Monday, January 8, 2018

13 Ways of Looking at 16

In advance of their daughter's sixteenth birthday, friends of ours asked family members and friends to write her letters including memories, advice, and inspiration.  Here's my contribution (and my favorite is #VII):

Dear Tess,

Wallace Stevens wrote his poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” and it occurs to me that it’s like a little Instagram account (whereas William Carlos Williams’ poem “Red Wheelbarrow” is like one Insta post, and “This is Just to Say,” also by Williams, is more like an apologetic message on a friend’s FB wall—oh hey, we could compare poems to social media moments! But I digress). So here’s a moment in time, your sixteenth birthday, for which we are creating snapshots, reflections, messages on your “wall,” so to speak. I am offering you “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Sixteen.”

So much love,


Thirteen Ways of Looking at Sixteen

Among the people at dinner that night,
The most memorable ideas, references, and insights
Issued from the sixteen-year-old.

I was of three minds,
Like a sixteen-year-old
In which resides child, teen, adult.

She, sixteen, danced in the sand, arms thrown wildly to wind and sky.
It was one movement in the choreography of her life.

A man and a woman
had one.
A man and a woman and a sixteen-year-old
Are one.

They are all evidence of her,
Words, actions, body
And her slept-in bed, clothing, and acquisitions:
The sixteen-year-old’s being
As well as her props.

Music from the turntable filled the room
With sounds like.
The limbs of the sixteen-year-old
Crossed and curled and extended along the couch.
Her mood
Represented in her postures:
Shifting landscape.

O old folks of society,
Why do you imagine hoodlums?
Do you not see how the sixteen-year-old
Walks the world in feet
That become yours?

I know great minds
And inventions, accomplishments, triumphs, and talents realized over lifetimes;
But I feel, too,
That sixteen-year-olds influence
What I know and believe and love.

When the sixteen-year-old drove out of sight,
It marked one edge
Of the polygon of independence.

At the sight of sixteen-year-olds
Delighting in their own company,
Even the most cynical observers
Gaze with longing and approval.

I dreamed I was late to class
And dashing without progress.
Many times, fear grips my slumber,
When I am convinced
I’ve forgotten my chemistry homework
At sixteen.

Time is flowing.
The sixteen-year-old is thriving.

She was young and she was old.
She was child and she was adult.
The sixteen-year-old was
Nevertheless always Tess.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Commencement Speech 2017

Class of 2017

I had the privilege of teaching a poetry lesson in some of your English classes in the fall.  We read a poem by William Carlos Williams, called "The Red Wheelbarrow":  
It reads, simply:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

We talked about how perhaps this was the first Instagram poem--a simple image, zoom on the rain drops, with a filter that highlights the white chickens. I’m thinking this particular poem would attract a lot of likes, as well as what the hecks.

But we discussed that maybe this poem wasn't truly about the dependability of a wheelbarrow, or how important rain water is to a farm, or about chickens laying eggs for breakfast.  Maybe this poem was just about a moment.  A moment as beautiful and momentous in its own way as a graduation, a birth, a marriage.  Made memorable, perhaps, because the poet stopped to notice, downloading the image to memory and then translating it into verse.

It's tempting, students, to proclaim that the last four years were a blur, and for you, parents, to feel like it was only yesterday you were holding their hands to cross the street.  But our lives are series of wheelbarrow moments punctuated by momentous events, like tonight.  In class that day I asked you to recall a moment in your recent lives upon which so much seemed to depend.  One of you described driving over the bridge to school that morning with your sister.  It was sunny, and you were having a great conversation, getting along.  I think we all found that moment relatable.   You'll surely remember tonight, but the sweetest memories are likely similar episodes of connections, deep talks with loved ones, random trips with friends.   Most wheelbarrow moments are times we are in the company of people we adore or the wonder of nature.   

My toddler actually stops to smell the roses when she and I take the dog for a walk.   To her, so much depends on the things she notices and celebrates and points out--spikes on a cactus, a colorful rock, the snail painstakingly crossing the path.  She stops to look at me and say, I love spending time with you, Mom.  No selfie properly captures that wheelbarrow moment, and there's a chance I could miss it if I’m too busy to go for a walk or looking at my phone.  Paying attention to her is what makes it different.  

So I’m suggesting we more often swap selfies for "sensies"--times you observe keenly, listen carefully, feel deeply, taste mindfully, and breathe in the smells.  Exalt in the moments and the characters sharing them with you—recognize the sonder, if you will.  In just a few of my wheelbarrow moments with you, so much depended upon pancakes from a George Foreman grill, 185 doctors walking into a bar, Jamaican curry recipes, seafoam perfectly captured in a painting, and sitting the bench in the faculty basketball game. 

