About Me

Thanks for being here! I am a mom of three (two girls, 15 and 13, and one boy, 9) and a teacher of many (thousands during my more than 17 years teaching high school English and Spanish in Philadelphia). Forever a student, I love learning - whether through talking to others, reading, watching movies and documentaries, or traveling. I also love running (slowly), hiking, and practicing yoga!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Is Tomorrow Friday?

Genevieve on her first day of school this year.
It's Tuesday evening in my house and everyone is tired already, wishing it were Thursday. Actually, everyone is sleeping but me. I'll be up for a few more hours grading tests. But I wanted to take a few moments to write down my conversation with Genevieve tonight. It spoke to my heart. She was all tucked in, cozy in her flannel "I woof you" puppy pjs, and contemplating the deeper messages of Lois Lowry's Gooney Bird the Fabulous, Fabulous, Fabulous, Fabulous as she drifted off to sleep. Then, she sat up in a panic. "Mom, is everything in my folder for tomorrow?" She had asked me this twice already. First grade is the real deal, and Genevieve feels it. Though she likes school, she especially likes the feeling of right after school (if everything has gone alright), when she can relax and know that she has done her job well. She practices her spelling words, reads her book two or three times, and makes sure that her math worksheet is perfect. "Can you check this, Mom?" she always asks, diligently erasing and retrying when I point out a mistake. Then, homework complete, she rolls around on the floor with her baby brother or draws endless pictures to post on the refrigerator. The stuff she really loves.

I admire you, Genevieve, I thought, as she once again snuggled quietly under the blanket, finally secure in her preparedness for the next day. You have focus and tenacity. You'll be o.k. A few minutes passed. I was about to get up to leave when Genevieve's quiet, sleep-laden voice questioned me again: "Is tomorrow Friday?" Her voice was full of hope. "No, Genevieve, tomorrow's Wednesday." "Oh. Is the next day Friday?" Not yet, I told her. Finally, she got the answer she wanted. "And then it's the weekend, right?" Yes, it's the weekend. Not long now. Not long now ...

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth everyone! As I was neatening up the house tonight, trying unsuccessfully to find a home for all the stuffed animals, toys, and little trinkets, I thought of the graduation speech Masterman's valedictorian made this year. A brilliant student who is headed to Harvard in the fall, he shared a bit of his personal story in the speech. He and his mother came to this country from China when he was only five years old. They joined his father, who was already here, and lived in a basement apartment in New York City. Both his parents worked long hours, so much so that he rarely saw his father. He saw his mother, who worked in a factory, only at night. A babysitter dropped him off and picked him up from daycare. Eventually, the family moved to Philadelphia and opened a Chinese restaurant, where they all spent long hours fighting to succeed.

What touched me most about the speech is that Yun-Teng recalled each of the gifts his parents had been able to give him over the years. There weren't many, but they were treasured. He spoke in great detail of a miniature basketball game (the ball now lost) that he taped to his bedroom wall and played over and over again. And this is what I thought of as I attempted to clean up my children's many, many things. We have too much stuff.

Like everyone I know, I love my children beyond measure and want the best for them in life, and I delight in seeing them happy (as do their grandparents and many aunts and uncles), but it's this desire that has lead to all the stuff. I'm not quite sure what to do about that. I feel blessed to have the problem.

This Fourth of July, I am so grateful to live in a country where I am able to provide for my children everything they could possibly need (though often this turns into more than they need!), and I am also grateful, and proud, to live in a country where stories like Yun-Teng's are possible.

Monday, July 2, 2012

I saw the movie Brave tonight with Grace and Genevieve, so I was thinking about destiny as I put them to bed, and thinking about destiny got me to thinking of how Anthony and I got together (we were neighbors), and how we probably never would have had my grandmother not driven by our house when I was just nine years old and seen the "For Sale" sign. As I pictured that old Woodland Avenue house and thought about the first time I saw little ten year old Anthony riding his bike down the driveway (didn't like him), what I next saw was what I first fell in love with on Woodland Avenue: the milk door. You know, one of those old metal doors leading into the kitchen (one door on the inside, one on the out) where the milkman used to leave the cold glass bottles each morning. Of course by the time we bought the house the milk door had long been out of use, and a few years later it was taken out when my parents renovated the kitchen, but nonetheless when I think of my destiny, and of that house, I think of that tiny metal door.  I used to crawl through it to get into the kitchen, though there was a perfectly good screen door just steps away. Sometimes when I had friends over we would pass secret messages through the door, and other times I would store my own secret things there, as by this time in life my older sister had outgrown the need for such silly childhood games. The tiny space between those two metal doors was mine and mine alone.

