Thursday, May 29, 2014

The things we carry.

Sometimes, my teaching world just aligns itself so perfectly. Right now, well, that's one of those times. It's such a crazy, chaotic time of year, the time of year when many students start to dream about summer and their minds drift to a place that is far away from my classroom. It is this time of year that I reserve for reading The Things They Carried in my AP class. The kids love reading O'Brien's book about the Vietnam War. They get into it. They analyze. They evaluate. They laugh. They cringe. Some cry. It is really the favorite part of my year.

Today, we were discussing the chapter "How to Tell a True War Story". This chapter, I believe is really one of the most important chapters in the book. I contend that it establishes how O'Brien wants us to read his book-- not as a story about war, but as a one about men, children really, and their own emotions, relationships, loves, triumphs, and losses. In this chapter, Rat Kiley writes to the sister of his friend, Curt Lemon, who was killed when he stepped on a land mine. In the letter he sings the praises of his friend, and then tells the sister how much he loved Curt. He puts his soul right there on paper.

And the sister doesn't respond.

Later, Rat ties up a baby water buffalo and shoots it.

Over and over and over again. He shoots the hell out of that baby buffalo.

The speaker tells us that, when he tells people, women mostly, about Rat's story and about the baby water buffalo that they get sad. They cry sometimes. And the speaker says that response means they were listening. They missed the point. They don't understand war stories. Because war stories are really not war stories at all. They are love stories.

My students took this journey with Rat. They read the words that O'Brien left there for them. And they didn't feel sorry for the baby buffalo. They felt sorry for Rat. They felt so deeply moved by his story, that his grief was so overwhelming that his emotional response was to just hurt something. To just take his pain and put it on something else. That Rat was really just a child himself. Only 19 years old, only 3 years older than my students. And he was in a war and his best friend was just killed and he was a child. How do you process that grief? How do you tell that war story?

My students said some profound things today. They talked about bullets without names. And how a bullet in my gun, really, is no different than the bullet in the gun of my enemy. They mused on men, just children, fighting in war. They considered what a war story is really supposed to be. Maybe it is about love, and pain, and memory. It's not really about fighting or combat. It's about relationships.

It's about people.

These are days that are busy and chaotic. My kids can be unfocused. Their thoughts are of pools, and cookouts, and camp. For 45 minutes a day, though, their focus changes. It centers on the Alpha Company and the lives of Rat, Tim, Henry, Kiowa, Ted, and all the others. They consider the lives of characters, maybe, real men, and realize slowly, that deep inside themselves are the same fears, loves, desires.

That these are the things we all carry.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The dude is 15 months!

At 15 months Jackson loves...

1. ...splashing in the pool.
2. ...imitating his sister (seriously, follows the girl and does every single thing she does).
3. ...saying new words (this week, "hi", "shake", "cheers").
4. ...reading books and pulling them all off the shelf.
5. ...eating blueberries.
6. ...drinking smoothies from big boy cups.
7. ...swinging outside.
8. ...playing in the sandbox at Lily's school.
9. kisses.
10. ...and, of course, mama and dada!

The dude.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Kids will be kids.

There are these articles and blog posts. I wasn't sure what to call them, so, for lack of better words, I will call them battle of the sexes posts. They are "things moms of boys should know" or "things moms of girls will do".

And they are all wrong.

Take, for example, this post.

On that list, my almost-three-year-old-daughter checks off basically every box.

Gets messy. Check.
Makes a mess of bath time. Check.
She farts? Dissolves in laughter. Check.
Peed on the floor? Check.
Daredevil? Check.

And the list goes on and on.

These lists, these ideas, are not gender specific lists. When we get right down to it, kids will be kids. And, honestly, kids don't understand the concept of gender. My daughter told me she was a boy for months. Even when I said, nope, you're a girl. She insisted she had a penis. Only now, when she's almost three, is she finally understanding that girls and boys have different anatomy.

And still.

