Monthly Archives: September 2014

Facebook is Ruining My Life

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I’m getting a new phone on Saturday. My iPhone 4S (yes, people still have those) has been slowly dying. First, my son ate the Otterbox Defender case. When I went to try to replace the case at Verizon I was told that they no longer keep the 4S cases on the floor. After convincing the salesclerk to go into the back and retrieve the box of unwanted iPhone 4S cases I decided it might not be worth $60 to buy a case for a phone that doesn’t even warrant display in a Verizon store. (This made the salesclerk’s day.)

So my phone has been naked for the past several months, and during that time I have dropped it approximately three hundred fifty seven times, and my son has chewed on it more times than that. Only one speaker works, it shuts off completely at random intervals, the battery runs out after twenty minutes, and the screen has a small crack in the corner.

Still, all in all, I’m pretty impressed with this small piece of technological wonder, and its ability to defy all odds and power on with 95% reliability.

However the newest development has caused me to bite the bullet and purchase a new phone. Why? Well, my phone no longer opens any programs except phone, chat, and music. While it technically opens Safari, it only provides a 3G network. According to the Verizon representative I talked to, that’s the equivalent of dial-up. So basically, my phone has the computing ability of my 2007 Motorola Razr.

This development has meant that none of the apps I have downloaded will load. The phone crashes when I try to look at Facebook, for example. Just an example.

Well, technically, it’s THE example. Because I look at Facebook a lot. A LOT. And not being able to access Facebook on my phone for the past week has shed some light on the depth of my addiction.

My average day, it turns out, generally starts by turning off the alarm on my phone, and immediately checking to see if I have a red number hovering over the blue f on my phone’s home screen.

But it doesn’t stop there. Oh no. When stuck in traffic, car at a stop, I find myself reaching for my phone. Yes. Please shame me for this, because it is terrible.

Then there are the moments throughout the day, those moments when there is even a tiny little pause. It’s those moments when I get the sensation that I am forgetting something, that there is something I am meaning to do. Then it hits me. Facebook. I should be checking Facebook.

The evening continues with much the same. Facebook is a constant fixture in my life. I’ve checked Facebook four times already while writing this post.
But seriously, does that even matter? I can’t possibly be checking Facebook any more than anyone else. How many times have you checked Facebook today?

But not having Facebook has forced me to spend my time differently. I’ve been sending longish emails to some of my friends. I’ve been tracking what I eat into My Fitness Pal. I talked to my coworkers at lunch today. I ordered reeds for my clarinet so I can start practicing again. I’ve been reading books.

And then when I do get on Facebook, generally at night after my son is asleep, I notice that there are 12 notifications and I quickly browse through them to see if there are any I even care about. And the answer is that I mostly don’t.

But I sure do like that red number. Especially when it is such a high number after a long day away from the page. But there’s a lot I don’t like.

I don’t like that Facebook is controlling so much of my life. I don’t like waiting for my Facebook to load, hoping that someone somewhere has noticed something I’ve said or done, and feeling badly when the red number doesn’t appear.

I don’t like that I’m the person who looks at other people’s kids and thinks about whether they are as cute as my own. Obviously none of them are. Except for that one. And that makes me angry.

I don’t like the news stories that leave me hopeless.

I don’t like looking at pictures of my friends with kids and hoping to see that they, too, still wear their baby weight.

I don’t like hating the posts from my family members who disagree with me politically. I don’t like how self-righteous I become, justifying how balanced and fair I am because I get angry with people on both sides of every issue.

I don’t like the jealousy when I see someone has bought a house, or published a book, or discovered the secrets to the universe while I fumble along learning a new job.

I’m tired of the compare game, because I always lose. And even when I win, I still lose.

For the record, I have checked Facebook two more times while writing that last part.

So maybe, as much as I don’t like those things, I can’t help myself.

Wouldn’t it be great if I could end this post by telling you that I am quitting Facebook? Wouldn’t it be a fantastic declaration of mindfulness and balance, rising above it all by quitting the comparison game? Wouldn’t I be so incredible?

Well, I’m not quitting Facebook. I love the updates from family and friends. It’s still my primary source of news, local and abroad. It’s still where I look to find the funniest memes.

It is, after all, a pretty incredible means to keep in touch with my family, spread between three continents. And I do actually enjoy seeing my friends’ babies, even the ones that aren’t as cute as my son. Especially the ones that aren’t as cute as my son.

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And I like being liked. In the Facebook sense and the real world sense of the word.

