Wednesday, May 27, 2020


Teaching is my first love.

I started teaching in 1985 with my first class of three imaginary students in the basement of my parents house.  I decorated my classroom on a shoestring budget and spent my every dollar on enrichment materials.

Proud of the work that I was doing with these three pretend pupils, I kept daily attendance, assigned grades, and took discipline very seriously.  I would trudge up the stairs after a particularly challenging class and sigh deeply, complaining to my parents about the poor behavior of my unruly, imaginary students.  I was invested.  I had a deep connection to these make-believe lives and it pained me when the time came to give them up.

As I matured so did my love for teaching.  I fell in love with the profession and never looked back.

In the novice years of my teaching career, my passion grew deeper.  My heart ached when I left on maternity leave to have my first child.  I obsessed about what would become of "my kids" without me there to guide them.

Over my 18 years in education I have had days that bring you to your knees and years that make me believe I'll last until the fat lady sings.  There have been periods when my love for my job nearly swallowed me whole.

I have struggled with lack of time and loads of paperwork.  I have endured new learning initiatives  and performance pressure from school administrators.  I have worked tirelessly to challenge my students to meet the standards set by government authorities and perform well on high stakes testing.  I have handled lack of discipline and diverse learning needs.

But I have never had an experience like this.

I sit in my makeshift office waiting for a single student to reach out via Zoom.  I have been sitting in this same chair and staring at various versions of myself since late March when schools took a hard left into online learning due to Covid-19.

My double monitor set up is designed to make me fully functional and available to teach in this new remote learning realm.  Primed and ready for phantom students who never arrive.

The sudden disconnect on March 12th was harsh and final.  The virus robbed us of our normal.  The faces, the smiles, even the sullen teenage looks and exaggerated eye rolls -- the energy and life of education.  Gone in an instant.

A "doorbell" rings from inside my computer alerting me to a student waiting to enter my Zoom call.  It's a sound I don't hear frequently and my heart leaps at the idea that for a few minutes today I will get to teach a student face to face.  I admit him into my virtual classroom and feel a burst of "first day" jitters.  A tiny spark in a fire I thought had burned down to embers.

His face enters the screen and we exchange a warm greeting.  Rarely have I been so excited to see another person.  He is waiting for me to guide him, to help him, to teach him and I do so eagerly.

The session lasts for 40 amazing minutes and for that brief time I feel normal.  Connected and engaged.

He finishes his work and thanks me for my assistance.  With a wave he is gone and I am alone again left to teach imaginary students in a virtual world.

I guess I just miss my kids.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Punishment and Perspective

My big kids think I've gone soft.  Appalled by my reaction, or lack there-of to 8-year-old Griffin's $170 of fraudulent X-Box purchases.

It's mid-day on a typical Sunday.  The flares go up that there is trouble brewing and the family gathers in the living room.  Either out of morbid curiosity or in an effort to protect the young perpetrator, the big kids settle in for the show.

You see, each one of my children have committed this particular crime.  I remember Riley's turn like it was yesterday.
Standing at the counter in Boscov's, in a section of the store unfamiliar to me until this day.  I'm purchasing a suit for an 8 year old Riley.  A Riley who is a recipient of a Citizenship Award.  An award given at a gala.  A gala that would require him to wear a suit.  A suit whose purchase brought us to Boscov's that day.

I hesitantly hand over my credit card as the total appears on the register.  I'm looking at $150 before shoes...I take a deep breath and smile a proudly.  "He's worth it, right?" I joke to the cashier who seems uninterested in what brings us together today.

She swipes the card and the system beeps angrily.  Declined.  I am startled but not yet alarmed.

Can you try it again? I ask.  Declined.

I shake my head in disbelief and a flush creeps up my neck. Two patrons shift uncomfortably behind me in line. Fear grips me as I know there is a possibility that the account is empty, I fumble for my next move. 

The cashier asks awkwardly, "Do you have another card to try?"

