To Be a Teacher in America

(I wrote this poem this morning. It could use plenty of revision, but I just needed the outlet for my many and varied emotions. My son had a graduation ceremony at preschool today; now he heads off to kindergarten, part of the elementary war zone of the United States of America. Our country is so broken.)

I am the enemy

Because I teach them to speak up,
Because I teach them to write,
Because I teach them to read:

True history, where America is flawed and cruel,
Where its improvements come through
Marches and riots and words
And where we have never been great,
Not quite yet,
For every one;

Rich novels, whose characters are flawed and beautiful,
Where we root for underdogs and love and survival,
Letting students envision possible futures on the page
And map out the right choices in their crossroads,
Even if their path would diverge from the ancestral trail;

Current events, which we debate to identify flaws,
Where students stand on opposite spectrums
And learn to articulate why, to back up claims,
To not be parrots of their parents’ talking points.

I am the enemy

Because I love them all the same:

The perfectionists who cry about a B+
The anxious introverts who’d rather melt than public speak
The rambunctious extroverts who need an occasional race around the room
The trans kids realizing their body doesn’t match their soul
The gay kids wondering if their parents’ anger will become physical
The immigrants struggling to think in a new language
The freshman who fall over with a backpack as heavy as–well, textbooks
The seniors who feel bittersweet about the new life ahead

I love them and I teach them to love each other,
I love them and I teach them to read and to write,
I love them and I teach them to speak their truths.

I love them even on the days when the warning bell echoes
And we blockade the door,
Darken the windows,
Huddle together,
Send texts and prayers,
Wonder if this is the day our luck runs out and the Fates snap the scissors
And the angry lonely boy bursts in with an AR-15 raining bullets
And blood.

The laws are being written against me
And my words and books and goals–

But my words and books and goals give students life.

The angry lonely boys who march in
With their Christmas-wrapped AR-15s
And loaded magazines
Take student lives away
In a flurry of fear and ruby-red puddles.

But the laws will never touch that.

I am the enemy
Because America is broken.

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Begin As You Mean To Go On

A few years ago, I learned a concept from Leigh Bardugo–not sure where she learned it from or how far back it goes–but it’s the idea that you “begin as you mean to go on.” So in a beginning, like for the New Year, you spend the day setting your intentions for the year by spending your time in the habits and passions you want to thrive in.

So:

  • I read: the first few chapters of a Christmas-gifted book. Reading brings me joy, helps me relax, and counts as studying for my real job, teaching, and my goal job, writing. I just checked my Goodreads “Year in Books” review, which added up to 78 books read in 2021. :)
  • I wrote a bit: some paragraphs of a story, a brief journal entry, and this blog post. I often focus so much on big goals, like “write a book” or “write every day,” and it’s been too much. Mothering two little kids and teaching full-time–in a pandemic, no less–has not been kind to those big dreams. I need to be gentler on myself this year. Just make writing one of my priorities when I have free time, striving to not go more than 3 days without it.
  • I walked: spending time in nature and with my dogs both bring me peace. I want to find more peace and less stress this year. The bonus is the health benefits, because I want to be fit enough to have more energy for playing with my high-energy children. Related tangent (is that a thing?): I made it to over 8,000 minutes of exercise on our Peloton in 2021! 1.5% of my year was spin class! haha
  • I spent time with family: everything about the last few years has been a reminder that life is short, unless you’re Betty White, and I want to spend my time investing in important relationships. We ate lunch together with foods that are supposed to bring good luck for the year, like black-eyed peas.
  • I cleaned: I’ve heard that some cultures believe in cleaning the night before a new year so that you remove all the dust and can literally start the year fresh. Well, I didn’t have time on the night before, but today we got a new couch and thoroughly vacuumed the house free of dog hair. We also packed up all the Christmas decorations, tidied up all the Christmas gifts that have been hanging out in the living room, and emptied out the trash cans.
  • I cared for myself: again, life is short. I brushed my hair longer than I needed to, poured as much creamer in to my coffee as I wanted for taste without worrying about calories, had a mimosa with my sister-in-law in the afternoon, ate a huge slab from a German chocolate bar that our neighbor gifted us, ignored text messages that I didn’t feel like dealing with, changed into pajamas at 7:00 p.m…

I’m choosing to be chill and hopeful for 2022. But like, the kind of chill and hopeful that still takes anti-anxiety medication. 

Time to return to my books! Here’s to many happy pages read and written this year.

