Gallery opening

Today was the last day for our sculpture projects and the day for our “art gallery.” Students had 25 minutes to finish their wood and paper sculptures, adding the finishing touches of paint and paper to the wooden pieces they had glued together.  Some kids grabbed large squares of tissue paper or specially designed card stock and tried to glue it to the top of their sculptures, like a big hat. Others cut paper into a million little pieces to glue down a design.  One student covered his wooden sculpture with so much paper, it looked pretty monstrous by the end. He said it was a boat.

One student didn’t quite understand (the instructions were given in Spanish and he is 1) not yet fluent in Spanish and 2) very easily distracted), and he instead glued together two pieces of tissue paper to make an airplane to sit next to his other, wooden, airplane sculpture.  When I showed him what the others were doing, he cut one small piece of paper to add to his wooden plane and spent the next 10 minutes zooming his plane in circles in the air.

A student who struggles very significantly every day to make it through the day without a meltdown did a very creative piece (I’ll add the picture tomorrow).  He fringed long strips of colored tissue paper to glue down in piñata-like layers along the four edges of his wooden “bridge.” He also cut small sections of egg cartons to add as purple flowers along the edge. Unfortunately, he decided to attack another student with glue-y egg carton pieces halfway through, so he got to finish his project in the pod with the help of an administrator, but he finished!

Students filled with pride as they presented to the class for our “art gallery”. They practiced with their partner a few times how to say what they made for their sculpture, and then told the class as they showed their piece.  Every single student shared what they did, in Spanish, in a loud voice. Success! It was raining too hard to send them home today, and it looks like it won’t be sunny again for a while.  Hopefully they make it home soon, though, so we can reclaim the counter space in the classroom.  With 47 students between my two science classes, every inch is exploding in color.

 

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Fortitude and heart

WHACK! A student was walking with his extra-long landing strip (his sculpture made of wood) and rammed it into the cheek of another student (I’ll call her Kay) as he turned to walk away.  Luckily it missed her eye and will hopefully just leave a small bruise.  He felt terrible and apologized profusely, saying it was an accident and that he knew it must hurt a lot.  I imagined it might happen at some point this week, but was trying my best to shepherd kids closely so that their dangerously rough and pointy sculptures would make it to and from the tables with minimal cross traffic.

Kay returned to her table, got her sculpture and came to show it to me to say that she was having a problem.  The slide she had added to the top of her wooden ladder kept falling off.  She had cut apart an aluminum foil box and tried to fold it and glue it to the wood. I said, “Let’s go problem solve that at the table.”  I started walking back to the table and she tried to run around me, but tripped on my feet.  SPLAT! CRACK! The four pieces of wood that were glued together flew in different directions.

A crowd gathered around her to offer her condolences and I gave her a hug.  “What a disappointment that must be! No worries, we will get it back together in no time.”  Everyone around her reassured her that yes, she would be able to fix it.  She gathered the pieces and within minutes had it pieced together.  She also solved the problem of the slide without my assistance.

Kay has needed extra support around behavior and social skills so far in Kindergarten.  We send a note home daily to let her parents know how she does. On my way home today, I realized how grateful I was for her resilience and flexibility with both setbacks. Also, I was grateful for the compassion that the others showed her.  I forgot to communicate my appreciation for all of those things today, so it’s top of the list for tomorrow’s breakfast check-ins.

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Arising

underground plants

Yesterday, I read a very inspiring interview with a man from Ireland about his work for peace and healing there. There were dozens of parts of his interview that have me reeling with YES. One talked about finding that he was a stranger in his own land in some ways after returning from travels in other countries, and his realization that the challenge is to greet each new moment as a stranger.  He also talks about how it’s not important to agree with our lovers and family members.  What is important is captured in the phrase:

“the argument of being alive.” Or in Irish, when you talk about trust, there’s a beautiful phrase from West Kerry where you say, “Mo sheasamh ort lá na choise tinne,” “You are the place where I stand on the day when my feet are sore.”