I used to be so nostalgic that I could hardly move forward I was clinging to the past so tightly, but I have gotten better about that as I have gotten older. Still, I think tomorrow morning, the sun rising on a whole new day, I will sit down at my dining room table and drink a cold, lovely glass of milk to honor for a moment that little metal door I fell in love with so long ago.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Moon

Grace has to keep a weather log this week, which had us running outside in pajamas and bare feet at 7:30 this evening to sketch the moon. Though she is 7, she still wanted someone to come with her. It was, after all, dark. I liked this bit of vulnerability after an afternoon of feeling like I had already lost her to the teenage years. She slammed a door, teased her sister mercilessly, and then told me that she has a boyfriend, Timothy (though he, apparently, doesn't know that he's her boyfriend).

When Grace was 3, she woke up in the middle of the night barely able to breathe and came stumbling into our bedroom. I will never forget it. As I carried her out to the car to rush her to the emergency room, she looked up at the enormous moon that summer evening and, gasping with each word, said, "Look ... at ... the ...moon. ..It's ...so...beautiful."

Tonight, standing on the cool grass with eyes turned upward, I could almost touch the thread of time connecting us to all those past moon-lit nights--with Grace, before Grace, before me, even--and all those future moon-lit nights before us. May we all have a chance this week to stop for a moment and look up, if only to record that we are here. We are here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Genevieve and Joseph

Genevieve, 5, and Joseph, 1
Two days ago, as we got out of the car on a cold, moonlit night, Genevieve asked me, "Mom, can I marry Joseph (her brother)?" I explained that she couldn't. "Why? Because it's the rules?" She looked pensive. Why can't she marry someone she loves? And she does, indeed, love Joseph.

Still, today when I got home it was to Joseph, held by Anthony, with blood running down his chin. The crime had just occurred. "Genevieve hit him in the face with her knee. She says it was an accident," said Anthony. Joseph was all smiles and clearly fine, but a knee to the face is still a big deal. And those who have seen Genevieve in action with Joseph know that it was probably not an accident. Genevieve followed close behind Anthony (we were all in the driveway still), smiling unconvincingly. With false bravado, she began, "We got The Smurfs from Redbox! So we can a have a family ..." At this point her face crumbled and she started to cry. "...movie night." She ran inside ahead of us. Later we found her hiding in my closet, sobbing.

Sibling love is so deep, and so complicated, and I think for a five year old used to being the baby of the family for four years, it is just too much at times. Tomorrow is another day, and we will start anew.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Race to Nowhere

My mom and one of her biggest fans, Genevieve
Let me start this entry by saying that I am so grateful to my mom. Though I have been crazy for as long as I can remember, taking on extra courses and activities with abandon since preschool (I emerged the first day crying because we hadn't done enough), my mom has always, always encouraged rest and balance. She pulled me out of school for a week in first grade to go on a family ski trip ("Mrs. Smith was SO mad at us"), told me that the C I got in 8th grade math was OK, as long as it was the best I could do (it was), made me go to bed earlier when I started getting up at 5 am to play tennis before school in high school, and, even recently, has let me know that it's alright to not do the dishes and make the beds every day (or week) with a schedule as packed as mine. Without my mom, I would be completely insane. Though a colleague at work recently told me that I was crazy (I was moving a desk up a flight of stairs by myself), I took the comment in stride, because I know that I am the only one pushing myself to do such ridiculous deeds. No one else expects it. I do it, ultimately, for my own enjoyment. Which brings me to Race to Nowhere.

Have you seen this documentary, produced by Vicki Abeles? I finally saw it tonight at a showing at my school organized by another teacher (this is the only way to see it, I think). Though persuaded by some of my students the buy and wear a bracelet for $1 ("Stop Racing To Nowhere! Embrace Balance!"), I wasn't sure if I would like the film, which is about "the dark side of America's achievement culture." After all, I just recently watched another film (organized by another teacher at my school) called "2 Million Minutes," which documents how Americans (read: lazy Americans) are falling further and further behind other nations, and how our educational system needs to address this. But I loved Race to Nowhere, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I had tears in my eyes--as a teacher and as a parent--when the lights came on. The auditorium was dark and I only had scrap paper in my bag, but I managed to write down a few questions and comments from the movie. Here they are: "Kids come to us with a love of life and learning. Can we not take that away from them?" "Rates of adolescent anxiety and depression are soaring" "Kids are 'doing school' but are burnt out by college" "People who are successful aren't the ones who go to the top schools. They're persistent, very very persistent. And they really love what they're doing." "In today's educational system, the joy and wonder of learning is lost" And, finally: "Why can't happiness be as important as reading and math skills?"

I want my children, and my students, to be happy. Hard work is a part of that, yes, and so is mastering skills so important in today's world (math, literacy, communication, science). But Race to Nowhere is a powerful reminder that time with friends and family--and perhaps, most importantly, with ourselves--is just as important. Thank you, mom, for taking so much time and effort over the years to make sure that I ended up somewhere, and somewhere I liked. And thank you to produce and director Vicki Abeles as well, for repeating the message in such a powerful way.