Tuesday, April 11, 2017


So we are testing this week, and I'm thinking, as I always do, about the qualities that can't be measured. One of the first things that comes to mind is kindness. It makes me sad that something so important can't be measured.

When I think about kindness, one of the he first people I think of is Miss A. A has been at our school since first grade. Reading, actually school, has never come easy to her, and she's worked and worked and worked. She's in fifth grade now, and has never scored proficient on any standardized measure.

But she is proficient in lots of things that matter.

Last Friday, for instance, I accompanied the fifth grade to the library. I grabbed a stack of books to book talk. They are all new books, and there were a few I didn't know. One of them, the title of which I can't remember, was about a young girl whose mother has left. The girl thinks if she wins a poetry slam, her mother will come home.

D is another student in that class. She is new to our school this year, the oldest girl in a family of four children. D's stepmother and step-siblings moved out of the country earlier this year. Now it's just D, her dad, and three siblings.

D immediately asked for that book. Someone else had already snagged it, but I did a little finagling, arranged a multi-book trade and was able to procure it for her. But then they got to the checkout counter and it turned out that D has two books checked out from her previous school. And the district has a new policy that no one who has old fines can check out any books until they are taken care of, so D couldn't have that book.

I understand the district rationale, but I also know that sometimes a kid just needs a book. Nevertheless, the person in charge of the library wasn't bending. D was crestfallen.

Miss A. was right behind her.

"Can I check out that book?" she asked.

I told her she could. And she put down one of the books she had chosen, and checked out the book D had wanted to read, then we went back upstairs.

On the way back up, I suggested that maybe Miss A could share her book with D. She looked at me like I was crazy. "I didn't check the book out for me," she said. "It's too hard. I checked it out so D could read it."

And with that she handed the book over to D.

"Here," she said. "Here's your book."

And for about the millionth time, I wondered why we never measure the things that really count.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


So it's sounding like I might become a military mom. Air Force, to be exact. And I'm terrified.

My younger son went and met with a recruiter today. Took some kind of a preliminary test. Discovered that he was smart enough to be in the Special Forces. Made me dig out his birth certificate tonight, so he can take it, and his diploma to the recruiting office tomorrow.

And I have to tell you I have very mixed emotions.

On one hand, he has got to do something. For the past four or five years, since his senior year in high school, it's pretty much been one failure after another. Two different junior colleges. Motorcycle mechanic school. A zillion different jobs that he likes the first day, and quits the second or third. He's been going nowhere fast for awhile. The military might be really good. Structure. Discipline. Male role models.

And at the same time, I am absolutely terrified. I don't want him to go to war. I am afraid he would come back with missing body parts. Or with more PTSD than he already has. I am afraid he wouldn't come back. I don't know if his older brother could bear it, if he didn't come back.

And yet, at the same time, he has to do something.

So this morning, when I knew he was going to the recruiting meeting, I texted him and wished him luck. And called him afterwards. Tried to feign excitement when he showed me the recruiting pamphlet. Tried not to look at the picture of the person holding a very large machine gun. Tried not to think about where someone might need a gun that big.

I might become a military mom.

And I'm terrified.

Friday, March 31, 2017

SLICE #31- Thanks for the stories

"All we are, yes, all we can be, are the stories we tell," he says, and he is talking as if he is talking only to me. "Long after we are gone, our words will be all that is left, and who is to say what really happened or even what reality is? Our stories, our fiction, our words, will be as close to truth as can be. And no one can take that away from you."    Nora Raleigh Baskin

This came across my Facebook page today. And somehow, it seemed perfect for the last day of March, the last day of slicing for this year. Actually not really the last day of slicing, because we will slice again on Tuesday. But this day, the last day of March, even the seventh time, feels, like always, a little bittersweet. 

I think about all of the stories I have read this month- slicers like Linda, Elsie, Michelle, Tara, Ramona, Chris, and Elisabeth and others- people I have followed for years. They've become more than fellow slicers. They have become friends.

 I think about all of the new slicers- my Welcome Wagon folks- that I got to know  for the first time this year.I have loved getting to know them through their stories. I hope I will see them on Tuesdays. 