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the tide rises, the tide falls

Vacation is over: we’re home, the beach sand has been washed off everything, the luggage is tucked back in the garage.

And I’m sad.

This year has burned me out more than anything. Looking forward to spring break was the dangling carrot that kept me going, and now the carrot has been eaten. The week flew by. It was lovely, and I think my children made happy memories even if neither of them really understand yet what a vacation is. Sam held hermit crabs, got knocked over by waves, practicing swimming, helped my dad barbecue hot dogs, and (when we went to the San Diego Safari Park in the middle of the week) got roared at by a lion and stared down by a tiger. Lily ate sand, shoved all her toys in between the couch cushions, took sink baths, fell asleep on my shoulder in the pool, and investigated the strange texture of seaweed. I brought 154 essays but only graded 51. I brought 4 books and 3 magazines but only read 1.5 of each genre. I wanted to write 800 words a day but only averaged 400. I tried 3 different coffee shops while lamenting the loss of our favorite one, Solana Beach Coffee Company, which has disappeared without a trace. We stocked up on craft beer from Bottlecraft and tried a different one every night. I walked between 5 and 10 miles on the beach every day, usually with a 15-month-old baby strapped to my chest, and slept better than ever. I spent 23.5 hours of the day barefoot. I walked to the store when I needed something. I was happy.

I am so very grateful that I had this week of (mostly) rest. But now I can’t envision how I’m going to last through 8 more weeks of bone-weary work, where people have demands every hour of the day, where assigning any necessary work means hours worth of grading, where I just want to “educate” but am instead expected to save the world, to be counselor & entertainer & nurse & mentor & janitor & referee & advocate & cheerleader & …

hence the exhaustion.

How do I set better boundaries between my work and my life? I don’t think “I teach high school English,” I say “I’m a high school English teacher.” It’s an identity, not just a job. Plus my mind is running absolutely wild right now, trying to calculate if we could ever find a way to live near the beach. If all that time in the sand, sun, and salt water would contribute to better mental (and physical) health for all of us. If I should be searching for an editor job so I can sink into words instead of a thousand lives. If I will ever sell a book. If there is a different version of life for my family where things might be a little less stress-filled.

I don’t know.

Only a year away from the next spring break beach trip, and maybe I’ll find something else to count down to… like, 258 days until Christmas! 19 days until Pokemon Snap comes out for Switch! 3 days until the avocado on my counter ripens!

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Motherhood

Love is patient, love is kind,
Love is very tired.
It would like a long nap nestled in a thick blanket next to a roaring fire.

I have forgotten the experience of hot coffee flooding over my tongue,
of the relief of eight hours of uninterrupted slumber,
of being able to focus on a task without a small voice begging for a snack.

My identity shifted the moment the plus sign appeared;
I wonder, sometimes, if my self will ever come back the way I once knew it,
A self who does not have to sacrifice so much in every moment.

An ocean of anxiety is held back by the thinnest dam
And every day brings new awareness of what will be lost if I lose them.
Prayers of gratitude rise each morning that my family still has breath.
Sometimes I wonder if the prayers end up in the right place,
Or if they pop against a star in the night sky
And float away as strange debris.

I can find anything to worry about.
I can find any reason to hug them tight against my chest.

Love never fails.

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A Protector

(I bought an illustrated notebook called “The Silent Unwinding” and it has really helped inspire me to scribble down poetry in rare pockets of uninterrupted time. The poems aren’t brilliant by any means, but it’s been nice to get something written down amidst all the chaos of 2020 life.)

I did not realize I was a protector
until my children arrived, fragile and small, and I knew
I would sacrifice anything and battle anyone to keep them safe.

But we don’t live in a world where I can strap a sword
to my side, where a wise wolf can be
my familiar companion, where good wears white
and evil wears a cloak of black.
Danger is a germ soaring through the air.
It is a car roaring through a stop sign.
Too often it is a person we’ve known and trusted
who is twisted and cruel in the shadows.

And that hurts my protective mother heart.

Still I will march forth with Sam’s sticky fingers clutched in my right hand
and Lily’s comforting weight balanced firmly on my left hip and
Live.

The hours lost in worry and fear cannot be regained.
So I will find the joy in each moment
and stamp the image of my children’s smiles
in my memory, protected, while I help them
spread growing wings against the sky.

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a grieving poem

for Noel.



Grief is a Winter:
a cold and lonely season,

even if the calendar says it’s August
and the temperature roars into three digits.
Sorrow is blue and heavy, weighing down
more than the heart, shadowing an entire soul
in disbelief.

