Closed House

When I was a child, I always looked forward to my elementary school’s open house night. We would spend time in class creating artwork and projects showing off our classwork for our parents to see. Someone would make cookies to be laid out on plastic tables along the hallway. The teachers would get all dressed up, and they would be waiting happily at their classroom doors to meet and greet the parents.

I was always so excited to hold my parents’ hands, pull them through the hallways, and show them my desk. On it would be a writing sample, a math test, a piece of macaroni art. On the walls would be more displays of student work. The teacher would meander in and out of the room, casually chatting with parents or answering questions like, “What will the next unit be?” or, “How did you come up with the idea to have them make planetary mobiles out of different sized sports balls?”

There was no PowerPoint. There was no outlined agenda. There was not a four-page handout justifying the use of technology, the rigor of content, the guidelines for being prepared in ___th grade. There were no parents giving speeches about fundraising, principals introducing them and cheering them on. There was no gathering in the gym to brag about why this school is different and better than all the others because of this population of students, that method of math, these test scores, this money raised.

The open house, or when I moved to Denver, the back-to-school night, was simply a chance for parents, non-hovering, working (class) parents, to enjoy a small sample of what their children’s schooldays were like, to put a face to a name of the teacher their kids were talking about.

I sit here now at the first of three back-to-school nights of the year. I have just finished my first full day in the classroom, my first full day of balancing between teaching three overcrowded classes, observing three other teachers, covering a class, and having an after-school meeting where I was told, once again, that my ESL students will not continue to receive the support they so desperately need because my course isn’t required for graduation.

I sit here now in a two-hour sit-and-get presentation following (already completed) twenty pages of paperwork stating the same information, following daily e-mails about everything my daughter is and is not doing.

My child was not allowed to come.

I sit here now thinking of all the papers I need to grade for my second job; of my oldest daughter who started high school yesterday and is no longer speaking to me because everyone she’s met so far has asked her to follow them on Snapchat and I won’t allow her to have Snapchat; of my husband’s (so rare) harsh words about a carpool miscommunication that we were forced to exchange in the rush out the door, the rush to get three kids to three schools because “school choice” matters; of the letter Oh Nih Shar wrote to me about how she made bad choices in high school just like I did (as I confessed in my letter to my students)–and how grateful she’d been two years ago when I sent students to track her down and tell her (in cards and letters) we loved her even if she had to marry at fourteen.

I sit here now thinking that everything in this PowerPoint is information I’ve already heard in the paperwork and the forced (or your wait list spot will be lost) parent orientation in the spring, and didn’t I CHOOSE this school, and do you need to further convince me of its value?

I sit here now as a twenty-first century parent, a twenty-first century teacher, wondering, for the love of God, what have we done with our world?

Whatever happened to hands-on projects and cookies in the hallway and simply putting a face to a name?

To kids being accountable for their own work without us helicoptering over daily e-mails?

To teachers dressing up, slapping on a smile, and just offering a casual, kind word?

I sit here now in this closed house we call a school. This place where we’ve set impossible expectations for our students and their families. Where we are strapped not only with too much homework for sixth grade, but also too many technological addictions that leave our kids feeling left out, where schools only feed the fire by providing them with one-to-one technology.

This is the first of three for me. It is the second day of school. I am not home to fully (with text citations, I promise!) explain to my daughter why she can’t have Snapchat. To mull over TEN late-night emails and calls about my middle child’s detention, later cancelled, for our second school of choice. To make sure my youngest has packed her spork and sleeping bag for her upcoming camping trip.

My daughter is not pulling me down the hallway, excited to show me her pastel drawing. She, like the rest of us in this inundated-with-endless-information society we have created, is probably at home playing a video game or we-chatting with her friend in China or trying to figure out her standards-based math problem on Google Classroom.

And I am not there. I am here, in this closed school, wishing that a two-hour PowerPoint justification could transform into a two-minute meet and greet. That we could just trust that our children’s teachers are doing the right thing. That they could just trust us to raise them with the best intentions.

Wishing that we could have an open house. Not a closed society where choices burn us and bore us and take us away from things that truly matter:

Our time.

Our children.

Our happiness.

Drifters for a Day

from desert to sea
 in a day’s drive through one state
 (miracles exist)
 
 rainforests between
 to prove heaven lives on earth
 (nature is my god)
 
 we found our daddy
 after cherry shopping; lake;
 beyond evergreens
 
 a driftwood dinner
 no one could have predicted
 in another life
 
 yet here we’ll find sleep
 all together in one room
 at earth’s clouded edge
 
 

Views from the Road

The beauty of the road is so much more than views. It is the elevation loss and gain that sneaks up on you as quickly as the road snakes its way along the Snake River.

It is the surprise of the desert that has made its rural-America mark in southeastern Oregon.

It is the spontaneity of stopping at state parks for a peek at history and scenery so breathtaking you feel you’ve stepped into a mini Grand Canyon.