I think about the people that didn't slice this year- Cathy who started, then went on vacation and didn't pick back up again, and Nancy- who I have followed for years. I hope they will be back next year. I missed their stories.

I think about the stories I have told this year. Stories of possible retirement. Stories of struggling sons. Stories of school. I know next year I will look back on these stories, from farther down the road. I wonder how I will view these stories then.

And I think about the stories yet to be told. So many stories are left.

Until Tuesday, my friends, until Tuesday…

Thursday, March 30, 2017

SLICE #30- Wonder Woman Strikes Again

My teaching friend, Kathy, and I have a running joke.
We call ourselves the Wonder Women.
No, not Wonder Woman like you traditionally think of.
Not the one with the long black curls, red bodice,
and blue and white starred swimsuit bottoms.
Not that one.

We call ourselves the Wonder Women,
because we spend a huge part
of our teaching and personal lives
 wondering where we put things.

I wonder where I put my keys.
Kathy wonders where she put the piece of paper with last unit's math scores.
I wonder where I put the reading data I just printed out.
Kathy wonders where she put a gift card someone gave her.

We wonder on and on and on.

Take today for instance.
I had lunch with a friend, then dashed across town to renew my license plates.
I knew the little one inch by one inch sticker is really easy to lose,
so I stuck it on license plate the minute I walked out of the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Done and done.
One more thing off of my spring break list.

And then I came home.
And remembered that my son's license plates were also due in March.
The thing is, I would swear I already renewed his plates.
I thought I did it online.
I thought the envelope came in the mail.
And I gave the sticker to him
and told him to put it on.
He swears it didn't happen.
That I never gave him an envelope.

And so I went through the stack of bills
where I found my renewal notice.
His renewal wasn't there.
I have no idea where it is.
And of course it has to be done by tomorrow.
So that means I have to go back to the license plate bureau
and try to figure it out.

Wonder Woman strikes again.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

SLICE #29- The language of money

OK, I'm going to admit it right up front.
The language of money
is a language I don't speak.

I'm not one of those people who spends lots and lots of money.
I don't have a fancy house or fancy clothes or a fancy car.
I don't eat out at fancy places
(or even unfancy places, actually)
or spend a lot of money on exotic vacations.

But I'm also not one of those people who is super careful with money.
If a student asks me for a book, I order it.
If I need snacks for a meeting, I buy them.
If I'm teaching a class and I need markers or copies, I head over to Office Max.

My money habits have never been a problem.
Until now I think maybe they are.
Because now I'm thinking about retirement.
And all of a sudden I'm thinking I should be worried a little more.
I'm not sure I should be.
But maybe I should be.

It all started this afternoon.
I went to a retirement meeting.
Not because I am sure I am going to retire.
But because I might sometime soon.
And if I do, I will need to understand this stuff
A whole lot better than I do.

I had coffee with a friend before the meeting.
She is much, much younger, than I am.
As in her parents are just a few years older than I am.
As in she is expecting her first baby in June.
"I'm not good at money," I confessed to her.
And she told me she wasn't good at money either.
I felt a little better until she told me
that it was ok because her husband is really good at money.
Which might be ok. Except I don't have a husband.

So I went to this meeting.
And I was surprised at how I felt
when I walked in the door.
I really don't want to retire.
I still love, love, love my work
Love, love, love the kids.
I'm not ready to retire.
And it kind of feels like I'm not sure I will have a choice.
I really wanted to just run right back out the door.
But I forced myself to sit there.
And listen.

And I felt like I do
when I am listening in Spanish.
I can understand the conversation
if I really, really concentrate.
But the minute I let my attention stray
even for a millisecond
I'm lost.

And there were so many Option A
and Option B-1
and if you do this
and if you do that.
And most people seemed really happy
and really excited
And I really just wanted to cry
or run right out of the room.

At the end of the meeting
I gathered up all my papers
and walked out
I didn't fill out anything
or sign anything
I just walked out.
And now I'm sitting here tonight
pushing arond all of these papers
and trying to make sense of everything

The language of money
is a language I just don't speak.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

SLICE #28- Manhood stalled

Son #2.
Physically built.
Athletically talented.

And really struggling right now.

