All Posts By

Rachel

fathering mothering PARENTING

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

 

Education PARENTING Teaching

You’re Doing It Right (At Least Some Of It)

The worst part of the first year of teaching is failing. Not failing once, or twice. No, failing hundreds of times, again and again.

Or at least, that’s my opinion.

Nothing I was doing was right. From the first day, not know how to respond when Tiara told me I had a nice ass, to the day before Christmas vacation when, in a moment of bonding I “walked it out” to Unk and Royal told me “I didn’t ever be needing to be doing that again,” I grasped desperately for each inch of progress, and mostly felt the rocks give way on my climb toward improvement.

Dramatic? Maybe. But that first year was dramatic.

I’m coaching new teachers and it is the week before school starts. Tensions are high, and the consensus amongst everyone is that everything is overwhelming. Some are masking it more than others, some are grasping at the progress like I did my first year, others have let go of the cliffside altogether and are bracing for the crash at the bottom.

This summer I had two months of professional development about how to be a coach. There was a lot to learn. One of the components we were taught was to view coaching from a “strengths-based approach”. Amongst the other “learnings” of the summer, that one seemed a little unnecessary. Why was it worth mentioning that we believe in celebrating strengths? Duh. I am familiar with the compliment sandwich: start with a positive, then say what you really want to say, end with a positive.

Truthfully, I’ve always preferred the “Atkins-diet approach”. Give it to me straight. Tell me how I’m failing. Rip off the bandaid and stop the sugar coating. Leave off the bread.

I know, don’t you wish I was your coach?

But the importance of “strength-based coaching” was been reiterated to me this week in my professional and private life.

While I’ve been busy meeting teachers and helping set up classrooms, my son has been busy learning how to walk. He isn’t there yet, but he’s gotten very creative in finding props to use as walkers so he can move around the room. His favorite is the coffee table.

He’s been pulling himself up onto furniture for awhile now, but the newest development is to pull himself up, rock slightly forward and backward, and then let go of the table. For increasingly longer increments of time he has started to stand and then either puts his hands back on the table or falls on his butt.

The first time this happened he had such an incredible look of concentration, which was immediately broken by my exclamation of “YOU’RE STANDING! YOU’RE STANDING!!!” Grabbing back onto me, he grinned, sat down, and started clapping for himself.

And that, my friends, is the strengths-based model. Seeing something someone is doing well, and naming it for them so they know to keep doing it.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about. How my idea of only thinking about the bad stuff so I can be better assumes that I know when I’m doing things well. And a lot of times I don’t. A lot of times I feel like there’s nothing but bad stuff. A lot of times I’m afraid to believe in the good stuff, because it makes me vulnerable to disappointment when something happens that shatters the image or calls my confidence into question.

When I watch my son let go of his grip and stand there proudly on his own, my first thought isn’t, “Well, there you go again, not able to stand up.” My first thought is jubilation. My first thought is fondness and pride and love. The same fondness and pride and love that I deny myself, because I’m so busy tearing myself down.

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What if instead I was willing to eat the bread? Instead of ignoring my husband when he says I’m beautiful, what if I let his opinion sink in, let his vote actually count? Lately I’ve been running an election and it hasn’t been a democracy. What if instead of barely listening to the good stuff from my boss because I’m so busy bracing myself for all the mistakes, I allowed myself to consider how those good things happened and take some time to think through how to continue to make them happen. What if I took a deep breath and said, “YOU’RE STANDING!” I’m still a beginner at this coaching and parenting thing, and sometimes standing is it’s own miracle.

As cynical as I am about the compliment sandwich and the strengths-based approach, is it worse than my inner critic?

As I walk through the halls of the school next Tuesday, I have no idea what I will see. I imagine it possible that more than one of my teachers will, like I did my first day, look at the clock at 10:00am and realize they are in for one of the longest, worst rides of their lives. Regardless, I want to be the person who can see the good in what they are doing it, name it, and encourage them to continue on (possibly after having a good cry and a glass of wine).

And then, when I come home, I want to think back on the day and not just cringe at the bad stuff, but smile at the good stuff, too. And then maybe I’ll have some wine, or maybe a sandwich, including the bread.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

P.S. The sandwich in the picture is from Little Goat restaurant here in Chicago, and was (I’m ashamed to admit) the picture I took to brag about my meal on Facebook. Regardless your feelings of this post or compliment sandwiches, let me highly recommend this pulled pork sandwich of deliciousness.

fathering mothering PARENTING

How To Make A Baby: The First Year

It’s been almost a year since I pushed a human being out of my body. This past week I have been literally aching to have another baby. I’m telling myself this sudden desire for baby number two is a result of this important birth anniversary. Biology is an incredible thing. (I think I hear my mom cheering.)

I’m not going to give you the play by play of how our baby, or any baby for that matter, was made. Sorry. Or maybe, you’re welcome. But what does it take to “make a baby” a success?

I have read a lot of parenting articles, blogs, and books and some have been helpful and some have been not helpful, and the conclusion I’ve drawn is that nobody really knows. Therefore I feel as qualified as anyone else to offer you my personal conclusions about parenting, one year in.

“Good Mom” Does Not Equal DIY

Every day my son gets a sheet from the daycare chronicling his day. Without really talking about it, my husband and I have been saving them. That is, until a few weeks ago, when the sheets had accumulated on every surface of our house and in the cracks of the seats in our cars, in purses, bags, drawers, and the diaper bag. I asked my husband if it was important to him if we kept them. He was surprised, saying he had only been saving them for me.

