feel when they figure out one of the metaphors from “The City of Ember.”

I’ll miss reading “The Liberation of Gabriel King” and “Granny Torelli Makes Soup”.

I will miss them.  I will miss them all so much.

Its time to go, and I know it.

Still, I will miss those beautiful faces so very much.

Sure Signs of Spring


542973_10150758018781101_166114762_nEvery year, without fail, I am amazed, astounded and otherwise thrilled by the inarguable signs of spring.

“What?!” I find myself whispering, “The maple trees are suddenly tipped with red buds?  Really??!!!  Is spring really coming?!”

I am always astonished.  The snow is still there, clinging with its filthy icy fingers to the edges of the drive.  The nights still make me shiver.  How can there be buds on the trees?

A few weeks pass, and the snow finally recedes, the last dirty nuggets of frozen slush disappearing into the dirt. The peepers come out, singing their songs of longing and renewal as dusk falls over the wetlands.

Lilac buds swell, the grass grows green again.  The phlox begin to open, and the lily-of-the-valley unfurl their tender stalks to soak up the light of May.

But none of these signs of spring can convince me that winter has finally gone.  None of them shows me that life is truly re-emerging from its dormant state.

No.

I am a fifth grade teacher.   I am immune to the calling of the Phoebe on her nest.  I do not respond to the lovely colors of the tulips or the tender scent of the hibiscus.

For me, spring only proves her existence when my students return from fifteen minutes of outdoor play, and I am surrounded by the suffocating odor of an NBA locker room.

For me, the sounds of spring are not the trilling songs of the peepers, but rather the whispered sounds of “I like him, but I don’t LIKE him like him!”

Spring in the fifth grade is captured by the poignant dance of “You can’t fire me; I quit!” where the most insecure students suddenly push away their new- found friends.  It is felt in the moments when the children simultaneously push me away and cling to me as if I am the only buoy in a turbulent sea.

Spring: the time of year when life rushes forward, whether we are ready or not.  The peepers call, the buds swell, the children find themselves confused by love and longing.  Time marches forward with a suddenly ominous drum beat.  Every minute takes us closer to the end of our time together.

Spring time in the fifth grade.  A sweetly gentle mix of sadness, excitement, and relief.  A tender mix of looking forward and looking back.

Brain Freeze


To begin with, its been wicked, wicked cold out.  For weeks.  Like, really cold. So cold that your nose can’t run, but you can experience snotsickles.

I woke up yesterday and looked out my kitchen window.

Holy Hell Frozen Over!   -20 degrees!!?

I could hardly believe it. I didn’t want to believe it!

But I live in the age of Facebook, so I grabbed my phone and took a picture. I wanted to show everybody how stoic I am, how strong and brave!  I snapped the photo, I posted it, I went to work.

And I decided to share my awesome photo with the kids.  So I put this up on my Smartboard:
1908293_10205648301544331_2526677894090993749_nAnd the kids walked in.

And started laughing and pointing.

“Oh, my God!”, they crowed, “Where did you get this picture of a witch?”

Yup.

They completely ignored the low temp, which was all I saw.

They were totally caught by my scary reflection, which I never noticed.

Goes to show you: kids always see the world in new and exciting ways. They find a way to laugh, and to make me laugh.

Even when its twenty below, and the scary old witch is me.

 

 

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                                              

Muscle memory= Muscle aches


 

Late night fun.

Late night fun.

Last night I learned something very interesting.

I learned that my body can actually remember what it felt like to be ten years old.   And I learned that the morning after it has had this wonderful memory, my body can experience what it will feel like to be ninety nine.

Last night I was one of four teachers who volunteered to host a sleepover at our school. Its part of an annual auction that the parents run to raise money for the school. Its a big job, because we arrive at work at 7 AM on Friday and we stay until 8 AM on Saturday.  It can seem like a really long night, but it can also be an absolute blast.  I have only done it once before, a few years ago, and sort of decided that I was too old to participate any more.

