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.
 

Lead the Way… Or Find Someone Who Can

My hope for today (and this has been a hard day, let me tell you… this is getting harder every day): LEADERS.

A leader listens. A leader asks for help instead of demanding things to be done one (his/her) way. A leader inspires.

When Isabella was in fifth grade and we were looking at middle schools, I was so inspired by the positivity, the motivation, and the strength I saw in Brad White, the director of DSST: Byers, that I did the “unthinkable” as a public school, union teacher: I enrolled my daughter in a charter school. A charter school with tediously high, somewhat militaristic expectations. A NEW charter school.

Here’s one reason why: Brad did not get up there and spout out lies. He was genuine. Honest. He asked a parent of a special needs student to share her story of how accommodating the school had been, more than any other, to her son’s severe ADHD and specific learning disability. He told us all that his ultimate goal in life was to provide a college-ready education for every student regardless of income, ability, race, or nationality. And I believed him.

I still do.

He inspires the kids. He knows all the parents. He actually CARES. Every conversation I’ve ever had with him has been positive.

Next: my current principal, Jen Hanson. I have known her (off and on) for more than ten years, as I worked with her in Douglas County. She is an impassioned advocate for immigrants and refugees and speakers of languages other than English.

She is genuine. I have seen her cry on more than one occasion, and not fake, I-want-to-prove-I-care tears. Real tears. That’s how much she cares about what she believes in and the students she supports.

She values people for their strengths and works hard to make sure that in a positive way, she can help them grow.

So today, at the end of first period when Jen came into my room and asked me if a man could observe my classroom because he wanted to see a strong ELD classroom (and she chose mine), of course I said yes. I walked out into the hallway and who was the man?

Brad White.

What did he do once he realized it was my classroom that he would be observing?

He offered me a hug.

A leader listens. A leader learns. A leader strives to make the best out of everything and everyone.

There doesn’t have to be such a division between charter and public schools. If we could all have leaders like Brad or Jen, every school would be amazing.

So here’s my hope for today: find yourself a good leader. Stand by that person (because a true leader would never ask you to follow). Share in that person’s ideals and inspiration.

Offer a hug. And try to be more like the leader you emulate.

The Last Plane

Red hair, green eyes, tall and sure of himself, he peeks into my room, searching for a familiar face after lunch. I have seen this look before, as my students often seek their native-language counterparts.
 
 “Who are you looking for?” I ask, the after-lunch crowds raucously meandering around our conversation.
 
 “I am looking for you. I am a new student.” His accent is smooth and meticulous, genteel and articulate.
 
 “Oh, OK. What’s your name?”
 
 “Arvin.”
 
 “Where are you from?”
 
 “Iran.”
 
 “Iran? … And… how did you get here??” But I have to look away because the tears are already in my eyes.
 
 “I boarded the plane on Friday morning. I was in the last group of Iranians to come.”
 
 I want to continue the conversation, but I can’t. I can’t because the tears will fall. I can’t because I have to teach for the next ninety minutes. I can’t because every waking moment of my life since this election, since this inauguration, have become a cycle of servitude. Of serving this need or the next, of wishing for this and receiving that, of hoping for the best and seeing the worst.
 
 Instead I tell him where to sit and hand him a hard copy of I Am Malala. We will listen to the lilting Pakistani accent from Audible today as we continue to highlight human rights violations from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (we will highlight thirteen incidents in three chapters; we will connect media suppression and fascism and women’s rights to an education too closely to our lives; we will hear Fazlullah’s rants with an American accent).
 
 My weekly volunteer returns from the library after a time with a group of students. She meets with my Iranian student to explain to him his role in the group as they create posters connecting Malala’s experiences to the UDHR. He fits in well and tells the group he cannot draw very efficiently, so can he please have the role of interpreting the quotation from the chapter and connecting it to the UDHR document?
 
 He has been here for five days. He got in on the LAST PLANE.
 
 After class, my retired-white-woman volunteer asks, “If he just got here from Iran, how come he can speak English?”
 
 And that is when I decide.
 
 I have to start here. Right in this moment. With this woman who drives one mile from her upscale mansion in Cherry Creek North to “make a difference.”
 
 “Pretty much all of the students who come here learned English before they came. Usually only the refugees have interrupted schooling. But most countries start teaching English when the kids are in kindergarten.”
 
 I swear her jaw drops ten inches. She wants to say something, but she doesn’t have the words to describe her ignorance.
 
