last nights

The last night of summer is always bittersweet. 

I’m filled with a mess of emotions, so much so that my chest seems swollen.  The sadness of losing the freedom & ease of summer days with my two favorite girls.  The excitement of seeing friends & work family each day again.  The eagerness for the comfort of the familiar rhythm of “real” life routines.  The thrill of the return of daily challenges & creativity.  Apprehension at the memory of the stressful, fatiguing weekly workload.  And the amazing, heartwarming joy I feel every year as I fall in love with a new batch of 40+ babies. 

Summer’s return will come sooner than we think.  On that last night, we’ll look back over the year & see how time has flown. Our babies will be taller, smarter, and a just a little bit less our “babies” than before.  For a while, I will wish I could rewind and go back, praying for just a little more time.  Knowing that’s not possible, I’ll remind myself to love the moment I’m in.  

And so tonight, on this last night, I remind myself to be grateful for this night.  Love this feeling.  Celebrate this mess of teary-eyed smiles, nostalgic laughter, and school girl anticipation.  

This — these nights, these feelings — is the stuff life is made of, and it’s beautiful.

 

The Original

On the evening of Easter Monday, I sat down and composed this letter to the editor of the Jacksonville Times-Union.  They “trimmed” it down and published a much shortened version today, May 16, 2011.  I’ve been asked to share the original.  

What a lovely holiday weekend we all have enjoyed.  I almost – for a moment – forgot all about the dread that I’ve grown accustomed to carrying with me over the last few weeks.  You see, I’m a teacher for Duval County Public Schools.  Additionally, I’m a parent of two young children.

The fear that dwells in the pit of my being right now is rather familiar.  It’s like the monster mutant germs that we, as a culture of germaphobes and antibacterial junkies, have helped to strengthen over the years.  This new fear has been growing, ever so slowly, over the course of the past five years or so.  Except now, it has reached the Red Alert Stage — like December 31, 1999.  We [educators] are all waiting in fear to experience an inevitable, catastrophic, systemic crash that will change our reality exponentially.

It’s not just a reduction in pay masquerading as furlough days, increased health care costs, frozen pay scales, reductions in per student funding, and more.  It’s not just the possible butchering of our school weeks from five days to four.  It’s even more than “just” the loss of quality art, music, and P. E. education for our children – the neurological benefits of which I’m sure you are aware.  In fact, it’s still more than “just” the innumerable effects today’s students will suffer after losing the vast number of QUALITY, EXPERIENCED educators whose jobs are poised beneath the guillotine as we speak.

By now I’m sure you’re wondering what it is that I am dreading.

My greatest fear, sir, is that for the future of my own children and the future of our city, state, and country.  My fear is that – while countries like China are busily wooing and nurturing their own budding middle classes – we are killing our own.  We are robbing our children of quality educations – educations fit to make them competitive in an increasingly global economy.  The trends are clear – the jobs for which we are preparing our students today do not even EXIST yet.  You CANNOT create forward-thinking, self-motivated, technologically savvy, independent learners without placing a political and fiscal priority on education.

I urge the elected officials of both Duval County and the State of Florida to consider the long-term implications of their present day decisions.  Are they weighing these budget-balancing options carefully against their impacts on our world, say…ten years from now?  Or how about twenty?  Do they even understand the impacts?  What is THEIR vision for our future?  Do they think sabotaging a generation of Floridian’s education is going to move us closer to making that hope a reality?  This is the burden with which they’ve been granted:  not just to promote the general welfare TODAY, but securing these blessings for our posterity.

If we do not invest in our schools TODAY, we will invest in our prisons TOMORROW.


Daddy, when we get home, can I have a popsicle?

There’s a pile of work on my kitchen table taller than a loaf of Merita standing on end.  There’s a bag in my chair that’s filled with books, notebooks, planning books, and the supplies for my productive weekend.  More mail and bills than I care to admit is collecting dust in a reusable tote bag, right next to the other silent, stewing chores.  On the top shelf of my refrigerator, you can find two chicken breasts, marinating in a pesto sauce.

It’s 6:22 on a Sunday evening, and I’m sitting on my back porch writing.  Writing, in hopes of escaping a fleeting moment that has found itself frozen in my mind.  Someone pushed the pause button as I dashed into the local Winn-Dixie yesterday before I even found my way past the self-serve registers and exiting customers.

