Thursday, November 8, 2018

The book nerd version of "Show us your t*ts"

The other day I wondered to myself how many books we have in our house.

Given that I've been writing about heavy topics of late, I thought I'd indulge my lighter side and pay homage to books.

I decided to go through my house and snap a photo of every place I find a book.

I started with the main floor:

 The dining room table (also my makeshift office)

The other side of the dining room table 

 My purse

 My desk in the kitchen
(Actually, there is a Jodi Picoult novel on my desk, too.)

 The living room

The bookcase by the front door

The upper floor where our bedrooms are:

 N's bookcase

N's bedside table

The boys' bookcase

Books in bins on the floor in the boys' room.

Book on boys' dresser.

Table in my bedroom

D's bedside table

 Book on a desk in my bedroom (I work in a lot of rooms in the house)

My bedside table

The basement:

 My bookcase

 D's sci-fi/fantasy books

Under the steps closet for miscellaneous books

A few years ago I actually got rid of a lot of books from college because I decided to only keep books I love.  I have sold or given away many children's books as the kids have outgrown them because there is only so much room in our house. D actually reads mostly ebooks, so we would have more if he didn't do that. I'm also a big library user, so I borrow regularly, which also cuts down on the books we own. 

See, I feel like I'm offering excuses for why my book hoarding behavior could be worse. 

Still, if there is any truth to articles like this, I think we're setting our kids up well. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018


I vote in every election because I want a say in my government. No one has ever accused me of being an optimist (because I generally am not), but I believe my voice counts. Even if it doesn't make a decisive difference, it is valuable and counts because it is mine, and I think I'm very important.

I vote in every election because women before me fought to give me the right to vote. It hasn't even been 100 years since women were allowed to vote.

I vote in every election to set a good example for my children.

I do not vote in every election because my friends and family tell me to.
I do not vote because social media is blowing the heck up with people demanding that I vote or haranguing me to vote.

To be perfectly plain, it actually bugs me to see every single person I know urging me to vote.
It makes me not want to vote.

I am a bit very much hella contrarian and, perhaps, this is why I enjoy being around middle and high schoolers.
They are contrarians, too.
I understand them in this way.

Here is the thing--when I experience someone urging me to do something, and that something is typically political or religious because those are two things people often feel strongly about, I think to myself,
"Are you aware that you are strongly urging me to vote or find God because your bias assumes that I am going to vote the same way you do or find God the same way you do?"

Here is where the non-optimist part of me comes through--based on my experience on both ends of this. I do not believe that people are urging me to do things out of an abundance of neutral sentiment.

People generally urge others to do something because they expect others to do as they do and feel as they feel.

Once upon a time, I was a very strong breastfeeding supporter, and I still think breast is the best thing a baby can get. If and when I urged women to breastfeed by saying, "Are you trying breastfeeding?" or "Are you going to breastfeed?," I wasn't urging them to "just try it" or "do it for 3 weeks." Inside my head, I was urging them to do it for a full 12 months without any formula, and even longer since that is what the World Health Organization says. I wanted them to be as committed to breastfeeding as I was.

What I said and what I thought and expected were vastly different things.

When people have urged me to visit their church or seek God, they have not done so thinking that I'm going to believe in my own loosey-goosey, skeptical way. That I'm going to believe in kick-ass Jesus and not necessarily a literal translation of the bible.

They want me to full-on "COME TO JESUS" and be an evangelical and sing his praises on high and wear shirts that say, "I LOVE MY CHURCH" and believe every word of the bible is right, true, and not to be critically analyzed.

And I can't help but think that when people urge others to vote, they are doing it in part because their bias is that others are going to vote as they do.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

My summary of my semester (and yes, I'm turning it in this way, shade and all)

I became a teacher in 2000, earning my MAT at B-----,
and have kept it valid for the past 18 years, which
has required me to take numerous graduate classes.
Although I have not taught full-time since 2004, I work as 
a substitute teacher for --- and have taught at E--- C----
C--- S---- since 2012. I also work as a freelance writer
and have been regularly published for the past eight years.

All of these experiences, combined, give me a number of
strengths as a high school English teacher. While I haven’t
been officially trained as an AP College Board teacher,
I modeled my E----- high school class on the AP
Literature and Composition class, creating lesson
plans that challenge and interest students. As a
professional writer, I know what good writing
is and the questions to ask to get students to produce
their best writing. As a substitute teacher,
I have learned how to quickly assess a room for student
needs and behaviors, as well as how
to de-escalate a situation.