No...I don't have another card to "try." 

I step aside and call the number on the back of my debit card hoping that somehow the automated system might know more.  I am thrilled when I reach an actual person but my excitement quickly fades when the voice on the other end regrets to inform me that there is no money in the account.

It seems charges have been made - charges that total $335.00.  Charges for a game called, "Real Steel."

Until this moment I had forgotten that Riley was by my side.  Watching my every move.  Eight year old Riley.  Award winning Riley.

"What did you say the game was called?" I ask the woman on the phone.  Riley's eyes meet mine.  In that moment I know he made the charges.  He bursts into tears.

I thank the cashier and apologize for wasting her time.  She laughs nervously and makes a joke about how busy Boscov's is on a Tuesday night. She is kind and I am grateful.

I turn on my heel and march out of the store, empty handed.  Riley trails behind.  I get in the car and buckle myself.  I say nothing.

The car ride home is steely silent,  punctuated with sudden bouts of expletive laced tirades about what he had done.  My scheming, thieving, deceiving 8-year-old son.

Punished for a month.  NO video games for a year.  NO fun - EVER.  AGAIN.
15 year-old Riley presents this story to Griffin like a badge of honor.  Having been the first to survive the wrath of mom.  One by one, each child recounts the tale of how they angered the beast by lying or deceiving.  Different stories but the same ending.  A very scary Mommy.

It is at this point that my husband moves forward, steady and stern.  I take my cue from his calm and stay balanced.  There is no screaming.  Hardly any tears. 

Punishment is handed down.  The trial has ended.  Griffin is free to go.

Ultimately disappointed by the conclusion,  the big kids continue to discuss among themselves.

"That's it?" They complain, "I don't think he appreciates the seriousness of his offense."

They mock the mother I've become.  Where is the fury?  Where is the fire?

Griffin stares stone faced at the panel who sit in judgement.

He doesn't know the lady of which they speak.  He knows a much more mellow mom.  He has not yet felt the heat of her anger.  Anger that was driven by fear. 

Back in those days it was possible to upset the apple cart over the price of a children's suit.  Trying so hard to keep up with the Jones's and failing at every turn.  We lived far beyond our means in our big, beautiful house with less than $100 in the bank at any given moment.

This trip down memory lane lends me perspective on how far we have come. These days are different.  More stable, more secure.

Griffin's mom is surely more balanced, capable of taking it all in stride.  Confident in the knowledge that we now live within our means and that is money in the bank.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Where the Monsters Find Us (Guest Post)

When I was a preschooler in the early 50s I used to play a game to amuse/ terrorize myself where my bed was safe and everything surrounding it filled with monsters, alligators, fire or other unknown hideous things. I would imagine my family and friends isolated in their own beds afraid, unaware, and vulnerable. I’d picture scary scenarios where sleeping siblings would bounce out of bed and fall prey to the ogre, where a crying baby would be rescued from a crib, where life-sustaining food and water would be secured by my heroism. In our house it was possible to communicate by tapping on the pipes, a method our dad employed to demand we keep the noise down.  Even though we knew nothing of Morse Code (except that it existed) I would fantasize that we would communicate using it. I’d further picture an elaborate system of communication consisting of string and soup cans to share needed information (an early version of iPhones...which in another bed somewhere was some tech genius baby imaging wifi and then inventing it.)

The game was pretend but the fear was real. Grown-ups would painfully explain away the monsters and ultimately my faith in adults would allow me to sleep peacefully and be able to use the bathroom, get dressed, race downstairs without giving it a second thought. It was an early lesson of the value of fact versus fiction.

Today in the year 2020 I find myself in a world where for many people around me, there are no facts. Everything factual is questioned and motives imagined. A considerable segment of the population has ignored facts that are clearly in evidence before our eyes. We have reached a stage where all news can be regarded as fake to serve our own purposes. The truth or a lie carries the same weight. There is no downside to lying. There is no such thing as proof. Sources are questioned and conspiracy theories run rampant. ‘You believe what you believe, I’ll believe what I believe.” Except, somewhere in there is a FACT. It’s fertile ground for an evil virus to reign siege on a society so skeptical that it has lost its true North.

