Monday, December 20, 2010

the liberry


Sunday I went to the library.  I love the library like a fat kid loves cake.  Seriously…the smell, the shelves, the people watching.  The entire experience is nearly spiritual for me.  Anyway, I spent a while there, and I started thinking about how I choose books and something I would do if I were an author.   
To be fair (to myself), I already DO believe I’m an author, but only in my mind, and even then I like to imagine myself wearing fancy scarves or horned rimmed glasses.  I digress. So, I started thinking about how I tend to look for the same authors or in the same places when I go to the library.  I am a fan of Elizabeth Berg, Alice Hoffman, and many others, and usually I head the B or H section of the fiction books to see if there are any new offerings from my favorites.  I got lucky this time in that lately, I have been to the library so infrequently, there were a few new books I hadn’t read.   And I started to think that if I wrote a novel, I might just go by a pseudonym or rename myself altogether.  Like, perhaps, Kate Updike (imagine how many people wouldn’t find The Witches of Eastwick and would turn to me for solace). Or, how about Kate King – which would put me right before Stephen, and right near Barbara Kingsolver – two of my favorites.  I could pick something like Kate Meyer.  I wouldn’t feel badly stealing any of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight fans. She got lucky. VERRRRRY lucky – she told a great story.  But, her writing? Terrible. I could go on and on - not only about Meyers but also about different options for my new name...
My point is this – I can’t write like these people.  Not even close - or at least I've not been lucky enough yet. But if the majority of people who frequent the library are like me, I could really win big by dropping Willaredt and going with something more accessible.  I mean, really.  Because who is reading this? I’m just saying.

Monday, December 6, 2010

parting ways


Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.  ~Henry David Thoreau
There are certain emotions that even time and space cannot begin to heal.  Even as an adult, I sometimes find myself with my feelings hurt beyond what should be normal for a 35-year-old woman.  I take things way too personally, and right or wrong, I have strong opinions that I find hard to keep to myself.  All that considered, the past several weeks have been trying at best.  I haven’t been writing, and I have needed it.  I write because it makes me feel better. I write because it helps me put things into perspective.  I write because sometimes putting it on paper is easier than trying to find the words to tell one of my dearest friends that I don’t want her to move away.
Someone  I love dearly is moving away from me and from my family.  And I know it’s for good reason, and I know that it’s a wonderful opportunity for her and her new husband, but I still hate it.  There. I said it.  I hate that I won’t be able to call up last minute and ask them to join us for dinner.  We won’t be together for holidays or birthdays anymore – at least not many of them, as it’s unlikely we’ll be able to afford traveling to see each other more than once a year or so.  But most of all, I hate it for my kids.  It makes me sad that they will have two less wonderful, funny people who love them right here in this city.  I’m sad that Zoe might not remember having them here for as long as we did, and mostly I’m so, so sad to think that my girls won’t get to know their new baby cousin.  That nearly knocks the breath right out of me.
I’m being selfish. I know I am.  I’m well aware that in the Skype age we’ll be “seeing” a lot of each other and we won’t ever be more than a phone call or a text away, but still.  I’m certain they know we only wish the very best for them, no matter where this road takes them.  But that doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

growing up?


I had to take a few days to gain some perspective on a few things that have happened this week, and now that it’s behind me, I had to write about it.  I’m not going to tell you the details of what happened; just that what came out of it was the realization for me that not only am I an adult, I’m responsible for other human beings and the reckless, goofy, boob flashing (sorry dad) days of my past are just that – the past.  I feel a little conflicted about this. I mean, I know I’m a grown up, but at what point does being grown up equal boring? At what point does being grown up mean wearing mom jeans and driving a minivan? (I know I’m probably offending some of you out there, I apologize, it’s just my feeble attempt at trying to make a point)
Clearly, I’m going through a time in my life where I don’t want to lose my identity as “Kate” and yet, some of that identity is tied up in where I was ten years ago, or even earlier.  I can’t quite get past the fact that I have two little girls who look to me every day for guidance, rules, examples…and yet, I still think fart jokes are REALLY funny, and talk of body parts sends me into pre-pubescent fits of giggles.  I’m sorry. I just can’t help it.  My girls are getting older, and with that, there comes more responsibility on my part to show them what is acceptable behavior, not only for myself and for them, but also for girls in general.  What does that even mean? Frankly, I’ve never been one who feels comfortable with “acceptable behavior” – just look at my hair, my tattoos, my multicolored Chuck Taylors and my off color sense of humor.  How do I display what should be while not losing myself in the process?
One of the things no one tells you when you become a parent is how much of yourself you will lose in the day to day stuff.  That one day you will wake up and grab the keys to your minivan and wonder where the girl went who said that she would NEVER drive one.  You will go shopping and grumble under your breath about the rise of jeans or the length of skirts.  You will get your hair bleached blonde – something that used to be fun and part of your persona – and afterwards, you will look in the mirror and wonder if it’s just too much anymore.  You will hit your mid to late 30s and you will wonder where the line is between the fun girl you used to be and the example you are setting for your own young girls.  I guess in the end, I don’t know why it’s not ok to share my love of fart jokes, crazy hair and off color humor with my girls – because, really? What is life without some sort of humor?
I’m trying to maintain some of that humor these days.  I’ve realized that life is too short to worry that much about what is the right or wrong thing to do.  A former student from my preschool passed away this week at the age of seven.  Seven.  And I can’t even imagine what that is like for a parent to deal with - that is another story altogether - but I’m guessing that at the end of the day, even Cameron would tell us not to worry as much as we do about all the details of right and wrong.  Because, in the end, the fact that your child can tell a wicked fart joke probably means less than the fact that he or she was loved unconditionally – crazy hair and all.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

