Do you hate working with parents of young children?

I called off again tomorrow. Whatever germs are floating around our house are persistent and Laurel is not quite right and got sent home from daycare today. I feel like crap, but I think it's because things happen like I go the whole day eating just a Luna bar and two cups of coffee because one of my students has decided that it's a good idea to tuck his belt into the back of his pants and wear it like a tail. Which wouldn't be that big of a deal, except he tries to whip people with his tail.

Did you know that dealing with crap like that was part of my job?

I've lost a whole pants size since the first day of school thanks to antics like that.

But I was thinking, as I pondered over possible solutions to this tail whipping thing, that it must suck to be my colleague, and never know when I am going to call off, but definitely know that it will be more than the allotted ten days. That I will sometimes be distracted because I'm thinking about the text I just got from my husband that says Laurel has a fever, and he's going to get her, but he's on the bus and it will be a little while. That I will pick up all kinds of germs myself, and always look a little disheveled and sniffly and tired.

That I will sometimes forget how to perform simple arithmetic while I'm demonstrating a problem on measures of central tendency on the board.

It's the health insurance that makes it worth it...me working, I mean. But sometime I wonder if we would even need the health insurance if Laurel and I didn't spend all day in germ factories, not sleeping enough due to five a.m. alarms, and forgetting to eat lunch because of tail whipping episodes.


Rough housing

"Do you think we would be as concerned if they were boys?" Stephanie asked me. The girls were tumbling on top of each other...headlocks...pushing.

Laurel plays rough sometimes. So does our neighbor, Olivia, apparently. But today we just let them duke it out until Laurel tapped out eventually. They were like puppies, rolling over each other, nipping, pulling hair and squealing, occasionally shouting out and getting mad and pouty and storming off to glare at us.

After Laurel seemed like she had enough, I grabbed both girls and said, "do you like pushing each other?" They both nodded yes. "It's fun to rough house. But sometimes it goes too far and then it's not fun anymore. Can we play a game that is fun for everyone?"

They both nodded, serious expressions on their face. Although, they are not quite two, so that expression sometimes means "Mom, I totally get you" and sometimes it means "You just said blah, blah, blah, blah and now I'm going to inexplicably take my shirt off and roll all over the ground while screaming and crying."

But then Olivia shouted "running!" and took off toward the baseball field. Laurel looked a little less sure, but she soon took off after her. From then on there was no more rough housing, and only a minor shouting match over a sippy cup.

Stephanie and I looked at each other. Did we do that right? Hopefully, because otherwise, they're both probably going to get kicked out of daycare by the end of the week. These girls can rumble.


You and your gold coins

I was tired that night, and considered canceling. Having ample Excuses on standby, this would be easy to do, and they would understand. Perhaps I would catch up on the laundry, write that contract that is embarrassingly overdue. Take the few precious minutes after Laurel's bedtime to discuss the household business that gets shoved into the mail baskets near the door. Go to bed early. Embarrassing items linger on my to-do list. Vacuum potting soil debris out of back seat of car (since August). Hem curtains in living room (since early summer). Paint door trim (since 2009). Yes, I could catch up. That would be a better way to spend my time.

And I had been fighting off a cold. School was chaotic, as usual. All sorts of drama and problems with teenagers, which required meetings, and observations and documentation. And these things fill me with a general sadness that I can't take this one or that one home with me, and give them a bowl of hot soup and make sure they finish their homework and then tuck them into bed at a reasonable hour.


But I made myself go. My mom friends had been planning this dinner out for a couple of weeks and it was hard to narrow down a date that worked for everybody, and what the heck is wrong with me that going out with my friends felt like another task to check off?

Of course, as soon as Sarah picked me up, I felt happy. Sarah is like that. Even if she's not particularly happy, she has this welcoming effect on everyone around her. You should see how excited Laurel gets every time she sees her. And by the time we sat down at the restaurant and toasted half glasses of wine, and heard the specials described in loving detail by our waiter, I was back in that place of why-don't-I-make-time-for-this-every-week. Because it is so nourishing, to sit with friends, and trade stories and laugh. And then Sarah posted a link to this article by Anne Lamott and it summed up all my excuses and why they are all stupid. You'll have to read the article to understand the title of my post.


I love weekends. Period.

This was last weekend. Flour on every surface. Delicious sourdough loaves that sustained us through the week.


And this was from a few weekends ago when Jamie visited. I wish we had a photo of her playing in the rain with Bridget. When I showed Laurel this picture she said, "When is Uncle Jamie coming over?"


And happy first day of fall! Driving home from school today, I noticed the leaves changing. But I finally uploaded some pictures I took at One Woman Farm over the summer, and this makes me smile. And remember the blisters on my hands. I have some other great shots, and I hope to put together something a little more in-depth about my experiences.



