community · empathy · humanity

Stronger Together.

11.2.18.jpegIn a somewhat delightful role-reversal, it was J who offered the optimistic viewpoint yesterday after my riled-up blog post.  Having shared that a neighboring school would be joining ours in a show of solidarity yesterday morning—and my feeling angered that these types of gatherings only occur in times of atrocity or within the boundaries of our personal identifications—J said that maybe one of those kids will one day be in a situation where others are speaking antisemitically and that kid will get to say,  “You know, the school across from mine growing up was Jewish, and they were pretty normal and fine to me.”

J pointed out that maybe one kid gets to not engage in hate-speech because they were exposed to a community different than their own when they were young.  And, of course, he’s right.

When we hear so much about speaking into echo-chambers, pandering to one’s own side, or read a sarcastic meme about, “I wrote a diatribe on Facebook and actually changed somebody’s opinion” or “I read someone’s diatribe and was convinced of my own inaccuracy”…

then I suppose any opportunity to walk out of one’s own comfort zone, out of one’s own community, to step a foot in a school that doesn’t belong to our own; or, as the recipient of the kindness, to see that others are willing to cross out of their circle of identification and hold hands with someone who by appearance or religion or socio-economics are different from us,

then I suppose it is not only worth the effort, it is worth my respect and appreciation.

I was genuinely moved by the show of…solidarity…yesterday as the mostly Hispanic students sat next to our mostly white/Jewish ones.  I was moved by the speeches of the principals of both our schools.  I saw that what was happening on the stage between the two of them, by appearances so different, was a potential manifestation of what could be happening between our own students in years to come.

(I also did say afterward to one of their teachers that it felt a bit hollow that we only do these things when there’s a tragedy, because I still vehemently feel we need to cross our respective streets in moments of normality and of joy in order to build real and regular relationships with those “different” from us.)

But.  I must admit: it was an experience that was more about unity than about division or ideology (even my own), and I am grateful that our students and teachers got to experience it, despite its precipitating event.


empathy · rage · tools


8.23.18It is the very rare occasion that I become embroiled in a battle of wills with a colleague, so it was and is all the more momentous to me that it happened yesterday.  Because the details do not matter, I will say I felt as though I was being told to lead my students in a way that is anathema to me and antithetical to the way teaching literature says to lead.

And yet, this is also “how it is” right now, and my work today is to come to grips with that.

Unsurprisingly, the Universe has its eye out because I found a notepad this week from 2008.  It’s one of those small writer’s notebooks in which I apparently jotted down all manner of things, including the following questions I flipped to at random when I found the pad:

“Am I willing to let go of my need to know?  Am I willing to let go of my judgment of right and wrong?”

OH BOY! Is this up right now?!?!

These fears (because ultimately that’s what my rage is/was) prevent me from being in the moment, and if I’m not in the moment, I can’t lead my students in any which way whatsoever.

So, this morning, I finally remembered I have tools to deal with torrential emotions such as these, and I began to write in that more formalized process of processing.

Part of that exercise is to write down everything I wish I’d said or would like to say to that person.  And, boy howdy! WAS THAT FUN!!!!  It’s one of my favorite pieces about that work because, this morning, all I’m doing is trying to construct ways in my head to “make nice” and how I can approach this person today to “make it right,” but I cannot at all do that if I’m still irate.  Which I am.

So I have to purge.  I have to get those torrents out of my brain and onto the page, where they can live, honoring my experience and feelings and without harming someone else or myself.

I’m allowed to be angry; it shows me where I need to grow.  But I am not allowed to hold it in my head and let my adrenaline rush when thinking about work relations.  Because then I’m not present and I’m not doing what I’m actually paid to do, which is to be of service.  I’m there to be of service to this colleague who is trying their best, even though those efforts are to me presently staccato.  I’m there to help my students along a new project that hasn’t been built yet, and to have empathy with my coworker as they build the bridge they’re asking us to walk across.  (Forgive the gender-smudging but grammatically incorrect “they.”)

It can’t be easy to do what they’re doing.  But, I guess what I riled me up was the fact that it’s not easy to do what we’re being asked to do either.

So I got to rage on the page.  I get to keep my feelings to myself, my notebook, and a trusted friend on this one, and show up as a teammate.

Our jobs are hard enough without cutting each other down with dissent.

Luckily, today is a prayer service day, in a synagogue, with songs, and music, and stained glass, and stillness, and calm, and I’ll get to land back in my body, where the only work I can ever do is found.  Please please please, amen.

empathy · maturity · middle school

What I remember about 6th grade:

7th-grade-me-1993-94.jpgAt the start of the year, I tried to attach myself in friendship to the new girl in school, since I didn’t feel connected to anybody.  She quickly sensed my desperation and made other friends.

I caught the nickname, “Smolly.”

Two kids started a bet about what I would wear the following day, because my clothing choices were apparently so limited that they could guess what it would be.  (One of them asked me privately to wear what he’d bet on so that he’d win, which is how I found out about the bet.)

After that, I begged my mom to go shopping, which we did at the discount store we always went to, and I bought my first HyperColor shirt — all the rage.  Soon thereafter, a boy in class accidentally got pen ink on it and I got so upset.  He said it was no big deal, I could just wash it, which seemed like a far-fetched idea considering the state of home stuff at the time.