getting sucked in


Last year we bought a Dyson.  It rocks.  Like, perhaps the best gift I’ve ever given myself that I can write about on here.  Today I was running it, as I tend to do every single day…we have a giant hairy black lab beast who sheds and brings in mud clumps and just generally tears up the house.  Anyway, while I was sucking up dog hair and tiny Barbie shoes, I put my hand on the hose attachment to check the suction.  Why?  Because I’m like a moth to the flame, I guess. I don’t know why, I just did.  And when I did that, I had the sudden thought that I might get sucked into the vacuum.  That thing means business!  And then, I started to wonder, would being sucked into the vacuum while three girls are screaming (yes, three – I watch 5 and 5/8 year old Stella after school along with the regular suspects) be such a bad thing? 
Like, really.  As I was cleaning I started thinking about literally getting sucked into the vacuum and out of the madness of every day life.  Sad? Probably.  But mostly I started thinking about my happy place.   Could I be transported there? The dock that was recently built over the rocks on the shore of Jekyll Island where I sat and read for hours on end this summer. That happy place.   My literal happy place – the place where the children don’t wake up in the morning screaming, or walk out the door to go to school screaming, or come home from school screaming, demanding snacks and shows and puzzles and a swimsuit to wear (yes, it’s November) because she is playing beach.  Don’t I know??!!!
Some days are just like that for me.  The hope that something swoops down from the sky and hoists me up and out of here sometimes is completely overwhelming.  I’m not going to lie, there are days I sit in the car in Lucy’s school parking lot and I think, “I have to go in there and pick up not one, but two 5 year old girls.  I have a 3 year old in the backseat who is already unhappy about just being 3.  Life is full of wonderful stuff, but HOW did I get here?”  And not, “how did I get here” like I don’t enjoy my life – please don’t get me wrong.  It’s just that some days I honestly have to remind myself that I’m someone’s mom. Certainly I’m way too young and hip for that, right?!  RIGHT?
Huh. As it turns out, the answer is nope.  Not young or hip…just cranky and busy and recently noticing dark circles under my eyes.  Some days I’m just the dust waiting to get sucked into a different, alternate reality.  And that’s ok, really.  I mean, really. Life is wasted on the young and the hip.

Monday, November 1, 2010

a little self reflection is never a bad thing

There isn’t a day that goes by in my teaching this year where I don’t use something I learned this past summer in the Greater Kansas City Writing Project's summer institute. I think it’s both a blessing and a curse, if you will. A blessing because I am MUCH more reflective about my teaching practice – I want to really think about what I’m doing with the children and why I’m doing it. I guess that is also where it’s a curse, because I am so much harder on myself this year than in years past when it comes to what I’m doing! Today I reread the burning issue paper I did in the SI because I’ve been trying to write a piece for Teaching Young Children magazine, and I wanted to write about the experience I’ve had bringing what I did in the SI to the classroom. Reading it, I was thrilled because I have done SO much of what I set out to do, from giving the parents a blank book and asking them to be a part of the journaling process for the kids, to being intentional when we read books about discussing who the authors and illustrators are.   Last week, I was doing some paperwork in my classroom while my assistant teacher did circle time where she was reading to the kids. She said who the book was written by and started reading. Little Alta, who is three going on 33, said, “WAIT! Miss Linda! But, who is the illustrator??” and in that tiny moment, I wanted to cry.
This year has been really challenging for me so far. I’m not sure if it’s just figuring out how to juggle a full time job while having one child with me and another one at a different, new school, or if it’s the challenge of teaching in a multi-age classroom for the first time. I’ve had a hard time finding a groove, but I feel like now I’m starting to do just that – yes, I know it’s November! I often beat myself up for doing TOO much reading and writing and perhaps not enough of the hands on, manipulative or scientific stuff. I wonder, am I losing certain kids along the way? And the answer is complicated. I think I’m reaching my kids in the best ways I know how, and being more reflective now gives me a different perspective, maybe even making me hyper-aware of what I include or don’t in everyday activities. Like I said, it’s both a blessing and a curse!
I no longer have to wonder how to answer a parent’s questions about how I teach reading and writing – in fact, I overheard a coworker saying a parent asked her about that at conferences and I was quick to point out all that she does in her teaching already – for TWO year olds, nonetheless! One look in my classroom – or on my classroom blog (something else I would have NEVER thought to do before this summer) will give anyone that answer. I’m proud so far of what we’ve done this year, but I know that every year beyond this one will be shaped by what is working, or not working today.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

on my own...


I’ve spent the better part of the past week trying to figure out how people handle single parenthood.  Seriously.  I’m a giant wimp.  Huge.  But I just don’t know how people manage this all the time.  I know plenty of women (and men, for that matter) who are single parents, and they just seem to make things work, but I’m that girl who will put it all out there for you and I have to say that I suck at this.  Steve is out of town on business this week and while it’s really quiet at night – something I always long for, to be honest – I’m just sick of being the bad guy all the time, simply because I’m the ONLY guy.  The juggling of schedules and packing of lunches and bathing of bodies and wiping of butts is one thing I’m pretty good at and I don’t mind.  I think I would lose my mind if I weren’t this busy.  It’s the lack of adult contact that is driving me insane.  It’s knowing that no one is going to walk in the door at 5:30pm and just run interference so I can cook dinner or pack lunches or just talk me off the ledge the kids have forced me upon, even if I bitch and complain about that person.  Which, I have been known to do – just ask him!
My point is that I have a new respect for all of those people in my life who are raising children on their own.  Big children, small children – really, anyone who is making rules and keeping them without losing their mind.  And honestly, I would like to write more about this, but I’m more tired than I’ve been since having a newborn, so I will leave it at that.   

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

a story worth revisiting


I rarely feel the need to write about the same thing twice. Well, unless it’s my children, myself or my mother. So, nevermind. I should say that I rarely feel the need to comment on a news story more than once. Today seems different and I have been glued to the television this evening. I sobbed and bawled watching the rescue of the 33 Chilean miners. It’s honestly been amazing to watch. The stories of these men and the time they spent in that mine are really nothing short of astounding. That they were able to ration food, ration the lights in their helmets, drill into a natural water source, and, in the midst of such uncertainty, maintain their wits – or at least it certainly seemed that way watching the rescue – the future is bound to tell that story. My favorite story to come out of this so far is of the two men who were driving one of the trucks in the mine. I watched one of them (miner #11) get pulled from the mineshaft this morning before I left for work. These two men stopped to look at a white butterfly that they saw flying by them – 2000+ feet down. In a MINE. That white butterfly surely saved the lives of those men – as they were stopped to see the insect, the mine collapsed. If they had kept driving, they would not have survived. I have said before that I believe in signs and if that wasn’t a sign of some sort of divine intervention, I don’t know what is.

