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...I am a human being first.

Thursday, July 20, 2017


I warn you- this may ramble.

Today, I took Q and a friend to a local pool to swim. As pre-teens often do, they took off to go have fun almost immediately, so I settled into a chair in the front row where I could watch them and get some sun. Shortly after, a young girl (maybe 20?) arrived with two babies and took the seat next to me. Her children were (I am guessing) about 15 months old and 6 months old. At first, I didn’t pay her much attention, as I was wrapped up in my own world – but soon, she caught my attention.  First, she applied sunscreen to each child, covering every open patch of skin – hanging onto one child with one arm and slathering the other child with her other hand. Once both were covered, she took them both to the shallow waters in front of me.

For the next 30 minutes, I watched her playing with her children. The 15 month old was walking, which made things more difficult, as she wanted to go, go GO and explore. The 6 month old, when seated in the water, would often fall over as various waves hit him, and she would have to catch him to bring him back to sitting.  This mama never stopped working. She laid on her belly and kicked her feet with the girl, all while keeping one hand on the boy’s belly to protect him from falling. When the girl would dash off, she would lunge for her, without ever taking an eye off her son.
I started thinking about her morning (shoot – her EVERY day).  This girl (again, BARELY 20) had every reason to stay at home today. It certainly would have been EASIER. I thought about the days when Q was 15 months old and into EVERYTHING. There is no WAY I could have handled that with a 6 month old on my hip too.  AND I HAD HELP! This girl is (if my gut is right) most likely, doing all of this alone.  

I know. I know. Some of you are thinking, “Well, she shouldn’t have gotten pregnant, much less so soon after the first one!” I get it. I am certain her life is ten times harder because of her situation with TWO babies, so small. But you know… I can’t do anything but give her FULL respect for the way she was mothering them. She was attentive and selfless and loving on those babies like she was super-wealthy and had a full-time nanny at home, to give her a break when she got back.  Maybe she ISN’T in a terrible situation. Maybe I’m stereotyping in the worst way. Maybe the father of her children is involved and loving and present and the four of them are SO happy.  Maybe my own extensive experience with young mamas has jaded me into believing that it is ALWAYS difficult and the situations are ALWAYS unhealthy.

I certainly hope I am wrong.

Also at the pool, I saw three of my former students from Rogers there with their babies too. All of them were SO attentive to their sons and daughters. I watched each one of them keep a careful, watchful eye on their children, even as they hugged me and we caught up on their lives.  A pool is a dangerous place for children, especially little ones – and every one of my beautiful students was treating it that way. 

Some of you know that I have had one of Q’s friends at my house all summer. I don’t mean that he plays here. I mean he has lived here.  He has not been home since July 5. On July 9, I finally bought him his own toothbrush. Nobody calls here for him. Nobody checks with me to see how he is, if he needs anything, if he’s okay. Radio silence. For 14 days. The boy is wonderful. He is smart and funny and polite and wonderful. We love having him. And yet, as one day leads into the next, my heart breaks for the attention he ISN’T getting from the people in his circle.

Shortly after Sean and I got married, I remember seeing an episode of The Rosie O’Donnell show one day after work. She was talking about her children and she said, “Motherhood is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

A short year later, I completely understood what she meant. Having my Q put that into FULL perspective.

Being a mama is something that takes 100% effort every second, when done correctly.  (Dads too! No disrespect to you guys! I just can’t speak to that feeling, personally, because I am not one!)

As I was leaving the pool today, I stopped at that young mama’s chair. “Hey,” I said. “You’re doing such a great job.” She looked confused, so I said, “I’m sorry. I have been watching you love on them all afternoon and I just needed to tell you – you are such a great mother.”  She looked overwhelmed and thanked me, saying, “I’m exhausted.” 

“I know.” I said. “We all are. That’s how you know you’re doing it right.”

She thanked me, and ran off to chase down baby girl, who was bee-lining for the pool again.

