Monday, December 19, 2011

worry wart

Today began quietly.  Like any other day, really, until I went to wake Lucy up and she rolled over and said to me, “I don’t think I can do this.”  It progressively got worse, highlighted with my carrying her upstairs to brush her teeth (she refused) and holding her while she bawled and shook, saying over and over again that she “just didn’t feel well and couldn’t possibly go to school.”  This is how many of our days have started lately, and it’s hard for me to write about it because it’s so raw right now, but I feel like I have to.  I’ve written before about Lucy and her anxiety, but somehow at six years old, she’s found new and different things that trigger it, and we are yet again searching for answers to this situation.
When she finally got out the door this morning (and before the two subsequent phone calls from her teacher and the nurse, each saying she was fine but needed to talk to me…and each supporting Lucy to the best of their abilities) I sat and cried.  I cried because it’s the week before Christmas and my six-year-old daughter is miserable – not just miserable but just plain sad.  I cried because I somehow feel responsible for her emotions, even though I know deep down that I have very little control there.  I cried because I knew I’d have to finally break down and call our pediatrician and try to explain to him what in the world was going on.  Has been going on.  And finally, I cried because my sweet baby girl is six. Six years old.  Way too young to have these feelings, right?
I’m not going to pretend that I know anything about depression or anxiety in the clinical sense of those terms.  I only know that I was a very anxious child.  I pushed so many of those memories back into the recesses of my brain – back where I’d never have to pull them out again…until this week.  I was a worrier, I worried myself into barfing, I was homesick even with my parents right down the street.  I put my parents through hell, and now I guess I’m getting paid back. I would, however, like to state for the record that if payback is a bitch, I get it and I’d like this to stop.  I understand but this is enough. 
The thing is, I’m trying to toe the line between giving Lucy the acknowledgement that she needs to know her feelings are valid and real and telling her she’s being silly.  The one memory I have of being that scared, anxious kid was feeling like I was at fault for feeling those things, and when I couldn’t control them, how could I possibly be to blame for them? What a lonely thing for a little girl to feel.  I remember that clearly, and I’m trying to show Lucy that her feelings matter while also trying to figure out how to get her beyond them.  We met with our pediatrician, are meeting with the school counselor and are also meeting with a behavioral psychiatrist as soon as they can get her in. 
Why am I telling this story? Simply because I want people to know that it’s not unheard of for young kids to have these issues – they are real and need to be taken seriously.  I realize that one day Lucy might look back and be mortified that her mother gave away her secrets – sold her out for a blog post – but instead I hope she knows it’s just because I love her and have to write in order to sort out my own feelings about this.  Oh, sweet, sweet Lucy B…one day I hope we can look back and laugh at this day.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

fart sandwiches.

So, I've not posted in so long that I forgot my password. Blogger kindly told me "you changed your password THREE months ago." Just like that.  Thanks, Blogger.  Life is insane here, and tonight I'm sitting in bed while my eldest child is laying on the floor next to me getting up to barf every few minutes.  I called this post 'fart sandwiches'. I usually say poop sandwiches when things suck, because you can really sink your teeth into a turd, but this is more elusive suckage. The barfing? Total shit - I'm going to let you in on a secret: I FUCKING hate barf. Hate it. I have anxiety about people getting sick. Seriously. I'm happy to say that today has taught me it doesn't matter at all - someone is always going to barf on your shoes in life.  Might as well be your cute kid. And, because there are a lot of other elusive suckage issues going on, I just thought I would share something I wrote for a class instead. 

I'll preface this by saying that I've been taking the world's worst internet class.  The professor has asked us to write 250 words weekly about articles or books she's asked us to read. Now, if you know me (and if you're reading this blog, chances are you know enough about me to believe this) I can't write 250 words. TWO HUNDRED FIFTY WORDS is for pussies.  It's like asking me to write 5 sentences about something that I could write a book about. And the worst part is that no matter how much I write (trust me: over 250 words. every. single. week) the professor has not ONCE given me personal feedback. Ever. Which simultaneously makes me want to punch her in the face and write like eight pages just to see if she's paying attention.  I digress. So, for the final project we were asked to write the usual 250 words about the "state of education" or what we as educators will find most challenging in our future.  Again.  Something I could write a book about.  But today, I read a friend's Facebook status that read something about getting her K-4th grader ready for college and I just had to share this. I figure if the dummy professor isn't reading it, I should at least share it with you all.

I seriously hope that none of you have a barfing child anytime soon.  And if you do, that you have a large amount of wine to fill up on while you're holding the hair out of the puke. I figure it's killing the germs...at least for me. Right? Enjoy:


I have started to write this for about three weeks in my head.  I start, think I know what I’m going to say, and then something else happens either in the media or in my job as a teacher to add fuel to my fire.  I believe that the biggest challenge that educators face is a generation of children who would like to be spoon-fed the answers, are not able to conceptualize, who get frustrated when asked to think critically, and many of whom are unable to make informed statements about anything they didn’t first hear from someone else.  In the past few weeks and months, I have had conversations with educators from all walks of life and from all different teaching backgrounds and sadly, I feel like we all say the same things – we are worried about kids. 
Naturally, we teach in a society where we are forced to think about funding and testing and all the other frustrations that those go along with, but while they are frustrations, they aren’t really all that new or different.  There is always, always going to be red tape in education.  Always.  It’s time to turn our focus toward something that we CAN fix.  Just today, I read about the number one worst baby toy in 2011 – an electronic device similar to an iPad.  For an infant.  And I wonder why children come into my preschool classroom and don’t know how to PLAY.  It’s been my experience over my ten years as a preschool teacher that children are more and more unable to be in open-ended play situations without being guided in some way or another.  I’m a preschool teacher and part of the joy of my job is that it’s so child driven.  I get to do what the kids want to do and make my lesson plans based on their interests.  Recently, though, I’ve noticed a trend toward more teacher led activities – because the children can’t seem to come up with ideas on their own.  When I ask, “what do you want to learn about?” I get blank stares. I want to say to them, “listen up! This is the last time it’s going to be like this – someone is going to get to tell you WHAT to learn for the rest of your life beyond this point!”  It’s sad and shocking and it’s no wonder these same children are failing in grade school and beyond. 
I believe it comes down to being an advocate for these children rather than trying to place blame.  It’s hard work, for sure, but it becomes an issue of advocating for play in early childhood classrooms (early childhood means up to and including the age of EIGHT) and for different approaches in teaching older students.  More play, less rote memorization. More writing, less homework.  More questioning their opinions, less teaching them to fill in the right answer.  While I know that I am starry eyed in some ways about this, I do believe that we can change the future of American education.  I’m not certain yet how that will be done, but I do know that I will be a part of that work in some capacity.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

back up.


