Sunday, November 25, 2012

Stretched Thin

So I found out today what my current limit is on single parenting (four days, for the curious).  I found out because there were plans in place to give me two hours to myself. The plans fell through and I fell apart. (I'm not permanently a single mom, BTW; my husband is just sick).

Like lots of Moms, I suffer from feeling pulled at all the time. Any time I get to make my own decisions about (without regard to to others) comes in small increments--seven to thirty minutes on average. Getting those few minutes usually requires organizational gymnastics that should qualify me for the Cirque du Soleil. Like lots of Moms, I contribute to the problem, by having a hard time prioritizing myself and my needs.

And, right now, I'm a little burnt out. I guess that makes sense. I've been in the Mom game for seventeen years. (Yes, I know my oldest is only twelve, but the years with two kids count twice each, and maybe should count for four each). That's longer than most people do anything. Think about it. seventeen years is longer than a lot of marriages last. Seventeen years is longer than a lot of people stick to a job that pays in dollars. In some fields, I'd be up for retirement.

Couple this with my career for money (Ha!) choice: teaching. That means, that on most days, I have somewhere between 130 and 150 people who want my individualized attention. There's just not quite that much of me, so I get stretched thin. When I get stretched thin enough, I puncture easily.

So, that's why I'm eating these cookies now. I'm stretched too thin. I must need to thicken up a little. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Teaching with One-to-One Laptop Initiative

My school district jumped headfirst into technology this year, purchasing a laptop for every student in grades 6-12.  It's been exciting and frustrating and wonderful and awful. I've finally got a few minutes to jot down some thoughts about implementation:

Exciting and Wonderful!
  • No more "I left it" anywhere!  If the document is digital, it's with you. Even better, since the kids all got google accounts, it can't even be saved in a incompatible format or on a different thumb drive, or any of the other millions of excuses I've heard in seventeen years of teaching.
  • Differentiation (edu-lingo for making different versions of the work based on the needs of individual students) is so much easier!  I can share different documents with different kids and with them all focused on their individual work, no one even has to know that they're not all doing exactly the same thing. I can provide extra resources to only some students with a couple of quick clicks. It's beautiful.
  • Collaboration with my colleagues and among my students has never been easier. We can share our work with each other so easily! It doesn't matter if we're ever available at the same time or not (which is good, because, mostly, we're not)
  • We're cutting the digital divide. No more have and have-nots. Every kid has access to the same technology and has a chance to develop facility with the various ways we use technology in adult life for work, networking, organization and play.
Frustrating and Awful!
  • There's really been no provision to educate kids about using their computers. It's been a hard uphill battle for kids who aren't particularly tech-savvy. I've got at least five ideas for how to address this . . .but the horse has already left the barn and no one asked the people who might be able to predict trouble areas: the teachers.
  • Lots of trouble-shooting that didn't happen in advance and could have. Even problems I directly asked about because I anticipate them were ignored.
  • Distract-ability.  I guess I should have, but I didn't anticipate the degree of the problem. Most students are so good about using their computers for schoolwork, but there are those few who think that having a laptop in front of them is a ticket to play games all day.  It's been much harder than I expected to pull their attention out of the individual work stations and into the collective space so we can have those whole-class experiences that are so central to education. It shouldn't be surprising--I know plenty of adults who can't get their noses out of their smartphones for four seconds in a row, and these are kids!
Overall, I'm so glad my district took this step.  It's been a hard semester because of it--it's turned teaching into almost a first-year experience again, with the need to create everything anew to make use of our new tools.  But I anticipate an easier semester next semester and it's already easier to draw on the work I've done past years thanks to google's excellent search functions. 

Now, next time, if only they'd ask us to troubleshoot before the trouble shoots us.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Had we but world enough, and time

How can it already be 5:00? I didn't get done with half of what was on my list for today.  (sigh) That's a normal Saturday, too.

It's another busy weekend.  And I really do want to do most of what's in it. But I wish I had an assistant or a maid to iron out all the details so I could just show up and enjoy. How do people without a partner do this?

Item #1: Watch my older daughter play soccer.  Easy enough, right? Preparation: wash uniform & stinky shin guards and shoes; choose, shop and gather team snack; an hour in the car (repeat weekly). Once, I'm there though, I get to sit and talk to other moms about how great our kids are. That's a fair trade.

Item #2: Hosting a playdate for the younger daughter.  Preparation: cleaning up her room, so there's room to play in it; pumping up the balls and bike tires which have gotten flat; planning, shopping, and preparing little girl pleasing foods; making logistical arrangements with the friend's mom. This one stays pretty intense:  managing disagreements, ensuring cleanup of each activity before we move on, taking care of boo-boos, etc. Surprisingly, though, I sat for almost 30 minutes during today's playdate!

Item #3: Going to the movies with the husband. Preparation: finding time to shower and make myself presentable, arranging for babysitting, finding the checkbook so I can pay the babysitter (one of two things I still do by check), emptying that big purse I only carry when going to movies or other events where I have contraband to sneak in, getting movie tickets (it's a movie festival thing, requires a little more plan ahead). If I can just there, all I really have to fight is my own tired-ness.  Luckily, they have coffee!

Item #4: Hosting my writing group.  Preparation: Cleaning house to the point of feeling okay about letting friends enter, preparing food for eight, reading the pieces up for critique and preparing thoughtful commentary, making a plan to keep the family happy enough without me for 4 hours, calming my nerves (it's my work on the chopping block this week).  Luckily, this is a group of busy women . . . they very politely never notice the parts of cleaning I didn't find time for.

Item #5: Gaming.  This is the closest I get to "just show up and enjoy it"  . . .because the hubby is the GM.  Of course, that means I'll need to get the children out of his hair long enough for him to prep. Hmmmm . . .

First world problems for sure, worrying about logistics for my very busy leisure life. I'm a very lucky lady, to get to do all these awesome things with all these awesome people.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Letter to Grandma Liz

Dear Grandma Liz,

Nice trick, dying on your eighty-eighth birthday.  A nice symmetry to that.  And the two eights, like infinity symbols. Very cool. I’ll have to remember that when my time comes.

I kind of wish you could have taken the very end more slowly, and let my mother arrive at the hospital. She was at my house, where she’d been helping take care of my kids, your great-granddaughters, in the week before Kindergarten started up full time for the youngest. She was at the airport, two hours from your side, when she got the news. That was hard.

When it’s time, it’s time, I guess.  I wouldn’t have wanted you to suffer, but Mom would have liked to have held your hand and heard your voice one last time.

She’s staying really busy right now, sorting your belongings and papers, making sure the money and legal details are in place. She’s really pretty amazing.  You’d be proud of her, I think. She’s stubborn like you.  And like you, she’s fiercely proud and doesn’t want to let us help her.  (We’re making her let us help, though).

