Why I Teach In StC- Top Four Reasons

Education is both our most powerful weapon and honorable prestige.

When you’re called to be a teacher, people assume it’s because you want to relax during your summers and giggle with children during the school day.  Let me be the first to tell you that while teaching is sincerely rewarding, it is an incredibly hard and emotionally challenging job.  Education requires specific people to be placed in each position in order to be successful.  Not even free summers and kid-giggles make up for the hardness of the job.

But when people hear that you’re a teacher in my district, you’re instantly given one of two looks: pity or disgust.  Both of which are equally offensive because of the high praise I continue to give to all the members of this body.

It was important to me to understand the demanding, terrible, and undeniable pieces of teaching before becoming an educator.  As it turns out, some of these aspects are what I love most about the gig.  And while I am still a fresh face in this community of educators, please know that the required amount of effort and energy to perfect this broken system is not lost on me.  I get it- our jail cells are full, our mental health crisis continues to rise, and there is, frankly, not enough help for those who need it. We have a lot of work to do.

I, however, want to focus on these four beautifully unpleasant, harmonious and ridiculous pieces of our schools that, ultimately, are my favorites.

4. The Scenery– When I walk through the school doors, I am awed at its vibrance and dazzle.  No, not the building itself, of course.  It’s the people in these buildings that remind me of a box of a thousand crayolas parading through the halls.  The students are such a vast array of chestnut, rose, chocolate, peach, ochre, beige, vanilla, mocha, and cedar.  They wear yellow hijabs, have green hair, purple shoes and silver laces.  Their colors tell such unique stories of who they are and where they’ve been.  Their colors display honor to their families, their faith, and their individuality.  It is so visually striking to walk in the doors and be simultaneously reminded of both uniqueness and unity.

3.  The Need- There is always something to do, always someone to help, always some way to love harder.  We have kids who’ve experienced unimaginable trauma and live with abuse and neglect.  Some of our babies come hungry and dirty.  Some of our kids live in four-bedroom houses with a double garage and a full refrigerator.  Some of our kids have parents who are doctors or lawyers.  They all have different stories, different families, and different circumstances. We love them all- believe me, we do. And when they walk through their school doors, they are validated, adored, and encouraged.  But the ones that have the hungry bellies and the sad thoughts continue to create a different meaning in our lives.  They all deserve to be children- to be safe, healthy, and cherished.  That need empowers us to love harder. They empower us to fill in the gaps.  And there are always gaps, there is always a need.

2. The Hard- We love our students enough to have expectations and to hold them to a standard for which they can be successful.  We give them truth about the world and require effort to better themselves for tomorrow.  A lot of times it’s hard.  Sometimes it comes with consequences.  But we are not truly loving these children if we aren’t firm, if we don’t give them structure, and if we aren’t truthful.  We are not truly loving these children if we don’t allow them exhausting, difficult, and demanding opportunities and experiences.  It is easy to let them fail.  It is easy to let them stay comfortable.  But when I look at my colleagues, all the way from custodian to principal, from para to teacher, from OT to superintendent, I appreciate the hard that we all share (because none-absolutely none- of these jobs are simple).

1. The Community- It’s downright appalling that community members can believe our brown students, our trauma students, our refugee students, our gender diverse students, our impoverished students and our disabled students don’t hold merit in our buildings.  It’s disgraceful to see such spiteful words and actions from our neighbors who are unable to see the beauty in our walls.  But, I believe, in doing all the things above with fidelity and devotion.  And when things are done in love, our love grows.  The community will continue to build, continue to grow, and continue to change with all of its inhabitants.  The community will continue to be fortunate, healthy, and spirited as our young ones grow and become our next leaders.  These buildings are, in fact, giving these babies hope for a peaceful future.  A better tomorrow.  And a more loving, welcoming community.

