The Author

My photo
I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Me Sunday

Today needed to be about doing what I want. So I made sure it was.

This morning, I took the kids to the beach. Vinny needed "ocean artifacts" for a school project, and I needed sand and sun. I love everything about going to the beach, even the drive.

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and the straightest line between my house and the beach ironically is through several winding canyons. These winding canyons actually make for a positively beautiful drive. Vinny loves driving through the canyon. His therapist is in the other end of the canyon as well, so this is a drive we make regularly, but he still loves looking for the flying pig and Cinderella's castle. (Yes, you read correctly, and no, the canyon does not involve a tumble down a rabbit hole, but we live near some pretty eccentric people).
Look in the center... flying pig.
I love the spots where the greenery creates a tunnel of leaves and the unique mailboxes and address signs.  Malibu Canyon is also beautiful. It is the stuff you see in movies. Literally... actually, there was a spot today where traffic slowed because a movie crew was taking up most of the road. Haha. I sincerely love California.

The beach was wonderful. Tiana was in a super cuddly mood and spent most of the day sitting on my lap. I sort of like these moments. And I love the way she just backs her little tush up to me and plops herself down so confidently and snuggles right up against my chest. And then, the way she sometimes looks up at me from my lap, smiles, and says, "Hi."  She is so funny.

Vinny at the beach is clear evidence of what happens when you drag your child to the beach a good 50 times a year or so. They become one with the sand and the surf. From the moment we arrived, the smile did not leave his face. He buried himself in the sand. He jumped in the waves. He also completely missed the moment that a dolphin surfaced a mere 10 yards in front of him. He keeps talking about putting a picture of a dolphin on his ocean poster. I could barely get him to sit still long enough to finally see its fin.

After the beach, I went out with Tina for the afternoon. It was wonderful. We had jamba juice, and pedicures, and an early dinner. Although I probably should have spent some time working this weekend, I think that today was good for my soul. There is a section in The Happiness Advantage where he shares that, although our brains might tell us in stressful times to pull ourselves away from everything and pour all of ourselves into work, those who maintain healthy social connections actually tend to be more productive and more successful. I believe it. I feel far more ready to go back to work after a day like today than I would have after working like crazy all day.

Spring is hard. Teachers and students are all at their breaking points, trying to shove everything in by the end of the year. No matter how hard I try to keep Spring from getting this way for me, external forces seem to make it impossible. I think all I can do is take back a Sunday where I can.

Yes. I'm tired. Don't talk.

I suppose it is the sign of my times that I haven't written since last weekend. I kept my head above water this week... barely.

The approaching May deadlines for my final exams (which aren't "exams," they are papers, but might as well be exams) loom warily in the distance, but I know that objects in my calendar are closer than they may appear. I've been trying to dedicate myself to getting my homework done, but life is, well, life and it demands, well... it demands.

So, anyhow, I decided to take Thursday off work to get a bunch of stuff done. Knowing I could sleep in a  little, I took advantage of the fact that I truly am a night person, and I stayed up late Wednesday finishing the research for my literature review. Feeling satisfied that I had sufficiently exhausted my search for scholarly writing in the field of positive psychology in education and practically everything related (not an easy task), I went to bed ready to have a productive Thursday.

And productive it was!

Thursday felt wonderful. I snuggled with Tiana on the couch for about 15 minutes before getting right to work. By the time my mom arrived at 8:30, I was in the full swing of essay writing, and I pretty much didn't stop until lunch.  I put in a good page worth of writing on the somewhat difficult final paper for my composition class, read and summarized about half of the stack of research i printed for my lit review, caught up on readings for my research class, wrote the reflective assignments for that class, and prepared for a meeting with a fashion professor about partnering with her next year to get a grant for costumes for my musical. I had lunch with my mom, then I went to the meeting with the professor. The situation is looking promising.

As overwhelmed as I was feeling, I am feeling somewhat more in control as of this moment, but I will say that by the time Friday came, I was SO ready for it to be Friday. Then, I got home and realized that the vast majority of my weekend was filled with stuff I didn't want to do.   :/

That sounds really negative I know, and I am trying to be all about the positive lately, but it is how I was feeling last night. It took a few hours of undeserved self-pity, but I'm over it.  Every cloud has a silver lining, and I always find it if I look.

