Tuesday, February 26, 2013

watch my cool poops!

Watch my cool poops!
shouted Solomon,
legs wide as can be,
mismatched socks,
one scalloped with pink trim
cuz he's a little brother and all.

I'm really strong and I make

really cool poops!

he reminds me again
as I continue to shuffle about
in my pre-dinner,
lunch box disassembling,
jacket hanging,
early evening dance.

Come back!  I want you in HEAH.

I lurk in the doorway,
big smile,
always amazed.
Put down the swim bag.
Lean in.  

Actually, I want my privacy, Mama.
I NEED my privacy. 

So I shuffle on,
disappointed that I have to return
to the meaningless tasks of
assembling this life,
preferring to settle into
the moment,
the push and determination
of a growing boy.

Monday, February 25, 2013

a quickie

I stepped out of my life for a few blissful, sunny, love-filled days.  It had been too long since I'd seen Mazzy and Hilary worked her magic to fly me home to Lalalandia.  Lalaland that was eighty degrees and sunny and fragrant and lovely.  The blossoms all plump, just like May here.  But it's February.  Golly moses.  It was quick -- forty-eight hours.  Quick and bittersweet and full.  My mom has decided to move into an independent living facility so if all goes according to plan, this was the last time I'll sleep in her condo with her in it.  It felt so sad on my last morning as I went in to kiss her cheek in the dark to imagine we wouldn't have these private, quiet moments any more.  But life moves along and it may be time for her to change the title of her chapter.  She's ready for companions, ready for more physical safety and security.  So we sorted table linens and colored glass vases, all the things in her house so beautiful and just right, our aesthetics so similar like that.  I rolled up keepsakes in my clothes and made the trek back across the rocky mountains, stepping, ever so gently and just a bit more sunkissed, back into my little life.

A few things hit me on this trip.  After ten years of comparing my life in California to my life in Missoula, it became so very clear to me that there is absolutely nothing to compare.  I can't compare.  They are both full of beauty, full of blessings, full of positives, full of people I love, things I love to do.  They are both my home.  And as I look at the gray, bare trees out my window I try not to curse this cold day but instead remember that these are our seasons here.  This is one reality.  California is another.  I need to keep them both pure and lovely in my mind.  With that attitude, I felt so much more capable of fully enjoying myself.  Slowly but surely I'm learning a few things.
And I credit my husband for helping me step into the journey on the right foot.  He said something to me before I left about coming home rested, relaxed.  I think so often I get too buzzed by California, too caught up in the emotional high of the sunshine and all the connections to my past life.  This time I held his words in my heart.  I took long baths and went to bed on time.  I returned more well-rested than I'd been in weeks.  My sweet daughter and her nightmares continue to plague the collective sleep of the household.  Oh how I love her so.

We'll return to California for spring break where I'll continue to try and integrate and appreciate without getting trapped in strange emotional hiccups.  We rented a house with some of our buddies on the coast and will sandwich our beach time with two weekends in Pasadena.  Integration is happening all over the place.

I think I'm getting better with age.

How to be Perfect

Excerpts from "How to be Perfect"

Get some sleep.

Eat an orange every morning.

Be friendly. It will help make you happy.

Hope for everything. Expect nothing.

Take care of things close to home first. Straighten up your room
before you save the world. Then save the world.
Be nice to people before they have a chance to behave badly.

Don't stay angry about anything for more than a week, but don't
forget what made you angry. Hold your anger out at arm's length
and look at it, as if it were a glass ball. Then add it to your glass
ball collection.

Wear comfortable shoes.

Do not spend too much time with large groups of people.

Plan your day so you never have to rush.

Show your appreciation to people who do things for you, even if
you have paid them, even if they do favors you don't want.

After dinner, wash the dishes.

Calm down.

Don't expect your children to love you, so they can, if they want

Don't be too self-critical or too self-congratulatory.

Don't think that progress exists. It doesn't.

Imagine what you would like to see happen, and then don't do
anything to make it impossible.

Forgive your country every once in a while. If that is not
possible, go to another one.

If you feel tired, rest.

Don't be depressed about growing older. It will make you feel
even older. Which is depressing.

Do one thing at a time.

If you burn your finger, put ice on it immediately. If you bang
your finger with a hammer, hold your hand in the air for 20
minutes. you will be surprised by the curative powers of ice and

Do not inhale smoke.

Take a deep breath.

Do not smart off to a policeman.

Be good.

Be honest with yourself, diplomatic with others.

Do not go crazy a lot. It's a waste of time.

Drink plenty of water. When asked what you would like to
drink, say, "Water, please."

Take out the trash.

Love life.

Use exact change.

When there's shooting in the street, don't go near the window.

