Right speech

Today I worked on essays for a special project and had a video interview. The essays and the interviewer asked good questions, and I wrestled with deep inquiry into my beliefs and positions around topics in education.  I felt as though I had bins of colorful rocks I have gathered over the years of beach combing and was now given one day to create a mosaic.  In some ways, I was ready for the challenge and tapped into the flow of creativity that is unrehearsed and unedited.  I also rambled, brain fuzzy with lack of practice.

Speaking to a larger audience than my familiar circle requires an elusive ability to balance.  I was struggling with how to speak the truths of racial injustice as I see them without losing integrity, and yet be strategic in my presentation so that the audience could hear my message without getting defensive.  I don’t know if that is possible, to be honest.  If I am being accountable to the children of color who are being failed in our system, I need to acknowledge the myth of white superiority that our country is founded on.  I need to acknowledge the ways in which our education system perpetuates that delusion.  As a young organizer, however, I alienated friends and family with my fiery demands and I got stuck in good/bad binaries of judgment toward myself and others. I know firsthand the fight, flight or freeze response that can arise when challenged to face the harm of my own racism.  I honor our collective ability to evolve, yet I see how incredibly resistant we can be.

I wondered who was my audience, the committee that will decide the winner.  I needed to provide enough detail to get past the rhetoric and jargon, yet concisely state my point in 500 words or less. In person for the video, I could watch for signs that the interviewer was bored or glazed over or excited and inspired.  Submitting my writing is much harder, like releasing a bottle into the ocean with no expectation for receipt.  So for today, I suspend the need for perfection, for validation. My blog post will be late, my essays will represent my best abilities in this moment. May the words that emerge serve to bring about more love.

Piscinas vernales

IMG_8646

Lejos de mí,

pero bajo el mismo cielo anciano,

mi madre gira

y se viste,

se pone la lámpara

y reúne a su equipo.

El reloj de la luna

ha sonado la noche anual

de las salamandras.

Las ayuda a cruzar

el terreno peligroso,

el depredador moderno:

la calle.

 

Ella es partera

a las salamandras

que emergen,

fébriles y calientes,

de sus túneles debajo del bosque,

arrastrándose

en búsqueda de las piscinas vernales,

efímeras y llenas de las llamadas

hambrientas y urgentes

de querer soltar

otra cascada de huevos

en el agua fresca y frío.

 

Seconds

IMG_9999

Creamy and dairy free

soft noodles

broccoli and carrots

crunchy yet tender

thinly sliced chicken

caramelized brown

in shallots and sugar,

leaving behind the spicy

shadow that burns

the edges of my lips

and the tip of my tongue

long after I’m done.

I return for seconds,

though there’s no room,

as though a little bit more

could tame the craving

for perfection.

Spring flowers

IMG_9996

Signs of spring are popping into view all around us here in the Pacific Northwest. In Spring, I realize that I track all of the firsts.  The first robin, the first daffodils, the first buds on the trees. I walked out into my backyard last Friday night, after dark, to let the dog out, and saw the first flower had shown up in the rain garden I created last summer/fall.  I had just been out to the garden the day before and had scanned for signs of bulbs bursting but hadn’t seen anything where this trillium now stood.  On Saturday morning, I took a look in the daylight and marveled at its fullness and sudden birth.

Saturday was sunny and warm, the kind of day where you could see the plants grow.  Some of my perennials literally grew a foot from morning to afternoon, pushing their way toward the Spring sunshine like the cry of a newborn.

Today is another rainy day, nourishing the carrot seeds my kindergarteners planted in neat rows on Friday in our school garden. The Spring brings me a sense of power, that I can facilitate bringing to life food and flowers that will sustain me.  It is also a reminder of how my actions are only one small stream among many converging streams.

Today is the new moon. I bow down to fertility, the movement of water and heat, the ever changing nature of things that seem solid, the inspiration of dreams.

Descent

black hole.png

Friday, 2:00 pm. As I turn to call student to the carpet for our day’s closing ceremonies, I notice a raspy pain in my throat.

Friday, 6:00 pm. I drag myself home from school after three hours of planning and processing the week with co workers.  I walk the dog in pouring rain.  I don’t mind the Spring rain inspiration at first, but then my pants start sticking to my thighs, and the drench slowly makes its way down to my feet.

Friday, 6:30 pm. I open the fridge, see the same leftovers I have eaten every day this week, and suggest we get take-out bun tofu, our comfort food. I’m too tired to cook.

Friday, 8:40pm. After returning with the food, we watch the movie Keanu on HBO. I think about stopping the movie to get my laptop and write a blog post but the kitchen table seems really far away and the dog is curled up, half on my lap and half on my arm.  I consider, momentarily, asking my partner to get it for me, but I decide that is kinda ridiculous. Plus, I would still have to kick the dog off my lap to write. Oh well, one more missed day for the writing challenge.

Friday, 10:30pm. I am now up and take my laptop to bed, thinking I will at least get ahead of myself to write the post for Saturday. Dense knots start to appear inside my sinuses, my brain shuts down and I surrender to sleep.