If only, if only, we could close our eyes to
the pain and sleep a dreamless sleep,
Awakening to a world where the nightmare remains
in the night….
instead of this one, the empty one, where arms
are so very sore from the lack
of holding you.

Will there ever be lightness again?
Will my heart ever thaw, will there
ever be a sunrise in the
vast bleakness of now?
My head says “of course” but its
rational thought is drowned by
the cries of my heart, wailing “Never, never.”

I do not see an end to this pain.
I do not feel that anyone alive could know the
avalanche of despair in my chest.

Still I will trudge on,
beneath moonlight in broken boots with tears
frozen like diamonds in my lashes.
I will believe in a hope I do not feel,
only because I’ve yet to meet a winter
that wasn’t followed by a spring.

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An Ocean Prayer

 

marina view

May the waters rumble softly when the waves lap at the hull;
May the weighted breeze inspire the same peace that nature holds.
May the bird swooping above us be successful in its quest,
as the sunset paints the sky in hues of gold descending west. 

May the sapphire sea and cobalt sky be soothing to your heart;
May the cool kiss of the ocean let anxieties depart.
May the salt and light surround you, ground you back to Mother Earth,
and the break from tech and chores remind you of your priceless worth. 

Feel the hand of God around us as we sway here on the deck:
His creation is content this moment. Breathe in. Rest. Reflect. 

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he’s a murderer.

Be warned that I am airing my very frustrated thoughts and am not in the mood to argue with any Trumpians right now. I’m turning comments off. Keep on scrollin’ if he’s your jam.

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P.S. your jam is super nasty, yo. [c. Elena Loginova]

July 3rd: At a patriotic gathering beneath a monument carved on Native American tribe’s sacred space that we stole because gold was found there, Trump complains that teachers “indoctrinate” today’s youth and that schools teach “absolute allegiance” to “a new far-left fascism.”

(He has a very low reading comprehension level, paid people to do his homework and, I guarantee, has never helped his own children with homework so is overall unlikely to know what is ACTUALLY taught in schools. Also look at his gross gaudy golden house [images & hilarious captions from https://www.curbly.com/trump-is-a-living-mcmansion].)

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As a teacher–one who teaches 11th grade American Literature, no less!–I am directly offended by his accusations. Schools are not for brainwashing. We teach critical thinking, literary analysis, close reading, expanded vocabulary skills, argumentative strategies, problem-solving, technological competency, clear and concise writing, judgment of reliable sources, narrative expression, public speaking readiness, appreciation of poetry, and MORE. We even study the Declaration of Independence (noting significant diction choices and edits from the rough to final draft, like how many of the founding fathers forced the deletion of any mention of slavery… because that “all men are created equal” thing meant, in their minds, land-owning white males) and the Constitution. We look chronologically at the writings of Americans and see how this country has never been perfect, and that those who speak up to point out (and protest) the flaws have assisted in its improvement, as we must continue to do now and forever. Thanks to school, students grow more empowered each year to add to that constructive criticism and change.

July 6th: Trump tweets that “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!”

He and his government have done very little to curb the pandemic here, which is why our citizens are currently not welcome to travel to a (rapidly growing) list of other countries. Therefore schools are not ready to open in a manner that will be safe for students, faculty, staff, subs, or any of the family/people/etc. who interact with them. Is it bad for student mental health, those who need meals or to escape abuse, etc.? Yes. That breaks my heart. (I have a lot of empathy. I doubt 45 could even spell empathy.)

But death, or even the chronic illnesses* that COVID-19 has been developing in many of the “survivors,” is worse. (Also, hold up: the goal of schools is education. That we have had to provide safety, food, social welfare… kinda sounds like something the government should be on top of? But what do I know, we just have a government that is supposed to “establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” filled with unqualified Trump children and a swamp of businessmen with conflicting interests, plus an education system led by Betsy DeVos who owns 10 yachts, is the daughter of a billionaire, went to private school, and thinks we need guns in school in case of grizzly bears. Don’t worry guys, grizzlies are scarier than COVID-19 or school shooters!)

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*just a smattering of info from “survivors”… this disease is NOT just a flu

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malignant narcissism

hey look, something Trump can finally get an A+ in on his own. Why are we letting THIS GUY lead the entire freaking country?!?

 

July 8th: Trump tweets that “In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS. The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but it is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!”