Then my husband said, “Huh, I guess I just imagined you were more of a scrapbook kind of person than you actually are.”

I threw them away. All of them.

In a perfect world I would scrapbook everything from my son’s first footprints to the sheets he brings home from daycare. In a perfect world, I would have remembered to take the photo each month with my son in his cute onesie stating his age (I did three of the first six months, and then realized around month six, when all the pictures looked exactly the same, the purpose of the stuffed animal sitting next to my friends’ monthly baby picture updates: size perspective. I’m a quick study. By the time I’d made this discovery my son had had a diaper explosion, ruining his six month onesie, and ending the project.) In a perfect world this isn’t what my son’s first photo album would look like:

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Let it be known it took me five minutes to dig this box out of the closet for this photo. That’s how low this is on my priority list.

In anticipation of my son’s first birthday my coworker and I sat during our lunch break and browsed Pinterest photos for ideas of first birthday themes. I got so excited looking over the ideas and planning out foods. I settled on a dog theme, complete with puppy chow snacks. An hour later a different coworker asked me what my son’s first birthday party theme would be. In a moment of clarity I said, “Rachel’s House”.

We’re ordering the party food from Costco. Funny thing? I have no regrets about how I’ve been spending my time. And my son still seems pretty happy whenever I enter the room. Though I suppose there’s still plenty of time for him to hold the lack of photo albums against me.

“Sleep Training Sucks Balls”

I apologize for the language. Allow me to explain. I recently got back in touch with an old friend from High School. Via text she told me she’s been reading my blog and then said, “Are you still sleep training? Sucks balls!!!” I laughed for a full five minutes.

It isn’t just that we have tried every sleep configuration possible, including: holding him through the night, co-sleeping, him sleeping next to our bed, us sleeping next to his bed, sleeping in the play pen next to the bed, moving the crib into our room, moving the crib into his room. We’ve tried sleeping in the swing, sleeping in the bouncer, sleeping on the floor, with and without blankets, pacifiers, comfort objects, mobiles, and sound machines.

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The bigger challenge is the fear. The fear that even though he’s slept the last three nights, we’re one bout of sickness away from starting over. From the dreaded beginning. Or the fear that he, and we, will never sleep again. Ever.

By the way, for all of you itching to tell me it gets better, I know, I know. Wanna know what’s even more helpful than telling me it gets better? Offering to take an overnight shift to watch him.

Finally, a parenting law: the moment a baby falls asleep one of the following will happen: a doorbell ring, a dog bark, a phone buzz, firecrackers, battery operated toys coming to life with creepy songs and flashing lights, car alarms, kitchen alarms, or fire alarm. If none of the above happen, you will trip and stub your toe on the way out of the sleeping baby’s room. If you break your toe without making a noise, you win. This is Truth with a capital T.

Do What Works Until It Doesn’t. Repeat.

Sometimes it works to leave dishes piled on the kitchen counters and onto the floor. Sometimes it doesn’t. Then we wash them. Sometimes it works to feed our son organic food. Sometimes it doesn’t. And we give him regular generic brand apple sauce. Sometimes it works to drown your postpartum sorrows in endless slices of cinnamon swirl bread with butter. Sometimes it doesn’t. And you buy bigger clothes and eat less carbs.

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All random examples of course.

I felt some guilt over the fact that for awhile the only thing that calmed my son down while riding in the car was listening to Eminem and Rihanna sing the song “Monster”. Did I listen to too much top 40 radio while pregnant? Likely. Is it worth listening to “Monster” forty times in a row to avoid a long car ride with a screaming baby?

You’ll have to decide that for yourself.

Tell the Truth 

I cried for four hours every day the week after my son was born. The crying slowed down a little each week until I only cried every other day, once a week, and finally only when watching heartwarming videos. (OK, Always sanitary napkin commercials. Their marketing campaigns have been impressive lately.)

I recently realized I drove home with my son’s carseat not snapped into the carseat base, as the carseat base had a sock, a highlighter, and a metal fork in it.

When my son was three months old I put too much weigh on the handle of his stroller and he fell out of the stroller and scratched his eyelid. Arguably one of the worst moments of my life.

We switched to using brown sheets because that was easier than changing them as often as our son threw up on them.

I know, gross.

But also, a relief. This past year some of my favorite moments have been when I have told one of these stories to someone and they’ve respond with, “Oh, let me tell you…” and then matched or topped my story with one of their own.

There aren’t a lot of answers, but there sure are a lot of stories.

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One year. I can’t believe it’s already been one year. But my almost standing, almost walking, almost talking son is proof that indeed, life continues, ready or not. It may be awhile before baby number two (sorry Mom) but in the meantime, I am the proudest mama of my little one year old.

Thank you for the lessons, my sweet boy. Happy Birthday.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

Education friendship Teaching

5 Tips I’ve Learned About Work From My Mentor

I walked the quarter mile from the Metra train to my first school for my first teaching job lugging my wheeled suitcase behind me the whole way. The suitcase was full of my personal collection of children’s books, gleaned from my childhood library and garage sales.