I must say thought, it is hard to find the silver lining in sitting at a track meet for 6 hours, in the heat of the day, for my athletically-challenged child to run for about 3 minutes. I suppose the silver lining in this cloudless day, is that I only had to watch Tiana for about 2 hours before my parents saved the day. Sitting in the stands without her gave me time to read my book, and I rarely ever get time to read for pleasure, so that was actually kind of nice. Vinny was also remarkably well-behaved for a kid who is normally not very patient. Because of timing issues, the meet ran about 4 hours behind, so he had to sit in the stands and just wait for about 5 hours before even his first event came up.

Vinny was good for a laugh in the 400 meter. In this event, runners starts near the end of the stands, then run all the way around the track, so the last 75 meters or so, they are running past the stands full of cheering parents. Vinny's team members are watching and realize (out loud, I might emphasize), "Oh my gosh, Vinny's actually beating someone!"  and they all start cheering. So what does Vinny do?  Look up and run the next 30 yards or so looking up in the stands and waving, a perfect parade wave. It was CLASSIC. My kid is born to be a star. I might add that he did manage to stay in his lane while waving at us for those 30 yards or so. And he also STILL beat one kid from the other team. It is nice not to be last.

For the next race, I advised him to keep his eyes on the finish line, and he sure did. He was still the slowest on his team, but he beat one kid this time too, and it was a different kid from a different team, so that made me feel a little bit better, and I could tell he was proud of himself too (although I don't think he really cares if he is last).

By late this afternoon, spending the entire day outside had really taken its toll on me. I was lying on the couch in a state of fatigue, when I realized that I hadn't really been able to catch my breath for a few hours. Spring and I don't get along. Pollen is my enemy. My asthma was really bothering me. The silver lining here.... the beauty of owning my own nebulizer. Health insurance and good doctors can really be a blessing. Of course, this involves pumping my lungs full of tons of wonderful steroids (no, not being sarcastic), but it is worth it. At one cranky moment, I said to Marc, "It sure would be nice to be able to get just one nice deep breath right about now!" About 30 minutes later, I realized I'd taken several unlabored deep breaths, and it was one of those moments where you just refreshingly remember how nice it feels to just be alive. (Of course, as I write this, I am feeling tight all over again, but it is a cycle. I will take my victories where I can until Spring blows away).

This evening, Marc had a youth group all- nighter planned. I initially really wanted to go on the scavenger hunt part, since these are just really fun, but I ended up being the official score keeper instead, which meant all the kids had to text their photos to me. I added up the points, downloaded the photos, and made a beautiful slideshow for the kids to watch after. It was a fun way to spend my evening at home with Tiana.

Yes, just Tiana. Vinny got to be an honorary teenager for the night. He went on the scavenger hunt and got to be on his favorite babysitter's team. Marc even let him stick around for the trip to the trampoline place. He just got home a few minutes ago, and it is almost midnight. He was like a little zombie though. Very funny. When I asked him if he had fun, he replied, "Yes. I'm tired. Don't talk."  Hahahaha.

I felt like I practically did have a teenager, waiting up past 11 for my son to get home so I could go to bed. But now he is home, and well... I am tired, so I am going to bed.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Relaxing Weekend

This was a relatively relaxing weekend, which is probably a good thing, since it is going to be the last one for quite some time. Life is about to get really busy.

A friend text me today and asked if I would like to get together for a pedi sometime soon to catch up. My instant reaction was, "Oooo, yes! I miss this friend, and I am always down for a pedi." So I clicked on my calendar to try to figure out when I could tell her would be a good time (Google Calendar runs my life). As I clicked through the days I realize... there isn't a good time! In order to go for a pedicure, I must be free (duh), Marc (or someone) must be free to stay with the kids, and it must be before 7pm (most nail places close early). This made for a no go. The earliest date I could give her is two weeks away! How is that for depressing?  