She will be in my prayers tonight – as will all of you, who are exhausted…but doing it right.


Some of you might not know this, but my uncle died when I was 2. My mom's little brother. He was young and died very unexpectedly, riding his motorcycle.  

Story has it that at his funeral DOZENS of bikers showed up. They didn't know my Uncle Larry. It's just what bikers do when one of their own suffers. The day of the funeral, they rode in on Harleys by the mile and was it ever a sight to see! I'm told that my grandfather personally shook EACH rider's hand at the gravesite and thanked them profusely for coming. My mom says that Grandpa was overwhelmed and touched that they cared enough about HIS SON to ride for him, one last time. "Larry would have LOVED it," he said. 

The biker community banded together to stand behind the family of 'one of their own.' 

I saw this same concept repeat itself when my friend, Joe Boyle (an AVID runner) was told that because his cancer had spread and treatment would be fierce, he couldn't run anymore.  Joe had always wanted to run a marathon -another thing, it seemed, robbed from him due to this ugly disease. But Joe decided that, although he hadn't properly trained, and it was the DEAD of winter, he was going to run that damn marathon anyway. Before his treatment began, and while he still felt good enough to do it, he was going to do it.  He and a few friends planned the course out and set a date.

And just like at my uncle's funeral, the runners showed up. Dozens of them. And again, not all of them knew Joe. I would argue that MOST of them didn't. It didn't matter. 

One of their own was suffering. And showing up is just what you do.

Joe ran the race with dozens of runners, through the ice and snow and freezing temps - and he ran it completely buoyed by the love of the running community. 

I was thinking about these things today as I pondered the importance of community. We have all seen it. Benefits, dinners, rides, auctions... events to support a person, a school, a fire station, a political candidate.

The power of community. 

As a teacher, I have worked in places where community was undervalued. I now work in a place where community is #1. And I have to tell you - having a supportive circle is bar none, the most powerful inspiration someone can have. I hope you all surround yourselves with a community of people who have your back. I know I have that. 

I appreciate the independence that people brag about. ("I don't need anybody. It's me/us against the world. I got here alone.") But folks, communities carry us. If you're meandering through the world, bragging about how alone you are... I think you're missing out. 

Parenting for Nothing?