Brian Klaas (Twitter @ brian klaas) notes that the new cases of COVID-19 yesterday (July 7th) in the US were 55,442. Scaling up the numbers to account for their smaller populations, the new cases in the other countries were equivalent to:
Germany 1,183; Denmark 570; Norway 676; and Sweden 1,835.

Other countries got to open schools because they listened to scientists instead of politicians. Trump is making this a narcissistic political battle when the facts are: IT IS NOT SAFE. It is not safe because of his choices and the selfish “individualism” of those [shamefully majority white Christian people] who think common sense/respect like mask-wearing is tyranny and oppression.

Tangent: note that Trump is desperate for reelection not because he wants to lead the country but because it buys him time to avoid prosecution for his various crimes… plus the NARCISSIST THING. Tangential tangent 2: Jeff and I just watched the entire John Adams miniseries. The burden of responsibility the first presidents took on, their wisdom and humility and skills… what a depressing contrast today makes!!!

 

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these are just some of the questions that Trump, and many current school admin, have no answers for……..

So.
A reasonable conclusion from all this?

Trump is HOPING TEACHERS DIE.

The more educated someone is, the less likely they are to vote for him. He counts teachers as his enemy.

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Another goal of his current attack on health insurance could be awareness of the cost upcoming chronic illnesses will have in healthcare. “America first” to him has always, always meant money (business and economy) first. Not people. Not lives.

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be best, biotch

Remember “The love of money is the root of all evil.” Then go read Psalm 109 for some more fun.

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seriously guys, when I opened this for my devotional I burst out laughing. It’s so painfully apropos.

 

There.
Of course I want to teach. (I’m sure not in it for the money, teenage sass, and stress!) I flippin’ read & annotated this book for “fun” last month. I want to impact students, teach them to wield words with clarity and power, help them love literature, be a positive energy in their lives, and diminish the stupidity in the world.

But I don’t think any of us have to teach them in person during a global pandemic to achieve that.

I do not think it wise to risk my life and others’ when there is little to no guarantee that we will be supplied with what we need to decrease the risk. Consider how insane this all is: if one student develops COVID-19, then all the students and teachers they interact with in a day will have to quarantine (about 180 people), plus any subs or admin they interacted with (like if they have a younger sibling at another school–there’s another group of 30+ people!). We’ll be doing online school anyway! But now there will be germs festering in teachers and grandparents and everyone thanks to poor ventilation and imperfect hygiene. And we won’t have had time to adequately prepare for the best online education possible.

I volunteered to educate students, not regularly face the possibility of active shooters (remember that Trump is a draft dodger and hid in a bunker even though he claimed he’d “run in” to a school shooting event “even if [he] didn’t have a weapon”) or sacrifice myself on the front lines of a killer coronavirus (funny how 45 requires those who interact with him to take tests regularly and is dumb enough to think that slowing testing would slow the virus itself…).

We can all handle one more year of online schooling. If we all do better and acquire some true leadership, we can even bring that down to one semester of online schooling! Is it perfect? No. But it’s what we need while a pandemic is out of control here. 

I can already predict the people who might have read this who will be angry with me: the same white, Christian relatives who post videos from Ben Shapiro, Prager U, Candace Owens, and InfoWars. (disclosure, I’m white and Christian too, and I even used to be Republican until they went off the g.d. rails.) I invite those people to come back and take my 11th grade English class. And if you want a conspiracy theory… how about Trump being Revelation’s beast? 🙃

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that annual birthday introspective

Today = 32! Yesterday was my last day ever of being 31 years old. Birthdays are kind of strange…

These moments always bring such conflicting emotions: excitement for that special day celebrating me, contentment at having made it through another long year, existential terror at growing ever towards “old.” This year has another weird layer of depression due to “can’t actually do anything because of quarantine.” But reflecting on the year before the whole pandemic mess, it was a pretty good one.

My 31st birthday was when I took the pregnancy test that told me Lily was coming. The rest of the year was devoted to her, especially since she made me so much sicker than Sam had. That basically canceled summer since I needed to rest and grow her. I only had to teach one semester this school year, and it was a great one–I think the counselors took pity on me because of all the demonic students I’d had crammed into one period the previous school year! Christmas was full of joy, knowing that Sam would be a big brother soon and I would have a nice long maternity leave to provide Lily with a strong foundation.

My labor was not as difficult or scary as the first time, and Lily has been easier (as in, a better eater and a more consistent sleeper, with fewer…. explosive diapers) than Sam was, so the year started off strong.