Studies have shown that a person's social circle is instrumental in his/her happiness, and a person's happiness is instrumental in his/her productivity. This is why, despite being crazy with work and school right now, I am trying to make it a priority to still spend time with my friends; however, with my busy schedule, this is not as easy as I would like it to be, so I have been trying to get social time wherever I can squeeze it in. Instead of working through lunch, I try to spend some time chatting with Leslee (which sometimes turns into work two, but that's okay). When we had a prolonged dinner break on Thursday night, I convinced (okay, she didn't take much convincing) Kaitlin that we should make a beeline for Acapulco's happy hour. These little things might not sound like much, but they make a difference in my overall stress level. I am trying to remind myself that I will fit these things in and that time for pedicures is just around the corner. 
Anyhow... so I ended up having a pretty relaxing weekend. I didn't have rehearsal Friday afternoon, so I started off my weekend laying out by the pool at my parents' house. Afterwards, we all went to dinner at El Patio. Their margaritas and enchiladas are pretty much the best way to begin any weekend. 
Vinny's allergies were bothering him all week with this super sunny weather (he even came home from school early on Wednesday), so I decided it was a good weekend to skip the track meet, especially since Marc was busy with church and Tiana does not do well with prolonged time outside on hot days. She gets a heat rash, even when she is completely shaded. So, we stopped by the food truck "festival" at the park (which one could hardly call a food truck festival -- there were only 4 trucks) for a little while and had lunch with my dad at the Haunt Dawgz truck, followed by cupcakes from Sweet Arleen's. It was sort of odd having two kids old enough to want to play. This is the first time I have attended an event like this where Tiana has run to the jumpers wanting to play. 

In the afternoon, I tended to my new garden while Tiana napped. I am growing tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro, basil, green beans, lettuce, chives, peppers, and a lemon tree. I do not have a green thumb at all, and I have rarely had much success with my gardening efforts (despite my father's annual success), but I am really giving it the old "college try" this year. I created a gopher-proofed garden bed and set reminders in my calendar so my phone will remind me to water it. 

Last night, Marc and I went out to dinner and to the movies to see Chimpanzee. Chimps are totally my favorite animal, and I initially thought Vinny might want to see it with me, but he turned me down flat, so Marc planned a date night for us. It was a really cute movie. I don't want to spoil the end for any of you, but I will just say that people could learn a lot from monkeys. 

Today I sort of ran around like a chicken with my head cut off. Rushed off to church this morning, lunch with the in laws, grocery shopping (big trip to last a few weeks), study time, and then bingo night at church. When I arrived at bingo, Vinny came running over to me dressed in a knight's hood and vest and riddler's cape, holding the paper shield he made in Sunday school today and the foam sword he bought in the dollar bin at Target. He was quite the sight. I had decided that he could come to bingo since he is just learning his numbers. It was good for him too. At the beginning of the night, he kept asking me to help him, but by the end, he really had a good handle of it by himself and knew all the numbers. He won one of the games and chose a marshmallow gun (joy). Marc came home with a football-shaped Budweiser barbecue for tailgating and a solar lighted bronze duck. Um... yeah. Our church is so wonderfully odd. Just like us. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Murphy's Law

I should be in bed. Sleep deprivation is going to eat me alive by this weekend. I am averaging about 4-5 hours of sleep a night this week.

But I think I might have to write tonight to maintain my sanity.

Tonight really was the pits, which sucks because I had a really good day. I headed home from work at about 5pm. It had been a busy, albeit rather productive day. In addition, it was a very positive feeling day. My lesson plans during period 1 and 2 were amazing. We fell behind in both classes, but it was due to wonderfully productive student discussions and learning experiences too valuable to cut short.

 I got to congratulate one of my students on getting accepted to an elite, all-expenses-paid international student leadership institute this summer in Washington D.C. I wrote a condolences letter to another student who applied who wanted it just as badly. He thanked me for the letter and told me that the letter made his day. I was feeling really bad for this kid, so knowing that I helped kind of made my day.

I had a great conversation with a friend at work, and it made me feel a lot better about events from the last week overall. We made a lot of book money with our book fair this week, which means more books in the hands of our students, which is always a good thing. Rehearsal afterschool was wonderfully productive and actually kind of fun. I shared theatre anecdotes and analogies. We polished, polished, polished our two big opening numbers, and they are just going to be beautiful.

Then tonight... happened.