Confession: I never wanted to be a mom.
Growing up, I was NOT the kid who babysat (willingly) or looked at baby dolls and immediately felt the urge to pamper and nurture them. Oh, I had baby dolls, but I treated them more as my friends. I would dress them cute, brush their hair and then set them up on our piano bench in the living room as the audience for whatever performance I was going to put on, or they acted as my students as I played school.
Growing up as children, my sister and I went on vacations, had huge Christmases, EACH got to bring a friend EVERYWHERE we went (including out to dinner and on special trips) and lived in one of those households where we got whatever we wanted for dinner – even if it wasn’t what anybody else was eating. (Read: my parents would cook 3 different meals some nights.)
Even through high school and college, (both requiring tuition and both funded by my parents), even as my appreciation for their sacrifice grew enormously, I still never wanted to do the whole parenting gig.
I looked at my parents – who both worked full-time, long hours, still asked us about our day after a long day working, kept a clean house, allowed us to participate in whatever activities we wanted and saved scrupulously for the above-mentioned luxuries – and always thought, “That seems like a lot of work.”
By the time Quinn was born, (a completely planned baby), I had decided I maybe might sort of possibly could see myself as a mom. Maybe. In other words, I wasn’t entirely sure, but I didn’t want to regret it either. A friend once told me that the decision to have a baby was “just a decision to love someone.” For some reason, put that simply, I couldn’t NOT do it. I loved loving people!
I recently read a book, recommended by my sister, called “A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy.” It is the story of Sue Klebold – the mother of Dylan Klebold, known for his role as one of two shooters in the Columbine Massacre. In her book, Sue painstakingly describes the absolute, complete SHOCK that her little boy could EVER do something so heinous. Dylan had shown no signs. She and her husband, happily married, had been attentive, involved and open with their son. How, she repeatedly asks, could he DO THIS?
I think that is the aspect of mothering that so scared me. My parents had done, by most people’s standards, everything right. They had set my sister and me up on a path that *should* lead to success. But there were any number of times that either of us could have chosen something that would have completely diverted their efforts. At the end of the day, the outcome of my life was completely out of my mother’s hands.
It is no different with my son and I hate that part of it.
Life has the ability to throw something at him that seems appealing and no amount of maternal preparation can guarantee that he will make the choice that is BEST for him. All I can give him are the tools to see the bigger picture and still – he will have the chance to screw it all up.
We all had that chance. I could list dozens of people who had every reason to succeed…and they didn’t. Some are dead. Some are in jail. Some are living beneath their own potential. Some are being mistreated. Some have chosen friends/partners/circles who don’t appreciate their value or worth. Some have accepted a false truth about themselves that has completely diverted their lives.
I look at Quinn and so far, (*fingers crossed*), he is racing, full-steam ahead toward a future that takes my breath away sometimes. The kid is destined for greatness and when I look at him, my heart EXPLODES with how much I love him. Rich/Poor, Married/Single - we don’t give a HOOT what his adult life looks like, as long as he is HAPPY.
His father and I have painstakingly laid every cobblestone for him to walk upon toward the life of his dreams.
But we never really know, do we?
It’s terrifying. We, all of us as parents, could be investing our ENTIRE lives to something that could end up being a colossal waste of time. Sue Klebold certainly feels that way. One choice... one poor decision… one moral slip… could implode years of attention and love and training.
But when I lay in bed at night, reflecting on ALL the ways my Quinn makes me proud and happy and the joy he brings us… I know that it will be worth it. No matter what. Even if the evils of this world take my dreams for my son away, he has been worth every second. There is no way I would have rather spent the last 12 years.
And when I was younger, looking at my parents, I was right. It’s a TON of work. But it’s the best work ever.

Content Doesn't Matter

As another school year closes, I always reflect upon how my year went and what I can do to better serve my kids. After much thought this year, I have come to an important conclusion. I am going to say something controversial. As a teacher, I know that my opinion won’t be looked upon fondly and I understand why it might be taken negatively, but here it is anyway:
Content doesn’t matter.
I know, I know. I can hear it already: “Well, then what are they in school for? Without content, nobody would learn anything! Do we want our children to be stupid?! We need to raise the bar! We need higher content standards! We have got to prepare kids for the future.” I hear all of that. And I still say, we’ve got it all WRONG.
My contention is that we should want more from our children than academic achievement.
Now, I’m NOT saying that you should spend your school year as a teacher, singing Kumbaya and hugging one another. Of course not. First of all, teenagers especially hate when you touch them and secondly, that would make for a VERY long 90 minutes each day. Caring about kids is not just emoting the warm and fuzzies.
CARING implies a continuous search for excellence. When you CARE about someone, you want to do the BEST for them.
Caring makes me a better teacher.
Through my lessons on persuasion, Poe, MLA format, grammar, transcendentalism and such… I include a genuine care for their LIVES into each unit. When I teach Poe, I make sure we talk about how excluded Poe must have felt as an adopted boy, without a family who adored him, and when WE have felt excluded in our own lives. When we discuss the transcendentalist thinkers, we talk about what aspects of nature make US feel calm, at peace, free. What soothes YOUR spirit? Even when we cover the BORING parts like MLA format, plagiarism and the proper way to set up a works cited page, we have a lengthy conversation about a time in our lives when someone made us feel like our words didn’t matter or stole our idea without giving credit. Once they care, once they SEE themselves in the material, only THEN does content matter. Only THEN does real, long-term learning happen.
I have worked with many teachers through the years who skip this part. Their job, as they see it, is to present material and it is the kids’ job to learn it. I would argue that these teachers’ job descriptions should be “PRESENTER.” If you’re just going to put material up on the board or read a book aloud, you’re presenting. There is no teaching. The word “TEACHER” means you teach it!
“I am not an entertainer. It’s not my job to sing and dance for lazy kids who don’t want to learn.” they say. But I disagree.
I think it 100% IS my job to not only present material, but to CONNECT them to it. It’s absolutely my job to make it relatable to them, through pop culture, their own lives and yes, sometimes even rapping.
The subjects I did the WORST in were those that I could not see the relevance. I did not see ME in any of it. Thus, it became the equivalent to learning a foreign language. As an adult, I am finding that I really like learning about history. But as a student, I hated it. I finally know why. I heard story after story about white men from the 1800s, in whom I could not see myself or my experiences. Nothing stuck.
And I get it- teaching the way I describe is EXHAUSTING. I leave work most days feeling as if I have literally performed on stage for 7 hours. My poor husband watches me fall asleep most nights before 9:30. It is certainly easier to do it the other way – focus on content and just present. But is that really what is best for kids? Are they really learning it?
More importantly, when you care enough to show your students love, they are learning a secondary lesson from you - a BIGGER one about love and kindness. THAT is the one I pray they learn, even more than MLA format. Be kind. Love others. Show compassion.
Of course I know that many “presenters” also care about kids. I am not unique in loving my kids. MOST people in this profession care about their students. (You would have to, to endure some of the days we do!) But, I challenge those people to SHOW that love in a different way. Show your kids you love them by showing up in their worlds. They’ll never forget you for it. In my opinion, (and really, who am I?) you will be better at your job when you demonstrate you love them enough to meet them in the middle.
I pray my son gets teachers who care about him enough to connect material to his life – not present it as a necessary evil to pass a test.

