Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Flight of Fancy

It’s a whirlwind, and then comes a moment when my students are off at gym class, and I sit with my cup of Starbucks instant coffee, and the sun streaming in on the stack of Tuck Everlasting comprehension questions I’m trying to correct, and one of my favorite songs comes on my Pandora radio station. (“It Might Be You,” the love theme from Tootsie, “Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver, or “Muskrat Love” by the Captain and Tennille…it’s a Carpenters-based 1970’s soft-rock Pandora station, and I have lovingly honed it over the past two years to eliminate all traces of Neil Diamond. That radio station is on my list of Favorite Things in Life.) Anyway, I take my little ten minute vacation, look out my classroom window at the wilting sunflowers in the school’s organic garden outside my window (of which I have the best view in the school) and try to release my shoulders, breathe, and not think about my to-do list taped to my planner, sitting on top of my rehearsal binder, on top of another stack of papers I still need to correct.

In those moments, I want to write.

I’ve been thinking lately about how often I write things like, “I’m in transition.” Or, “I feel like something is coming around the bend in the road.” I’ve been saying that, seasonally, for like thirty years. I’m pretty sure it’s time now to just accept that nothing is permanent, and we are always in transition. There is not one thing you can totally count on staying permanent except change itself. Nothing is for sure but death and taxes, isn’t that the old saying? Except death, in my mind, is really its own kind of change, so I guess that just leaves taxes.

Yes, I am in transition. I am in a state of Permanent Transition, a lifetime long. And how I love that. I have grown so certain that my life is exactly what I make of it, every single day. I suppose that soon I will ceased to be surprised at how very powerfully the things I dream of and plan for come to be. But I’m not there yet. I’m still shocked and delighted that the Universe does, in fact, take care of all of the “hows” if I only believe strongly enough in the end game. I can’t know the roads I’ll follow to get to where I want to be, but I know that if I believe in it, I’ll get there.

So, maybe my biggest transition right now is to decide what I want to do next. I talk about being a “writer,” but the thing is…if writing a book were really that important to me, the thing that sets my soul aflame…I would be doing it. It’s out there, a thing that I vaguely aspire to, like learning yoga. But its time hasn’t come yet. I’m spending my creativity on putting on high school plays and journaling and trying to raise daughters with a sense of whimsy and celebration. I’m so present in those tasks – too present, sometimes, I know – and I am not currently making room for anything else.

In the past several years, I have been totally, utterly okay with that. Or, at least, I have been until very recently, when I’ve begun to ask myself, “What next?” I have done the blogging thing. I have written plays. I have gotten my darling house. I am about to receive a gift of the most epic proportions, which I can’t tell you yet for three more weeks, but trust me, it’s been WAY UP on my list of Big Dreams that I had no idea how I could possibly make come true, and it’s coming true with no effort whatsoever on my part except the wanting.

What to dream now?

At the end of this school year, I will graduate a group of seniors who, along with three that graduated last year, will be the students that I have known and loved very much. They were the class that loved and lost Matt, who experienced that unique heartache and found solace in the community I helped to build. One student, in particular, will be my hardest ever goodbye. Ever. There’s something about this coming event that is hitting me hard, and making me feel like it’s time to make some big changes. (Though my choice of their final show will be exactly the right thing to honor their journey.) This is my 7th year at that High School. Is it the seven year itch? Next year both girls will be in Middle School. Do I still want to be in middle school? I don’t know. I just don’t know. But I’m finding myself starting to ask some new questions.

Stay tuned, if you’d like, and be forgiving, if you would, of my lack of consistency in blogging. I often aspire to do it more often, but when it becomes another thing on the to-do list, I feel like I have nothing worth saying. I have to just do it when the fancy strikes, I guess.


Monday, September 12, 2011

There and Back Again

Back to school is an intense time in my household. There’s the shopping for binders and folders with kitties or the cast of Victorious printed on them, the “right” pencils and notebooks, shoes and socks and new clothes and underwear. When I was a child, I remember that even when we were at our poorest, back-to-school was still new clothes and new shoes, and a new start, even though it might have meant a long Bradlees layaway and stressful figuring on my mom’s part. (My mom who, this year, bought Amelia practically her whole middle school wardrobe. I never, ever lose perspective on how different my children’s childhood is from mine.)

After the requisite fashion show in the living room, narrated by Abby (“Now here’s a perfect look for those crisp fall days in the city…”) there’s getting back to the routines of homework, after-school activities and schedules, rehearsals, and the general pace of my family’s life in the fall.

It’s never easy, especially after a mellow, peaceful summer of reading novels in the swing under the oak trees and swimming at the secret beach.

September feels very different for me this year than it has in a long while. For one thing, my oldest has started middle school, in the very grade that I teach, and thinking of my curly-haired baby in this sitting amidst the pressures and mysterious social catacombs of 6th grades kind of freaks me out, to tell the truth. I mean, I know we’ve prepared her; she’s smart and confident and enthusiastic, but still…my baby. Abby, on the other hand, now in 5th grade, is loving the sense of independence from being the Oldest in the School, and having her sister…elsewhere.

There is a shift in the energy of my household from Patrick’s focus on his novel. Head’s down, past-the-middle serious writing, and I can feel that in the walls, even. It’s very exciting and having him so energized and happy has made a huge difference in this fall.

For me? Well, auditions for my high school show were this weekend, and instead of the normal sense of anxiety and even dread that I feel when I have to launch into this (for a lot of reasons), this year I am really looking forward to it. It’s a show I’ve never done and really like, and the last time I directed a musical I’ve never done before, it was so dance-centric that I felt like I couldn’t really totally get a handle on all of it. Plus, there were several people in that cast who annoyed me really, really badly, and it did not make for the most pleasant time. Other than that, the past five years have just had me in a musical recycling mode, and it bored me. This year, some of my most adored kids ever are seniors, the cast turned out to be spectacular, and I think it’s just going to be such fun. It’s such a silly, sassy show, very stylized and lively. That, along with the fact that I saw it on Broadway with Harry Potter in the lead on my very 40th birthday during my favorite weekend of my whole year, and it’s just a great big happy combo of good good good.

Here in 6th grade, I’ve already started in earnest on a very intense writing program, and it’s been great for the kids and good for me, too. (Hence, I think, my ability to even contemplate a return to this blog. In a room full of writing, it’s hard to resist the call.) I like my kids this year, mostly, even though a few of them are…well, really weird. You might remember Sam, who I wrote about last year, and who we kept back, in our class for 6th grade again this year. He missed the first day because of the hurricane. He came the second day…and then did not come back again. For several days, he did not come back. I called to talk to him, and he slammed the door. He could not deal with the other kids knowing he’d been kept back. It took some doing on the part of a lot of people, but we got him back. We had a talk, again, about the man he wants to be, and how he chooses right now to become that, or risk becoming like the kids and adults he left behind in Roxbury, on drugs, on the System, on the street. I’m trying to help him know his intuition, listen to the voice that’s the best of himself, because I can hear it already. We all could, all of us here, right from day one. He can too, when he tries. I hope he’ll keep trying.

So, here in September, I’ve dusted off my sense of purpose, renewed my addiction to toasted almond coffee, and set out again to do a little something in my corner of the world.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Once Upon a Tuesday

I've lost my way, a little bit.

Not as a person, but as a writer, as a person who feels like I have something worth saying out loud to the world.

Meanwhile, as a person, I have been working really hard, trying to parent as a stay-at-home-summer-mom, which is decidedly different from the working-sixty-hours-a-week-mom I usually am, and have found it utterly exhausting. Seriously. I have directed a summer camp while simultaneously dealing with an increasingnly emotional eleven-year-old and a fairly neurotic ten-year-old, and I am fried crispier than a funnel cake and not even half as sweet. Usually, by this point in August, I'm floating in a sort of euphoric state, my glass of summer still half full, the fall still a ways away, but this year? Not so much. I can't pinpoint quite why, but I do know that my soul is not in a restful state.

I have written very little this summer. Small amounts of journaling, very small, and nothing else. I can't tell you that I have read any fabulous books, just puttered through meaningless paperbacks, really. I haven't slept too late, or eaten way too much, or drank too much, or been too much of anything, really. I've had some excellent days, and some memorable moments, and even a few very blog-worthy experiences: my trip to NYC, turning 40, the end of Harry Potter. I have had some stuff to say.

So, why has my blog rested on those freaking peonies for all of this time? I don't really know. And I don't know where I am going, writing-wise, and I don't know where I want to devote my creative energy, or if that magical number of the big FOUR-OH has suddenly resulted in a dimished drive or ambition or whatever. I really don't know. I might just be tired. Or low in iron. Something like that.

Today, though, I was interviewed by my local cable access channel - yeah, I know...the big time. Don't be jealous. I was interviewed about my little play, which had a small revival this summer, and I realized again that though it's not perfect, it was mine-all-mine, a hat where there never was a hat, and I loved my little play with the best of my heart. I know that it's time, now, for me to get off my ass and do something else. What? I don't know. But I need to do something and put something else out into the world for a purpose that isn't about *me.* I need to do something, create something, that makes someone else feel comforted or connected or not alone or inspired or...insert something else meaningful here. I need to get busy. I need to fill my energy well and get back to work.

