Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Muppet Wisdom

When the River Meets the Sea
by Paul Williams

When the mountain touches the valley
All the clouds are taught to fly
As our souls will leave this land most peacefully
Though our minds be filled with questions
In our hearts we'll understand
When the river meets the sea

Like a flower that has blossomed
In this dry and barren sand
We are born and born again most gracefully
Plus the winds of time will take us
With a sure and steady hand
When the river meets the sea

Patience my brothers
And patience my son
In that sweet and final hour
Truth and justice will be done

Like a baby when it is sleeping
In its mother's loving arms
What a newborn baby dreams is a mystery
But this life will find a purpose
And in time we'll understand
When the river meets the sea
When the river meets the almighty sea

Monday, April 27, 2009


Teaching 6th grade in the heart of glorious springtime is, in my personal and very biased opinion, an act of sheer grit. I feel like a Textbook Warrier, blindly plunging forward through the slings and arrows of outrageous twelve-year-old mood swings. No, I don't rescue anyone from burning buildings or create bridges or solve international issues, but I do try to preserve fragile self-esteems, foster lasting social skills, and teach kids to walk in the other person's shoes as much as a developmentally self-centered adolescent possibly can.

When I reach this point in the year, I utterly cease to matter to the kids. This is really as it should be, because their energies need to be spent on dealing with being kicked out of their lunch tables or having to put on shorts in front of everyone in gym class and coping with the mean status someone posted about them on Facebook. They are all sorts of twitterpated with each other, hormones raging and tank tops everywhere. It's a wonder that they ever even look to the teacher at all. In the midst of that, I have to make sure to cover Greece and Rome, and get through two more novels while focusing on good grammer, proper writing skills, and the English Language Arts MCAS.

We wrap up the year with activities that are empowering: a big project on Greece that uses all of the Multiple Intelligences, so everyone can be successful at whatever piece best expresses their talents. We also read the novel Homecoming by Cynthia Voight, about a 13 year old girl who safely guides her brothers and sisters from Rhode Island to North Carolina after their alcoholic mother abandons them in a parking lot. I want kids to recognize that they can do anything when they have to.

Most importantly to me, though, is a project I call "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man/Woman." This is modeled after a project I had to do in 10th grade English called Task Force where kids have to choose 25 out of 50 activities and put them into a binder. The activities are all designed to bring focus to exactly who they are right now, what they believe, how they feel about themselves, and what they anticipate in the future. The idea is that these will become a keepsake of the start of their adolescence so they can look back in five years, and ten, and twenty, and see who they were then and who they've become since. The activities include things like creating a collage from their favorite magazine clippings, listing their favorite bands and their favorite songs and why they like them, a letter of appreciation to a parent or caretaker, a list of the Top Ten Things about Twelve and the Top Ten Things about Eighteen, and a letter to themselves at age 30. The kids really put their hearts into these (most of them, anyhow) and it's amazing how much they reveal. I promise to keep them private, and they agree to be respectful of each other's work and those who might not want to share their feelings. I like to envision them when they move their stuff out of their parents' house for the last time, coming across their project in the back of a closet and meeting their twelve-year-old self for just a moment.

It comes along in the middle of May, right when we're all cooked and the summer is nipping at our heels. They work on their projects at home and some days in class, and we often go outside for writing or reading time. Once the squealy girls get over the spiders and ants, we all seem to have a pretty good time, and it keeps it all centered on them. Plus, my energy wanes significantly at this point in the year, so the less attention they pay to my distraction, the better for all of us.

I love my work, and I feel good getting up every morning and knowing that I am meaningfully contributing to my tiny corner of the world. I won't say I've never shown up on a Friday morning hung over from watermelon margaritas, but I do try to keep plugging away. Definitely more challenging when I'd rather be sitting on my front porch swing.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Operation Squirrel Removal

Evidently, our Little Yellow House is so freaking welcoming that squirrels find our attic irresistible. So irresistible, in fact, that they have decided to chew through our roof, take up residence, and live and die in there. They wake us up every single morning by chewing the wood beams in the attic space above my head, terrifying me into just dreaming in dollar signs every night, because I can see the storm coming.