So there are no declarations of quitting Facebook to end this post. But maybe when I pick out my phone on Saturday I will think twice before downloading my Facebook app.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

My Dog Has Serious Bathroom Issues and I’m The Center of My Universe

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My dog has been peeing and pooping all over our house. Literally, all over. Every room. I have stepped in poop three times this past week alone. It’s been maddening to continually bend over and clean up her messes. The baby gates we purchased to keep her out of the areas of the house upon which we’d like to traverse without stepping into feces, well it turns out that those baby gates have slats on the side just large enough for her to squeeze her tiny, six-pound Chihuahua body through, though she feigns captivity when we are watching. None-the-less, eight hours later, returning home after work, poop is waiting in the kitchen. Or the front room. Or our bedroom.

Thankfully, the gates do keep our toddler son sectioned off into manageable, poop-free zones while either my husband or I attend to the remaining toxic rooms of the house to deep clean.

OK, that’s dramatic. We don’t really ever deep clean.

Also, my son has been sick. I don’t think it is related to the aforementioned lack of cleanliness in our home, but I can’t say it isn’t. In any case, he has been waking up throughout the night, and my heart just breaks as his body shakes with coughs fit for a pack-a-day, lifetime smoker. He’s ended up sleeping next to me for the last few nights. A part of me can hardly resist having his little body asleep next to mine, and another part of me recognizes that the sleep deprivation is starting to catch up to me.

There’s been other stuff, too, like getting a flat tire and taking it into the shop, casually mentioning that I would also like to get the driver’s side headlight replaced (I apologize for ruining your games of pediddle) and maybe an oil change. Three hundred dollars later I left with my car, and with more descriptions than I wanted to know about the melting of wires in the headlight, and the need to reconstruct the whole thing-a-ma-bob, and an, “oh, by the way, we don’t actually have the capability to repair tires or order you new ones, but hey, here’s a recommendation for another place that will charge you three hundred dollars to replace your tires.”

Which I went to. And they did.

By now you might have inferred that I’ve been feeling a little sorry for myself. Licking my wounds. Consoling myself with Caramel Apple Milkyway candy bars (this really is the best time of year) and lots of episodes of Scandal on Netflix.

A few days ago I had a rare moment at home alone and I took my dog for a walk. It’s hard to explain her jubilee when I picked up her leash, and I’m ashamed to admit the weeks it had been since our last walk, and more ashamed to admit my general pet owning negligence, having grown even larger since having a child.

While on the walk, I kept thinking about one of my favorite moments in public speaking: David Foster Wallace giving his commencement speech called, “This is Water.” I first read the transcript while up one night nursing my son, and I have since watched the youtube video of his speech more times than I can count.

One part in particular started percolating into my mind.

“…the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.”

Seriously, this talk is well worth the twenty minutes of your time. If he had spoken these words at my commencement, I like to believe I would still remember them today. As it is, I don’t remember the name of my commencement speaker.

But the idea, that part about me being at the center of the universe, that all of life is happening TO me, well, it strikes pretty close to home. Or rather, it strikes home. Because it sure feels like my dog has been purposefully leaving spiteful packages for me to clean up, and that meetings are scheduled on the end of the day on Friday just to make my life difficult, and the world is conspiring to steal my sleep and my money.

And also, that walk was the first really kind thing I have done for my dog, Lily, in a week. Truly. When I picked her up she licked my face and jumped up and down on the ground as if I had just pledged her a lifetime of chicken scraps and string cheese. (Which for the most part, I have.)

Not totally connected and yet maybe kinda a little connected, I also started to spend intentional time with my baby boy this week. He’s at this incredible joyful age, full of wonder and amazement and glee. Thirteen months is my favorite age yet.

I’ve been feeling a little haphazard as a mother lately. I am relieved and excited to finally see my son after being apart from him all day, and I am also feeling the pull of the forty things I really want to do, like read a book or watch Scandal.

That was really embarrassing to admit, by the way.

While on the floor with him on Monday I started to play a game with him. OK, mostly we were just putting the empty LaCroix cans in and out of a paper bag, but that is probably his favorite game in the world right now, and has the added benefit of teaching him the life skill of helping clean up the recycling.

I sat there with him and coached him through how to put the can in and out of the bag, and celebrated how he dropped each can into the bag, and how he often did so while standing on his own. My phone was off and my computer was put away, and the world was just him and me.

The next day we played with blocks, and the day after that we went to the park as a family. Yesterday we went on a boat ride.

