We’re pencil nubs. Burned-out candles. Overdrawn bank accounts.
We’re teachers… with nigh-on nothing left to give. Out of ideas, resources, energy… everything.
Without those, we can no longer engage or awaken — and without engagement, without awakenings, we can no longer educate and inspire.
Our effectiveness is gone. And we don’t know why… although we have our suspicions.
Is the pandemic to blame — with its ensuing lethargy? Or the parents and their increasing laxity? Or the powers-that-be and their never-ending lists of demands and all-consuming blame?
So many obstacles are stacked against us and our backs are against the wall.
And we’re tired.
Tired of juggling classes and assignments and grading and meetings and all the rest of all the things. Tired of doing our jobs and then our colleagues jobs, too, because there aren’t enough subs. Because teachers are sick — or their kids are sick. Or they’re sick to exhaustion and need more than a single night’s sleep to recover.
We aren’t recovering.
We’re doing too much and carrying too much and caring too much.
Because that’s what we do. We care. We’re empaths. It’s the nature of our job.
We feel for our students. We ache for our students, who also are suffering under the weight of all the things. Pandemic and parental struggles. Poverty and violence and loss. So much more than ever before.
And so our students aren’t keeping up — not with assignments or attendance or… anything. And it falls on us to keep up with it all. And it’s impossible.
But we try. We keep smiling. And doing. Carving out kindnesses from our very souls because all the other cupboards are bare… scraping our hearts and sharing the scraps with our depleted, dejected students.
We fake it, trying to make it. But at some point — and soon — nothing will be made… no progress; no achievement; no benchmark of understanding. No eye contact, even.
We already aren’t seen by anyone. Not the students. Not the parents. Not by the public or the politicians. We’re heaped under the avalanche of everyone else’s agendas and told to stay strong.
Stay? That ship sailed a long, long time ago.
So I guess we stay… what? Weak? Exhausted? Underwater. Under-seen. Undervalued. Under pressure.
The pressures of trickledown education.
Where we’re crumbling beneath the weight of doing it all, but are we accomplishing anything?
It doesn’t feel like it.
And something’s gotta give.
And it can’t just keep being us. We’re “give” out.
My Advance Comp students have been writing counter-narrative poems this week — poems about how they are so much more than what people judge them and stereotype them as. I wrote one right along with them — one that if you know me, you know I feel quite passionate about…
“I Am not JUST a Woman”
I do have all the girl parts and love to play the girl parts – fix my hair, wear my makeup, get dressed up to go out on the weekends,
But I am not JUST a woman.
I do know my way around a kitchen, and I love to don my apron and bake up batch after batch of cookies,
But I am not JUST a woman.
I do love my children, and being pregnant were some of the most fulfilling and awe-inspiring times of my life,
and I do love to kick off my shoes go barefoot through the clover and feel the chill of the hardwood floors on the soles of my feet,
but I am not JUST a woman.
I do get emotional sometimes. I cry at Publix commercials and when the guy gets the girl at the end of the film, and at some point (or twelve) in the classroom when I’m proud;
I get hormonal and hangry and chocolate and ice cream are my favorite go-to craving cures,
But I am not JUST a woman.
I might struggle to bench (just-barely) the bar; I might lose at arm-wrestling matches 10 out of 10 times, but don’t mistake me for weak and don’t mistake me for soft and don’t call me pushover and lady-part names.
I am not JUST a woman (and those parts are fiercer and stronger and more pain-tolerant and flexible than any part the opposing team has EVER possessed.)
I may be quiet, not speak very loud. I may be shy and not look you too long in the eyes. I may take care with just how I interact,
But I say what I mean and I mean what I say; I have opinions and a voice and I give both the light of day. I fight for my rights and for others each day, especially the ones whose lives get foul play.
I am not JUST a woman.
I’m a baker and scholar, a nurturer and warrior, outspoken and introverted, emotional and rational, I’m female and fierce.
I drive a minivan. And my kids crazy. The ones at home and the ones in my classroom.
I am quirky and classic, passionate and calm, powerful and tender, tough and tired.
I’m tired of seeing people labeled and dismissed for their skin and their clothes and their gender and their build and their address and their hair, their sexuality, their politics, their country of origin, their faith.
II am a human and a humanitarian.
I am so much more than the sum of my parts, and I am so much more than JUST a woman.
On Friday, I was struggling. I felt underwater. I felt frazzled. I was faking it till I could make it – like all teachers do sometimes. It’s the hardest tool of the skills set you need for the job.