This morning, Patrick suited up in a hat, headlamp, gloves, and a bandanna for his nose. (No, he wouldn't let me take a picture for the scrapbook. And yes, I did try.) He pulled a stinky dead squirrel out of the teeny crawl space beside the chimney and buried him quite unceremoniously in the woods behind our house. He also installed several traps, some of the giant kill-the-rats variety, and one Have a Heart trap, and not so much out of humanity as out of that's-all-they had.

I have had middle of the night fantasies about grabbing Patrick's Civil War Reenactor musket in the middle of the night and just shooting the crap out of them. I might do that yet. Rumor has it they taste like chicken.

Till then, though, Operation Squirrel Removal continues, and we will will wait for that tell-tale little trap click in the night, or the clatter of a desperate housewife climbing into the crawlspace in her jammies, musket in hand. Stay tuned.

"Jonny, don't go to the nuclear plant!"

We're big musical theatre fans at my house, as you might imagine, and the girls' latest obsession is the obscure musical "Zombie Prom" about a doomed teenage love affair in which the boy throws himself into a nuclear reactor and buried under the sea, but is lured back from his watery grave by the dulcet tones of his mourning sweetheart. We saw a fabulous teen production of it at the Company Theatre, which is the local community theatre that our whole family adores and participates in whenever possible.

The girls go through phases with their musicals. Last summer - ALL summer - it was Mamma Mia, complete with "recitals" performed with costumes and original choreography. This one, though, is getting more extensive by the minute. They've downloaded lyrics from the internet, drawn posters and a set design ("Mommy, can you build four lockers that actually open?") There are planned lighting effects, and particular lyrics assigned to their friends. The grand performance is intended for our faux-camping trip at the Fishman's house in August. (Which I haven't had the heart to tell them yet.)

I love the teamwork this has built, and the various negotiations they've had to pursue with each other over who gets to do which parts of which songs in order to make it equitable, but also making sure it serves the story line. They're passing a gorgeous spring afternoon singing their heads off, dancing and generally frolicking about. All good.


I have taken them to New York to see Mary Poppins on Broadway. They've seen outstanding community theatre productions of Big River and Gypsy. They've seen countless very good high school productions of Seussical and How to Succeed and Godspell and Into the Woods, Beauty and the Beast and Hello, Dolly, and so many others I can't even count. And yet, Zombie Prom has been pronounced the Greatest Musical of All Time.

I suppose I should just be thankful that it's not "Grease."

Here Comes the Sun

My high school English teacher (the experience with whom might actually be blog worthy in and of itself) used to emphasize that good writing is based on the show-don’t-tell rule. I actually do believe in that in theory, but when I sit down to write something that I think I might be willing to share, I forget. I just prattle on and write the way I journal…just talking about whatever is on my mind. And sometimes it’s the most mundane things, like what I’m eating (Twizzlers) or drinking (water, but formerly blueberry vodka and lemonade, a cocktail I call Summertime Blues. I was just having a little summer preview.) Sometimes it’s what I’m watching on TV (yesterday’s Big Bang Theory on the DVR) or what’s coming up for the weekend.

Sometimes, though, I sit down to write and my brain just swirls with memories and connections and aspirations and predictions, and things just flow out. In those times, I never think about whether I’m showing or telling. I just think about whatever I feel drawn toward, and then I write about it. If anything, my journal is much more a compilation of streams of consciousness – peppered with some ah-hah-moment river stones here and there – than anything that could be considered actual writing. Of the show-don’t-tell variety, I mean.

I don’t know how to show what I’m thinking of right now, so I’ll have to just tell it, I guess. I feel like I’m turning a corner on something. My life has always been seasonal, cyclical, and I could count on certain patterns always playing themselves out. I feel now, this spring, this year, I am beginning a new cycle. It’s based in gratitude and envisioning joy and raising my energy. I’m not totally there yet, but I’m close to the starting point. Maybe just days away. “Little darlin’, it’s been a long cold lonely winter.”

Here comes the sun.

Writing like this blog, actually, is part of that. Buying my new Tree-Grows-in-Brooklyn bicycle is another part. Reading good books. Connecting with my daughters. Singing showtunes or listening to Billy Collins poetry in my car. Back porch nights, hearing the spring peepers heralding lusty April. All of these are awakening me this spring. Everyone has their rituals, I think. Washing the windows with Windex. Hanging up the porch swing, putting gas in the grill. Spotting crocuses and daffodils. Opening the sun roof. Playing the car stereo a little too loudly. Lilac candles on the counter. The way people smile at each other in the gardening section of Home Depot on that first flip-flop worthy day.