So here we are. The coronavirus pandemic has become a parallel of the game I played as a child. Our homes are the beds, COVID19 is the monster, the heroes are medical and essential individuals sustaining us, the entire world is in the game, scientists and truth tellers are the grownups. We as people need to be the unsuspicious citizens who accept reality and believe in scientific facts. Although I haven’t personally seen the invisible virus I’ve seen the incredible damage it is imposing on neighboring countries, states, cities, towns, and neighborhoods.

It’s hard to comprehend the misery and devastation around us, yet here on our bed/home it’s not evident. This could all be a bad dream or a game that our mind is playing. A patient, trusting parent could elevate our irrational fear of something so invisible. I wish! It’s time to stop being a petulant child and listen to the facts as presented by the highest trained and trusted experts. Forget about our preconceived beliefs and political petty inclinations and do what is asked of us. Learn and appreciate the facts, put in the time, seek expert advice, value credentials, stop listening to those who tell lies. With childlike openness, we may be able to save ourselves and maybe save the world by making it a more intelligent, cooperative, better place.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

It's the End of the World as We Know It...

I have borrowed trouble since I was a young child.  Fretting about things that never come to pass. Anxiety, worry, irrational fear are as routine for me as brushing my teeth.  It's just the way I am made.

Living in that space keeps you serious. Like an officer on duty I walk a razors edge of what if.  But on March 16th everything changed.

The "what if" became a "what now" and life as we knew it came to a screeching halt.  School, Sports, Shopping - Cancelled.  Churches closed.  Assemblies un-assembled.  Socially distant was the new norm.

I blew it off at first.  Rolling my eyes as I rubbed elbows instead of embracing a dear old friend.  I broke the rules and hosted sleepovers.  I treated it as a vacation.

"Coronacation" changed me.

It was small shift, almost imperceptible to those around me.  It was my own lack of panic that I noticed first.  The proverbial "other shoe" has finally dropped and I am steady.  I have been waiting for this!"   It's the end of the world as we know it...and I feel fine.

I have been thrust directly into the present.  Living each day as it comes.  The tomorrows are on pause.  Unknown as far as the eye can see.  No more planning, no more guarantees.

Truthfully it is terrifying at times.  When the new reality set in I cried for the loss of  carefree days I didn't get to enjoy.  So engulfed in my worry, missing out on moments.  I failed to be truly present, waiting for a sucker punch that never came.

But here I am daring to look at the present and see it for what it really is.

Connected.  Connected to the kids, to my husband, to what we have created.  Connected to the idea of the six of us as a family unit - almost literally on an island.  Connected to a community of co-workers and fellow countrymen.

The world has turned upside down and I am perfectly calm.  Isn't it ironic?

Here on my island life is pretty damn good.  A nap with youngest, sneaking in snuggles with all that will allow it.  Staying up late talking to the big ones about their dreams and goals.  Spending quality hours of time with my love.  Even work is challenging and stimulating in a way that it has not been in a long time.

There is safety in the space where I used to live.  Comfort in knowing if you always expect something bad, you will never be caught off guard.  Unfortunately that isn't true.

The future is uncertain in every way.  It always was.

Nobody can predict what happens next.  There will be tough times ahead.  There will be loss and pain and grief.  It's coming whether you worry or not and that knowledge has given me the freedom to invest in the now...and faith enough not to worry about it.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Bend Don't Break

Willow trees fascinate me.  Our privacy-seeking neighbor was wise enough to plant a wall of willows in his backyard.  They grow tall and fast with roots that are remarkable for their toughness, size, and tenacity to live even in the poorest soil conditions.