Maybe that's it. Maybe I have just let myself be lazy this summer. I don't begrudge myself this, since I am pretty energetic most of the time. I do not feel re-fueled, though. Not yet, at least. I still have two and a half more weeks to try to create that for myself, and I know that I have to do it in order to be in full working capacity by the time the fall hits me full in face.

As I write this, I am in the Athenaeum, and a re-run of "The Office" drones in the background. Patrick is giving a lecture, the girls are bickering downstairs about pointless things, and I could be reading. Or scrapbooking. Or journaling. Or weaving some meaningful coming-of-age tale. But instead, I am lounging on the futon and drinking chardonnay, and wondering if I have remembered to pack my favorite perfume into my Bermuda suitcase. I'm thinking that, really, in the grand scheme of things, if this is what it takes to make the rest of my life work, then I'm doing okay. If sitting still and useless on an uneventful Tuesday night is what it takes to replenish that well of energy, then, okay.

People are funny, aren't they? We're so complicated so much of the time, but it comes down to needing to just sit still. Every once in a while, we all need to just sit still. Some of us more than others, I guess, and some of us for longer times than other, but this very busy world, we all need to just sit still sometimes.

Once upon a Tuesday night.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

RSVP Peonies

The story of my life can be traced through flowers. Whatever my favorite flower was at the time illuminates my journey, I think. My grandmother’s lilacs of my childhood (still my favorite scent), carnations of high school dances, roses of romantic adolescence, daisies as I came into my own in college, sunflowers as I learned to stand tall, irises post college as I tried reconcile my yellows and purples together…and once a flower became part of my heart’s language, it stayed a part of me.

Last June, just a couple of weeks after moving into my new house, I looked out of my kitchen window, shocked to see two gaudy, pouffy pink blooms in the middle of scruffy, overgrown, unkempt back yard wilderness. It turned out to be a peony, absurdly petaled, fragrant, and determinedly growing untended and unnoticed in this very neglected yard. I clipped the blossoms, almost offensively pink, and put them in my equally offensively pink Athenaeum, and stared at them through the long weekend last June of grading my students’ Portrait Projects, the culmination of their year’s work in my 6th grade class.

Throughout this capricious, chilly, rainy spring this year, I have watched over those peonies, hoping for their return. I pulled the weeds around them, raked out the leaves that choked them, and sang to them my very favorite song. (“Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here,” in case you’re, you know, new.) There’s a line, in fact, that says, “RSVP peonies! Pollinate the breeze! Make the queen of bees hot as brandy…” (Ironically, I’m actually singing that song in public for the first time ever at a festival this weekend.) Anyhow, I have taken a keen interest in these flowers that grow so surprisingly and in spite of me in this backyard that I have yet to even get to know. I kill every plant anyone has ever given me, no matter how treasured (evidence the bonsai tree from Craig), and Patrick calls me Kelly Black Thumb because of the way that plants keel over and die when I even get too close. These peonies, however, have sparked my interest, represented a heart-gift one year ago, and I feel fiercely protective of them.

It was that protective spirit that brought me into the yard this afternoon, rake in hand. While Patrick pulled out dozens of scrubby little saplings by the roots, cut unhealthy limbs down from pines and oaks with a chainsaw (super sexy) and reassembled pieces of rotted fence, I raked and cleared all around my peonies and sang my fool head off, cleaning out a happy little patch of previously untended world. I had no idea that could be so satisfying. My yard is full of rhodendendros, which barely bloomed last year. Today, I caressed and coaxed them, and with a little sunshine on my side, I hope to see them burst within the week. We also found two hydrangeas, five other peonies, a holly tree, a lilac, and a pitchfork. (We sang to the holly, too, just to get it going.)

I am not the yard-work kind of person, partly because when we bought our last house, while Patrick was tending to the yard, I was…well, breastfeeding, doing laundry, and otherwise caring for two very small babies, and the division of labor sort of settled in as the inside being mostly mine, and the outside being mostly his. I never really reevaluated that pattern until this new house came into being. I feel far more responsible for this house than I did for the last one, partly because I feel very much like I manifested it into being with sheer will and belief, and partly because just the having or a Room of My Own in this house has done so much to improve my mental health that I feel obligated to give back to its care however I can.

I have a friend who got some terrible news this week, the worst news, and I am racking my brains to figure out what I can do to be helpful, to support her through what is just going to suck, plain and simple. I have a vision of a little quiet nook in my yard, flowers and birdfeeders, and a swing where she can retreat for wine and girl-talk, or for journaling and crying, or just to sit. My mom gave me a swing, and it is sitting in a box in my garage. I wanted, today, to clean out a space for that swing behind one of the lush rhodenendron bushes, isolated, but not really. A quiet corner where she can feel at home, but not have to be home where it hurts to be. So I raked and sang, and Patrick and I fixed the pretty split rail fence, and realized that it’s going to be quite muddy back there, without the rotting leaf cover and without any grass. “I would love to get some flagstones to make a little path from the yard to the swing, so we won’t get muddy,” I said to Patrick. “Yeah,” he said, and I heard…where will that fifty bucks for flagstones come from? One moment later, one sweep of the rake, and I laughed aloud. “Look!” Buried under five years worth of rotted leaves…twenty flagstones, discarded in a pile, path-ready.

And that, my friends, is further proof that the Universe loves me.

This has been a very intense few days. I am praying hard for two miracles for people that I love, and thinking about life and death and what makes the whole trip worthwhile. I have no great illuminations, other than being sure of what I have known all along…that today is the only day, and that you should measure your life in daylights, in midnights, in sunsets and cups of coffee…measure in love.

In the past few days, I loved. I extended myself in love to my girls, and to my husband, my friend, and to my parents-in-law, and to my home. I hope, always, for a long and industrious life, but if I am hit by that proverbial bus tomorrow, I will have no regrets. I would be sad to not be able to raise my girls, but I will know that they’ve had so much of me, and that I’ve left so much of myself behind for them to keep and hold and know in trunks full of spiral notebooks. I will know that I have loved passionately, though not always wisely, and that the people who matter most in my life know just how I feel about them, not just because they “know,” but because I tell them. All the time.

You never know what will happen from one day to the next. One minute you’re at the mall, buying a book, and ten minutes later your whole entire world shifts on its axis. Completely. It can happen to anyone, anytime. To say, “But she was supposed to live a long and happy life” or “He’s such a good person, how could this happen?” It’s all futile. Whatever the reasons are for why things happen, they happen. We can’t know. But we can control what we do with the time we have. We can decide what to do, today. So today, I tended my little garden and sang to the peonies, with my sweet husband and my girls beside me.

And if, tomorrow, my world shifts on its axis, I will have had today.

Peonies, waiting to bloom.

The five NEW peony plants that waited to be discovered. (Hard to see, but they're there.) The rocks stand sentinel.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mental Shift

It's spring, and the last of this year's theater jobs ended last weekend...another middle school productin of Annie that didn't meet my expectations in quality, but one that served its purpose: community, connection, and confidence for kids who need it most. I'm hitting the sweet spot of my year now, May through August, when I only have to do one job at a time. Time to read, scrapbook, sit on my front porch watching the girls do cartwheels on the lawn. The relief of that takes a long time to sink in. I spend nine months a year feeling all the time like I'm hurtling toward a finish line. And now I'm walking in circles, breathing deeply, covered in one of those shiny metallic capes they give you when the marathon is through.

Prompted by my house-a-versary, I've spent a lot of time in the past couple of weeks reflecting on the previous year, and truthfully, I'm feeling quite satisfied with the result. Late last winter, I feel like things broke open for me with the writing and producing of my play, and I made a lot of mental shifts that have done me a lot of good. I felt like I co-created a true miracle in finally getting my house of dreams, and I mindfully worked to build a home here that comforts and nurtures my little family. I've dug in deeply with my girls, talked about some hard things, created some channels for communication, and despite working a lot of hours, found copious amounts of time to give them my full attention. We've had some adventures and a lot of laughs, and sung our faces off. I've journaled a lot, gotten to the bottom of some frustrations, and let a lot of things go. I wrote on the walls of my Athenaeum, hung a dragonfly curtain, and put up a little Christmas tree with colored lights and talismans hanging all over it that I can leave up all year. I directed a whole bunch of shows with the best of my creative energy, got a chance to perform, and really tried to teach with gusto.

I intend, now, to sail into summer and rest a little on my laurels.

Hah. Even as I wrote that last line, I thought, "Like hell I will." Because another result of this year has been accepting the simple truth that I was designed to live a very full life. Over-stuffed, over decorated, over-dramatic, but never, ever dull. Even the moments of leisure and laziness are enjoyed mindfully and with a sense of having earned my down-time. Lisa said to me recently, "You know, not everyone has the dramatic moments that you have in your life. And you have so many of them through the year." The events, the shows, the moments of connection with kids. I think a shift in my thinking this year has been to just accept that. And truly appreciate it, and continue to expect and anticipate that turning forty will not bring an end to that, and that the best of times is now, and the best is yet to come. Both. It won't just "happen to me." I'll create it and build it along with the powers of the Universe that are weilded with Love.