I was one of several thousand twenty-two year old white woman applying for the same few teaching positions in Chicago Public Schools and my job and life experience had little to recommend me. I finally got a job after interviewing with the principal at a job fair, answering her questions while she ate Cheetos out of the snack-sized bag. She promised to call me. She didn’t. So I called her every day for weeks until I finally managed to get an interview at the school. The interview consisted of a tour of the building, bullet holes in the classroom windows and all, after which the principal looked at me and said, “Are you sure you want to work here?” I answered in the affirmative, and a few weeks later I showed up for teacher inservice.

I knew very little about how to be a teacher or how to be a worker. I was still learning how to pretend to be an adult.

In her book Lean In Sheryl Sandberg talks about the need for women to find a mentor in their profession. This insider can help them develop as an employee and help them hurdle the potential pitfalls in their job. I was fortunate enough to run into exactly this person on my first day of work. Enter: Karen.

Karen had previously made partner in her law firm when she decided to change careers to become a Chicago Public School teacher in one of the more challenging schools in the district. Karen walked into the office of the school on my first day, took one look at me, and immediately took me in as her project. Since that day she has grown from being my mentor to being one of my best friends. In honor of her birthday I offer you five lessons I’ve learned from her about how to be a better employee (and maybe how to be a better person.)

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1. Sit in the Front

When I’m in new situations I try to squeeze in unnoticed, sitting near the back, slouching in my seat, keeping a book or notebook nearby to detract attention. But this was not Karen’s style. I spent a lot of time watching her, trying to figure out what it was about her that got her so much recognition and praise. And then I realized it. She always sat in the front. For everything. Often directly in front of the speaker. Often she would even go a step further and talk to the speaker afterward, always finding some relevant question or point from what they said.

We all know it’s not cool to sit in the front. Or to be “that person”. But Karen changed my mind of this. She was known by everyone: the boss, the boss’s boss, the other teachers, the parents, and the students. She made herself seen, and once she was seen her ideas were acknowledged and affirmed. Of course this could backfire if you don’t want to be seen. However, Karen wasn’t afraid of being seen making mistakes. Instead, she invited people to come into her classroom, preparing opportunities to be seen at her best (and she was often the best). Her fifth year of teaching she won a DRIVE award for teaching with a $2500 stipend for excellence. It worked.

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2. Read the Mass E-mails

Every week our principal would send out an email telling the staff the announcements for the week. I would generally read the weekly memo, but I was in the minority in that regard. I remember Karen telling me to print out the memos and put them in a binder. She has this thing about binders. I looked at her as if she had turned into a seal. Not only did that seem useless, it was a clear waste of paper.

But I did it. And over time I started to see trends in what appeared in the memos. I started to notice what my principal cared about and ways I could stand out from the crowd. Paging through old memos gave me insight into the goals and vision of my administrative team I otherwise might not have had, and gave me immediate conversation points when called upon by my principal.

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3. Contribute to the Team

Among other challenges my first year of teaching, I found myself strapped for cash. Especially once my student loans came due and I inherited a car from my sister (which cut down my morning commute by an hour and a half each day, but increased expenses). Therefore, when my colleague walked into my classroom in the middle of chaos, ahem, “a lesson” and told me that she was part of the social committee and was collecting twenty dollars from everyone, I dismissed her.

I asked Karen about it later and she said, “You gotta give to the social committee.” I argued with her, but she stood firm. She said, “There are things you do because it builds investment and buy in, and shows you’re part of the team.” I gave the money, and I gained the friendships of my colleagues, people I desperately needed to help me that year, and people I still keep in contact with today.

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4. Take Advantage of the Additional Opportunities

While flailing as a teacher my first year, I was also taking graduate courses to earn my teaching certificate. These classes met three nights a week. Then there was planning lessons and gathering the necessary materials for my classroom. Add to that making copies at Staples everyday since requests for copies to be made at the school had to be submitted a week in advance, which was a week more advanced preparation that I ever had my first year. Free time was at a premium and was mostly spent drinking, crying, or in panic attacks.

There are thousands of opportunities for free trainings and workshops and professional development for teachers. And Karen dragged me to them all, mostly by bribing me with hot chocolate. But these extras were almost always incredible. There were tons of free giveaways, I met important people in the field, I collaborated with other teachers, and I learned a ton about what it meant to be a good teacher, and how I could become one, someday.

Would it have been easier to sleep in on my Saturdays? Yes. Am I a better teacher because I went to the trainings? Absolutely.

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5. Give it Something Extra

It’s an ongoing joke that Karen buys the heaviest, glossiest paper that money can buy. I once asked her to print out sub plans for me, and she printed 150 pages of worksheets on 75 pound, high gloss paper. I came back the next day to find the prettiest, color-ink worksheets sitting completed on my desk. Laughing, I told her that I didn’t think the kids needed to be doing multiplication tables on vellum. She just said, “But it’s so nice to write on that paper.”

We may have to agree to disagree on the quality of our paper, but paying attention to the small details and going above and beyond is a point of agreement. When covering bulletin boards, Karen used fabric instead of paper. And not just any fabric, coordinated and brightly colored fabric. And she kept a couch in her room for the students to sit on in the library.

By doing the extra, she became a magnet for people. As you can imagine, her students love her.