I’ve been pretty vocal the past few days about throwing my back out, and I’ve had a lot of advice – from a lot of people.  I completely appreciate it.  Really.  But lots of people were asking the root of my back issues, and so, very briefly, I wanted to explain.  I danced for years, and years, and years…on cement floor.  Oh, it was covered in tile, but all that did was make my tap shoes sound better.  Years of leaping and jete-ing landing on shitty floors did a number on my spine.  Then, about 8 years ago, Steve and I were on our way to meet my now sister-in-law and her then husband for dinner (this is only noteworthy because I like to think about how long ago this was and how much has changed for Kelley and me since this day!).  At the intersection of Oak Street and 55th Street in Kansas City, a VERY young teen-aged driver on a cell phone ran the red light and crashed directly into the driver’s side door of our brand new Nissan Altima.  I was driving.  I was wearing a seatbelt, but the impact of that wreck sent me sideways into the passenger seat – and knocked my spine into some state of, well… I don’t know any better way to say that the wreck completely jacked up my spine. 
The MRI I had following the wreck showed two severely goofy discs in my spine – the L5 and the S1 – or the lowest two discs near the tailbone.  One of those discs was bulging, and the other was degenerative.  Probably the degenerative disc was a result of the concrete floors from my tappin’ days, and the bulging was a result of that dumb ass teenager on her cell phone.  Regardless, those results were enough to warrant physical therapy and several facet injections – which numbed the nerve endings around the two discs so that it wasn’t as painful when they rubbed up against my muscles and whatever else was hanging out back there around my discs.  Aaaaand…those didn’t work.  I found that yoga helped – really anything that kept my core strong helped my back.  I also found that regular visits to my chiropractor (whom I adore and would recommend to anyone – just ask) helped my spine.  Other than that, I really had no control over it, other than watching how (and who) I lift, and how I bend – which has proven very interesting in my profession.
Fast forward to this past Friday afternoon.  I was getting ready to get on the road to St. Louis to visit Steve’s parents when I went to put on my pants and wham – out when the back.  Which might not have been that big of a deal, but riding in a car for four hours there and back, as well as sleeping on a bed that wasn’t mine, as well as having a coughing and nose blowing fit, and I was a steaming hot mess by Sunday afternoon.  This is where everyone has an opinion: get surgery, get and MRI, get to bed! All of these are valid (and thank you for your concern) but long story short, here is the plan. I saw my chiropractor yesterday – he adjusted me, because part of my issue is that one of my legs is also a bit longer than the other.  I’m a mutant.  He believes that when I bent to put on my pants the other day (why couldn’t this have been a better story, like I was lifting a couch or something?) I tore some of the scar tissue around those discs leaving my nerves and muscles in some sort of battle.  Then, he did some deep tissue massage, which felt terrible and left me with what feels like a bruised ass, but has definitely worked because I can feel my right leg today.  Finally, he used some really fantastic gel on my lower back, which numbed the area for a while.
Tomorrow I go to my general practice doctor (whom I also adore – but, no, this isn’t an advertisement for my medical preferences) and I’m to request a prescription for a cortisone and steroid mix that should take the swelling down in my back.  After a week, I get to see my chiropractor again, and if that hasn’t helped I get to have another MRI and then look into more injections. Whew! Aren’t you glad you asked about my back?

Monday, October 10, 2011

why I write

The National Day on Writing is on October 20th.  I wrote this in honor of that day.  You can read more about it here.

I write because if I didn’t, I would certainly not be here today. I write because it’s the best and cheapest form of therapy out there.  I write because I have something important to say, even if it’s something as simple as, “I’m angry”, or “I’m frustrated” or. “I’m so proud”.  I write because I don’t know how better to express myself, it’s the way I deal with the world around me.  I remember writing pages and pages of letters in high school, it’s probably the first time that I remember feeling like putting pen to paper would solve something.  I wrote to boyfriends, my parents, my friends.  I wrote to heal broken hearts, to soothe my angry soul, to process my parent’s divorce.  I wrote because I thought people might think me crazy if I told them aloud the things that went on in my head. Now, I don’t care what people think of me – I know I’m crazy.  But, now that I’m not an angsty teenager anymore (I’m more like an angsty adult) I still write to process things: my relationships, my marriage, my children, the path I’m on at any given moment. 
I write because one day I want my kids to look back and know that what they said and did mattered to me.  That I wrote down their experiences and I laughed with them and at them and I noticed all the little things that they did.  I write because earlier this week Lucy asked me why kids remember so much and grown ups don’t.  I told her it’s because adults have more years and more memories clogging their brains, but really I write so that I DON’T forget everything that happens – even the little, seemingly unimportant day to day things. 
I write because some days I think if I say the words out loud that I write down on paper, I might curl up and cry.  I write because I’m one of those people who look around me at the grocery store and thinks, “I’m the ONLY ONE who knows what I’m thinking right now.” I think about that a lot – how when I look over at my husband I only see what I see – I will never know what is going on in his head – even if I think I do.  It’s such a lonely thought and so I write because it keeps me from losing my mind.  I write because I’m so busy that writing seems a little like I’m talking to a friend – something I don’t get to do nearly enough anymore. I write because it’s in my DNA.  It’s in the very fiber of my being.  I write because I can't imagine what I would do if I couldn't.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I (still) do.