I miss you, Grandma. I’m glad I got to see you so recently, even if you were kind of angry at the world that day. I can definitely understand being angry. I think I’d be angry, too. Getting old sucks.

There’s all the things you didn’t do yet and it was becoming clear that you were running out of time. Your body wouldn’t do all the things you wanted it to do. And there’s all the things you knew we were going to do that you wouldn’t like. That feeling of not being in control of the things you wanted to be in control of. As you thought back on your life in those last weeks, I hope you thought about the happy things, too, and not just the slights you felt you had received.

I was at your house today, helping sort things and clean up, making it into the space it will next be.  You wouldn’t like the changes we made. We got rid of your gray rug.  We took the pictures off the walls (we’re planning to scan the old ones for all to share and let your children take the ones that apply to them).  We took down about half of the draperies and let the sunshine into your front living room.  I think it looks pretty good!

I hope you understand that none of that was a lack of respect for you.  I think you’ll be happy to know that your old house is going to be home to two young couples in our family as well as to your youngest son.  I’m happy that it’ll still be lived in by people I love. Letting your old house become something different makes it less sad, makes it possible to be there without wanting to cry.

We all really do want to cry. Some of us are holding it in. Some of us don’t hide it as well.  

Looking around at all your pictures today made me both happy and sad. How much you loved us all really showed. After all, you wanted images of all of us around you all the time. So much so that you couldn’t really see the walls at your house for all the smiling faces framed on them. You found something to be proud of each one of us for, and the evidence was everywhere.

Mostly, I liked finding the pictures of you. You as a teenager, taller than the other girls in your class picture, your head ducked down. I had a feeling you got caught about to laugh.

You as a young not-yet-married woman with flowers in your hair, and lipstick on. I imagine the lipstick was red, even though the picture was black and white and I couldn’t really tell.  

You with two babies on your lap, one of them my mother. Already they were pulling in two different directions, my mother and her oldest brother, and you were trying to hold them both at the same time.

You with the big sombrero on. You were so beautiful, and glamorous.  

The ones where you started to look like the Grandma I remember from childhood, your dark-framed glasses and dyed red hair, more orange than your natural red had been, before you decided to let it go white. I liked the one from someone’s wedding where your hair was a big Jackie-O type helmet all around your head.  You were grinning. You must have approved of the match.

And that one of you and me and Mom sitting at Grandma Lena’s grave and eating fried chicken.  That was such a good day.  One of the first ones when I felt like a grownup, included with the other grownups, all three of us missing your mother together.

It was a pretty amazing life, Grandma. I know you sometimes lamented the timing of your birth. That you wished you could’ve had a career like me or my sister and had more independence.  You should know though, that your belief is us is why we can.  We wouldn’t be the women we are if you weren’t the woman you were.

We were lucky to have you.

Enjoy heaven, Grandma. Try not to raise too much hell up there.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Some Guy I used to Know: Seeing the Ex

I got my daughter back on Friday.  That meant I had to see the ex. Strange how that was still stressful.

It's been eight years since we divorced, and I've never had any doubts that divorce was the right decision for me (and, so far as I know, for him).  It wasn't one of those cases where one spouse clung to the relationship and the other wanted out. It was decisively over. We've both moved, remarried, and started new families.  It's good.

But I still invested way too much energy into worrying about how my house looked and how I looked. Three days before he comes to town is probably too late to get the hardwood floors redone and lose the last twenty pounds of baby weight anyway. It shouldn't matter to me at this point.

Maybe it's just competition? Do I need to one-up him?

Or is it revenge? Like the Talmud teaches, "Live well. It is the best revenge."

Could it be just the strangeness of the situation? We've only seen each other in person three times since our split, all three in connection with getting M to her seasonal visitations.

We're good exes.  We communicate well about our shared daughter's needs and visitation setups via email and phone.  We plan for her future together without rancor. He is utterly reliable for the agreed upon support and not pushy or invasive about the day to day runnings of our lives.

I felt lousy the day they arrived. I had a medical procedure two days before (which shouldn't have left me feeling badly as long as it did). So, in the end, my house was clean, but not sparkling. I looked okay for a sick woman, but not the picture of health and wealth. I didn't even feel well enough to dress nicely. Soft pants and my favorite zombie teeshirt.

During his actual visit (a very brief tour of the house--he'd never seen it and M really wanted him to see her room and home), I felt very little.  I noticed the physical ways he had changed and remembered some things that I don't particularly like about him, but I didn't become awash in angst or have a flash of nostalgia for the friend he once was.

It was rather like having the mom of one of M's friends come by. I care that my house looks well-kept so that they will think well of my family, but I only know this person through M. I have no personal investment.

Maybe he really is now just some guy I used to know.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Facing Upsetting Truths

"What he'd thought of as a personal strength--he was happy to know about her only what she wanted him to know--was something more like selfishness. A childish willingness to remain in the dark, to avoid distressing conversations, upsetting truths. He had feared her secrets--or, more specifically, the emotional entanglements that might come with knowing them."

-Joe Hill, as character Jude,
Heart Shaped Box

I was struck by this quote when I was reading yesterday afternoon (sidebar: I only read this book in daylight hours, btw, because it's too scary to read after dark!).  I was surprised to find philosophy in the middle of my ghost story, but it's spot-on. It describes a trend that is rankling me:  a general unwillingness among so-called adults to step up and have necessary confrontations.

The jerks of the world allowed to continue on their jerky way, shoving the needs of others and even simple courtesy to the wayside simply because no one will call them on it.  They do it because they can. We stand there watching them go by, our broken pieces of precious things in our hands, just gobsmacked that people will be so rude. But do we do anything? Usually, no.

We give up before we begin. We don't think it will do any good.  Maybe we're afraid of having that anger and self-righteousness directed at us.  Maybe we're trying to have a live-and-let-live attitude and feel it's not our place to question someone else's choices. Maybe we wish we had the balls to be such blatant aggressive assholes ourselves. We're kind people, raised right, with an awareness of our needs in relation to needs of others. We take others into account. Or as the bullies would say: we're wusses.

Bullies depend on that. On innocent bystanders continuing to stand by. On people turning a blind eye because it's "not their business." Remember this?

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.
-Martin Niemöller 

We've learned nothing. 

It's not just in the big world that this comes into play. It's rampant in the small stuff, too. The day to day.

I watch coworkers afraid to offer any kind of criticism to coworkers, even clearly warranted and arguably necessary criticism that can avert disasters on small and large scales. I see bosses lecturing the whole staff rather than taking a problem up with the person who has the problem. I know parents afraid to enforce limits for their children, unable to face the tantrum.

I think, really? You can't face the wrath of a five year old to help create a better future adult?