Kids are messy. Kids are silly. Kids are daring. Kids are. Not just the boys. Not just the girls.

So, let's stop the lists. Stop putting our kids into little boxes. Let's just let them be...


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

1 Month 'til Three

At one month short of three, Lily loves...

1. parties!
2. ...doing everything by herself.
3. ...talking about everything.
4. ...helping with Jack because she is "so stwong!"
5. ...decorating pizza (but not necessarily eating it...).
6. ...the "Circle Song" and "Blackbird".
7. ...any arts and crafts activity.
8. ...grape tomatoes.
9. ...making up imaginary worlds and friends. 
10. ...and, of course, mama and dada!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The power of "why?"

Lily has entered the land of why? how? what? and there is no going back to life as we knew it before. The questioning stage, is, in my mind, so powerful. It marks the verbal beginning of curiosity; the desire to know about the world, and, even more, to make sense of the world. It does do my heart good to hear Lily question things, and ask why things work the way the do. It does. Truly.

At least that is what I keep telling myself.

Here is the truth about why:

Why is a lot of circular questions that I can't answer. Why is..."but why do I have to wash my hands?..."but why are you going to the bathroom?"..."but why do you need to cook dinner?"

Why ends with an answer to an entirely different question than it started with. It goes from "why?" to "how?"...and if you thought why was hard, how is worse.

Here is a sample of a why conversation:

Me: Lily, today we are going to Campbell's First Holy Communion. Do you know what that is?
Lily: No.
Me: Well, it's when children who are old enough, receive the body of Christ for the first time.
Lily: Ok. What we do?
Me: Well, we will go to church and watch. We have to be quiet at church.
Lily: Why?
Me: Because people pray at church, and it is nice to be quiet, so they aren't distracted from the Mass.
Lily: Why?
Me: Because it's polite.
Lily: Why?
Me: It's just nice manners, Lily. We will sing, too. And listen to Bible stories. And mommy will get Communion and you will get blessed.
Lily: Why?
Me: Because you aren't old enough to receive Communion yet Lily.
Lily: What's Communion?
Me: The Body of Christ.
Lily: How?
Me: Do you want me to explain Transubstantiation?
Lily: Yes.

This was a real conversation. I am so happy that she is curious about her world. That she wants to engage those around her in conversation and learn.

I will also be happy when I can ask her "why?" and she can start to tell me.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Bringing back...mid-week confessions!

I used to write my mid-week confessions a bit more regularly, but stopped my confessions. This week, they are back!

1. I can't stand when parents like their children run around restaurants (in a disruptive way). Tonight, we were at a restaurant that is child friendly, where a large group of parents were meeting (with their kids). While the parents ate and chatted, their kids ran around the restaurant, tried to push out the door, and took the crayons from the restaurant and dumped them all over. The parents occasionally tried to calm the kids, but for the most part they kids were all over the restaurant. I understand kids getting antsy at dinner, believe me, my daughter eats 2 pieces of food and wants to jump up and run around, but we find outlets for her (coloring at the table, finding another food she will eat, giving her a book). At the very least, one of the parents who had finished could have taken a few kids outside to walk around. 

2. I hate mommy wars. I am pretty sure they were made up for internet blogs. Who cares how a person raises her children as long as they are loved and cared for. And, also, daddy wars? Yeah, they don't exist. Let's take a cue.

3. I might be a little judgmental. Not to the extent of some people, but sometimes I catch myself thinking, "why would he/she do that?" My judgement is probably warranted in most situations (I know, someone is out there thinking, judgment is never warranted!). I think, though, we would all be lying if we said that we never judge others. I think it's just human nature. And, most of my judgments are of other moms. Yep, I said it. Usually the moms that do nutty things, like expect their 2 year olds to be reading. So, see, I think that is warranted. I should mention I keep these judgments in my head. Also, I am pretty sure other parents judge me. I am cool with it. 

