Mama Said (There’d be Days Like This)

You ever have a Thursday that felt like a Monday?

You know, the kind that starts with babies who fuss and suckle all night–then wake up the moment you roll away from them, scream at the top of their lungs, and won’t stop until you crawl back into bed?

Have you ever had a day where you learn so much you just feel dumb at the vastness of what you don’t know in the subject area that you coach others?

Have you ever had a day SO productive it feels more like a week?

Have you ever had one of those days that is so busy you forget to pump your child’s milk until the last 30 minutes of the day–but you know you can’t go ahead and go home, because then she would nurse and you wouldn’t be able to squirrel away her stash?

Have you ever had to leave work, run through the drive through for supper, just to get to meeting on time–only to find out your child fell asleep two minutes before you make it to the meeting?

You know what meeting is like with a toddler who just learned to walk and wants down at every moment and an almost four-year-old who is so sleepy that you spend the first part of meeting waking her up and the next part telling her how you expect her to behave?

Have you ever give Motrin to one kid just to show the other it tastes good?  Have you had to take advantage of a toddler tripping, falling, and crying to shoot medicine into her mouth while she’s down for the count?

Have you ever ended your day by going to the bathroom only to find out that your husband used the last of the paper so you have to holler and ask for some?

And then…you wait…

Until your daughter brings you this: At least it’s time for bed.  Am I right?

A Letter to My (Other) Mom

Dear Mama Burkett,

I thought of you today as I twisted up my hair.  You taught me this style–half bun tucked into a French twist.  I remember still watching you in the basement comb your long black hair, then explain how to flip that bun over. 

I thought of you on Sunday.  I opened my eyes during prayer when I heard Allie giggle.  Her friend was sitting in front of her, and they were making faces at one another.  I had a flashback to a meeting where you told me to close my eyes by sign language.  

And even as I write this, I think of those conventions as a child.  You and mom were the meanest moms on the grounds.  Thank you for that.  We never got to sit and read.  We never got to skip out on Spoons like some of our friends did.  And, once we were old enough, sleeping there meant we were expected to wake up and serve.

Thank you for your service.  As an adult I learned that the vegetable house at convention is no joke.

They call a pillar such a name because it is strong.  It’s origin means of the nature of stone.  The pillar is the support for a building, and often, when the rest of the building has crumbled away, the pillars remain.  We use it to describe people like you–unmoving, supportive, and ever steadfast.

I’m grateful for the hard choices you’ve made.  And the hard conversations I overheard.  I am grateful for the testimonies and prayers through the years– I can’t quote them, or even recall what one was at the moment.  But they were there.  Steadfast.  Steady.  Strong.  I am grateful for the friendship that you helped cultivate.  And the spiritual love that you helps to fertilize seeds long ago planted.

Love,
Your (other) daughter

World Read Aloud Day

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My heart is breaking.  Seriously.  I take so much for granted–like this wonderful world of literacy!  Reading has been an escape for me since I was a little girl.  Writing became my therapy a couple years ago when I felt like the world was crumbling around me.

And now?  Literacy is my future!  It’s what my job is based on, and I’ve already signed a contract as a literacy coach for the next two years.  You could say that I can support my family because I learned to read.   That’s the truth.

But still, my heart is breaking.

My custodian just asked me sheepishly, “Miss, what does this say in English.  I don’t understand.”  He was holding a button that I had made proclaiming March 5th World Read Aloud Day.  I didn’t think anything of it, and I explained in broken Spanish the idea behind World Read Aloud Day.  It’s a day where you read with a loud voice (the actual translation).  Suddenly, a look of near panic crosses his face.  “Us too?” he asked?  I explained that no, we wouldn’t have everyone reading, but that some schools do celebrate like that.  “But, it’s because I can’t read.  I had to quit school when I was eleven,” he continued, “when my father died.”

Hard swallow.

I quickly assured him that I understood how that could happen.  My husband too worked his whole childhood and missed out on a lot of school.  I can help, I explained.  It will be hard.  But I know I can help him learn to read.