Sometimes the guidance of deep wisdom comes and we can’t see it or use it, but I was floored yesterday when I read the interview.  I felt like a train had appeared out of nowhere, and I was solidly sitting in a seat before I knew it, released from a storm of emotion. As the Buddha talks about, perception is like a banana tree.  You chop it down and it’s empty inside.

I also have this song stuck in my head, about “Home” being whereever I’m with you (bittersweet in that the singer in the song is dedicating the song to his mother who was deported). As each new experience arises, I hope to greet it with curiosity.  I hope to remember the deep network of trust underground that connects me to those I love, and hold space in our above-ground growth for distance, difference and discomfort.

Safety planning

family tree

Craving,

wishing it weren’t necessary.

My lips purse, my throat tightens,

I swallow.

“Please, come in out of the rain.”  They awkwardly stand just inside my front door, after I insist.

We walk through the documents that assign me as a legal guardian. “No restrictions” on my power to handle the school, medical and legal matters for two precious children, in case of emergency. I slide my hands over their birth certificates, the notarized signatures.  We say out loud, for good measure: hopefully these papers will never be needed.  They assure me that they have told their kids to call me if something happens, and finally told them they might be arrested by ICE someday.  They have slipped a copy of the papers into their kids’ backpacks.

I breathe as I read the worry in their eyes.  The parents ask whether they might be eligible for this, or for that, under immigration law, and would that old DUI matter any more?  I remind them that they should really talk with an attorney.  I used to work in immigration law for many years before becoming a teacher, but that was over ten years ago now. I share what little I can remember, and say don’t talk or sign anything without talking to an attorney.  They discuss whether Canada would be an option, given that the mom is a certified nurse.

I feel compelled to tell them that I am married to a woman, since they are entrusting their kids to me. I say, maybe you already knew, but some people are uncomfortable with that, so I want to tell you directly. They say that they already knew.  The dad says I already told him, but I don’t remember. I often don’t come out to families from school, especially if I know they are churchgoers (though I know many churches are starting to change). I have known this family a long time, however, and their incredibly kind eyes reassure me.

When there are no more words to say, they slip into a repeated, heartfelt “thank you.” There is no doubt, I say, and I am honored by your trust.  I pray that we can work together so that all of our families can live in peace and free from harm.

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Ofrendas

Luna llena, te presentas

cada mes vestida

de diferentes vestidos

pero siempre

in full bosomed swagger.

Llevas tu corona de espinas,

tus tendones blancos estremecidos,

tu respiración húmeda.

 

Soy como tu océano,

te huelo acercarte desde el otro lado.

Cuento las veces que me revuelves

contra mi misma,

y me pierdo en el conteo.

Una vez, una vez, una vez más.

Me lanzas como tu lengua salvaje

contra la arena, dejando conchas

para contar las historias.

 

Maestra de mi sangre,

me enseñas la bruja

que manda mis nubes,

la Llorona atrapada,

las rocas que se convirtieron

en la arena.

Me arrodillo en el espacio

entre tus brazos

y me ofrezco.

full moon

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Return

The flush of spring erupted for me today.

This morning I jogged 3.5 miles at the gym, which is the farthest I’ve run in a long time.  After about 1.5 miles, the adrenaline gushed down into my legs and they felt light and alive, with ganas. For the rest of the day I have felt the tingling, satiated sensation of veins full of blood, radiating warmth.  I felt younger, hungrier, bouncier.

This afternoon, sunshine blanketed everything. As I walked the dog, I closed my eyes and gulped it down like long sought water.  He gave me that goofy smile as wide as his face as I threw the ball for him. Each time he returned, prancing like a little clown.

As we headed inside, I noticed that a new batch of crocuses must have just bloomed in my front yard, growing so tightly together they looked like a bouquet.  As I got nearer, a bee flew up near my face. I watched it find another batch of flowers and then saw that there were dozens of them, fuzzy bodies gently lifting and descending into yellow powder.

Even though I was going to be late for an appointment, I turned in slow circles for a few extra minutes, arms outstretched.  Welcome back, Spring wonders, welcome back!