I don’t know. I’m pretty emotional these days. Maybe I’m way too invested in this story. I’m just so happy to have been able to watch this unfold and to share some of it with Lucy. The ending of this story could have been so different. Mostly, for me, it’s been a reminder to me in a time that I really, really needed a reminder, that people really are good. That, deep down, the human spirit is truly something phenomenal.

Monday, October 11, 2010

this is not butcher holler.

I’m completely claustrophobic.  That, and I don’t like to know about other people’s bodily functions.  So, pretty much what I’m saying here is that I would be in the first group of people to leave the Chilean mine this week.  Well, maybe not the first group, but I’d definitely be in the “crazy” group.  Seriously, I’ve taken a sort of sick interest in this story. I mean, it’s terrible to begin with, but there are all of the unknowns that no one seems to be talking about. Like, where do those guys poop? (what? Like you didn’t wonder?) or, what could you possibly talk about or do for TWO months that could be entertaining? Or, has anyone gone completely batshit crazy? Because, really, that is the action that I would love to be in on.  I mean, it sounds really terrible, but really I just want to know what it’s like to be down there. 
I would like to state for the record that I don’t care how much it pays or how much Mountain Dew you can drink, mining is perhaps the most insane profession on the planet.  I’m not going to lie, I honestly think that something must be wrong with a person who decides to go into that kind of work.  What, exactly is it that keeps you going down there every day? I know. I really do – I watch PBS and I know that it’s a great salary for those people who aren’t willing or able to finish school or work in different jobs.  It has to be a huge temptation for those kids.  Wanna know why it pays that well?  Here. Let me tell you.  One day, you will go to work and the way you get to work will crumble down behind you, and you will rely on a device similar to a bank tube to get you out of that mess.  And that’s if you survive.  I’m just saying – mining is just a little crazy.  I feel like maybe, had I lived in the rural south or maybe even in Chile, I might have dated one of those miner dudes in my past life – I do like the crazy, you know.
I know that I’m not saying anything rational or even very nice about this terrible situation – I mean, really? Is there anything rational to say? I’m just saying it’s been amazing to watch.  Sort of like Baby Jessica in that well all those years ago – remember that?  I wish only the best for these poor men.  I hope that this ends up to be a story of hope and of salvation – because it’s been too painful to watch over the past two months for any other outcome.   

Thursday, September 30, 2010

trying to get a grip.

I have about twelve different posts that I've started in the past weeks and had to stop writing. I don’t know what is wrong with me lately – a combination of exhaustion, lack of time and a funk that has come over me in the past few weeks, I suppose. Tonight, though, my goal is to get something…anything, really, on the blog. Writing has always been my escape, and I can tell a difference in my entire personality when I get writer’s block.  Recently,  I have been thinking about women, mothers in particular, who are really hard on themselves. I fit into that category, as do a multitude of my friends. Why are we like this? Why, at 9:30 on a Thursday night am I just now sitting down to do something for myself? We beat ourselves up because our houses aren’t perfect, our children aren’t perfect and there just isn’t enough time every day to accommodate everything that needs to be done. I just had a conversation with another mom about this very thing tonight. Who is holding us to this ridiculous standard but ourselves? I, for one, am sick of trying to be someone I’m not.
I’m getting used to juggling working full time again. Honestly, I really love it, but I just don’t know how other people do it, really. Are the other women out there just lying about getting things accomplished? My kitchen is constantly dirty, the sink is full of dishes and there are crumbs on the counter. Dirty laundry has piled up so high I hardly know where to start. And you know what? I haven’t worked out in 15 months. Yep, I said it and no, you didn’t misread that. And you know what? That is the part I beat myself up over. The laundry? We have clothes (thank God for school uniforms and the fact that I can get away with wearing crap to work most days) and we have food both on the counter and in our bellies. I’m going to admit something else (wahoo! Look at me!) I would much rather sit my fat ass down with a glass of wine and a good book – or some Thursday night TV than even think about going for a walk or to yoga. Yep. I said that, too. There are just not enough hours in my day for me to be skinny again. Sounds terrible, but it’s true – I have to choose to sit and read or write when the girls are in bed because if I don’t, I will lose my mind. I promise you that I will. And, I would much rather be out of shape and happy any day. Now, if only I could figure out how to get my brain to stop running over the “have to, should have, need to” list while I’m trying to relax…I suppose if I could do that, I could also find time to work out. Meh. Nevermind.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

again.

I wanted so badly to write about this upcoming anniversary.  I am stunned, in a way, that it has been nine years.  In other ways it seems like it has been nine times nine years.  I sat down here tonight to get my feelings out about all of the hate and ignorance that I have been reading about in the news in the past few weeks: Koran burnings, mosque protests…just general ridiculousness.  But the truth is, that stuff makes me tired and angry and really, what good does that do for me, or for anyone?  My opinions of current events aside, I would like to think that Americans are smarter somehow, or better than they have shown the world this week.  I don’t know why I expect that anymore, I just do.  I feel like we should set a better example, that somehow we should be able to come together for the sake of goodness. I am so wrong. It embarrasses me, really.
 I am finding that I can’t write about September 11, 2001.  I just can’t put into words what that day was like for me or for my family – I wouldn’t dare begin to explain that.  I would just hope that you would all spend a little time with your family this Saturday.  I wish that you would take a moment or two to tell your family that you love them and that you appreciate them.  Tell your children you love them.  Call your father.  Your mother.  Your grandmother.  Yes, even your in-laws.  This is what I wish people would do to mark these anniversaries:  instead of rehashing the past and watching streaming video of the terrible events of nine years ago – pick up the phone and call someone in your family.  Take a few moments to think about what you would say to those people if it was the last time you could say anything to them. 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dear Lucy,