Today I made myself sit down and write about all the things that I’ve not let myself say in the past few months.  I knew this past weekend, on the eve of this 10th anniversary of 9/11, that something was wrong with me.  I was entirely more concerned about the state of my family than I was about what that terrible day would bring.  I’m just going to say this: marriage is hard.  Of all the things I wish I had known before I entered into my own marriage – I wish someone had said, “Kate, one day you will wake up and you will find you have lost important connections with the person laying next to you.”  This is not a post about my marriage unraveling.  It’s not – and I assure you that, God forbid that ever happens, I will not be writing about it on my blog.  It’s a post to say, I get it now. I understand that no one tells you those things because if they did, no one would get married. Sort of like if people told you the truth about childbirth, there would be way less children in this world. 
I get it.  Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about marriage.  My own, my parents’, Steve’s parents, the upcoming nuptials of a friend, that of a good friend who is living here in KC while her husband is working in another city for a few months.  And I just need to put it out there that this life that Steve and I have created is the hardest job I’ve ever had.  Recently, I started back teaching after a summer off, I also started grad school, and Steve is still working full time as well as teaching two nights a week at the KC Art Institute.  We also have a home we try to maintain, two young children, a dog…you get the picture. We hardly see each other, and lately we’ve not been very good at making all of the pieces fit in this difficult daily puzzle of our lives.  It’s like you think everything is running smoothly, or at least is at status quo, until reality tells you differently. 
One of the reasons I fell in love with Steve is that, while it might not happen all that often, he has the ability put it all out on the table and let you know how he feels.  I suck at that.  I will bottle up how I feel and get resentful and mean and ugly until I finally blow up.  It’s not a healthy way to live – and it’s not a healthy way to have a relationship.  I’m also really lazy. I’m not going to lie, I am super, super, way lazy – I would rather sit on my ass or keep to myself than do the hard work – including relationship work.  It’s hard to find time to compliment my husband – even if I DO love him and I DO appreciate him, finding times to tell him that is not my strong point.  It goes both ways, for sure, but at the end of the day when people have NEEDED stuff from me all day long, the last thing I think about doing is laying on the compliments.  I would much rather lay on the couch.

I'll also say selfishly that I pretty much hate keeping this house together while other people get to reap the benefits of being with my family - the babysitters, the teachers, the people my husband works with.  I feel like for all the driving, cooking, cleaning, laundry, general problem solving I do, I should get to enjoy the reward of being with my family, but right now, in this time - that just isn't happening.  Instead, other people get to enjoy the energy of my kids and my husband while at the end of each day, my kids are either already in bed when I get home from school, or Steve and I get to do the catch up game instead of really enjoying each other's company.  I hate that other people are getting the best of us, but I digress.
My point is that I’m trying to hold myself more accountable for doing the hard work.   I’m putting out there that I know my married friends are doing the same hard work that we are doing here and I respect you all immensely for it.  I’m not saying that there aren’t amazing things about my marriage – I love the life we have made with each other and with our children.  We started a relationship built upon laughter and we continue to do a lot of that – we are raising two amazing, hilarious little girls, and I think all things considered we do a pretty great job of it.  I also know that the rat race we are in right now is temporary and one day I'm sure I'll miss the hustle and bustle (to an extent!)  I just feel like people don’t like to talk about this and it’s been bothering me. So there. I said it for you.  You’re welcome.  Also, I should probably apologize for throwing my husband under the bus in order to prove my point.  So…I’m sorry, Steve.  See ya tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

these are a few of my favorite things...


Lately, I’ve had quite a time with anxiety and just feeling down. It’s not something debilitating.  In fact, it’s not even something that I was going to mention.  But today I went to visit my doctor and he made me feel so much better about my health in general that I decided to start writing down all of the things that make me happy.  Once I started thinking of things, I honestly couldn’t stop – what a great exercise, really.  I started by posting them as my Facebook status today, and when the responses from people started to make me laugh, or sigh, or just remember WHY I have such great friends, I just wanted to write more about it.
It’s really the little things, I guess.  I was talking with my Aunt Karen yesterday about how we are always looking for the next big thing to come along. How, even when we have amazing moments (the example we both thought about was sitting on the beach recently) we were still thinking about the next better thing that might happen.  I guess it’s just our American way to think about stuff like this.  So I started focusing about all the little things that I see or hear or smell each day that make me happy.  Things I often look over with the hope that bigger things might be on the horizon. 
I started a list.  I will continue to add to it – it’s simply something to remind me that there is happy all around me. I just need to look more closely…
The smell of sunscreen. Swimming at night.  A great glass of wine.  A snuggly blanket and a good book.  Scoring a new, bestseller at the library before anyone else.  Bright red nail polish.  Ludacris (please don’t ask me why he makes me smile every time I hear him!) Thunderstorms.  Seashells.  Clean sheets.  Getting dressed up for a night out.  Fancy heels.  Finding the perfect swimsuit.  Doritos.  Cheetos.  Long talks on the phone with friends. Long talks anywhere with friends.  Fart jokes.  I stole this one from my cousin Amanda: the phrase, “to the window! To the wall!” – makes me laugh every time.  Bacon.  Hot air balloons.  My writing project friends.  Preschoolers.  Old school R&B music. Full bookshelves.  The Jersey Shore (what?!) Cinnamon toast.  Coffee with real cream.  Black dogs.  Hats, in general.  Bridges – but not being under them, only going across them, I don’t know why.  Bow ties.  Naked baby butts.  Reading out loud to an attentive audience.  Boat rides.  My sister.  Singing out loud – REALLY loudly.  Road trips.  New blue jeans.  Fireflies.
I just realized that I could probably go on with this until I bored each of you to death.  It’s not my intention to do that and I plan to continue with this “project” of sorts.  I hope it inspires you as well. Also? Sadly, maybe? When I check my Google analytics and see that people are actually reading this stuff? That makes me happy, too. Thanks a bunch.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

outlasting my tan...


