Love like rain.

I love the rain. Not the kind of rain that stretches out for days on end, but there is something to be said for a good, soaking shower. And the smell of rain is my absolute most favorite…even more than freshly washed baby smell.

I love the rain because some of my fondest memories are connected to rainy days. There is nothing better than a long walk in the rain with a friend or a loved one. And very few things in life will make you feel like a kid again more than good, old-fashioned puddle pouncing.

Two summers ago, I tried to introduce the girls to the virtues of playing in the rain. LMG was not convinced, in fact, she declared that “playing in the rain is disgusting.” But SL embraced it immediately.

But this afternoon, it was different. The thunder rolled softly in the distance, and we stood outside talking to our good friends/neighbors. Normally the girls get nervous when it thunders, but LMG remarked that for some reason she was not scared of the thunder today. Maybe it was because she was distracted with the fun she was having. Maybe it was because the thunder came so slowly and softly. Maybe it is because we’re both are so much more relaxed this week because it is the last week of school… I don’t know. All I know is that despite the gathering clouds and the low rumbling, we stayed outside for a good game of fetch with the dog.

About the time that John got home, the thunder grew louder and SL was getting nervous. We went inside and John started to prepare dinner. The rain started and came down hard. It even hailed for a few minutes, but soon let up to become a good, soaking shower.

Then, all of a sudden, even as the rain was still falling, the sun just burst forth illuminating every single drop into gold as it fell from the sky. LMG and I were out in it within seconds, and I grabbed my phone to snap some pictures.

SL was close behind.

The girls had a blast.

It was pretty perfect.

And when we came inside to eat… I found that once again the rain had worked its magic. We were peaceful. The girls ate dinner with no objections or complaining (despite the fact that it as a brand new dish they’ve never tried before). The normal bickering and tattle-telling didn’t happen tonight. LMG sat down and wrote love letters, along with pictures, to every single one of us. SL didn’t harass the dog and antagonize her sister as usual. It’s as if love comes right on down with the rain and soaks into our very skin. It has always seemed to have that effect on me, and I’m so happy that it seems to do the same for my girls.

I’m just gonna go ahead and take Milli Vanilli’s advice and “and blame it on the rain.”

Strong women series.

I’ve decided to start a new project  in which I write about the strong, beautiful, women in my life because I am so very blessed to have them. The plan is that once a week you will find an amazing woman featured here. Today, though, I’d like to begin with one of my favorite poems:

For strong women

A strong woman is a woman who is straining.

A strong woman is a woman standing

on tiptoe and lifting a barbell

while trying to sing Boris Godunov.

A strong woman is a woman at work

cleaning out the cesspool of the ages,

and while she shovels, she talks about

how she doesn’t mind crying, it opens

the ducts of the eyes, and throwing up

develops the stomach muscles, and

she goes on shoveling with tears

in her nose.


A strong woman is a woman in whose head

a voice is repeating, I told you so,

ugly, bad girl, bitch, nag, shrill, witch,

ballbuster, nobody will ever love you back,

why aren’t you feminine, why aren’t

you soft, why aren’t you quiet, why

aren’t you dead?


A strong woman is a woman determined

to do something others are determined

not be done. She is pushing up on the bottom

of a lead coffin lid. She is trying to raise

a manhole cover with her head, she is trying

to butt her way through a steel wall.

Her head hurts. People waiting for the hole

to be made say, hurry, you’re so strong.


A strong woman is a woman bleeding

inside. A strong woman is a woman making

herself strong every morning while her teeth

loosen and her back throbs. Every baby,

a tooth, midwives used to say, and now

every battle a scar. A strong woman

is a mass of scar tissue that aches

when it rains and wounds that bleed

when you bump them and memories that get up

in the night and pace in boots to and fro.


A strong woman is a woman who craves love

like oxygen or she turns blue choking.

A strong woman is a woman who loves

strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly

terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong

in words, in action, in connection, in feeling;

she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf

suckling her young. Strength is not in her, but she

enacts it as the wind fills a sail.


What comforts her is others loving

her equally for the strength and for the weakness

from which it issues, lighting from a cloud.