When I'm most cynical, I think it's a symptom of how messed up society at large is. I know that I personally have never voted "for" anyone, just "against" the other guy. I am starting to truly believe that a person who can survive to be elected to high office in our country should therefore not be elected, because, obviously they are slippery, sly and not to be trusted. They are players.

Maybe it's really that, when the entire world is an upsetting truth, it's hard to open your heart and engage with any of it. There's just so much. It can swoop in, wash you down and drown you before you can extend the hand you intended to help with. It's dangerous, facing upsetting truths. But it's even more dangerous to pretend they don't exist.

So, let's start small. You don't have to start by taking on Congress.  How about calling your friend on it the next time she slams a gay person in your presence? How about telling a colleague that he is monopolizing the meeting? How about saying "no" and sticking to it even when your kiddo wheedles and whines like a champion?

The truth is often upsetting. It's not easy to face. Facing it might require something of you. But that's why they call us the grown-ups. Nothing will get better if we don't do something about it.
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.
Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
Now, put your big-girl panties on and get out there!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Spoiled Children

Generally, it's not a good thing when things are spoiled. It means the meat has gone rancid, the milk sour, the laughter harsh or brittle. So also with children. Spoiled children are ill-behaved, demanding little buggers.  They shriek and throw tantrums. They leave broken dishware and angry adults in their wake. They grow up badly.

We know this, but the desire to spoil children seems to be pretty universal. It's probably something biological, an automatic indulgence, like the softness women feel when they see infants. There is something really delightful in giving small gifts and treats to a kiddo, in giving them experiences and things. Maybe it's their enthusiasm.  That ice cream scoop (toy, amusement park trip, car . . .) is the best thing ever . . . and, by association, you are the best Mommy (aunt, grandma, uncle, brother, etc.) in the world.

There are plenty of messages against it. Spoiled children in movies turn out badly.  I'm thinking of characters like Marylee Hadley in Written on the Wind, Connie Corleone from The Godfather, Veda Pierce from Mildred Pierce. Fabulous dissolutes. Drunken wastrels with Daddy issues. They drink too much, smoke too much, drive too fast, and screw up fabulously. They act like they don't care, but really they care a great deal. The message seems to be that, because everything was handed to them, because they didn't have to earn a place in the world, they don't really have a place in the world.

In the movies of my teen years, they become an object of scorn, the bully character that you are happy to see the underdog come up and defeat. The Socs vs. The Greasers.  And we're cheering for the Greasers. At least I am. I'm still definitely a Greaser.

With Mitt Romney in the headlines lately, that rich kid bully character comes into my radar again, this time in real life.  As an adult, I run across spoiled, nasty people all the time. Mostly, they seem to drive white SUVs as if they came with entitlement instead of just a title.  They are the moms sitting near me at a coffee shop dissing their nannies, the people cutting me off in traffic only to end up sitting right beside me at the same red light.

I know I have a chip on my shoulder about these people that goes back to playing against tennis club babies in high school and resenting their fancier equipment and years of expensive lessons. A rich person who would like to befriend me will find it a hard row to hoe . . .and they probably have never held a hoe in their lives.

But chip or not, I disapprove of living your life like you are owed something. It's the assumption that stings.  The idea that somehow your needs are more important than those of the guy next to you.

I'm a mom now and it softens my view a little. I know that desire to give my children whatever I didn't have and felt the lack of. And, honestly, I had it pretty good. My parents "spoiled" me plenty. They did also refuse me things, though.  There were limits that had nothing to do with our finances, but about our values. I worry about spoiling my children, about raising them to be superior assholes when I'm just trying to instill healthy self-confidence.

I hope I can balance this for my children, indulging them appropriately, but still holding them to a standard of behavior and attitude about others that means they are good people.  There are limits. I'm not Mildred Pierce, working my fingers to the bone to feed the endless appetite of a spoiled Veda.  I'm not a socialite, leaving the raising of my progeny to the hired help and shrugging when they behave badly.

People can't really be spoiled.  They are not pieces of meat that we discard when they turn.  There is always time to turn around and make a change. Life is a process, and, at some point, we all take over the reins of our own lives.  Our parents influence where we start, but we determine where we finish.  Spoiling a child can give him or her different struggles than depriving a child will do, but in the end, it's the way we overcome our obstacles that shows our mettle.

At least that's what I tell myself, as I purchase yet another toy, another book, another ticket to another event.  Indulging isn't spoiling. It's all about balance.

I hope I'm right. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

My Hands: From a Prompt Writing Workshop

I attended a prompt-writing class on Saturday morning. I have mixed feelings about the process, but I did get a couple of scraps of writing that interested me, so it can't be all bad. Here's one of them. The prompt was to start with "My hands are . . ."

            My hands are sore this morning. It pisses me off. I’m too young for this crap.  My mother didn’t have to deal with the sore swollen joints until she was in her fifties, and here I am at barely forty and find myself saying things like, “it’s worse when it rains” like I’m some kind of arthritic old lady.

            I’m not diagnosed with arthritis so far. It seems to be a more generally inflammation problem, maybe tied to the pain in the lower back and hips and maybe to the TMJ. Maybe it’s a women thing. Since I have an IUD now it’s hard to know where I am cyclically, to see if there’s a correlation.  There are days when it doesn’t hurt at all, and it’s definitely been much better since I went off the statins. I try not to worry about it too much, but just live with it, like so many other small complaints. If it doesn't kill me . . .

            So my hands and I try our best to get along. I’m not sure how I feel about them. I find them too small for many tasks, clumsy, prone to dropping, and not strong enough to get a good hold on things.  I’m not sure how they feel about me either. They complain a lot. Maybe they feel underappreciated or put upon. Maybe they think I ask too much and should consider sharing the wealth with other body parts from time to time. Maybe they are lazy, or just, like the rest of me, slow to wake.

            I’ve always thought my hands were kind of ugly. Maybe they know that and resent me for it. They are small and stubby, freckled and often appear older than seems appropriate—dried and bumpy in the way that my Great Grandmother’s were. But I’m still just a Mom, haven’t earned those other honorifics yet. 

            I’m sure I don’t help. My beauty routine is to nibble down the nails when they get in my way or when edges snag on things and to apply band-aids when I nibble too far.  Hardly a posh salon visit with a wax bath and lotions and paint. They’d probably rather be someone else’s hands.

            But you’ve got to have hands, one more than the other. I remember when I hurt my right arm roller-skating at my daughter’s birthday party and had to rely so heavily on the left. Trying to write on the board for my students or cut a tomato to go with dinner, cleaning up after going to the bathroom. The most mundane tasks became challenging. Luckily that was only for a few weeks.  When I got my right hand back, I was ridiculously happy and grateful. 