It’s okay to be nervous.  You wouldn’t have been sprung from this body without inheriting that gene.  Go ahead and worry, but please, not so much.  I always thought that the one thing I never wanted my children to get from me was the worrying…the constant worrying.  And look at what I produced: a five-year-old who carries the weight of this world on her tiny shoulders.  It’s enough to make a mother cry, but a mother who has taken you to kindergarten one day and then pulled you out that afternoon to start at another one?  Well, my dear…one day I know you will hardly remember this time, but it seems so very important right now.  I spend nights fretting about you.  You seem to understand so much.  You always have.  But mostly, I worry that you’ll one day do what I’m doing and have sleepless nights about things that, in the end, are really not that serious.  We’re pretty lucky, you and I.  We have a lot of nice things and we have great family on all sides who somehow love us unconditionally…but I know sometimes it’s hard to focus on that. 
I guess these are just the challenges that moms and dads face: not ever really knowing for certain what the right thing is for their children.  I have friends with kids headed to college who say this never really changes.  Maybe it’s because I’m hyper-sensitive about mom stuff.  Maybe it’s because I see so much of myself in you.  Maybe this is just how it is.  I’m not sure.  I do know this: you are smart and funny and sweet and loving and you have a sense about people that I didn’t have until I was well on my way to adulthood.  You will be fine in whatever situation is handed you…I just know it.  You are going to be amazing in school.  You have the curiosity of your daddy mixed with my need to KNOW everything.  You are artistic and you are crafty and you know how to get along in nearly every social situation.  You can do this – even if right now you don’t know French and it’s confusing and even I question if it’s the right thing (and yes, one day you’ll see this, but right now I can’t let on that I wonder these things!). 
Soon you will be (as a friend told me today) parlaying the Fran├žais with no problems.  Until then, I’m going to stay up with you at night when you call me in to tell me about your worries.  I know how it feels to need someone to do that.  I love you so much little Peaches.

Monday, August 23, 2010

coming up for air


I’m not dead.  I’ve just been trying to figure out how to juggle everything these days.  I just started back to teaching preschool, and it’s the first year since Lucy was born that I am working full time.  It’s a lot to figure out, this new schedule.  Then, we had a great surprise just hours after Lucy got home from her first day of kindergarten, when we were contacted by the French immersion charter school (read: free!) in our neighborhood and were told that they had an opening for Lucy.  We had been on the waiting list since April and had pretty much given up all hope that she would get in – and wouldn’t you know she did – right after getting home from an excellent first day elsewhere!  I was an emotional basket case last week, starting with her first day of kindergarten, and then immediately deciding to pull her to start her in a different school and having to explain all of this to her.  It wasn’t something that we decided overnight.  We mulled over it all summer long, ultimately thinking we would never really have to make the choice.  We picked a wonderful Catholic grade school in our neighborhood…one that I hated to leave, but in the end it came down to a financial decision.  So, in the midst of all of that, I started teaching full time and also decided to take a short trip to upstate New York to surprise my aunt for her 50th birthday party.  When I planned that trip, I had no idea of the week I would have had just before!  It was a great get away – perhaps at just the right time!
My point is that it’s been a crazy few weeks in the W house.  But we keep going as we always do.  I just haven’t had the time or the energy lately to keep up with writing.  I can tell a difference in myself when that is the case, and I know I am a better person for taking a few minutes out of every day to write, no matter where my writing takes me.  I have a few stories I want to share, including something that happened to me on the flight back to Kansas City yesterday afternoon.  I will do that when things calm down a bit.  In the meantime, I just wanted to say hello.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

look up.

Late tonight I sat out on my front stoop and looked up. For a loooong time. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the Perseid meteor shower. I figured, hey! I’m up, and it’s nearly midnight, why not get a giant kink in my neck and try to see something cool? I’m so glad I did. I didn’t see a meteor shower. I didn’t have the patience to stick around long enough, I assume, to see whatever the night would bring. Instead, I got a stern reminder of my size. I can’t tell you the last time I sat and looked at the stars. I’m up late - a lot. But I'm not sure when was the last time I sat and looked up and really felt my place in this world. Even as I type this, my neck is a little stiff. What I saw was reminder of how tiny we are on this planet. All those concerns I have about myself, about my children, about my marriage…they seem relatively, well…insignificant, I guess, when you consider the width and breadth of the universe.
As I craned my neck to witness whatever was going to happen above my house, at 11:30-ish pm, with the front porch light off, I saw a shooting star. Not a meteor shower, but a single, fantastic shooting star. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one before. But I do know this: weird things happen to me. A lot. Weird things in my own mind, probably. Things the rest of you would merely scoff at, or make fun of. I know…it’s okay. My husband takes every opportunity to remind me that I might be crazy. Just a little bit. After my grandpa died, I started seeing cardinals. Red birds. Everywhere. Seriously, I am the cardinal whisperer. There is a giant one at my work that lives in the tree above the parking lot. One in my backyard who frequently flies onto my porch when I’m leaning over my kitchen counter looking out the window. I’m a firm believer in signs. Signs of what? I’m never quite sure.
Tonight? I saw a shooting star. It quite literally took my breath away. I sat with my right hand over my heart just breathing in and out for a while. I don’t know what it means. I don’t know that it means anything at all. But it was amazing, and it made me feel tiny. Tiny and safe. Because if there is someone looking out for me up there – or out there – that was pretty freaking cool. Thanks.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

anything but nothing...