I hung out last night with women that I love and admire. I sat in bed with my coffee and the Today show for an hour this morning, making lists and catching up on Facebook, little visits with people that interest me to varying degrees, all while in my pajamas. In a little bit, the girls and I will stop at Dunkin Donuts, hit a couple of yard sales (mission: white chair for the front porch), do the various Saturday things like Irish Step classes, haircuts, picking up flowers and granola bars and baking cookies for our visit to Gram and Grampa's tomorrow. Tonight I will go to see The Laramie Project, and I know that if I choose it, I will have that chance to appreciate the transformative power of theater. Tomorrow we will go to visit Patrick's folks, tour some sites to take photographs for Patrick's book, and likely end the night with my girls all showered and jammied, piled on the couch watching America's Funniest Home Videos, and rewinding and rewatching all the ones with funny dogs. Sounds so ordinary, a weekend in a typical life of a modern suburban wife and mother. Typical thirty-something. Where I won't be typical, though, is that I will refuse to let it slip mindfully past. I'll do my best to enjoy every moment, every encounter, and be grateful that all of these will happen without the dizzying undercurrent of... What scene do I have to stage on Monday? How many emails do I need to return? What props am I supposed to pick up today? Explain to me again why the set won't tip over?

I will relish the mental freedom, the pretty shiny cape, the laurel wreath, bounty of a life deeply lived.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ten Happy Thoughts

1. It's the last day of school before April vacation, and I was so excited I could barely sleep last night. I got out of bed at 4:30 when Ginger started yowling and just stayed awake, switching between some old Jimmy Stewart movie ("Born to Dance" - 1936) and a vintage episode of Family Ties. Then I got Abby up, as promised, and we took a walk in the very windy world at 5:30.

2. I bought the new Harry Potter DVD at 7:00 a.m. Amelia and I are both wearing our Harry Potter T-shirts today and my mom is coming over to watch the movie with us. (Abby has elected, instead, to have a "sleepover" in the Athenaeum so she can watch some new Disney Channel Original movie having something do with lemons. I don't even know.) Celebratory dinner of choice for the Potter Pajama Party: chip chicken. Definitely a Browne family trailer park favorite. Patrick is away for a reenactment this weekend so it's a girl party extravaganza.

3. I just got a pedometer from the nurse's office, and I joined some sort of 10,000 step club. Just walking from the nurse's office back to my classroom was worth 165!

4. My little fox has been in school for five whole days, as promised. Today he drew me a colorful picture of flowers with the words "peace, love, joy" woven through. He promised to come to school for the week after vacation. I believe him.

5. The girls and I are taking a road trip this week to visit Elise and meet her new son, Will. We're staying in a hotel with an indoor pool (the height of luxury for two small mermaids). On Wednesday afternoon, I'm taking the girls into the City to visit FAO Schwartz and the Top of Rockefeller Center, if it's a nice day. I think I'm going to drive in, which I'm super afraid of. Therefore, I must do it.

6. Darling Don Lockwood gave me a gift certificate to my favorite mani/pedi place as a thank you for being his dresser. (Though seeing him in his underoos four times a week was really thank you enough.) I love knowing that sometime soon, as spring begins to bloom in earnest, there's a pedicure coming!

7. I haven't killed my cactus yet, nor have I destroyed the orchid that Pete and Liana gave me. These are small miracles of spring, I think.

8. You know how I love a Peeps diorama. For your Friday pleasure, I offer the Peeps diorama contest winner:

9. Monday is our Browne family holiday, Patriot's Day. We will visit the Old North Bridge, picnic on chicken salad and my Aunt Maureen's recipe for Orange Blossom bars, visit historic houses with Patrick's Dad, and create another beautiful page for the scrapbook.

10. On my DVR, in preparation for vacation, I have a number of sitcom episodes to watch, and a little gem of a Rachael Ray show, featuring Ashley Judd. My little Sapphic Dream Come True. I am saving that as a treasure.

Life. Is. Good.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Taming the Fox

It turns out that getting him to actually show up at school might have been the easy part.

It's been three days, and he's definitely back to testing limits. He's trying out what it feels like to outwardly defy us. ("Sam, it's time to go to your locker." Response: "Nope." Or, "You need to wait to eat that snack till lunchtime." Response: "I want it now.") I am definitely struggling with the line of fair and equal here. For example, in a life of depravation, a Twix bar is a definite source of pleasure and status. Do I let him eat it, even though I don't generally let kids eat candy in my room? If he brings an iced tea that he earned from wiping down the tables in the dining common at "home," do I deny him the chance to drink that in class? To have that bragging right? To have that something where other kids maybe don't? Knowing, of course, that the other kids have so, so many more somethings than he has? Namely...parents. A house. Daily affirmation of worth.

I don't know. Questions that I still need to work through, one moment at a time. And I would appreciate any advice here.

So far, we (my teaching partner and I) have all managed to charm and cajole him from one class to the next, into his locker and out, completing one assignment at a time, just as he tries to charm and cajole us, in his own ways. You could choreograph a dance routine to the way we move around each other, complete with guest appearances from the counselor, the floor secretary who's taken a shine to him, the ridiculous, blustering supervisor who just sort of prances unpredictably from one side of the stage to the other with a shoe hanging out of his mouth.

I know, of course, that it's not enough to just be here. He's got to work. Hard. It's not supposed to be easy; nothing worthwhile ever is.

He still creeps up beside me, sort of suddenly leaning against my shoulder, or doing the tap-and-hide thing. I always respond with glad-to-see-you, now go-where-you're-supposed-to-be routine. I expect he'll tire of that soon, and I am not sure what I'll do with open defiance when it comes. And it will come, I know. Let's hope I have tamed him enough to me by then for the relationship to matter more than the Twix bar or the desire to avoid health class. (Not that I can blame him for that.)

I think often of that concept of taming people, expecially when it comes to my daughter. The idea of needing each other, establishing ties, and mindfully letting them matter. We all do that.

When it comes to troubled students, or any challening relationships, I think often of this passage from The Little Prince, which includes a quote that has been a favorite for my whole life, one that I used even in my high school yearbook: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What's essential is invisible to the eye." If you've read it before, it bears repeating. If it's new to you, enjoy. And maybe think about what you have tamed in your life, and what has tamed you. We're all the fox, sometimes, and sometimes the Prince. We all find our roses.

The Little Prince and the Fox

It was then that the fox appeared.

"Good morning" said the fox.

"Good morning" the little prince responded politely, although when he turned around he saw nothing.

"I am right here" the voice said, "under the apple tree."

"Who are you?" asked the little prince, and added, "You are very pretty to look at."

"I am a fox," the fox said.

"Come and play with me," proposed the little prince, "I am so unhappy."

"I cannot play with you," the fox said, "I am not tamed."

"Ah please excuse me," said the little prince. But after some thought, he added: "What does that mean--'tame'?"

"You do not live here," said the fox,

"What is it you are looking for?"

"I am looking for men," said the little prince.

"What does that mean--tame?"

"Men," said the fox, "they have guns, and they hunt. It is very disturbing. They also raise chickens. These are their only interests. Are you looking for chickens?"

"No," said the little prince. "I am looking for friends. What does that mean--tame?"

"It is an act too often neglected," said the fox. "It means to establish ties."

"To establish ties?"

"Just that," said the fox. "To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . ."

"I am beginning to understand," said the little prince. "There is a flower...I think she has tamed me..."

"It is possible," said the fox. "On earth one sees all sorts of things."

"Oh, but this is not on the earth!" said the little prince.

The fox seemed perplexed, and very curious. "On another planet?"


"Are there hunters on that planet?"


"Ah, that is interesting! Are there chickens?"


"Nothing is perfect," sighed the fox. But he came back to his idea. "My life is very monotonous," he said. "I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat..."

The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time. "Please--tame me!" he said.

"I want to, very much," the little prince replied. "But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand."

"One only understands the things that one tames," said the fox. "Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me..."

"What must I do, to tame you?" asked the little prince.

"You must be very patient," replied the fox. First you will sit down at a little distance from me--like that--in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day..."

The next day the little prince came back.

"It would have been better to come back at the same hour," said the fox. "If for example, you came at four o'clock in the afternoon, then at three o'clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o'clock, I shall be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is ready to greet you...One must observe the proper rites..."

"What is a rite?" asked the little prince.

"Those also are actions too often neglected," said the fox. "They are what make one day different from other days, one hour different from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all."

So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near--

"Ah," said the fox, "I shall cry."

"It is your own fault," said the little prince. "I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you..."

"Yes, that is so," said the fox.

"But now you are going to cry!" said the little prince.

"Yes, that is so," said the fox.

"Then it has done you no good at all!"