As I watch the willows behind our house flail wildly in the strong wind I am amazed by their ability to arc with the force and still return to upright as if nothing had happened.  They shed some leaves and small branches but post-storm they stand tall as ever, no worse for the wear.  Such resilience.  Such strength in their flexibility.  Willows know it is better to bend than break.  

They remind me of my daughter.  She demonstrates her flexibility in life and in her gymnastics. Unfazed by the winds that life sends her way.  She has strong roots in which she trusts that allow her to reach and grow. 

I watch her balance precariously on the beam attempting to perform a back walkover.  Concentration furrows her brow as she reaches high above her head, palms upward. She bends her limber body in half and makes contact, planting her hands securely on the beam.  I am in awe of the confidence and trust she must have in herself to do this thing.  To blindly reach back.

Later as we drive home, I ask her if she is afraid. She tells me the scariest part is supporting all of her weight on her hands with no one to catch her if she falls.  That surely is the scary part.  

She started gymnastics when she was just three in a preschool class and she loved it.  She was invited to join a developmental team when she was five-years old.  I remember at the time thinking it was too soon for her to specialize in one sport.  I wanted to keep things fun. 

Boy was I wrong.

She continued on sportsing - soccer, softball, gymnastics, cheer and dance.  She tried everything.  However, by the time she decided that she wanted to focus on gymnastics we were told it was too late, the ship had sailed.  She would NEVER be team material.

She was crushed.  I was furious.  She was nine years old...not 39.  How could it be too late???  This gymnastic czar was fierce and final.  My daughter was welcome to continue taking gymnastics classes but the "team" was out of her reach.
The next day I contacted another gym where the coach listened to my sad story.  It was not her first rodeo.  "Bring her in for a tryout.  I can't promise anything but we would love to see her."

Within weeks, my "washed-up" gymnast had earned herself a spot on the ICG Team.  Not a pathway to Olympic dreams but that was never the intention.  My girl just wanted to learn new skills and compete in her sport.

Over the past year she has improved as an athlete by literal leaps and bounds.  She has strengthened her body and her resilience.  When she fell recently on bars while competing at Regionals in Wildwood, New Jersey, she hopped back up and finished her routine. She continued on to her last event and while I would have been shaken to my very core, she was steady and determined.  She nailed her beam routine and earned a 4th place finish out of 20 competitors.   

Just like the willow, she returned to upright no worse for the wear, showing her true strength is her ability to bend not break. She amazes me every day.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Sleeper

He's a sleeper.  He sets it up so you never see him coming.  No one expects his speed or his agility, his unrefined athleticism.  Competitors overlook him.  And that's exactly how he likes it.

Behind the curve is where he has spent most of his time in the past few years both academically and  athletically.  Not for lack of talent or ability, simply his choice to remain there.  Flying directly under the radar, peeking out to say hello and then without warning ducking away again.

Until this year when he turned the proverbial corner in all areas.

In school he went from a solid C student who dabbled in D's & F's to flirting with the Honor Roll.

This past fall he played  the center on his football team.  The success of the entire offense rested squarely on his boyish frame and he handled it like a Pro.  Quick enough to pull outside and strong enough to take on huge defenders, he used his lack of size to catch them off guard.  He was never taken very seriously until the ball was snapped. Like any solid center,  his critical role in the offensive scheme received little if any recognition but you felt it when he wasn't there.

He plays this center role in his real life as well.  He is largely unsung, un-celebrated but the center of our family both in birth order and in spirit.  When asked to describe him, funny always tops the list.  He is quick to hand out a hug and makes everyone who meets him feel like they really matter to him.

And you want to matter to him.  He has that thing.  That charisma, that "it" factor that draws people to him.  Even me.  I want to get inside his head and see what he is thinking but that is reserved space.  No one gets in.

There is something just behind his smile.  Maybe a hint of mischief, a glimmer of a secret.  Something only he knows and the rest of the world must figure out. He is good for a quick laugh but there is always something more behind it that you are hoping to catch a glimpse of.  I have spent many hours searching and come up still wanting. He'll reveal it when he is good and ready.