However, not being in the classroom has also led to
some deficiencies in my abilities. Not networking with
other teachers or doing professional development beyond
graduate class has kept me from specific techniques that
have come down the pike over the years (such as
RACE (Restate, Answer, Cite, and Explain) and
FANBOYS/AAAWWUBBIS. Because I only see my cottage school
students on Fridays, and they do the assignments at home,
it has gotten  me out of the habit of thinking about the specific minute steps of teaching writing. 

Since I am not intending to return full-time to teaching
within the next couple years, I will continue to do what
I have done in the past--research things on my own and pick
up assignments/ideas when I substitute teach. I also pick
up ideas when I tutor students. I recently “stole” a neat
independent reading assignment from a teacher at N---
(I tutor an 8th grader in English). I have modified this
assignment for my high school cottage students to use
when we read Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. A smart teacher
recognizes good ideas when she sees them and knows that
you don’t have to recreate the wheel all the time.

I am both excited and nervous about the long-term sub
job I will do at E---- in a few weeks because it is Language
and Composition, and this is not my strong suit
(due to lack of experience teaching it). I am taking
active steps to get myself up to speed, such as reading
5 Steps to a 5 and reviewing logical fallacies and lessons
on rhetorical analysis writing. For me, this is not just
a sub job but an opportunity to get out of my “comfort zone”
of teaching AP Literature and Composition-type coursework
with my cottage school students.

In terms of what elements in schools and about students need
to change, that is a hard question to answer. Cell phones in high schools are a constant battle for teachers, as is a
feeling of ennui among students, a sense of school being
a bore and a chore. I don’t know if this is because of
standardized testing or because of the constant addition
of “new” assessments(like the BoS) without a lessening
of everything else that students have to do. I think we ask
a lot of students without remembering that if education
isn’t enjoyable, it’s not going to stick anyway.

To be completely honest, I didn’t learn very much from
this experience of observing 90 hours. Working with high
school students is not the hands-on “helping” that is
working with elementary or even middle school students.
I basically sat and watched lessons being taught  over and over and over, and it was boring. Sure, I picked up a
couple tips or tricks, like learning about Rubistar or
Wheeldecide, but I don’t know that these snippets justify
90 hours of my time. Perhaps if I didn’t have teaching
experience both in ___ and for the past six years with high
 schoolers at the cottage school and hadn’t gone
through --- and wasn’t in schools as a substitute,
I would have found this experience to be new and engaging.

I think what these 90 hours made me realize is that even
though I’m not in the classroom fulltime, that doesn’t mean I
can’t be a masterful teacher or a masterful substitute.
I am ableto establish a rapport with students, which is
what good teachers do. I do have a pretty solid
knowledge base and am willing/able to do whatever
research/work is necessary to bring that knowledge to students.
I am very organized and “on-top” of things, which is evidenced
by the  fact that I’m completing the work for EDUG 613
before November 1, when I have another month
to complete it.

A masterful teacher is always striving to be better, and
I think I do that as well, recognizing that I don’t know it all.
However, if I’m going to put effort into learning, I’d like
it to benefit me and feel like a real learning experience,
rather than busy work. I’m afraid a good portion of
this class has felt like busy work. It has been a good
reminder of what I don’t want my students
to experience.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

We do have a race problem

It baffles me when white people say that there isn't a race problem.

Such statements are like me saying, "I don't have a cancer problem."

I mean, right this second, I don't have cancer (as far as I know) and no one I know and love has cancer (as far as I know). 

But beyond the bubble that surrounds little ole me are a LOT of people and many of them do have a cancer problem. 
Since they live in my neighborhood, in my community, my church, my city, I guess that means that the collective "we" does have a cancer problem. 

The collective "we" does have a race problem.

Why do I think this?

Yesterday there was a shooting by a white man of two black people at a grocery store that is less than 5 miles from my house.
When a man with a gun confronted the shooter in the parking lot, the shooter apparently told him, "Whites don't kill whites."

Also, our illustrious president keeps haranguing the NFL over its peaceful protests (in addition to lambasting any person who has skin that is a shade darker than him). 

Also, also a high school I was just at had students protest because white students have been using the "N" word as if it is perfectly ok. 

As far as I'm concerned, it is not up to white people to decide if there is a race problem, just like it is not up to a man who cannot be pregnant to decide if a pregnancy is difficult or a pain in the butt or if labor hurts.

It is not up to me to speak about the plight of poverty or whether it is as bad or as hard as it appears because I have not lived that experience.