I haven’t “arrived” in my field, so the advice here is shared humbly, with the caveat that it is all anecdotal with no formal research backing. That being said, taking these tips from watching and listening to Karen has allowed me to be pretty successful in all my workplaces thus far. Except maybe when I work with her. Then she steals the show. But it’s worth it to get to be on her team.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

Education PARENTING

There’s No Such Thing As a Runner’s High

Everyone sit down and take a deep breath, because I have some startling news to share.

I’ve started running again.

For everyone who looks to me as the person with whom they can commiserate about sitting on the couch, I apologize. And I still support couch sitting. You do you, girl (or boy). And for those who need me as a companion in the battle to get back the pre-baby body, don’t worry. I’m a long way from pre-baby body. If you’re the competitive type, you have awhile before you need to start to worry. Also, for those who are avid runners and anticipate your daily run with the enthusiasm of a dog greeting his long-lost owner, bless you. I doubt we have much in common. You can read this entry with pity, or leave me some unsolicited advice below about how I can change what I’m doing to become more like you.

However, it might also help to insert here that when I say, “I’ve started running again” what I mean is “I ran this past week”.

Once.

I defend myself by noting that I would have run more, but my body has been invaded by the summer head-cold of misery. I went to start a workout video yesterday (yes, I’m doing those, too) and after the snazzy opening and making sure I had my full water-bottle, the video instructor said to start “jump roping” (in quotes because neither they nor I had an actual rope). I attempted to shuffle my body in a convincing up and down manner for a total of 3.2 seconds before deciding there was no way that that was going to continue. My whole body already ached with cold and fever. No need to add fake jump roping to the mix.

My intentions are in the right place, though. I decided it was time to make a change: the polar vortex has taken away my excuse of the weather being too hot, a new beginning in my job warrants a new beginning in other habits, and I actually sometimes enjoy the feeling of not being able to move my muscles for a week after a tough workout. However, after a week of faithfully hitting my video workouts and also running, we decided to start sleep training our son.

The thing about sleep training is that it has all the guise of being about sleep and is actually about being awake. All through the night. If you’re someone who has a child who sleeps through the night, falling asleep independently with minimal or no fussing, drifting gently into the hands of the Sand Man and his good dreams, bless you. You can read this entry with pity, or leave me some unsolicited advice below about how I can change what I’m doing to become more like you.

Anyway, the lack of sleep combined with whatever it is that makes people sick in the beautiful days of summer has put a major wrench in my plans of becoming an olympic athlete and well-rested mom. (My son is also sick, so that adds to the futility of sleep training, since he wakes with every cough. Every. cough.)

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Let it be known that I have, in the past, considered myself a person who enjoys running. I have completed a good number of races, and I have fond memories of those moments. There was once a time when a five mile jog was normal. Yeah. It’s okay to barf here.

That time is not this time.

I know there are a million reasons why people run, but one that was always motivated me was “THE RUNNER’S HIGH”. When I asked someone what that was, it was always defined as a euphoria similar to doing recreational drugs, achieved by running distances usually suitable only for reliable vehicles.

I don’t know that I have ever really reached that state of nirvana in my running career [snort], but I’ve certainly had moments in the past when running was enjoyable. Or at least, when I enjoyed completing a run. I’ve had moments of hitting a stride when the run didn’t feel like every step was bringing me one step closer to needing knee surgery. And once or twice I’ve even thought to myself during a run, “Hey, this doesn’t suck too bad.”

Why does any of this even matter? Well, I’m facing a lot of new beginnings. I’m still a new mom, I’m new at my job, I’m new at this running routine. And new is so exciting. But it can also be incredibly exhausting trying to make sure that I am putting the best foot forward, making time for my intended exercise, remembering all the right times for helping my son sleep through the night. Sometimes I long for the days when I could easily run a few miles, or walk into my school and know everyone and everything and how it all worked and where I stand with each staff member. Sometimes I long for those nights when my son would sleep eight hour stretches, albeit in his swing.

But that’s not where I am right now. I’m in transition, I’m in new. New, new, new. And in typical Rachel fashion, I have decided to change everything all at once. Because what’s the point of pacing myself?

I think it would be fantastic if at the end of my running training I could reach a place of runner’s high. I don’t know how likely it is to happen any time soon, since right now my running is taking place in minute-long increments with ninety second walking breaks. Also, that’s assuming there is even such a thing as a runner’s high, something I’m not so sure about when my neighbor looks me up and down in my spandex pants. At that point I believe in the Runner’s “Hi I’m gonna punch you in the face.”

For the record I would also be very open to having a “mom high”, something I’m willing to now define as my son sleeping through the night independently. Or a “work high”, which I will define as finally feeling like I have started to get the hang of things. (I must…ask…less…questions…)

In the meantime, I’m working really, really, really hard to be patient, trust the process, live in the moment, [insert your cliche here]. And maybe if I’m really lucky, I’ll find some people around me who love me enough to give me solicited encouragement as I make the transition. Bless you. You can comment below. 🙂

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(P.S. Let it be known here that even in my “running days” of the past, I was beaten in a half-marathon by ketchup and mustard. ‘Nuff said.)

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

Education Teaching

The Hustle Is Sold Separately

I like signing up for things. I like the feeling of anticipation when I commit to doing something new. I love making new goals. When I was in college, my favorite time of year was signing up for classes. I would pour over the course catalog for days, looking at every possible new course offering, thinking this might be the semester to try international relations, or economics, or political science.

I like signing up for things. But follow through is hard.