"It has done me good," said the fox, "because of the color of the wheat fields." And then he added: "Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world. Then come back to say goodbye to me, and I will make you a present of a secret."

The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.

"You are not at all like my rose," he said. "As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made a friend, and now he is unique in all the world."

And the roses were very much embarrassed.

"You are beautiful, but you are empty," he went on. "One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you--the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose."

And he went back to meet the fox. "Goodbye," he said. "Goodbye," said the fox. "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

"What is essential is invisible to the eye," the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

"It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.

"It is the time I have wasted for my rose---" said the little prince so he would be sure to remember.

"Men have forgotten this truth," said the fox. "But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose . . . "

"I am responsible for my rose," the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Hammer and a Nail

This Indigo Girls song feeling like my anthem this spring. I know I'm not actually clearing webs from hovels and feeding the homeless, but in my corner of the world, I'm doing what I can.

My new little guy quit school last week. Calls were made to this therapist and that counselor to try to get him back, and it didn't work. So I went and got him. On Saturday morning, I tromped myself down to the boys' home where he's living, delivered the novel we're reading with the page marked that we'd be on Monday, and a note that basically said that school is the ticket out of where he is now...and the reasons why I know that first hand. Being smart and working hard can change the course of his life. And he's got to choose it for himself, care about it for himself, because no one else is going to do it for him. Reality bites.

He was in school yesterday, and came again today, only for first period English class, even though he had a doctor's appointment and totally could have used that as an excuse to stay home. "Home." Such as it is.

I'll never know if it made the difference, and truthfully, I don't care. I really don't. I am not trying to be the hero, and I can only hope that I am just one of many voices sending the message to this kid that he matters, school matters, and things can get better. And I was often told as a teenager that I should not get involved with other people's problems, that I should not rock the boat, that I should "lie low" and fade into the shadows. Wait and see. Feel it out before you take action. Sit with your chin in your hand in a thoughtful pose. But it's against my nature, and always was. My gut was telling me to take this one small action, even though it really wasn't my place. To know that there was something I could potentially do, and to decide not to do it, would have been a betrayal to the only truth I can hold on to, which is that we are all knit, we are all tied, and that people come into each other's lives for a reason. "If I have a care in the world, I have a gift to bring."

And I'm not writing about this so you can give me a cookie, or say, "Yay you." I'm writing because it's been a moment in my life where I have re-learned the lesson that I need to follow through. This whole blog is largely about that. Lessons learned along the way, my ephiphanies and discoveries and my attempts to live authentically. This event, this child, has been teaching me. In the grand scheme, it might not matter, and his story might have a sad ending. But I've got two more months, at least, to try to alter that trajectory, just a tiny bit. I have to do what I can...because I can.

There have been a number of times in my life where I have felt compelled to take a bold action that seemed to make no sense, that seemed to step way over the boundaries of what was appropriate. When my principal was dying, and I barely knew them but felt like I was "supposed" to help them. When Matt died two years ago and I felt like I needed to be there for the Thayer kids through that, even though I technically didn't really "belong." Other people's dramas that I got involved in, even though I was cautioned against it. I felt compelled, and I went, and I found out, later, what the reasons were. And both cases, as well as some other times that compelling voice has led me, changed my life. Changed me, in my core. Chemical change. I know the difference, now, between that voice and others. And that voice has its theme songs. Obviously.

This song was on the mix CD that I was listening to on Saturday morning as I peeled away from this boys' home in the woods, all spread out like some sort of summer camp for the kids no one knows what to do with. My happy, healthy, adored daughters were in the backseat, crumbs on their faces from the chocolate chip muffins I was able to buy them at Dunkin Donuts on the way down. We were going shopping for new spring t-shirts. And even though money is tight, and we have to budget and make sacrifices and can't have everything we want, we have so, so much. Bounteous gifts, and I never want to take them for granted.

I think often about the fact that I could so easily have ended up...somewhere else, like so many others in my family. Like this little boy, or like my brother. But through my own hard work and determination, and the many, many sacrifices of my mother, I ended up here, with a home and family that I try daily to deserve, having the chance to try to change the twelve year old at a time.

A Hammer and a Nail
by the Indigo Girls

Clearing webs from the hovel
a blistered hand on the handle of a shovel
I've been digging too deep, I always do.

I see my face on the surface
I look a lot like narcissus
A dark abyss of an emptiness
Standing on the edge of a drowning blue.

I look behind my ears for the green
Even my sweat smells clean
Glare off the white hurts my eyes

Gotta get out of bed get a hammer and a nail
Learn how to use my hands, not just my head
I think myself into jail
Now I know a refuge never grows
From a chin in a hand in a thoughtful pose
Gotta tend the earth if you want a rose.

I had a lot of good intentions
Sit around for fifty years and then collect a pension,
Started seeing the road to hell and just where it starts.

But my life is more than a vision
The sweetest part is acting after making a decision
I started seeing the whole as a sum of its parts.

Gotta get out of bed get a hammer and a nail
Learn how to use my hands, not just my head
I think myself into jail
Now I know a refuge never grows
From a chin in a hand in a thoughtful pose
Gotta tend the earth if you want a rose.

My life is part of the global life
I'd found myself becoming more immobile
When I'd think a little girl in the world can't do anything.

A distant nation my community
A street person my responsibility
If I have a care in the world I have a gift to bring.

Gotta get out of bed get a hammer and a nail
Learn how to use my hands, not just my head
I think myself into jail
Now I know a refuge never grows
From a chin in a hand in a thoughtful pose
Gotta tend the earth if you want a rose

Monday, April 4, 2011


Dear Self,

I often feel that I need to leave you post-it notes in prominent locations to remind you of critical bits of information. Here is a collection of these notes to assist you in your daily endeavors:

1.) Don't wear ballet flats in early April. Your classroom is a refridgerator, and your feet become like those little pink lemonade ice-tray popsicles. Only less tasty.

2.) Do not forget to put on your deoderant in the morning. You will, of course, forget far more often than a smart woman should, so if you do, I refer you to the ones you keep hidden in your work tote, your school coat closet, and your glove department. When all else fails, remember that the school nurse keeps some trial sizes on hand for the smelly kids, just in case.

3.) You hate curry, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, and anything that could be remotely described as smoky. Avoid ordering things with these in restaurants, or you will be unhappy. Really. Quit trying to like them. It's totally okay that you don't.

4.) You think you will eat 12 containers of yogurt this week, but you will not. Stop buying so freaking many!

5.) And on that subject, you really do not need four different jars of cumin, white vinegar, or dry mustard.

6.) Fiber One bars, though delicious and low calorie, make you fart. Do not eat these in school because you cannot keep blaming it on the 6th grade boys.

7.) People can actually see you when you are driving in your car. Refrain from overly acting both sides of musical theatre duets, picking your nose, or using the F-word at scary fellow drivers.

8.) Even if no one sees you eat that chocolate, it still counts. I cannot emphasize this fact more strenuously. Your jeans don't lie. They merely judge you, rightly so.

9.) Wearing a baseball cap to Target or the supermarket on Saturday to cover your unwashed hair does not render you invisible. It is, in fact, an open invitation to the universe for you to run into an ex-boyfriend, or a hot dad of some student in your class. Usually, with tampons in your shopping cart. A little lipstick, dear, as your grandmother would say.

10.)Mental health days are a valid form of personal therapy. And cheaper than spas, pharmaceuticals, and desert hot springs. Screw guilt and enjoy sitting on the couch watching retro movies from time to time.


Sometimes I look back on a weekend, and can hardly believe how very much I fit inside of it. Since Friday I had four performances, a husband to nurse through lithotripsy recovery, a daughter to whom to teach a firm lesson in What Happens When You Blow Off a School Project, a staff rehearsal for the one number they're doing in the middle school play, meals to prepare, groceries to buy, Family Movie Night to meaningfully accomplish, and approximately 37 loads of laundry - one of them twice, when Amelia left a blue crayon in her pocket.

Monday comes and it's a relief to *only* have to teach 6th grade for a little while.

And I'm not even complaining about it. Obviously, I like being busy, even need to be in order to feel that I am being productive and contributing to the world. But I feel recently that I have been caught in a maelstrom and can't quite get my head above the water. I'm looking for some places where I can just say no.

Plus, I really miss my friends, and my mom, none of whom I have seen very much at all lately. Pete and Liana came to see the show on Friday night, and brought me a plant which was delivered during our warm-up circle. I felt exactly like a rock star, and then proceeded to screw up during the Broadway Melody dance worse than I ever had...and that's saying something. Sigh.

In the midst of all of the craziness this weekend, though, I did manage to fit in a little scrapbooking, and even took an hour nap on Saturday afternoon, curled up on the couch with my Real Simple magazine on my lap. So there are moments of quiet in the midst of it all.