            I should remember that and not resent it if my hands complain a little here and there. I do ask them to do so much. And so much of it has been unpleasant. If there’s a disgusting mess to be handled, they are the first in line. And often without the protection of rubber gloves and with the scouring punishment of harsh soaps afterwards. They pick up the dog poop, wipe the soiled behinds of children, pull that disgusting thing out of the drain, handle the caustic chemicals that go with a contemporary sense of “clean house.”

            What would they do, if I let them choose? Would they learn sign language? Would they sit neatly folded on a silken pillow? Would they stretch out, reaching for things that only they want? Would they dance? Would they curl into fists and beat out aggressions against the walls? Would they grab and hold fiercely the things they love most, or pat then gently, rubbing love into the surfaces? Would they make things? Would they lie passive and take on pampering like lotions and massage?

            It may seem silly, talking of hands as separate entities, but the body is a mysterious thing. The ways it communicates and acts are difficult to analyze. When we are lucky, so much happens without conscious decision or thought. We take in air and let it out, all without even a glimmer of awareness.  Something starts to fall over and my hand darts out to catch it, almost before my eyes have seen it. 

            Arguably my hands work for me, but I don’t feel as if I make the decisions all the time. Even now, typing here at my computer, the fingers find the right keys pretty consistently. I think the words, some part of me breaks those down into letters and sends signals to the right fingers, who have learned through training and practice which motion to make, to press the right key to bring those words to the screen where I can read them and make use of them. 

So, that's it. Interesting where the brain wanders when given permission to do so.  I wonder if some of it might work into my new project: a superhero novel about menopausal women called (in Scrivener anyway), "The Change." I bet one of the characters has sore hands in the morning, too. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Night of the Hunter: Flawed Masterpiece

I recently was able to see Night of the Hunter on the big screen. 

I had seen the movie before, maybe more than once.  Going in, I remembered only that I found the movie affecting and visually gorgeous. I was sure it would be amazing on the big screen. I could remember a scene in a bedroom where something in the lighting and angles made it look like a chapel and I could remember Robert Mitchum's quiet menace. 

Overall, it's a flawed piece. The plot is sketchy, full of odd holes and unclear motivations. The little girl looks eight and acts three. The narration is messy and the focus a little askew. There are a few moments that pulled me out of the story when my suspension of disbelief was stretched too thin and snapped. 

But there's still something so compelling in the film. The older brother's loyalty to his father, suspicion of Mitchum's Harry Powell, protectiveness of his little sister, slow movement to trusting Lillian Gish's Ms. Cooper. 

Mitchum's cold madness, his sureness in "the religion the Almighty and me worked out betwixt us," his animal rage when thwarted.  Lillian Gish's portrayal of the grandmotherly patron of lost children, come to a hard-won peace with her own mistakes. 

Even poor, silly Ruby's willingness to give away her affections for a little attention and a movie magazine. As Ms. Cooper says, "Women are such durn fools." And we feel she knows--she's been that fool. She understands. 

It must be about the moments. The overall effect is not perfect, but there are moments of startling clarity and beauty.  Iconic moments.  Moments that only work in black and white. 

Willa Harper's body tied into the sunken car, her hair flowing like seaweed and the light making her translucent and glowing, a water spirit. 

Ms. Cooper's straight backed, long-strided, no nonsense walk with the line of children in tow behind her, like so many ducklings.  Sitting in her rocking chair with her rifle across her knees. Strength in a frail wrapping. 

The silhouette of Harry Powell on the horizon, under the impossibly bright moon, his baritone hymns echoing across the empty, desperate landscape. As lonely as Don Quijote, but implacable and adamant.

All the close ups on the animals who share the night journey downriver. You feel the fears in the night with your child's heart, thumping as fast as any frightened rabbit's. 

And certain lines.  

Harry Powell lifting his head at the ice cream counter and saying, "She'll not be back. I reckon I'm safe in promisin' you that," his hooded eyes failing to disguise the threat in his voice. 

All of Ms. Cooper's pronouncements about the way of the world. "It's a hard world for little things." Only Lillian Gish could pull off speaking them to the camera without sounding pedantic or strained. 

In the end, I think it comes down to Robert Mitchum, the mixture of madness, coldness and menace he brought to the role.  Who else could make "Bringing In the Sheaves" into a battle hymn? And what can  it mean that when Gish joins him in song, it's beautiful? They sing together as he stands outside waiting for his moment to attack and she guards the children, as much the embodiments of love and hate as Powell's finger tattoos. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Married Without Children

My husband and I have never been married without children. When he married me, I was already a mother.  So T, the brave soul, jumped in with both feet--he became a husband and a father all in one fell swoop. Not long after that, we had another child together.  She was practically a honeymoon baby . . . or would've been, if we'd had a honeymoon.  That's how it goes when you marry "late" (I was thirty-five).  Biology waits for no woman!

So, now we've been married six years.  It's weird. I can't believe it's already been six years because it seems like we are still very much newlyweds. At the same time, I think it must've been much longer than six years because of how well established we seem to be.  It probably adds to this effect that our oldest is now twelve and looks fifteen.  People assume we must've been married at least sixteen years.

One of our struggles is getting "us time."  That's hardly news. Everyone with kids has this problem and probably some people without kids have this problem.  But, when I look around at our friends who also have kids and our friends who are still thinking about whether they want to have kids, I realize there's a big difference between us.  We have never had a time when we were married without kids. Maybe that's why it bothers us more than it seems to bother them when we can't get enough time alone together.

The closest we came to "married without children" is when we were dating. We got a few weekends together where we got to sleep when we wanted, eat when and what we wanted, make our days without planning around the needs and wants of children.  Those weren't "real life" weekends though. That was vacation time, days taken off work and other responsibilities to run away and play together.  Mostly not even in my town or his, but some other town we chose to visit. Not real life.

I wonder how this will play out as we age.  It's already only six more years till the big girl goes to college. If they go as quickly as the first six years of our marriage, that'll be tomorrow afternoon. When the littlest runs off to college, I'll be (oh my) fifty-four years old. Fifty-four, and married without children.  I think we'll be a whole new class of empty-nesters: newlyweds. Maybe that would be a good time for that honeymoon.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I've written a novel!

It's done! I finished the clean up of the first draft of my novel yesterday!  So, regardless of whether I ever find fame and fortune, I am now a novelist!  I sent it off to my critique group last night, and they'll help find and fill the holes in late July.  I'm both excited and nervous as hell. It's the biggest thing I've ever written.

It's been a four-year journey.  I'm a mom of two wonderful girls and I work as a middle school teacher, so simply finding hours to write in was probably actually the hardest part. Well, that and learning how to write a novel while doing it. Luckily, I also have a very supportive husband.