Before you fly away from this place you’ve shared, reflect on some of those wonderful moments together. 

Thank you, Class of 2017, for all the moments culminating in this graduation.  

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Keep Moving Forward

A month ago at our school district's meeting of the Board of Trustees, our teacher's union president presented on various clubs our teachers sponsor at our elementary, middle, and high school campuses.  She showed photos of the students and teachers in action, building robots, playing board games and bonding at lunch, providing community service, and jogging.  The elementary school running club was the one that stuck with me, though; they meet in the mornings before school with the simple goal to "keep moving forward for 30 minutes."

I love this idea of focusing energy positively for a discrete period of time.  It seems so doable.

But truth is, in my non-working hours the past month or more, I've had trouble moving forward.  Household chores, social events, exercise--even my own soccer games--have felt undesirable and inordinately challenging.  Depression does that.  Anxiety ups the ante.

I haven't gone running in a couple weeks.  Running is a solo venture, and it requires my own motivation.  I easily recall a few years ago, when I attempted to jog in the nadir of my post-partum depression and I ran/walked and cried, fantasizing about lying down on the side of the road and just staying there.

Busy weekends and weekdays have provided ample excuses for not even trying to venture forth.  Nervous and anxious energy, coupled with an increased resting heart rate and blood pressure, made it seem safer to Just Not.

But this morning we would arrive early for Big Sis's soccer game.  And I felt like running.  So I wore sweats and running shoes and low expectations.  I gave myself plenty of outs.

Big Sis's soccer tournament was at a park on a big block.  I could just run around that block. One mile, max.  So I started out slowly.  I hit half a mile, satisfied that to get back to our parking spot would be about one mile, a distance that I could nod at.  I kept going.  And all the way around the block turned out to be 1.5 miles.  Do it one more time, I urged myself when I was back at the start.  And I felt like it.

Not all runs are equal:  I've run marathons and logged qualifying times.  I've run cross country races and half marathons.  I've run fast and free and jubilantly.  Today I ran a slow 5K by myself on suburban streets, cautiously, but with increasing speed and confidence.  I didn't break any of my own records and I impressed no one but myself.  But my little run today made all of today so much better.  I felt strong and accomplished, and then unusually normal later today, without even noticing.

Tonight at dinner, instead of sharing The Best Part of Our Day, we told each other what made us each most proud today.  Big Sis, who scored a goal in one of today's tournament games which ended with her team as champions, shared that welcoming a new teammate and befriending her made her most proud of herself.  I talked about my little run.

Pride is relative, we are reminded.  The moments of which we are most proud don't have to be fastest times, goals, or championships or awards.  They're best when they're acknowledgements of when we are reaching outside or beyond or despite ourselves or the doubt of others.

I won't fit in a run tomorrow morning.  It's Monday and I have carpool and a parent meeting in the office first thing and then Senior Awards and a long to-do list in between.  I hope to draft off yesterday and feel good about myself but I know it's not that simple.  Nevertheless, I have proof it's possible and within reach of running shoes.  But I'm not going to pressure myself.

In the meantime, I will keep on moving forward for the next five minutes.  Or four or three or two or one.  At least.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

All About My Parents

Tootsie goes to a wonderful, loving, nurturing preschool, where relationships, responsibility, play, and imagination are emphasized--the same preschool her big sisters attended seemingly long ago.  

The teachers listen carefully to the little people and the important (hilarious) things they say, often recording them for posterity.  

We were treated to a Parents' Day celebration on Sunday, where we were presented with cards from our kiddos; here's Tootsie's take on her Mom and Dad:    

Some points of confirmation and clarification:

I do work with my friends.

Husband does work at da yacht club.

Husband does NOT enjoy letting the dog out to pee.

Husband and I did not meet at school, though we did attend the same high school.

Husband does like syrup, not usually on meatballs.

We do love our children when they go to school.  Apparently this is a likable trait.

Friday, June 10, 2016

HOW: Commencement Speech 2016

I had the honor of hosting my third commencement as high school principal, and here are the words I shared with our graduates and guests:

Now, Class of 2016:

What are you going to do with your lives?  What are you going to do next? 

These are questions you’ll both ask yourself as well as be asked (too often).  

Tonight instead, I want to focus you on how you’re going to live.  And “HOW” is a word worth writing on your mirror, because the questions I’m going to ask are ones you will answer every day whether you think about them or not

So much is in the how.  How will you greet yourself each morning?  How will you look yourself in the eye?  