I had a dream last night that we had to make a quick getaway from some sort of major disaster (2012? Zombie Apocolypse? I don't even know.) I could take Ginger, but I couldn't take the two other cats that lived in my house, and one of them I had to kill with my bare hands in order to spare her torment. Horrible, and she was so tiny in my hands. I remember having to think carefully about what to bring with me, and I remember which of my books I grabbed off the shelves, the sweatshirts I couldn't leave behind, and that I remember to pack both the canned goods AND the can opener, something I surely would not have been likely to accomplish in real life. I remember thinking, too, in the dream, that leaving all of my journals behind was not as hard as I thought it would be. Still, I woke up sweating and whimpering and Patrick had to pet me back to sleep. This is not the first time I have had this dream, and in it, sometimes I have a family to save, and sometimes I don't.

I believe that dreams are meaningful, especially if you remember them so vividly. I wonder, sometimes, what I'm running from.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


From the back seat of the car...

Abby: Monkeys are really smart. They're practically human.

Amelia: They're not practically human. They just have hands.

Abby: No, they're really smart! I saw one sneeze and then wipe his nose with a tissue.

Abby: Octopusses are the smartest animals. They can climb into a box, lock it, and then climb into a smaller box, and then figure out how to get out again.

Abby: But monkeys can hold onto to trees with their tails! It's like having three hands.

Amelia: Whales are smarter. They have huge brains, and their own language.

Mom: Elephants are really smart, too.

Abby: I know. They can play soccer. I saw it on TV.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

An exchange with my new student, who I will call Sam...

Mrs. B: Hey, Sam, what did you have for breakfast this morning?

Sam: Granola Bar.

Mrs. B: Well, it made you even smarter today, because you're doing an awesome job on those comprehension questions. You should eat a granola bar for breakfast every day. Your brain likes them.

The next morning...

Sam: Hey, Mizz B...look! (Pulls three granola bars from his pocket.) I bought them with my own money. I'm gonna rock your world today.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Another student exchange...

Kate: Mrs. B, can I ask you a question?

Mrs. B: Of course.

Kate: How is your coffee this morning?

Mrs. B: It's fine, thanks.

Kate: I'm glad to hear that because I have some bad news...

Mrs. B: What's that?

Kate: I'm going to Harry Potter world and my parents said I can't take you with me.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Come on, Spring. Get on with it.

I have a very intense reaction to daffodils.

The sight of them fills me with optimism, admiration, and cheer. Their bulbs live under the frozen earth from autumn to March and then, just when they can't stand the cold for one more second, they defy the early spring chill and burst, dammit, and fie on frost. I admire that determination and respect that perseverence.

I read this in Yankee Magazine this month, which says the same thing, only more artfully:

There's a moment, tentative and bewildered. Somewhere beneath the snow, a bulb gets brave, stirs a little, cracks its skin, and begins to push through frozen ground.

Reaching toward pale light, it's a small gesture, but grand. Overhead the sky is brilliant, a jolt of cobalt blue. The calendar says spring, March 20, but this is New England, after all, where dates are merely suggestions...Really we're in the hands of the gods here.

Until the earth begins to move - literally beneath our feet. Tiny spears poking up everywhere, specks of green and knobby buds flexing themselves, and then, like a torrent, unstoppable, it spreads north. Early March, at the first hint of warmth, crocuses bloom - golden, purple and white - nestled in goblets of snow. Following in April by daffodils, tulips, and then, in May, blossoms of every kind: apple, lilac, dogwood. And now there's no turning back, a river bursting its banks, color seeping out of the snow.

I find spring frustrating, honestly. Spring in New England feels so reluctant and teasing. It knows how badly we want it, and it dangles its delights just out of reach, one sixty-degree afternoon at a time, until finally it just gives in, gives up, and gives lilacs. My favorite. I'm feeling all sorts of pagan right now about spring, wishing for rituals and things to light on fire.

This is our first spring in our new house, and I really have no idea what to expect. We moved at the start of May last year, so I found peonies which I thought were perfectly magical, lilac bushes with no flowers on them, and rhododendrons that really never fully delivered on their promises. (That was true of all rhododendrons in New England last year...I forget why.) I haven't found any crocuses yet, or daffodils, but they might be in some little undiscovered spot.

Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the day we were told that we would not get to have this house. It's over, the bank told us. It's being foreclosed, and you sold your little yellow house and wasted all this time for nothing. I cried and fussed and smashed dishes, and then found another house. One week after that, they changed their minds, and we signed a Purchase and Sale agreement on this, our House of Dreams with a Room for Everyone and a Dunkin Donuts on the corner. It's turned out to be even more wonderful than I had even hoped...which is saying something, because my hopes were high.

I have high hopes for this Spring, too, and the new ways this season will inspire me to grow and learn and stomp about in the mud, searching for daffodils and robins and all manner of buds below. Hurry! It's lovely here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


I'm feeling super bratty today. I'm personally offended that it's snowing outside, frustrated that my classroom vent is blowing out freezing air, and not entirely in the mood to sing and dance tonight.

I have a crick in my neck from falling asleep on the couch last night (again) and there's a boy in my class who is currently sniffing, like clockwork, every 14 seconds. I've timed it.

I spilled my vegetable soup all over the inside of my lunch bag this morning, and my coffee did not have enough cream this morning. I want to eat muffins and bagels and other carb-a-rific, sabotaging treats, but instead am nibbling dry Special K from a mug.

I want to wear sandals and go out to lunch. (This last from "Private Benjamin," one of my mother's most-quoted movies, and my go-to line for being dissatisfied with my current condition.) I can't find the new Jane Eyre playing anywhere around here, and even if I could, I have no time to see it, anyhow.

Now that I have released all of those toxins, I suppose I should balance it by some happy thoughts:

Summer's coming. My trip to NYC, my cruise, time on the front porch with a novel. All on it's way.

I read a poem today about how you can only truly know kindness if you've known deep sorrow. Now, I've had stuff happen to me, sure, but all in all, I've been incredibly blessed. My daughters are healthy and brilliant and getting more fun and interesting every single day. My husband still loves me. My mom is well and happy and while I've had sadness, I've been blessed to avoid the soul-crushing losses that would threaten to shatter me. So far. Knock on wood. I'm just feeling grateful for that today.

The other positive thing is that I spent some time in the Athenaeum last night organizing all of my scrapbook stuff, and figuring out which pictures I need to print, and getting myself all set up to go back to my albums. It's been ages, and it filled me with cheer. I know they're super corny, but I like knowing that I have a tangible tribute to my little family life, and a visible expression of how very much I am loving their childhoods.

Okay. I feel much better now.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

It's the Little Things...

Whenever I feel like writing something, but feel at a loss for what to say, my go-to exercise is a gratitude list.

1. I am super grateful for my new washing machine and it's little "Let's begin!" and "I'm done!" songs. I'm especially grateful that Patrick figured out how to install in when the technicial wouldn't do it on Sunday. I am further grateful to have three nights at home in which to wash all the clothes that have piled up for three weeks.

2. I watched Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince with my whole family last night, and I am ever grateful that HP has been part of my life for the past decade. I seriously feel lucky about that way more often than you'd think.

3. I'm grateful that when I pull up at the Dunkin' Donuts drive-through in the morning, the servers know my voice, and will ask if I want "the usual." It's nice to be known.

4. I'm so grateful for the coming of Spring. I'd be gratefuller if it would come a leeeetle faster.

5. My house-a-versary is coming up, and I'm daily grateful for my house. I am actually grateful for the week in which I believed I had lost it, because it makes me appreciate it all the more.

6. I am grateful for the poet Billy Collins, my favorite. Here is one I just enjoy:

And here is one I use every year in my classroom:

7. I am grateful to have been told this week that the Salvation Army is a hugely anti-gay organization. (Which others have evidently known for a long time...where have I been on this one? And what are some other ones I should know about, but don't, besides the Boy Scouts?) They fire employees if they find out that they're gay, and they give a lot of money to anti-gay causes. Now, I can bypass the bell-ringers without guilt and donate my money and old clothing elsewhere. And it's another excellent reason why Guys and Dolls can stay dead to me for eternity.

8. I am grateful for the hour I passed so pleasantly in the Athenaeum last night, drinking a glass of my favorite cheap chardonnay (Hacienda, if you're interested) and reading my Oprah magazine while Patrick made a delicious dinner. (Some sort of turkey stew and corn muffins, if you're further interested.)

9. I am grateful for all of my beloveds who came to see me in the show this weekend, even though it's expensive. Not that everyone should, because I hardly ever get to see people in things unless it's for work, but it was still so nice to know that there were people out there, loving me, and caring about my own little Maxi Fords more than anyone else's.

10. A friend posted a youtube poetry slam on my Facebook page last night about teachers, which I loved. At a dinner party, this poet/teacher was asked, disparagingly, "What do you make?" Instead of answering with his salary, he (poetically) responded: "I make a C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor, and I make an A- feel like a slap in the face if you haven't given your best." Finally, he came to the answer "I make a goddamned difference." When I heard that, I remembered what I wrote in my high school yearbook under "Ambition." It was the cliched "To make a difference." And then this morning, in my Notes from the Universe, it said something about having achieved exactly what you hoped for. So, I'm grateful for that.

If you're reading this, go make your own gratitude list right now, even if it's just spoken aloud in your car or just in your head. It'll make you feel much better about your life.