And this week I’ve been thinking about what the world is like for him. At the center of his universe is his father and me, and I’ve been thinking about the joy we bring to his world with such a small amount of intentionality. And I wonder why it often seems so much easier to watch a forty minute TV show than it is to spend forty minutes of uninterrupted playtime with my child.

This is really embarrassing to admit, by the way.

So it’s been making me think about whether this week has been any different than any other week in the monotony and sacredness of the everyday ebb and flow. It’s been making me think about the connection between times of generous kindness and times of, if for only a small moment, being able to step outside of my default mindset that I am the center of the universe, the victim of the events around me.

It’s late and my son has been asleep for the past few hours. My dog is sleeping next to me on the couch, barely having left my side since I got home from work. With such adoration it is no wonder I so easily slip into thinking I’m the center of the universe. With such adoration it’s even possible to forgive some ridiculous bathroom issues.

After all, she’s forgiven me for the missed walks.

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261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

 

Minding Your Own Business

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For my third year of teaching, along with switching schools for the third time, I also started teaching third grade. Previously I had identified as a middle school teacher, ending the day reeking of sixth and seventh grade hormone dust, much to the chagrin of my roommates. The transition to becoming a third grade teacher was, let’s just say, tearful. For everyone involved.

For starters, third graders are tattle-tales. The neighborhood rubbernecker has nothing on a third grade student. They are relentless in their scrutiny of their peers, and itch for the moment to tell on anyone who falls out of line. This can be tiresome. Multiply it by thirty students and it is downright exhausting.

The result: I coined my first third grade teacher catch phrase. After intentional instruction and “family meetings” with my students on the rug, the mantra we created and reiterated was, “If, for the rest of your life you only worry about yourself, that will be enough.”

This provided plenty of humor when students would come up to me and say, “I know I’m supposed to be worrying about myself, but Anaya just ate the eraser on her pencil.” But oddly enough, making this part of the daily rhetoric helped calm down the tattling, and helped steer the conversation toward self-reflection, a skill that has recently been difficult for me.

I’m generally a reflective person. Probably an overly reflective person. I’m the person who reflects on my reflecting. I have full conversations play out in my head and have, on more than one occasion, been known to make hand motions or facial expressions in fitting with my rehashing of an event. I promise I’m not crazy. Well, not too crazy.

But lately there’s been some stuff going on. Lots of big life changes. Family members are moving to other countries. I’m missing my parents, who live 400 miles away. The routines of my job are not automatic, so the mental requirement is taxing, and I’m examining every movement under a microscope. Reflecting on my reflecting, if you will.

While this has been going on, I’ve noticed a trend. The more stuff going on in my personal life, the more pissed off I get at the news. Mind you, there is always plenty in the news to get worked up about. It never disappoints. But a lot of the time I can still find that inner calm and resolve, keep chipping away at my piece of work to do, my part in creating the world I want to see. Or something like that.

Not lately. Lately I’ve been seeing Facebook status updates and having twenty minute rants to my husband, or my friends, or the check out person at the grocery store. No seriously. Lately I’ve been seeking out information from friends that will allow me to get opinionated and ornery. Lately I want to get out my measuring stick and start whacking knuckles to keep everyone in line.

There’s this rush I get when I am angry. It’s heady and powerful. There’s something so satisfying about identifying as righteous and holding myself a full two feet (two hundred feet) above everyone else.

So anyway, I go to church, at least a couple of Sundays a month, and one of the things that we talk about in church is when Jesus says to look at the log in your own eye before being concerned about the fleck of dust in your neighbor’s eye. And I think it’s pretty amazing how easy it is to see those small flecks in everyone else’s eyes, and how hard it is to notice the log in my own, weighing me down day after day.

Put another way, by my favorite Ani Difranco, “I’ve got something to prove, as long as I’ve got something that needs improvement.”

Maybe part of it is that it is so much easier to feel powerful than to feel powerless. It’s so much easier to look at Facebook and the world news and pronounce myself the arbitrator of right and wrong, and hypothesize whether or not our country should go to war than it is to do the pile of dishes that has migrated its way into our living room.

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It’s so much easier to look at my friend’s financial decisions and raise my eyebrows and shake my head than it is to reflect on whether or not we should be eating out for the fourth day this week.

It’s so much easier to look out than to look in.

This past week I have been coaching first year teachers. There have been so many surprises, so many ways in which the teachers have already surpassed my expectations of what it means to teach for a first year (my expectations being set, of course, at the most basic, fall on your face level of my first year). There has been one refrain I’ve heard over and over.

“They are (fill in number here) graders. They should know how to act by now!”