Bean Soup

Try it, mommy. Have a taste. Needs more pepper.
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Walking home from daycare

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Man Down!

Groan. Third week of school and I had to take a sick day. Yesterday at school, my throat started to hurt. By the time 6th period hit, I couldn't swallow without cringing, and my voice was no match for the boisterous energy of my afternoon classes. I set them up at the marker boards all around the room and they happily simplified expressions. I don't know why having them do the problems on the board elicits no complaints, when I am having them literally do the exact same problems that are on the worksheet, but hey, it works. I willed myself to sit through the after-school faculty meeting, and bleary-eyed, stumbled through Trader Joe's and the market to pick up our CSA. Then finally, I scooped Laurel up from daycare and got home. Thank goodness my mother had already planned to come over. She stepped in immediately to entertain Laurel and I drank cup after cup of hot water with lemon and honey. (Have I mentioned how much my mom rocks?)

Really, it's just a cold. I feel better today already. Actually, I felt better immediately upon making the decision to be gentle on myself, to give myself rest time, instead of trying to power through another day.

My school district has adopted an initiative this year called the "Whole Child", which my cynical side has dubbed "Teachers, you may not use the excuse that kids have crappy lives and arrive in your classroom sick/tired/hungry/scared...they should still be mastering grade level standards at all times".

But my cynical side is fading a bit with motherhood. When I spend time with Laurel, I choose to respect her time frame and needs (and believe me, a toddler's time frame is on a completely different scale that a busy mama's). This is bleeding over into my teaching a bit, and I have found myself with a greater sense of patience with them. I'm expanding the district's policy to include the "Whole Teacher". I meditate for a short time during my prep periods, and my desk is filled with all kinds of tea and snacks. I try to go slower. And, when I'm feeling crappy, I stay home in my jammies and curl up with tea and the Common Core Standards.

"Why are you so smiley all the time? Do you really like math that much?" one of them asked the other day.

"I like you that much," I told her.

Ha! Me. Smiley.

Now that's a thought...


We got a new record player...

...and it is awesome. Last Friday, M and I sat up (too) late and listened to records and drank some wine and talked. These days, it is a rare occasion that we can have a conversation that lasts longer than a few minutes. While we were sitting there I had a flashback of sitting on our tiny porch in Phoenix, bare feet propped up on the railing that always felt warm to the touch, even in the middle of the night. We didn't have a record player then (or did we? I seem to have a memory of putting Neko Case's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood on a turntable. Hmmm.), but we definitely had thousands of CDs, and we went to shows all the time and sometimes got home very late because we had driven to Tucson, which always seemed like a very good idea on the way there, but driving home on that flat, dark stretch of the 10 was another story. In those days, we were always going somewhere, with music blaring in the car, windows down and breeze in our hair. There was always a party, friends crowded into whatever tiny space we were living in at the moment, the din of conversation nearly drowning out the music in the background.

Now we put on a record and just listen to it. We enjoy the excuse to sit down for 20 minutes before it's time to get up again and flip it over.

Don't miss Bill Callahan's Apocalypse or tUnE-yArDs's whokill, some of our favorite releases of the year.

And don't worry, we're not total luddites....Laurel knows what a playlist is, too.


Back in the Swing of Things

I had a good first week of school. Things went relatively smoothly, I did the right amount of planning, and the principal happened to roll through my Algebra I class when the kids were actively debating the merits of two different equations they came up with to describe a puzzle.

That's right. Kids debating about equations. On the first day of school. Principal saw them.

The laundry didn't get backed up and nobody got sick. I went to bed early.

Nonetheless, even as smoothly as everything went last week, spending all day balancing the psychological needs of teenagers with my appointed task of teaching them math is exhausting.

I come home to my chatterbox toddler (kids racing! mail man! fire hydrant! moon out, mommy? squirrel eat nut berries? Sarah Kai park. what is that called? Want to paint, mommy. Sit in blue chair and paint brush, mommy. Want the other one. No. No. No. No.) She's very vocal, they report to me at daycare. They look serious when they say that. I decide to take it as a compliment. However, I do know that her rather large vocabulary includes the local term "jag-off", among other things, so I pack her up quickly and get out of there.

You would think that any toddler who had spent all day playing with friends at daycare and running around at the playground and racing her mommy through the park on the way home, would be highly willing and eager to go to sleep at night.

My friend's son is about the same age as Laurel and he recently learned how to get out of his crib. She texted me for advice for the post-crib bedtime era.

Good luck, I said. Bedtime has turned into a rather lengthy affair around here.

It's like Calvin and Hobbes. Or am I thinking Dennis the Menace? Laurel leaves a destructive path in her wake. Today, I was preparing dinner and turned my back on her for one second only to turn around again and see that she had dumped out an entire box of baby cereal into a bowl and was enthusiastically stirring a powdery mess.