This is something I am thinking about with some regularity as I start my new job. It’s been awhile since I’ve changed jobs, and an even longer while since I’ve worked in a job that isn’t teaching. There’s something incredibly satisfying and exciting about being part of new. But even in the first three days of the job I am already aware that what isn’t new is me. I’m still me. I can wear business clothing, put on makeup, do my hair, recreate an image, but the core of who I am is not changed. Which means that despite my new beginning and all the possibilities it holds for change and growth, I still stand face to face with my strengths and weaknesses. I still have to do the hard work of becoming a better me.

One of my big challenges is that I give up before I try.

When I walked into school on Tuesday for my first day of reporting to work, I saw a quote written on the wall that made me stop, backtrack, and stand and stare. In script it read, “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.” (Bill Cosby)

There was literal writing on the wall. For me. Okay, not just for me. But I internalized it as a sign from above.

About a month ago my friend Lenora and I were talking, and I was crying to her about how hard it was to leave my job, how scary it was to accept a role of leadership, how hurt I have been by past bosses, and how easy it would be to hold back, to stay in stasis, to allow the circumstances of my life to happen to me instead of being the agent of change in my situation. Maybe what I have right now is good enough. Maybe my dreams and visions are foolish. After a lot of talk Lenora said, “I’ve had to face the fact that sometimes my biggest enemy is me.”

Mic drop.

I’m so scared to fail. What if my bosses don’t like me? What if the teachers I work with don’t like me? What if I can’t stay organized? What if I am revealed to be the faker I am, making things up as I go? What if I can’t make friends?

In other words, what if I fail?

A week before my last day at my charter school I went with the fifth and sixth graders to a team building nature center. Of the activities we did, the one that the students were most excited to participate in was the climbing wall. We did this activity last, and the students, most of whom had been my students two years earlier, were understandably eager to know if I was going to be climbing.

I think we’re all aware of my feelings about my body lately. The group leader came up to me privately to see if I was going to climb, and I told her that I would just let the kids climb. I made a comment about how I wanted to make sure they all had time to climb. I said something about not being sure if the harness would fit. I said a few other nonsense, pathetic reasons why I wouldn’t be able to climb the wall. The leader didn’t push me, but simply said, “Well, if you change your mind, I need you to fill out this waiver.”

I stood there as I watched my students climb. A few made it to the top. Others stopped half way. Then Sonya got up. Sonya has a physical disability that makes it very challenging for her to do gross and fine motor activities. But she marched up to that wall with the confidence of an olympic athlete. In a moment that makes me cry to just remember, she grabbed the hand holds and started to climb. She made it up one hand hold, pushing her feet a foot off the ground, and then fell down.

We cheered. There wasn’t a person there that didn’t see what an incredible accomplishment this was for Sonya. Her classmates gave her high fives as she made her way back to the group, smile a mile wide, screaming, “Did you see me? Did you see me? Did you see me?”

In that moment I decided that regardless of the size of my butt hanging out of the harness for all my students to see, regardless of whether or not I could get myself off the ground, regardless of the million reasons why I “can’t”, I was going to climb. And I did. And I made it to the top. Not such a failure after all.

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I have a dream. I want to become a principal. I want to open a school and I want to change a community. I want to change the lives of hundreds of children. Becoming a teacher coach is one step in the direction of achieving that dream. And it scares the snot out of me. It scares me to even type it.

It scares me to let you see that part of me. I am not like Sonya, I do not want you to see me. Because that makes failing so much more humiliating. Because that sets me apart from others. Because that makes it so much harder to take back if everything comes crashing down around me. Because I don’t always believe I deserve to succeed.

I may fail. I may never become a principal, or I may become a principal and totally suck at it. And as I go farther down the road toward this dream, each role becomes a little more public and  a little more open to ridicule. As I climb toward this dream, the fall gets more and more treacherous. And my fear cave is never far, giving me the reasons why it won’t work.

But what if it does?

My friend posted on Facebook recently, “The dream is free, the hustle is sold separately.”

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This is the hustle. I have my exciting fresh start, my new beginning. I’ve signed up for the race. I’ve picked my courses. Now comes the hard work. Now comes the battle against the fears and the reasons not to try. And while there may be people along the way who prove difficult, I think the biggest battle will be with myself, giving myself permission to fail, but also giving myself permission to succeed.

I’m grabbing the first hand hold, and I’m pulling myself up on the wall. And I’m praying for the courage of Sonya, to do my very best, to give it my all, no matter the risk.

“Did you see me? Did you see me? Did you see me?”

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

 

Education PARENTING Teaching

Angry ‘Cuz You’re Moving On Without Me

Street sign

“You can only love what you got while you got it.” -Kate DiCamillo

I’m leaving.

I have one week left at a school that I helped open four years ago. And I have no idea how to feel about it. Relief that the year is almost over, obvious sadness to say goodbye to a community that has embraced me and a community that I love.

I go back to stories and people and find new reasons why I don’t want to leave, and why I do.

And I find myself angry about everything. Anger. Such a useful emotion, and so dangerous because it is so hard to control. But anger, useful in the way it helps me to disconnect, to push away, to let go.

I wish that instead of anger I felt acceptance. I wish I felt mindfulness. I wish I felt calm. But I’m not that enlightened. And it’s the end of the school year. I’m exhausted.

The secret I’ve been keeping is that I want everything to fall apart without me there. I want the whole school to fail. I want scores to plummet next year and everyone to miss me. Because I want to be that important and that amazing. I want everything to be about me.