I know we live in a time when experts and experience are worthless.
When anybody can just have any old random thought and it is accepted as the truth, without data and facts and relevance to back it up.
When scientists and economists and doctors are evidently lying and telling us untruths.
When living a certain life does not give you any real-world relevant knowledge with which to speak.

It is like my pre-parent self thinking I had any freaking CLUE what being a mom was actually like.

When white people say there is not a race problem, I suspect some of them, at least, are trying to be "beyond color," which many white people think is what it means to be non-racist.
We do not live in a world that is "beyond color," so this seems like a pointless endeavor.
Furthermore, not seeing someone's race is not seeing someone in their entirety.
Race isn't the sole determinant of a person's experience, but it is part of who they are, and to act as if their race has zero influence or impact seems absurd.

If I am working with students, I think if I said something ridiculous like, "I don't see color," the students would have every right to roll their eyes at me.
It is a lie; we all see color.
Just recently I was teaching about Kate Chopin's The Awakening, in which a quadroon nurse is mentioned. (A quadroon is a person who is one-quarter black.) I made the comment that I don't think to myself, "I wonder if that person is a quarter black or half black or an eighth black."
I don't do the Elizabeth Warren test of heredity.
But what I asked the students is what it says about a society if they refer to people as quadroons, if the society is even interested in how much of a percentage of a person is black.

Some white people who say there is not a race problem allude to the fact that they know a black person or are friends with a black person.
And my response is as follows: So what if you have black friends you occasionally see every once in a while.
This doesn't mean you don't have bias and feelings of racism inside, where the social media masses can't see.
(Also, like 98% of your "friends" are white, so give me a break.)

I work very hard to think deeply about racism and its impact, but I know darn good and well that I have had thoughts that stem from things I was taught or heard or "picked up" when I was a kid.
Even though that is not how I want to believe, it is there in my head.
Because I know it is there, I tell myself on the regular that all people feel as I do.
Whatever feelings I am capable of having, others are capable of having as well because we share a common humanity.
I guess if you're gonna have a mantra running through your head, there are worse ones to have.

Talking about racism is hard and uncomfortable.
I'm having a conversation with myself in this blog, and I feel uncomfortable right now.
I worry whether and how I offend black people, not because I'm intending to but because I just don't understand.
I want to understand.
I want to know.
I want to do better.

Teachable moment from the blog (gender & hair)

G told us yesterday that this week an organization came to his school and separated activities into boys/girls. When he walked by someone to take his card for where he was supposed to go, the person handing it to him said, "Here you go, young lady."

G said he just kept walking with his head down.
He didn't correct the person.
He said it really didn't embarrass him (either he is so used to it that it doesn't bother him anymore or we are helping him be a well-adjusted person who has a positive self-image--I vote for a little of both).

D and I encouraged him to speak up in the future, to say politely and calmly,
"I am a boy with long hair."

We told him that by doing so, he will gently bring people's attention to their lack of observation and their gender tagging.
We told him that by doing so, he will be helping other kids, be they boys with long hair or girls with short hair, who may feel VERY embarrassed when similar things happen to them.

G said to me, "I'm really glad you wrote that blog, mom."

I don't often feel like I'm winning as a mom, until moments like this when I do. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

"Don't assume the gender"

That is a sentence that came out of the mouth of my 9-year-old last week.

We have lots of conversations about gender in my house not because anyone doesn't feel like their physical gender (or at least no one in my family has told me that yet).

We have these conversations because of hair.

My children come from two parents who, at one time or another, have defied societal norms about gender-specific hairstyles.

I have been defying this norm since high school when I first cut my hair very short.
I don't look good in long hair.
I am too lazy to deal with long hair.
So I don't have long hair.

Many, many times, I was called "young man" or people looked at me quizzically, wondering whether I was a boy (since my cup does not runneth over in the breast department).
I'm also lacking in the hip area.
I also don't wear cosmetics.

D wore long hair for any number of years (in college and again about 15 years ago).

My boys are constantly called "young lady," "little lady," and "girl."
They don't get mad as much as they think the people who call them such things are hopelessly unobservant.

One of the conversations we've had is how many people in the service industry (servers, store clerks, etc), always feel compelled to put a gender tag on their conversations.

For example, rather than simply asking, "What would you like to order?" which can be used on anyone---male, female and even different species, they want to gender tag it:

"What would you like to order, young man or young lady?"