Monday, March 21, 2011

In the Flow

In the past few years, I've spent a lot of time waiting for things to happen, especially when it came to my teaching life. I was waiting for a particular door to open, and I've only recently come to truly face the fact that it's just not going to happen. Rather than shaking my fist against the sky about it, I've decided to focus hard on blooming where I'm planted, and kicking my committment to 6th grade up a notch. The results have been...well, bloomy. My kids are doing great, we're smack in the middle of the most fun unit of the year (Greek mythology), I've just done a ton of cleaning out and purging and organizing, and I'm finding energy to create new things, make old things better, and just generally go along with the positive flow.

My new little guy is transitioning well. He's fighting against doing work, which it seems has not really been expected of him until now, and I'm using my Maria Von Trapp "firm but kind" mentality. (Insert lyrics to "I Have Confidence" here.) I'm finding little ways to connect to him, reasons to praise him, and on the one day last week when he didn't show up to school, I called the boys' home looking for him, got him on the phone, and basically told him to get his skinny little butt to school where he belongs. He hasn't missed a day since. He will, of course, but I'll deal with that when it comes.

In other news, my show is going well. It's hard to face three more weekends when I'm always done with a show in one, but it's a whole different ballgame being on this side of the process. When I'm directing, my work feels like it's never ever done. I dream about the show, I think about it all the live-long day, I expend tons of energy with emails, organizing, and all of the little tasks that come with being In Charge. In this, I do my thing and go home. And that's been lovely. The cast is all very nice, and I've remembered that really, the bulk of the "bonding" does actually happen during production week, when you're in the flow of the show and finding your patterns. You do a quick change next to the same person every night. You wait for an entrance every night beside someone else. You help the same person with a zipper at the same spot each day. That's how it all happens. The personalities are all very different in this cast, but I'm really fond of them all now. The funniest line of the week was from my favorite of the "sassy gay boys," describing a particularly zany and clueless, but immensely talented girl: "She's a heart of gold wrapped in a mess. But not like a dirty mess, a mess like a kitten all tangled up in too much string."

My home life, though it's been busy with all of my rehearsals this week, is definitely continuing to improve with the coming of spring.

All in all, life is very good right now. This doesn't do much for creative or interesting things to blog about, but honestly...I'll take it while it lasts.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dear Parents of Sixth Graders

Dear Parents of Sixth Graders,

As we enter into spring, I know our year is on its downward arc. I have had a lovely year, really, and there are so many of you who are doing a spectacular job raising kind, industrious, respectful, and altogether delightful human beings. It is an honor to know them, and a true pleasure to spend each day in their company.

Some of you, unfortunately, are creating some challenges. While I know that your child's whole persona is not always a result of your parenting, much of it is within your control. So while I am not terribly far from bidding your precious cherubs goodbye, I feel that there are just a few small requests I'd like to make to ensure that our remaining time together is productive, peaceful, and as pleasant as possible.

1. We have a big project coming up on Ancient Greece, which includes a diorama and a written oration. Please do not go to Michael's Crafts, spend $83, and tape the receipt to the project, "just so I know." If you are stupid enough to spend $83 on one foolish school project, then the likelihood of your child earning an A is slim. (Reference any sort of apple/tree metaphors here.) Furthermore, I have been working with your child every day for seven months. I know his work. I also know a Mommy-made diorama in a split second.

2. Please make sure your child bathes. His/her hormones are tap dancing exuberantly throughout every bodily inch, and showering should really happen every day.

3. Please do not email me about your child's bowel movements. Constipation is not an acceptable excuse for why your child might not be focused in Social Studies class. On the same subject, please don't tell me that your child is clearly advanced because he was potty trained at two and a half. That does not necessarily correlate to his performance in 6th grade. Oh, how I wish it could.

4. If you write me an email with multiple misspellings, I will, unfortunately, judge you. Use the freaking spell check. And don't use the word "freaking" in your emails to me, nor any thing resembling "lol" or "jk." Punctuation is also greatly appreciated.

5. If I tell you that your daughter is "too focused on socializing," or "ahead of the developmental curve," that is teacher speak for boy crazy. You've got a problem on your hands. Read her texts if you need to (since you pay for them), pay attention to her email, and please, talk to her about her life. More importantly, listen to her.

6. If you are ultra-conservative and offended by gays or the issue of homosexuality, or the tentative awareness of sexuality in general, get yourself a different 6th grade teacher for your child. Statistically, two students in each of my classes will be gay. I will give them a voice, a haven, and will daily send the message that "it gets better." I'll do the same for every geeky, disenfranchised, still-searching-for-a-tribe awkward bunny. I may not make a difference, but I will try. It might be uncomfortable for everyone, but I'll bust through it anyhow, because it needs to be done.

7. If you write me a note and fail to put the "e" on the end of my name, I will absolutely take it personally.

8. If I offend you, and you offer, as retaliation, to "trash my name" to your friends and neighbors, my response will be... "Bring it." I am not afraid of the likes of you. If I don't like you, chances are your friends and neighbors probably don't like you either.

9. I try very hard to find reasons to praise your child, as often as possible. When your child is wonderful, I look for any opportunity to let you know. As you can see, I generally hear from parents when something is wrong, or when they're mad at me. And little word of pleasantry or kindness makes such a difference. Just send a one-line and tell me your child likes school...that alone will make my day and fill me with positive energy that will shine directly back onto your child.

10. And this one is the most important of all...if you make constant excuses for your child's work ethic or behavior, or if you blame me for his lack of effort and investment, or if you trash me as the "authority figure" in front of your child, you are doing yourself a major disservice. I only have your child until 3:00 each day. You get to keep him all night, and you get to be the one who gets him out of bed in the morning. More importantly, come June, he's aaaaalllll yours. And guess who that "authority figure" will be when your child is 14 and running around after curfew? That would be you. While I will honor and do my best to teach your child for these ten months, the truth is, when she leaves me, I won't think about her very much again. I will your child's name on a piece of paper and light it on fire on the last day of school. (Nothing personal, of course.) And unless we are kindred spirits, or unless there has been some major significant event between us, your child's face will fade into a sea of thousands who have come and gone before. You, Parent, get to keep her. Good luck with that.

Thank you for your consideration. Happy Spring!

Your Child's Teacher

P.S...If your child is a public nose-picker, please do not send in baked goods. I will assume your child has helped make them and they will go into the trash. Sorry.

Monday, March 14, 2011


** Did you know that when Gene Kelly filmed the title scene for Singin' in the Rain, he had a 103' fever? It took three days. The filming of the movie was months and months long. It blows my mind that our Don Lockwood in our show has to do all of those song and dance routines all in one night, like 30 times this month. I'm his dresser, which is fun because it's another thing to do so I'm not standing around just waiting, but my biggest fear was that he was going to need me to tie his shoes, which scared the dickens out of me. I can only imagine watching him tap dancing on a desk with a shoelace flapping, ankles in peril, and it being all my fault. He doesn't, though. Thank goodness.

**There are days when I come to school and feel like I can't possibly face one more day of reading Greek mythology plays. The very idea makes me want to curl up and cry. But I know that everyone feels that way about their job sometimes, and that I'm so lucky to get to work in a clean and stable place, in a classroom that I decorated myself, surrounded by stuffed Kermit the Frogs, wonderful books, Mary Englebreit posters and kid art. Things could definitely be worse...and will be, a few weeks from now, when spring comes and the boys all get really smelly.

**You know what's fun? When really annoying, unpleasant people do stupid things, right in front of you. It's such a gratifying feeling. I know that statement does not come from my Higher Self. It's just me being snarky, which we all have to be sometimes.

**My Mom very kindly did our laundry this weekend, because our washer is broken. And we are currently dealing with the situation by just kind of putting our fingers in our ears and going, "Noooooo! Nononnnnooooo!"

**Today is Pi Day, 3/14. Everyone should celebrate this by eating pie. Whyever wouldn't you?

**My favorite time of my teaching day is from 12:15 till 12:45, the half hour before lunch when kids go either to band or chorus, and whoever remains just reads, and I read, too. Because, you see, a hallmark of a good educator is to model what you want your students to be doing. That's what I say. But really, I just want to drift away for a half hour under the guise of "working." It's a way to take a breath in the midst of an intense day of business. Sometimes I read school things, novels I might use for my class. Usually I don't, though. And when I'm reading something saucy, I cover the title with post-its so the kids don't know.

**There is something I very much enjoy and even respect about very pretentious people, as long as they are sincerely deep into their characterization, whether it be "Hair Stylist" or "Designer" or "Serious Educator." If they're really into their role, and use their vocabulary and terminology with gusto and verve, I find myself willing to say, "You go for it. You be that Writing Consultant with all that you've got. I'm on board." While I think I have as much temptation to be pretentious as anyone, naming rooms after Greek goddesses and things, I don't think I have an all-out Persona like that. I think if I had to pick one, it would mostly be "Frantic Working Mother." Or maybe "Theatre Dork." I don't even know.