My response has stayed the same. Maybe they should know how to do this by now. But let’s say that they don’t. Let’s say that they don’t know how to do this. How are you going to teach them?

Because, after all, there’s a lot of things I should know by now.

I should probably know by now how to worry about myself. I should know how to spend time in quiet and reflection. I should know how to cry when I am sad and how to laugh when I’m happy and how to hold other people in love and kindness. And sometimes I do. And sometimes I don’t.

Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of good teachers in my life, ones who have assumed that regardless of what I should know, sometimes I need to be taught again.

I have teachers who remind me what it is to be the person I am, the person I want to be. Like my husband gently reminding me that the first week of the school year is always impossible. Or Karen reminding me that it never hurts to go out for a walk. And Lenora telling me that maybe it’s time to lay off of Facebook for a little while, at least until a little balance returns to my life. My teachers step in and tell me it’s time to put down the measuring stick, all the knuckles are broken.

In short, they remind me that If, for the rest of my life I only worry about myself, that will be enough.

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I’m going to a bonfire tonight.  And I certainly have some firewood to contribute, at least metaphorically speaking.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

 

Spilling Red Wine On My Favorite White Dress

I’ve been buying a lot of clothes lately. It turned out that while I had some professionalish clothes to wear as a teacher, the standards for professional are a little higher when you’re working to garner the respect of teachers, some of whom are significantly older than you. Glasses: on. Heels: on. Jewelry: on. Make-up: let’s not go nuts.

Everyone is sick of hearing me complain about the fact that I had to buy bigger clothes after giving birth (I mentioned recently to my mother-in-law that there was a point during pregnancy at which everything collapsed, and that buoyancy and elasticity of the pre-pregnancy body has yet to rejoin me). In any case, I have been shopping and trying to strategically buy items that will layer and accentuate and professionalize.

I’ve been strutting a little in my new duds, “smelling myself” so to speak. It feels really nice to leave the house feeling pretty and confident. And I’ve worked myself into a little bit of a spending frenzy.

It’s funny how having a one year old can really help put some perspective on things. For one, he doesn’t care even a little bit about what I am wearing. Except maybe, since he is still nursing, he prefers tops that give him easy access to a snack. But truly, that’s his only fashion requirement.

What my one year old does care about is getting his hands in the dog dish, digging in the mud, chewing up fruits, preferably the juiciest ones that leave red stains dripping down his chin and into the folds of his neck.

And then, of course, he cares about hugging me. Because I’m his mama.

All this has got me thinking about my fancy new clothes. Because Murphy’s law says that the moment I put on my snazzy clothes my son wants me to hold him, grimy fingers and all. And of course I hold him, because what I love more than feeling beautiful is feeling loved. And my little boy gives me love by the truck full, more than I could have ever imagined.

My son is the balance to my vanity. So often, in so many ways. Like when I start to get all big in the head, worrying about whether or not to buy the shirt I really really want to buy from Chico’s, but can’t because it is $50, and I start to wonder if I should put it on a credit card, but then start to think about whether I want to go down that road and the spiral starts to spin out of control, just then my son will hold out his hands and wipe them all over me as if to say, “It’s just a shirt, Mama, don’t miss this moment. It’s just a shirt.”

While reflecting on how my son helps me to keep my priorities in order this past week, my family went on vacation to visit my parents in Minnesota. Among other things my mom prepared a beautiful, indulgent dinner in honor of my thirty-first birthday. In celebration, I had put on my favorite white dress with flowers and a coral scarf for a splash of color. Just after sitting down, while being served a slice of tomato pie, a wine glass was knocked over, shattering the glass and spilling red wine all over my favorite white dress.

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One final object lesson for my week of rumination.

I changed out of the dress and into sweatpants and laughed the rest of the evening through. And it was probably best, since the elastic waistband of my sweatpants is a forgiving friend on nights filled with the choice between six different flavors of ice cream.

My mom got the stain out of my dress. I’m grateful because it is, after all, my favorite. But it was frosting on the birthday cake, because I had already let the dress go. It’s just a dress.

I wish I could always be this gracious. I wish I could always live my life with open hands. I wish there weren’t so many moments when things got in the way of people. I don’t want to be that person who tells her son not to touch her because she’s wearing her nice clothes. I don’t want to be the person who gets upset when her son comes home with rips in the knees of his school clothes. I don’t want to be owned by what I own. And yet, in that out of control spiral, swiping the plastic card again and again, it is so hard to take a deep breath and say, “Does this really matter, or is it just a dress?”