When I look back on it, T gets a lot of credit for getting me here. He was the one who looked around at gather and craigslist and meetup for a critique group for me when I expressed a desire to get back into writing after our youngest was born.  That critique group has grown into one of the most important things in my life.  They keep me honest--in life and in work.

T was also the one who found a writing retreat for me when I said I needed a longer stretch of time to focus on the task.  As an eighth night gift, he bought me three days of writing time through a local organization called Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South, run by Jeannette Stokes. Periodically, they hold these weeks of quiet and writing for women at Pelican House at Trinity Center.

It was perfect for me.  The house is silent during work hours. You're within easy reach of the beach and some marshes if you need to walk.  They feed you (quite well), so you don't have to spend any time and energy on figuring out where your meals will come from.  There's even usually coffee that someone else made.  I've been able to go twice now, and I've never been so focused and productive as a writer as I was at Pelican House.

I did most of my writing in this room:

It's perfect for me. I can see and hear the sea. The room is tiny--that photo shows most of it right there.  It's in a cupola at the top of a little spiral staircase.  The only distractions are the ones I bring in with me. Next time, I'm bringing a little folding table and I may just live in that room the whole time.

So maybe this is the first draft of my acknowledgements page.  Thank you so much, T. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Hospital Is No Place for Sick People

So, I ended up in the emergency room last night. I had fever and chills, and have a history of some fairly serious infections, so it was a "better safe then sorry scenario." I was there was from 6:00 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.

Jeez the hospital is terrible.

I went to a good one. I'm fortunate to live in a place with two big well-regarded hospitals. The care is excellent. But the processing and facilities leave you feeling like cattle.

Here's my night at the emergency room.

I arrived 6:00 or so.  I was really really woozy and almost fell trying to come in the door. The security guard fetched me a wheelchair, while my husband gave the desk people my cards.  With no wait at all, we went in to see the triage lady, who did all the computer stuff, took my vitals and categorized me.  The seating was reasonably comfortable, her tone was calm and polite. That's the end of the good part.

From the triage office, I was sent to a nurse to give samples. She was able to take my blood without problem, but I was sent to the bathroom to give a urine sample only to find that it the most poorly set up bathroom ever for these purposes. There is no place to put anything down. Even the top of the toilet paper dispenser is rounded. There's no garbage can in the stall.

So, I'm woozy, in danger of falling at any time, and trying to clean myself with wipes and get the lid off the specimen cup with no place to set anything. I'm completely horrified thinking about the germ level in that room. Since there was no garbage can or other flat surface, everything sat on the floor at some time. Sounds like a good way to get an infection to me!

The door to the room is so heavy that, weak and woozy,  I couldn't open it when it was time to leave. It also seems to be soundproof because no one hears me saying that I can't get out. There's no little red pull cord for emergency help like you have in the other parts of the hospital. Luckily, my husband stayed nearby and he heard me and let me out.

I had about an hour in the waiting room. The waiting room has stiff and inflexible chairs and 3 different televisions blaring 3 different terrible programs. Keep in the mind that I'm sick. I want a dark, quiet room and to lie down more than anything. We found a corner as far away from the TV as possible and I huddled against the wall, using my jacket and a blanket I brought from home to try and find some degree of comfort.

After an hour, I get a cot in the hallway. I am not particularly tall, 5'6", but the cot was shorter than me, narrow and quite hard. I couldn't stretch out on it completely.  Still, being able to lay down felt like heaven after having to sit upright in the lobby. The nurse was friendly and gave me anti-nausea meds right away, so right away I felt better.

The environment of the hallway was bad enough to make my husband, who was quite healthy, ill. The lighting is harsh and relentless. It's like sitting under the heat lamp at a cheap buffet. Even though I couldn't see a cause to keep us under this kind of lighting, it was never dimmed. Even on an airplane they dim the lights after a certain hour.

The noise is horrendous. You are surrounded by machines beeping and pinging, and because the "walls" are all just curtains, you can hear each doctor, nurse, and patient in complete detail. I could tell you all about the woes of the patients around me (so much for privacy) and which doctors are condescending to their patients and which ones act like we have brains in our heads. One of the doctors succumbed to "speak English louder" at her patient who didn't speak English. At least there was no TV.

I have a gift from my father, which is the ability to go into a defensive sleep when the world is overstimulating or awful.  So, that's what I did. I pulled my blanket over my head, put a finger in my ear and my other hand over my face and went to sleep. I woke periodically when my body protested the hardness of the bed and wanted me to shift or when someone came by to bother me.

I was on that table for five hours with only a few respites.  Twice, I needed to go to the bathroom. This is not as simple as it sounds. I needed a nurse to disconnect me from tubes so I could sway my way down the hall to the bathroom. Once it was easy to get her attention, the second time I was hurting pretty good by the time we got her attention.  (The bathroom was gross as well, with paper on the visibly dirty floor and packets from urine sample wipes all over the sink--there was no where else to set them--which grossed me out thinking about the germs again).

At some point, I was removed to another part of the hospital for another test. Actually, come to think of it, I was still on that bed. They just moved it and me.  But at least the lighting was calm and dim and the environment was quiet in that hall. I was the most relaxed I'd been the entire visit. I wish I could have spent my time up there waiting for the results, but they shuttled me right back to my cell. At some point, the nurse brought me Motrin to help with the headache that having to be in that horrible hallway had given me.

I'm lucky, I know, to have such easy access to care. I suspect that our emergency room is one of the nicer ones. But I do wonder why care doesn't include consideration of the environment. I was sick and scared. Many around me were sicker, with more cause to be scared. But the environment is not conducive to rest or privacy. If you weren't already under stress when you came in, you sure would be from the noise, light and lack of privacy.

If it wasn't where they kept the doctors, I would never go to a hospital when I was sick. It's no place for a sick person.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Getting Excited Over Blended Learning

Blended Learning is what they're calling it this week.  In my brain, I call it one to one.  All we really mean by it is students with computers. And it's happening in my district next year!

I'm so excited!

Kids in grades 6-12 will get laptops.  So, instead of scheduling lab time for my kiddos, I can rely on having access to that technology for them every day in my classroom.

I've been working from a blended learning mindset for a while now.  The things we are blending are meatspace and cyberspace. The kids still come to me and see me and interact with me and with each other in real time and space, but a lot of what we do is additionally available online in some format: a resource list in a classroom website, an online option to turn in work via moodle or google docs, a recommended application for i-devices of one sort or another.

There are a lot of nay-sayers around. People who spend a lot of time and energy focused on what can go wrong and how kids can abuse it. 

I'm becoming a zealot for it.

I don't think this is just because I love technology so much myself. I think it's just a recognition of how people work with information in the twenty-first century.

