she chose Granny Smith Apple
sweet, sour, pie-love
Clothed in Gratitude
my students need clothes
and “generosity lives”
is this store’s motto
Bites and Pieces
There isn’t a photo today, unless my mantra-cup, “Bless This Hot Mess” can be my actual mantra. There is a meal, a beautiful meal that New York Times Cooking thinks a regular person can make in forty-five minutes. A meal that involves chopping then roasting cashews, skinning then mincing fresh ginger, garlic, chopping a bell pepper into bits, washing rice, slicing two-inch sections of green onions, and preparing cilantro. Also cutting and cooking chicken before the oven part. I don’t have a photo of my youngest and my husband and me, making a mess of this kitchen before I cleaned it, trying to make this meal in forty-five minutes between the three of us.
I just have this. This meal to eat while we listen to and argue about Bruce Springsteen (The BOSS) and discuss our days.
Oh, our days. Bruce was under pressure to change a card (a card as big as a board game and twice as heavy), Rio was under pressure to meet her social and familial weekend obligations, me under the pressure of society to not tell a student’s caseworkers that her foster mother isn’t good enough because.
Because there are no more foster mothers available. Because it isn’t horrible enough that her mother was murdered by the Taliban, and that she’s living in a home that doesn’t recognize or celebrate her culture or speak her language, because she may never see her brothers and father and baby sister again.
It isn’t enough. It is never enough. The crying, the screaming, the desire to be perfect, the accusations, the pain that seeps through every word, the trauma that breathes through every breath.
I wish I could just change a too-heavy card, or balance my sleepover with my obligation to my grandparents, or just be a kid or just be a human who doesn’t have to carry the weight of all these humans.
But I can’t. I can’t cook this meal in forty-five minutes, NYT Cooking, and you should stop lying to people. You can’t bring your mother back, and you should stop lying to people. You shouldn’t make false accusations, and you should stop lying to people.
People who could lose their jobs, their lives, and all the love they’ve given in twenty years of carrying the weight of these kids. People who put on a musical rehearsal of Beauty and the Beast just so my poor kids could see it. People who spend half of their summer taking your kids to every place they could ever imagine because they couldn’t see those places otherwise. People who love your kids as fiercely as you do and for some reason you can’t see it,
You can’t see me.
What does it mean to be a teacher in the twenty-first century? It carries a weight that you can’t imagine carrying because nothing, nothing is more enticing than a 24/7 entertainment device that every kid carries in their pocket. Nothing is more enduring than teenage love or parental defense. Nothing matters more than a grade. Nothing compares to the TikTok video or Instagram caption–not a cultural connection, a passion for language, or a pile of free clothes.
It is like this meal. Sticky rice coconut chicken. It has everything: cilantro, ginger, coconut milk, basmati rice, a yellow bell pepper, garlic minced to perfection, chicken broth, scallions, hot sauce, a dutch oven pan that fits into the best-ever toaster oven, a bubbling bite with perfect spice… Everything.
But it’s a lie. It’s not a Wednesday night meal. It does not take forty-five minutes to prepare.
It takes years, twenty years of patience and a pinch of forgiveness to make this possible.
And you can taste it in every bite. Every bite that you put in your mouth and every bite that bites you back.
Taste it. The creamy coconut, the sriracha, the beauty of the world swirling in the rice.
And bite back.
Soft Cat, Calm Night
Bright, Beautiful, Blighted
June: a harried month
with all the joys and sorrows
that make up this life
birthdays as i age
are all about the blossoms
(petal by petal)
even candy blooms
from a fasting student’s heart
here, home, on my desk
Six Years Back
Six years ago, to the day, we had a snow day just like today. I got out the art supplies and all three girls colored all morning. All three girls put on their snow gear and built a snowwoman. All three girls giggled. Mythili finished a book she’d started three days prior. Riona helped me shovel. Mythili walked over to the local cafe and ordered tea, just like me.
Six years ago, they were still children. So happy to have a moment to themselves. To enjoy. To laugh.
And now what?
Before the day even began, I was crying. I cried myself to sleep, and now my eyes are so red I can’t even see straight. My husband tried to love me so hard last night, my perfect husband, but the pot smell seeped into the room, the door shut, the Camry reeked, and my worst nightmare crept under every crack.