I have a tan.  A real, live suntan.  Those who know me should be stunned by this news.  Also? I got this suntan even without a sunburn…even more stunning, I know.  Vacation this year was really good. Really, really good, and something Steve and I both needed.  It was a whole week of just being lazy: lounging by the pool and lounging on the beach and reading.  I read TWO books in one week.  Ca-ching! It was a week of watching our girls perfect their swimming techniques.  For Lucy, it was just getting back into the groove of swimming again after a long winter.  For Zoe, it was actually learning how to swim without floaties – and she did it!  It was a week of collecting shells and sand dollars and taking early morning walks on the beach to see what washed up while we slept: mostly jellyfish and other weird stuff.  It was a week of Lucy figuring out the southern drawl – and slipping it into conversation at the most perfect moments.  Of Zoe deciding that she and her sister were more alike than different, perhaps signaling a real change in their relationship? Meh, I’m not that starry-eyed.  But, it was nice while it lasted.  I have to say, though, that the part of our trip that has stuck with me, in fact, keeps haunting me, is something that happened in the first two days we were there. 
I am a light sleeper. Thanks, kids!  I’ve never been a very good sleeper (aside from maybe in my late teens and early twenties when I was a lazy fool) and I literally jump up at the slightest sounds.  The second day we were there, I woke up to what I assumed was someone getting lucky in the next condo.  I laid there for a while, thinking, “jeez! 4am is a little early OR late for this squealing, but whatever.” And then I started getting pissed because I realized that it wasn’t someone getting lucky, it was a child screaming bloody f’ing murder.  It took me about an hour, but I got back to sleep. And the next morning, I woke up furious at the parents who thought it was totally fine to let their child scream and cry in the middle of the night.  (I need to say that I was the mom who would go and pick the girls up if they started crying while we were either A: on a trip in someone’s home or in a hotel, or B: ever if I thought they would disturb someone.) I’m all about the child learning to sooth himself, as long as I don’t have to hear it at 4am.  
So, the next day, my family and I were out on the beach and next to us sat a big family with a bigger umbrella.  Under it, was a special needs child.  I don’t know what the child’s story was, but after hearing the child wail uncontrollably when the mother put on his sunscreen, I knew that this was the night-time squealer.  I felt like a giant asshole. I honestly had the wind knocked out of me as I processed what I was feeling the night before (anger) with what I felt at that moment (sadness).  I came home from this vacation with a pretty awesome suntan, that is true.  I also came home from this vacation with the reminder that you never, EVER know what a person’s story is.  Ever.  I was humbled by the experience, and while it was something seemingly simple, it is something that will stick with me much longer than my suntan.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

oh, paper. I'm so sorry.


My inlaws recently gave us a gift.  One that I, admittedly, was uncomfortable with.  They gave us a brand new iPad…and even though I fought it, I do love it.  I’m still trying to figure it all out, but I have a confession to make: I downloaded some books. To read.  On iBooks.  There. I said it.  I am reading a book right now on a digital device.  Just typing that makes me feel dirty and scandalous.
I couldn’t help but to see what it was all about.  Really, can you blame me?!  I will say that I feel like I’m having a bit of a tryst.  Maybe more of a ménage trois?  I’m torn.  I love books: the smell of books, the feel of a good heavy book in my hands – the excitement of buying a new book and cracking the spine.  I know. I’m a complete dork, but whatever.  Reading a book on an iPad is just weird.  There is really no other way to describe it – using the touch screen to turn the page seems wrong, but it’s also so easy.  And, I can hardly wait to get to the beach and have not just the three heavy books I will STILL tote with me, but also the 15 others that I’ve downloaded onto the iPad.  You know, just in case I can’t pick the right one to pack.
I know I wrote this about digital readers, but I guess I’m growing and changing with time.  Or else, I’ve just lost my mind.  Either is possible…I’ll keep you posted.

Monday, June 13, 2011

36


This week I had a birthday.  Normally, birthdays sort of bother me.  I spend a lot of time thinking about particular birthdays of the past: the one, at 16, where I hung out in a car until midnight with my sweet friend Amy so we could celebrate our birthdays together (hers is June 12).  The birthday I spent crying about the boy who had broken up with me earlier that day…and that was the one where I was skinny and hot, but also? Who does that? Shame on him. My 21st, where I wore a shiny gold dress to a club called The Edge and danced in a cage and then fell down half a flight of stairs – drunk on Midori sours…seriously.  The thought makes me simultaneously laugh and throw up in my mouth a little bit.  The one right after I had Lucy where I drank half a beer and thought I would die – I was 30 and remember thinking about how people did BIG things for 30th birthdays.  That day I mostly felt like a giant boob. My point is that, at 36, I’ve decided to not ever be bothered with that trivial stuff anymore.  I’ve decided this is the year I will take back June 11th. 
This year has been one of the best years of my life.  Honestly.  I’m not sure if it’s because I’m really happy with my work – I’ve found a happy place in teaching – or if it’s because my children are old enough now that I can stand back a bit and relax and enjoy them more?  I’m not sure.  I don’t know if it’s because I’ve finally decided that this extra 20 pounds is really not that big of a deal.  I just feel like each year gets a little bit better for me, and that all the stuff I worried about when I could fit into that shiny gold dress doesn’t matter at all anymore.  Sure, I’m not that skinny and cute, but I’m also not that skanky and stupid.
I’m hoping that my 36th year will include more traveling and less whining.  More eating delicious food and drinking really good wine, and less worrying about where those calories are heading.  More time spent with family living far away and less time crying about that family not living in Kansas City anymore.  My 36th year will be about FINALLY getting started on my masters and not letting the excuse of kids, money or time get in my way.  It’s not a new epiphany…it’s just about finally getting off my own back.  Women are way too hard on themselves and I’m finally seeing some of that.  This year will be about loving myself more and criticizing myself less.  I hope that some of you will hold me to it.