Things happen on his time.  Always have.  He was the last to talk and when he finally did, he spoke in complete sentences.  All my worries were for not, he knew how to speak all along...just didn't have anything to say.

I used to worry about Owen all the time.  Going into his first Junior High wrestling season I worried that he wouldn't earn a spot on Varsity, he did.  I worried he would get pinned every match, he didn't.

This past wrestling season he defeated many opponents who had already been granted their man muscles. In true Owen fashion he surprised them with a quick little dump and unexpected burst of power.  His opponents often looked past him, exactly as he planned it. 

Things happen on his time.  Everything except puberty.  That is happening on God's time.  And God is in no hurry.

He patiently waits for his armpit hairs to poke through the soft baby skin that keeps him a boy.  He patiently waits for his shoe size to change, it's been three years.  He patiently waits for vertical inches to add to his wake up one morning and have a jutting jawline complete with minuscule mustache like his brother did at that age.  But it is not in the cards for this kid...he still waits for his next chapter to start.  He's the sleeper.

He is is unsung in many ways... so let me celebrate where he is.  Let me praise where he has been.  Let me dream about where he will go.

The only thing certain about Owen's future is that he will do it in a style that is uniquely his own. 

Monday, March 4, 2019

Great Expectations

In sports as in life sometimes the value of the lessons learned in failure outweigh the importance of the success you thought you desired.

On paper, the facts of the brackets showed a clear road to a state title.  He had wrestled many and pinned most of the opponents he would stand to face on his way to the championship.  Unfortunately, for him, the facts of the bracket were wrong.

How can I say this plainly?  Well...he shit the bed.

From the first whistle, anyone could see there was a different kid wrestling.  Where there once stood a confident and fierce competitor was now a timid boy, wrestling scared.  

He had set the goal a year before.  He put in the hard work.  Two practices a day, summer workouts, tournaments against the toughest competition he could find both in and out of season until finally the weekend arrived.  

Everyone expected him to win and ultimately that was his undoing.  The Great Expectations. 

Turns out while he was building his endurance and strength on the mat, he had not focused on his mental toughness and crumbled under the pressure.  

Who is putting pressure on him you ask? His parents? His coaches? His community?

His answer..."myself."

Everyone had expectations for him this past weekend.  To wrestle like a stud.  To stand on top of the podium.  To be the champion. 

“What do you think they expect of you?” I ask. “To win everything.” He replies, “doesn’t that pretty much sum it up?”

What is the difference between goals and expectations? Goals are quiet and subdued.  Orderly and methodical, like accountants of the mind.  Expectations are noisy and demanding, a lot of sizzle, no substance.  

A kid who had quietly maintained a solitary pursuit toward his personal excellence suddenly found his carefully measured progress hijacked by a group of well-meaning supporters. Outside voices filled his head. His goals gave way to the expectations of others introducing the notion of letting people down.  His parents, his coaches, his community. 

It was too heavy a burden and he could not get out from under all the pressure.  

He hung his head in shame on the long drive home and we were left to pick up the pieces of our broken boy.  No words could make it better.  We assured him the heartbreak was not in vain. 

He will learn from this experience.  Learn about the high cost of buckling under the pressure.  He will learn how to keep the expectations at bay and keep focus on the central goal.  

Someday when life hands him a high-pressure situation he will have this to reflect on.  Someday when there is a lost job or a sick spouse. Someday when it really matters, he will be prepared to shut out the outside voices and fight.

There are two ways to lose in wrestling.  You can be beaten by a better opponent, which is a noble loss.  Then there is the other kind... where you beat yourself.

In loss, there is no one else to blame - no finger to point - just the man in the mirror.  Loss like that builds mental toughness.   Tough enough to beat back the Great Expectations and make silent delivery on goals achieved.