I just finished the novel Iodine by Haven Kimmel.  I liked it very much and at one point toward the end of the book, Kimmel writes about the interesting differences in relationships between fathers and sons and mothers and daughters.  She writes, “At some point a father is expected to say to his son, Here is the key to the kingdom, and hand it over.  But mothers?  They say, Here is the key to your catastrophe, and they keep it on their key ring as a sign, nestled among the spare change, the linty gum, and the used Kleenex at the bottom of their decaying bags.”
This comment about the dynamic between mothers and daughters struck me probably more deeply this week than it would have in the past.  This week my mother was put into an assisted living facility.  She is 65 years old and has some sort of dementia.  No one seems all that sure of her diagnoses, but she is no longer able to care for herself in the ways deemed fit for independent living. 
I live nine hours away from my mother.  I don’t have a particularly good relationship with her to begin with.  This week has been difficult because I don’t know what to feel.  At all…not a clue.  Kimmel’s fascinating commentary on the peculiar relationship between mothers and daughters has left me numb.  Silent.  Pondering.  As much as my mother and I released our connection years and years ago – maybe even at my birth? I still can’t seem to let go of the nagging feeling that she is indeed the woman who birthed me, so, I should feel something more about this situation. Right? 
I do feel sad.  Sad for her loss of freedom that she no doubt feels in this situation.  Sad for her that she is likely 20 years younger than most of the other residents at the facility.  Sad that I don’t know the right thing to say.  Sad that I don’t know if there is a right thing to say.  I feel sad that my hands are her hands, my face and my mannerisms are hers…I see bits of her when I look into any mirror.  I hear her voice when I speak.  But I am not my mother.  And other than those eerie characteristics, I feel nothing. 
I remember literally digging to the bottom of my mother’s purse as a child.  I can still smell the lingering scent of cinnamon gum.  I can still see the dust from old Kleenex surrounding everything in that space. I know this is not really what Kimmel meant, but I understand the message she is trying to convey in her writing.  Mothers have a way of letting go, but not.  Of wanting their girls to become women, but also to not stray too far from the example they were given.  This week I feel like I have to break away from the example I was given in order to see more clearly and to feel…something.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

an ode to dance...

So, my 35-year-old, post-baby body doesn’t probably show it, but I used to be a dancer.  Not that kind of dancer, silly.  I started dance classes when I was 3 and I took classes several times a week until I was at least 18.  I took tap, ballet, jazz and what apparently is now known as contemporary.  I danced until my feet hurt and I had back problems and my hips began to snap, crackle and pop all on their own.  After I quit classes, I taught dance (mostly tap) for about 10 years.  Dance.  It was part of me. I loved it. I still do, although years of wear and tear on my body have resulted in my not being able to take classes or even try to do the things I used to do. 
I feel like I have to live vicariously through other dancers.  Which is why I’ve grown to love So You Think You Can Dance.  I have to be honest. I refused to watch the show for the first few seasons it was on TV.  Really, I was just so frustrated with my aging, creaky old body that I didn’t want to see young, vibrant dancers at the beginning of their careers heat up the stage and make me feel like shit.  I’m serious, and yes, I’m that jealous of people I don’t even know.  But through the years, I’ve grown to really love and respect what that show is doing for the dance world.  I love the amazing choreography, and how the program is willing to give choreography to former dancers on the show – what a way to channel amazing talent!
When I was probably 11 years old, I saw the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform Revelations.  I will never forget the way the silk tapestry moved across the stage during “Wade in the Water” and I remember watching the late Gary DeLoatch perform “I Wanna be Ready.”  During the intermission, my sister and I snuck up to the side orchestra box at the Folly Theater to get an up close look at Mr. Alvin Ailey himself.  This was the defining moment of dance for me. I knew at that very moment that I wanted to dance, and that it wasn’t something that just interested me – it was in the very fibers of my being.  Later, as a dancer, I participated in some fantastically terrible competitions, traveled throughout the US and to Seville, Spain in 1992 to dance at the World’s Fair, and fought tooth and nail with my former boss to prove that gymnasts must also have a dance background – a fight I would not win in the end.
Years later, I now live with constant pain from deteriorating discs in my lower back.  I exercise irregularly, in tiny spurts, a process that both aggravates and annoys me to no end.  I do yoga when I can because it’s the only way to gain balance and to center myself without excruciating pain.  I try to explain this to people who knew me as a dancer and they just don’t get it. I don’t understand it myself, it’s like my spine has failed me.  And it sounds ridiculous, but I absolutely adore watching those kids dance each week on TV.  It makes me remember why I loved choreography.  I remember why I loved being on stage.  But mostly I remember why I was touched by dance in the first place – how the graceful, wonderful movements of the human body can inspire even those of us who can no longer move like that. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

teaching myself...

I have been planning to write about this for a while, but have been trying to get into the swing of things since my summer really just started this week. I was lucky enough to be a part of the Greater Kansas City Writing Project’s Summer Institute this year and I spent the past four weeks with about 25 other teachers from all over this city reading, writing, talking and reflecting.  It was hands down the most phenomenal continuing education or professional development opportunity I’ve ever had and I’m so glad that I was able to work with such amazing people, even for just a short time.  I was accepted to the SI on the basis of my being an early childhood (preschool) teacher.  However, I honestly thought that what I would learn in this experience would be useful for me down the road when I finish my certification and am in my own high school English classroom.  That could not have been further from the truth.
In essence, I was given four weeks to revitalize my teaching spirit, to reflect on all the ways I really love what I do right now – not what I might do down the road.  And, I was validated on so many levels as an early childhood educator.  I thought I might not have much to bring to the table every day – we deal with SUCH different classroom dynamics – at least I thought we did!  It turns out that much of what I do is happening in classrooms all over the city, and I assume all over the country.   The biggest difference is that I have these kiddos at the beginning of their educational journey, and they might be a little bit smaller!  I was immediately made to feel at home, and my thoughts and inquiry were supported and validated by the other fellows.
I made the decision in the past four weeks to quit my education classes and spend one full year focusing on what I’m doing right now.  I feel like I owe it to myself and to my employer to give as much of myself as possible this year – to really reflect on why I teach these little people and how much I really affect their lives.  I simply never saw myself as a preschool teacher for the long haul…all that money spent on my English degree? Where would I use it? The answer became quite clear throughout these weeks: I am using it, and I can use it in so many ways that I’ve never explored in detail.  I’m really excited to not have to think about papers, reading books other people have assigned me, and just being gone several nights a week from my family.  I’m anxious to focus my energy on my preschool classroom in a way I’ve not been willing or able to in the past few years.  I feel like this is really a new beginning for me in many ways.
I honestly cannot say enough how thrilled I am to have had the SI experience.  I got to know a fantastic bunch of funny, smart, motivated teachers, teachers who give me hope that our schools have promise and a bright, bright future.  It made me realize that too often we overlook the people who are doing great things just to focus on what a mess the system has become. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tom

