Saturday, May 7, 2011

Lake and Sky

One of my favorite family photos is one that was taken about 10 years ago on a beautiful summer day in Sun River, Oregon.  My then 4-year old son Cole, stands next to his favorite "Aunt Suki" as they proudly display their art creations to the photographer (mom).  They had drawn pictures of the small lake and background mountain that was the view from our condo.  My sister's picture is lovely, and captured the scene with precision of an artists eye.  It was endearing to see my little son's scribbled picture of lake and trees, and an airplane, - naturally - (though there was none in the sky at the time of his rendering).  What I love most about this memory is the sweet simplicity that was felt on that summer morning long ago -- and the complete happiness in my little boy's face at that moment.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Better Days

As many young girls growing up in the 70s, I was a HUGE fan of the television show "Little House on the Prairie".  I became somewhat obsessed with the show, and in a way I think it was because I just felt in my heart that those were "better times".  Life just seemed so much simpler in the world of Laura Ingalls.  The notion of my childhood life being "hard" in the 60s and 70s makes me laugh out loud now when I consider how much more difficult times are now in comparison.  I don't mean to imply that I am not grateful for all of the things we have now that we didn't have then -- its just that having  "more" isn't always a good thing. The paired-down life of Laura Ingalls seems like a pleasant, far-away dream to me now -- the vast prairies, the simple home with a ladder to the upstairs, the wagon and horse, the white schoolhouse, and the long ride into town.

I see now that the world of the Ingalls was my "safe place" as a child.  My life then was a combination of wonderful, careful days and not so wonderful, noisy days.  It was then that I delved deeper into my prairie refuge.  I wanted to BE Laura Ingalls.  I wanted to be a little girl who was kind and respectful to her parents - all the time.  In my made-up world, I was that girl.  I gradually turned my room into what I thought resembled a prairie home, more rustic and cozy.  I even had a Kerosene lamp next to my bed.  All of my dolls were Holly Hobby dolls and had names like Mary and Grace.  Along with my best friend, we attempted once to build a covered wagon in the backyard, made of sheets and saw horses. We were able to get into it one time before the whole thing collapsed on top of us!

And it was special to have my best friend to share this passion with.  Cherise was Laura because she was brunette and I became Mary eventually because I was blond.  We were so dedicated to this transformation to another era that we began to attire ourselves in bonnets and prairie dresses (my wonderful Aunt Nancy made mine).

It was wonderful while it lasted, but then we turned 12.  Twelve-year olds nowadays wouldn't be caught dead in a bonnet or with a Holly Hobby doll.  But in those more simplier times, a 12 year old was still a child -- well especially me.  I was so desperate not to grow up that when the first glimpses of womanhood appeared on my chest I wore a coat for a year!  I did NOT want to leave the warm embrace of childhood.  My best friend however, began to change at 12.  The prairie world no longer held an interest for her -- boys did.  All through the 6th grade (then it was the last year of elementary school) I wore braids in my hair as a silent protest to the encroching teen years.

In retrospect, those were some of the most magical days of my life, and I wouldn't trade them for anything.  As Albert Einstein once said “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”  So to mothers of daughters out there -- let your daughters play with dolls if they desire.  To mother's of sons, let them play with their Lego's a bit longer.  Soon they too will cast away those childhood enjoyments and move on -- but their imaginations will remain intact.  I am glad to have spent a few brief,  blissful years "on the prairie".

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Story about a School

     There is a school I know of where the teachers truly do put all students first.  Where every single child in this school feels loved, feels confident, feels like striving to be better.  It's the elementary school where I have taught for the past 3 years, part-time, 3-4 days a week, and I truly love it there.  It is not an affluent school by any stretch of the imagination, and most of my students come from broken homes, live in apartments or with relatives, and a large portion are on the free-lunch program.  Mom or dad or whoever happens to be raising these kids normally work at least 2 jobs.  The stories they tell me about their lives break my heart on a daily basis.
     This school is so different from the ones my own children have attended, schools where teachers rarely had to worry about test scores , attendance, or where Thanksgiving dinner was going to come from.  I can't think of a better place for me to serve than in a school where the students truly need me.  I would rather teach in these environments than any other, because sometimes you are the only positive, loving force these kids ever come across considering the volatile home lives many experience.  You can be tired or cranky when you walk in the school doors but when I see their beautiful faces and get their hugs, my day in immediately "made".
     I have taught in a lot of different schools and in all environments: high school, middle school, special education.  And I can honestly say that this school is loaded to the brims with just about the most caring individuals I have ever known.  How do I know this?  Because I hear them teach, and I hear how hard these teachers work.  Our school has one of these "open" settings where there are not many walls and a lot of noise, so we can always hear each other teaching.  When I am in between my teaching groups and have some quiet for a moment, I can hear the others teaching.  And if you could hear what I hear, you would be so proud that your student has these teachers.  This is a group of highly educated, dedicated, creative, and inspiring teachers.  Not a day goes by when a teacher or administrator doesn't come and thank me for helping their kids (I teach inclusion groups throughout the day).  In turn, I want to thank them for dedicating their time and talents to these children.  I see the true collaboration between teachers and administrators whose main goal is always "How can I help this student succeed", and "Have we done everything we can to help this student".  Sometimes these kids are pulled by principals, librarians, tutors and others in addition to their teachers just to help them get an extra "push" to understand a concept.  This wonderful staff never gives up, and these amazing teachers are the hardest working people I have ever known.
     So, there are some people out there (like my own brother for example) who think teachers have it easy and, get too much time off.  Well, maybe in California where he is from, but not where I teach.  If he could spend even a second in a teacher's shoes at my school, he would think so differently.  So, as we all hear so often "No Child Left Behind" -- that statement is true at this school -- not one student gets lost in the fray, and none are ever alone.
     And here is the very best perk about teaching day -- on the drive home I never have to think "What have I done to contribute to the world today" or "What is my purpose"?  My purpose is always clear to me.