Lightening stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.

Only water of connection remains,

flowing through us. Strong is what we make

each other. Until we are all strong together,

a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.

–poem by Marge Piercy, from The Moon is Always Female, Alfred A Knopf, Inc., New York: 1980.

Watch this space for portraits of strong women, and feel free to leave comments about the strong women in your life.

Love Thursday: On beauty and worth.

In January, on a whim, I flew down to Houston, Texas, to do something that I felt compelled to do. You see, I had fallen in love with this little blog called Chookooloonks. I don’t even remember now how I found it… but oh, am I ever-so-glad that I did. Though the photography is just beautiful, it was the spirit of the blog that just kept me going back day after day, without fail. It felt like a comfy space. A beautiful, comfy space.

It was months before I got up the nerve to e-mail Karen, the woman behind chookooloonks, personally and tell her how much I appreciated her words and admired her photography. When she responded, she was, of course, lovely and gracious and just as sweet as she could be. Her frequent message to her readers is, quite simply, that the beauty of our lives is worth celebrating and that we are all worthy to be considered beautiful. Worthy… it’s not a word she uses frequently, but it is infused in every bit of encouragement or uplifting post she writes. It was a feeling I consistently felt when I visited her blog.

And it is something that I have struggled with all my life. Feeling worthy. Now, I don’t want to get all creepy-like and say something really crazy like “Chookooloonks saved my life!” No, but chookooloonks was an open door. A warm, sunny, beautiful (albeit virtual) space where I was not preached at, but gently encouraged to think of myself and my life as worthy and beautiful, and this is important, to see worth and beauty on my own terms. It’s really difficult to describe how it all unfolded, but for lack of a better way of putting it– it just created a space in my own thinking. Just a bit of quiet space that, in time, drew me to prayer, and reflection, and contentment, and allowed me to reconnect with myself, my Lord, and my own spirit. I so desperately needed it at that time.

As time went on I secretly wished that I was a more serious writer/blogger/writing professional so I could justify going to one of these huge BlogHer conferences where Karen sometimes speaks and perhaps meet her or some of these other cool women who are such excellent writers and do such wonderful things to build a network and community among all people, but particularly women on the web. Smart, cosmopolitan, cutting-edge types that are managing to have damn-near it all in terms of career, and a family, and talent, and notoriety, and fabulous shoes. I just didn’t see myself and my worn out Clark sandals as being a part of that crowd. I’d feel uncomfortable and out of place.

So when Karen announced that she was going to take pictures of ordinary folks for her upcoming book The Beauty of Different, and that she was seeking volunteers for anybody who would or could be in the Houston area during MLK weekend, I felt compelled, compelled I say, to do it. 1. Because I was dying to meet this woman. 2. Because I relished the opportunity to tell her face-to-face that her vision of what she wants to do in the world through her blog is working. 3. Because I finally felt like I could be worthy of being considered for such a project even though, I am convinced, I have the most ordinary looking face in the world. Didn’t matter. Karen, I thought, will make me look beautiful because I’ve never seen a not-beautiful person in her pictures.

So I flew to Houston with my niece Leslie and I did it.

And it was grand because… because… well… for lots of reasons. Because I got to run down an airport terminal to board the plane at the very last minute before take off, just like in the movies! Because I got to have drinks at 1 p.m. in the afternoon… and then I got to have more that evening. Because I got to hang with the coolest niece in the world. Because I got to go to a new city. Because I flew in a plane and didn’t cry (I don’t much like flying). I got to stay in a swanky hotel. But the best part, without a doubt, was meeting Karen because, well… she is the real deal. She was so warm, and kind, and encouraging, and real. Two years ago I never would have had the nerve to put myself in a situation to meet her because I would have been intimidated by the fact that she is so well-educated, had traveled so widely, has such ability. A woman like her must have, like, a gazillion friends and I would just be a waste of her time. I’d have been too self-conscious. But see, that’s what’s changed over the past two years… with a daily, little, gentle nudge of encouragement from her blog. So, you see, I had to go and tell her so.