Pushing against these four walls.
Pushingggggg.
Screaming. Screaming. screaming.
In my head.
And then. Then. Why not?
Laughter outside the windows…
Music permeating the walls -
Boys night. 3am.
Boys morning?
Beer bottles. High fives. Chuck Taylors and red t-shirts.
Boys night with no boys. Only men.
Men. Boys. Boys. Men. Men with thinning hair. Big ears. Fat thumbs.
Shattered dreams and wandering eyes.
I watch, squinting, between closed blinds. Dark room. Sleeping family.
Hooray for boys! Men. Boys.
I wonder about the conversation. What they are laughing about?
What? Who?
Oh yes...voyeurism.
Laughter.
Laughter…
Men.
High fives. Red t-shirts.
His son, dead…
Not in on the joke.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

when death comes

We spent time today at the GKCWP talking about teaching and poetry with Glenn North, the poet in residence at the American Jazz Museum here in Kansas City.  Glenn was amazing and a wealth of great information.  He had us do a writing prompt based on the poem "When Death Comes" by Mary Oliver.  Here's what I wrote:

when death comes like a strong wind
when death comes like a headache, dull and fuzzy and only slightly uncomfortable
when death comes like being carried out to sea with the undertow
I want to step through the door full of clarity.  I want to see clearly for the first time things that I’ve questioned all my life
and therefore I look upon everything as catalyst for that journey.  where the reasons for my actions are clear and the actions themselves are meaningful, if only to myself
and I think of each life as remarkable. alone. sort of like realizing at last that I’ll never really know what’s going on in your head
and each body as a vehicle. a machine. a treasure chest.
when it’s over I want to say, “that was worth every single day”
when it’s over I don’t ever want to wonder what I missed
I don’t want to end up with regret.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

walking out

I shed the clothing.
The “I don’t want to lose me and look like a mom” shoes.
The ill fitting, post-children skin that sometimes feels like wearing chewing gum that was blown into a bubble, popped and then stuffed back into my jeans.
That skin, often bruised from playing.
Hands rough from washing. Loving. Washing.
Walk away from obligation
Walk away from guilt
Walk away from all that I’ve become.
“They” would see the mess of me, no longer hidden by all that…stuff
Scattered clothes, scattered letters, scattered thoughts
“They” would see bad back, achy knees, wishful thinking, a woman who desperately needs attention…but not that kind.
“They” would see the heart full of funny, magical, little girl love. That heart, its beating made bright and vibrant by those two, often needing reflection
“They” would see that there isn’t much of me that is hidden beneath that skin – my journey is an open book.
The “I shoulds”
The “I wants”
Left behind: the confusion that changes shape and color like the remnants in a glass of red wine; sitting in the sink, filling with water, turning that wonderful shade of blue gray and then fading completely
Free of these things, I peek into windows
Listen to conversations
Find answers to all the questions without real answers
Is she really crazy?
How much does she really know?
Does he have another life? Ulterior motives?
Could I have prevented this?
Like eyes blinking clear of the haze of sleep.
Free of these things, I see.







Thursday, June 24, 2010

the power of place...

Magda Helmuth was very tall for a woman. Looming. She wore short, pin straight hair and had giant hands. She had a thick German accent and smelled like cabbage.  Her preschool room was neither inviting nor comfortable.  She was the antithesis of what a preschool teacher should be.  But my parents didn’t think so. They thought she was amazing and inspiring, and so I was sent to the Purple Dragon a few mornings a week for preschool.  I remember sitting in a circle and trying artichokes as a group. First of all, who brings artichokes to a group of four-year-olds and expects any good to come of it? And, why was it acceptable for Mrs. Helmuth to berate me in front of the class when I gagged on the tasteless leaf in my mouth? Perhaps it was because it was 1978 and that’s just how things were done. Perhaps because I needed an experience like that to shape where I would go, in teaching, in my parenting, and in my relations with others.  I knew even then that I didn’t want to ever, ever make someone feel the way she had made four-year-old me feel.

Here is where the irony comes in: I now teach in the very same classroom where that experience occurred.  While there is now a wall splitting what once was a giant room into two, and the tables and chairs might seem a bit smaller to me, I still remember that experience when I walk into my classroom at the beginning of each new school year.  That classroom might look very similar in composition to the one I attended 30 plus years ago – predominantly white and upper middle class – but the experience I intend to give the students is vastly different than the one I had.

I went on to attend schools in the Kansas City, Missouri district.  What were once known as “cluster schools” (Hartman, Hale Cook and Marlborough elementary) became “magnet schools”, and these fed into several local high schools. I attended Lincoln College Preparatory Academy.  My experience in the KCMO district was a good one, and my parents were active in the schools and in district politics as they chose to stay in the city rather than cross state lines in the “white flight” of the early 1980s.  I don’t feel like they sacrificed my education or my educational experience for their idea that public schools can and should work.  I also think it was brave and bold of them, and a handful of other parents that really stood by the system. I wish there were more parents from our Brookside/Plaza neighborhoods (myself included, honestly) who would be brave enough to do the same today.