Or if they are asking if my children are related, they ask,
"Is this your sister or brother?" rather than "Is this your sibling?" or "Are ya'll related?"

I have been in circumstances, this semester actually, in which I was unsure of a student's gender.
One boy had long hair, was sitting down, and wearing a pink sweatshirt, and his name is Reece (which is a dual-gender name).
I wasn't certain, so I did what any smart person would do:


Another student has very short hair and appears to be female.
I watched this student make some very intricate drawings, and I asked, "Do you take art classes?"
The student responded, "Yes."
I asked, "Is that what you want to do beyond high school? Art?"
The student replied, "I want to be a sign language interpreter."
I said, "Oh, that's cool."

I did not in any way say anything related to gender because.....
it.doesn't.matter to me.

Whether the student named Reece who I think is a boy identifies as a boy or whether the above student is a female who just likes her hair extremely short (and I totally get that) or maybe feels like she is more masculine....I don't know what their stories are, and if they felt like sharing it with me, I'd be ok with whatever they are, provided they don't sell my kids drugs or kill my family.

There are some non-negotiables with me.

The point is unless I'm going to have intercourse with someone, it really doesn't (and shouldn't) matter to me what gender a person is.

If you are in a female body, but you feel like a male=ok
If you are in a male body, but you feel like a female=ok
If you are in a female body, but you feel like both=ok
If you are in a male body, but you feel like both=ok

My aunt used to have this bumper sticker on her car, which I clearly remember from when I was a kid:

Image result for god don't make junk

I can't help but think about this whenever I'm around people who don't fit neatly into that precise little box that society wants to place on all of us.

Society has never particularly liked my short hair, and I've always thought society can go suck it.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Dress code saga #68,082

As much as I hate dress codes, especially strict ones on paper that administrators do not actually enforce, which is just like empty-threat parenting, there is a silver lining to them (which I will get to in a little bit after venting for 40 paragraphs).

I took N shopping on Wednesday evening to attempt to find something to wear for the homecoming dance.

This adventure has made me think my entrepreneurial goal should be to open portable wine bars in juniors dress departments for the moms.

Moms in juniors departments are dealing with all sorts of emotional stress and would do well to take the edge off with a glass of pinot noir. In addition to the panic of spending $100 on a dress their daughter may only wear once, they are experiencing shame and guilt for what they put their own mothers through in shopping trips. Plus, there is the anxiety induced from dress codes.

This is what the dress code notice that has been in every high school email I've been sent for the last eight weeks should say:

Girls' dresses can be no more than 1 inch above the top of the knee.
(Just kidding. We are going to let LOTS AND LOTS of girls into the dance wearing dresses that come 4-5 inches above their knees.)

While N and her friends were dancing, I was doing a reconnaissance mission of my own with a little help from another high school mom.

I now have an album of photos of girls who went to homecoming in dresses that were higher than one inch. This album will never be used unless or until N gets any comment about her dress at a dance or is denied admittance.

This album of photos of what the school has allowed into dances will then be submitted as Evidence, Exhibit A.

I was very strict when N tried on dresses on Wednesday night because this was her first dance at the high school, and I didn't know if the dress code was actually enforced or empty-threat. There were tears from N, but I told her that I would rather have her cry in a store than at the dance when she is denied entry after having spent money on a dress and time getting ready.

No mother particularly wants her kid to cry, but if I have to pick a time and place, I know which one I will select.

N happened to find a super adorable jumpsuit that I think looked pretty stunning on her. D said she looked "statuesque." She was super pumped that it had pockets (she is related to her maternal grandmother).

So what was the silver lining of this whole mess of consumerism?

Three things:

1. N bought something that was unique and showed off her "I'm not like the other girls" attitude. She stood out.


2. It provided me an opportunity to instruct N in dressing for her body. As tall and thin as she is, the pantsuit made her look even taller and thinner, accentuating something that is lovely about her. It takes women a lifetime to realize what is wonderful about their bodies, so I hope our conversations on Wednesday helped her see that being tall and thin are enviable (especially when she gets into middle age, she'll be so very glad for that height).


3. Even though the dress code is bullshit, life is all about wading through bullshit. Case in point is the 90 hours of observations I'm having to do for the grad class as if I've never set foot in a classroom and have no experience. Life is not fair--dress codes are not fair--grad class requirements are not fair....but there they are, so you bitch about it and then suck it up and deal with it in whatever way you are able, with the goal being to deal with it so splendidly that people admire your tenacity, your unique ability to do what needs to be done in a creative and uniquely you way.