 “Oh…”
 
 And now you know, I want to say. But I don’t. I don’t cry when I want to, because I have to be strong for them. I don’t tell her that Trump’s America is not my America, not Arvin’s America. I don’t tell her that the combination of students in this room represents the values of our country better than most Americans I know. That a red-headed Iranian entering my classroom five days past an executive order banning Muslims is as beautiful to me as Ziauddin’s tears in the New York Times documentary as he sees Swat for the first time in three months (which we watch at the end of class).
 
 Instead, I say, “Thank you for your help. I’ll see you next Wednesday.”
 
 And that is all I can do to resist.
 
 All for today.

Dedicated to 1/27/17, A Day that Will Live in Infamy

For today, I met with 27 students from Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, and Iran to tell them that they probably shouldn’t leave the country or they might not be readmitted.

“Thank you, Ms., thank you for telling me.” Relief as transparent as grief in their eyes.

For today, first Trump said this about the Holocaust: “In the name of the perished, I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life, to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good. Together, we will make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.”

THEN he said this as he signed the executive order banning refugees from Muslim countries: “We don’t want them here.”

For today, I told my colleagues in our district-mandated common planning, after twenty-seven minutes of discussing Socratic seminars, student placements, and teaching methodology, “Please let your students know about the recommendation from many aids groups and human rights lawyers: students and their families should not leave the country.”

For today, the ONE DAY that a district minion came to “observe,” his title Data Culture Specialist, not a day older than twenty-five and only experience in a Teach for America charter school network, writes: “Strength: The team was considering how current events impact student lives in a meaningful way (Executive Actions). They are team most impacted by these events as they have the most ELA/Refugee students.

Next Step: Continue to push the conversation to be about instruction or student learning/outcomes.” (n.a. Source unknown)

For today, I want to push the conversation: “Do you think my INSTRUCTION is more IMPORTANT than my STUDENTS’ LIVES?

For today: Student learning outcomes? Do you think they will LEARN ANYTHING if they are deported?

For today: I share all of this at dinner in the too-crowded local pub. My husband, my daughters, ages twelve and ten.

For today: My ten-year-old replies, “Mama… he must have been a Republican.”

For today: One. Small. Win.
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Counting On It

 once i wrote poems
 without counting syllables–
 rather, counting moments
 that trickled through my mind
 throughout the weariness of days,
 with little money and lots of hope,
 and now it’s little hope and lots of money,
 and the twists and turns of reality click in
 until i feel i can only control counting syllables,
 and one haiku at a time record my days,
 the in-between lines lost years later.
 
 once i wrote poems
 to put inside stories
 that would spill from my pen with
 lyrical language and little plot,
 so similar to the mundane of everyday life,
 when snow spins our tires and meetings suck our days and relationships wither with wear,
 and i wasn’t afraid of the words
 i so diligently drafted.
 
 but i learned to count.
 to be more cautious with words.
 seventeen. now. then.
 
 
 

Closing Thoughts on 2016

The year closes with a slew of celebrity deaths, a frightful president-elect, and the hovering window of how hopeless humanity can be as we watch the genocidal and refugee crises erupt around us without comment, without help.

The year closes in my personal life: a new principal at my school, the second daughter in middle school, the first daughter preparing for high school, the third daughter closing out our family’s elementary education. Tumultuous tumbles with family and friends that make me question everything: what I write, what I think, how I speak, how I feel about the issues surrounding me… and whether or not I should publish it “for all the world to see.”

The year closes on my habits: in many failed attempts at fulfilling resolutions, such as writing every day and ditching dairy, I have at least wholly committed to one–not a drink, not a drop, of alcohol for 2016.

And here I am, posting this. Am I an alcoholic? Are any of us? Would anyone be willing to admit it if they were?

Here are my haikus from 13 January 2016, in a moment of reflection and redemption:

reasons why i stopped:
one–brutal voice in writing,
uncensored anger

two–not much laughter,
too much crying to count
(my tear-stained regrets)

three–exhausted sleep
from too many restless nights
swimming in nightmares

four–so much good lost
on the desire to numb,
to not fully live

five–waste of money
in times when we had little,
in times when we’re rich

six–lust and lack of
mediocre love-making
blurred by consumption

seven–fat belly
of someone too far along
to give up this quick

eight–every bad choice
i have made as an adult
came from that bottle

nine–joy i once felt
disappeared on icy rocks
of my lost chances

ten–my daughters’ eyes
watching every move i make
(and i’m making… them)

The year closes with sadness, with darkness, with fear. I lost friends, I came to realize how few I have, and yet… hold them in such a greater light because of their proximity, their understanding of me. I reconciled with my sister and mother. I worked through difficulties in my marriage. I, as always, struggled through the intricacies of teaching teenagers and raising them. I got a new new kitten… and lost her a month later.