A Letter to Jamie's Mom

Dear Catherine-
I know that you don’t know me, but I know you.
I know that yesterday was your birthday.
I know that you turned 34.
I know that you have worked full time since you were sixteen and even today, you work long hours at two different jobs to support your family.
I know that those jobs are not jobs you enjoy or love because you didn’t graduate high school.
I know that you got pregnant at age 17 and your parents did not offer their support to you any longer after that announcement.
I know what you named your baby and how you raised him in a small trailer, making it a family rule that ‘everybody reads after dinner’ which birthed a love for words in him.
I know that manners and respect are very important to you and you teach them in your household passionately.
I know that one year, because you couldn’t afford a vacation, you set up a tent in your backyard and made it a camping adventure where your son got to cook marshmallows over a fire and tell scary stories in a lawn chair while his feet swung nowhere near the ground.
I know all of this, you see, because I know your son. You are ingrained within him, so deeply immersed that your souls are woven like a thick braid. Though fiercely protective of you, he has allowed me to know pieces of you, unintentionally, through his written words and stories.
His love for you is glaring and pure, and even in the silly stories he tells, (“I once jumped off the roof of our trailer on a dare and my mom was so heated, she grounded me for two weeks!”) he affirms how present and guiding you have been to him.
You see, I am your son’s teacher.
I have never met you because you cannot afford time off work to come to conferences. You do not have a computer at home to email me. Unless your son is bleeding or in big trouble, you do not have time to talk to me about a missing assignment. You are too busy worrying about last month’s missing car payment.
I want you to hear me: It’s okay.
I’ve got him.
I love him too and I won’t let him slip.
You are doing the best you can and your son’s polite disposition and smiling face tells me that you’re doing a pretty fantastic job.
I know you must feel guilty sometimes about not being able to volunteer for field trips or help him with his narrative assignment because you have neither the time, resources or possibly even the academic capacity to do so.
That’s okay. That is my job.
What you clearly DO have time for, is his emotional stability and love.
He is smart.
He is funny.
He is kind.
And that’s ALL YOU.
Let me handle the assignment. You’re handling a much bigger one –making him into a man the rest of this world will want to know.
Thank you for all you do. We’ve got this.