He gets up about ten.
Plays video games.
Waits for his brother to get home.
Indulges in his favorite Colorado habit.
Plays more video games.
Goes to bed.

He's had I don't know how many different jobs.
And usually lasts about a week.
He's tried two different junior colleges.
And motorcycle mechanic classes.
He says he is going to the military.
But they haven't called him back.
Or responded to his emails.

I've tried talking to him.
I have threatened eviction.

I do not know how to parent this 21-year-old child
who does not seem
to be taking any steps
toward manhood.

Monday, March 27, 2017

SLICE OF LIFE #27-A Book to Grow Hearts

I teach at a school that is approximately 95% Hispanic. Some of our kids were born in the United States. Some of our kids were born in other countries- mostly Mexico, but also El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and others. Some are legal immigrants. Some are not. 

The kids at my school have been a mess since November. They are terrified. Many have family members that have gone back to Mexico, or that are living in fear of being deported. Kids regularly tell me that they are afraid they will go home from school, and that their families will be gone. 

This is where the power of books becomes real to me. I read, a lot, because I love words and because I love stories. However, I also read because reading reminds me that I am not alone. Reading exposes me to people that are brave and stand up for others and do the right thing. Reading helps me to be the person that I want to be.

I work really hard to expose kids to books that teach them those important life lessons. I read aloud lots of biographies, historical fiction, and narrative nonfiction. I came across one of those books last week and shared it with my intermediate graders and middle schoolers at my school. 

STAND UP AND SING: PETE SEEGER, FOLK MUSIC, AND THE PATH TO JUSTICE is a terrific new picture book biography by Susanna Reich. Reich follows Seeger from the beginning of his life to the end- his adolescent interest in Native Americans, how he learned to play the banjo, the difficulties of the Great Depression, playing his banjo at union meetings and strikes, meeting Woody Guthrie, getting married, being blacklisted, working with Martin Luther King, Jr., protesting the Vietnam War, and finally, building the Clearwater.

I loved this book, mostly because of the life lessons kids can learn from Pete Seeger.

• Pete Seeger teaches kids to use the talents they have been given. 
"That night Pete saw that music could fill a room with peace and harmony- even if he still couldn't figure out how to sing and play banjo at the same time" 
• Pete Seeger teaches kids about taking care of others. 
 "He read about Native Americans and loved the idea that in some tribes, everything was shared. 'I decided that was the way  to live: no rich, no poor. If there was food, everyone ate; if there was no food, everyone went hungry.'"
 • Pete Seeger teaches kids that sometimes it's hard to stand up for what you believe. 
"On tour, the Almanacs slept on people's couches or in cheap hotels, including one with enormous cockroaches in every room. The following winter in New York City, they couldn't afford heat in their apartment. Pete didn't mind the cold. It felt good to be making a difference in the world."  

• Pete Seeger teaches kids to have integrity. 
In 1955, Pete was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He refused to take the Fifth Amendment, but also refused to share names or rat on his friends and colleagues. These choices came at great personal cost- for over a decade Seeger was blacklisted and was not allowed to appear on commercial shows.

• Pete Seeger teaches kids to be brave.
At one point in his life, Pete and the African American singer, Paul Robeson, were in an concert near Peekskill, New York. Some people were angry that whites and blacks were performing together. After the concert, they followed Pete and his family, and threw rocks at the car. Every window was shattered.
"Later  Pete found two rocks inside the car and cemented them into his fireplace. They always reminded him how important it was to stand up for his beliefs." 
STAND UP AND SING: PETE SEEGER, FOLK MUSIC, AND THE PATH TO JUSTICE is illustrated by Adam Gustavson (if you are familiar with Reich's work, he also illustrated FAB FOUR FRIENDS, about the Beatles). Each two-page spread includes a large full color oil painting; many also have a pencil sketch. The book begins with a foreword by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary. End notes include an author's note, as well as an extensive list of additional sources.

In these very difficult times, it's important to be able to give kids models of people who had integrity, stood up for what they believed, and did something to make the world a better place. STAND UP AND SING: PETE SEEGER, FOLK MUSIC, AND THE PATH TO JUSTICE is definitely a resource you can use. I recommend it highly.

 Pete Seeger at Obama's inauguration. 

An interview with Pete Seeger