Wow.  I think back to the notes that I’ve written, the cards that we’ve signed, and the text that is literally dripping from my classroom walls.  Poems decorate my door, banners fly in the hallway with each writing celebration, and this sweet man who takes care of us everyday just told me his secret.

I know that it is a secret.  That expression on his face?  I know that expression.  I see it daily on the faces of the boys and girls who struggle with reading–Who know that they are struggling.

There are a lot of things I can’t do in this world.  But teach someone to read?  That’s something I can do.  And it all starts with reading aloud.  Reading with a loud voice.  Be loud.  Be proud.  Read someone a book tomorrow–even if that someone is just yourself.

 

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Sleep is for the Week(end)

When I was younger, I could sleep forever.  No, seriously.  Actually, Victor and I were just talking about how my sleep is very important, so I don’t know if that has changed.  Since the baby has come along, there have definitely been nights where I’ve had to say, “Victor, I am sorry, but you have to take care of her tonight–I’ve got to get to sleep!”  Or even in those early days, I would get up and pump, then he would get up and feed Ale later when she cried.  (A friend just told me the other day that I had a diamond…so true!)

When Ale was young, she slept a lot! I didn’t complain like other new mommies about sleep deprivation all the time (Seriously, people, that can mostly be avoided if your baby sleeps near or with you…)  Now she’s learned that she can fight the sleep–unless we time it just right.  (Most of the time, she just cuddles up next to me and breastfeeds–which makes Bedtime Mommy a lot friendlier.)  In the evening, she will hang out with us, playing and reading, then when she’s tired–she doesn’t fuss–she just attacks me.

When I came to Mexico, I thought I had learned to put work in its proper place.  It didn’t follow me home.  It didn’t sneak into my dreams.  And my weekends were work-free.  Then I got offered a promotion for next year.  I will be the literacy coach for the teachers at our school–and I am oh-so-very-excited.  I am also determined to prove myself.  Here is where the trouble lies.

The monstruo that is inside the heart of every working mom has reared his ugly head.  I have started feeling guilty and resentful for the time I spend at work.  I know it is good time for Ale and Papi, but doesn’t a girl need her mama?  My work can’t help but follow me home.  And when I get home, I really don’t mind cooking.  It actually makes me feel like a better wife and mama–because I know my family is eating healthier than if we go out to eat.  Ale crawls around my feet, and I avoid stepping on her by letting her play in the cabinets.  Then we leave the dirty dishes (most of the time), and we play.  But we play with the conscious effort on my part to put the overflowing in-box of work that is always in my head to the side for later.

This brings us to the present–where I sit typing this blog while drinking coffee at 5:30 in the morning.  This is when I do my work.  It is when Ale and Victor sleep.  This time is productive (usually)–and waking up at 4:00 isn’t nearly as outrageous as it once would have been.  Waking up at four is just what I do to keep Work Mommy and At-Home Mommy from becoming Guilty Mommy.

Sleep?  As my mamaw used to say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

Losing Weight–Part One: Inner Peace

When I was about seven, I remember being critical of another girl’s body (and my own) for the first time.  We were at a softball tournament, and we had these black pants that we had to tuck our uniform into.  I remember looking at her little belly and thinking, “Well, at least I am not as fat as she is.”

When I was nine I moved to a new school.  My two friends that I became closest with were skinny girls–they were super cute and totally popular.  (To be said with a hair toss…)  I remember wishing that I could wear running shorts and t-shirts, but that my legs weren’t skinny enough for them.

When I was twelve, I went to yet another new school.  The vice-principal was this really nice black woman.  She would always comment on my legs which made me feel good and slightly embarrassed at the same time.  She’d say, “Woo! You’ve got dancer legs!”  I would admire my muscles–all the while criticizing my fat.  This was the same time that I was aware of the black guys at school staring at my butt or making comments as I walked by.

When I was in ninth grade, I went to the doctor for my well check.  I had to have a physical form signed to play soccer.  I remember how much I weighed.  I remember the doctor saying that was too much, and that I should really work on losing weight.  When my soccer coach saw the form, he seconded the doctor’s opinion.  That wasn’t the last time that he made a comment about my weight.  Ultimately, his concern (because as an adult, I know now that is what it was) is what caused me to stop playing soccer altogether.  I don’t even remember what my excuse was.