“If kids come to us teachers from strong, healthy functioning families, it makes our job easier. If they do not come to us from strong, healthy, functioning families, it makes our job more important.”

Barbara Colorose

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Play this one at my funeral.

I've posted the lyrics from one of the greatest singer/songwriters (in my opinion of course) of our time - David Gray.  You'll think it strange that I want this song played at my funeral since the lyrics are sort of lovey-dovey but there is just something about this song that makes me feel incredibly happy.  If you've ever heard it, you'll know what I mean.  It reminds me of being in my 20s and living in Washington D.C. -- walking down an Autumn street in Georgetown, leaves of red and orange and purple swirling about my feet.  Back when the world was so full of possibility.  A feeling and a memory you wish you could hold on to forever. 
     So sister (because I know you are the one person in the world who will remember) play this at my funeral someday, and I will smile from wherever I might be - hopefully heaven :)

Friday night I'm going nowhere
All the lights are changing green to red
Turning over TV stations
Situations running through my head
Well looking back through time
You know it's clear that I've been blind
I've been a fool
To ever open up my heart
To all that jealousy, that bitterness, that ridicule

Saturday I'm running wild
And all the lights are changing red to green
Moving through the crowd I'm pushing
Chemicals all rushing through my bloodstream
Only wish that you were here
You know I'm seeing it so clear
I've been afraid
To tell you how I really feel
Admit to some of those bad mistakes I've made

If you want it
Come and get it
Crying out loud
The love that I was
Giving you was
Never in doubt
Let go your heart
Let go your head
And feel it now

Babylon, Babylon

Sunday all the lights of London
Shining , Sky is fading red to blue
I'm kicking through the Autumn leaves
And wondering where it is you might be going to
Turning back for home
You know I'm feeling so alone
I can't believe
Climbing on the stair
I turn around to see you smiling there
In front of me

If you want it
Come and get it
Crying out loud
The love that I was
Giving you was
Never in doubt
And feel it now
Let go your heart
Let go your head
And feel it now
Let go your heart
Let go your head
And feel it now
Let go your heart

Babylon, Babylon, Babylon

Spring Valley.

Ah, the wonders of Facebook.  You can say what you like about it, and it kind of drives me crazy when people treat it like a Twitter account, but it has been an amazing cavieat for bringing people together.  Most recently, a group of kids I went to elementary school with (all now in our 40s - gasp!) have put together a little reunion of sorts to take place at the end of May.      I spent my elementary school years at a wonderful school called Spring Valley, in Millbrae, California.  Picture if you will wide classroom with entire walls of windows, open to the California breezes, low, slopping roof-lines, and an occasional palm tree.  The black-top playgorund seemed endless to us children, and it was a really neat playground because it had plenty of tether-ball courts and hard ball courts.  In around my 3rd grade year the school added on a huge grassy field with mound after mound of grassy low hills and we would run up and over those hills till we lost our breath.  They even had the ingenuity to create an outdoor stage where we did plays.  One of our favorite playground games (well for the girls anyway) was "Pixies and Goblins" where the Goblins (the bad girls) would chase the Pixies (the good girls, and my side of choice) around the playground and try to take them to their team.
     In the photo above are many of those same classmates having the reunion.  To the right is one of the most amazing teachers I ever had: Mr. Tarantino.  He was so creative for his time, and he introduced us into creating bonzai plants.  I remember walking down to Peters & Wilsons nursery and pick out pots, rocks, and plants to create our bonzai.  At some point during my elementary years, Mr. Tarantino had his thumb cut off by a wood-working saw.  They sewed it back on, so he had this thumb that stock straitght out all the time.  He never let it slow him down.