The delivery I ordered for dinner never came. An hour later, I got a call that the driver had been in a fender bender, so we ate whatever could be scavenged from my week of non grocery shopping. God must be trying to prevent me from lazying into getting take-out 2 nights in a row.

Vinny stayed up until 10:00 doing homework because he was just being so defiant and I was having none of it. It was RIDICULOUS. He initially flat out refused to do it, opened the sliding glass door, and headed out back to play (letting Tiana out with him). After much yelling at him to get back inside, he did a few easy clock activities, then stared at one question for 2 hours, pretty much defiantly refusing to just try to read and decode it himself. They were words he knows, he just didn't feel like putting effort into it and wanted me to tell him what the directions were. I don't play that game.

 I am a high school teacher. I know the difference between "I don't know how to do this" and "I don't feel like exerting the mental effort to do this." Tonight was definitely the latter. Vinny and I are equally stubborn, so it turned into a 2 hour standoff. He sat, for 2 hours, vacillating between staring at the page while incoherently sounding out non-existent words (This=Tuss, Time=Teemeh) and defiantly staring off into space . The standoff eventually broke with me agreeing to tell him one word at a time, but only accompanied by making him orally chant the spelling of each word for about 5 minutes and then copying each word about 25 times. He was crying for his last 5 or so recitation of "T - H - I - S spells 'this,'" but he learned that pretending not to know words he has know since September ("this" was tested as a sight word in September and has appeared frequently since) is not an option and will result in utterly painful consequences.

Ironically, the sentence he was refusing to read was:
"This is the time I go to bed:"

By the time he eventually decoded the sentence, he was justified in asking what to put as the answer. His bed time is 8:00, but he had, by that point, figured out that tonight's bedtime would be drastically different, so the answer to this question was rather ambiguous at that moment.

This has been a constant struggle lately. Vinny just has too much homework, and by the time he gets home, he is genuinely tired, so I can see, from a developmental standpoint, why he is declaring his desire to play and avoiding work. I can see how his little 5-year-old brain would be tired of processing after so many hours at school, and I can understand the laziness, but the stubborness is just... wow.

To top it all off, by the time Marc got home, we realized we could not find the Roku remote. We don't have any cable or anything, so without the Roku... we get nothing. I know that the last time it was used was in the living room, to turn on a show for Tiana to watch before dinner. I don't remember what happened to it after that point. We both spent about an hour tearing the house apart looking for it, but we didn't find it. I ultimately ordered another one. But what could have happened to the first one?  I am so confused. I feel like we have looked everywhere in this whole house, but then again, Tiana is a little sneaky squirrel. She may have hidden it away somewhere, perhaps even unitentionally.

On the positive side, in an effort to focus on my own stuff and ignore Vinny's awfulness, I got a lot of work done tonight.

I am so ready for the sun to rise.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Many Facets of Me

On Friday night, I saw American Idiot. Towards the end, there is a musical number called "East 12th Street" during which the punk rock protagonist gets a desk job. He is clearly happy to be free of some of his former demons, but laments the oppression of the American desk job, chanting "Somebody get me out of here, Anybody get me out of here."  The final verse says..
I just want to be free,Is there a possibility?Get me out of here right now,This life-like dream ain't for me

Isn't that what everyone wants? To be free?
I had my days of desk job lamenting during and shortly after college, feeling like I would never feel "free" in my ability to live my dreams, like that life was just so far away... but it really wasn't.

I basically have three jobs now. Let me tell you about my 3 jobs today.

Job 1:  English/Drama Teacher
Today, I helped run our school's read-in event (students read all day) which this year included a book fair. I spent part of my morning selling books to students out of our school's teacher's lounge. I smiled inside as I listened to kids talk about wanting more than one book and cringed when their funds allowed them to only pick one. I smiled at the beautiful knowledge that the $10 book purchase was much more of a sacrifice for those parents than it would have been for mine, yet they still made it. We must be making a difference. 

In the afternoon, I helped end the day with a reading rally where I stood on stage with the microphone and played a "Let's Make a Deal" style race-to-the-front game where I watched students climb over each other to be the first to show me "a book with at least 500 pages" or "a graphic novel" or a "war book." It was wonderful fun. 

I rounded out my day with leading a somewhat discouraging discussion amongst my grade level colleagues on students within special populations in our school. I tried to keep my chin up and our conversation moving. 