Around this same time, my body image became interwoven with why boys wouldn’t date me.  My sister’s (thankfully) ex-husband would talk about me losing weight.  He was honest: Boys in high school are interested in looks.  They aren’t interested in how awesome you are.  Lose weight=have a boyfriend.  While I am sure that he, like my coach, weren’t aware of the damage they were doing to a young girl, that advice hurt me.  I can even attribute some bad choices with future relationships to those same comments.  Losing weight then became a  necessity in order to find love and acceptance from the opposite sex.

I know now that I had a eating disorder from the time I entered high school into my mid-twenties.  I would eat very light in front of my friends, but then I would sneak food.  More than once I would buy sweet treats (like Little Debbie Cakes) then hide them in my room.  The purpose was two-fold: 1) No one else could eat them 2) I could eat as many as I wanted without witnesses.  They were usually gone with two days. Sometimes, I would wait until everyone was in bed, then I would creep down to the kitchen to stuff myself with whatever was in the fridge.

Even as an adult when my sister and I lived together I continued this unhealthy habit.  We would have friends over.  I would eat a little of this or that.  Then I would wait until they were busy, go in the kitchen, and gobble up as much as I could.  I sat in Weight Watchers meetings where I heard women confess to eating a bag of chips.  I never admitted it, but I have finished off a bag of oreos–one after the other.  I continued this trend of binge eating–even though I knew it wasn’t normal.  I felt helpless, and unable to stop myself from that downward spiral.

When I was 25 years old, my sister and I were talking about losing weight.  (She wouldn’t eat at all if I wasn’t living with her.)  And I shared that I was constantly thinking about food.  What I would eat.  What I wanted to eat.  What recipe I would like to try.  What foods would taste great together.  ALWAYS food was on my mind.  My mom got this strange expression on her face, and she said, “Jania, you need to figure out why that is happening.  What do you need that you’re replacing with food?”

That was probably the beginning of my healing.

It’s been nearly five years since that conversation–and I am happy to report that I don’t give in to binge eating anymore.  Sometimes the thought goes through my head, but I’ve since learned to analyze it to find out WHY I want to eat.  Am I unhappy?  Am I stressed? Am I mad?

Will food really help me feel better?  The answer is always no.

Take it from me:  The road to happiness isn’t paved in cookies, pie, and mashed potatoes, people.  I’ve been a traveler on the wrong road for way too long…  Glad for certain road blocks in my life that cause me to take a detour.

The Pains of Non-Celebrators

Many years ago, (no, seriously…) my sister Jenny and I left my brother’s house in Indiana to drive to Iowa. We left on the 23rd of December, and promptly drove into a horrific freak snowstorm in Illinois. What started as beautiful snowflakes soon became treacherous driving conditions, and my sister’s car slid off the road.

We were able to make it back onto the road, but had to pull off again due to a flat tire. A nice cop came along and gave us a ride to a hotel in Champaign, Illinois. There isn’t much in Champaign. Except Chinese food. How do I know this? Well, everything closes on Christmas Eve. And Christmas. So we were stuck in Champaign eating at a Chinese Restaurant while watching a Law and Order SVU Marathon for two days.

My first thought this morning was, “Oh, it’s Christmas.” My second thought was, “We should go get some Chinese food today.” (We didn’t go get Chinese food–mostly because I think I can cook better than all the restaurants that we eat at. So every time we go, I end up saying, “Next time, I’ll just make this at home.”) The baby and I hung out while Victor went walking all over town. I even had him pick up the goods for stir-fry. Score! Better-than-Chinese-food soon coming to a plate near you!

Our biggest problem today came this evening when we tried to get a taxi. Turns out, all the taxi drivers want Christmas off–go figure! Then the evening culminated with me swearing I would walk home from church in the dark carrying my fat baby rather than pay 80 pesos for a 30 peso fare.

Bah-Humbug! Hope all you celebrators had a good one! Feliz Navidad!