Friday, April 23, 2010

There are so many evils that pull on our children.

     That is the first sentence of Anne Lamott's new book Imperfect Birds.  You may remember a book she wrote many years ago called Operating Instructions which was a humorous and touching memoir of her first year with her baby boy.  My son Ethan was newly born then too, and I knew a lot of moms who read that book back then and found comfort in knowing they didn't have to be "perfect moms".  Well, her new book presents the "flip-side" of that earlier book.  If you think it is, or was hard taking care of young children (and I would completely agree with you there), parenting teens is just as difficult but in a completely different way.  Whereas taking care of young children, especially active young boys for me, was physically draining, I find that the teenage years are emotionally draining.  I have never worried more in my years of parenting.  I am not so naive to think that there are not some challenges to come, some heavy stuff with raising teens, and that my husband and I are going to have to deal with worse things than our sons getting a "detention" at school.  Sure, everyone would like to think their children are perfect and would never get into trouble -- I'm just saying that I personally want to be realistic.
     I look ahead to when by boys will no longer be here with me everyday and a great sadness encompasses me.  There is so much I still need to teach them, and so many more times that I need to tell them I love them.  To build them up, to help them make good choices.  It sometimes seems that time is a thief when it comes to parenting children -- you think you have them for so many years with you, and yet it is really so fleeting, and all the while you know that soon they must go out and meet the world for themselves.
     I am OK with that - I want them to have wonderful experiences, but what really throws me is how much are children today are challenged in ways that we never were.  Or perhaps what I mean is that they are challenged in very different ways than we were.  They are exposed to so much more with the Internet, texting, etc.  Sometimes I think this fast society is not allowing them to slow down - to take in the simple beauty of quiet.  But it is what it is, and we parents must do the best we possible can.
     Imperfect Birds details the ease with which teenagers can be derailed and how quickly adults believe the lies of the children they love.  So, I do want to know what is "going on" out there with teens today.  I want to be realistic about challenges that I know my children will face.  I've never been one of those people that won't see "sad" movies or read "heavy" books because both help me face the realities of life and deal with them head on.  I can take it.  When I do face these challenges with my children, I am certain they will throw me, but I just don't want to be completely shocked when and if they do occur.  I want to hone some skills to deal with the ups and downs of teen life.
     So where do we turn during these challenging years?  I say to the usual places: friends, family, and faith. With all of my imperfections, they are all I have, and they have to be enough.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Why I Love Mad Men

     You may have heard about a little show called "Mad Men" that airs on the not so well known AMC. I came into the "Mad Men Craze" a little later than some, but I am now most definitely "hooked". I went out and rented Season 1, which I had missed, and devoured it on a binge that lasted for several days. You would think a show that is predominantly about "men" wouldn't amuse a woman so much, but I for me personally, I think it helps that I grew up in at least "part" of the shows era, and so am able to identify. I was born in 1963, and the children of the ever-so dapper Don and Betty Draper (husband and wife and main characters) would be a few years older than me if they weren't fictional characters. What most intrigues me about the show is the phenomenal acting ability of each of the characters. If you are not familiar with the acting on the show, at first viewing you might find it "over-acting" or even a bit campy. But this type of acting just works for the show. In a time when appearances were everything, and men like Don Draper had to put on a cool front, and women stuck in suburbia having a mental "mind-melt" like his wife Betty, the show really captures that very stifled time period. On the cuffs of the tight 50s, it exhibits men and especially women trying to change and become "more".
     My favorite character naturally is the amazing Don Draper, played superbly by Jon Hamm. Don lives in a conflicted world, which makes him a pretty interesting guy. He isn't what one would call a "good man" as he constantly cheats on his wife and always makes his world of work the number 1 priority. But he is a man trying to cope with the changing times.
     I find the show is a nostalgic resting place for me as I had parents that were somewhat similar to the morays of the time-period. My dad was a very smart and funny attorney (still is) and I remember him walking up from the train he took from San Francisco each evening in his wing-tipped shoes and briefcase, always to arrive for dinner by 6. My mom was classy, had a wonderful sense of style, be it clothing or decorating. We lived, for a while at least, in an elegant world of dinner music and candle-light on our table every night.
     People may call the early 60s a repressed and straight-laced time, but there was a beautiful simplicity to it, and raising my own children in today's world, I often find myself yearning for the simplicity of my childhood, and so wishing I could give them a simplier life.
     So, I love Mad Men for the same reasons I love Masterpiece Theater, because it takes me away from the violence of our world today for an hour or so each week -- an hour worth savoring for sure.