Monday, June 6, 2011

the power of play


I’m writing this while sitting on a flight from Minneapolis to Kansas City.  Earlier tonight, my mother-in-law asked me if I enjoy traveling alone. I do.  A lot. Part of it is the tiny break from the day-to-day madness of having two kids under six. Part of it is exploring somewhere new. And part of it is simply remembering what it was like before I had people who depended on me for everything.  I’m not writing about some wonderful self-discovery here, I just think traveling alone is a rare treat for me, and this weekend I got to do just that when I flew to Rochester, NY, for a quick weekend with my Aunt Karen and her family.
During the weekend, Karen and I drove to New Paltz, NY, which lies on the Hudson River about an hour and a half outside of New York City.  It’s a beautiful area, truly, with mountains and the Hudson River and the Erie Canal, and all of these tiny towns tucked into the scenery.  I attended a workshop put on by the Hudson Valley Writing Project in New Paltz.  Yep, this could totally be yet another love letter to the National Writing Project and all of its local sites, but I will spare you that. Again.  You’re welcome.  This weekend I got to spend time with early childhood educators and it was fantastic. The best part? Meeting 80-year-old Deborah Meier and getting to listen to her talk about her experiences and stories. 
Deborah is many things: first and foremost a teacher, she has opened schools, she is a public advocate for education and education reform. A mutual friend called her, “...a piston. One of our true legends in the field.”   She truly should be an inspiration to educators everywhere.  She spent a lot of time this weekend talking about how schools in the United States spend an inordinate amount of time teaching kids the right answers.  I wanted to jump up and clap when I heard this, because I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the current state of our education system and particularly about how schools are no longer teaching or empowering students to think critically…about much of anything. 
We talked about the power of play in early childhood classrooms and about how when children learn to play, they in turn learn to think.  Ok, really, I could write a book about that last sentence – I’m REALLY dumbing that down for the sake of time and space and not boring you.  We talked about how many kindergarten teachers these days are encountering children in their classrooms who have no idea how to play.  Teachers are having to model play in classrooms because these children aren’t playing at home, and the early childhood programs they may have attended are doing away with play in favor of more "concrete" learning.  Can you believe that?  It’s terribly sad to me.
One of my favorite quotes from Deborah this weekend was “children know how to play until we teach them not to.”  Like I said, I could go on and on and on about my feelings on this subject, but mostly I wanted whomever might read this to simply think about it.  How did you play as a child?  What did you pretend to be?  Do (or did?) your children play?  How are you embracing and encouraging the play that is happening in your home?  Yes, that’s right, I said encouraging play.  Do it.
Right now I’m reading A Child’s Work, the Importance of Fantasy Play by Vivian Gussin Paley, a book I picked up this weekend.  I’m sure that I will have plenty more to say about this book as well, but I just wanted to present the idea of play to you. In a time where schools, particularly early childhood programs, are doing away with play, and turning preschool curriculum into sit-at-a-desk-and-learn school school, I think it’s super important to look at WHY play is so important for children.  I can’t tell you how nice it was this weekend to sit with a group of smart early childhood educators who agree with this stuff – it’s proof to me that we are going to do something to change the way things are going in early childhood education…one superhero or princess at a time.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

stormy weather


Today I’ve been very thoughtful.  Sitting in a makeshift tornado shelter with more than fifteen children under the age of six will do that to you.  I won’t pretend that I have a worse or different story than anyone – Lord knows the weather in the Midwest has done enough without my making light of it.  I was fine.  The children were fine.  But, for a while there, we didn’t really know what was going on today, other than there were tornado sirens and talk of several touch downs in our area.  We do tornado drills several times a year, but nothing quite prepares you for the real deal. 
Aside from having no cell service or internet access, and therefore no way of knowing what was going on outside those walls, I think the most scary thing was that I tell my students daily that it’s my job to keep them safe.  What if, on the second to last day of school, I could not come through on a promise that I’d been making all year long?  I mean, really? I ask my little ones all the time, “what’s Miss Kate’s job?” and inevitably, they will say, “to keep me safe.” Not, “to read to me,” or “to wipe my nose,” or even, “to build giant Lego towers with me.”  All of which I do on a daily basis.  These kids know that above all, it’s my job to keep them safe.
At noon today, I wondered several things.  Fresh off the media frenzy surrounding the Joplin, Missouri tornadoes, I wondered if we’d all be blown away.  I wondered if my husband would actually heed warning and go to the underground parking garage like his employer insisted or keep sitting at his desk avoiding the “Stromboli” that was headed his way (his damn autocorrect made for the funniest part of the day).  I wondered why little Zoe thought what we were doing was hilarious, and I wondered if my Lucy was safe (though, that was a thought I kept pushing back. I honestly couldn’t even bear to think about it while we sat there).  I wondered mostly, though, if I was going to be able to keep my word to eight children who have trusted me all year long. 
I got to Lucy’s school today for her Grand Spectacle (her fabulous kindergarten show!) and when I saw her teacher I thanked her repeatedly.  She gave me a weird look, but after what I’d been through, I just wanted her to know that I appreciated her help in keeping Lucy safe, even if it was just second nature to her.  We place our kids in someone else’s care every single day without ever thinking that something catastrophic could really happen.  I’m so glad it didn’t happen today, and I hope to never have that experience again. I’m way better at keeping snails from crawling out of their jars, or getting playdough out of the couch, or just wiping noses.

for Splitt

Today, Kansas City lost a local baseball legend when left-handed pitcher Paul Splittorff lost his battle to cancer. When I heard this news today, I found myself thinking about the days of my childhood, many of which were spent at the ball yard with my dad.  While I know that in recent years, Splittorff was synonymous with Royals broadcasting, I will always remember watching him on the pitching mound on hot summer afternoons.  When I was about 14, my dad took me to see the Smothers Brothers.  Another great Royals pitcher, Dan Quisenberry, was the opening act.  He recited Casey at the Bat and later, I found out that he, too, was a poet in his own right.  Someone wrote something earlier today about Quiz and Splitt hanging out again, and I thought it was only fitting to pull out Quisenberry's book of poetry, On Days Like This.  I thought this poem of Quiz's was a fitting tribute to Paul Splittorff today. Enjoy.


