back into reality
of colored lights
countdown to Christmas
begins with old-enough girls
who now string the tree
where did the time go?
(when on the Polar Express
we sipped hot cocoa)
with these bright sparkles
another year of youth gone
like flakes from the sky
each day captured here
the good, the bad, the ugly;
i record it all
and if i didn’t?
if i painted perfection?
i’d lie to myself
i’d hate forgetting
because pain is the first step
in moving forward
even though i work
i’m blessed with housewife duties
on weeks off from school
our yearly bake fest
produced three minis, five pies
hard to beat this day
while rolling out crust
that we shaped so perfectly
they giggled, measured
but we all know best:
it’s not the crust that makes pies–
love’s in the filling
beef stew takes some time
to simmer while we have fun
(it sits in sunlight
on a late November day
waiting to be found)
in stage selections
and modern airport hotels
where we say goodbye
it waits for new doors
open to ideas of
a sunlit autumn
in our house, our home
where thanksgiving starts and ends
all that matters: here
finally a break
monotony busts busy
cross-stitched piece by peace
of course, a bike ride
soaking in late autumn sun
that shines on Denver
laser tag trial
semi-wary girls: boy land
(we fight our way through)
tea, soup, spoon bread, love:
dinner stewing our return
end with beginning:
angel bear guarding baby
waiting to come out
They come into two classes to tell them the (what I think will be simple) news: they will have a new English teacher next semester, and it won’t be me. The AP describes it in her usual convoluted fashion: “We are growing as a school, and we need your teacher’s skills to teach another class, and you’re going to have a different teacher.”
Z shouts out (as always–no one scares him)–“Wait. So we have the teacher with the best skills and you’re going to give us the teacher with the least?”
She begrudgingly looks at me: “Is that what I just said?”
But I know what he means. I speak his outspoken language.
Another student: “But I like this small class. It’s safe.”
Another: Tears. No words.
Another (different class): “I ain’t doin’ it. I’m still coming here fourth period. Try and stop me.”
AP (to me): “Isn’t it great to be loved?”
And I think, these are the same kids I threw under the bus the other day for not showing up on the “NOT” snow day. These are the kids I was jumping up and down about saying goodbye to because I want to teach immigrants, kids who really care, who are fully invested in wanting to be in my classroom every day. On time. Ready to learn.
And I feel a mix of joy and hatred all in the same moment.
And I think about these things, these fourteen-year-old faces running across my mind as I begin my Thanksgiving break. As I drive the carpool kids home and drop my girls off at piano and put frozen pizza (my Friday cop-out meal) in the oven and cross stitch and listen to my Spanish book and wait until the optimal moment before venturing out into the snow back into my old neighborhood.
I am saying goodbye to these green walls and these three girls and all the kids who have come in and out of my classroom for fifteen years to drive into richville and pretend like I’m someone else.
It is just what I thought and nothing like I thought. One block away from where I grew up, a 1940s war home that (amazingly) hasn’t been torn down… just doubled in size on the backside, granite counters and a peak-through kitchen from the living to dining to family room to breakfast nook. The hostess is a jubilant extroverted redhead with children who are driving up with their father to ski training for a week. She proudly shows us the brownies and fudge they made, the doggie bandanna (“bark scarves”) business her children have developed (web site and all), describes the destruction and reconstruction of her “starter-turned-family” home.
And I make the mistake of telling all the blond and blue-eyed businesswomen-doctor-lawyer-private-school-till-now moms that I teach. At the local high school.
And they want the good. The bad. The ugly.
“I’ve been keeping an eye on it for years.”
“I even hosted a German exchange student a couple years ago to see how it was (and I wasn’t impressed).”
“I heard the principal is leaving.”
“I heard that there’s no accountability.”
“I heard they have a great football team.”
And there I stand. In the middle. I’m not going to lie. And I’m not really going to satisfy their curiosity either. And I’m not going to go home to a mansion. And send my kids to a ski team training. Or use Uber because “it’s better than driving.” I’m not going to be a “CEO recruiter” and tear down half a house because the one I bought wasn’t good enough. I’m not going to find some German kid to “test out the local high school” for me.
And I’m not going to lie.
“The administration is mediocre at best.”
“The kids don’t do their homework.”
Everything they want to know. And don’t want to know.
Because I’m in the middle. I am a teacher and a mother. And I constantly ask myself: What is best for my kids? (MY kids.) And: What is best for my kids (THEIR kids). And the answers almost never match up.
Because that kid who cried in my class today told me his story about his mom beating the shit out of him. About social services ripping him away from her broken-bottle alcoholic rants. About the safe haven with grandparents in New Mexico. About how fucking scared he is every time he steps out of his Denver home because his mom lives SOMEWHERE IN THIS STATE.