Other seasons can move you to new cycles as well, but it somehow seems that the springtime can do half of the work for you, if you let it. Christmas can do that, sometimes, and so can the crisp slant of the light on an October afternoon. But in spring, inspiration is everywhere. It’s almost too easy, too cliché to get all worked up about it. I just can’t seem to help myself.

I hope that if you’re reading this, you’ll get inspired to put some of your rituals into action, and let in spring. It will just contribute to the energy, the blooming and the warming, and we’ll all be better for it.

I know I sound like Pollyanna meets Anne of Green Gables, but no one jumps in my head expecting Sylvia Plath. Not that I haven’t felt head-in-the-oven sad before. I’ve been in that kitchen at the very least. But not now. Not in April. Not when there are daffodils.

Okay, corny showtune alert…here is the first part of the song I was singing today, the one about the girl who sings to flowers to coax them into the pretty world above.

Hey buds below ... up is where to grow
Up with which below can't compare with.
Hurry - it's lovely up here...
Life down a hole takes an awful toll,
What with not a soul there to share with
Hurry - it's lovely up here!Wake up, bestir yourself,
It's time that you disinter yourself
You've got a spot to fill - a pot to fill
And what a gift package of shower, sun and love
You'll be met above everywhere with,
Fondled and sniffed by millions who drift by,
Life here is rosy - if you're a posy
Hurry it's lovely here!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Positive Energy Bank

Today the girls and I took a spontaneous trip to the Boston Aquarium with Ellie and her son, Ben. I don't normally do something "big" on the spur of the moment like that (involving the train and a significant distance from home.) I was proud of myself for doing something out of my comfort zone, and it felt very in line with the changes I'm trying to make in my life right now. Ellie is a very inspirational person and I find that when I've spent a day with her, I feel very energized toward moving on the path I want to pursue.

One of the things we talk about a lot is parenting, and our challenges in trying to walk the walk of the parent we know we should be, and truly want to be. She was talking about the fact that very early on, kids are programmed with the "tape" that runs through their minds for the rest of their lives - the one that informs what they think of themselves, and how they percieve others think about them as well. I wondered what my girls' tapes might be. I think for Amelia, it's something like "I'm capable and competent and smart and creative." I know I help to engender that in her (at least I hope I do!) and I feel proud of that. With Abby, my younger, my tempestuous one, I think it's something like "I am happy and imaginative and creative, but I get in trouble a lot." And I wonder how I can change that? I want her to be polite and empathetic and NOT fresh and smart-alecky to others, so I feel like I'm constantly correcting her behavior. It's exhausting for me, and frustrating for her, and I have felt caught in a vicious cycle of that in recent months.

We play the game "roses and thorns" at dinner, (telling the best and worst of our day), and yesterday, Abby said, "My rose is when Mommy told me I was a good girl at the grocery store." Oh, I felt just sacked in the gut. If THAT'S the best part of a lovely spring day in our household, one full of playing outside and a trip to the library and ice cream cones and trying on spring clothes, then WHAT is missing from her life? Praise. That's what it is. I realized that I need to add more compliments and praise to the positive energy bank so that when I have to detract from it by correcting her manners or her impulsive behavior, there is plenty more left in there.

I want to continue to be mindful and conscious and present in my parenting. I won't always win, but I know it's worth my energy to try.

Friday, April 17, 2009

I've spent this morning trying to navigate this whole blogging business, and I think I'm making progress. I've posted some old things that I've written in order to see how it will work. I think I'm going to like it here.

This afternoon I'm going to buy brand new bikes for my whole entire family. I earned the money by writing and directing and adaptation of one of my favorite novels, "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." I'm envisioning a spring and summer with rides to the Thursday farmer's market in my town. I want to explore the bike paths on the Cape with the Patrick and the girls. I want a lifestyle for our family that is active, healthy, appreciate of nature, and free. (After the cost of the bikes, of course.) I've waited two years, kept this image of summer afternoons tucked under my pillow, and today I take step one to make it come true. Can't wait!

