Remembering the day the world changed

I wrote this column eighteen years ago. It was originally published in The Nevada Appeal on September 26, 2001


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My Own Battlefields in This New War

“It’s awful here.  BUT I’M ALIVE,” our older daughter finally wrote in response to one of my frantic emails.  She had moved to New York City just six days before the attack.  Phone calls, even cell-phones were useless as all the other worried mothers around the world tried to get through.  The entire morning I anxiously imagined her protected in large God-like hands.  All the while, she slumbered in the arms of Morpheus, asleep 150 blocks away from the World Trade Center.

Maybe I had neglected that piece of her training:  In case of national disaster, call your mother.  But what precedent did I have?  Who could have imagined this?

And a week later, as I listened to President Bush tell us about this new kind of war, to be fought on different kinds of battlefields, my imagination ran to the places where we might have to fight.  I know he meant military actions, but what battles will we here at home fight? Where will I, a middle-aged, married, teacher, and mother in Carson City, Nevada, be asked to fight?

I will fight to keep my awareness of world events and this war in its proper place, in balance with my real, everyday life.  While I want to learn as much as I can about the situation and the sacrifices being made, I don’t want to become so paralyzed by fear and worry that my real life can’t go on.  I’ll need to turn away from the TV now and then so that the images will not continue to flood my psyche, desensitizing—or re-sensitizing—me to the horror.  People on every continent have endured horrific acts of terrorism.  We can survive.  Our lives, although forever changed, will go on.  Must go on.

As citizens, I’m sure you’ll agree that we will struggle to focus on what is really important.  We have been jolted from our complacency and have learned that there are some things worth fighting for.  Right now, that thing is to make our world safe again.  What happened to us was a shameful act.  I hope that our response will not make us ashamed but will prove us worthy of our place in the world.

My larger battle however, will be to simply feel normal again.  I’ll go through the motions of whatever “normal” is, hoping that soon my feelings will catch up to my actions. I’ll attend meetings, make appointments, plan birthday celebrations, and go shopping for the perfect shade of lipstick.  I’ll admire the fall colors.  We’ll take that raft trip through the Grand Canyon next summer.  However, the first big test of my trying to be normal will be to travel to the reading conference in Las Vegas this weekend.

“Not on a plane!” My good friend in California seemed incredulous.

“Yes, a plane.”

“Can’t you drive?”

“Drive eight hours each way for a two day conference?  I don’t think so.  I’m not giving in to fear.  I’m flying.”  We’ll see how I brave this citizen-soldier feels tomorrow night as she boards the plane.

As a teacher, I will strive to keep focused on my goals and objectives as well as to use this teachable moment to explore geography, history, and tolerance.  I will also work to counteract the violence and fear my students may have seen on television or the hatred they may have heard expressed.  In addition, I must be vigilant and protect my young students from ignorant, misdirected anger and hatred.  I’ll do what I can to prevent that bit of collateral damage.

The battle with my emotions will be a small, very private struggle.  I merely want to be able to say the Pledge of Allegiance and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” without the tears and without the catch in my throat.  That California friend says she hasn’t dared wear mascara since that awful day.  “What’s the use?”  I imagine her with those black streaks running down her sweet, sad face.  The vision makes me smile.  I’ll need to laugh again too, out loud, with my friends.

We will all need to prepare ourselves for our own private battles in this war.   We’ll all need to find ways to keep ourselves focused, grounded and sane.  But how do we do that?

We can begin by doing what soldiers throughout history have done before going into battle:  Count your blessings; remember you’re not alone; gather your loved ones close; tell them you love them.

And remember to call your mother.

 

 

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Sadly, education testing is BIG business

This column for the Nevada Appeal is from five years ago when I saw school budgets erode when it came to things like class-size reduction, teacher salaries, counselors, and enrichment programs. At the same time, budgets grew (and grew!) for testing. Look around your state, your district, your school and tell me if anything has changed. Are we still spending more on testing than we are on teaching?

 

 

 

Are you a worrier?

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“If there is no solution to the problem, then don’t waste time worrying about it. If there is a solution to the problem, then don’t waste time worrying about it.” ~Dalai Lama.

This column appeared on New Year’s Eve a year ago in the Nevada Appeal. Click on over to read… Count your blessings

Make time to actually enjoy the holidays this year

This column for the Nevada Appeal was one of my first. It was published on December 1, 1999, before they started archiving the paper online. Some of the people mentioned here have passed away, the rest have merely grown older. I’m closing in on 70 myself. Our family’s video tapes are now on DVD and it’s not December 1st. But still, my little wish for you is the same.