What an honor it is to be a part of a love that is so important.

xoxo

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I Spent Too Long Being Quiet

When Luca was four years old, I took him to his pre-k screening to be sure he was on track for kindergarten.  These screenings include lots of different kinds of ‘checks’ like vision/hearing, large and fine motor, language and communication skills, etc.  At that time he’d already been given a medical and educational diagnosis for autism, but I’m a rule follower.  I wanted Luca to experience this simple procedure to see if there were any other red flags before kindergarten.

Damn, that was a poor choice.

My kid struggled the moment we walked in the door.  It was quickly paced- there were stations that children visited, each with a different woman noting their failings or strengths.  Luca was a mess.  His ASD brain battled moving spot to spot, person to person, and finally shut down without completing the screening.

I was only four years into motherhood and was relatively tame when it came to advocating for my kid, but I finally was so fed up with their non-existent plan to support any kiddo with sensory needs, I requested that one woman stick with Luca for the remainder of the tests.

With some coaching and bribing by mom, he was near the end of his testing when the screener asked if I would sit with him and encourage him to “move faster” with his answers.  Enter eye roll.  I obliged and sat next to my then gender-dysphoric child.

“Lucy, point to the animal that barks.” “How many triangles are in this picture.” “How old are you?”

“Are you a boy or a girl?”  Shit.  I cringed.

“Boy!” he answered as I simultaneously and nervously laughed.

“Heh.  She always says that.  You’re so silly.”

My stomach turned and I instantly felt gross as I watched Ms. Screen’s red pen make a slash mark, staining the paper by the “incorrect” answer.  I didn’t yell.  I didn’t curse.  I didn’t even say anything.  Instead I chose to hold that shameful, guilty, and awful feeling in my gut.

Weeks later I found enough courage to email to the screening director, asking for better spaces and accommodations for children with special needs.  I didn’t mention the question about gender.  It was too much to explain, even though there weren’t even words for me to illustrate the pain and confusion that we were in.

I regret not speaking up.

I regret not getting help.  I regret not asking more questions.

I regret not hearing my kid at three.  At four.  At five and six.  Until finally- at seven years and seven months old, I swore to myself I would NEVER let my child be a statistic.

{More than half of transgender male teens who participated in the American Academy of Pediatrics reported attempting suicide in their lifetime}.

The regret still haunts me and I feel battered and tortured by the minutes, hours, and days that I chose not to validate my kid.  But luckily, I am ignited by the flames of forgiveness.

Which leads me to now.

I will not give up.  I will not be silenced.  I spent too long- much too long- being quiet.  I will call out spaces that don’t allow people- our children!- to be who they were born to be.  I will oppose hate and challenge exclusion.

I will not shut up.

And someday, Luca will say, “Mom, this is my story and it’s my turn to tell it.”  I just hope he asks me to tell it with him.

Please battle with me.  Please show your love and acceptance at every turn.

xoxo

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Teaching isn’t a Job

Teaching isn’t a job.  Teaching is a feeling.

It’s a feeling of service, a feeling of sacrifice.  It’s waking up, showing up, not giving up.

It’s looking at a kid and believing that there’s something special inside of them, even though every one else has too quickly written them off.  It’s looking a kid in the eye and saying, “I’m glad you’re here.”

It’s giving kids space to be who they need to be.  It’s giving extra chances.  It’s igniting connection, ambition, improvement, power, and recognition.

It’s knowing that every kid needs a champion.  It’s knowing that kids can’t learn when their cups aren’t filled.  It’s filling the cups that come to school dry.

It’s meeting each kid at the door, the same door he slams in your face.  It’s knowing that he’s not ready.  It’s persistence.  It’s cherishing.  It’s believing in someone more than they believe in themselves.

It’s waiting.  Teaching is patient.

Teaching is accepting.  It’s striving.  It’s praying for more.

Teaching is creative.  It’s a thirst.

It’s leaving your shit at the door.  It’s giving your all.  It’s being afraid.  It’s honest and raw.  It’s being wrong, but courageous.  It’s showing your deepest imperfections and profound failures.