When talking with my principal about leaving she told me not to feel badly. And I said, “I am just sad.” I know everyone. I know all the cafeteria workers and all the custodians. I bring Christmas presents for the engineer and she leaves me bags of oranges on my desk chair. One of my favorite parents came to my house during my maternity leave to teach me how to wrap my stomach. I’ve taught half of the students in the school. How can I possibly leave?

My principal said, “It really is your school.”

And it is. And it isn’t. Because people and schools don’t belong to one person, shouldn’t belong to one person. Can’t belong to one person.

I’ve been working on this in parenting. I’ve been reminding myself over and over my son doesn’t belong to me. Now I’m having to do the same in regards to my job.

The same part of me that wants my son to love and adore only me also wants my school to cease to exist without me there. Which is ridiculous for so many reasons, the biggest reason being that it is my choice to leave, no one is kicking me out. It’s a self-imposed exile and I’m all kinds of grumpy about it.

I’ve had good friends leave the school and the school has gone on without them, as it will without me. I hope that everyone will miss me next year, but in two, three, five years very few people will know my name.

In five years, when no one remembers me, what is my legacy?

Yesterday I was in my classroom, working on planning the school carnival. While I was there student after student came in. Some wanted to play a game, other wanted candy, others had stories to tell. But Natasha came in just for a hug. She walked in, arms outstretched, and said, “I just wanted a hug.” I hugged her, and then she left.

I’m angry because I’m leaving. Because I won’t be able to control what happens in our school from here on out. I won’t be the voice of dissent or assent in the leadership meetings. I’m angry because leaving means letting go. And I don’t want to let go.

But I’m also angry because leaving doesn’t make me care any less. Instead, leaving makes the small moments, like the hugs from Natasha, even more powerful and even more painful.

And it’s easier to be angry than to be sad.

At lunch today three second graders came up to my room. I asked them what they wanted to do. I expected them to say they wanted to play on my iPads. (The possession of the iPads makes me infinitely more popular.) Instead, they said, “We just wanted to tell you about our weekends.”

If I have any choice in how I leave, any choice in how I’m remembered, I hope my students remember me as a teacher who took the time to listen to the stories of their weekends. In the craziness of testing and Common Core, the decisions about what curriculum to use and how to structure our literacy block, I hope that listening to stories never stops being my priority, regardless of the school I am teaching in, regardless of whether I’m teaching or not.

I’m leaving. And my school is going to move on, with or without me. I want to want this and want to be happy about this. Eventually I think I will be. I’m trying to be thankful for the lesson I’m learning about how I am not the center of the universe, probably not even the center of my school. I’m trying to once again open up my clenched fists and let go.

With open hands or clenched fists, next Thursday will come. Angry or grateful, selfish or gracious, the goodbye is here. One more week left to leave my legacy.

I plan to give lots of hugs.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

Education mothering PARENTING Teaching

I’ve Had Enough of the News.

I’m over it.

In case you aren’t keeping track, it’s been a tough month for women. Over 270 girls were kidnapped from Nigeria, an Iranian actress faces prosecution for kissing the 83 year old head of the Cannes Film Festival on the cheek, a Sudanese woman is facing the death penalty and 100 lashes for converting to Christianity, the shooting rampage of a man angry for being rejected by his female peers has left seven dead and many injured, and the death of Maya Angelou has taken away a great feminist, poet, and teacher. There’s a reason why I hate reading the news.

Meanwhile, back in my two foot square of influence in Chicago, while standing in line to buy my comfort food, purchased at least in part because I have absolutely no idea how to process and deal with the bombardment of bad news in the media lately, I noticed that US Weekly has chosen this week to publish “The Body Issue: Heidi Klum and 100 Sexy Stars Strip Down and Show Off.”

There just aren’t words.

Yesterday my students helped me label and sort books in my classroom which, over the weekend, became the book room of our school. I’m up to my eyeballs in boxes of books with more than a little work cut out for me.

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I let my students pick the songs we listened to, until one of my students said she wanted to listen to “Dark Horse” by Katy Perry and Juicy J. I said I didn’t like that song. She of course wanted to know why, so I said, “I don’t like the rap. You know the part where it says, ‘She’ll eat your heart out, like Jeffrey Dahmer”?” And then I explained who Jeffrey Dahmer was, and why that line is particularly twisted.

They didn’t really feel like finishing their breakfast after that.

It reminded me of a small moment; a conversation I had with my friend Amber. My husband and I were deciding if we were ready to have a baby and I was pretty sure it was hinging on how well we were prepared to do the whole “sex talk” thing. (I have really weird ideas about what it means to be a parent, hang with me here.) Since Amber is a mom I respect, I asked her how she broaches such important topics with her children and she said, “The same way we deal with every other issue. We talk about it, we’re honest about it, and we answer the question that is asked.”

Basically, they talk to their kids, listen to their stories, and share their own. It seems so simple, and yet…

When my student found out about the lyrics of “Dark Horse” her first comment was, “I have GOT to tell Lana about this. That’s her favorite song. She knows all the words. And she don’t even know what she’s rapping.” Then the three of us had a long conversation about being afraid of people like Jeffrey Dahmer, the shooting in California, and what it feels like to be women. And it wasn’t just my stories, it was their stories, too.