He's pretty cute.
Lily at Campbell's First Communion.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Please, don't call me superwoman

Please, don't call me superwoman. These days, we hear the word superwoman thrown around a lot when it comes to being a mom. I am sure, though, that I am not superwoman, and, even more than that, I know that I don't want to be superwoman.

I believe I am excessively ordinary. When I became a mom, nothing about that changed. I didn't don a cape, I didn't start to fly or see through solid walls. This is what happened: my heart grew. It grew to include a tiny baby girl who immediately captured my attention and my love. It grew with love for husband who suddenly became a puddle mush in the presence of his baby daughter. It grew with admiration for my parents because I suddenly realized just how much they loved me. It grew with joy as I watched my brother transform into an uncle. It grew for my friends and family who immediately accepted and loved my daughter as if she was always a part of their lives, as if she was always meant to be here.

That love does not make me a superwoman. No.

It makes me human.

It connects me to mothers throughout the world and throughout history who love and sacrifice for their children. It reminds me that parenting is always a learning experience. It taught me deeper appreciate for myself and my body and my abilities.

My children have taught me immeasurable patience. They have shown me joy. They have expanded my heart and given me joy.

They have made me more human.

No, I am not superwoman.

I am mom.

And, that is what I always wanted to be.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

For my teachers

Today is teacher appreciation day. The day when students everywhere pause and tell their teachers how amazing they are. Ok, or not. It is really more a day when the PTSA puts on a lunch and teachers tell each other how great they are.

All joking aside, I had a nice teacher appreciation day for a few reasons. I ran into Mrs. Kenney, who is the teacher that inspired me to pursue my career. I also got a lovely message from a former student, Abbie, about my influence in her life. It was so unexpected and sweet. Then, other former students from my first year of teaching onward left notes about how they enjoyed my classes. In what can be a very thankless job, the sweet messages that my former students wrote were very uplifting. This time of year is so busy and stressful that it was nice to read such validating things.

As a teacher, I frequently think of the educators who inspired, and continue to inspire me. I can remember, from pre-school onward, every single teacher (by name) who taught me. Each teacher shared his or her gifts with me and my classmates and worked to make us better learners and people. I remember always having a deep appreciation for my teachers without knowing just how challenging the job can be. It wasn't until I became a teacher seven years ago that I fully realized the emotional, physical, and mental demands of the job. Teachers are nothing short of super heroes. I may say that as a teacher, but I mean it as a student and a parent. I felt loved and cared for at school because my teachers made me feel safe and comfortable. They let me know that my learning was important, that it was ok to make a mistake, and that I was always worth it. This year, Lily is in school with her first school teacher, Ms. Julie. When I get home from work on Mondays and Fridays, Lily gushes about Ms. Julie. My mom said that Ms. Julie even has a special chair ready right next to her for Lily to sit in. My little girl truly loves her teacher, and Ms. Julie clearly knows what Lily needs. I am so glad that Lily's first school experience is so positive.

And, now, a quick moment to acknowledge some teachers who I truly and deeply appreciate...

Mrs. Kenney- my 10th grade English teacher who taught so that even the most reluctant learner couldn't help but be captivated. Who cared about each of her students like they were her daughters. Who taught me lessons far beyond her classroom. The teacher who inspired me to teach. Mrs. Kenney will always have a special place in my heart.

Professor Cole- the professor who supervised, guided, and edited (questioned why I was so careless with comma usage...) my senior thesis. What a journey. The experience really help craft my writing, and gave me so much confidence in my abilities as a scholar. My thesis topic- Stephan Crane's publication history- was a topic that was presented in the class I took with Professor Cole called "The Book in America". This class piqued my interest in researching the publication history of an author as a gateway to better understanding his or her literature. It has also grounded much of what I teach in my AP class. Thanks, Professor Cole.