As a student at Lincoln, I had friends who haled from all parts of the KC metro area:  Independence, Blue Springs, downtown, the West Bottoms, you name it.  The only sense of community was the community inside the school.  I couldn’t invite my friend Amanda to come over after school because it meant that she’d have to ride my school bus and then one of our parents would have to trek across town during rush hour to pick up or drop off.  I simply didn’t get a chance to know my peers the way that my friends who attended other, neighborhood schools did.  I often wonder how that might have changed my path.  I always felt a bit disconnected from school because the kids who did live near me were not the ones I would have chosen to associate with outside of school.  Plus, most of those kids knew way too much about me, from the girls who once formed the “I hate Kate” club on the playground during third grade recess, to the kids who knew my mom was having an affair with our minister.  I didn’t want my dirty laundry aired like that, and so my social community became the friends I made at dance class.  

I see such connections (and frustrations) between my experience in school all those years ago and where I currently stand in my teaching and in my life.  I am back living in the same south Brookside/Waldo neighborhood in which I grew up, and I believe that our sense of community is still very broken.  People will be quick to tell you how our neighborhood is full of local businesses and family owned establishments: we are proud of these things and it’s one of the main reasons I wanted to come back to the area.  But what happened to the indispensible tie between the community and the schools in a neighborhood?  In many ways those ties don’t exist in this area of Kansas City.  We might fool ourselves into thinking that they do, but the schools with the best “community” feel that way because they are church based, and the church is the core of “community” there.  The public school options are plentiful, yet, in my opinion have done less to welcome the people of this community than to alienate those of us who are interested in attending them.

When I brought this up to friends in conversation, I heard people throwing blame around.  Parents want to blame the school system as a whole; teachers want to blame the parents, students want to blame teachers…on and on.  When will we find a middle ground or some way to get past the blame game and begin to try something new?  My opinion on the system and my sense of community has been really put to the test in the past few months as we have struggled to figure out my daughter’s path to kindergarten.   I can honestly say that I understand how my parents must have felt when their friends, the parents of my friends, pulled their children from public schools to move to the suburbs.  

My thoughts keep returning to the proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” and I wonder, where is my village?  We have backed our villagers into corners, alienating them and have left them to fend for themselves in the most important task of raising children.  I often wonder how different my journey as a parent and as a teacher would look if we had the kind of community in our schools as I feel in my own small group of friends.  I don’t know what the answers are to these questions, but I must believe that I should be a part of the solution.

I consider the definition of my current “location” as physical, geographical and personal.  There are days when I find myself quite literally walking with my children down the same sidewalks I walked as a child, and yet I know the experience I am giving them is at once vaguely similar and entirely different than my own.  I am reminded of my own history each day I step foot into my preschool classroom.  I am reminded that I must do things differently than they were done for me.  I am reminded of all the ways I would like to make the journey different for a new group of children.  I feel in many ways like my location is geographically quite exactly where I started many years ago, and yet miles and miles away from where I intend to go.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

dancing to a fascinatin' rhythm of their own

What do sequins, French braids and lipstick have in common? No, not Vegas and Little House on the Prairie, silly…dance recitals!  When I was three, or somewhere near there, my parents bribed me into potty training with dance lessons.  I started dancing: tap, ballet…and with each successive June came the thrill of the dance recital.  Lights! Costumes! Stage makeup that would turn a seven year old into a street-walker! I danced for 16 years, and then taught dance for another decade after that.  Year after year, June after June, came the promise of more sequins, more hairspray and bobby pins, and more face time on the stages all over Kansas City for me.
Last night I attended my niece’s dance recital.  It was also the 60th (yes, SIXTIETH) recital for my former dance teacher. Sixty years. Imagine that. How many hundreds, if not thousands of little girls and boys that woman has made an impression on in six decades?  I digress.  I sat watching the show and it occurred to me that I should first apologize to my friends and family who had to endure the HOURS long performances of my yearly dance recitals.  There comes a point as a teacher where you should maybe consider not including every single dance you ever choreographed. I’m just saying, it could probably shorten the length of the recital by maybe three hours. 
Watching those girls on stage reminded me that there’s always a bossy one in every group. And it starts early. You know which one I mean: the one who looks at the little girl next to her who isn’t paying attention and pushes her or shakes her finger at her.  Oh, you just wait – she’s going to be the prom queen, the captain of the Cheerios. I don’t know why, but recitals bring social hierarchies to mind for me.  Also? If you are on stage in a sparkling get-up complete with a feathery headdress? You might want to consider your motivation. Really. I am totally all about adults dancing. It’s a great workout and I miss it so much that I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered going back. But dancing on stage next to teenagers in a gaudy costume? I just think it’s weird.
My niece Olivia was the bright shining star of the show. I know I’m biased, but that child has natural talent and it was honestly a joy to watch her.  She made all the other stuff tolerable and that is saying a lot.  A friend of mine suggested earlier today that the Pentagon ought to look into considering dance recitals as a form of torture, and I’m thinking she has a good point.  I’m off to write my congressman.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I'm still here.

I really am.  This week I started the Greater Kansas City Writing Project's summer institute.  When I'm not so darn tired, I will write about the GKCWP and all the amazing things they do. Until then, I just wanted to say hello from the trenches and assure you (were you wondering?) that I have been writing like a madwoman - and have had more inspiration in three days from these wonderful people than I've had in months. I can't wait to share...but not today!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

35

Tomorrow I turn 35.  So, thus far, I’ve outlived Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Jesus. Not necessarily in that order, but probably so.  Today I was catching up on some blogs that I frequent, and one I love was linked to another – a blog where the writer asked women to submit letters to their 20 year old selves.  How intriguing this was to me – how fascinating (and scary)!  And it inspired me so much that I present you with this:
Dear 20-year-old Kate,
All that searching you’re doing right now?  The wondering who you really are and where you belong?  Get used to it.  Apparently it’s ingrained in who you are, and it’s something you’ll continue to do well beyond your angsty teens and twenties.  But, the worry that goes along with that searching? Good Lord, girl. Drop it and enjoy life. Grab it by the balls and don’t look back because one day, the worrying will envelope so much more than just YOU. 
The body that you look in the mirror and scoff at? It’s amazing. Wear the short dress and wear the sting bikini while you can.  That body will one day bear your children and become something much different, but right now? It’s hot.  Keep dancing as much as you can.  Don’t quit because some boy wants to spend more time with you and don’t give up the thought that you might someday dance in New York.  Stop telling yourself it’s not worth pursuing that dream.  Don't sell yourself short.
The boy who makes you crazy with emotions you can’t explain? One day you will vaguely remember why he made you feel that way.  Don’t sacrifice your plans for ANYONE…no matter how important the reason seems at the time. In the end, you will only have yourself, so whatever path you choose, make sure it’s something you’re happy with. Someday you will have daughters of your own and you will no doubt have to watch them go through these same emotions. When that happens, please try to remember how it felt to be 22; it could be the best gift you could ever give them. 
Wash your face more. Drink more water.  Don’t smoke so much.  Stop and enjoy the little moments more often. Don’t ever look back.
Love,
35-year-old Kate