Once upon a time, I had to memorize a lot of data. Now what matters is what I do with that data, and if I can organize it in helpful ways.  Can I find what I need to know when I need it and apply it? Of course, memory is still part of that . . .and some things do need to be able to be done without research or reference in order to be efficient. But that's another topic altogether.

And, yes, kids will try to use it to be lazy and to cheat. Some kids will try that no matter what format you present the learning material in. They are not invested in our system.  That's a different struggle entirely--getting buy-in from the disenfranchised. If I could solve that one for every child, I'd be Teacher of the Universe!  All I can do is try to win them over, one child at a time.

And when I look at blended learning through that lens, all I see are possiblities.

Differentiation, for example. Differentiation is a big buzzword in education these days. Basically, it has to do without providing different ways to access information and interact with it based on the strengths and abilities of the kids.  That might mean providing materials in a language other than English, or written in a lower-reading-level of English or not as written words at all, but as a video or audio file. It means that kids are allowed to show what they know in a variety of ways.

I struggle with managing this in the classroom. There are so many varying needs and abilities in any one middle school class (I teach 6th, 7th and 8th grade Spanish). 

But in a blended learning environment, I can keep a variety of materials "on hand" digitally and share different ones with different kids with a couple of clicks. I can change my mind in the middle of class and give a kid different materials.  I can give quick assessments for a big picture of class comprehension or a small picture of one student's comprehension.

So bring on the blender.  Let's see what we can make with this baby!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Woman of Substance

            My sister thought she was a scary old lady. I kind of thought so, too. But I wanted to be scary like that.  People did what our Great Grandmother Lena said.  She was in charge of things. You didn’t cross her.  The world took her seriously.  
            These were all things a skinny little freckled girl wanted.  No one took me seriously. Not the way I wanted them to. At the time, I blamed the freckles.  No one could take me seriously when my freckles and dimples made me look like a cute little girl, instead of the very serious writer I was inside.  Really, it was probably because I was an eight-year-old girl.  I just wasn’t supposed to be this serious and ambitious yet.
            I was a writer! It was my identity. I was Jo from Little Women and, if my family had needed me to, I could have written books to buy our firewood. Never mind that we didn’t have a fireplace. I wrote poems, stories, essays, histories, whole books. My teachers and parents and aunts and uncles all thought everything I did was just wonderful.  I enjoyed the praise, of course, but I knew they weren’t taking it seriously.  They weren’t offering any critique. 
            Great Grandmother Lena was the only one among my relatives who didn’t just respond with blanket praise when I showed her my poems and stories.  Sometimes this made me want to cry, but it also made me value her opinion. She knew that I would grow to write bigger and better things. Things that mattered.  Through her eyes, I could see this, too.  Her praise was worth so much more because it was so difficult to earn.
            Throughout my childhood, I heard a lot of things about her, but not from her. She didn’t talk about herself or her history. She wasn’t a grandmother who told stories.
            I knew, though, that she had been married, and that her husband had died a long time ago, even before my mother was born. I always had a hard time imagining a husband for her.  She seemed so self-sufficient, so sure. Was there really room for someone else’s opinion about how things should be done?  Was he dour and dark like her?
            Grandma Liz, Lena’s daughter, had adored her father.  She said that he was funny and affectionate, that he liked to sing as he walked the little family farm doing the chores. When Grandma Liz talked, you knew it was her father that she had loved with all her heart. It was so hard to imagine this Irish man singing his way through a life beside my German great grandmother.  I always imagined him being a little afraid of her, like the rest of us.
            Now that story makes me awfully sad.  I think she must have really loved her husband, that he had been the lightness of her soul, a lightness that she lost entirely when he died young.  I don’t think she ever even considered dating someone again, let alone marrying. He had been it for her.  And he died when they were both so young. She lived another half a life without a partner. It makes me hope that there is heaven, and that they are together there.
            But that’s all conjecture, probably me projecting how I feel about my own husband into the outline of her story. Grandma Lena never told me how she felt about her husband. That was private.  You didn’t talk about private things.
            What Great Grandmother Lena did talk about were her convictions. She was a woman with a lot of opinions about life and how one should live it.  As my Great Grandmother, she obviously felt she should teach me these life lessons.
            She told me that you can’t rely on a man to take care of you.  She didn’t think much of women who couldn’t handle their own problems.  When something broke at her house, she fixed it. It made her angry when she couldn’t. If she hired a repairman, she made him explain what he was doing so that next time she would be able to fix it herself.  Being afraid was no excuse.  You just bucked up and did it anyway.  This was probably why she and my Grandma Liz did not get along as well as they might. Grandma Liz was happy to let her husband take care of things for her.
            It really surprises me now to realize that Great Grandmother Lena never got her driver’s license.  It seems out of character for such an independent woman to rely on others for a ride.  In a way, I’m glad she didn’t.  I wouldn’t have known her the same way if my mother hadn’t been the one to take her where she needed to go. 
              I wonder now if it was part of her general mistrust of technology.  After all, her house still had things like an outhouse, a pump, and a wringer-washer in the 1980s.  She always said that there was no reason to fix something that wasn’t broken, but I wonder if she was just a little nervous about new-fangled things. It’s a soft thought, imagining this powerhouse of a woman cowed by machinery.  I guess she wasn’t all steel after all.
            What little help she accepted in life, was not from men.  It was my mother, her granddaughter, that she called for a ride. Not her son or any of her grandsons.  So, the lesson is, I guess:  if you have to accept help, it is better to take it from another woman than a man. And you should always repay your debts, if you are forced to take any on. If people help you, you find a way to help them in return.
            She told me that hard work is the most valuable thing we have to give. That God values effort. She had no patience for laziness, physical or mental.  Although she never had a paying job outside her home—few women of her generation did—she worked hard every day of her life.  She canned. She tilled. She sewed. She kept to a schedule of household maintenance including turning mattresses, re-caulking windows and doorframes, and a house-emptying spring cleaning on top of just ordinary daily cleaning and cooking. I cannot remember ever seeing her idle, except when she read. Which, of course, is not really idle. Just still.
            She told me that you should not take anything from anyone.  Good people took care of their own needs. “You don’t buy frivolous things then cry that you can’t afford butter for your bread.” It’s irresponsible not to have a nest egg and emergency funds. 
            But, at the same time, when we have extra, we should share it. You should give at church and support charities to help people who are not as strong as we are.  “Strong women take care of themselves. And others.”
            She taught me that being pretty was not nearly as important as being intelligent and self-sufficient. She believed this without bitterness.  She didn’t wish for the softer life a prettier woman might have had.  She didn’t want someone to take care of her or pamper her. She dismissed it with a wave of her gnarled hand.  “Women like us, Samantha, we don’t need that useless stuff. We are not decorations for some man. We build our own destinies. We are women of substance.”
            “Women like us.” I couldn’t be prouder to be included in any group. I only pray she would still think that we are the same kind of woman.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Grownup Birthday Parties

When I was a kid, I knew exactly what to do on my birthday: have a party!  There were two kind of parties: homemade and store-bought.