Peggy Zink, Jenna Zava-Taylor, and Katie Righter- My mentor teachers who guided me through my student teaching. As a teacher mentor for teaching candidates, I appreciate the role these women had in my life much differently now. Thank you for pushing me, supporting me, and allowing me to grow into my own as a teacher. You are all wonderful women. I am grateful for your guidance and admire each of you as teachers.

My co-workers in the English Dept. (Bob, Chris, Mindy, Becky, Sarah, Gabe, Angela, and Elaine)- The gifts each of you possess, the support you give your students (and me), the compassion you show make you wonderful teachers. You all have such unique gifts and I count myself so lucky to teach with you. Thanks for sharing your talents with me, and pushing me to be a better teacher.

There are countless other teachers who I could name here. I am lucky that way-- that I had and have so many positive influences in my life. To all of you, thank you for doing what you do. Happy Teacher Appreciation Day.

Sunday, May 4, 2014


Most of my posts on my little blog here are about my children and their day-to-day activities. I have been reading some other blogs lately that have touched on such topics at being a submissive wife, bed times, and about the differences in siblings. And I have been thinking about some substantive topic to write about other than, "Lily said the funniest thing today!" (don't get my wrong, that IS entertaining and does have its place here). 

So, today, I am going to write about being a wife, which is something, that, honestly I don't really think about too much. I think about being a teacher, I think about being a mother, but I don't really think about my role as a wife. 

Lately, Candace Cameron Bure has been in the headlines not only for her appearance on Dancing with the Stars, but also for her role in her marriage as a submissive wife. This is essentially explained as having an opinion in decision making her in marriage, but ultimately defaulting to her husband for making the ultimate decision. As I was reading about her relationship, I got to thinking about my own. I firmly believe that to be a good mother, I need to be a good wife, and have a strong marriage with my husband. We have to be a team as parents, and that team doesn't work if we aren't on the same page not only with parenting, but with our marriage. 

I think it's important that Tom and I have time for each other. Sometimes, that time might just be watching TV, or, as silly as this may sound, grading papers together. Yes, we aren't oohing and aahing over each other, but we are together. I also think it is important that we have our bedroom as our own space. Sometimes, this is hard, as Lily will come calling in the middle of the night to sleep in "mommy, daddy bed". I love to snuggle my girl, and give her comfort, but I also like the time I have with Tom to chat together before we go to sleep. To unwind and talk about the day. This is also the one space that we have that can truly be our own. The other major living spaces are ruled by the kids, ok, by their toys. I need time to connect with my husband and be an adult. I think that is something that most moms struggle with-- that balance of mom and wife and self. We surrender ourselves to so many things that we forget that our marriage needs time, our self needs time. This is why we try to keep our kids on something of sleep schedule...because once they are to bed we can have some time together. Time to re-focus. Re-balance. To be Emily and Tom, and not mom and dad.

I definitely think that Tom and I have a strong marriage. We know how to work together and compromise. We have arguments, but not frequently. And if we do have one, we never go to bed upset. We communicate. We can be silly together. We can be serious together. We can laugh together. He let's me be my own person. We both value family. We don't share the same faith, but he respects my faith and respects that I desired to raise our children in my faith. At the end of the day, I feel safe and happy and protected. 

For me, being a good parent means not allowing myself to get caught up in the lives of my kids 24/7. Yes, my children are the most most precious gifts in my life. I love them to ends of the earth and even further than that. They bring me joy. They make me so happy ever single day. But I know I am no good to them as a mother if I am no good in my marriage. I want them to see what a loving relationship is. That was the example my parents set forth. In good times and in bad I saw my parents show unwavering love for each other; that love was the foundation of our family and it is the love upon which my brother and I grew.  

Ultimately, Lily and Jackson are love made flesh. Flesh is an awkward word. But, they are. They were born from the love I share with Tom. They are our hearts in the world. That is why Tom and I have to always work on being good spouses in our marriage. Because we have these little loves in the world and we must continually work to cultivate the love between us. 

Bottom photos by Leena A. Photography (