**Someone gave me an unexpected compliment this week, and said that I have "elan." I had to look that up in the dictionary, but it means "dash and vivacity," or "enthusiastic vigor and liveliness." It was really such a lovely compliment and something I want to strive to be. have. How exactly do you use that word? Anyway, it was awfully nice and made me feel glad that someone who doesn't know me well would detect that I just like life so much. Now that I've written this, I am thinking that it's probably bad manners to post a compliment about yourself in your blog...or pretentious, anyhow. So now I can change my title to "Pretentious Blogger."

And that is all I have to say for today.

Friday, March 11, 2011


My new little student is an interesting case. Today was his 4th day of school, and according to his records, 4 days might be the longest consecutive time he has been in school in at least two years. Over the past few days, he's done a little testing of limits, typical 6th grade stuff, but we've steered him toward some very positive role models and he seems to be catching on. He has taken to just sort of...standing next to me, for no reason. Or it will be towards the end of class, and he'll come up to my desk and just...touch things. My cowbell, the spikes of the cactus (a gift that I hope he doesn't get too attached to, because like anything living I touch, its days are totally numbered.) He looks at my photos of my girls, and asks for Altoids, which I totally give him, even though I'm probably not supposed to. He reminds me of a kitten I'm trying to coax out from under a shed, tentative and still suspicious, but eager for the light.

Today he came to school with what was obviously a migraine, and because he's not yet 12, the people at the group home were not "allowed" to give him tylenol, even though he is obviously suffering, and it's not like he has a parent they can call to ask permission. So they sent him to us. Like that. I sent him to the nurse, who called everyone and sundry to get permission to give him medicine, and then he came back to me, where I just let him sit and read (He says he doesn't like to read, but I gave him two graphic novels, which he has devoured in the past two days.) He didn't want to sit with his group, so he sat at the desk attached to mine, which is considered Andrea's desk. There he sat, while the other kids did their work, reading his graphic novel, listening to the new agey Celtic Flute music I had on to muffle the hum of literature circles...and he fell completely asleep. Right there in the middle of the room. No one noticed, and his face was to the wall, and the kids were all working I just let him sleep. For, like, an hour. And I don't even care. I do not care if this kid can tell the difference between a metaphor and a simile. I don't care if he ever learns all the Greek gods of Mt. Olympus, or how to properly construct a topic sentence. I just want him to know that somewhere he goes, there are gentle people who will meet his basic needs as much as we possibly can.

I feel a strong sense of purpose toward this child. And I'm not quite sure why, but I do know that when that happens, when my gut tells me to pay attention to someone, I have to follow through. I'll keep you posted.

In other news, production week starts with Super Sunday on Sunday...and I am not in charge. Just the knowledge of that fact alone is tickling my fancy today.

Thinking of the people of Japan today, and Hawaii and California. And, incidentally, all of the news of earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, fires and tornadoes lately does nothing to asuage my secret insane fear about the world ending in 2012. Just me?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I Did it Again!

I fell in love three times today.

First, with the delicious soup I made in my crockpot on Sunday. It was Mexican chicken and corn chowder, a recipe from a very good cook at my school. And, even though every episode that involves my cooking could be subtitled, "What did I screw up this time?" it turned out surprisingly well in the end. I loved getting to enjoy that soup while reading something that made me laugh at Annoying People. The whole of that moment was number one.

Number two was the scene on Glee with Kurt and his dad talking about sex. I want to be that parent so badly. He was brilliant. I am trying. I rewound in three times.

Number three is about to happen...I have never turned on the new Conan O'Brien show until today, and the one time I do, he happens to have Gary Oldman as a guest on his show. I looooove Gary Oldman. We all have our lists of our top five "if you get a chance to sleep with this person, go for it" people. (Oh, shut up. You have them too.) Anyway, he's the top of mine. Plus Colin Firth, but only now that he's older. And the guy who played Gilbert Blythe. And, like, three dead people.

Patrick has them too, but I will be honorable and not tell you who they are.

Anyhoooo...Gary Oldman is about to be on Conan O'Brien, and I just happen to be up past my bedtime to be able to see it. I am awake because I'm waiting for the fire in the fireplace to go out...which, when you think about it, is a very delightful thing to get to do.

How Much it Matters

I got a new student today. He came with dark forewarnings - troubled past, foster care, group home, history of running away from school. He showed up today on a bus from the group home with a "dew-rag" (did I spell that right?) and a gigantic chip on his shoulder. It took me one second to look in his eyes and know...he needs us. He is supposed to be here. There is a light in this child's eyes, and I have work to do. Work worth doing. I have no idea, yet, what his exact story is, and I don't yet want to know. I'll find out soon enough.

Several years ago I had the most troubled student I have ever taught. He came to me just released from juvenille detention, having been placed there for trying to strangle his mother with a telephone cord. For good reason, actually, as it turned out. This child's story was the most horrifying I had ever heard, and his parents were beasts. I looked in his eyes...and saw only pain, fury, and raw rage that I never managed to soothe. He was like a dog that had been kicked and beaten and starved, and knew no other recourse than to bite anyone that came near. That child made every single day difficult for me. He was viper-mean to the boys, disgusting to the girls, dark through and through. And while I did my best with him, I didn't feel, at the time, that I had a chance in hell of making any progress with him. I chose, instead, to just try to make it through, be as gentle as possible with him, but to make protecting the others from him the higher priority. I felt like a failure every day, because I never felt like I succeeded with either goal.

On the second to last day of school, though, one of my team-mates in my class asked the students to write an answer to the following question: "What will you bring with you into the future from this class?" His answer was scribbled and hasty, like everything he wrote for me during that year: "I will take courage and happyness because Mrs. Browne helped me with my all of my problems and she will not know how much it mattered." He tore the paper, and pressed just that sentence into my hands on his way out the door. He didn't come back for the last day. That torn scrap of paper hangs on my bulletin board still, and always will. I look at it every single day. I still don't know what will become of that boy, but I know that whenever I have another one remotely like him, I keep that one sentence in mind..."she will not know how much it mattered."

This whole concept fills me with both shame and determination every day. Shame that I didn't do more, do better, and determination that given the chance again, I will do better. I will do more.

This boy might not have the same level of damage as the other one, and he might not stay. And I might read this in a month and want to slap myself for my plucky "I Have Confidence in Sunshine" attitude today. But I know that I will do the best I can with this new challenge, and that part of being a teacher is the simple fact that you pour your soul into your kids the best you can, and with a very few'll never know how much it matters, or if it matters at all.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Question Only

As I make my way back into blogging, I have found that I am kind of operating more like a public journal than a topic-driven blog right now. Just so you know. This is what my actual brain sounds like.

Here I am in the week-before-production week for this show that I'm in, and the lessons continue to deepen for me. Lessons about committment and focus and tone and operating under pressure. I realized two things, that for better or worse, I take every single group note totally personally. And often, it is personal, because I am personally not where I should be, despite my cheat sheets and highlighted index cards in my pockets. Sometimes it's not personal, though, and I still can't keep from internalizing everything, just like I do when I'm on the other side of the process. I eat, sleep and breathe the shows that I direct, as these directors do, and just being *in* the cast does not seem to change that fact. It seems to be built into my wiring now. So, this is a great reminder to me that when I direct, there are very likely cast members like me taking things on their shoulders that may or may not be theirs. And...that getting legit pissed off from time to time and telling people to get heads in the game is an effective tool to light a fire under people's arses.

And... I still can't dance. Even with remedial Maxi Ford for Dummies lesson from a super nice dancer this evening. Not even kinda. Hopeless case.

On Wednesday, I have to go to this Teachers Write writing workshop, and I have no idea what to bring. I've been sifting through some past writing - blog entries, a bit of a chapter of something I wrote about my grandmother's brother and sister in law, a thing about being beaten up by bullies in 5th grade. I have no idea what to share, or even if I should. No one at my school knows I have this blog, and I can't imagine that my "Dear Sixth Grade Boy" posts would go over so well with the administration, should they stumble upon it. I mean, I don't think I have ever posted anything totally inappropriate, but public education, one does have to err on the side of caution. Not sure what to do about this.

Which leads me to the concept of censorship. Both my own self-imposed censorship, and that which is imposed upon me by outside forces. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I ever really let loose...put out into the world everything I write...decided that there was, in fact, no such thing as an "acceptable level of truth..." except the raw truth itself.

It'll never happen. I believe in relative truth...and that some things are for certain eyes only. I have written plenty of things that I would not want my mother to read. I have written plenty of things that I don't want ANYONE to read, all the manic ravings and shameful confessions of my dramatic, hormonally imbalanced spirit. They're in my journals, but don't make it here, generally. In flipping through these blog entries this afternoon in search of something to bring to the workshop, I'm struck by the rosy, optimistic, upbeat sort of personality that is so prevalent in these postings. I'm also aware, though, that it's only part of the story, and I can only hope that people who know me...or even readers who don't...will know that just like everyone else, I have so many shadow sides. I'm cranky and petty and jealous and snappish and lazy and moody. Sometimes. But I don't want the world to read all of that. Is that a gross lack of authenticity, then? If my blog sounds like Mary-Freaking-Sunshine all the time, is it actually a portrait of a real person, or just a caricature of the person I want everyone to think I am?