Today, 12:00 am. I wake up, my throat burning with a dry cough. I’m hot but can’t get up to turn down the heat.

Today, 3:00-4:30 am.  I alternate between coughing and tossing about, trying to get comfortable. My body is coursing with electric sensations and muscle fatigue.  My heart is racing and I’m burning up.  I manage to get out of bed to turn down the heater and get some Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa cough medicine powder. I imagine the battle between white blood cells and the cold virus.  I think, the virus will win if I stay amped up.  I must relax.  I try to master my mind with deep breathing and imagine sinking into the bed.  Usually I don’t have any problem falling asleep, but my standard techniques are not working. My partner snores so loudly she wakes herself up.  I start thinking the same thoughts over and over.  I guess I won’t be doing my 5K in the morning.  I listen to a half hour of my audio book and finally fall asleep when it’s over.

Today, 6:00 am. Sun is starting to make it’s way in through the wooden slats of the blinds.  I hear birds.  I’m still hot and I feel my mind switch back on. I think of the list of things I hoped to do today: 5K race, gardening, clean the house, start working on my resume and application for the award, dinner with friends and their new baby, just back from traveling.  I try to sleep again but then my partner’s up and getting ready for work.  I try the audio book again, but no luck. I text my friends I won’t make it to the race after all.  Joey returns from his walk and curls up on my arm, with his head in my hand.  I melt.

Today, 8:00 am. Stuck on Facebook.  My partner makes me breakfast: vegetarian wonton soup with eggs.  Now the sun is shining gloriously through the window and I think that maybe if I rest I can still get some of my to-do list done.

Today, 9:00 am. Back to bed. The brakes are on. I relax into the slowness and watch time slip through it like a black hole.

Zoo day

Today was our big field trip to the zoo. I’m  torn about the zoo trip every year. I am sad that humans have traditionally put animals on display, at a sacrifice to their well being. On the other hand I know that the zoo helps in some ways with endangered species and injured animals. Also, many students won’t have the opportunity to see animals up close otherwise, and they love it.

This year we had more parents want to join us than we have ever had before. We had 23 adults for 45 students, and almost everyone fit on the bus! We had to turn away five more parents who wanted to come but wouldn’t fit.

Our bus ride was remarkable. The bus driver had long white hair and sunglasses, and reminded me of Grateful Dead groupies. He announced that we could have an extra half hour there because he didn’t have to back for anything after us today. As soon as we were on the road, he turned on rock music. The boys I was near shouted and turned on their air guitars. School buses never play music. He also drove like he was racing a sports car. We went flying around curves, passed all the other buses on the road and he didn’t care how loud we were. Every bump sent us flying. One little boy looked at me wide-eyed and grabbed my hand from across the aisle.  When we got to the zoo, I got a text from one of the families who were attempting to follow the bus in their car, saying they were pulled over by the cops for driving in the bus lane.  Luckily, the cop let them off with a warning and they made it before our group entered.

We had unusually sunny weather and since there were so many adults I walked around taking pictures with my co-teacher and hanging out with groups when we ran into them. I finally got to see the wolves and bears, which are at the far north end of the zoo.  The grey wolves were wrestling and playing and licking each other, and reminded me of my old white German Shepherd who passed away a few years ago. Two eagles chased each other around their enclosure, yapping in apparent argument. I heard later from one of the moms that the new baby gorilla tapped on the window and used gestures to get one of the visitors to pull a book out of her purse and read it, page by page. We dodged poop in the many aviaries.

Groups returned on time, exhausted and happy and bubbling with talk. We took a bunch of group photos, with the kids acting like different animals. Before I could get to my seat to go home on the bus later, the bus took off. Our crazy bus driver got us back to school and everyone relaxed. Awe for life surfaced over and over today.

Super maestra

super_maestra_colorI have become adept

at eating while working

and working while talking

and holding my pee.

 

I can watch what’s behind me,

listen to recess complaints,

write as I talk and

walk backwards to gym.

 

I can send silent signals,

track student progress,

turn frowns upside down

and get all kids to sing.

 

Today was a day

that required super powers,

a calm exterior to soothe

the whirlwind within.

 

Dedication

I have a former student (I’ll call him Gabriel) who volunteers in my room every single day, without fail.  He is in the fifth grade now, and I was his Kindergarten teacher.  I also taught his younger brother, who is in 3rd grade, as well as his youngest brother, who is in Kindergarten.  When Gabriel was in Kindergarten, he had extreme difficulty sitting still and focusing. I had many conversations with his mom and him about his behavior, but I also saw him make academic gains.  All three boys are extraordinarily bright and love to learn, especially about dinosaurs.  Their mom is pretty strict and pushes them to high expectations.  All three are also extremely kind and compassionate with their peers.