A home-made party was at your house. Your mom made stuff you loved to eat and decorated a cake. Balloons and streamers and banners covered whatever part of the house you were going to be allowed to mess up. Your friends came over and ran around like crazy monkeys until your Dad was sent to tell you what it was time for: games, presents, food, cake, etc.  A couple of hours later, the kids were given small party-themed bags full of candy and useless plastic toys and sent home to start their exhausted sugar comas.

A store-bought party was at a place, like a bowling alley or bouncey house or zoo or amusement park or whatever.  The format was the same, but your Mom looked less harried because she wrote a check and let someone else do all the running. I always thought that having this kind of party meant that the birthday kid was rich, though, as an adult, I've realized you can spend just as much at an at-home party. 

I can count the number of birthday parties I've had after turning 21: one. When I was 33.  My now-husband and I were newly dating. So, we had a birthday party for me, largely so his friends could meet me.  My five-year-old daughter was thrilled!  She picked out a Hobbit-themed cake for me. I talked her out of $50 worth of balloons, though,  claiming they wouldn't let us have them at the bowling alley.

While that party was a really great day, full of happy little moments, I haven't minded not having a party since. Once you become an adult, parties are a lot of work. Even if you have it somewhere-not-your-home and just buy the food/cake/entertainment, there's still planning, coordinating, decision-making.  And your mom doesn't usually just take care of it for you. Especially if your mom, like mine, lives twelve hours away.

Our youngest has a hard time understanding why Mommy and Daddy don't necessarily want what she thinks of as a birthday party. 

We had one for T recently. It wasn't really his birthday.  Because his birthday falls right on top of Christmas, Chanukah, and our oldest girl's birthday, we have T's birthday, observed, and hold it two months late.  There were some trappings of a birthday party: food, guests, games and cake.  But no one sang "Happy Birthday" and no gifts were given.  Several of our guests probably didn't even know that T's birthday was why we were having a party.

T was happy with that. He's not a center-of-attention sort of fella (yet another reason he's awesome).  He appreciated the gift of the time to just play games with out friends, ignoring other responsibilities for a day.  He even, quite willingly, took on a goodly portion of the prep work to make it happen.  It's a really different idea of what make a good birthday party than our children have.

Our littlest had a good time playing with our guests, but she really didn't understand why we didn't decorate or put candles in the cake.  I think she was worried that, if that's what we think a party is, that hers will be like that, too. (She'll be 5 this year: she's so excited about her party!)

We're having a store-bought party this year.  She wants Chuck E. Cheese (shudder).  It sounds terrible to me, but I love her and it's what she wants.  I'm sure the kids will have a good time, and the parents will be nice about it. We'll do the same for whatever their kids ask for. 

I guess that's what a birthday party is really all about: celebrating the way you want to.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Keeping Heart

It's that time of year again.  And that time seems to come earlier each year. It's the time of year when I am so frustrated, overwhelmed, and annoyed by petty small things (mostly other adults that I work with and all their concerns that seem, to me, to miss the big picture), that it's hard to care.

You see, I'm a teacher.

A public school teacher. In North Carolina: a "right to work" state. "Right to work" seems to be a euphemism for exploiting workers, at least from this side of the fence.

Since I have taught in other states--Alaska, Kansas and Kentucky, namely--I have a wider view than some.  I know what it is like in other places.

Some things about my career choice are rough all over.  It doesn't pay well, especially not when you consider the level of personal commitment, education and variety of skillset it entails to teach successfully. I'm only half-joking when I say that I can only afford to do this because they pay my husband very well for his work. I know we'd have a lot less nice things if we had to rely on only my income.

It's also a truly staggering load of work each and every day. Each day I am supposed to prepare five forty-five minute long lessons on a variety of topics that include technology, differentiating my presentation for a variety of learning styles, background knowledge levels, academic skills and interests for 130 people.

With only 90 non-supervisory minutes per workday, I am supposed to also make contact with the families of these children with the good or bad news, collaborate with all the other staff that supports them in their learning (gifted learning experts, exceptional children experts, other subject area teachers, school counselors, school nurse, family welfare experts, autism specialists, hearing impaired support staff, etc., etc., etc.), evaluate whatever work the children produced that day (for 130 people), and handle my own "secretarial" stuff (making copies, responding to emails, submitting paperwork, etc.).

Some things about my job are harder in North Carolina than they were in other states.  Unions, for all the negative impact they have on the field (protecting poor teachers and making it hard to fire them; hamstringing potentially awesome programs for fear of setting precedent), also have some tremendous positive impact on my work conditions and I have sorely felt their lack in my six years in North Carolina. My non-supervisory work time is not nearly as protected.  The structures for giving and receiving criticism of my performance are not nearly as balanced.  Things happen all the time that leave me in a stunned silence. Can they really do that? Yes, apparently they can.

So, why do I stay? And how do I fight the bitterness so that it's a good thing that I am staying?

The obvious answer is the kids. There are plenty of frustrations involved with children, but they are the good kind of frustrations.  When I am frustrated with a child, it is because my heart is involved and I want so badly for him or her to find success, to "get it", to learn to use their strengths and safeguard against their weaknesses.  These are frustrations that inspire me to great heights and bring out all my strengths.  These are frustrations I am successful in combating often enough to feel like I am good at my work.

It's not just the kids though. I really truly love learning. I love thinking about the ways ideas connect, and being surprised by new connections.   Maybe there are other fields where I can be paid to live the life of the mind all day, but I haven't found them.

I love the trappings of school as well. I like awards ceremonies and book fairs, school plays and events, showcases and projects.  I love trying out new technologies and seeing what young people can make out of them.

If I'm honest with myself, the very difficulty of the work is part of the appeal for me. Thanks to my Mom and Dad and the way they raised me,  I'm a workhorse. I delight in checking off large numbers of items from my to-do list.  It gives me a sense of accomplishment.  I like feeling like not just anyone could do what I do.  I like the feeling that my work is big and important.  I'm not sure I could feel that way in other fields. 

On a bad day, I think, "You hated school when you were in it. Why are you still here?" On those days, I am tired, overwhelmed and feeling put-upon and unappreciated. I mumble to myself and my children suggest that I should take a walk.

But on a good day, I think, "School is my home. It's where I belong."  Yep, I'm just that nerdy.  And I'm good with that.  Here's to more good days!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Our Latest Shakespeare Date

It was time for date. T & I hadn't been out alone in too long. It doesn't have to be all that long to be too long for us.  More than a week is too long. We have this horrible buildup of too many unfinished sentences and a lack of quiet moments. Children are lovely, but they can make it hard to have a conversation and conversation is at the heart of our attraction.

