This is Red Ribbon Week, or the anti-drug initiative in schools. Tuesday was a district-wide "Blue Out" for drug and alcohol awareness and today is hat day for the elementary schools. I love how happy the kids look in these photos. And they are learning a lot about the danger of drugs. For example, Liam told our chorus teacher that "drugs are bad for you," and when she asked what people could do instead of drugs, he replied, "Take a shower." I think he's truly getting the message, don't you?
This past week was yet another busy one . . . I have accepted the reality of my life until the winter musical is over, actually. In theory, life should calm down a little bit in December, but I am not so naive to think that it actually will. As my children get older, they are interested in more activities, and our social calendar is blossoming for sure.
Unexpected rain brought flooding to many in our area (we were, thankfully, safe and dry!) and Friday, school was cancelled. While I felt badly for those who were dealing with flood waters, I was grateful for a day off with my kids. Since school started, our custody arrangement means that the kids are with me during the week and with their father on Weds. nights for a couple of hours and the weekends from Friday night to Sunday night. This means I miss out on weekend activities, so the day off allowed for a day for us to be together without the responsibilities of school and work.
While the kids and I organized the playroom and enjoyed each other's company, the door bell rang. I wasn't expecting any visitors, so imagine my surprise when I opened the door to a flower delivery!
I learned later that the cancellation threw Gene for a curve and he had to re-schedule the delivery to go to my house instead of school. I have no idea how I got so lucky to have a man like Gene in my life, but I am extremely grateful for him.
I have been amazed not only by how happy we are, but also by the fact that when we are busy or stressed, neither one of us takes it out on the other person. Instead, we draw closer together to get through whatever is thrown our way. Being in a healthy relationship is truly wonderful. The road to each other could have been a little easier for both of us, but we don't question it. Everything that happened in our lives up to this point led us together, so it must have all been meant to be.
Over the weekend, I had another surprise visitor. My friend Michelle dropped off a beautiful blessing for a new house and a new beginning:
I love this sentiment -- and I love that my house is becoming a home for many new memories.
Gene and I also had the chance to catch up with some great friends on Saturday as well. I am so fortunate to have these people in my life. The school schedule makes it more challenging to get together, but they are all very close to my heart. In all, as usual . . . life is good!
Every year, I have an internal struggle over whether or not to assign work over breaks. As a teacher, I see the value in sending a book home with students during vacation. As a mother, I see the value in break being truly a break. I want students to interact with their families over break, not avoid them because they have work to do. I am also aware that students too often lose themselves in their phones, instead of having conversations with their relatives.
What's a teacher-slash-mom to do? This year, I am trying something different over Thanksgiving break, and I am really excited to see what my students come up with.
In 2003, a man named Dave Isay founded StoryCorps, a national initiative to record the stories of actual people. They set up a booth in New York's Grand Central Terminal which allowed for people to step inside and record conversations. The idea blossomed into a national initiative to record and store interviews in the Library of Congress.
As a long time listener of National Public Radio (NPR), I have more than a few times found myself in tears, listening to a StoryCorps interview in what we public radio folks call "driveway moments," when you sit in your car and listen to the radio, even though you've reached your destination. These interviews -- real people having real conversations -- are often powerful, emotional, and universal. It is through listening to the stories of others that we can sometimes learn more about ourselves.
In 2015, StoryCorps won a $1 million prize from TED to create the StoryCorps app, essentially bringing a recording booth to the palm of every hand with a smartphone.
Also in 2015, StoryCorps launched "The Great Thanksgiving Listen," which encouraged high school teachers and students to interview elders over the Thanksgiving holiday. The response was overwhelming, and our nation's history was greatly enriched.
And, so . . . my English students will be participating in this year's Thanksgiving Listen. As I told my AP classes yesterday, so often our daily lives are dominated by our schedules: "Did you do your homework? Are you ready for school? Let's go, we are going to be late for practice." We don't get -- or make -- the opportunities for meaningful conversations: "What were you like when you were a kid? What are you most proud of? How did you know Grandma was The One?" This assignment provides just such an opportunity through the guise of a requirement.
My students will go home over break and conduct interviews with an elder (parent, grandparent, neighbor) of their choice. Before they go home for vacation, they will show me their interview questions, but I've instructed them to remain open to the flow of the conversation and be ready to ask spontaneous questions. They will record their interviews and submit them to me. I'm encouraging, but not requiring, them to also submit them to the Library of Congress record.