I watched the world witness the election of an evil demagogue.

I cried and I cried and I cried.

I wrote less and worried more.

But I didn’t drink. (I didn’t go to AA either. I didn’t need to.) I just wanted to see what the world was like again without the rose-colored glasses.

And the world is a hard, cold place. Filled with people who only think for themselves. Who send text messages to end friendships three years in the making. Who disregard human rights to save themselves a buck. Who turn their backs on those in need for political safety nets.

And the world is a bright and beautiful place. With young eyes that light up and demand that the future sees them for the beauty that they are: conservative Muslim, flamboyant LGBT, bleeding heart liberal, hopeful to no end. With city lights and mountain views, blue skies and snow. With full moons over lapping waves and pink sunrises over quiet urban neighborhoods. With ancient ruins and family freedoms. With girl power and urban schools. With everything that surrounds my bubble of humanity, my hope for human rights, my need to know that it. Gets. Better.
img_4893 img_4604 img_2952 img_4718 img_3649 fullsizeoutput_29 img_2193 img_4632

The year closes, and my eyes have opened. I have come to realize how infiltrated in our culture drinking is (this never quite occurred to me before) as I enter restaurants and am immediately offered cocktails or beer; as I go to book club and happy hour and parties and barbecues and hanging out at anyone’s house; as I navigate the simple sentence, “Water for me, thanks.”

The year closes, and I haven’t been numb. I have been fully awake, fully aware, of the pain that sneaks up when your youngest hasn’t done her math homework in three weeks, when your oldest can’t answer a question without a smirk, when your middle child talks back as easily as she grins, when students refuse to relinquish phones and family members whisper and rejection seems to lie behind every unopened door.

The year closes, and it may have many mistakes. It may have many moments of hollowness. But it does not have a single moment of regret.

Because it has been me, uncensored, unaltered me, in every last word, every last post, every last turn around the long journey through life.

The year closes, so let me hold up a glass: Cheers to a new year, a new tomorrow, a new hope… cheers to a new way of looking at the world. Drink… or no drink.

Cheers.

Thanksgiving Monday

Thirteen days have passed since Doomsday arrived in our world. And if I thought I was addicted to social media before, it has now become as necessary to me as my daily three cups of tea. I am addicted to seeing what has happened from moment to moment, which underqualified or downright frightening lunatic he has chosen for his cabinet, which tweet has garnered international attention, which lawsuit he has just settled, which of hundreds of hate crimes will be reported between now and tomorrow…
 
I find myself standing in the kitchen, next to the teapot. Reading. Checking my phone in subtle silences at happy hour. Reading. Looking at my computer while the students are working. Reading. Sitting at the dentist’s office while waiting for my three girls to get their teeth cleaned. Reading.
 
I’m not on my bike. I’m not doing yoga. I’m not taking long walks.
 
I’m immobile. Still numb. Still reeling in the incomprehensible truth of what our world has become.
 
Even Humans of New York can’t save me from this with his latest stint in Michigan. Yes, we are all human. Yes, we all have problems. Yes, job growth has dragged, Obamacare costs too much, and maybe we needed a change. But the cost of that change has numbed me. It has left me in a swill of late-night insomnia, fretful mornings, catatonic looks at my three girls as I find myself so deep in thought, deep in worry, that I cannot answer their questions about schoolwork, chores, or who got the last marshmallow.
 
Everything, everyone, every part of my life now rests under this shadow of doubt and fear.
 
And I am still one of the lucky ones. One of the white, non-immigrant ones. And perhaps that is why I feel so trapped. What people do I have to connect with, to understand why this bothers me so much? Those whites in Macomb County, Michigan who turned their backs on the human race? The ones in the Rust Belt who naively think Trump is going to revive coal mining jobs? The veterans whose benefits will be slashed when we end up spending $25 billion to build a wall against Mexico?
 
The ones on my Facebook feed (most of whom who have probably already unfollowed me) who will never be swayed by my opinion? Who’d rather take this demagogue for a president than have any hope for the future of humanity?
 