I've always loved this poem.  Loved the simple language.  Love the list format.  Love how some of the lines are so serious and almost new-agey but are quickly juxtaposed with something close to hyperbole. 

February is, "I love to read poetry" month at my school.  I had lots and lots of awesome things planned for my students, including an anthology of contemporary poems that I made for middle schoolers.  These would serve as a springboard for discussions and get the kids, hopefully, jazzed about language.  Padgett's poem was one that I chose for the packet.   We read it together in class the other day.  The kids laughed.  We talked about lines we enjoyed.  We discussed the tone and the choices he made with language.  Caught up in the moment of the poem, I spontaneously asked the kiddos to open up to a new page in their writer's notebooks.  I told them to do their own list of, "how to be perfect" inspired by Padgett's piece.  I didn't say a whole lot more than that.

Fifteen or so minutes later their hands started to shoot in the air.  "Can I read mine, Gillian?"  "Can I?"  The children began to share their poems with the class.  They were absolutely fabulous.  So adolescent and honest and pure and thoughtful. 

How to be Perfect
by Grace

Eat a strong breakfast.
Sleep at least six hours every night.
Be positive and friendly.
Have a good spirit.  Hope.
Take a position of leadership when needed.
When feeling mad, sad or distressed,
take a walk in the peace of nature.  Feel the severe feeling
flow away.  Let your imagination wander.
Always let your heart expand,
whether possible or impossible.
Let your heart beat truly.
Keep peace.
when frantic or extra excited,
take a deep breath and plow ahead,
calm and free of any worry.
No one is horrible, nor perfect.
Feel courageous,
even when you are scared.

I left my middle schoolers and decided to try the same exercise with my second and third graders.  The results were equally fabulous.  I sat down at my desk in between classes reflecting on how much fun I was having.  I wanted to tell Ron Padgett how inspired I was by his words, how fun and heartfelt and satisfying he was making my day, my job, my career path. 

And, on a whim and with a huge shout out to the Internet, I dropped Padgett a line.  I'm good at the spontaneous act and before I could think myself out of it, I'd composed a little letter of gratiutde and pushed send.

A few hours later I was back at my desk.  In my inbox, a letter from Padgett.  He was so thankful for my note, he taught poetry for years to adolescents, he loved Missoula and, because this town is so dang small, we have a mutual friend.  I felt all blushy and goofy, like one of my students getting an email from Justin Bieber or Adam Levine.  And then I took my crush to the greater purpose.

It's sort of hit me over the head lately, how much I love my job.  How much I love our school.  How cool it is that I get to teach so many things that I love, to be a specialist in English in an immersion school.  I never planned on being a teacher, never took a course as an undergrad in education, it just always came my way.  Teachers and friends said I'd be good at it.  It was the first full time job I got, fresh out of school at twenty-two.  Seventeen years later, here I am. 

The working mama struggle has had me in various stages of angst for the past six years.  But lately I am just full of gratitude.  Gratitude that I have a job that I love to go to everyday.  Gratitude that I get to share my days with my husband and child.  Gratitude that this amazing, cutting edge school exists in Missoula, Montana.

When I was in LA last weekend, I went to observe another IB school.  A few old colleagues from the school where Jeff and I met work at this school. I wanted to check out the IB in the public school environment.  The IB is such a progressive, forward thinking, child-centered program.  Part of the reason I left teaching in the Pasadena Public Schools was because my job was becoming scripted.  We spent way too much time teaching kids how to fill in bubbles correctly for their standardized tests.  There was no room for creativity, for whole language, for thinking outside of the box.
I walked up to this school with vigor.  It was a glorious February day and I stopped to shoot a picture before I even entered the building.  I already had a sense that it would be fabulous.   And it was.  The teachers were committed, the children prepared to answer any of my questions.  I had an incredibly thorough tour of one classroom and my new young friend could answer all the questions I thought would have been for her teacher.  She had such a solid sense of the program, of her own learning, and could articulate it all beautifully.
I left the school feeling even fuller than when I entered.  That night headed to my favorite Mexican restaurant with my family.  Who should be my hostess, but Adelid, one of Jeff's first students from Loma Alta.  When I knew her, she spoke no English, was teeny tiny for her age and painfully shy.  She was so sweet when she asked me if I remembered her.  She told me that she always remembered Jeff and I as good teachers.  I told her we were married and had two kids.  She wanted me to bring, "Mr. Kessler" back in to see her the next time he was in town.
The next morning at another restaurant, I ran into the parents of another old student.  This kiddo I had as a middle schooler at a private school.  He was one of my drama and dance stars, goofy and smart and super comfortable with me, always full of self-deprecating humor and a worldly sense of what was right.  His parents told me that I had been one of his most inspiring teachers, went on to tell me about his accomplishments.  He promptly send me a friend request on Facebook that evening.