So, we talked about what to go do. Luckily, we live in a great area of the country full of wonderful things to do.  We thought about going to see a double feature big screen showing of Bela Lugosi's Dracula and Lon Chaney's Wolfman at the Carolina because I am a big old movie fan and T's appreciation is growing.  But babysitting was going to be a problem on Friday night.  

We thought about just walking around Franklin Street looking at stuff and talking, but T's got a foot problem right now, and it was supposed to rain. Walking was going to be a problem at the art museums, too, and no one had anything we were really drawn by right now and hadn't already seen. We didn't really want to just go eat.

Then, T had the thought that we hadn't seen a play together in a while (this is how lucky I am--I have a husband who has "theater" in the top five list of places to take me on a date night).  Fiasco Theater was doing a production of Cymbeline at Duke.  Shakespeare. Shakespeare that neither of us already knows by heart.  Perfect!

Shakespeare is special to T and I. 

First off, we are both tremendous word nerds. We drive our tween crazy when she wants help with her vocabulary homework because we can go on for fifteen minutes about the various ways a word might be used and where that word came from.  We email each other articles about new language items we see on the Inter-webs.  We quote from Much Ado About Nothing to flirt.

Second, we are both romantic saps. We're a collective sucker for happily ever after.  But at the same time, it has to be a believable happily ever after.  We're not an easy sell.

Then, there's the coincidences of Shakespeare for us.  Our first real date (the one where we both went in knowing this was going to be a date and not just friends getting together) was on Shakespeare's birthday.  Our first couch-movie together was 10 Things I Hate About You. Our first dress-up date was Twelfth Night at Playhouse in the Park.

Cymbeline, by the way, was amazing! It was a lot of fun to hear echos of other plays and other lines that I knew better. I figured it would be worth seeing, because I have enjoyed every Shakespeare production I have ever seen--even the bad ones. The writing is that good--it's hard to kill if you have any talent at all.

And Fiasco Theater is a group of six very talented and versatile actors, who each played multiple roles in the production. One man was the king, the doctor, and Cloten the oaf/villain.  Another was a servant, the long last Prince, a rich Italian host, and a pompous Italian general. One of the women was the evil stepmother queen, the runaway kidnapper of princes, and a couple of different men.

Costuming was simple. Additions of jackets, hats, or small props were made on stage as actors transitioned from one role to another. The actors made the transformations with body language and voice. Costuming was just a nod for the less observant audience member. Or maybe they just like to play dress up a little.

All six actors were also amazing singers and musicians and the production made wonderful use of this with a variety of music--madrigal, martial and bluegrass--all worked naturally into the show.

The untangle at the end, the reveal of who everyone really was and how they relate to each other, was brilliant.  I laughed aloud to the point that I snorted.

So, another wonderful date, brought to us by William Shakespeare, and Fiasco Theater. Thank you!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Keeping work at work

We just started a new semester.  And last week, I only brought work home once!  It was amazing what a difference that made to my home and family life. 

  • I didn't have to say, "Not now honey," when N wanted to draw with me, when M wanted to show me her latest scheme, when T wanted to discuss a trip our family might take. 
  • I was able to complete all my normal household tasks of an evening (dishes, laundry, pickup, etc.) while it was still evening and not actually yet night. 
  • I exercised. 
  • One evening, I even sat with my feet up and played with my iPad. 

I want weeks like that more often.  But they are way harder to come by than you might think.  Each year that I have worked at this middle school, more balls have been added to the pile I juggle each day, and more minutes of that precious prep time (teacher talk for our few limited minutes of non-supervisory time at school--the time when we build lessons, call parents, make copies, clean up after the kids, go to the bathroom, eat lunch, etc.) have been taken away. (as well as any promise of the little raises and bonuses that make it financially tenable--I'd have to take a second job if it weren't that the tech industry pays my husband double what I make).

Between my first and second year at my school, I gained two new things to prep, and lost 45 minutes of prep time.  There's something really skewed about this thinking.

This year, I didn't gain any new classes, clubs, or other things to prep for the kids, but I did gain two new PLCs (Professional Learning Communities).  We can debate the value of this particular work sometime if you'd like, but valueable or not, it's a time sink.  And time is the most valuable commodity of my life.

So, the question is back to balance. The whole idea that got me started blogging.  How do we get everything we need and want out of each day? How can I be prepared to educate and inspire 150 middle schoolers, take care of the needs of a household and a house, be there for my family and friends, write, exercise, and still find a little me time?

Step one has got to be leaving work at work.  I'm afraid it's not realistic to think I will never bring home papers to grade or presentations to prepare, but for this semester, my goal is to keep that to a minimum. Because I love my work.  I love my students. But I love my family more.

Monday, January 16, 2012

3 weeks overdue

Damnit. I was doing so well, too. I had quite nearly kept up with weekly blogging.  Then January came. And now it's been just short of 3 weeks. Where did the time go?

Is it just the way of resolutions? Three months then you fall off the wagon? I'd like to think I'm stronger than that. So, why didn't I keep it up? What have I been doing instead? Let's see . . .
  • I read. 3 books, in a row. Started a fourth.
  • I used my new Kitchenaid Stand Mixer to make a cake. 
  • I took a mini-vacation with my family to Great Wolf Lodge. 
  • I cleaned. A lot. Then did it again. Families are messy. And housework is something you can achieve even when you feel brain-dead and woogy on cold meds.
  • I prepared lesson plans, graded tests, attended meetings, called parents, and generally attended to the business of school. 
  • I played with my daughters.
  • I wrote several chapters for my novel.
  • I wrote an essay for a contest.
  • I fought a cold, mostly successfully
  • I fought fleas
  • I hosted the grandparents, twice. 
  • I went to the movies, twice. 
  • I went to my reading group and my writing group meetings
  • I let Barnes and Nobles buy me lunch because I'm a teacher. Thanks B&N!
That makes me feel a little better. The word "wrote" is in that list twice. So, are literary endeavors like "writing group" and "reading group" and reading books.   Even my movies were sort of literary: Sherlock Holmes and TinTin.  Plus, I'm really happy to have done all these things. Maybe I haven't been spinning my wheels and wasting time after all. Though, I notice my sister is absent from my list. Hmmmm. . . we need a girls' night.

It's all about priorities--and blogging apparently wasn't as near the top of that list as it has been.  Still. I think it's working. When I sit down to write, it's no longer a two hour warm up before I find any flow.  So, this is definitely still worth doing. Thanks to anyone who bothers reading my meanderings. Somehow, it's easier to do this journal-esque sort of writing if I believe someone is going to read it.

So, back to it. My novel gets the afternoon. Thank goodness for days off with open day care!