So I went, and just the whole experience of doing this for myself, it happened at the right time for the right reasons. And I have to tell you that I so wholeheartedly agree with Karen’s perspective on beauty. I know that I am not the only woman who has struggled with feeling beautiful or worthy or deserving or good enough. But she is absolutely right when she says that we are ALL beautiful. Her book, The Beauty of Different, celebrates this truth, and I encourage you to buy two copies: one for yourself and one for someone who needs to be reminded that he/she is beautiful.

This is the photo that Karen took of me that day.

When I look at this, I don’t necessarily see beauty, but I see worth. And I see strength. Two things that, for a long time, I had been feeling a lack of, but I do not any longer. So to my friends, to my family, to Karen @ chookooloonks, and especially to my husband and children, and Jesus… I say thank you. Thank you.

About that last post…

… I was thinking about taking it down. That’s really not the vibe I want my blog to have. Not at all. But I’ve decided to keep it up, and just add this:

It is truly a privilege to teach. Sometimes I need to remind myself of that.

But this job can be so very difficult sometimes. That is all.

Wherein I get all snippity-like because if this job is so damn easy then why aren’t YOU* doing it? [*and by “you” I don’t mean you]

Why is it that one disgruntled student can make me doubt everything that I’ve tried to do in a semester?

Then, I found an article on a local newspaper’s website with this reader comment:

Teachers receive good salaries for their positions and then pass the blame on to parents every or financial statistics every time THEY fail their students. I think instead of educators blowing money on studies of students who are in low income families they should be doing studies of their educators. Who would like to bet that students with lower income families receive less of an education from their teachers because the teachers don’t care as much?

The bottomline of any job is performance. If a teacher is not producing a proper education, then they have no one to blame but themselves and they should be immediately removed from the position. Regardless of who the parent is or the parents income level, a proper teacher has as much time and resources as they do with a child that has higher income parents, and a teacher should have no problem educating all of the students at the same level.

Okay, so seriously. There is so much I can say to this… but I don’t really want to get into it, because, you see, I’ll already be up for at least another 2.5-3 hours (4 hours after my kids went to bed) to grade papers. I am pushing to get these graded early, so my students might have an opportunity to do a second draft, even though they had a week to do the assignment in the first place.It’s not that I think that I am that great of a teacher, or that I am trying to toot my own horn here. “Ooh, look at me. I work hard.” This is the gig, and I signed up for it.

I would just like to point out the following… in bulleted format because I really just don’t feel like pulling it all together into one cohesive format.