After all, I’m pushing sixty, and out of shape.  I figured that all the twenty and thirty somethings could handle the sleepover.  My auction donation is usually something easier, like a home made dinner or a bread baking lesson.

This year year, though, they were short one chaperone, so I let myself be talked into helping out.

It was a long week, and I was tired by the time the thirteen kids arrived at 6:30 Friday evening.  I thought I’d be able to serve the pizza and then just sort of watch everybody run around for a while.

But the kids had other ideas. They decided that it would be fabulous fun to have a big game of “capture the flag” inside the building.  Now, you have to understand that our building houses two schools with over 1,000 students. It has a huge gym, a cafeteria, two music rooms, a big sprawling library and a multi-purpose room filled with tables, sinks and ovens.  At 8 pm on a spring night, as the sun set, it was a huge challenge to play “Capture the Flag” over three floors of a giant, empty building.

The kids recruited the four adults, and we broke into teams. There were dozens of complicated rules that I don’t really understand, like “No jailbreaks!”  and “Seven minutes of captivity!”  I pretended that I understood, but mostly I just rushed around with everybody else, sneaking up the back stairs, giggling as we peeked around corners and trying to tag the guys on the other team.

At first I thought I would just trail along behind, acting like the aging observer that I see myself being. But my younger colleagues were all in, racing around the empty hallways, screaming right along with the kids.  I started to get caught up in the game, especially as the night wore on, and the darkness outside made the bright lights of the building seem cozy and safe. I started to relax and I started to run.

There were moments last night when I felt like I was in a crazy surreal dream.  At one point I found myself freed from “jail” by the tag of a little boy, who then grabbed me by the hand and yelled  “run!!!”  I could feel my sneakers pounding down the hallway, but I couldn’t believe that it was really me, running full speed down the hallway past the gym.

A little bit later in the night, I found myself creeping silently down the back stairs, hoping to find the hidden “flag”.  When I stepped into the hallway, I glanced behind me. There was a player on the other team, a beautiful grinning girl, ready to tag me. Now, I know this girl very well! She’s been in my class all year and her humor and sass and vibrant personality have made her one of my absolute favorites.

But there she was, ready to tag me and send me to jail!  My heart jumped and I let out a shriek that made us both jump. Then I took off running as hard as I could, careening around the corner to my “safe” area as if the FBI was on my tail, instead of a little girl with long silky golden hair and a glorious giggle.  As I skidded to a stop, I couldn’t contain my laughter.  We stood on opposite sides of the invisible line, my student and I, face to face and laughing like fools.  “OK, that was awkward!”, she said, “I just chased my teacher down the hall!”

There were dozens of moments like that one all night.  Moments when I found myself running around like a kid, laughing out loud, trying to play with a hula-hoop, putting on sparkly nail polish, baking cookies with a bunch of girls.  Slathering on green face mask with my pal to make the kids smile.

And what I loved was that my legs remembered how to run like a maniac. My arms remembered how to pump for extra speed.  My waist even remembered how to swing a hula-hoop, although it wasn’t very successful at recreating that particular experience! We finally wound down and went to sleep around 1 AM and I sprawled on a deflating air mattress in the music room, surrounded by my friends and the sleeping children.

I woke up at 6AM with every muscle in my body screeching in protest.  No one else was awake as I slowly eased myself to my knees and then to an upright position.  I could practically hear the sound of my joints and muscles trying to unkink as I straightened my spine.  I pulled on my fuzzy red robe and stepped gently over the mounded shapes of the kids, and made my slow way up the stairs to wash up and get changed.  I planned to make a pot of strong coffee and find the ibuprofin in my desk drawer.

As I crossed the empty lobby, I thought about how great it had felt to run full speed again, even if it was only down a short hallway.  I thought about how much pure fun it was to scream with the kids in the big echoing building.

I smiled to myself as my bare feet padded through the empty darkness of the cafeteria to my classroom.