Old G(love)
mushy leather
burnt brown
light cracks
saddle creaks
your strings held up well
mine have too
we look trim enough
to still play

you protected me
Wilson A2000 XL
only glove I really liked
though I flirted with others
you were the one for me
I love your dark center
your womb
rich as Iowa soil
tight feel to my left hand
a worker’s glove
you brought slap shots
stinging in my palm
but I knew where they were
so I could grab them quick

now you look so small
do you shrink like old men
stiff and less flexible?
me too
we’re both on the shelf
but you still look nice
 and holding you
feels so right

* you can find Quisenberry's book here.
 


Saturday, May 14, 2011

reflecting.


Last year during my annual review and conference with my bosses, I walked in and cried.  Literally, I walked in the door, sat down and started bawling.  I was pissed, and hurt, and frankly, done with teaching.  Honestly, I felt like I had sacrificed an entire year of teaching for nothing – and it had sucked.  I didn’t expect to cry.  I really didn’t even know what I was going to say.  Maybe, “I quit”?  I’m so glad I didn’t.
Last summer, as everyone knows, because I talk about it any chance I get, I was a fellow in the Greater Kansas City Writing Project’s summer institute.  It was, quite literally, what saved me as a teacher.  I left the SI and went back to the preschool classroom determined to give early childhood education one more chance.  I was determined to harness all the creativity and the strength and the validation I got from the GKCWP summer institute and put it to good use in my classroom. 
I am telling this story because I just sat down last night to fill out my self-evaluation for this year’s annual review.  I’m happy to say that there will be no tears at this review…at least sad ones.  This year has been amazing.  And, I teach preschool…I have stories upon stories of things that have happened this year that weren’t amazing, but those stories are nothing in light of all of the good things that happened in my class this year.
Last summer’s self-reflection taught me that I owe it to everyone to stand back and let children learn without my guiding every single moment.  I’ll add my own little caveat here: I don’t do this as often as I should in my own home.  I don’t know if it’s because I have control issues with my own kids, or if sometimes, at the end of a long day with other people’s children, I just need things to go my way?  I’m not certain. But I will say that the Dinosaur kids have had some pretty amazing experiences this year.  I’m guessing most parents will rank field trips and special visitors as the top “amazing experiences” but I’d like to tell you what I think was amazing, if I may…so here’s a list, in no particular order:
We created jobs and each chose one daily.  We made a “helpfulness board” and our “kindness catcher” watched for kind acts that we documented and posted on our bulletin board.  We baked and cooked and ate lots of new and different foods. We were the authors and illustrators of our OWN stories – and we know what the authors and an illustrators actually do (!!!!)  We grew vegetables and plants and flowers.  We hatched chicks. Out of eggs!  We watched caterpillars turn into chrysalis and then butterflies and we set them free. We learned how to have gentle hands and also how to tell our friends about our feelings.  We learned when we need some “safe” time…if only everyone would recognize when they need those moments!  We painted with all sorts of different mediums.  We wrote in journals, we drew with crayons, pencils and markers.  We scooped and shoveled, and dug and sorted and counted and patterned.  We passed out lunches to each other.  We learned to sit in a circle and listen to a story together and how to guess what the story might be about and even what might happen next.  We were really LOUD some days, and other days we needed things to be quiet. We taught a teacher, who was thinking this might not be her calling, to hang in there and to absolutely LOVE what she does.
I’m not certain what the future holds for me, but this class of kids has encouraged me to be my best: every. single. day. And not maybe the best I could be, but at least the best I could be for that day, for that child.  And, really? Isn’t that what early childhood education is all about?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

good riddance...


Well, well…well.  Stunning news tonight about Osama Bin Laden.  News that I thought I would never hear.  Dead.  Which, might make some people really, really happy, but honestly I just feel a little bit sick to my stomach.  Bin Laden – the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, that took the life of my cousin Karleton along with nearly 3,000 other people.  Bin Laden, who has been hiding, for lack of a better word, for nearly 10 years.  I have a lot of feelings about Bin Laden, many I’m sure you can guess, but now I am worried about the repercussions of this…what happens next? Dancing and celebrating to be sure, but then what happens tomorrow and the next days to come?  
I have always felt that there will never really be true closure for myself after September 11, 2001.  I don’t really know how all of my family feels about this, but it’s how I have always felt.  I mean, of course there was a memorial service, and those concrete things, but when you hear the words 9/11 every. single. day on the news, in passing, somewhere in the day – there really is no true closure.  Imagine, if you will, that images of your loved one’s murder were shown nearly daily on the news or over the internet, or that your loved one’s murderer had been on the loose for the past decade. It’s always seemed a bit like a band-aid getting ripped off the wound. Over and over and over again. 
I guess my hope is that the families and loved ones of 9/11 victims can feel like a chapter in this very, very long story has finally ended. I don’t know that this it will ever feel like closure, but it’s a start. 

Saturday, April 30, 2011

a Saturday morning thought...

If you daughter has children and you haven't seen them in nearly three years, and they don't know who you are, and when you call here they refuse to talk to you because they don't know who you are? You are NOT allowed to call yourself a grandmother.  And if your stepson has children, do not call your daughter on a beautiful Saturday morning and tell her you are a grandmother again.  You aren't one to begin with...there is no again. I'm just sayin.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

look at me learnin' on a weekend...

