Sunday, December 9, 2018

Quick trip to DC

While Cole and Eli were at scout camp, Michael, Rylan, and I took a trip to Monticello. This was a trip 30 years in the making. When I was in elementary school, I developed a hero worship for Thomas Jefferson that continued for many, many years. At some point, I started to become disillusioned by Jefferson's full history, and then a few years ago, we had a full falling out. It was actually pretty devastating in a way that would seem really weird to most people. Hero worship = bad idea.

Even though I've lived within a few hours drive from Monticello for the past ten years, I've kind of been pretending it wasn't there, but since they opened up the Sally Hemings exhibit this year, it was time to go. Plus, Rylan hadn't been back to DC since we moved away, so we decided to take a little road trip, tour Monticello, and do some touristy things in DC.

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The whole trip was lovely. Rylan is a great traveling companion who likes doing all of the touristy things that I like to do. After Monticello, we checked into a hotel in Virginia and then spent the next couple of days riding the metro, watching pandas, and walking the mall.

The part of the trip that Rylan still talks about is when we ordered froyo and chili fries at a little restaurant across the street from the zoo, and they forgot all about our chili fries, burned them, and had to give us a free order. Because of this, Rylan highly recommends the little restaurant across the street from the zoo.

The highlight of the trip for me was enjoying the city life. I love being able to walk everywhere.

The next part of June

The morning of Michael's mom's funeral, I got a text from my dad that my Grandma Alley had just passed away. This one was not unexpected - I'd even gone out to Utah for spring break to see her one last time before her health declined too much - but the timing was crazy. Not only was I in Tennessee at my mother-in-law's funeral, but my parents were on vacation in Hawaii with my mom's family. Thankfully, they were able to schedule the funeral to give everyone enough time to get out to Utah.

When I told people that I'd been out of town at my grandmother's funeral, the response over and over again was amazement that I still had living grandparents. My grandma lived a long and amazing life, and although I cried buckets at her funeral because the eulogies were beautiful and I will miss her, it wasn't the same kind of sorrow as the other funerals I've been to this year. Instead, the days I spent in Utah were a sweet time reminiscing with family that I don't get to see very often.

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One hard part of the trip was saying goodbye to my Grandma and Grandpa Alley's house. My Aunt Diana has been living with Grandma for the past several years, but with Grandma gone, Diana decided to move closer to her daughter.

My grandparents had lived in that house my whole life. I think even my dad's whole life. It was a tiny house with too few bathrooms for the number of people we would cram into it and the scariest basement stairs. I have so many wonderful memories of running around the gorgeous yard, playing games at the dining room table, and watching BBC movies with my grandparents in their back bedroom. When I was very little, both sets of my grandparents lived on the same block, and it was a child's dream to be able to play at one house and then walk around the corner to the other house when I got bored. I loved to play with the shells and other trinkets my grandma kept on her blue shelf, watch her wind up her music boxes, and read book after book from all over the house.

When I was fourteen, my parents sent me to Utah by myself to spend time with my relatives for a few weeks. I remember one day sitting at the kitchen table with just my Grandma and Grandpa, eating homemade bread and home-canned pears. Grandma made cheerful small talk in that beautiful happy way of hers while my grandpa and I listened quietly, and Grandma laughed, pointing out how much alike we were. I have always been a quiet person in a world where quiet is often not valued, and so I sometimes feel weird and out of place. But sitting there that day with my Grandma and Grandpa Alley, I felt like I knew where I belonged. My grandparents made me feel so special.

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This post has been a long time coming...

Looking at my photos from June, it's hard to know where to start. It was a strange month.

On the weekend before my last two workdays of the school year, Michael's dad called to say that Michael's mom had passed away. She had been in poor health for the past several years and had been living in a nursing home. When we visited at Christmas, she was a frail shell of a woman, and it was hard to tell if she knew who we were. For years, we'd been saying that she might not live much longer, and yet when the call finally came, it felt unexpected.

Michael and the boys left immediately to attend the funeral in Tennessee, but since I was having trouble getting in touch with my boss, I went into work Monday morning, planning to catch a flight out that night. I left work a little after noon, went home to pack my bag, checked my plane ticket...and realized that Michael had bought a ticket for the wrong date. Luckily, I was able to book a same-day flight (for significantly more money), and in hindsight, I probably shouldn't have asked Michael to purchase my plane ticket, considering that he'd just lost his mom and wasn't in the best state of mind.

I'm hoping Michael will at some point write something about his mom and what she meant to him. For me, though, Sylvia's funeral was tough and strange because she was so young - about the same age as my own parents - and because she'd been in such poor health for the past several years. Except for the first two years of our marriage, we haven't lived near Michael's family, and I think just because of the way Michael is, the way his parents are, and the way I am, we haven't spent much time with them over the years - only a day or two in July and again at Christmas. Although I am extremely grateful to Michael's parents for the son they raised, I have never been close to them, and the fact that Sylvia's health declined so much in the end made it even harder to really know her.