"Yum, Mommy! Making eggs!"

It was in her hair. And all over the previously clean drying rack of dishes. It was not, however, on her clothes, since she wasn't wearing any. She stripped down at the store, earlier in the afternoon.

Bedtime is the same thing. I try to do all the right things. We have a routine. We turn out all the lights and get mellow and sing quiet songs and read books. We say a firm goodnight and tuck her in with an ever-expanding menagerie of stuffed animals. But some nights, she just won't go to sleep. She makes funny demands. "Lay down, mommy. Next to." There are requests to go to the potty. Another glass of water. Hungry. Or my personal favorite, "Ok, all done sleeping," as she dramatically flings her pacifier to the ground.

We had an interesting weekend...an impromptu party after the Big Pour, and we hosted a guy who biked from Charlottesville, VA to Pittsburgh. The house was loud with records playing and conversation. People gathered on the porch. Friends splashed with Laurel in puddles out front. It was the most fun I've had in ages.


Hello, again...

Well, that was a short month.

I remember days passing that were eternally long, but then nights came, and another day was born and then it was September. Just like that.

I wrote more letters and worked my way through five or six books from the library that did not have Elmo in the title, and went running and bought a bunch of art supplies at this super cool secondhand craft store and Laurel and I made giant messes with paint. We painted a lot of kayaks.

Laurel is somewhere between a holy terror and sheer delight. She lives life with the kind of exuberance that frequently results in some kind of mess. She fears nothing. She is friendly and inquisitive. She talks in brief phrases and sentences now. "Bees eating nectar?" and "Berries hiding the birds eat them." She calls napkins "lapkins" and it's so darn cute I can't bring myself to correct her (well, I corrected her six dozen times, but she doesn't seem to like my way of saying that word, so I've given up for now). I came home from running yesterday and Laurel and M were having a dance party of sorts in the bedroom. When I walked up to the house, she was standing on her little stool, pulled up to the window so she can watch for taxis and buses. She shouted "Mommy, out!" - which I knew to mean, "Please come inside, or else I will crawl out on the roof top and jump to you." I had a moment of panic until I saw M's head appear in the window. I went inside and while I stretched, Laurel stood alongside me and did toddler approximations of my movements. Which is to say, she contorted herself effortlessly with her not-yet-tense toddler muscles. When the three of us are together, Laurel shouts "Family hug!" and comes running over and we all hold onto each other and smile.

I just started working again. We have teacher inservice this week, and then the freshmen will come on Tuesday and regular school will start on Wednesday. I came home yesterday and was so utterly exhausted, not from the amount of work I did at school, but I think, from the lack of play. Play is therapeutic and energizing. Play makes people smile. I remember a couple of weeks ago, Laurel and I were hanging out in this field in the park. Just kind of shooting the breeze, the way one does with an almost-two-year old. Watching squirrels and looking for tiny flowers and spinning around in circles. That's what we were doing when this man walked by with his dog. I saw him smiling at us out of the corner of my eye as I twirled around, arms stretched wide, matching Laurel's movements. And then we fell ("ashes, ashes, down!" ) and stared at the clouds for a bit.

Tonight, we got stuck in a traffic jam on the way home, which might have been terrible, but Laurel calls it a traffic jamberry (do you know the Bruce Degen book?) and then we got some Spak Brothers takeout instead of cooking, and after dinner and a bath, we sat down and read Chicken Soup with Rice and Goodnight Moon, except Laurel wanted to read out loud, and she sort of did. And I was only a little bit amazed. Mostly I caught myself thinking, time and time again, I have never had such joy in all my life.

So, that was summer. We haven't really figured out a way to juggle everything on our plates and are desperately behind on just about everything. Except taking time as a family to love each other and play, whenever we have the chance, so I guess maybe we are not behind at all.

I'm a little worried now. I don't want to be tired for the rest of my life, and I don't want to feel like I am stealing time if I wander through the park, taking 2 hours to walk 1/2 a mile and stopping at every interesting stone in the path and hole in a tree trunk. I want to take time to explore pattern blocks with my ninth graders, and entertain their questions about real world math, and read some biographies of famous scientists and mathematicians. I want to ponder over problems.

Going into this school year, I prepared myself. I hate school (I know, teaching is probably not the best profession for me), so I stocked up on herbal tea and meditation recordings, and I just came across the following video, which makes me feel very calm, even though the awesomeness of August is gone. Alarm clocks are my new reality. Clutching a cup of coffee throughout most of the day, willing myself to stay upright and look interested while my principal talks about "the Whole Child".

So, watch this little video and slow down your life for a moment with me....

Growing is Forever from Jesse Rosten on Vimeo.