After the interview, students will write a short reflection essay in which they discuss what they expected before conducting the interview, what they learned about their interviewee, and what their overall impression of the experience is. I'm attaching points to these activities to validate them, but my main purpose to simply inspire meaningful conversations between students and their elders, to respect and treasure the rich stories of our American history.
Watch this short video to learn more about StoryCorps:
The StoryCorps website also features animated short films that go along with interview recordings. Here's a beautiful one about the love story of Danny & Annie (Danny reminds me of Gene, to be honest!)
And this video explains the TED Prize and the Thanksgiving Listen:
I truly cannot wait to see how my students (and I! I plan on doing this as well! Get ready, Mom and Dad!) respond to this assignment. Be on the lookout for updates! I'll keep you all posted.
If you find this at all interesting, I encourage you to download the free StoryCorps app as well! Add your stories to our nation's history!
My friend Michelle brought me a housewarming present to school the other day. A faithful reader of my blog and a sensitive soul, Michelle bought me a Yankee Candle (because of my post about Yankee Candle Nights) . . . and the scent? "White Christmas!" Talk about perfect.
And no, you do not have to buy me presents to stay on my "Friend" list. I've received several messages from concerned folks since I posted my blog about reclaiming the word "Friend." If I replied, we are good. ;)
Early last week, Gene told me not to make any other plans for the upcoming weekend, aside from my show and my rehearsals for the high school show I am directing. Intriguing, right?
Friday night, my kids came to my show, as did Gene and Kale. They loved it, and I loved having them home for a weekend night. On Saturday, after Ellie's game, the kids went with their dad, and Gene and I decided to do some shopping with Kale. It was around 1 or 2, so we stopped for Friendly's to eat. Gene's phone went off, and he started to panic: "Uh, your surprise is going to be delivered a little sooner than I thought. I may need to go pick it up at home and come back." After a flurry of texts, he said goodbye...and 10 minutes later, my cousin Missi slid into the booth next to me and asked, "Do you know if there are any good shows playing this weekend?"
I freaked out! My aunt, uncle, and cousins all live near the Philly area (you'll recall my posts about Wedding Week 2016 in July, I am sure!), and because they run farms and have to care for animals, it's tough for them to get away to see me. This is why we usually travel to them...that and the farmhouse can sleep over 20 people with no problem at all!
I was bummed that my aunt Betsey and my cousin Trish couldn't make the trip, but it meant a lot to me that Missi came up to see the show. She loved her time at the theatre; we went out for dinner afterward, and she stayed the night. The next morning, Gene took us to breakfast, and of course, Missi had to drive the big yellow truck! (I did this myself a few days ago, but Missi actually drives a truck in real life, so she wasn't a nervous wreck like I was...in fact, I think she may now want a lift kit for Christmas.)
In all, it was a great time, and I can't wait for my schedule to allow for more visits (remember that "musical I am directing at my school" line?). I love my family, and I am so glad I get to see them when I do!
Gabrielle has been doing great at basketball this month, and at her game this past Saturday, she was given an awesome shirt.
As a high school teacher, I have also been very impressed with the high school girls who volunteer their time to help coach these 4th graders. They may not realize it now, but sacrificing some Saturday-morning sleep for a month was worth becoming role models for the younger kids! I plan to take Ellie to some high school games, so she can see her heroes in action!
Several years back, Facebook began using the term "friend," and thus the degradation of the word began. Let me explain: I am not anti-Facebook. I believe Facebook to be a useful tool for connecting people who don't get to see each other on a regular basis; for raising awareness of events and social movements; for trading and selling. But, let's not fool ourselves into thinking we have over 500 friends. We simply do not.
What does the word "Friend" mean, then?
A friend, according to the Bible, loves at all times. That means a friend is a person you reach out to when you need help or advice, and a friend is a person who loves you, despite your faults or mistakes.
A friend is a person who thinks of you, without actually needing something from you. A friend genuinely cares about YOU, not what you can do for him/her. A friend shows up to help you move, or sends you a text when you are having a rough day. And expects nothing in return.
A friend is a person who has your back when others criticize you. A friend defends you when you aren't able to defend yourself. A friend thinks the best of you, not the worst. A friend helps you save face when you need to. A friend doesn't let you embarrass yourself.