It’s kind of amazing what happens when you answer the question that is asked.

Mary Oliver says that the instructions for living a life are: “Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.”

I find that when I’m overwhelmed with the news, it’s often because of what I’m paying attention to.

It’s been a rough month for women. But that’s not the only story.

There are women sharing their #YesAllWomen stories. There are post cards being sent to politicians saying “Not One More”, we’ve had enough of the killing. Neko Case is challenging people’s ideas of what it means to be a musician who also happens to be a woman. And my fourth grade helper is telling her friends why its important to understand the lyrics of the songs they listen to.

It’s not everything, but it’s something.

I’m over it. But it isn’t over. It’s been a tough month for women, but we keep marching along, and “still we rise.” We have to.

And so I keep paying attention, I keep telling my stories, and I try not to forget to let the good ones astonish me as much as the bad.

MaryOliver_LIFE

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

Education fathering mothering PARENTING Teaching

Catching Vomit In My Hands: A Teaching Fail and A Parenting Win

teacherrachel(#TBT: me, my first year of teaching)

The hardest part about the first year of teaching is that you have no instincts to draw upon to help you as you face a sea of faces; twelve year olds with zits the size of Mount Doom and still you are the most self-conscious one in the room. In that moment you are as far away from knowing what it means to teach a seventh grader as the distance you’ve tried to wedge between you and your seventh grade memories. In that moment you become about as qualified to teach seventh graders as, well, your seventh grade self.

Or maybe I’m just speaking for me.

I did, after all, go through an alternative certification program that gave me a teaching certificate after six weeks of teaching summer school while attending evening classes. (These classes were held in a run down Chicago Public School building where the water was not suitable for drinking and the classrooms were on the third floor of the un-airconditioned building. I got heat stroke. But seriously, that’s everyone’s entry into teaching, right?)

Let’s just say I got “on the job training”. A whole lot of it.

I’m a fast learner, so I realized I had taken a belly flop into the deep end of the pool when my plan for helping students enter the school building from the playground on the morning of my first day of teaching went something along the lines of, “We’re in room 210. See you up there.” All the rest of the teachers stood confidently facing their students, telling them the designated stopping points along the way to their classroom. Then in a spell of jujitsu magic, their students neatly filed into one line and silently entered the school.

I think my line may have been able to accomplish this sometime around May. Fine, I’m exaggerating. Sometime around June. If we ever did get that together. There’s a lot about that first year I’ve blocked from memory. But seriously, that’s everyone’s entry into teaching, right?

That wonderful year of my life (my first year of teaching) comes to mind frequently these days as I find myself once again at the beginning of something, something I face without the instincts of a veteran. By this, I mean mothering. I’m still in my first year of mothering, and while I don’t have to do tasks like teach my son how to line up in a straight line, I often find myself surprised by how a simple task can seem impossible. Like how to put a sleeping child into a crib without said child waking up and screaming. (The equivalent of Indiana Jones attempting to take the golden statue…no. sudden.movements.)

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While I was living in Philadelphia during my sophomore year of college I became friends with a woman named Keia. She had a beautiful one year old daughter that was crawling around everywhere. I would follow Keia around pretty much all the time so that I could hold and play with her daughter. One day at church we were sitting in a luncheon and I was holding her daughter when the little girl started to cough. Before I registered what was happening, Keia had turned around in her chair, flung her hands forward in front of her daughter, and her daughter threw up in her mom’s cupped hands.

Gross, I know. But also kind of amazing. I developed a new awe for Keia that day. I think I shouted out something like, “You’re a MOM!” By which I meant, of course, “You have those mother instincts!” The ones that tell you when your child is puking. (Motherhood is glamorous, what can I say?)

Which leads me to this week. Our son has been sick for the past five days with what I assume is a cold and a fever. It is way harder than I ever thought it would be to watch my child wheeze. And maybe a little cute that he has a cough that makes him sound like a pack-a-day smoker. OK, not cute. Sad.

He’s been sleeping in bed with us the past five days which is bad news for everyone. But it was that or wake up fifteen times a night to go get him, help him fall asleep, and then put him back in his crib again. (Refer to earlier note about my skill in the area of putting a baby into a crib.) Turns out the latter is even worse news for everyone. It also turns out that my twenty seven inch long son is able to dominate sleeping space, leaving my husband and me mere inches of space on our king-sized bed.

Anyway, two mornings ago at about five in the morning my son wanted to nurse. Having mastered the art of sleep-nursing I fell asleep, waking up at six in the morning only to realize he was still nursing. I tried to cut him off, but he was having none of it. That is, until he started coughing. And then he promptly threw up all over the bed. Approximately an hour’s worth of milk, all over the sheets.

I kicked my husband awake and held our son out to him so I could get something to clean up the bed. In the four seconds it took me to get off the bed our son started coughing again and then threw up all over my husband.

Neither of us possessed Keia’s instincts. It was our first rodeo. We didn’t know. WE WEREN’T PREPARED!!

And that’s what it is to be a new teacher or a new parent or a new anything, I assume. It takes a long time to feel like you have any mastery over anything. And usually once you do, the game has changed and the rules are different and suddenly you don’t know who’s winning in volleyball anymore. (Seriously, rally scoring? What is that?)

But I know that this changes. Over time, the instincts start to kick in.