How will you shave?

How will you take care of yourself?  How will you nourish your body?  

How will you maximize your strengths?  How will you improve?

How will you ask for what you need?  How you will you ask for help?  How will you know when you need to?

How will you apologize?  How will you admit when you are wrong?  How will you ask for forgiveness?

How will you forgive yourself?

How will you ask that difficult question?  How will you say no?  How will you tell the truth?  

How will you step up, speak up, stand up?  How will you protest?  How will you advocate?  How will you earn and demonstrate respect?

How will you greet your neighbor?  How will you pass strangers on the street or in cars on the freeway?

How will you respond when someone asks you for money?  Or for food? 

How will you make people laugh?  How will you make others comfortable?

How will you express your frustration?  How will you write that email?  How will you update, post, tweet, and comment?

How will you talk with people?  How will you talk about them?

How will you respect others’ bodies and their rights?

How will you love?  

How will you create a family? 

How will you break up?  How will you make up?

How will you listen?  How will you spend your time?

How will you face disappointment?  How will you sacrifice?

How will you help?  How will you express gratitude?  

How will you treat your environment?  How will you leave the places you pass through? 

How will you say goodbye?  

How will you start fresh?  How will you prepare?  

How will you let go?  

How will you stay in touch?

How will you love this life?  

How will you be?

Class of 2016, your words and actions will be the answers to these questions.  Open yourself to new teachers, models, and fellow passengers who will help guide your way.

How have you left us?  

With clean water, flag football, and enduring spirit.

Now, how will I leave you?  

With gratitude for your creativity, generosity, long conversations, and the love we shared between us. 

It is my honor now to introduce your senior class president...

Sunday, November 29, 2015

List: 2015 Thanksgiving Gratitudes

My multiple, ample, excessive cups runneth over.  I am pausing to appreciate the bounty.


1.  My husband with infinite patience for my job and its demands, as well as my habits... He's a rare find, this man, this father, this more-than-co-partner.  He inspires me with his patience, awareness of local and global issues, and earnest desire to teach, guide, and love our girls and pets.

2.  My daughters, who in their own unique ways give to their world, to their family, and to me.  As they and I grow older, I more deeply recognize how they reflect and gently guide me to be their better model and supporter.  Big Sis has discipline and drive as well as creativity and tenderness for family. Middle Sis celebrates a joie de vivre (goofiness) that is contagious, and a natural penchant for taking care of younger children. Tootsie is a force of nature, survivor of minor mishaps, talented copycat, and keen observer of all that occurs around her. Thank goodness she, our last, is a snuggler, too.

3.  My parents who are here and available for great conversation, family meals, childcare, professional mentorship, cheerleading, appropriate course corrections, financial assistance, grandparental cheerleading and support, and a safe place where we can flock.

4.  Extended family and friends who are wise and honest as well as forgiving and loyal and generous, and who step in, pick up our kids, create cousin company and aunt and uncle admiration, offer guidance, make us laugh, reassure, invite us over as well as come over, and support us unconditionally through life's mishaps.

5.  My job, which affords me the opportunity to bask every day in the company of people who exemplify what's possible:   Inspiring, creative, selfless professionals dedicated to enriching young people's minds and souls; and teenagers who are hilarious, infinitely intelligent, bursting with energy and potential, generous, insightful, wise beyond their years, and daily reminders that we adults don't know or control everything. Working in a public school is real work with real people and real rewards, and I'm grateful that the days that await me are full of problem solving, dreaming, teaching and learning, and evidence of what matters. 

6. Our neighborhood of community givers, activists, artists, business owners, non-profit supporters, hard workers, volunteers, and dreamers. How I love this place we've invested in and where we've bought two homes. Our environment boasts canyons, parks, playgrounds, trails, craftsman homes, hills, narrow streets, old trees, raccoons, coyotes, opossum, skunk, hawks, squirrels, rabbits, and tumbleweeds. 

7.  Our daughters' schools:  We are in our tenth year of appreciating the play-oriented, multi-age, loving preschool which has helped raise our girls. Middle Sis is attending our incredible neighborhood elementary school with its loyal and passionate teachers, tireless parent and community volunteers, and unparalleled performing arts, garden, and enrichment programs. Big Sis attends a large urban middle school where her teachers and peers, who represent true international diversity, inspire her. We love that these schools give awards for qualities and attributes versus achievements, and invite us to both shadow and participate in our kids' daily educational experiences.  