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Well, it’s started—that temporary insanity known as “the holidays.” And like most people, I go a little nuts, a little overboard. I make lists in my planner, on my refrigerator, and while lying awake at three in the morning. Trying to get all the details right for a perfect holiday sure can take the edge off all the fun.
I keep at it because of the misguided notion that by some act of organization or will I can create a perfect Christmas. Let me tell you, those perfect Christmases don’t exist anywhere but at Martha Stewart’s house and in our dreams.

Come to think of it, even at the first Christmas—when God himself was in charge of arrangements—folks had to sleep in a barn. And the gifts didn’t arrive until January 6.

And those memorable Christmases of our childhood? I’m not convinced that they were perfect either. I think they exist as a composite, like “Christmas’s Greatest Hits” in our memory. A great meal. Snow on Christmas morning. The biggest tree. The best surprise. Everyone together. Laughing ‘til your face hurts. All those things didn’t happen in one year, and yet we can be easily overwhelmed by our efforts to recreate the fantasy.
So this year I’m giving myself a gift that I’ll share with you.
I’m making time for a few little celebrations, a few rituals that speak to the magic of a Christmas presence and rekindle my spirit. In addition to the shopping and cooking and decorating, I’ve made myself a special to-do list.
Here are 10 things I can do to ensure the last Christmas of the century is a good one.
1. Load the CD changer with an eclectic mix of my favorite Christmas music: Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Mannheim Steamroller, John Denver, Eartha Kitt, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Muppets. Turn up the volume. Repeat.
2. Drink eggnog. After all, it is loaded with calcium.christmasOrnamentDecorations
3. Pull out the familiar–but-tacky felt and Velcro Advent calendar. The Santa made from a Pringles can. The lace-and-ribbon-bedecked canning lid encircling the photograph of a little girl who used to live here. Each of these small treasures has a story attached and this yearly ritual of unpacking allows for a retelling and a reminder of how precious each moment is.
4. Look through photo albums and watch old home movies. My husband’s family watches the silent 8mm home movies form the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Even though they’ve been converted to video-tape now, there is still no sound. We have to add it ourselves, like Mystery Science Theater. The unwritten script and oft-repeated jokes still cause tears of laughter to run down our faces as we watch five children with goofy hair and flannel pajamas open year after year of presents. Some of those kids are grandparents now.
5. Call my parents and my brother several times, not just on Christmas Day. If we can’t be together, at least we can keep in touch.
6. Play cards or Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit and make at least one batch of cookies or peanut brittle or chicken tacos with everyone in the kitchen. And laugh.
7. Share what I have with others.
8. Watch two movies—“White Christmas” and “Meet Me in St. Louis”—with a bowl of popcorn and a box of Kleenex.
9. Go to church on Christmas Eve. Sing the songs, light the candles, remember a birthday.
10. Read Christmas stories to a child or to myself. My favorites are The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, A Wish for Wings that Work by Berkeley Breathed, The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston, and Santa’s Book of Names by David McPhail. These are good for all ages. Berkeley Breathed’s Red Ranger Came Calling and Patricia Polacco’s Welcome Comfort are perfect for the slightly older, more skeptical set who may have begun to disbelieve. “Red Ranger” comes complete with photographic evidence of a “guaranteed true” Christmas miracle.
As a child, the boundaries between my imagination and reality were always a bit blurry. I’m sure I heard sleigh bells on the roof even when my age went in to double digits. I’m nearly 50 now and I still believe.
I believe in the power of faith. I believe in the capacity of the human heart. I believe in a Christmas presence.
I believe I’ll hit the repeat button the CD changer and pour that cup of eggnog.
At least I can check two things off my list today. Just eight to go and it’s only December 1. I’ve got plenty of time.

A message to that orange-haired monster

manzanar 1You know who I mean. The guy who thinks internment camps were a good idea. But you know what they say…

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  George Santayana-1905

My column, Don’t repeat the Manzanar mistake, appeared in the Nevada Appeal on Christmas Day, 2007.  I believe it speaks for itself.

You should know that Manzanar is one of ten so-called “War Relocation Centers” to which over 100,000 West Coast Japanese Americans were sent after being given 48 hours to leave their homes, forcing them to sell or abandon belongings and property. Although it was called a “War Relocation Center,” military police armed with sub-machine guns in the eight guard towers, the searchlights and barbed wire told a different story. Manzanar was a prison camp.