I closed up the book fair and headed off to job 2. 

Job 2: Mom/Minister's Wife
I rushed home in time for Nanny/Grandma to make it to a dinner meeting. I arrived to see my kids happily playing on the swings in the backyard, but watched a complete meltdown ensue upon telling Vinny to get dressed for track practice. I checked on my recently planted vegetable garden and reminded myself to water it later. My husband rushed through the door with just enough time to change clothes and take Vinny to practice. I checked emails and browsed Facebook for a few minutes while Tiana watched Elmo. I see something that academic me will want to respond to later, so I make a mental note.

I went to  start dinner and discovered that my plan of baked (okay, microwaved) potatoes and canned chili had been foiled by a lack of potatoes (how did I miss that?).  After a brief moment of contemplation between take out or the grocery store, I dug for coupons and headed to El Pollo Loco. Ran into someone from church who called me by my last name, which means she probably only remembers that I am "Marc's Wife" and was trying to find a way to say hi anyway. I am not bothered by this because I am only 90% sure that her name is Lisa.  I made small talk and introduced myself to her godson. 

The food took too long, so by the time I got it home, I was rushing and Tiana was crying "Dinner dinner" which of course makes me feel like a terribly mom, but I took a deep breath and moved on. Tiana ate dinner while I made Marc a package to take with him to the youth board meeting. When Vinny got home, I sat down and ate with him and listened to him tell me all sorts of wonderful things, like that Cole brought a lightup yo yo to share today. I made jokes about going to sleep immediately, which Vinny did not get, but lead to some funny conversations:
"Hello! Mommy! You cannot go to bed. We have a baby here, and she is not going to take care of herself." 
"No, Mommy, I cannot put myself to bed because I need your help to tuck me in." 
"No, I cannot stay up all night. God doesn't want us to see how he makes morning, and that's why we have to sleep at nights." 
As tired as I am at the end of the day, I would not trade these moments for the world. 

Job 3: Academic Me
This is somehow my favorite and least favorite part of the day all at once. It is me, alone (proverbially speaking, most of the time) with my papers and computer, entering the ongoing conversation of academia and students' lives, as I do my Masters coursework (or subconsciously avoid doing, as the case would be this week), prepare lesson plans, and read and respond to student work. 

Tonight, I planned to quickly prepare a powerpoint for my honors lesson plan, but to devote the majority of my time to working on my Masters coursework. My finals are due in 3 weeks, and I still have a midterm to revise. I am behind and feeling a little overwhelmed, so I reached out to my FB world for some support. 

On an easygoing night (which so few are these days), I settle down on the couch with my computer to pursue this part of me and my life, but tonight was not moving very smoothly, so settle is hardly the word I would use. I sat in the bathroom, leaning against the wall with my laptop on my lap, while Tiana took a bath and Vinny played out back. I am constantly teaching Tiana "No splashing the computer," which is really rather humorous when I think about it. I return to the FB post from before, which is a former student commenting on a debate that happened in his college class that day. It relates very much to my current unit of study with my honors class, so I sent him a message to see if he would come talk to my class tomorrow. 

Suddenly, I heard screams from the backyard, so I had to make a momentary decision and decided to run to the back door to check on my son. He was fine, although soaking wet. The sprinklers are on a timer. It was apparently time for Vinny to come in. 

Thank God for smart students who stay nearby, Bryan is willing to come, so, excited about this addition to tomorrow's honors lesson, and I decided to start the Powerpoint. 

Meanwhile, the FB world responded to my appeal with many reasons to think positive, which did actually put me in great spirits (not to mention provide much desired digressions from my work). I chatted with a friend from high school who currently teaches at a university up north. We got to talking about her courses this semester, which ironically sound a lot like entire classes on my current unit. This beautiful discussion ended in the sharing of some favorite articles that I decided to print out and share with my class. The topic relates to both information covered on their recent trip to a museum and to their next writing assignment, so I am grateful to have this expository text to help beef up their current study. 

By 11:00, I still have not touched my Masters coursework. Of course, I did have great academic discussions, with former students, old friends, etc., which ultimately resulted in a beautiful lesson plan for tomorrow than involves college-level expository texts and a guest speaker. 