A friend makes you a better person just by being part of your life. A friend inspires you because (s)he is doing the very best (s)he can, and when you look at him/her, you think, "I want to be like my kick-ass friend."
I have promised to tell the truth more often on this blog. So, here goes!
I was thinking about a person I care about who is in a toxic relationship, and I was wondering what it was about that relationship that may be appealing. Then, I logged into Facebook, and I happened to see a post from a "friend" who doesn't fit ANY of those above criteria for friendship, and I got to thinking . . . here I am wondering why this other person settles for less than he deserves while I have tolerated people on my "Friend" list for far too long. It's that whole "look at the speck of dust in your brother's eye while you have a plank of wood in your own eye" scenario.
As I stared, wide-awake (thanks to the Dunkin coffee my FRIEND Marisa brought to rehearsal for me this afternoon), I began to scroll through my list of so-called "Friends" on Facebook. Among them I saw:
People I haven't talked to in months, if not years. And I don't mean to imply that there has been some falling out. These are merely acquaintances, or people who I've taught or worked with in the past. We are "friendly," but not friends.
People who I used to consider "family," yet not one of them reached out to me after my divorce, even though they are acutely aware of how difficult ending a 12-year marriage, with children involved, is. I should mention that I never once publicly cast a shred of blame on my ex-husband because I believe my children's future is much more valuable than fighting over a miserable and broken past. There is no reason that these people -- oh, I mean "family" -- could not have sent me a private message that said, "I am sorry to hear of your divorce. You are both good people and good parents. I wish you the best." (Disclaimer: there have been true friends and family members who have reached out. And they know I am not talking about them!)
People who I know have talked about me behind my back, but social pressure prevents me from cutting ties with them.
And guess what? I am beyond tired of bending to other people's expectations for my life. And so, I decided to reclaim the word "Friend." I pruned my Facebook "Friend" tree tonight.
But, here's more honesty: I am probably not done pruning. Why?
1. It takes a long-ass time to go through all those names of people I am supposedly "friends" with.
2. As much as I want to be like, "Ahhhhhd, Goodbye!" to people, I don't have the heart to cut some people out. I have to see how the initial trimming feels, I suppose.
3. I kept a few people as "acquaintances," which is an option on Facebook. These people are the same people who post pictures of my own children and don't allow me to see them because I am not included in the audience of the post, or because they don't tag me in them. I have to wonder why I am keeping people who don't have enough respect to acknowledge me as the mother of my own children as "Friends" or "Acquaintances" on Facebook, but I believe I am basically doing so because I respect their role in my children's lives, even if they don't respect mine.
If nothing else, the past few years have taught me that I am not responsible for how people treat (or ignore) me. I am responsible for what I allow myself to accept. Now I think, Go ahead, and be passive aggressive online if that makes you feel better about yourself. I don't accept your judgment anymore. I don't care what you think about me, or my life.
Unless, of course, you are a TRUE friend. And, you know who you are.
Tonight is the opening of the first-ever show in the black box theatre named after my dear friend Jason. The Moyer Studio Theatre is located in the Community Academy of Stage and Theatre on the 3rd floor of the Community Theatre League. While my schedule was already packed for the fall, I -- with Gene's encouragement and support -- decided to audition for "Polkadots: the Cool Kid Musical" because I wanted to be part of our inaugural show. The fact that two of my best friends, Seth and Marisa, were the directors for the show sealed the deal for me.
I have been discovering that this show is deceptively complex. On the surface, the music is fun, the dialogue is simple, and the make up is creative. But, below the surface, the story of the blue-skinned Squares and the purple-skinned Polkadot not only serves as a direct analogy to the Little Rock 9, history's first black kids to bravely attend a desegregated school, but it also serves as a lesson on the complicated process of accepting change.
I play Ms. Square, the teacher. Oh, and I double as Mama Square, the mom. Talk about your typecasting, right? As a mother, I am committed to the Square way of life, and my children and I sing "The Square Motto" as a sort of mealtime prayer, extolling the virtues of our Squareness. When my son Sky Square tells me that he's made a new friend, and not just any friend, but a Polkadot -- I am flabbergasted. I exit my one scene as Mama Square with the quintessential excuse to "talk to your father," but my reaction symbolizes the potential reaction of every Square parent: disgust, confusion, revulsion. Sky and his sister Penelope have to make sense of this brave new world on their own.