An Ode To Moving On

Recently, it’s been brought to my attention that the principal of my old school resigned. I’ve read the new articles in The Washington Post, and I can’t help but feel pity for the lady. After all, I know how hard it is to move on…

I could rehash the horrible things that she did when I was there, but is there really a point now? I remember that saying about kicking a man when he is down–and that’s not where I want to find myself (Incidentally, that is what she did to me as I turned in my notice.)

When I left Fort Hunt, I also left the city I had learned to love, my friends, my family, my soon-to-be ex-boyfriend, my adopted family, and my naivety. While I mourned those things I felt I had lost, I also learned to love the things I gained.

This is what I have learned about moving on:
1). It helps you discover your worth.
2). It opens your eyes to things that should have been, but you chose to ignore.
3). You learn to accept what you may have never wished for.
4). The future can be better than what your wishes actually were.
5). It causes you to self-reflect.
6). Some things aren’t worth holding on to–but you don’t realize it until they are out of your grasp.
7). The things you think matter often become less important with time.
8). You learn to stand up for the things that actually do matter to you–forming your own “non-negotiables.”
9). You can’t walk forward while looking backward every step of the way, but…
10). When you get where you’re going–it’s good to look where you’ve been. Then pat yourself on the back for braving the waters.

The compassion that the community is currently crying for is rather curious in itself. That is what I notice the most. The same moms who were in uproar over the decisions made at the school for the last four years, are the people who are now standing eloquently beside the funeral procession taking Leibrandt’s tyranny away from those hallways. The readers commenting now are talking about how great she was–causing the negative teachers to quit while flushing the building with new life.

I find myself short on words to describe what I feel for this school. Despite my decision to leave, I learned a lot in my time there. I also loved the children who filled my tables and chairs. Change of leadership is hard–but oh-so-necessary. Yes, they will have to learn the new expectations of the next administrator. Yes, their children will feel the repercussions of a train without a conductor. But thankfully, the attention that has been given to this school, even in a negative manner, hasn’t been overlooked by the county. Here’s to hoping they will take extra care in finding a principal who can put the community back together again–a principal who can fill the halls with the wonders of education, the joys of learning, and the laughter of children.

My Lofty Goal

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I’ve often said that I married my dad, but what I want to talk about today is how much I’m like my mom. Before I get started, I will preface by saying I inherited some of her amazing qualities. She’s a loving and amazing woman…who sometimes yells.

I’m not saying anything we haven’t already talked about. In fact I asked why we do this.. Why do we begin yelling when we get frustrated or angry?. She said this: “Because I did.”

My poor husband.

Now before you start feeling sorry for him, you should know this doesn’t happen a lot. In fact, it’s happened twice. That’s two times too many. The first time, I became a mad woman. I started killing ants with my fists while hollering. The last time I started cleaning and and hollering.

I’m just going to stand up for myself and tell you this house doesn’t bring out the best in me. The ants are the biggest problem. Now that it’s getting colder there is a steady stream of them right across the floor–out of one wall they come and in one wall they go. I try to be patient with these wise creatures, but then my rage takes over.

So, without a blink, I made myself (and my husband) a vow. I’m really going to try self-control. I know it can be done. I’ve learned how to stay calm at school–now I’m going to practice being calm at home.

Wish me luck, people. We’re still looking for a house and it’s getting cold. That’s a recipe for disaster breathing in and out while counting to ten and self-talking my way back to peace…

Teacher Reflections

I am currently taking a B.S. Master’s class on teacher reflections.  Today, our teacher said we needed to think of the most disturving experience in our history of teaching.  He told us not to share it with anyone–that reflections like this are highly personal.  So like all my other personal and most private thoughts, I figure that this is a good place to defy his wishes.

Where do I begin?  Six years of teaching have given me experience after experience that has “kept me up at night thinking of what I should have done differently” (the directions…).

1.  There was that time my first year when my student held scissors to his chest and a pencil to his neck.  He told me that he just wanted to die.  He was, of course, heart-broken at the tender age of 10.  Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how broken he truly was.  His home-life was in shambles, his step-mother resented him and treated him differently than the other students.  He followed up this event with a shoestring around his neck… and mandatory time being evaluated.  He is the student I remember the most.  The student that told me, “Miss Blakley, you saved me in there,” when he returned from the hospital.  I think of him constantly, and have called him to check on him.  Maybe someday I will find him on Facebook.