To My Daughter, on her 9th Birthday

Dear Amelia,

Today you turn nine years old. I feel staggered by that, really. You are so bright-eyed and giggly, all twinkles and Big Ideas. I am surprised by some aspects of your personality, but mostly, I know you, and I had a good sense of who you would be when you were still inside me, relying on me to breathe and eat and grow. I decorated your nursery in bright rainbow colors - no pastels. No pink-frillies for this little one, I could tell. And here, at nine, your favorite color is orange. Your favorite clothes are jeans and comfy red shirts. Or brown shirts. Sneakers and ponytails, not ruby slippers and hair-ribbons.

You know who you are, and what is right, at nine years old. You’ve got a strong moral compass, and cannot tell a lie. You’ve tried it a few times, but you always crack. I kind of hope you always will. I hope I can always tell by the turn of your eyes and the twist of the corner of your mouth when you’re veering from your own truth. I’ll help you to recognize that, too.

You label yourself a tomboy. And that’s totally fine for now. I hope that as you grow, you will open yourself up beyond labels. It’s okay to like Pokemon and fairies. It’s okay to wear a dress to your grandmother’s birthday dinner, even with scabby knees. It’s okay to play Barbies with your sister and still climb trees with Manny and Zac. You can be both. You can be everything. You can be all of you, and all of you can change and grow from year to year. From day to day, even. Try it all on for size, and keep what you like.

You are so smart. Every teacher you’ve had has said so, too. Your teacher this year said her favorite thing about you is your sense of wonder. I think it might be mine, too. You are so delighted by things, so interested in learning and exploring history and science and books books books. And you’re so pretty, too. I love your big blue eyes and all of your freckles and your great big eager smile. I hope you always let yourself be both - smart and pretty. You never have to choose between those.

You have four grandparents who adore you. They have all taken the time to know your personality and interests. They’ve seen you on stage, in plays and recitals and presentations and graduations, and they’ve watched you do your Irish Step dancing. You are a source of pride and happiness for all of them, and I appreciate the warm affection you show them all.

Your sister listens to every single word you say. Even when she argues, even when she bickers with you, there is no doubt that you are the most important person in her whole world. Nothing makes her happier than your attention. No playmate means more to her than you. She would rather play Barbies or Littlest Pet Shop with you than do anything else. Be kind to her - she’s more sensitive than she lets on, and your opinions and comments can lift her up or bring her down more than anyone else’s. Use that influence for good.

Both Daddy and I have our own special connection with you. Different, but equally strong. I hope you know that you can always come to both of us as you grow. We will answer any question, we will honor your thoughts and ideas and joys and worries, and we will always be fiercely, firmly on your side.

Nine is usually when people start to recognize the things that they’ll remember all their lives. Before nine, memories are usually fuzzier, but after nine, they say, something clicks into place and things stick. I hope that you are enjoying growing up in our family. I hope that you continue to love our traditions and rituals and our connection to each other. Flip-Flop Ice Cream Sundae Day, St. Patrick’s Day, trips to Daddy’s secret beach, camping with your aunties and uncles, birthdays and museum trips and family dinners. We’ll make more, I’m sure. We’ll use your inspiration to create more as we continue to all grow together. And I hope that these are the things you’ll remember.

They haven’t invented words yet for how much I love you, so I’m afraid I can’t tell you. I can only try to show you, every day, by giving you morning hugs and kisses, and braiding your hair, and helping you with your homework, and taking you to the arcade and dance class, and making you Chip Chicken and vanilla ice cream sundaes. You made me a Mommy today, and I know it’s the most important job I’ll ever have. Thank you, Amelia, for that, and for being such a precious daughter.

Happy Birthday to You.


'Because I'm new to this...

1. One summer, when I was in middle school, I used a tape recorder and two notebooks to transcribe every single word in the movie “The Sound of Music.” Play, …pause…write. Repeat repeatedly.

2. I hate when animals talk in movies. I don’t mind if they’re cartoons, but I can’t watch things with real animals talking, like Babe.

3. Same thing about babies…I hate when they make babies talk with animated mouths. It’s against nature.

4. I can’t ever touch butter with my hands.

5. I am afraid of scorpions, though I’ve never seen one in my life. I think it’s because my first movie alone with a friend (Kristin Fahey, Loring Cinema in 1981) was Clash of the Titans. Big old scorpion in there.

6. In college, I once hid in a back stairwell of the Campus Center with Elise so we could be the first people to see the cast list of a musical being posted outside of the Theatre Guild Office. I don’t even feel guilty about that.