It’s navigating.  It’s being uncomfortable.  It’s a storm.

And sometimes, if you’re real still and real quiet, it’s perfect.

“Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.” -Fred Rogers

 

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When My Whiteness Got in the Way

When we got rear-ended in a round-about this summer, my sweet 6-year-old told me to keep going.  “Mom, it’s fine.  We just got bonked a lil’ bit.”  I grabbed my phone to call my husband when I saw the man walk up to my car.

“Is everyone okay?” he asked, kindly.

“Yeah, definitely.  Totally fine.”  He immediately walked back to his car quickly and didn’t give me an opportunity to ask him about himself.

It was just a stupid fender bender.  I was about to merge into the round-about, but a car was coming too fast, so I stopped before the merge to turn right.  The gentleman behind me must’ve been looking at the car to the left, too, not realizing I’d stopped.  And bonk!- our back bumper got crunched in.

After I made a quick phone call, I noticed a state trooper pulling over to where we were.  I jumped outside to check the back of my car and waited for the officer to finish talking to the gentleman who only slightly inconvenienced our day.

I walked to the passenger side of my car and began chatting and joking with my kids to keep it light and avoid any worry about the crunch.  I glanced up at the officer and the gentleman behind me and noticed that he had his hands awkwardly on the top of his steering wheel.

The gentleman behind me was black.

In fact, he is a local and prominent Somali man who is well respected and trusted in the community.  And unfortunately, on this day, he just so happened to look left during the four seconds I decided to yield in the roundabout.  No big deal, right?

The officer finishes taking the man’s information and approaches my car.  He asks me if everyone is okay and he begins to get some paperwork ready.  After 20 or so minutes, I was able to get in the car and drive to FroYo, where we’d originally intended to go.

But it wasn’t until late that night that I realized how gross I felt about the whole situation.  I didn’t realize how my whiteness had gotten in my way.  I nonchalantly walked out of my car to talk and joke with my kids.  I approached the officer to talk with him on the side of the road.  I fumbled as I reached into my car to grab my license and insurance, all while hoping my kids would keep their screeching to a minimum.  But the gentleman briskly walked back to his car.  He spoke to the officer with his hands placed uncomfortably and visible on his steering wheel.  I didn’t even notice.  I didn’t notice that while we lived in the same situation for a full 28 minutes, how exceedingly different our experience had been.

I have no reason to believe that the officer was anything but kind, diligent, and professional.  And I have no reason to believe that the gentleman behind me felt anything but safe (maybe foolish).  But I do know that I was blinded  by my whiteness.  I am blinded by the fact that I can freely walk out of my car and reach into my purse without suspicion.  I know that he doesn’t feel always that safety only because of the color of his skin.

So, that night, while feeling gross and heavy, feeling like it was my personal responsibility to right all the wrongs, I decided that instead I would make a promise to this gentleman: I will be more aware.  I will see things more clearly.  I will give space for my blindness- my prejudices- by calling them out and asking others to help me be aware.  I will ask questions.  I will forgive myself, knowing that I can, I will, and want to do better.

white-privilege

Dear Friend…

“Miss,” he said as he sat in his seat, “What’s wrong with you?”

“Oh honey, you ain’t got time for that.”

“I mean, I know you got issues.  Like my dad has schizophrenia and he’s bipolar.  My mom’s super poor and got high blood pressure.  My auntie’s a drunk…” my sweet student pauses and says, “Are you autistic?”

“Nah.  Not autistic.  Not that I know of anyway.  But you know I deal with other things.”  I’ve been honest with my students before.  I can’t expect them to work on themselves if I’m not willing to better myself.

“The way I think is that everybody’s got some shit.”

And my super intellectual kiddo is so right.