He is not the first former student to volunteer – many students return to volunteer, and there are a few others this year who come almost every day.  Gabriel, however, really wants to connect.  He comes when students are at specialist and he helps me by preparing homework folders and setting out snack. I have come to depend on his help, and we chat as he helps.  Usually, he tells me about a movie he has seen or a book he is reading.  Sometimes, he tells me about things his friends are talking about or what they’re studying.  Today, he told me that over the weekend, his dad showed him a movie called Desierto. I haven’t seen it yet, but I might now.  He said that his dad wanted to show it to him so he would learn more about what it is like to try to cross the border from Mexico, since that is what his dad went through to get here.  He told me that he learned about how many people die in the process and how there are racists who want to kill them. He said he is so grateful his dad made it.  I said I am too, and I am sad there isn’t an easier way for families to live in freedom and with economic stability.

Unfortunately, I often have to cut Gabriel off mid-chat so that I can go pick up the students, and today was no exception. We were going to be gathering for cupcakes after returning because it was a student’s birthday and he brought treats for everyone.  I saw the younger version of Gabriel come out as he half-whined that he wanted one too.

I thought this afternoon about the beauty of the evolving relationship I am enjoying with Gabriel. I have heard that having an adult they believe really cares about them at school can make a big difference in students’ long term success.  It’s hard to know how we impact our students sometimes as teachers, and I’m sure there are visible and invisible ways it happens every day.  I am glad that Gabriel feels comfortable in my room (he often reminds me when I need to leave to pick up the kids), wants to give back to help others, and knows that I care about what he feels and thinks.

As I look around my current group of Kindergarteners, I wonder which will want to volunteer when they’re in 4th or 5th grade, or perhaps even return to visit when they’re older and gone from our school.  How will our relationships evolve over time? Who will move away? The length of our time together is a mystery, and I cherish each moment.

Get out!

I really fell off the train of momentum this weekend for the Slice of Life commitment because of report cards and extra work that got piled on. So here I am, dusting off my knees and placing one foot in front of the other again.

Last Friday night, I went to see the movie Get out, by Jordan and Peele.  It is an incredibly powerful film and I highly recommend that you all see it, so I will try to not include too many spoilers in this blog post.  It is essentially a horror movie about a Black guy from New York City going to visit his White girlfriend’s family for the first time.  There is some comedy mixed in with the suspense and horror, which is good, because the dose of realism in the movie can be intense.

Luckily, I went to see it with some friends and we went out for (ginger) beer to process it afterwords.  There are exaggerations of racism in the movie, but there are also plenty of examples of the micro-aggressions / everyday racism as well.  The symbolism is complex and  deep, and we made much more sense of it by talking through it together.  Mostly, however, I left with a heavy weight in my stomach and a sick unease.  This movie is an opportunity for White America to take a look in the dark mirror of our diseased culture of superiority.  I have heard that this is a box office hit, and wonder whether most White people will watch it and think, “That’s not me – those are some racist White people, for real!”  And how many will pause to allow honesty about the ways this depiction permeates our DNA, as a historic entitlement to judge, harm and use Black bodies for our benefit.

Recognition

Returning after a two day absence, because life got a little busier this week.

About 1.5 weeks ago I found out I was nominated for an award, and the awards event was Thursday night.  I went with no expectation of being chosen, as there were many nominees.  I don’t usually have wine but I was nervous and gulped down a small cabernet sauvignon.  I thought about the heels on my boots and how I would be standing for a long time (I’m usually a comfortable-shoes type of person).  Luckily I saw some friendly faces soon after I arrived. My principal and vice principal showed up to cheer me on as well.

When the event started, they began with the outstanding volunteer award.  The winner was asked to give a speech and I gulped.  If I were to win, I would have to give a speech to this large crowd??? My vice principal teased that I had better get my speech ready. I said I had no idea what I would say, and my principal joked that I should do it in Spanish because then half the crowd wouldn’t understand me anyway.  I felt my face start burning and I said, Uh oh. I am starting to feel the wine I drank!  My vice principal joked that maybe another wine would help.

When I won later, I was totally shocked.  The announcer pretended to do an Oscar “wrong envelope” move on me, which I totally fell for at first. When I was handed the microphone, I managed to say a few lines about how much I appreciate the support my school leadership and district is showing for work around equity and supporting immigrant families.  The district superintendent gave me a few hugs and shared words of encouragement.  A sweet elderly retired teacher took my hands and congratulated me, and shared how meaningful it was to hear that I help with the school garden.

After that, I wanted to run right out of the building.  I am not used to public recognition in front of crowds. I started walking toward the door after giving hugs and taking a few photos with the handful of people I knew there.  I stopped to talk to someone near the door and a guy said that I was supposed to stay for official photographs.  Duh!  I did my duty and left, my face still burning, the slight aroma of sweat wafting up from my coat. My apple watch registered a highly unusual number of calories burned, so my heart rate must have been working overtime.  By 11 pm, three hours later, my face finally started to cool down.

Since then, I have clearly seen the competing messages inside my head about whether I deserved it or not. My meditation practice (and partner) have been very helpful in reminding me to drop any negative thoughts.  There are countless numbers of amazing teachers, many of whom have mentored me or work alongside me. May we all receive recognition for our passion, dedication and love for children.