 

Seeing failure as our teacher

martianResilience is a survival skill, something we need to cultivate in ourselves and our children. The Martian by Andy Weir served as inspiration for my latest Fresh Ideas column in the Nevada Appeal. It’s about Failure and how we can give our children the skills to overcome it. Click on over to read.

Reading is antidote to toxic stress of childhood poverty

read aloud 4 Low income children suffer stresses that would buckle our knees and yet we expect them to learn and grow and develop at the same rate as their higher income classmates.

My Fresh Ideas column published this morning in the Nevada Appeal. Click here to read why Reading is the antidote.

“You might be a kindergarten teacher if…”

This was originally published in the Nevada Appeal on January 9, 2006. I’m re-posting it here in honor of kindergarten teachers and one very special girl who is starting kindergarten today, my granddaughter.

kinder classAlthough I’ve been an educator most of my life, I came to kindergarten rather late in my career. Perhaps it is for that reason I have noticed that kindergarten teachers are really quite different from other teachers. However, I haven’t been able to put my finger on precisely what that difference was. Until now.
You might be a kindergarten teacher if:
• You buy two pairs of running shoes a year and you don’t run.
• You put 10,000 steps a day on your pedometer without leaving your classroom.
• “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and the “Hokey Pokey” are part of your daily exercise routine.
• You wear seasonal clothing and jewelry that no “normal” adult would wear. An apron is part of your “professional attire.”
• You use hand sanitizer before and after every activity.
• You find yourself humming the days of the week song in the shower.
• You ask, “Did you flush?” and “Did you wash?” at least one hundred times a day.
• You wash your own hands 100 times a day.
• You thank God for whoever invented baby-wipes, Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and Velcro shoes.
• A daily review of coughing, sneezing and nose-blowing etiquette is appropriate and necessary.
• You have to remind your students not to write on the carpet. Or each other.
• You have added “booger flicking” to the list of classroom misdemeanors.
• You’ve used one of those little toilets in the last week.
• You fall asleep at 8:30 every night.
• You show up for your manicure with tempera paint, Play-Doh, and glitter under your fingernails.
• You go to every grocery store in town looking for alphabet macaroni and get excited when you find alphabet cookies at Costco.
• You buy zip-lock baggies by the gross.
• It takes you three times longer to prepare a lesson than to teach it.
• Your carefully written—and rewritten—lesson plans bear only a slight resemblance to what actually happens in class.
• You can sing a song, recite a poem or name a picture book to teach every standard in the kindergarten curriculum.
• You spend part of nearly every weekend and vacation at school.
• Your average sentence length has shrunk to five words and you repeat every one of them—every one of them—at least three times.
• You easily decipher those cryptic personalized license plates.
• You’ve made your own peppermint- or gingerbread-scented Play-Doh.
• All twenty-nine of your students snap to attention when you say, “I like how Elliott is sitting.”
• All your pants have one or more of the following: paint stains, bleach spots, faded knees or dusty footprints from students putting their foot on your leg as you tie their shoes.
• Your first thought when the weatherman predicts rain is, “Oh, no. Indoor recess.”
• You recognize the irony in rewarding a large class for good attendance.
• You realize–too late–you didn’t learn how to say, “Don’t eat the glitter!” in your Spanish class.
• You stock up on Airborne, Echinacea and vitamin C every winter.
• You know it’s easier to go to work with a cold than to prepare for a substitute.
• You believe almost any art project is better with glitter.
• You’ve decided against Botox injections because then you couldn’t give “the teacher look.”
• When a student with limited English calls a book’s dust jacket a “sweater,” you understand the confusion and smile as you explain it.
• You know precisely how many days you have been in school. And how many days you have left.
• You’ve resorted to puppetry to hold your students’ attention.
• You spend at least as much time tying shoes as teaching the alphabet and it’s not even on the report card.
• You know what standards are covered by stringing colored macaroni on a necklace.
• You know kindergarteners need blocks, paint, Play-Doh, songs, stories, and patience. And outdoor recess.
• You are so accustomed to modeling good manners that you thank your dog for not barking. You even thank the police officer for your speeding ticket.
• A trip to a book store always begins and ends in the children’s section.
• You never go to the grocery store without buying at least one thing for school.
• During the course of your day, someone shows you— and you get to compliment them on–their new underwear.
• You work with the most spontaneous and deliciously unpredictable people in the world–five-year-olds.
• Little voices singing “Home Means Nevada” can make you cry.
• You consider it a privilege to be a child’s first teacher.
• You witness small miracles every day.

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