The optimism is real. The gratitude is very, very real. The appreciation of my friends, my amazement at my daughters, the sense of mission and purpose I feel in my life as a teacher...all real. But that's not all of me. Not nearly all. What is my "all?"

I have no answer to this. Just pondering the question.

Yellow Brick Road

The following little classroom snapshot is random and possibly not at all interesting, but I'm trying to be dedicated to writing often, if not especially well, so here goes...

I've started really working to integrate more writing into my classroom curriculum this year. There's a picture book I read to my students to inspire them to think about place, and there's a line that says, "Our stories live in all of the places to love." In one classroom lesson, I have my students brainstorm their favorite places, as specifically as possible. (So, not "the beach," but "the big flat white rock on the middle of the jetty of Plymouth Beach.") Then, I have them go through the list, and using an plastic overlay sheet, they jot a phrase to remind them of something that happened there. ("Where my dad slipped into the bay while we were fishing," or "where I lost my favorite ring.")

After that, I have them take the list and choose one particular place where many of their stories hide and create a map. One girl wrote about her summer camp, for example, and drew out a map of the place and labeled it with things like "where the horse sneezed on Katie" or "the tree that Jake and I ate lunch under every day." They all got the concept (rare to have 100% clarity on anything in 6th grade), and the results were very detailed, and have served as a springboard for lots of narrative writing in the past few weeks.

When my students draw, I draw. When they write, I write. Because I tend to tell them stories of my geeky, disenfranchised middle school existance (the moral of the story ALWAYS being "It Gets Better") I decided to make my "place" the auditorium of my middle school, where I performed both middle school musicals and a couple of high school ones as well, being a larger facility and one with removeable seating.

Here is my map:

Now, I draw as well as I dance...which is to say, like CRAP, but in case you can't read it, some of the captions include "stairs where the scenery collapsed under me while I was singing a solo" and "backstage, where Pauling caught me making fun of her to other people."

The kids all had to choose a spot from one of their story maps to work into a finished piece, and I let them vote on which story from my map I would write alongside them. One class voted for falling down the stairs (obviously) which is just a stupid embarrassing story, one that I still haven't managed to laugh about yet. (And the impetus for many sleepless nights worrying over my Noises Off set last month.) Another class voted for "upstairs dressing room where a boy asked me out for the first time."

Here's that story, and it's true, though two events were combined to make it more streamlined. In my story for the kids I used the real names, but here I have changed them, in case any of the people google themselves or something and find their way here.

On the Yellow Brick Road

“Did you really get a note from Billy Anderson?” Chris was leaning his shoulder against the dressing room door frame, hands in his pockets, cheeks flushed. Traces of eyeliner from the Scarecrow make-up just scrubbed off left waxy lines on his chin.

“News travels fast around here,” I stammered, stalling. Of every person in the whole cast, of the whole 8th grade, in fact, he was the last one I wanted to have this conversation with. I shoved my ruby slippers into my duffle bag, zipping it fiercely, trying not to meet his blue eyes.

“Yeah…well…Kristin Fairbanks.” Ah. The Town Crier. If she heard you sneeze on the bus, by first period five people asked how your cold was. In truth, it had only been that very afternoon at the start of dress rehearsal that Billy had pressed a carefully folded piece of wilted yellow school writing paper in my hand that said exactly this:

I like you. Do you like me?
If so, would you go out with me?
Check this box:

__Yes __No

I had made the mistake of opening it with Kristin Fairbanks sitting directly behind me as we listened to the opening rehearsal announcements. The hissing from behind me immediately spread like pancake sizzles, straight down the row until I watched with horror as Billy, in his lime-green Father of Munchkinland costume, received the news and dropped his head into his hands. Damage done in sixty seconds flat.

That had been hours before. We’d all been up and down the Yellow Brick Road for the past four hours, and I had yet to check a box, yet to even decide how I really felt about it. I had known Billy since we were four. He lived two blocks away. He had once hit me in the eye with a rock at a beach. We’d barely had a conversation since the fifth grade. But now he had asked me to be his “girlfriend,” whatever that was supposed to mean, when no one had ever asked me before. Was I ready?

And to further complicate matters was Chris, my best friend of the past two years, Daddy Warbucks to my Annie last winter, tall and gangly and tousle-haired…and the one I secretly wished to get a check-this-box kind of note from. We had spent every afternoon together that fall learning lines and choreography, doing our math homework together between scenes, and I had only just started to think of him as anything more than just a goofy, clumsy, science-nerdy sort of brother. I had tried to keep my feelings only in my diary, stuffed safely under my mattress, terrified that if he found out, all of our comfortable friendship would turn awkward and muddy. I felt just like Dorothy, stepping from a black and white girlhood into a Technicolor land, beautiful but startling, trying to gain my footing in sparkly new shoes.

“So?” he pressed. With my dresses hung on the rack and my bag all packed, there was no where else to look but into Chris’ eyes, which immediately darted from mine.

“Nothing yet,” I answered, with what I hoped was a casual shrug of my shoulder.

He stared down at his sneakers, the laces untied. “What are you going to say?” he muttered.

“I don’t know.” He looked up at me then, and there was a different expression there, an urgency and a flicker of determination I had never seen before, a look that sent the blood rushing to my cheeks.

“Say no.” A low tone, almost a whisper, but those two words contained a hundred others yet unsaid, expectant and hopeful. Our eyes held for just a moment longer before the Mayor of Munchkin City hollered up the stairs, “Kelly and Chris, Mr. Donnegan wants you for notes.” Kelly and Chris. Our names had been said together so many times before, but there was a new note in them now. He turned and fairly sprinted down the stairs as I gathered up my bag and followed him through the backstage and toward the closed mainstage curtain of the auditorium, where the rest of the cast had already gathered. Chris stopped, turned back to me, and smiled his old crooked, goofy grin, at once the best friend I had known and someone entirely new to me, just revealed. He held the curtain aside for me and I stepped through it, smiling back at him, knowing what my answer would be.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Gratutitude List

Ten Things I'm Grateful For This Morning...

1.) Amelia brought me coffee in bed this morning. After doing her hair for the feis, I was able to get back into bed, read Facebook and PostSecret, and linger over the Today show. This is a lovely way to start a day.

2.) My registration has been confirmed for the Broadway Teachers' Workshop again this summer. I will turn 40 on Broadway with Mom and Auntie. We were suppposed to see Daniel Radcliffe in How to Succeed, but our performances are postponed because of publicity for the last Harry Potter movie...but I still might be able to see it on the first night I get there before it shuts down for the weekend. I'll also be seeing Spiderman if no one sustains some horrible injury between now and then.

3.) I had a nice at-home date with my husband last night, even though the take out food was kind of gross (Mamma Mia's - usually great) and the movie was depressing. (Love and Other Drugs...even a naked Anne Hathaway wasn't quite worth the price.) I love our ginormous TV and reclining couch.

4.) I had a delightfully relaxing afternoon yesterday hanging out in the Athenaeum. I got to read Patrick's book, listen to Accuradio Broadway, sort through some photos, and gather images for my new vision board, which I will make today.

5.) I started a new project in my classroom this week and it's going really well. It's been a while since I infused something really new into my teaching, and it is making me feel more connected and committed to my work. It's been a while since I've felt that way.

6.) While folding laundry in my bedroom yesterday morning, I put on the DVD of Anne of Green Gables, and started with my favorite scene, the one where Matthew buys Anne a dress with puffed sleeves. I love that film so much, and feel about this the way I feel about Harry Potter - that the books were a gift in my life, and the films, made with love by people who appreciate them and impeccable casting, were art inspiring art. (With the exception of the casting of the "new" Dumbledore, who I loathe. I just pretend it's Richard Harris still all the time. Or Bill Nighy, who I thought should have done it all along.)

7.) It has taken this whole entire week for the "done-ness" of the Busy Six to penetrate my soul. (The six Thayer months, from September to March.) Rather than just a Pajama Done Day rest-fest, it has sunk in slowly, one deep breath at a time. I love my work there, but I love when it's done and I have some head-space back.

8.) The spring is full of many fun family things this year. Abby has a piece featured in an art show and a solo in the 4th grade chorus concert. Amelia has a bunch of feissana and St. Patrick's day exhibition dances. We are watching American Idol all together as a family this year. Patrick has made some changes in his life and even in just this week, our family is taking on a different energy. I'm really happy about it.

9.) I read a fabulous book for middle school kids this week called The Misfits by James Howe. (Yes, of Bunnicula fame.) It was funny, poignant, and so well crafted, and helped me know better the kind of book I want to write. My first book will be for middle school kids. I finally know that.

10.) Getting back into blogging and journaling has invigorated me this week, as I knew it would. I hope that this energy will be a launch toward some of my other goals as well.

Life is full of blessings, and I am very grateful.