It’s been two weeks and three voicemails to a non-responsive therapist since Mythili lost one of her closest friends to an overdose. And the last thing I want to smell is pot coming from out of her room. Pot she’s smoking alone. Because she’s lonely. Because she’s alone.
She was one of her closest friends whom she’d cut ties with months ago, months when her therapist deemed her better and stopped seeing her every week… every two weeks… every month… to not at all.
Not at all.
As if my girl, my child, was cured. As if all the phone calls I made to various medical and psychiatric doctors, begging to get her medicated, to no avail, were just washed down with every other aspect of this dark pandemic, a pill too solid to be swallowed. As if, after six months of therapy, her mind could go back to the mind of the girl in these pictures, from our snow day six years back:
I want to go back. I want to go back to that smiling child. I want her to tell me what I did. What someone did. I want a reason for the pain that torments her soul.
In two days, I have a four-day weekend planned. Booked months back with the hope that, with an outdoor heated pool, a cool town with tons of shops, and a hot springs right downtown, she’d want to come with us.
She used to love swimming. Skiing. Snowshoeing. Hiking. Camping. Traveling. Drawing. Doing puzzles. Riding her bike. Talking to me. Walking. Eating. Cooking. Baking. Reading.
All the things, all the things that I love, she loved.
And now she hates all of them. She hates everything. Even a snow day.
And do you know the weight of this? Do you know how much it hurts to see her hurt?
I’m not even at noon yet. I’m not even halfway through this hellfire snow day. When I went cross-country skiing to and around the park, trying to find peace after another night of four hours of sleep, I didn’t find anything but loneliness. I haven’t slept in days, weeks, months. Is it her? Is it Fabian who we’ve asked to leave, whose program sent the email today confirming that it will be within two weeks, that there’s another big meeting on Friday, the day we leave for Steamboat Springs, the day I begged, fought to have off, the day I requested as a personal day (along with Monday), putting in for my reason, “Mental Health Weekend,” and my principal’s secretary responded with, “Due to class coverage concerns, the principal is asking if you could just take one mental health day?”
One mental health day? I didn’t have a planning period for nearly three weeks because I was either covering classes or proctoring an English-proficiency test. Then my co-teacher got COVID and I had to fully run her class, too. Then my principal got COVID and couldn’t meet with me to discuss my request. And then I just gave up and changed my personal days to sick days. And this is the world we are living in, where we can’t take two days off, where the person who has to quarantine with their under-five set of kids for a week has priority over the mental breakdown of this mama of teens.
Before I went skiing today, before Mythili reluctantly agreed to go grocery shopping with me, this is what she told me:
“None of my friends want to listen to my problems. None of them care. I don’t want to talk to another therapist. I’m tired of talking to so many people. I just want to talk to her. I want to be home alone all weekend. I don’t want to be around anyone because nobody understands. Nobody understands how I just go through each day. I just go through each day, going through the motions, and I can’t find joy in anything, and I have no reason for it, and I don’t understand it, and it’s like something is just wrong with my brain, and I AM SO TIRED OF IT, I’M SO EXHAUSTED.”
And the tears took over. Hers and mine.
And what have I done through my tears today? I have been working on a puzzle and telling my son that he’s moving out next week because I failed him and texting my husband, to which I knew he would say yes, “Can you, for the second year, stay home with Mythili this weekend instead of having this amazing weekend together?”
Because there is nothing amazing about wanting to take two days off in the middle of winter, in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of a mental health crisis. There is no new snow in Steamboat, no leniency for teachers, no grace for a mama whose heart is as broken as her child’s.
And the boy who is leaving my house next week? Am I supposed to feel good about it? Relief? Gratitude?
There is nothing, nothing but remorse.
Because he’s probably feeling much like Mythili, and I couldn’t help him.
Because I’m feeling much like Mythili, and I can’t even have a long weekend. I can’t ski the pain away, drink the pain away, pretend that the pandemic, my job, my family, don’t exist.
And we all hurt so fucking much right now that we cry ourselves through a snow day.
A snow day–the best day ever. Six years back.
More Than Bones (Us)
a museum trip
to learn English with a twist
and these masked smiles
i drive buses now
because taking them places
is what matters most
the joy in their eyes
as they immerse themselves