I kept thinking at the funeral about an interview we did with Michael's mom a few years ago to add to our family history record. One question we asked was why she decided to join the Church. She was in college when she met Michael's dad and decided to be baptized. Because of that decision, her parents disowned her, and for most of his childhood, Michael didn't interact with his maternal grandparents. But Sylvia said that despite the way her parents felt, she loved the gospel teaching that families can be together forever, so she knew she wanted to join the Church.

Michael's parents married young, had five kids in six or seven years, and never had a lot of money. At the funeral, Michael's sister Diana had displayed photographs of Sylvia as a child and teenager, and looking at the photos, I kept thinking about how pretty she'd been and how much potential she'd had in life and how, despite that potential, her biggest accomplishment had been raising five crazy kids to be stable adults and then how she'd died so young.

"Was she happy?" I asked Michael on the way home.

"I think she was," he said. "I think that being involved in our stuff when we were kids and then watching us live our lives as adults, that made her happy."

I know there are some people that don't find satisfaction simply being a parent, but I also know that for me personally, the best job I ever had was staying home with my kids. As hard as it could be at times, I loved every second of it.

I don't know what dreams Sylvia had that she may have had to set aside to raise her family, but I know that she raised some amazing human beings, one of whom is the father of my amazing human beings. And I hope that made her happy.


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Friday, June 8, 2018

Middle School Graduate

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Friday, June 1, 2018

Care for Your Teachers Like They Care for Your Children

Several years ago while I was working on my teacher's license but hadn't been hired anywhere yet, I took the boys to a Moral Monday rally to support teachers. We stood around for awhile on the lawn in front of the General Assembly building and then marched with the other protests downtown. Cole and Eli mostly sat on the sidelines and read, tolerating yet another thing I'd dragged them to.

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This past May, we joined another rally for teachers, but this time since I have some skin in the game, we made signs.

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Eli especially took his sign making very seriously.

Although I'd be grateful for a salary raise, all I really want is to be able to spend fewer hours doing work outside of work. I just don't understand the mindset that undervalues education and teachers. Plus, I'm starting my master's program this fall also, so that will be fun....

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Post-Parkland

This semester, one of my students took his own life. He was in my 1st period, a class with 35 students.

I only had him for four weeks before he committed suicide. After such a short time, I couldn't have known him well enough to recognize what was going through his mind. But I've still struggled with an insistent nagging that I should have known, and I've spent the rest of this semester in a state of analytical paranoia, scouring the journals and essays of my remaining 92 students for signs of suicide and depression.

A couple of weeks ago, a mother of one of the girls in that same class called to yell at me. My daughter is struggling with depression. Why didn't you notice? Why didn't you do something? How could you be so insensitive?

Missed it again.

Last night, I dreamed that I was shot by a school shooter.

That probably feels like a cruel non sequitur, but I don't mean it to be. I have spent the past four years of my teaching career pretending that I live in a world where school shootings are not a thing. How else could you go to work every day? But the week my student took his own life and the week a troubled teen in Parkland, FL took the lives of seventeen innocent students? That was the same week.

I can't get it out of my mind, those two intertwining tragedies.

As much as we wish for a magic formula to identify potential school shooters, researchers who study these incidents say that shooters do not follow a consistent profile. Despite the impassioned anti-bullying pleas on social media, the truth is that bullying has been a factor in some cases, but not all. Diagnosable mental health issues like schizophrenia have been a factor in some cases, but not all. Loners...some but not all. Prior criminal records...some but not all.

So what can we say about the profile of a school shooter? In nearly every case: White. Male. Has displayed signs of suicide and/or depression. Has hinted at his plans to friends, on social media, or in class assignments.

Post-Parkland, the pressure as a teacher to identify and rescue feels so much heavier. Meanwhile, my class sizes keep getting bigger and bigger. Does 35 sound like a reasonable class size to you? Good, because next year you should expect 36. And you might be asked to carry a gun.

North Carolina teacher to student allotment 1:29.
NC counselor to student ratio 1:400
NC school psychologist to student ratio 1: 2100.

When you choose to be a teacher, you go into it knowing the job is more than just teaching lessons and grading papers, but how many balls can one person keep in the air at one time?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Life Lessons

I've been experimenting with having my students play around with different writing structures (beyond the five-paragraph essay). My guinea pig children tested out this writing structure tonight:

I BELIEVED THIS...
SO I DID THIS...
WHICH MADE ME REALIZE...
SO HERE’S THE TRUTH...


RYLAN: I used to believe that all life should be fair because everyone is equal. Earlier, I had to walk the dog, but my brothers before me didn't do their job. When everyone takes turns doing something but the people before you don't do it, you still have to do it. So here's the truth: Life isn't fair.

ELI (wants to make clear that this essay is not based on a true story): I didn’t think I needed to wear deodorant. But then I took a whiff of my armpits. I said, “Ewww.” I was pretty stinky. So here's the truth: You should always wear deodorant.

COLE: Listen, here’s what you need to know about life. I always believed that if it’s easier for someone else to stop than for you to stop, they should be the one to stop. For example, my brother Eli annoyed me constantly, so I always yelled at him to stop. He never would. My parents told me that the only way I could solve the issue was to stop being annoyed. This helped me to realize that no matter how many times I yelled at Eli, it wouldn’t change anything. So here’s the truth: You can’t control what other people do.

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