And on Friday, I felt like I’d compartmentalized myself down to the point of fragmented, ineffectual bits.
And then these three beloved fellows stopped by during my lunch break. And they gave me bear hugs. And they told me about their lives. Their classes. Their girlfriends. Their dorm rooms and apartments. Their families. Their teammates. Their healing injuries.
And along the way, they healed my own injured self. The self that gets lost in the creases and cuts that all the compartmentalizing I do has incurred.
And they didn’t know it, but their smiles and their stories unfolded all the creases, and their huge hugs were a salve to all the cuts.
They helped me remember why I love my job and role as teacher and coach’s wife.
They helped me remember why I pour love and feed hearts (and bodies when I bake up their treats). All that love is never for naught.
It comes back to you. Three-fold. (And ten-fold and a hundred-fold and more.) Like when one of the guys who swept in on Friday to brighten my day, also came by for our boys’ basketball game to give THEM an extra lift too…
(I just wish I’d gotten a picture of the other guys on Friday, but these from this past fall will have to do.)
These pictures? These faces? These smiles? Our family is extended and varied and vast. And THIS is what makes teaching and the football life so wonderful.
Both my boys have long hair. One of them prefers things society has deemed “girl stuff.” Dance class, mermaids, colors like turquoise and pink.
And our boys aren’t ones to sit back and take it in stride when someone tells them they’re wrong. And believe you me, sometimes I wish they would because sometimes — okay, often — they’re wrong. And they’re definitely guilty of their fair share of sins, but long hair and pink preferences are not among them.
It seems recently a little girl at school has been telling them, “Boys can’t have long hair and boys can’t like girl things. It’s a sin. It’s in the bible.”
You know where she’s getting that — and it ain’t from the bible. Seems to me the only “sinners” here are the parents and preachers in the pulpits, arming young children with sharp, hateful stones to cast.
The boys have handled it well. Parker simply points out that “Jesus has long hair.”
To which this girl retorts, “No, he doesn’t. Jesus is a rule follower. He would never have long hair.”
Hmmm. Rule follower, eh? That one is open for interpretation — as are all these notions, I guess. Still… pretty sure the ultra-conservative view of what is Christ-like and what’s not (and what’s in the Bible and what’s not) seems skewed to fit a very narrow definition. And last I heard, Christ’s Love does anything but.
And then there’s the matter of Tate and his “girl” preferences. What does that even mean? Who says dance class and mermaids are only acceptable for the females of society?
“I like what I like,” Tate defends.
“Good for you,” I say. It’s all just fun and games anyway… until somebody gets hurt.
Why should anybody get hurt? Toys should be toys. Not tools to separate and defame.
The boys are growing up (fast!) and for the first time, we’re including a chapter book on our list of snuggle-up, read-aloud Christmas books. It’s only been recently published, but it’s already a family favorite.
But first, the annual tried and trues:
If you love Christmas trees and love stories — especially the larger-than-life trees and love stories that come with Rockefeller Center during Yuletide, you’ll love Red and Lulu. It’s the picture book equivalent of a Hallmark movie, but with birds. And not just any birds — Cardinals, the most festive and Christmas-y birds of all.
The illustrations are as beautiful as the storyline. Red and Lulu live their best lives in a big, beautiful evergreen… until one day, when the tree is loaded up and transported to NYC, with Lulu still inside its branches. And so begins Red’s quest to find and reunite with his one true love.
The first time we read this book, I thought it was all sentimental fluff and stuff. The second time, though, it won me over. This story matters. When you have twin boys, accidents happen (hopefully not to cherished ornaments, but still).
In this cautionary tale, young Jack wants more and more and more festive decorations to attract Santa’s attention. But when he breaks an ornament he’s not supposed to touch — an ornament passed down from his mother’s grandmother — he learns that Christmas magic can’t mend everything, but it can definitely point you in the right direction.
Like I mentioned before, we’ve added our first chapter book to our family’s Christmas book tradition. We’ve been reading quite a few since January: three Harry Potters and the first four Chronicles of Narnia. (Side note, those Chronicles are getting a bit — dare I say it? — weak and boring. Not quite sure why they’re so highly recommended…)
But we are LOVING The Christmas Pig!! We bought a physical copy as well as an Audible download, so we’re listening AND reading along. (By the way, the Audible version comes with sound effects — a BIG PLUS in Parker’s opinion.)
The Christmas Pig features yet another Christmas quest — this one to find and rescue (yet another) Jack’s most-loved stuffed pig from the Land of the Lost and the soul-crushing monster known as Loser. Jack’s new “replacement pig” plays the part of his guide through this dark underworld.