Well, maybe not entirely on their own. After all, they have the help of their teacher, Ms. Square. While I sing about my hope that the minds of my students will be "open to my new pleasant surprise" because "things are changing, starting today," my character wrestles with what these "mindsets rearranging" looks like in real life. At times, I seem to encourage my students to buck the system and think for themselves; yet, at other times, I am a stickler about the rules -- from the basic running in the hallways to the more serious infraction of Squares drinking from the Polkadot pump and vice versa.
I find some of my lines and motivations frustrating at times. I have what Seth called a "four-line character arc," and perhaps that is a practical reality in a 55-minute musical. But, I have come to appreciate that my character isn't simple. This show is ultimately about racism and other forms of discrimination. Penelope doesn't like Lily simply because she has polkadots on her skin... she "doesn't need another reason" to hate her. My character is a product of her time. Yes, she was the "first lady teacher at Rockaway," but she also embraces some of the rules and expectations of her community. To make Ms. Square the sole agent of change is to cheapen the real struggle of minorities to pave their way in the world. Ms. Square isn't the Great White -- err, I mean Blue-- Hope. She's learning alongside her students, a guide by their side.
My own children have seen the show several times in rehearsal, and we've had some great conversations about what happens: "Why can't Lily drink from the same water fountain? Why does Penelope try to hit Lily with the dodgeball? Why can't Sky invite Lily over to play? What does Sky mean when he sings 'Though our skin is different, I'm still your brother?"
Not surprisingly, I am very proud to be part of this show and to share the experience with Gene (of course he helped with the set!) and my kids. Ellie said, "Even though tech week is pretty hectic, I am so glad we do theatre together as a family." Aidan and Liam agreed. And that makes it all worth it!
You know those "epic fail" videos and pictures that are so popular on the Internet? Well, in the spirit of telling the truth, I'll share with you my latest "mom fail."
Yesterday was beyond hectic: After teaching all day, I had a rehearsal for the musical at the high school, then I had to be at the theatre for a tech rehearsal of the musical I am in this weekend. We were home for a whirlwind dinner (which Gene made for us because he's amazing) and by the time I had to leave, to say I was feeling a little overwhelmed would be an understatement.
As the boys and I went to the van, Aidan and I were talking about his homework for the evening. Earlier, he had told me he didn't have any; suddenly, he remembered he needed to do something, and then he was upset because it would cut into his time to hang out at my rehearsal. I pointed out that he could have done whatever it was when I asked him earlier, and as I was talking, he walked away from me and essentially shut the door in my face.
This was not a good move.
I launched into full-power lecture mode, and he launched into full-power talking back mode. The situation was bound for disaster. And a disaster it was. What came next can only be described as "I lost my shit." I screamed at Aidan; he cried.
And I felt terrible.
As we drove to the theatre, we both cooled down, and I heard his little voice from the back seat, "I'm sorry, Mom." I told him, "I am sorry, too, buddy. I hate to yell. You know that." What followed was a really good discussion about losing our tempers and treating each other with respect.
Now, I could chalk this "lose my shit" moment as a complete failure. But I won't do that. Here's why: we learn so much from our failures. Had I not had a good conversation with Aidan (with little Liam listening and watching), then it would be a failure. So much comes out of those conversations we have with our kids, when we admit our shortcomings and talk about how to handle situations better.
Fast forward to the end of rehearsal. Gene was there because he was helping with the set, and he asked Aidan if he wanted to ride back to the house with him in the truck. Later, after the kids went to bed, I gave Gene a long-overdue haircut before he went home. We talked about the ride with Aidan, and it was clear that he was trying to make sense of his world.
Gene didn't know about me "losing my shit" at all, by the way.
Aidan asked Gene why he never gets mad. Gene told him that he does get mad, but that he would much rather be happy, so he chooses not to get angry over little things that won't really matter in the long run. They talked about how to control your temper and why it pays to stay calm and stay on the high road.
Isn't it great when the Universe sends the same message YOU are trying to send to your kids through a different venue?
This morning, the day dawned brighter for us all. Aidan was in a much better mood, and he even hugged his sister before he left for school. I said to him: "I really like this positive attitude you have this morning," and he replied, "I am trying to do something different today."
I don't know about you, but that sounds like learning from an epic mom fail to me!