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.