Monday, June 7, 2010

seeing the sea...

Vacation is always such a weird thing.  You either love it or you hate it and you either really, really want to come home or, like me this time, you wish you could figure out a way to live at the beach, rather than in the ho-hum Midwest.  I know that soon enough I will be wrapped up in the day to day stuff again and I will not feel like this, but right now I’m having a hard time feeling good about being home.  I thought a lot this week about sitting down to write, I really did…but something always seemed more important, like watching the sun rise and then set over the ocean, or watching my eldest daughter learn how to swim (!!) or watching my children interact with their grandparents and their aunt and uncle in ways that just never happen when the hustle and bustle of daily life get in the way. Yes, those moments took precedence over writing, and I’m glad they did. 
I thought about writing about the drive over the bridge that connects Jekyll Island with Brunswick and St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, and how I literally get the shakes when I have to drive it alone.  And that the first night my in-laws were there, they tried to get over it only to find it was closed because someone had tried to jump off of the bridge.  I thought about sharing the experience we had getting trapped in a torrential downpour in Atlanta after deciding it was too nice outside to drive to the aquarium…whoops!  My girls had their fist cab ride and you would have thought Lucy had won the lottery. “MOM!!!! You can ride? In a car??? WITHOUT a carseat???”  Yes, honey. Welcome to the South…
But, instead, my mind keeps coming back to something I witnessed one afternoon.  Something probably only I thought was interesting, or astounding, or heartbreaking.  (Sometimes I honestly wonder if I never really grew out of having emotions like I did when I was twelve.)  We had taken our things down to another part of the island during one high tide because the beach outside our condo was non-existent when the tide comes in.  While we were sitting there, I watched a mother take the arm of her blind child (a girl in her late teens if not early twenties) and lead her to where the waves were hitting the shore.  The first thing that struck me was how sweet the gesture was, and then I got really choked up thinking about what must have been going on in the mother’s head.  See?  This is when most people would be all, “what do you mean? You are making this up – no one thinks this much about people they don’t even know…” but I do.
How would I even begin to describe the ocean to my sight-impaired child?  How could I convey the way that the water looks first thing in the morning when the rising sun hits it and it sparkles like a thousand tiny mirrors?  Or how the sea gulls and pelicans search, bellies nearly touching the water, until they see what they want and then dive down for their meal? How schools of teeny, tiny fish washed up with each wave, only to be pulled back into the ocean with the undercurrent?  How do you put into words what it’s like to watch two dolphins do a dance, of sorts, up and then down again in the water just feet from where you stand? 
There are things I imagine you could describe with ease to someone who might never have seen them with their eyes – trees, cats, even people with their particular features and distinctions.  But, the ocean? Ever-changing.  Light and dark, wide and deep.  Mysterious.  Elusive.  I keep coming back to that scene, replaying it in my head, and each time I think of something else I might say to that child, another explanation – something else I might have missed the first time…I imagine that mother knows how this feels.  It’s a little like feeling guilty for having the gift of sight.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

georgia on my mind


This week I’ve been knee deep in suitcases, swimsuits and sunscreen.  We are leaving for a week at the beach and it could not come at a better time.  Tomorrow is the last day of preschool for my children – and for me as a teacher – and when we return I will start the Greater Kansas City Writing Project summer institute.  A week on the beach is in order, for sure.  Honestly, I wouldn’t mind packing to MOVE to the beach.  There is something about sea air that just calms me and makes me feel like a different person.  Thinking about it nearly brings me to tears.  And I have to be honest, and totally cheesy, there is something so magnificent about the ocean I can hardly wait to be closer to it. 
Starting when I was about 15, I spent a few summers in the gulf coast with my then best friend and her family.  We spent hours and hours on the beach, coming in only to eat pimento cheese sandwiches for lunch with sliced tomatoes.  At night we would have bottle rocket wars on the beach and in the water.  We slept in a loft-style room full of windows and to this day one of my favorite memories is of laying still as can be on a twin bed with the window and the shades up as far as they could go.  I can hear the waves crashing and smell the salty air.  At the beach, the stars seem to multiply and go on forever.  That beach house was completely pink.  Ceiling to floor pink.  Outside and inside it was pink.  Even the piano was pink…and it was perfect.  In the “kids” room upstairs was an old juke box that contained only a few 45s: Rod Stewart singing “If You Think I’m Sexy” and Dr. Hook and the Cover of the Rolling Stone singing “You Make My Pants Wanna Get Up and Dance”.  Why I remember that is beyond me, but I do.  I learned to smoke stolen Virginia Slims in that room, and at night my friend’s younger, more daring brother would steal beer for us to sip as we played cards at the pink table. 
I don’t know why all those memories just came rushing back.  That was certainly not what I intended to write about when I sat down tonight. 
I’m looking forward to hearing the waves while I sleep with the windows open next week.  I don’t care if it’s hot as hell, I get one week a year to do that and I will.  I am looking forward to leaving the stress of work and school behind for a few days, but mostly to watching my girls experience the majesty of the ocean again.  I’m going to be watching at night for the lights of the shrimping boats off the coast.  I know when I see them that I’ll feel like I’m home again.