I sat down at my computer to write my friend a letter.  I’ve been thinking about this friend a lot lately.  Sometimes I stay up too late thinking about how I can help (ie overanalyzing what I would do in that situation ::helloooo, anxiety::).  And as I’m thinking about the one friend, my brain shifts to another who’s struggling.  And then another, and another.  Before I know it, I’ve sweat through my sheets, my legs are super stiff, and it’s 4am.

I wanted to write you a letter.  But this letter could be for her, too.

Dear Friend,

I see you.  I am sorry that you’re going through a hard time.  This is not your everyday-generic-sorry.  I see your pain and I feel the sludge that you’re stuck in.  This is hard stuff.  You deserve so much more than this shit you’re going through.  Because you’re so brave, bright, and splendid, you’ve created a community of humans who love you and support you.  But I need you to know that I am also here to keep you afloat.  I’m here to help you find air.  

You’re busy.  Busy as ever.  You feel lost and confused.  You feel frustrated that your world is often hanging.  You’re giving too much of yourself to others.  You offer advice.  You cheer me up. You laugh with me, listen to me, and you’ve stuck with me through some of the worst times of my life.  I wish that you could see yourself the way that I see you.  Beautiful, compassionate, loved. 

I pray that you find peace.  But I know she’s been hard to find lately.  I’ll hold onto you while we look together.

To the friend who’s losing a family.

To the friend who’s feeling lost.

To the friend who’s lost a child.

To the friend who’s desperate for a child.

To the friend who’s lonely.

To the friend who hates going to work.

To the friend who’s parenting alone.

To the friend whose child’s health is declining.

To the friend who’s lost a job.

We all got shit.  And I don’t want to minimize it.  I don’t want to downplay it like a common cold.  You deserve so much more than hard stuff.  I am proud of you for doing hard things.  And I feel like if we can carry hard baggage together, we’ll continue to grow stronger. 

xoxo 

 

Here’s a picture of a dog friends. It helps.

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When Casey Left

Death is unfair. Unexpected death is cruel.

It has been nearly 3 months since Casey had to leave.

It was a Monday.  It was cold and damp.  I was angry when she left.  I felt sullen and confused, hopeless and stormy.  Why her?  Why not me?  Why are we given such precious people, but have no way of knowing when they have to leave? The truth is, we always think there’s time.  I didn’t get a chance to tell her how much I adored her.  How proud I am for the beauty she created.  For being an exquisite mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend.  I am proud of her work.  I am proud of her passion to help others and her acceptance of all people.  I hope she can hear me in my dreams (she’s very busy, you know.  Lots to do, lots of people to visit).

I first met Casey in middle school.  Day after day, we’d spend our afternoons on the bus giggling and sharing stories.  We spent a lot of time together my junior and senior year, also, while we sang and performed.  Most memorably, she was the Cinderella to my Rapunzel.  I remember sitting next to each other while we saw Cats at Chanhassen.  I remember having jumping contests during Oklahoma. I remember she told Devin to ask me to be his girlfriend.  I remember she called me beautiful on my wedding day.

I remember standing next to Casey while singing Ave Maria. Staggering breaths. I’ll sing while you breathe. And now as I continue to breathe, she’s still singing.

And on that wretched Thursday night when hundreds of people were gathered and crammed in a small town sanctuary, I remember feeling really brave.  I didn’t want anyone to see me crumble, I didn’t want anyone to see my pain.  I knew they were holding their own grief.  But as we traveled through the church pews like a Disneyland queue, I stared at her family with their backs straight while mine began to fall.  I don’t understand why it was her.  I don’t understand why someone so loved and so important could be here one moment and be gone the next.  And I think of that age-old question, “If God is so good, why doesn’t he take away our pain?”

I kept my tears quiet in the two hours we zig-zagged through closer and closer to the cross.  It wasn’t until I was in the arms of my best friend, Kendra, that I sobbed.  I wept because I missed her.  I wept for the words I didn’t say to Casey and the moments I could have spent with her.  I felt equally grateful to hold my loved ones and equally guilty that her loved ones are left with a hole.