So where am I going with this?  It's all part of this feeling of gratitude for my work.  Running into those folks while in Pasadena was part of the universe reminding me to feel grace.  To appreciate. To be thankful for the work that I do.  To know that I am, indeed, making a difference. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

single mamas


I know I've said it before.  I'll say it again.  I send a huge, heartfelt, jaw-dropping shout out to the all the single mamas of the world.  It is just not easy going it alone.  Especially after a really, really full work week.  Especially with a Solomon and his wild ways, tests, strong will.  Eliana is actually becoming a help.  She's learned how to wink and we use it to converse behind Soli's back.  That and speaking Spanish.  She tricks him into being agreeable with me.  She tricks him into doing what she wants.  It's really quite wonderful. 

I don't have anything epic to report.  I had a highly functional, big, replete work week.  I had a twenty four hour getaway last weekend...maybe closer to thirty, but it was definitely long enough to reset my energy button.  My three amigas and I escaped to Idaho for the night, cozied up in a cabin, electric fire raging, stories flying like flames.  The plan was to head the ten miles up the road to the pass and ski beneath the full moon.  After wine and snacks, dinner and wine, it was hard to motivate to do a whole lot.  That said, this is Montana and the girls are badass.  So we geared up and skied around the cabins, down the icy road, past the snowy creek, quiet and calm.  We slept like babies (a term I really don't get.  What I mean to say is, we slept because we were So Far from our babies), rising at a miraculous 9:45 on Sunday morning, giddily flabbergasted to have actually slept in.  Gita and Robyn had to roll back to Missoula, but Kay and I had all day.  We drank lots of coffee and devoured omlettes and huckleberry pancakes.  I have these fortieth birthday travel fantasies.  As I get close to the last year of my thirties, it seems to be time to actually form them into something tangible.  Kay asked me to dream big, money not an issue.  It was a pretty fun way to luxuriate over brunch.  I returned to Bahia, to dances and drumbeats, roaring waves and cachaca.  There is so much of the world I've yet to see and it seemed silly that I so long to return to Brazil.  But the idea of connecting to my soul the way I did so deeply when I was there fifteen years ago, well, that sounds pretty awesome.  I love dreaming with my girlfriends. 

We made our way to the pass, Indigo Girls busting, sunshine reflecting on the white snow.  I indulged in my favorite sport.  My only "real" sport.  I heart cross-country skiing.  I really do.  Lolo Pass is my favorite place to go and I don't make it there very often anymore.  Ah, the small town life.  Even an hour out of Missoula, in a whole other state, no less, we managed to run into a gazillion people we knew.  We'd be on a little ski roll when we'd pass another set of friends.  Stop, chat, ski some more.  Stop, chat.  I saw seven of my work colleagues.  Seven!  Separately.  And my staff isn't all that big. 

Which brings me to my next theme of the weekend.  Which is I heart Missoula.  I know I've been all over the map with this one, but when it comes down to it, I love how easy everything is.  How accessible.  How kind and welcoming and mellow. My day alone with the kids was exhausting, but perhaps that is because we chose to do so much.  The free National Eat Ice-Cream for breakfast day at the Holiday Inn (who thinks of these things?).  The free gymnastics demo, the kids wild, the echo cacaphonous, the sugary toppings extensive. 
I had a rehearsal downtown that was running late. So we hopped into the studio next door where loud pop was pouring from the speakers and the Saturday morning Oula class was in full swing.  The kids settled on their bellies at the edge of the dance floor to watch.  I jumped into the class in time for squats and chasses.  I quickly began peeling away layers and beneath the boots and the skirt, the long sleeves and the scarf, were my trusty dance clothes.  My friend told me after class that I should start a clothing line.  For girls who are ready to dance any time. 

The day continued.  We stopped in front of the Artist's Shop to write love notes to one another for their Valentine display.  Eliana made two:  1.  Solomon loves Eliana and 2.  Eliana loves Solomon.  Mama.
 We reminisced about our Friday night when we went to the opening of Missoula's first aerial studio and watched a gorgeous, ripped mamacita hang and split and spin while suspended from the ceiling. A dj spun beats and Soli and Els and I got down.  Today that same dj was in charge of the music at my rehearsal.  She recognized me as the dancing mama from the night before, once again, Sol and Elie seated on the periphery of the dance floor.  I was proud to be that mama.  I love the piece I choreographed for next week's show.  I love that my kiddies got to watch us bust it out. 

 And, once again, I've talked myself out of how hard it actually is to be a single mom, the rant I was so ready to dive into a half an hour ago.   The weekend has been pretty awesome.  I think I just need breaks.  They've been asleep for almost an hour and a half and I've reset.  I've bathed.  I've zoned out.  I've babbled on this site.  I'm ready for a new day.