Maybe I should have kept in better contact with him.  Maybe I should have fought for him.  Maybe I should have done more to focus on his needs, and not the angry young man a couple seats over…

2.  There was another student that same year.  One that my mom suspected had been sexually abused based on her behaviors.  She wasn’t a behavior problem.  She wasn’t an academic problem.  She was ignored.

What if I had asked her more about her home-life?  What if I had reached out to her family?

3.  Student three made me promise not to tell anyone that her family was living in a van.  I didn’t.  She was well behaved.  She was poor.  She was well-loved.  She came to school clean each day.

What if I had thought to check on her family?  What if they didn’t have enough to eat?  I mean, after all, they were living in a van!

Ahh… I think of these kids often.  But they aren’t alone.

4.  This kid was a big kid–bigger than all the others.  The other students, their parents were scared of him–wary perhaps is a better word.  He thundered around the classroom, because he was too big to move quietly.  He threw his body around like every other seven year old–only he was the size of a ten year old.  He didn’t know how to play with other students, so I began playing with him.  I love this kid–I would have taken him home with me.  Alas, he did actually have a mama who cared–at least the best way she knew how.  This kid, he was too dumb to follow along–and too smart to qualify for services.  He was flying in the dead zone academically.

What if I had pushed harder against the system for him?  What if I had coached his mom on her rights to request testing for her son–after the school determined that he didn’t need it?  What if I had kept in contact with him–given him my email address to keep finding me incase he needed me?

5.  This kid was special.  She was sweet as could be–but suffered from physical issues as well as the issues that come when your parents refuse to admit that your kid can make mistakes.  Her mom made me nervous–there’s no other way to put that.  And she’s the ONE kid that I happened to screw up her test scores.  Convenient.  Once, I accidentally hit her in the eye when I turned around in the hallway.  Nice.  Totally an accident.  That kept me up at night.

Here in Mexico, I think about the academic needs of my kids more than their social and emotional needs.  It must have something to do with homes that have both parents, food that is on the table, and money that pays for quality education.  Sigh.  Thanks, teacher.  Thanks for dragging up my worries with my precious babies throughout the years.  That will for SURE keep me up tonight.

Bad Mom?

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I have a theory. I think that every mom and dad must have moments like the one I had yesterday. But they are so worried about what someone will think–that they don’t share them. And so instead, a cycle continues where new parents feel like they are the worst parents in the world…

The story begins on Sunday. My little family went to the mall, and decided to stop in the toy store. My daughter doesn’t have that many toys, and now that she’s super fun, I wanted to find some development appropriate toys. Nothing expensive. Nothing the requires batteries. Something to help her brain grow.

My husband, ever the practical one joked, “You know that most moms who buy lots of toys feel guilty. The baby doesn’t need toys–she needs you to play with her.”

And then my eyes sprung a leak.

The next day, after walking out of the store empty handed, I tried to explain to my husband why what he said hurt the feelings of this teacher mom teacher-mom. After being with 18 other children all day, I get home tired. I sometimes need a break. And that means that regardless for the great love I have for my daughter, sometimes I don’t want to play. That conversation ended with frustration, but with a resolve to give more to my baby.

Which brings us to yesterday. I need exercise to give me energy and keep me healthy. I need to spend time with my littlest love. Why not combine the two? Into the jogger went Ale. I buckled her in then headed out. Along the way we sang songs (she sings when I sing), and I talked to her about all the neighbors. We stopped at a co-teacher’s house, and I parked the stroller. I turned around to ring the doorbell. Can you see where this is going?

I heard a strange noise, and turned quickly to see Ale’s stroller rolling. And falling. And crashing.

This story could end very differently. This careless mother could have greater sadness in her heart. Lucky for little Ale (and her Mama), she crawled (almost!) away with a little scrape on her forehead. I sat down, held her, rocked her, nursed her, and prayed through my tears. We brushed ourselves off and continued our outing. All the while I debated if this was a story I should share with my husband.

I’m glad I did. He said, “Things like that happen sometime…” Which leaves me wondering, Why did HE start using the brake list week?