I am trapped in my White World. It is privileged and ignorant and shameful.
 
It hasn’t been two weeks. Our world is changing right before our eyes, and simple errands now bring me to tears. Taking my girls to the dentist on Thanksgiving Monday. I picked this dentist when we bought our house a year ago, finally a permanent home after three years of being vagabonds. I was so happy to find a dentist within walking distance of our house. When I first visited in January, I was greeted by two Russian receptionists; all of the other customers were also Russian and spoke in their rapid-fire vocalized native tongue with the employees, presumably about their latest X-rays. My dentist is a Vietnamese immigrant who did a more thorough cleaning and analysis of my teeth than any dentist I’ve ever had.
 
Why am I writing this? Why does it even matter? I keep thinking about the Hamilton line that bleeps across my mind, “Immigrants get the job done.” As I sat in the dentist’s office this morning while my girls’ teeth were X-rayed and cleaned, I wondered if everything would change. Would he kick them out? Would he shut this down? Would he find some hidden bylaw that would allow him to deport every last one of them?
 
Their Russian-American dentist sat with me in her office and explained in detail the crooked situation with each of their teeth. And just like the other times I visited, no one else who came in today spoke English as their first language. I wondered if I was the only one willing to step out of my white bubble for a decent cleaning, or if this is really what the world has become.
 
Cavity-free, we started walking home in early afternoon, deciding to stop along the way for lunch with no particular place in mind. Then, halfway between the dentist and home, we saw a sign that pointed across the barren parking lot of the abandoned K-Mart: “Fresh Mediterranean food!” We didn’t have to think about it. Fresh olives and lamb were calling us. We meandered across the massive vacancy of vehicles to a small shopping center and an even smaller restaurant that, much to my surprise, had several customers sitting and enjoying their falafels.
 
The Israeli woman who greeted us and took our order was also the head chef. Her name was everywhere–on the signs, below the photographs of she and her family that lined the walls, on the menus, on the lips of customer after customer who came in and gave her a hug. We ordered our gyros, olives, and paninis and settled ourselves into a table between walls of colorful artwork and kitchen cutlery from the countries that line the Mediterranean Sea–scenes from Italy, Israel, France. Soft tunes of guitar, mandolin, and oud filled the earth-toned room as Yaffa’s conversations flowed with the arrival of more hug-bearing customers: “Yes, if your family will be out of town for Chanukah, of course you can come here and light the candles, have some latkes…”
 
And I looked across the table at my green-eyed girls gobbling up gyros and pita and pit-filled Mediterranean olives, and I wondered what would happen. I wondered what would happen to the beauty of this place, this quilted humanity that encompasses our nation of immigrants, this cute hole-in-the-wall-of-the-world restaurant.
 
After lunch, Mythili and I headed to the library. (The dentist had asked me, “Where does the name come from? It’s one of the prettiest I have ever seen. And what does it mean?” “It comes from Sanskrit. It means goddess of mythology.” “However did you find such a name?” “From my Indian friend…” and my multiculturalism was swallowed by anxiety).
 
Once we arrived at book heaven, tears found themselves poised at the corners of my eyes. A simple trip to the library on Thanksgiving Monday. Books were propped up on every shelf, ready to sell themselves to anxious readers of every age. We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. Women Daredevils. But What If We’re Wrong? Another Day in the Death of America. Rachel: The Story of Rachel Carson. Hatshepsut: The Princess Who Became King. George Washington: The First U.S. President. A Most Improbable Journey: A Big History of Our Planet and Ourselves. Grandfather’s Turn: A Journey to the Ballot.
 
I found myself snapping pics. The titles spoke for themselves. I saw the librarian quietly setting out more, and a sign that read, “Free and Equal Access for All… You Are Welcome Here.”
 
And for the first time in thirteen days, I felt that I could move. I could go on a bike ride. I could do yoga. I could take a long walk.
 
I can continue to go to my immigrant-led dentist. And eat falafel at the local Mediterranean restaurant. And bring my daughters to the place where the world can change: the public library, where all walks of life are welcome, will enter, will read… Will open their minds and begin to change the world back.
 
I can pop my white bubble and hope for a better tomorrow. I can clearly pronounce my daughter’s hard-to-say name (MY-thuh-lee) so the world will learn that multiculturalism is about opening our eyes, our minds, our ears to beautiful new sounds and words and images.
 
 I can be hopeful and thankful on Thanksgiving Monday, on each and every day, that we can win this world back.