Yesterday I attended Faces of Learning Kansas City, which was a coming together of educators and concerned citizens to talk about how we learn. Essentially, it was a discussion of how we might change what learning looks like in our city and across the country.  Faces of Learning is the brainchild of my new friend Sam Chaltain, and Sam traveled to Kansas City yesterday to have a community conversation about learning.  I am sure to sell the idea behind this campaign short, so I completely suggest going to Sam’s website to check it out for yourself.  What I will say is this: the idea that the best learning comes from the inside isn’t rocket science.  It’s not even a new theory.  We must consider HOW we learn and what the ideal learning environments might look like.  It should be what school districts from San Diego to Boston and Minneapolis to Dallas are asking of their students and what we are asking pre-service teachers to consider before they ever step foot into a classroom.
We talked yesterday about what learning looked like for each of us.  How my friend Steve discovered his potential for learning and pushing himself when he was faced with the daunting task of teaching a chemistry lab in college.  Steve is now a high school English teacher, and while he is certainly, among other things, the most organized person I know, he’s no chemist.  Sorry, Steve. He spoke about how that challenging experience led him to see himself as a teacher.  Laurie talked about being a teacher in Los Angeles and how she was constantly told what she could and couldn’t do by the administration – and in effect, how that changed her teaching and her learning.  Maggie talked about what she has learned about herself and about learning environments by being in charge of student teachers in early childhood classrooms all over Kansas City. 
I tend to learn like a four-year-old learns.  Perhaps it’s the hours I’ve spent on the floor with four-year-olds in my own classroom, but I need to be hands-on with learning.  Whether I’m learning something about technology (did I tell you I’m on the tech team?) or about cooking, I’m not absorbing anything unless I am getting my hands dirty, so to speak.  My best learning comes when I’m pushed to question everything – to wonder about things and to make connections with like-minded people.  Yesterday, I recalled being a 14-year-old and spending three weeks of my summer at what is now Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri.  I was a part of the Joseph BaldwinAcademy, and that summer and the one after it was spent taking college level classes with about seventy of my peers.  Not only was it the first time I was away from my family – how grown up of me – it was the first time I was truly challenged to think outside of the box.  AND, it was the first time I was with a group of kids who weren’t judging me for wanting to learn.  At JBA learning was cool, and I still get that giddy, excited feeling when I surround myself with people who are excited about learning, just like I did yesterday.
What struck me about the conversation we had yesterday is that it shouldn’t be so difficult to ask teachers in Kansas City to consider how they learn and what the ideal learning environment might be.  Imagine what it would look like if teachers considered the immense diversity in learning patterns in their classrooms.  In a city where our public schools are not something we are bragging about, we should be taking ALL of these things into consideration.  This conversation about learning needs to continue in our schools, in our churches, and in our communities. 
I really don’t want to get into education reform.  I am lucky enough, for now, to be (as a teacher) relatively unaffected by the way our government handles education.  I also know that once I start writing about it, I might not stop – so I will spare you my thoughts.  I will just say that I walked out of that conversation – which continued, over hot wings and beer, I might add, with some of the most amazing teachers I know in this city – and I was excited about what the future of education and learning in Kansas City might look like.  Not only am I a teacher, I am a mother of two beautiful girls who I believe deserve only the most amazing opportunities when it comes to learning.  I believe we owe it to our children to continue these conversations, and we mustn’t stop until we are truly satisfied with what we see happening in our schools.

**if you're interested locally in KC in joining this conversation, please take a look at this
**you can also get more information here

Saturday, April 9, 2011

signs, signs, everywhere signs...

I have written before about my weird cardinal sightings.  As in, they are everywhere I go.  After my grandparents Bloom passed away, I began to think that the cardinals were sent as a sign from them – you know, just reminding me that they still had an eye on me.  I know, you might think I’m nuts. It’s fine.  I know the cardinal’s song so well that when I hear it, my eyes start searching for where the bird is perched.  A few weeks ago, during a particularly bad day with Lucy, I thought to myself, “I wish I had some sign that I’m not alone or that things will be ok,” and I didn’t even get that thought fully out before the most beautiful male cardinal flew over and sat right in front of my car.  A few seconds later, the female joined him.  I love moments like that, even if it was pure coincidence, it reminds me that there is more out there – more beyond the human eye – and I fully believe that people who have passed on have a role in those moments. 
Like, the time in Boston when my cousin Karleton’s widow and his son were at a park on a day not long after Karleton’s death (if memory serves it was Karleton’s birthday or an anniversary?) and his son Jackson found a UNC hat at the park that day.  Karleton graduated from UNC and then lived in Boston. What are the odds of that happening randomly? 
The day of my Grandpa Bloom’s funeral, my sister and I went to Loose Park in Kansas City to spend some time together.  We had plans to fly to New York the week after that, and as my grandfather died very suddenly, we decided to keep our original plan and to spend time with my Gram after everyone else had gone home.  So, that day at the park, instead of attending his funeral, we fed the geese.  My grandpa was an artist and loved to draw geese and ducks – and he had a song about being kind to ducks that we loved to sing with him.  While we were feeding the geese, a white duck came barreling across the pond at us and shot up out of the water to stand literally about three feet from the two of us.  He raised his wings up over his head and did a little dance for us and then went right back into the water.  Lisen and I stood there completely silent.  There were no other ducks around – just this one, and it was pure white.  A few days later, I went back to the park to try to find the white duck and it was nowhere to be found.   I still keep one of his feathers that dropped during his dance in a little box in my bedside table.
The other night, my Aunt Karen called with a story about a lost earring.  She told me she had to call me because she knew I would understand.  Apparently, she took a shirt off a few weeks ago and with it came off an earring that she loved.  She had searched high and low with no luck, until her eldest daughter put on a sweatshirt and out fell the earring.  My aunt had never worn that sweatshirt.  That happened right after a particularly difficult weekend for my aunt and her family.  She and I both laughed about how my grandfather had made it happen so she’d know he was watching out for her.
I know people might think I’m reaching a little bit.  That’s fine.  I guess I just think if more of us really watched what happens around us – really paid attention to the things we just can’t seem to explain – more people would believe in something beyond ourselves.  I don’t mean spiritually beyond ourselves, I just mean that I see things all the time that I can’t quite explain – and I like to think that someone out there, or up there, has sent me a little sign.  And, coincidentally or not, they often come when I most need them.
*PS: It’s been a long time since I’ve given myself time to write.  There is no better time than getting some sort of mystery flu/cold to lie around and write, right?  I would like to say thank you. Thank you to all of you who commented about Lucy – people I’ve never even met wrote some of the sweetest words to me, and my sweet Pa had some great words of advice and reminders about my own childhood.   I really, truly thank you.  Lucy has had a really, really good past week or two – she’s still not eating at school, but she’s not so terribly sad and anxious anymore, and honestly, we are so glad to have our funny kid back that we are willing to believe the rest will work out eventually.