It didn’t matter if you knew Casey for 10 minutes or 10 years.  You loved her.  You were enamored by her beauty and kindness.  Her smile would hook you, but her charm would keep you.  She was exceptional.  One of a kind.  Remarkable.  Exclusive.  But though there was only one of her, she left us with abundant love.

In her love I remember the Truth.  That God is good even through our pain.  He is full of infinite power and goodness.  I am reminded by His promise- that His love will be more strong and more powerful than we could ever imagine.  We are promised eternity.

She built a home in our hearts with her boundless love and kindness. The world was a better place because of the friendship and devotion she shared.  She is so dearly missed.

She was so beautiful in all things.

Beautiful people leave the world a better place.  Beautiful people leave more smiles, more kindness, and more acceptance.  Beautiful people send more sunshine and rain so the earth can bloom and grow.  They flourish our soil.  Beautiful people send us miracles, but we often forget to marvel when spring comes, when the lakes clear, and the earth becomes new again.  Beautiful people come from dust and to dust they will always return.

Death is unfair. Unexpected death is cruel. Losing Casey and the sweet child she carried inside her seems too painful for words.  But God makes all things new.  Spring is near and I hope we stop to marvel her miracles. 

xoxo.

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Our Brutally Honest Christmas Letter [2018]

11 lines of text is all I had on our family Christmas card this year.  11 lines cannot adequately provide you with enough information that is our family- our wild, incredible, ordinary, but not-so-ordinary family.  11 lines shared some of our good things, but I assure you 2018 was the hardest, most complicated, and heaviest year I’ve had.  We changed in big, enormous ways, we’ve loved and lost, we’ve started over.

Eleanor

Five is tough.  Five is adventurous and exciting, but also scary and new.  Five is starting kindergarten, making new friends, and hitting your teacher.  Wait…what? Yep.  Only Eleanor (exhale heavy sigh).

Did I ever tell you that Eleanor was the first person to acknowledge Luca as a boy?  Out of her teeny, tiny, toddler mouth came, “He’s my brother,” and not just once- always.  I’ll forever wonder how kids just know these things.  I’ll forever be afraid that she’ll be lost in our shuffle, our disarray, and following behind Luca.  Because sometimes being ‘normal,’ doesn’t get you what you need.  Sometimes being normal leaves you out.

She’s crazy smart, by the way.  She gets pulled out for advanced reading because she was too bored in the classroom.  She’s seeing the school social worker {which launched immediately following the slight teacher abuse}.  With everything that’s changed in her teeny life, I’m glad she will be getting some tools to help her navigate through her muck.

We share the same soul.  Maybe it’s because I understand all too well what it’s like to feel all the feels and feel them with such enormity.  We can’t hide its magnitude and we wear it like armor.  It’s big and real and it sucks to carry around.  But it’s in this connection that makes me understand myself a little better.  Someone who will finally and fully understand me.  I’m taking that as a gift.

She never chose to be Luca’s sister.  But I’m glad she came second.  I’ll watch her compassion and empathy continue to flourish in the years, reminding her to use her passion, independence, and strength for good- to use it for the underdog and for those who need it most.  She has a magical fight in her.  I can’t wait to see what 2019 will give her.

Eleanor’s 2018 highlights: all the drawing, painting, and coloring a five-year-old can do. Starting kindergarten and riding a school bus.  Eating jelly from the jar with a fork at 6am.  Cutting off 9 inches of hair because it was itchy.  

Luca

It’s impossible to compare him to anyone else in the world… so we don’t.  After accepting my teaching position and learning we’d be moving, we knew that God aligned our stars to make this move about Luca; to make it be about changing our world, not his.  To finally give him the freedom to live as who he was always meant to be, not by expecting him to fit in the pocket-sized, misery box the world made for him.  So on June 8, we called him Luca.  We gave him validity.  And he finally broke open through his box of shame and was released back into the world with freedom- as his whole self, not the empty shell he thought he’d have to live in for eternity.