Part Velveteen Rabbit, part Dante’s Inferno, this book is both simple and complex, and the young and old alike will enjoy it. Do yourself a favor and buy it AND the Audible version and enjoy some quality snuggles with your little ones every night between now and Christmas.
My dad died one year ago tonight. Every morning this month I’ve said things like…In two weeks, he wouldn’t be here anymore…. In 9 days, he would be gone….In one week exactly, he would leave this earth.
And now… In the next few minutes, he would fall to the floor in his basement, all alone, and wait for us to find him.
It’s surreal. And awful.
And my heart is broken. Everyday, it splinters more. Pieces spill like flint — hard, dry, bitter pieces that skitter and scrape across the hard ground. Everything’s harder now.
I miss him so much.
I miss his mineral blue eyes, clear as heaven at high noon. Eyes that twinkled when he told a story — and he was always telling a story. So I guess they were always twinkling. They twinkled extra hard when he laughed.
I miss that laugh— a unique, slow, sort-of-horsey “hyuh, hyuh, hyuh” found at the tail end of a joke. Usually his own. Jokes only some of us ever got. Not a lot of us. Mainly just the physics fellas in our family. (Although honestly, we have three physics fellas in our family, which probably constitutes a lot in the grand scheme of things.)
But now there’s one less. And he was the youngest of the bunch. The end of an era.
And now, at the end of this full year of him being gone, I’m missing him more than ever. And my body is physically sick from the grief. It’s rebelling. No way it’s already been a year. I haven’t had enough time to wrap my brain around this loss yet.
Time should’ve stopped. The world should’ve paid more attention. Stopped spinning. Quaked or something. Been picked up as far south as his namesake geophysics observatory down in Australia
When Randall Douglas Peters fell, the seismograph in his basement should’ve noted the magnitude of loss. Registered it on his data like it registered in my body.
Thanksgiving is perhaps my favorite of all the holidays. I know the kids like Halloween and Christmas best. When you’re a kid nothing competes with candy and presents… but once we’ve outgrown our greedy seasons of childhood, we come to favor the holidays that focus on blessings and family. And for me, the one that takes the cake (or pie, I should say because… oh, the PIES that come with this one) is Thanksgiving.
But the cupboards are pretty bare when it comes to the family reading fodder.
It’s hard to find picture books devoted to Thanksgiving. So I had to include books that deal with fall weather, too. Which is okay, I guess, because fall weather is football weather, and that underscores yet another reason why this is my favorite holiday. If our blessings are abundant, each year our family is week-three deep in the playoffs. (Here’s hoping we’ll be counting that blessing this year!)
So this list begins with a book called Football with Dad. We received a copy as a gift a few years back by my dear friend and fellow coach’s wife, Kim.
It’s a Little Golden Book — so it wafts nostalgia the minute you crack the gilded cover. The storyline is exactly what you’d expect — a game of pickup football with a dad and his son, along with a few neighborhood kids (girls included — YAY). It celebrates family and tradition and football fundamentals, and we love it in our house. (Of course we do.)
Next up, is the childhood classic, Winnie-the-Pooh and the Blustery Day. This is a great one to read the day before Thanksgiving, as it is set on a “Windsday.” Piglet and Pooh and all our Hundred-Acre friends are here — including the first appearance of everybody’s favorite bouncy, trouncy, spring-filled character, Tigger. The story involves coming together to celebrate — and even sacrifice for –our friends. What better story to read the day before Thanksgiving? You can find it in The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh (which is what we have) or in a smaller book all its own.
There are two more books that focus on blustery days included in this list. The next up is also a Disney-sponsored picture book — one my mom gave the boys a couple years back. It’s Bruce’s Big Storm, and once again, there’s a bear and a storm, plus more gathering and celebrating and sacrifice. But this time the bear is an introvert surrounded by neighbors bound and determined to adopt him as their “den leader” (much to his [dis]pleasure.) As a fellow introvert, Bruce and I are kindred spirits. Sometimes in big get-togethers, I sit off in a corner and just absorb. It doesn’t mean I’m not having a great time; it just means I have to experience the shenanigans on my own terms. Just like Bruce.
Speaking of feeling overwhelmed (which we were, in case that wasn’t clear), Sweep, by Louise Greig, is a great book to read when you have kiddos struggling to learn to control BIG emotions inside little bodies. The entire book revolves around an onslaught of leaves, collecting and swallowing everything in its path. This becomes a clear metaphor (even for little kids to pick up on) about how a bad mood can seize control of us until we become buried alive under our dark, moldy thoughts. But this book reminds us to look up. To rise above our collection of negative thoughts and remember the beauty and love around us. It’s powerful for both Greig’s message and for the stunning illustrations provided by Julia Sarda.