I know that I can now get most anyone to line up in single file lines with ease and maybe even a little finesse. I don’t know when that turning point happened, only that it has. After eight years of teaching I can walk into a school and instinctively know where the stopping points should be when directing thirty students from one area of a school to another. Eight years in it still isn’t always easy, but it is habit.

Some expert teaching advice I got during that first year was, “Focus on those things which you can control.” Which I now know is also expert life advice.

Most days the thing I can control is getting out of bed and doing the best I can all over again.

But I have a good end to this story. Yesterday morning I woke up and started nursing my son. About ten minutes in he started coughing. I held him upright and my husband and I both shot out our hands and he promptly vomited into them.

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Instincts. They are amazing things. So is not having to wash the sheets two days in a row.

I told you I’m a fast learner.

-Rachel

fathering mothering PARENTING

The Brutal Honesty of a Photograph

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My dad recently posted some photos from our family’s time together at Easter. They are beautiful. They all show our smiling, happy faces, many surrounded by the lush and rich foliage from the nature conservatory we visited. I loved them all.

All except one. There was one I didn’t love. It was the one of my dad, my son, and me. Actually, it was the only one of me. And let me be clear, my dad and my son look great. But I look like a total bummer.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Like, the intensive sleep deficit my husband and I were rocking, due to our choice to drive through the night to get to my family’s house. We got there in record time, without the requisite hourly stops made when my son is awake. We also got there at three in the morning, and two weeks later I think it is safe to say we haven’t fully made up the sleep gap.

Also, my family has this thing about using local and organic and natural (the real natural, not the natural stamped onto Cheetos so you can fool yourself into thinking you’re being healthy) products. I am in favor of this completely. Except when it comes to shampoo. Natural shampoo is the equivalent of rubbing Aquaphor by the handfuls into my fine and oily-prone hair. So besides the bags under my eyes, my hair looks like an Italian mobster’s toupee.

But the biggest bummer of all, perhaps, is the fact that the picture is breathtakingly honest. That’s pretty much what I look like these days. Even without long distant late night drives and lotion shampoo, I generally have bags under my eyes and greasy, sloppy hair. This is what my life has become.

When I saw the picture I started down a shame spiral. How in the world had I become one of those women? You know the ones. They find a guy, settle down, and let themselves go. Also, everyone else looks put together in the photographs. Why couldn’t I at least have brushed my hair? Was that sweatshirt really necessary? Why so baggy and dirty? Is my face always so splotchy? Oy vey. You get the idea.

I started making resolutions about what I wouldn’t eat and what I would buy to make my hair shiny. I thought about the manicures and pedicures and hair cuts and wardrobes necessary to return me to my pre-baby, pre-“letting myself go” glory. I even wrote a full ending to this blog about taking care of myself and prioritizing mommy’s needs. Which I think is important.

But the more I have thought about it, the more I have been remembering the day. The day that the photo was taken.

That day, after months of waiting, I woke up in my parents’ house and got to have breakfast with my dad. I watched my son play with his cousins. I had lunch with my mom. My dad and I took the dogs to the dog park and met really enthusiastic dog owners. (Are there any other kind?)

Then we went to the conservatory and looked at the flowers. A hush fell over my son the moment his stroller entered the fern room. He was mesmerized by the plants, often close enough to rip off chunks and immediately eat them. We took the mandatory family photos by the fountain with the naked girl and my mom got her grandma/grandson snapshot. We breathed deep the rich, oxygenated air, filling up on the green we’ve been missing for the past six months.

We went home and twelve of us squeezed around a table growing too small in a kitchen growing too small to hold the abundance of new members, married and birthed in over the past three years. While eating bowls of lentil soup we laughed until we couldn’t breathe. Because that’s what my family does. Then we played games and laughed some more. And ate some more, of course, because that’s also what my family does.

All of this I accomplished with greasy hair and baggy, out of date clothes. All of this, with the food stains and the glasses that are askew from being grabbed by my curious son too many times. All of this with the fatigue that is my familiar blanket. All of this.

I want so badly to be the person who can do it all. I want to have the career. And I do. I want the perfect house. And I (mostly) do. I have the husband and the kid, the car and the memberships. But I want to do it all with nice nails, long hair that wasn’t poorly cut during a disastrous Groupon mistake. Oh, and clean, trendy clothes. Maybe even a little make-up.

And those are things that I feel like I could have if I just tried a little bit harder. If I just bought the right cream or took the time to blow dry my hair.

But remembering that day makes me feel foolish.

Could I spend more time on my hair? Of course. Will I ever? Probably not. Because frankly, my dear, I just don’t give a damn. Or at least, not enough of a damn. There’s just too many other things that I care about too much more than whether or not my hair is washed with Vaseline, or if it is washed with Aveda.

Hear me out, I’m still going to buy the Aveda shampoo, mind you, next time I go to the salon (which should be soon because honestly, the Groupon hair disaster is still haunting me). I still like to pretend that there will come a day when I will buy the magic soap that will transform my skin in a single use. Or the super shampoo that will erase the need for blow drying, styling, and productifying. (I told you, I don’t do those things. I don’t even know the appropriate words for them.)

But in case I never do, and because I know I won’t (at least for not any meaningful length of time), I have to remind myself that a picture is just a picture. Sure, it will scroll across the computer screen at my parents’ home forever and ever amen. But it is just a picture.

And I choose the moment and memory. Even with the greasy hair.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

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