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I haven’t bought the Chico’s shirt. At least not yet. I have enough shirts to clothe a small village. For this second, I have that perspective. I’ll keep you posted about whether or not I buy it tomorrow.

Oh, and for the record, Dawn dish soap works wonders on those tough stains.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

 

Never Ready: #TeacherConfessions #FirstDayofSchool

“No one is ever ready!” My father barks (1)

Today is the first day of school for millions of kids, parents and teachers across the country.  And for weeks, everyone has been getting ready.

Kids and their parents have been getting ready for weeks, tracking down items on the school supply list, watching carefully for those awesome sales at Staples, Target and Office Max. Last night, backpacks and lunch boxes were painstakingly loaded and uniforms were carefully laid out, ready for that early morning alarm and new school day schedule.

Teachers have been getting ready since the final day of school last June (yes, really). They have spent the summer recharging and planning for the year ahead – new units, fresh classroom management plans, and innovative strategies they learned at professional development over the summer (No, teachers do not get the summer off); they’ve carefully set up their classrooms and have worked to incorporate the expectations of the school administration that has never left the building over the summer. School custodians have cleaned the building from top to bottom (those floors are waxed!) and are ready to see their handiwork scuffed and fingerprinted by noon the first day.

Excitement fills the air. The first day is filled with great expectations. Everyone seems ready for the first day of school.

Except me. I was never ready. Not as a kid. Not as a parent. Not as a teacher. Try as I might, I was the teacher who was never ready for the first day of school. Not even at midnight the night before.

 I spent much of the summer honing my craft: reading, learning, going to professional development, creating units, gathering materials, and re-designing my classroom.  Oh, and constantly thinking and talking about my classroom (to my friends and family, I apologize).  The amount of planning and preparation I undertook, the amount of time I spent setting up my classroom, putting together my classroom library, writing letters to my students – it made no difference.

I was never ready.

I am talking about not just the first day of my first year in the classroom but each and every first day up to and including my last year in the classroom.

The more you teach, the more you know that Murphy’s Law applies with an unrelenting vengeance to classroom instruction: “What can go wrong, will go wrong.” And, as the poet above points out, the “shoelaces” will ultimately wear out and break and you may have to make do with a “belt” that is not your best.

I tried so hard to be ready for that first day of school. But, alas, within 10 minutes, I discover that what I thought was the perfect morning meeting classroom rug shed like crazy, covering my students’ freshly ironed uniform pants with a layer of fuzz (yes, the one I paid $89 for at Crate & Barrel – we vacuumed that sucker every day, but still, it kept on shedding). By noon, there weren’t enough desks in my room, as I hadn’t planned for the steady flow of students sent from the school office who weren’t listed on my roster because they hadn’t registered until the first day of school (always forgetting that the classroom size limit in the union contract has no real meaning the first 20 days of school).

But somehow, despite the fuzz and lack of desks, despite not being ready for everything (including my sweet new student from West Africa who spoke no English except for “Hello” and “Thank You”), we are off to our “life-or-death destination”: another year of teaching and learning.

And somewhere in the middle of that first day chaos, I remember that I will never be ready for everything that happens – on the first day of school or each day that follows.

I won’t be ready for the moment when Quavonte, Joe and Conwanis bring me the Reader’s Theatre translation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and request to use the original or “real” language in their fight scene between the Montagues and the Capulets, because, “like you said, Mrs. Dempsey, there’s nothing like iambic pentameter. Shakespeare just sounds better. He’s got the beats.” I won’t be ready for the January that every student turns in their “winter break” reading and writing packet because it was “kind of fun to write poetry and stuff.” Be still my heart.

I also won’t be ready for the moment when a student, in a flash of temper, grabs a pair of scissors and stabs another (minor flesh wounds, thank God). Or the morning my gifted writer and rapper shows up to school drunk out of his mind, having poured his mother’s cognac into a bottle of sunny delight (and still carrying the evidence with him into the classroom).

Despite Breathless Preparation, I

The first day of school preparations that leave us all breathless remind me that despite the fuzz, the wounds or the spiked sunny delight, my students and I will continue to learn as I teach. Preparation is critical. But so is bobbing and weaving, and incorporating and appreciating the unexpected.

And so, at the end of the first day, I have arrived. I finagle extra desks from the kind custodian, add and cross-off names in my no longer pristine gradebook, and I stop at the Dollar Store on my way home to buy multiple lint removers, so that we can be ready for the fuzz tomorrow after morning meeting.  And then I remind myself that no one, including me, is ever ready.

 –261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n - Version 2Karen