8.  My health and the health of my loved ones, which I do not take for granted. 

9.  Our house, which has had to compete with our cozy first home, but which has won me over with its peace and quiet, windows, space, views, safe cul de sac for Big Wheel races and skateboarding, and room for guests and gatherings. 

10.  Human tenderness:  One of life's pleasures is noticing the sweet spots, when siblings love on one another, when teammates share a victory or poignant loss, when acts of kindness happen spontaneously out there in the world.  I feel like I am often front row for those beautiful moments which make living worth it and humanity make sense.  

 Additional Gratitudes:

1.  Good books, good art, and good music.  I am so fortunate to know people who create all three, and my early mornings and late evenings rely on their accessibility and power to deepen my sense of my own existence.  
2.  Those who "let it go."  Ain't got time to hold on to grudges, dwell on disturbances, and generally make big deals. I am increasingly grateful for and drawn to people who keep moving forward, focused on solutions, and with a better, peaceful world in mind.  (After venting over a pint or glass).  
3.  Our coffeemaker with a timer (and the guy who loads it each evening).  My morning cup of coffee, secured before my morning pee, is an indulgence I appreciate EVERY DAY. 
4.  My iPad:  Its lit screen has allowed me to read with the lights off while our baby/toddler slumbers beside me. My books, my music, articles, photos, Facebook...all here.  
5.  Running.  Also known as jogging, limping, leaping, stumbling...we'll take it all.  
6.  Youth Soccer:  Our daughters play a lot of soccer and we spend a lot of time at games.  But the sidelines are where we've met amazing families and learned a few things about the culture of our neighborhood, kids' sports, and parenting.  
7.  Beautiful things and places:  The moon, my friend's living room, beach rocks at sunset, cloudscapes, that necklace, twinkling lights, flowers, architecture, fonts, the pattern on that fabric, your haircut, a garden.  
8.  Food:  I'm fortunate to have a brother who is a chef, a daughter who is a foodie, and a CSA box full of fresh vegetables each week.  I love cooking; I love combining flavors; I love the privilege of eating something different every day.   
9.  Comfy clothes.  The older I get, the more I appreciate an outfit comparable to mashed potatoes.  Soft, warm, unobtrusive, dependable, goes with anything.
10.  Funny stuff:  jokes, memes, videos, stories, our toddler, your mishap, Jimmy Fallon, Jon Stewart, Stephen's such a serious place, this world.  Cats afraid of cucumbers can make it all okay.  

Sunday, November 8, 2015

List: Material (Garage Sale) Girl

You know how there are are those items you buy in the grocery store Every Single Time, thinking somehow you've run out, when you're forever in excess?  It's like you have an inexplicable internal fear of ever being without these (maybe-not-even) staples?   FYI, feel free to stop by our house for lentils, quinoa, brown sugar, and cumin powder, as I may need to borrow the maple syrup, ranch dressing, and soap dispenser refill we are always forgetting to buy. 

I'll own up front that I appear to have an inherited case of "the saves" (because I may need it!  For something!  Like a project!), which we will not call hoarding for now. But I feel I live in a perpetually conflicting state of mostly excess and sometimes inexplicable deficit (often of the things we arguably need, like milk). 

So someone like me has no business shopping on online garage sale sites, unless the products for sale are gently used milk, bread, and toilet paper. But in a free moment, and to the dismay of my husband, I just love to browse the stuff others no longer want. And I've figured out I'm quick with the "me me I want!" finger if you're offering the following items which WE DO NOT NEED:

1.  Patio furniture.  Example:  Lounge swing recently purchased, not yet assembled. Rationale:  we have a big deck. Rationale:  it's a good deal, and patio furniture full price is expensive! Rationale:  life outside is good, and it will be better with this item. 
2.  Throw pillows.  Example:  Blue and beige pillows passed on to me by a friend who recognizes my weakness. Rationale:  they're a cheap way to "redecorate."  Rationale:  they're like art, sorta!
3.  Craft supplies. Example:  Box of assorted free stickers. Rationale:  because we may need them!  For something!  Like a project!
4.  End and bedside tables. Example:  Antique drop-leaf table. Rationale: at one point, we could use a few of these. Rationale:  good end tables are useful, satisfying to own!
5.  Kids' items. Example:  Recently acquired push trike. Rationale:  this serves a purpose right now, and will enrich and broaden my child's experiences. 

Meanwhile, I have one daughter who snatches up and uses any free cardboard in our house, and has a funky obsession with binders. I think we come by it honestly (genetically), but far be it from me to point any fingers at the grandma who kept canned food in the trunk of her car Just In Case. 

What are your excesses and weaknesses?