A little boy I don’t even know, the youngest son of a stranger, brought a smile to my face, most likely without even noticing my existence.  A simple request, granted by Daddy, tickled him pink.  His giddiness smeared a nostalgic smile across my face like creamy Peter Pan on a soft piece of bread.

Since that moment, his little voice has echoed in my mind continuously.  I couldn’t help wishing, as I headed to find a six-pack for The Husband, wouldn’t it be nice to live like that?

Instead, we live in a Grown Up World where carpet has High Traffic Zones.  Roots need Touching Up and hair needs Shaping Up.  Sprinkler systems need to be repaired.  Our weeks are scheduled down to the minute, our years to the day.  We have to make special trips to specialized pet stores for organic dog food and Parent-Teacher Conferences to discuss our preschooler’s social skills and articulation.  Our outfits not only need to match, but be professional and flattering

.  People not only have blood types, but skin types and personality types and personal systems of organization.   Are you an Everything Out or Everything Away?

We don’t skip much.  We step on cracks.  We don’t swap clothes and jewelry with our buddies.  We feel

guilty

when we eat dessert and try not to be late for our scheduled time to ride a bike we don’t own...inside.  We try not to get dirty, and we worry about the cold we think we can feel “coming on”.  We have intimate relationships with our cell phones and snooze buttons.

Tonight, I’m going to eat a popsicle for dinner.  A coconut popsicle.

hesitant

How often do you call the whole practice of personal blogging into question?

I find that I question it more and more frequently….which is, I suppose, in keeping with how I feel about the entire world around me.

I question my beliefs, my marriage, my parenting, my relationships, my lifestyle, my priorities.  And while I question these things, I crave a place to share and reflect…yet, I doubt blogging is the best way to do so.  I also question that anyone really gives a flip about what I question, because they’re so busy doing their own questioning…at least I hope they are.

Some people may believe questioning is a lack of faith, but I disagree.  Questioning, to me, is growing.

********

When BigGirl was a bitty baby, I remember feeling how strong her will was, even well before she was able to articulate it.  There was just a sense of self, intention, determination about her that was evident in every interaction she had with the world around her.  At times, this felt like a curse rather than a gift…for a young mommy, that is.  I suppose my life would’ve been a lot easier if she had been the “good” little baby that would sit for endless hours in a stroller while I merried along on my own agenda.  If she had been a docile little thing, content to soak in a Baby Einstein video, I could’ve had a much more “convenient” mommyhood.  But, that was not my child.

Now, as I continue to work harder than some to get my child(ren) to “go with the flow” of life, I also am reaping the benefits of my child(ren)’s individuality.  I can see very clearly that she will be a strong young woman one day.  In fact, both of my girlies are destined to be forces to be reckoned with one day.  In that spirit, I suppose my own questioning and requestioning of myself and others is a strength, yes?

**********

I dropped my doggies off at Doggie Camp recently as we headed out of town.  Doggie Camp Manager Girl was behind the counter, finishing up a tour with a potential client when I came in with my Bo and Daisy.  I waited patiently for my turn.  As she began the check-in process, a Doggie Camp Counselor came in and sweetly greeted my four-legged babies.  Then, I observed something interesting.

Doggie Camp Manager said, “Camp Counselor Girl, if you could clock in and take Bo and Daisy back to their room, that would be A-MAAAAZ-ING.”

I wanted to say, “Really?? Would that be AMAZING??? Because I can see how that would be helpful – or maybe even great – but AMAZING???”

Thinking this morning, I’m wondering if blogging, Facebook, Twitter all magnify the importance – in a superficial way – of our lives, making the truly important things harder to recognize…or even just harder for us to remain focused on these things?

So, I ask you…how often do you question this forum?  Do you ever wonder if and when enough is enough?  Do you constantly ask yourself to define and redefine borders and boundaries? Do you ever wonder if we’re all being a little arrogant or false? And if you have wondered these things, how do you make peace with these thoughts?  How can we use these tools, that undoubtedly add much to the richness of our lives and help us strengthen our connections to people in our lives (which I find to be the most important thing of all), without diluting our priorities and self-image?