It is the trail our ancestors walked upon that you place your weary soles on now, however twisted and stolen it may be. It is still a silent beauty resting behind a sleepy Americana town, waiting for rediscovery and firsthand learning for three young women.

It is the creek sparkling in the hotter-than-expected northwestern sun, and the quick dip that makes an afternoon sparkle just as brightly.

It is the curve that moves from summit to limitless landscapes, to the expansive end of the Oregon Trail, played out in a quilt of farm fields, and the hope they held for a better life.

The road brings beauty, and within this beauty lies everything you’d expect and wouldn’t expect: children bickering, bits and pieces of trash and clothing piled up in the backseats, state lines that bear no stoppable signs, audiobooks and downloaded movies, snapshots taken from a moving vehicle, trucks that hog both lanes, treeless mountains and endless vineyards, poverty and wealth found behind fences and up on winery hilltops.

The road brings more than views of tall pines, sagebrush-only molehills, and sleepy rivers. It brings us all a new world view where we search for ourselves and find ourselves in each other. Where children find joy in only their siblings’ company, where the road promises a pool at the end of the day and a reality check about small city poverty to remind us of what we have.

Can you see it from an airplane, from a train ride, from a walk down the block?

Never quite like the views you’ll find when you hit the open road. The views of nature, of civilization… of yourself.

You just need one set of keys, a whole lot of gumption, and a pair of soul-searching eyes, and you can find yourself a whole new world view.

The Only Home is Colorado

mountain views bring peace
 better than a city day
 our summer freedom
 
 camping in nature:
 reminder of what matters–
 family connections
 
 weekend getaway:
 my moose, their antlers, our love
 better than the beach
 

Made in Colorado

over Trail Ridge Road
 you’ll visit every season
 (finding home in each)
 
 from spring to winter,
 Colorado wins my heart
 the best home on earth
 
 family’s found here too:
 in fires and puffed pancakes
 bigger than ourselves
 
 it’s that blue sky range
 just past the elk on the trail
 that leads our hearts home
 

Beyond the Blue Sky

We ride in and out of parking lots, trailer in tow (no longer filled with three girls, but prepped for groceries), in search of a Sunday where errands are as bright as a blue-sky Denver.

I am wearing my Florida Keys alligator jersey, black bike shorts, and green bandana. The questioning and judgmental looks I receive as we enter each store in search of summer sneakers, continuation dresses, and all the food a family can eat for a week, don’t phase me. They never quite have.

What phases me is the longing. The feeling of belonging I am always searching for. Is it found here, in this perfect peony in my backyard? Under my mother’s watchful (and ever-critical) eye? In the few friends who could commit a Saturday to spend with us?

We finish our errands in a few hours. Meanwhile Mythili has invited her new friend over, and they have, in the same amount of time, baked a giant cookie, made two containers of slime, scootered up and down the block, built three houses in Minecraft, and made the neighbor girl a part of it all. (When her mother dropped her off, she said, “I love your neighborhood. It’s so much greener than ours.” Later I mention to Bruce, “Isn’t it funny how I took pictures of her perfect historical Dutch Colonial just a couple weeks ago, wishing it were mine?”)

Isabella and Riona have new hair for a bright summer. I pull a trailer full of a hundred pounds of groceries, shoes, swim suits, and dresses until I feel the strain on my legs and the altitude in my lungs.

It is all so perfect, this day, this life. Yet… beyond the blue sky, there always hovers an insecurity, a doubt.

Why am I not worthy enough of your friendship?

Yet… how have I been able to maintain some lifelong friendships?

My BFF of twenty-some years calls me today to talk about parenting. The endless turmoils and trials of parenting. After the story, my stupid self can’t think of much else to say other than, “It never gets easier. Remember when you were so worried when he wouldn’t poop for two days when you stopped breastfeeding?”

Because no matter how perfect the peony, how blue the Denver sky, how happy the family, there are always clouds, always doubts, always wonderings of what might have been.

We pull them behind us in overburdened trailers, getting stuck on hills with dog walkers on one side and too-fast-for-the-bike-path-peddlers on the other. (“Did you see how Mama almost fell and dragged us all down with her when she couldn’t make it up that hill?”)

We carry them in the four chords of every pop song, in the sadness found in novels we somehow all connect to, in the stories of loss and wonder we share in secretive phone calls and late nights after too much beer.

We see them peppered in clouds that come from the mountains on late afternoons. In the heat that beats through and the rain that peppers our party.

Beyond the blue sky, there are always doubts and clouds and insecurities. But if we pedal hard enough, we’ll make it home. And there just might be a perfect peony waiting to greet us.

Refocused

with a broken fridge,
 limitations on dry ice,
 and carpool circles
 
 to pick up daughter
 from uncalled-for punishment,
 my Monday sucked ass.
 
 driving home in rain,
 she told me the whole story
 and other teen truths.
 
 then shared her essay:
 perfectly satirical
 (writer at fourteen)
 
 the rain flooded us
 and we laughed until we cried
 knowing that truth hurts.