Now if you love poetry like I love poetry, In November, by Cynthia Rylant, is the book for you to read out loud every single night to your littles. While not technically a book of poetry, the language is chockful of lyrical imagery that lights up your soul with all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feels of all the types of gathering, from harvests, to winter coats, to hibernation hovels, to logs for the fire, to spices for the pies, to generations of families. It’s all packed tight-to-bursting with beauty. Do yourself and your kiddos a favor and get this one.
And finally comes the Thanksgiving addition that we discovered just last year. Thanksgiving in the Woods, by Phyllis Alsdurf is also full of sensory details, traditions, and multi-generational gatherings. Only this time the scene is an outdoor gathering. It’s as if Emerson and Thoreau begat a little children’s book full of the magic and wonder of the woods. It even includes lines from a song the boys and I would sing and sway to at bedtime when they were babies — a Shaker hymn called “Simple Gifts.”
And honestly, isn’t that what Thanksgiving should be all about? Celebrating the simple blessings we so often take for granted?
And for us, a simple gift that holds a special place in our hearts is reading as a family every night. We’ve done it since the boys were first-hatched and we’ll carry on as long as we possibly can — till they fly the nest if they let us.
Our family loves Halloween. We love the costumes, the decorations, and the candy, of course. But we also – thanks to this nerdy, bookish, English-teacher mom — love the picture books.
This morning, as we put out jack-o-lanterns and skeletons and gravestones in the yard, an Amazon delivery brought us the newest installment to our Halloween library: Gilbert the Ghost.
He joins The Scariest Book Ever, our “Ginny Goblin” collection, The Creepy Carrots and Creepy Pair of Underwear duo, a nonfiction book called Skulls, and our perennial favorite, The Pomegranate Witch.
The Scariest Book Ever is anything but. It’s all about the scared-y-est ghost ever… so terrified to venture out that he spills orange juice on his sheet just so he can stay home and eat donuts.
The pair of Ginny Goblin books are full of shenanigans and hoodwinks as the impish green girl quests to foil surprises and house rules.
The “Creepy” books are full of cavorting carrots and greenish, glowing underpants.
Skulls is about — you guessed it — skulls in all their beautiful, bony perfection.
And then, there’s The Pomegranate Witch. If you haven’t seen it yet, read it yet, bought it yet… well, I can’t tell you how much you need it in your child’s life. In YOUR life. It is beautiful, lyrical, mystical, and even a tad bit hysterical.
My family’s under fire. No, strike that (like a match)… we’re INSIDE the fire. Inside a fiery furnace. A crucible. (I swear, witchery is afoot.)
They say things come in threes. (Witchcraft nearly always does.) But for our family, it’s been four… and I pray we’re done for awhile. First, my father died. Then my aunt (who was so much more than an aunt). Then my sister’s heart failure (an ongoing struggle for her). And now, my mom’s fall and her broken back.
And the heat keeps coming.
And on top of all this, my obligations and demands just keep getting heaped like coal on an already blazing inferno, and I honestly don’t know how much more I can take before I melt like the witch this crucible is trying to make of me.
Before my filter disintegrates completely and I unleash on unsuspecting folks.
Because I’m nearly there. I think there’s still a filmy fragment or two clinging like scar tissue on my lips… but I’m terrified the wrong person — or even the sweetest, most innocent person — is going to ask for one more thing and I’m gonna gush venom like magma.
I don’t want to burn people with nastiness. I don’t. I want to be nice. Be kind. Be a good employee, a good teacher, good friend, good wife, good mother. I want to be a good person. But I don’t know… it feels like all the good has been incinerated. How do I find more? And when found, how can I possibly give it away again… when its become such a rare and precious resource?
That’s not even a cliched phrase for me right now. It’s a plea. Heaven help me to find the good. To be the good — to the people who deserve it. And maybe even to the people who don’t. Maybe?
Or should I spew all the bad from my body in righteous indignation instead?
My father believed in it. In righteous anger. John Lewis believed in it, too. In good trouble.
But me, I don’t even know if I have the wisdom to identify good and righteous trouble anymore. What if I stumble instead — dog-tired and damaged — into the regular, run-of-the-mill, ugly anger and get myself in some bad trouble?
Honestly, my family and I — we don’t need any more trouble, good or bad. We just need some good. Show us something good.