Fast.

The weight of it burdens me before dark: the students who struggle, the teachers who I’m asked to support when I can barely support myself, the spinning cycle of meeting after meeting that leads to nowhere. Fast.

Coming home to kids crying over homework, kids spending their lives addicted to screens, to screens that fill my world with the darkness that will always be The Trump Era.

If only I had the guts of Eminem and could shout to the world, “I’m drawing in the sand a line, you’re either for or against.”

If only I had the guts to face the days I face with that same passion, that same tenacity.

Today I pulled out a trick that I learned from an old teacher during my first year of teaching. A kid who wouldn’t sit down, who wouldn’t stay on task, whose house I’ve called too many times, whose hallway conversations have led to nowhere. A kid throwing papers and pestering his friend across the room.

“M, how fast do you think you can run to the end of that hallway and back?”

His incredulous stare went from my eyes to my watch.

“I’m timing you.”

And so he ran. A couple of other boys standing in the hall whispered, “You’re allowing him to do that?” A teacher came out of her room to investigate. But he ran. Fast.

And when he came back to class? He wrote me the first full paragraph of the school year. Therefore, that one small action, that one small accomplishment, made my fifth period a relative success today for the first time, eight weeks in.

Yet the failures stack up all around me. Student test scores. Apathetic teachers. Overburdened teachers. Unfilled forms and lost money. My oldest trapped in a class she can’t succeed in. My youngest trapped in a cycle of doubt over math skills. My house trapped in a temperature of sixty-four degrees and no furnace repairman available till the end of the month.

And it’s getting cold. Fast.

Yet the sun still shines, as it always will in Colorado, so often mocking my mood. The stars come up over our street where six of our kids run up and down the block making merriment with the neighbors, where Isabella is asked to babysit, where our kitties keep us warm and this is the first day this week I’ve had to make dinner thanks to the blessing of another family who shares our home and a mother who knows how to cook better than me.

And my principal, the realist, the perfectionist that she is, has praised me once again.

So the burden of early-morning doubt may still wake me in the morning. I will tear myself up over scoring teachers and wish I could be a better teacher myself. I will go to meetings where I will likely feel inadequate, where I will feel like we’re getting nowhere. I will coax Riona through subtracting fractions and give in to Mythili’s Halloween costume extravagance. I will run Girl Scout meetings and hope that these young minds capture, for a moment, the power of feminine collectivity.

I might even ask M to run up and down the hallway again. Fast.

Because sometimes we just need to draw the line in the sand and run. For or against the hope that tomorrow will be better than today.

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Poem Hunting

even with stolen poems

lost from early morning tears

(and no sign of lattes in sight)

i’ve found my daughter 

waiting behind the burgeoning dawn

with her gumption in her palm

ready to take over the world
i carry them in the back of my mind

as green grasses give way to fall

in a burst of golden red peaks

that hide the city skyline 

from a cloudless day
my girls, shared beds, shared worldview 

nearly-perfect grades but better yet…

nearly-perfect playmates

to everyone they meet
they make my steps easier

on these long days into night

when all we want to find

is the poem we lost before dawn

Castellano

I’m thinking about Spain tonight. Not just because I’m already planning our summer road trip across the Iberian Peninsula. Not because Castellano is on the tip of my tongue–because it’s not.

I’m thinking about the garage full of trash bags that I gave to the Goodwill before we went to Spain. Old toys, books, clothes, unwanted small appliances, furniture, shoes, pillows… JUNK. About fitting our lives in five giant suitcases, five backpacks, and an airplane across the sea. About coming back to all of our items left in our house… that was no longer ours.

The piano. The maple nightstands that stood on either side of my parents’ bedroom in that custom-built two-story in upstate New York. The dining set we picked out soon after our wedding, its oak pedestal and matching chairs a testament to the solidity of our marriage. The most comfortable recliners a body could rest in.

Our beds. Our patio set. Our entertainment center. Every last comfort, joy… empty from our rental house upon our return.

How we begged and borrowed items to make a home once we returned from Spain. How we spent the “advance” of my first salary to buy double-over-double bunk beds so that our girls might share a room.

How, when we went there, with everything packed in luggage, we had to adapt to uncomfortable furniture, to a mattress on the floor for a bed, to no closets, no bath, no extra bathroom, no dryer, no dishwasher, no place to fit our lives into.

And how our girls… adapted. How they made friends, made paper cutouts to decorate the walls, painted ceramic eggs from the “Chino” to hang on the tiny plastic Christmas tree we found in the wardrobe, sat next to one of the space heaters during rainy winter months when the wind whipped through the frail windows, learned how to wash dishes and wait hours for clothes to dry and speak Castellano more fluently than me by year’s end.

And the aftereffects of Spain, of moving out… and moving back. Of trying to pick up the pieces of the life we’d left, trying to reposition ourselves amongst our friends, our family, our view of the world, trying new careers and new colleagues and a new house that was ours… and wasn’t ours.

That is why. Spain is why, five years later, we can make space in our two-bathroom, five-bedroom home for six other people. Why when I drove a couple miles today to pay a neighbor $80 for an extra refrigerator, her jaw dropped when I said what it was for, her “For Sale” sign in the yard of a house just like mine because she, her husband and two boys “just need more space.” Why, after sharing one bedroom for a year and one bathroom and one suitcase full of clothes, my girls could move things over, purge, split their beds, their time, their Americanness, to make room for a whole other family in our home.

I may not have learned Castellano. I may not have r’s rolling off of my tongue. My girls may not remember more than what a croqueta is.

But they know what it means to make a sacrifice. To give up a piece of themselves. To move. To transition. To lose and gain friends. To try new foods and new schools and new sleeping arrangements.

That is why this revised chore chart, designed by Mythili and with input from six other voices, is my picture for today.

There is beauty in those three Expo colors. Compromise. Adjustment. Initiative.

Adaptability. With a little bit of gumption and Castellano on the side, just for good measure.