I cried for three days.  Some people told me to wait, some supported and trusted us through it all.  We lost a few along the way.  I never wanted it to be this hard, but you’d have to have a barren soul to not see how living his truth has vigorously changed his life.  Strangers and distant friends/relatives have shouted from the rooftops at the obvious change in his demeanor merely by a single photograph.  It’s definite.

We did the right thing.

He’s still the same kid, though.  Grumpy, smart, compassionate, affectionate, hilarious, and charming.  He gives us the strength to live ferociously and fight the good fight.  He reminds us that our Good Father is right, loving, and true.  He gives us life.

Luca’s 2018 highlights: Starting 2nd grade and riding a school bus!  Golden birthday at Legoland FL.  Riding a two-wheel bike.  Super smart mathematician. 

Devin

Devin remains the most boring of the family.  And by that I mean he’s the lowest maintenance.  He doesn’t require much, but he consistently holds us together.  He’s everything we need.  He’s absolutely essential.

In September, he started a job at ePromos, which he enjoys mostly because he typically doesn’t have to talk to people.  He uses a lot of acronyms and I believe it’s very fancy work.  He has a computer and gets vending machine coupons so he can endlessly enjoy Twizzler Nibs and Twix.  What a life!  Sometimes I even let him watch his beloved Vikings so he can yell at all the people who can’t hear him.

He’s everything I’ve ever needed.  Luca and Eleanor won the jackpot.  I know he’s the real deal because he changes my car clock after daylight savings and charges my phone when I fall asleep.

Devin’s 2018 highlights: “I got a new job. New house,” says Devin.  But that’s boring so I’ll give you a quick run down: he got a beater car from a dealership (complete with big, red bow!), his little sister got engaged (wedding next August), and thoroughly enjoys his daily twenty minutes to himself after the three of us head to school.  

Mama Bear

I didn’t do well this year.  I wasn’t well this year.  I made a lot of mistakes that didn’t need to be made.  I was hurt and defeated.  I got a little lost.  I had to leave to find myself again.  And I hope that 2019 brings her back.  She’s broken, but she tries.  She’s regaining her steps and she (finally, hopefully) won’t crumble.

I teach with real gravity.  I try and make each day count.  I still haven’t a clue what I’m doing and I make it up as each day goes.  But I look at those kids in the eyes and I don’t, won’t ever, give up on them.

Leaving a comfy job and a best friend hurt like hell.  For 12 years I tried to find people to fill our holes, but it was now that we needed our people to overflow us.  Loving a job that didn’t always love you back and living in a house that was 132 miles away from your mom just wasn’t enough for me anymore.

But now I know it was all in the cards.  2018 took me and shook me, but 2019 will uncover and recover.  We don’t have to lose ourselves by becoming mothers.  It gives us identity and intensity.  We wear ‘mother’ like a badge of honor, but we don’t have to hide in it.  Being a mom is transforming; it means being full of dreams.  It’s creative and rowdy.  But it’s not all.  It doesn’t have to be all of you.  You don’t have to dissolve.  You can still be vivid.

Mandy’s 2018 highlights: taking my two best friends to Disney, learning IEP language and feeling legit by, for the first time ever, holding my own insurance. 

To sum it up…

Life is really shitty sometimes.  It’s not always beautiful.  We’ve had a bunch of those moments this year.  But sometimes I think we’ve figured this out.  Maybe not everything, but we’ve figured out that even when life gets really shitty, we make it work.  We learn and grow and push ourselves.  It’s about what we do in our lives during the shitty parts that make us who we are.  We are responsible for our own happiness.  We are responsible for our actions, how we treat other people, and how much love we give.  We trust and we push the limits. We do the best we can.  And I think that’s pretty damn good.

May God bless you and those you love this Christmas. Have a happy, healthy and loving new year.

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