The hypercolor shirt did get washed, but it also got put in the dryer, and the color shift from heat locked the whole thing permanently in hyper-mode, making it unwearable/uncool.

While riding my bike home from Sunday school, I got spooked by a car and stuck out my foot, right into the spokes of my front wheel, breaking 3 bones in the middle of my foot and landing me on crutches for the remainder of the school year.  This meant that at the 6th grade dance, the same boy who bet on my clothes was apparently dared to dance with me…while holding onto the “waist” of my crutches.

All in all, it was a kinda messed up year.  But my teacher, I remember being fine — meaning I don’t remember any trauma, so that’s a bonus!

When I tell people that I’m a middle school teacher, they shudder or wince or otherwise make it clear that my job must be absolutely horrible.

But here’s the thing: I’m not a middle schooler anymore.

I’m not “in” middle school.  I’m not the girl with frizzy hair and crutches in her graduation photo.

I’m a 30something woman with awesome hair and 3 feet of legs!

I get to pull who I am today through the world of these students, and try to let their teacher “not be traumatic”!  I get to acknowledge that there may be a lonely, ill-fit, scared person in each of these students and I get to hold space for that and guide them.

My job doesn’t in the least cause me shudders.  Sure, it might cause me irritation, frustration, mania, or exhaustion(!!!) — but it hasn’t yet once caused me to hate being there.

I think when people wince at hearing my job it’s because they’re recalling themselves at that time, and how difficult it was.  I get to say each time that’s why I wanted to do this!  To get to be a different force for them.

Not every kid will get something out of my class that they “remember,” much like I’m sure my 6th grade teacher was fabulous at his job but I don’t remember anything specific.  Not every kid will even like me!  But I get to see them.  I get to see their hardship, their worry in navigating a burgeoning world of “How am I perceived?”

And sometimes bearing witness is the most supportive action we can take.

I love and hold compassion for the lonely girl I was.  She informed some of the core manners of myself, and I’ve also had to dismantle some of the viewpoints she formed.  To know that who were are and were and will be are all time-limited (to echo yesterday’s blog) reminds me I don’t have to “get it right” for these kids.  I don’t have to rescue them; I don’t have to rescue my 11-year old self.  I don’t need to save anybody.

I just get to acknowledge and smile and breathe.


change · childhood · despair · empathy · family · father · fear · forgiveness · loneliness · love · recovery · sorrow

1 + 1 = Forgiveness?




Because he was an electrical engineer and adept with numbers, it was always my father I went to with math homework.
This near-nightly escapade always took the same tired route:
My dad trying to explain to me a concept that was assumed, understood, and so
ingrained for him by now that he couldn’t
explain it properly, and his getting frustrated when I couldn’t understand what
for him was plain and evident.
I would get frustrated at his impatience, and the fact that
I had to do this homework so I had to sit with him. And eventually, we’d become locked
in a battle of wills so contentious, we’d end up screaming at each other.
We call this 4th grade.
My brother told me a little more than a year ago, when I was
going through chemo treatment and my dad was unable to show up for me, that
what I was asking my dad to do (show up emotionally) was like asking a crippled
person to walk: It’s impossible. It’s unfair, and it’s presumptive.
The same assumption that my dad had about teaching me math
concepts, the ease and obviousness and facility he had with numbers, I have about emotional matters. I simply assume that because this is something so damned simple and easy for me, even
when it’s painful, that
should be able to do this.
I am making the exact same mistake he did with me: I am
shaming someone for something they are not able to do.
So, when I contemplate following up my dad’s return
voicemail from Father’s Day, I have found that I want to do what I always want
to do: Hash it out. EXPLAIN to him what
is so obvious to me: I needed you to show up for me, and you didn’t. In fact,
you blamed me for not being attentive to your needs. And you threw in my face every time
I’ve failed in my life as if that would manipulate me into realizing, once
again, you’re the savior and I’m the fuck-up.
I want to tell him this, of course, in a gentle, loving way,
because then, of course, he’ll be able to hear it and understand it.
If I explain it really  s l o w l y  as if to a child, my dad can’t possibly not
understand that his behavior across the years has been abominable at many times,
and that I don’t like to be in touch with him because of it. That I don’t trust
him because of it.
However. I’m simply expecting what he expected of me back
then: Comprehension.
No Comprende, Mamasita. He don’t get it. He won’t get it. And you can sit with as many graphing
calculators and pie charts of his behavior and your feelings of hurt and
betrayal as you choose. You can even make a PowerPoint presentation about how
his increased anger and violence was inversely proportionate to your trust of
However. I’d be wasting my breath. And do people even use
Powerpoint anymore?
I still remember concepts my dad taught me about math. I
used the one to figure out a percentage this morning. Somewhere between the
yelling and the tears and the slammed books and doors, I did learn something.
But what was the price of that education?
My dad was not a teacher. And my dad is not an empathetic
person. It just is. Just as a paraplegic, my asking him to do what he is
mentally, emotionally, and spiritually unable to do is unfair of me. My expectations on him won’t make him walk.
I hate relearning this lesson. It too ends in tears most
times. But, today, I do have a choice between struggling to opening his mind, or to simply let him be a cripple and relate to him as such. Because it seems like the person who
needs to learn something is not my dad (someone I have no control over). The
person who needs to learn empathy here, soy yo.