Tomorrow will have to be homework day. (Although I am pretty sure I said that yesterday too). 

Although fighting droopy eyelids, I quit the academia for the night to write in my blog, because writing is at the soul of who I am, and I have thoughts to process. 

I think about tomorrow, which will involve a reader's theatre of Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a writers workshop, set painting, costume shopping, finding an audio means of teaching a student a British accent, and rehearsing the finer details of traveling in a pink candy boat and falling down a nut chute. 

Yes, I think my take on East 12th Street would look something like this...

This dream-like life is for meI belong right here right nowOh the possibilities....I am free

Saturday, April 14, 2012


I didn't write on my blog in China because blogger is blocked in China. I was shocked how many things are blocked in China. No Facebook. No YouTube. No Blogger. When you click a link, there is always a chance it may open, but there is a greater likelihood that it will not. It is very strange and really made me appreciate the finer points of freedom.

I did write some daily blogs on word that I thought about posting, but at this point, I don't think anyone really feels like reading 8 days worth of blogs, so I am going to just write in general. 

China was quite the experience. We visited 3 schools - one high school in Beijing, one high school in Shanghai, and one preschool/kindergarten in Shanghai. I honestly wish we had spent more time at the schools and less time shopping. My impressions of education there were varied. The high schools were both more traditional. They are very into science and have science labs that would make the teachers at my school drool. I sat in on an English class in Beijing and taught an English class in Shanghai. My understanding of their take on education is that students there are basically receivers of their education, not active participants in it. I believe that most students here see their education as an experience, which they help shape. Students there see their education as something they receive. They sit in their chairs and listen and read and write. They don't talk. They don't do group work. They don't discuss ideas or contribute their thoughts or experiences to their education in any way. When they were studying Marco Polo at the school in Beijing, the theme was basically travel experiences, and I thought for sure at the end that the sentence frames at the end of the lesson (Things like  "______ traveled to ______,"  " _______ was surprised by_______," "_______was impressed by________") would be used for students to discuss their experiences, but they were not. It was just another way for the students to summarize the text that they had read. When I asked some of the students and teachers about this later, I was told, in so many words, that students experiences, thoughts, and feelings do not really matter. Only the text matters. This was both surprising and somewhat saddening to me. If students' today are not generators of ideas, how will we have texts for tomorrow? Did these people completely miss the enlightenment? Apparently so....

When we taught in Shanghai, it seemed that the students had the same impression of education, but we did our best to give them a taste of student-centered collaborative education. We taught about character traits. We got them up and talking about their friends and themselves and Justin Bieber (we used a Justin Bieber song as our text). We had them work in groups. We had them stand up and find peers on the other side of the room to discuss the text and themselves. They were hesitant at first, but it didn't take long to get them giggling and talking about confidence and laziness and success. It was a really good experience. 

The preschool in Shanghai was eye opening . I don't know if it was a picture of preschools in China in general, especially because this was a new school that just opened and is run by a principal who interned for several months at my school here in the U.S., but it was interesting to see their completely student-centered developmental approach to education. It appears that they do teach academics as well, but their classrooms were beautiful spaces full of places for students to explore. In the half hour I observed, I watched little boys memorizing the Shanghai subway map on a wall, a little girl counting money while playing cashier at a play store, groups of children spontaneously putting on a show for their teachers and peers, little boys playing hair salon, little girls playing house, a boy pretending to drive a bus getting pulled over (by another little boy playing policeman) and trying to negotiate his way out of a traffic ticket (yes, this actually happened). It was amazing and made me really reconsider my belief in fundamental education for young children, because these kids were really learning a variety of things in a variety of ways and they looked happy and curious and confident. Honestly... this experience may have changed the way I approach the education of my own young children. 

Other than visiting schools, we saw a lot of sights. I realized that I don't really like touring with groups, as I would far rather really experience new places than just briefly see everything that they have to offer, and the tour group was pretty much about making us see ten million places (and trying to sell us overpriced silk and pearls and stuff, but that's a whole nother story). Basically, I don't like being rushed on vacation, and much of the time on this trip that is how I felt, but, it was a free trip, and I saw a ton of cool things that I never would have seen otherwise, so I am 100% grateful for the experience.