Obviously, now we’re in a pandemic and half the country thinks it’s fake and everything is an atrocious mess. Lily isn’t getting one-on-one time as planned since Sam can’t go to daycare anymore (and Jeff has to work from home). At least I’d already saved up money for maternity leave, though. Overall we’re very lucky with how things have worked out, but I still have some sorrow over ruined plans. 

So thanks, 31. You were a good one. I grew an entire baby from a tiny egg to a 15-pound four month old and didn’t want to tear my hair out at my job.

I also didn’t really go anywhere or write anything of note… Considering the state of the world, I don’t expect to accomplish much of that during the rest of 2020, either.

So, for 32, I’ll keep my wishes simple: a healthy family, especially for Lily to continue to hit her developmental milestones. May COVID-19 not touch this household!

On another note, did you know that the villagers in Animal Crossing throw you a birthday party?!

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That’s what I woke up to. I know it’s silly, but it really brought me joy. Thanks, Nintendo: you’ve been the quarantine MVP.

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A Gratitude List

This week has been rough (and yes, I know it’s only Tuesday), so it seems like a good time to force myself to write out reminders of all the things I have to be grateful for in my life. Perhaps by doing it as one of my blogs rather than one of my journal entries, it can serve to remind others of their own gratitude-worthy elements in life.

  • My family and I are healthy right now, despite being in the midst of a pandemic.
  • We have beverages. I never realized how much I love beverages. After finishing a stint on our exercise bike, I love knowing I have endless water from our fridge-door filter waiting to revive me. When I wake up in the morning, I love the slow process of brewing our coffee and getting to hold that warm mug, filled with the scent of a lovely medium roast and vanilla creamer, while I do my daily devotional. And in the evenings, depending on what we’ve eaten and how the day has gone, I can pair dinner with a robust stout or a new flavored ale, or settle onto the couch with a glass of crisp white wine.
  • Lily has made it to 100 days of life so far. She is a great eater, has learned how to smile and laugh, and has been a great snuggler while we’re stuck inside.
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  • Sam is still learning even though he’s unable to go to preschool right now. He sings the alphabet song all the time, draws shapes with me, and has been practicing other skills like counting and color-matching as we play various board/card games. He’s kind of a cheater though, hahaha. I suppose that’s to be expected of a 3 year old.
  • Benny has grown into a very patient, albeit crotchety, old dog who lets Sam climb all over him. I’m so glad my rather spur-of-the-moment shelter rescue has been with me for 10 years and been such a good boy.
  • My sister lives only a mile away now, so even though we can’t hang out for real at the moment, we can walk to each other’s houses and chat from porch-to-sidewalk. It gives the illusion of connection when we can’t be together.
  • Speaking of the illusion of connection when we can’t be together: ANIMAL CROSSING! I know that game is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is mine. It’s such a simple joy! I have cute little animal neighbors to chat with, can plant flowers and go fishing on the beach, and enjoy changing my adorable wardrobe far more often than I’ve been changing my clothes in real life. My husband, all 3 of my sisters, and a few friends have the game too, so we can “fly” to each other’s islands online and have adventures together.
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  • I’m honestly very grateful for my phone. It’s magical. We can FaceTime or Marco Polo to see each other as we talk from afar. We can send cheap text messages (remember how expensive and cumbersome texting used to be?!). I can read books on the Kindle app while I nurse Lily at 3:00 in the morning. I now have a camera with me everywhere I go to capture whatever special or silly memories are being experienced. There are tons of games to choose from, some very soothing like Two Dots. And of course… I could also call people. Its least-used function!
  • We were able to snag a bag of flour so I could bake us goodies like donuts and biscotti. Do you know how much it brightens a morning to dip homemade biscotti (with a bite of sea salt) into that precious cup of coffee?! A LOT. Very bright. Now I’m hungry again.
  • Even though the world is topsy-turvy at the moment, we have running water, heat, electricity, a working toilet, and the show-bingeing powers of the internet. And I was already scheduled to be on maternity leave, so I haven’t had to navigate any of the confusing distance-teaching that my friends are currently drowning under.
  • Jeff and I have appreciated figuring out which small businesses matter to us and how to support them during this lockdown. We’ve ordered books from an independent bookstore, coffee from two separate roasters we love, a few take-out meals (aaaand… donuts) from local places, and I bought myself a jacket from a small family business run by a fellow mom. The jacket is mustard-yellow and soft and I’ve been living in it since it arrived.

I’m sure there’s more I could list, but both kids need me so I must return to mother-land. Thank you, Jesus, for my life overall. :)

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