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Welcome to the jungle

I knew it was coming, but a surprise principal observation still sends extra charges to my heart and sets off the saliva in my mouth. This afternoon, my students began their wood and paper sculptures as a culminating construction project at the end of a science unit.  I hauled in five boxes of wood scraps I have been collecting throughout the last year (which my honey will be happy to finally see gone from our shed and garage!). Students only had glue and wood so I explained that they will likely have some problems to resolve when we return again to test them out after a few days of drying.

The buzz of invention set in as students tried balancing 2x1s vertically and horizontally on top of each other.  Glue was being applied prudently, without major messes. As students began changing their designs or going back for more wood, the hum grew and the space was filled with the zig zag of bodies and pointy pieces of wood.  Then the principal showed up with her smile and her laptop.  I said, “Welcome to controlled chaos! We are building sculptures today.”

I immediately thought of the list she sent out on Monday of “things I expect to see when I come into your classrooms.” The language objective!  Ugh.  I have been getting better about writing them on the board along with my learning target, but today there was no evidence of it.  The part that we did do had already happened before she arrived. She talked to students and then sat down to write her observations.

I watched the clock as we ticked closer to the end of the period before we would have to clean up and get to gym. I knew that transferring the delicately unstable designs to a table to dry would be dramatic and full of collapsed houses, skate parks and castles.  I warned kids they may need to reconstruct them slightly in their new spot.  Right in front of the principal, I picked up a larger piece and it fell all over the floor.  One student shouted, “That’s your fault, teacher!”  It was kind of hilarious that he felt the need to say that, and we all laughed it off.  Another student reprimanded him, saying he wasn’t being very nice to the teacher, which I told him I appreciated ;). Then another student jumped off of a chair. I asked students to wash down the tables with sponges, and they thought it was exciting to wash the (already clean) chairs, too. I gave up on getting all the sculptures moved at that point, and hustled them all into line. When it was time to be in the hallway walking to gym, another student started yelling over by the sink.  He had gotten his foot stuck in the IKEA stepstool we use and was stomping it around the room like a clown shoe.

At that point, I just relaxed.  I think she already knows what Kindergarten classrooms are like.  It’s whether they’re learning that counts, and they were definitely engaged in their projects today. I repeat my mantra to myself: I am a student of life and give myself permission to keep learning.  Now for tackling our “problem solving” on Monday!

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Teacher cred

I have lots of privilege – white, middle class, able-bodied, cisgender, US citizen, English speaker and teacher. The teacher privilege isn’t usually such a big deal, but it has been a clear add-on in my experience. Being a teacher doesn’t necessarily result in increased access to power and wealth (probably the opposite in some ways), but most people are willing to trust a teacher. They assume you have good intentions and the patience of a saint. They know you have chosen a career you do for love.  All of the forms of privilege work in conjunction with each other, but the teacher signifier often earns an extra smile.

This week, teacher cred led to a free Sambal Oelek.  Last Saturday, I went in to the local Cambodian market I often go to for Asian food staples.  I got to the counter and said hi to the cashier I know. He asked, “How is school going?”  I replied, “It’s going well, but a lot of families are under stress.”  He said, “I know what you mean. These days, you don’t even have to say it, and people know what you’re talking about.” As he finished running my credit card, I remembered I needed some Sambal Oelek (chili paste). I said I would run to get it and pay cash.  When I got back, I opened my wallet and realized I didn’t have any cash.  Doh! I was going to just put it back, but he stuffed it in the bag and said, “You can have it, on us. Teachers deserve way more than an extra Sambal Oelek.” I mumbled thanks, and said I would pay it back the next time.  I tried to pay for it today, when I went back for some groceries, but he insisted that it was a gift.

I don’t expect gifts and am humbled by the appreciation. May the extra love help me deliver on the expectations!

sambal

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Jazz

trumpet extending like summer legs on a lounge chair

soft pops of piano keys repeat the story of small revelry

wine or coffee under the nostrils, slightly gritty and addictive

drops into the black space

 

i can remember my grandfather’s hands

knobby knuckles that worked factory jobs and steel and at night

danced with his upright bass to

big band music he learned by ear

 

as i lean back into the arms of the music

i imagine his heel bobbing under the table

his hand reaching out in invitation

inventing histories we never got to tell

 

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