Tuesday, March 29, 2011

recently

I haven’t written about anything very personal in a while. Mostly, because in the past few months, Steve and I have been preoccupied, dealing with our eldest kiddo having some sort of bizarre anxiety. It’s sort of like how I imagine potty training a rabid, ferocious bear might be. I don’t want to talk too much about the details, but it has to do with food. We think she might have some sort of post-traumatic stress brought on by a stomach bug she got right around Christmas. Seriously, she’s not been herself since then, and it’s the best explanation we’ve come up with so far. Our pediatrician has chalked it up to a “phase” and this week (after two months of this “phase”) he was subsequently fired. A “phase” doesn’t last months and drive parents to cry and to drink excessively.
I don’t know a lot about anxiety, but I’m learning. I know when I was a little girl I would worry myself until I barfed. A lot. Over the past few weeks, I’ve looked back on that time and wondered what in the world my parents did to get through it. Now, as an adult, I worry a lot about things I can’t control. A lot. I hoped beyond hope for years that I wouldn’t pass that stupid trait along to my kids. And, guess what? Looks like I’ve done just that. The hard thing, aside from feeling like we’re all on a roller coaster without any brakes, is that I wonder what in the world my sweet girl will be like at age 10. Or 15. Or even in her mid-30s. How can I give her the tools to work through this, when, now, she really doesn’t even know how to express what is going on in her head? It’s painful. And I know if it’s painful for us, it has to be excruciating for her.
As a parent, all you ever want is for your child to be happy and healthy. In the past few months, my child has been about half of both those things. She’s not totally happy OR healthy and it’s quite frankly fucking terrible. I have no better words to describe it. It’s awful to try to find words to give her, but not to put words into her mouth. To try to explain to her what she’s dealing with, without over-explaining and confusing her. To try to make sense out of something that is completely senseless to me. It’s kept me up at night and has challenged me to my core. I told my sister the other day that I felt like a black cloud was following me. And here’s the thing: I know in my heart and in my head that people are going through WAY worse stuff than this. Way. I know this. But I also believe it’s one thing when your child is sick with something that can be pinpointed and treated, and something much different to wonder and question what is actually going on with a child who has up until recently been happy and healthy and is now struggling just to put a smile on her face.
I don’t know why I decided finally to write about this. Maybe because I just want people to know that kids really do have issues like this. Kids who are not yet able to explain what is going on in their heads. Kids who are not going through a “phase”. Also, because I’ve felt very alone while dealing with this, and I want others to know they aren’t alone, because this sucks. I don’t know what the solution is – we’ve enlisted the help of a few highly recommended professionals and hope that will help, but, really, all we can do is believe we are on the right path and believe that one day we’ll have a happy, healthy kid again. I’ll just say that I don’t know if I’ve never wanted anything so much in my life.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

save the NWP


On March 2, all direct funding to the National Writing Project (NWP) was eliminated as part of a Congressional effort to eliminate earmarks – federal funds legislated to support certain programs like the NWP.  As a result, Congress has eliminated a program proven to strengthen both teaching and student writing.  According to Sharon J. Washington, executive director of the NWP, “This decision puts in grave jeopardy a nationwide network of 70,000 teachers who, through 200 university-based Writing Project sites, provide local leadership for innovation and deliver localized, high-quality professional development to other educators across the country in all states, across subjects and grades. In the last year alone, these leaders provided services to over 3,000 school districts to raise student achievement in writing.”
I could give more examples, but I would be remiss if I didn’t just tell you personally how much I think this stinks.  I was part of the Greater Kansas City Writing Project’s Summer Institute in 2010, and it was hands down the BEST professional development experience I’ve ever had. No, let me rephrase that: it was also just one of the best all around experiences I’ve had in general.  Period.  I’m a preschool teacher with an English degree.  I had been taking education classes so that after my own young children went to school, I could teach English at the high school level.  I love my job as a preschool teacher, but often felt like I wasn’t using my English degree to its full potential, and as a result, was feeling lost as to where I was heading professionally.  Before I attended the 2010 SI, I was dreading going back to my education classes – I was torn because I love working with young children but thought I should be doing more with my expensive undergraduate degree! I entered the 2010 SI thinking I would use whatever I gained from the experience later on as a high school teacher.  I could not have been more wrong.
What I gained during the 2010 SI can’t easily be summed up on paper.  I walked in on the first day of the SI not knowing if I even wanted to teach anymore and specifically not knowing what, if anything, I could contribute to the group of talented, smart and funny teachers from all over the city.  I walked out of there four weeks later knowing I’m doing the right thing, knowing that it’s good and normal to question my motives and my practice, knowing that my very best wondering comes from my wandering. 
In the SI, I was allowed to think, to listen, and to reflect.  I often wonder what schools in this country would look like if ALL teachers got this kind of opportunity.  How often, in the hustle and bustle of day to day teaching, do teachers get opportunities for reflecting on their teaching practice?  Part of the beauty of the NWP is that local sites are connected on so many levels.  Thanks to the NWP, I have had opportunities to meet teachers from across my state and from across the country.  I have gained ideas and had the chance to collaborate with people I would never have met before last summer.  I have absolutely become a better teacher, and yes, a better preschool teacher, because of the NWP. 
We wouldn’t expect a runner to go into a marathon having never trained properly, just as we can’t expect to win any educational “race” if we are not giving teachers opportunities for the best training skills.  How can we expect teachers to do their best work in and out of the classroom if the opportunity to participate in programs like the NWP is eliminated?  We must support ongoing teacher training and therefore better student achievement.  We must continue to support the National Writing Project.