  • When a student fails a class with a 21% because they’ve only  handed in four assignments out of several dozen, who fails? Keep in mind that as their teacher, I only see this student for 50 minutes per day. But I still try.
  • When a student misses an average of 1/3 of school days to unexcused absences or truancy, who fails? According to school policy, I am no permitted to give credit for missed work on an unexcused or truant absences, so their grade is going to be negatively impacted to some extent regardless of what we do when they ARE there. But I still try.
  • My job, as I see it, is not to make sure that every student succeeds. My job is to make sure that every student has the opportunity to do well in my class. If I, or anyone else, could guarantee that every kid PASSES, well hell’s bells, that would make my job a lot easier.
  • What people often mean by schools failing students is that students get through school without seeming to have some kind of  skill/ability/knowledge that is transferable to life outside of school. In other words, my class should not be a closed entity that has no relevance to the rest of their lives. I agree with that. But my class does not exist to serve purely utilitarian function either. As expert, I should get to have some say in what the proper balance is. If someone disagrees with me, there are number of avenues one can take to address with me, my administrators, or my school-board. But here’s the best idea of all–take an active interest and fill in the gaps you perceive with your own child. Formal education, whether it be public or private, should never be thought of as the only education necessary to make an educated citizen.
  • Not every students’ performance is indicative of what they were taught. Nor does every kid’s grade reflect what they actually know. This actually swings both ways. I have failing students who are freaking brilliant but they just won’t do the work, or they aren’t in school to do the work. Likewise, we all know those students who have great grades, but they don’t seem to have a lick of good, common sense.
  • Some kids have just not bought in, or sadly, have checked out of their educational opportunities.
  • I know that those who aren’t educators will say it is the educators’ jobs to motivate these students. I agree that it is, but when you talk about intangible things like individual motivation to succeed, to learn, to achieve… let alone even to define what those terms success, learning, achievment mean to each individual… well, that’s an impossible expectation to meet. That’s kind of like saying to the fast-food worker that every customer that comes through the drive-thru must been 100% satisfied with the taste, smell and appearance of their burger and their hunger must be 100% satiated for them to be successful at their jobs. It doesn’t matter if the customer has huge appetites, or if they actually hate fast food, or even if they didn’t come to the drive-thru for a burger, but rather a soda–the workers’ success depends on the customers’ 100% satisfaction and sated appetite.
  • And of course, education is not fast food. Education is opportunity. It is a long and complicated endeavor of the body and mind and spirit. It is a life-long process that cannot be quantified by any instrument or test. It just can’t. It never well. The best way to determine whether or not a student has learned is to ask the student him/herself. Grades, pass, and fail have very little to do with learning. There have been scads of books written and studies conducted dealing with this exact point.
  • I try my best to motivate my students. Some are motivated by grades, some are motivated by reward, some are motivated by the joy of learning, and some are motivated by doing something “out of the ordinary.” I try my best to motivate on each of these levels, but let me tell you that it is mighty difficult to keep that up, day in and day out, nine months out of the year… especially when I’m competing with boyfriends, girlfriends, a part-time job, a car, or the mere fact that it is a Friday… if I’m lucky. Often times I’m competing with a parent’s unemployment, a parent’s drinking/drug problem, a student’s drinking/drug problem, an over/under medicated student, physical/emotional/mental abuse, or a terminally ill family member.
  • So, do I fail my students. Yes. I do. I fail them in that I do not convince every single one of them to seize every single opportunity for learning that is presented to them every single day. Some of them, I can’t even motivate to hang on for a single quarter out of the year. It hurts my heart to admit that, but it is true. Despite the fact that I teach critical reading skills and writing, I still have students who see no point in my class whatsoever, because they don’t read books and they hate to write. It makes me very sad when I can’t reach through their short-sightedness and convince them that it is their life and their ability and their opportunity that is at stake here. Some of them never, ever imagine their lives anything beyond what they already know. And by age 15, most of them do have the skills to negotiate that world.So yes, sometimes I do fail.
  • But, I will be damned if someone is going to accuse me of not caring about them and their progress. All of them. It stings when a student belittles my class because he or she did not get the grade that he or she wanted. It’s insulting to be told that what I do doesn’t matter in the “real world.”
  • So, about failing students? Trust me when I tell you that I grieve it enough on my own. I question my own methods and decisions and the fairness of my assessments and the worth of my lessons enough. I love my job. And I love my students. And I don’t think that I am an extraordinarily, special teacher. I think that there are a lot of out there who would love to reach those failing students.

Okay, I’m out of “thoughts” for the moment.

Short notes.

Every few months, the girls’ bickering, tattling, and fighting get to such a point that I feel it would be totally and completely reasonable to trade them for a half a dozen new puppies. Unpotty-trained. And shedding. It’s that bad. They haven’t been able to get out and run around for a few days because of the weather, and I’m sure that is a large contributing factor. But I have come to the conclusion that every parent needs a soundproof room.

One good thing about this rainy weather is that it gives me a good excuse not to wash my car.

Another is that my newly-planted petunias and vinca are doing great.

Last month I took my camera out to shoot some flowers, and I did something weird with the settings and now my pics don’t quite look the same. Not bad, just not the same. This makes me unreasonably nervous, which is ridiculous, because this is how I’ll learn what my camera (and I) can really do, right? But all those buttons, and settings, and numbers that I don’t understand… GAH!

A few weeks ago John decided that he is going to lose weight… and he does. He dropped about 13 lbs, just like that.  For me to lose that kind of weight, I had to follow a pretty strict (for me)  portion-control diet, give up ice cream (a huge sacrifice), and run (not walk) 4-5 times a week. And it took me 2 months. He watches what he eats through the week and eats whatever he wants on the weekend and it appears to be melting off of him. I am jeluuuus. And happy for him. He has more to go, but he looks goooood.