And he doesn’t want to tell it again.
Because that kid who said he likes the small class can’t quite do work when “he’s going through some emotional tough shit, Miss,” and I let him have extra time.
Because that kid who said, “I ain’t gonna do it” has lingered into lunch on five occasions, emptying my wallet for a few bucks to have a meal.
Because I can’t lie. And I can’t tell the truth. And I can’t be a CEO recruiter who could never understand why a day filled with luncheons and a flexible schedule will never be my day. I can’t fit in with the blond-and-blue-eyed bitches just as well as I can’t fit my kids in with kids who won’t do their fucking homework (and yet I love them anyway).
There is no middle ground. There is no balance to what I face every day (tears and joy, tears and joy) and what I want my kids to see (apathy mixed with perseverance???).
And there is no way in hell a single one of these women would understand where I’m coming from anyway.
So why am I here? Why am I asking these questions?
I put my coat on and the hostess begins a story about running out of gas at the top of a pass on the way to a camping trip and coasting down the mountain into the only gas station in town.
I tell my story of driving 5000 miles in a Prius and running out gas in a no-cell-phone range and putting on my bike helmet and riding my bike down I-70 for six miles at 21:30 and my husband guarding the three kids in the back seat.
“I like your story better,” she admits as she walks me to the door. “I think I might steal it and call it my own.”
She’d be just like those other teachers who Z thinks “don’t have the skills” to teach him. Just like my kids who I can’t quite fit in to this frenzied life of private schools and ski team training.
Just like me. Stuck in the middle, good story in hand, just not quite the right place to publish it.
with bad headlines and hate bills
shames each one of us
The refugee question:
A firestorm all over social media. National media. International media. One that’s asking us to question our faith, that’s asking us to question our humanity. One that suddenly, after hundreds of years of terrorist violence from all corners of the globe, screams for an answer.
I have one.
First: open your eyes and call yourself a Christian. It starts first with forgiveness. With love. With hope. With faith. The same faith that these refugees have sought to protect for themselves. The same hope that they carried in rafts across the Mediterranean Sea at the risk of their tiny children being washed upon the shore, lifeless and in the arms of a forgiving God. The same love that ties together their families, that protects them from all that is evil in the world, the same love they see on those long walks across he Middle East and Europe, the love for the gift of another sunrise, the joy of another meal, the peace that comes from one set of open arms.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Corinthians 13:13
Second: Meet a refugee. A Muslim. Have you… Ever? Because I have a classroom full. Every day. They smile and call me by my full and formal name. They do their homework and ask to fix every error on every test they didn’t quite pass. They come before and after school for help. They smile. They thank me. They are polite and reserved, jubilant and chatty. When Denver Public Schools wouldn’t call a snow day and more than two thirds of my American-born students who live closer apathetically didn’t show up to show their consternation, my refugees took two or three busses from the suburb that had the most snow to be here. On time. Ready to learn. And every last one of them from a place where they’d never seen a snowflake before entering this country.
That’s how BRAVE they are. That’s how much they CARE. About everything. They will miss religious holidays, fast all day and finish projects, beg me for more work because they are so desperate to be as proficient in English as a native speaker…. Their parents will work in meat factories and drive taxis and pick up your garbage and do everything you never were willing to do because your American righteousness makes you too good for it…
And you haven’t even met one, have you? You’ve never even had a conversation, let alone spent an hour a day together for two or three years straight.
Third: Protect yourself. The hate that lives inside of you for people who are trying to flee to the promised land with nothing but the shirts on their backs is the SAME HATE the extreme terrorists carry inside themselves when they light the bombs that blow up everyone within their circle. Protect yourself. For you are the enemy: the enemy that lies within. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to evil. Evil leads to terrorism.
What are you afraid of? Hard work? Tenacity? Dedication? Faith? Hope?
Fourth: Open your mind. Your door. Your heart. Be the person who lights red, white, and blue across the sky to ask for a better world. The person who wants your children to be safe. Who wants a better tomorrow for everyone who ever set foot in or was born in this country… This world. Be the good you want to see in this world.
Be the smile. Because if you met one, you would know:
she turns eleven
drama sits on morn’s doorstep
yet she cries so well
you’re almost convinced
you’ve met an Oscar winner
(perhaps someday… yes)
until then? she’s apes
for her newest birthday gifts
Grandma, Grandpa win
just a constant lost battle
to be what she wants
ice cream brownie end
the day that marks her entrance
into my world
couldn’t taste better
than the likes she shares with me
my middle, my love
longest weekday done
cross-stitching my way to peace
and thanksgiving break