7. I do still feel guilty for cheating on a test in 10th grade, and writing a book report in 11th grade on a book for which I only read the cliff notes. (Vanity Fair.)

8. One of the most profound experiences of my life was helping to care for someone who was dying of a brain tumor.

9. My favorite place on earth is my own front porch.

10. My first date with my husband was to the site of a Revolutionary War Battle. By the time we went on our first date, I had already been in love with him for ten months. We had a picnic, and I must have sat near a nest of butterflies because somehow they kept flying out from under my sundress.

11. I have to do a ceremony of release for my students every year on the night before the last day of school so I don’t carry their energies around with me from year to year. It involves candles, ceremonial words, and watermelon margaritas.

12. I once hit Amelia on the head really hard with the dishwasher door.

13. My biological father once took me to a zoo and got my picture taken with a huge boa constrictor around my neck, just to make my mother cry, because she was scared of snakes.

14. This spring, I am buying a bicycle, just so I can put a basket on the front and ride it home from the farmers market with carrots hanging out. I’m sure I’ll ride it other times, too.

15. After every show I direct, we buy something to better our household, and name it after the show. We have a Guys and Dolls Grill, a Midsummer Night’s Dream patio set, High School Musical couch, and I guess this spring we’ll have Tree Grows in Brooklyn bicycles. It helps me feel like my extra work has real benefit to my family life.

16. My husband makes me laugh harder than anyone else ever has.

17. I lost my original wedding band and engagement ring. Patrick has since bought me new ones.

18. I hate to cook. Hate Hate Hate it.

19. I love everything about Christmas, and start sneaking Christmas music as soon as Halloween is over.

20. When I am driving in the rain, I like to listen to Barry Manilow, the Carpenters, and Air Supply.

21. I love connecting with people, and at parties, I’m much more likely to be in a corner talking to one person at a time than being in a group conversation. I also like to make psychic predictions about people at parties. Sometimes I’m right.

22. I get crushes on very random people, even now. I can’t tell you who, though.

23. For twenty years, my dream role has been Ella in Bells are Ringing, which I realize I will never, ever get to do.

24. If I watch a movie at night without doing something else (laundry, scrapbooking, list-making), I will almost certainly fall asleep. It annoys people and embarrasses me.

25. I had a player piano growing up, and I used to sing for an hour after school most days. Not only did I know scores of random songs from the 20's, 30's and 40's, but I know all of the introductions and bridge verses as well.

Getting Started

Welcome to my blog. I have been journaling since I was 9, but I'm just learning this new format. I've written a bit on Facebook, but I'm going to try this format instead. This is my first post like this, so thanks for reading.

Who am I?

I am Amelia and Abby’s mom. I am Patrick’s wife. I am a teacher, director, writer, dreamer, and passionate supporter of the pursuit of happiness. I am part of a loving network of fascinating friends and pretty wacky family members. I am striving, growing, learning, exploring, and writing all about it.

Cast of Characters:

Patrick - a.k.a. The Captain, PTJB, Handsome Husband. Historian, author, Civil War reenactor. Can make magnificent scallop pasta, knows when exactly when to just smile and hand me a glass of wine, and can totally rock a sweater vest. I dreamed him into existence when I was 12 and was lucky enough to actually find him, and get him to marry me.

Amelia - The Oldest. Smart, inquisitive, daring and creative. Our own Nancy Drew. Will eat anything. Climbs trees, casts magical spells, and expects good manners from her fellow third grade friends. Possesses an infectious giggle, an enormous vocabulary, a plethora of cherished stuffed animals, but feels no need for humility.

Abby Rose - The Youngest. Tempestuous, dramatic, colorful, musical, and usually dressed in sequins. A seven year old fashionista who will not only design but run her own company someday. Inherited her father’s talent for art and her mother’s talent for remembering obscure song lyrics. A fairy princess who just happened to be born to this human family.

Ginger - the ginger cat who adopted us. Or specifically, Patrick, whom she has wrapped around her furry finger.

Luna - the noisy, smelly, no-personality bunny that Santa Claus brought Amelia. The fat bastard.

I have a lot to say, and I am so ready to say it to someone else, instead of in the 60 spiral notebooks in my basement.

Welcome to my head.