Today is make-it-or-break-it day for the last two weeks of school. If I can get everything done on my to-do list today, I think these last two weeks will be fairly enjoyable. If I don’t, it’s going to be a rough ten days.

We’re planning a short trip to Chicago this summer. So far we have a Cubs-Cards game and a trip to Shedd’s Aquarium on the agenda. John and I love this city, but we have never been up there with kids, so if anyone has recommendations for fun things to do with them up there, I’d be glad to hear them.

I guess it’s time to tackle that to-do list… Happy Sunday, everybody!

Sprint to summer.

Last summer was about getting some much needed rest and peace after having a really difficult winter and spring. Last summer was the beginning of getting better. I’ve managed to let go of a great deal of negativity in my thinking and in my life this past year. And when I reflect upon it, so many good things have happened since then. And even though I am rather stressed about the end of the school year, that’s nothing new. This summer I feel ready.

Just—ready.

ready for long mornings in my backyard with my girls (yes, including her)

ready to take Karen‘s advice and shoot every day

ready to take long walks and enjoy nature

ready to be barefoot in the grass

ready to expand my itunes library with some old CDs

ready to see lotus blossoms

ready for impromptu cocktails with good friends, who also happen to be neighbors, in the front yard

ready to devour grilled cheeseburgers and pasta salad

ready to read things that make me laugh

ready to take weekend trips to museums and sight-see with John and the girls

ready to write

ready

Just ready.

Facebook and iPhone may be the death of this blog.

Just kidding. This blog is not dying. But they certainly do distract me from this space. The phone because I can get a quick “fix” of surfing or blog reading from my compact, handy-dandy phone almost instantaneously rather than sit down with my big ‘ol laptop, wait for it to boot up, and fuss with the mouse pad or (heaven forbid, gasp) the mouse itself. Remember how I felt so free when I went wireless? (Thanks again, Geek Squad!) Now my poor laptop and I casually glance at each other from across the room. Yeah, we used to be close. It’s different now… We haven’t broken up, per se. It’s just that I have different needs. Different desires. Wow. This paragraph just took a really creepy turn, didn’t it?

As for my writing outlet, Facebook accommodates the random so very easily… and that is pretty much what my life has been. For example, while driving home from work this week in approximately 284 mph cross-winds, I had to explain to Super L, in much (elaborated and improvised) detail why boa constrictors cannot and would not squeeze mosquitoes. The old folks like to say that this is the wonder of a child’s imagination. That certainly is a positive spin on it. But I submit that this is a challenge–a gauntlet–of mental dexterity because kids know, you see, that they are better at mental gymnastics than their parents. Kids know that they cannot disobey,  disrespect, or defy their parents. But they can probe and question and prod, all in the good name of curiosity and imagination, without much consequence and enjoy watching their parents try to keep up. And if your kids are anything like mine, there is a price to pay if unsatisfactory (or untrue) answers are offered. Then it becomes a thing that can go on for days, or even weeks.

This is what has been going on with Super L on the subject of snakes, ladybugs and fire ants for 45 minutes daily while driving home from a full-day of work. It almost has me wishing we could talk about where babies come from or the difference between boys and girls.

Okay, maybe not. But you get what I mean.

In other news:

My mom had her thyroid removed and is recovering nicely.

One month left before school is out, and my American Lit classes are in transition from taking the ACT/PSAE test. I have until 8 a.m. tomorrow to finalize my plans for the rest of the year. None of the possibilities are 100% satisfactory.

Prom is this Saturday, and since I am a junior class sponsor, I’ll be decorating and chaperoning. And I want to say, for the record, that prom is a heck of a lot more fun when all you had to do is show up looking pretty.

Don’t tell my kids, but we’re taking the girls to Disney World in summer of 2011. I know that talking about it this early is kind of pointless, but for the people who took two years to decide upon curtains for their house… to even say that we’re gonna do it is something worth getting excited about.

Oh, and I saw Jake Gyllenhall in real life, with my own two eyes.

And now you see why I haven’t been blogging much. This is about the most coherent writing I’ve had to offer in a month. I’m sorry.

or

You’re welcome?