Telling You How To Feel

I’ve always liked a phrase that my friend coined (or borrowed? I dunno) years ago, “Feelings aren’t a democracy.” Feelings aren’t wrong. I don’t believe in telling people how to feel or not feel.

That said, I’m going to make an exception right now. Sorry-not-sorry. I’m going to defy my own rule, and tell you how you should feel….

You should feel deeply and personally hurt by Donald Trump.

You should feel attacked. He didn’t have to attack you personally. He’s attacked “your people.” He’s attacked “your own.” He’s attacked us, all of us, over and over again. Being attacked hurts. It’s personal.

Because guess what? When Trump started his campaign by bashing Mexican Americans, he was attacking Americans. He wasn’t attacking “them.” He was attacking “us.” When he attacks Muslim Americans, he’s attacking our own. When he attacks women, he’s attacking all of us.

It doesn’t matter which subgroup of the American population he’s attacking in any given moment, these are our people. United we stand, right?

We all know that instinctive fury that takes over when somebody hurts our family member, close friend, or other loved one. Even if that person annoys us and is hard to get along with, we still want to protect them from danger, because they’re our people. Deep down, we care about them, and we care deeply. Every single one of us should be feeling that same hurt, anger, and instinctively protective fury over every one of the countless attacks Trump has made on our people.

(If being part of the American family isn’t relevant or important to you, then how about the human family? That has to matter.)

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Maybe it’s more natural for me to feel hurt by Trump, because so many of the attacks have been extremely close to home.

Somewhere in the deluge of his attacks against everyone under the sun, I think some have almost forgotten about how shamelessly he mocks and belittles people with disabilities. But some of us can’t forget. Some of us will never be able to forget.

We know, of course, about the time he insulted and mimicked the reporter with arthrogryposis. It’s irrelevant whether Trump realized at the time that the man had a diagnosed condition; the point is that he saw a physical difference, something outside the narrow spectrum of “normal,” and his instinct was attack! mock! belittle!

Maybe even more telling than his original insult, was his response afterward: “Nobody gives more money to Americans — you know, the Americans with Disabilities Act—big act. I give tens and tens of millions of dollars and I’m proud of doing it.” Huh?? What is that even supposed to mean? Does Trump think the ADA is some sort of charity that he gives to? This and other quotes have him trying to convince us that it’s out of the goodness of his heart that he puts ramps and elevators in his buildings. Except that accessibility isn’t a kindness; it’s a legal requirement. I don’t owe any more gratitude for the accessible entrance that was built inclusively for me, than you owe for the MANY inaccessible entrances that were built exclusively for you.

Or maybe the dollars he’s referring to are settlement money for all the times he’s been sued for ADA violations? It’s much harder than you’d think to successfully file an ADA suit. That law is getting weaker and more loopholey all the time. But Trump’s violations have been egregious enough to hold up.

Most recently, reports are coming out of Trump mocking Marlee Matlin, the talented and Oscar winning Deaf actress, for her disability. Apparently he repeatedly called her the R word, and was demeaning to her face and behind her back.

When Trump sees a disabled American, all he sees is a target. I’m not sure he realizes  we have the right to vote. If he did, surely his platform would address disability issues in some manner, right? But it doesn’t. We’re nowhere to be found on his website. There isn’t much record of him discussing disability, although I did manage to find a quote from 2011 where he addresses “the disability racket,” complains about the number of people who “claim disability,” and rambles on about the cost to tax payers.

Guess what? I’m a disabled American, and I vote, and I pay my taxes. (It seems pretty likely at this point that I pay more taxes than Mr. Trumpbucks.) I work hard, and I’ve definitely  done more this week to make America great than Trump ever will. So I don’t appreciate being ignored at best, and at worst, treated as the butt of a joke and a manipulative drain on the economy! It’s a president’s job to represent me and my interests. It’s a presidential candidate’s job to court my vote. I’m ready to be courted! Wine me and dine me!

(Psst, if I were unable to pay taxes for whatever reason, it would still be their job to represent me. My worth doesn’t come from my financial contributions.)

Both ADA (accessibility law) and IDEA (special education law) were passed the year I started kindergarten. I’ve been blessed to grow up in the best possible time in American history so far for the disabled. Not that it’s been sunshine and roses–we’re still light years away from sunshine and roses. But you know what isn’t light years away? Pre-1990. That’s still close enough that I can taste it. I know how close in time we are to a world where I wouldn’t have got the education that I did. Where I wouldn’t be able to enter the buildings and ride the buses that make up my world. Where I definitely wouldn’t be living and working where I am, and most likely would be locked away in some institution. That terrifying alternate universe is never far from my mind, and it’s never far from my reality. It would take very little for my entire world to come crashing down. One policy change could easily do it.

I hate feeling vulnerable. Don’t we all hate feeling vulnerable? The Trumpian world I suddenly find myself in leaves me feeling more vulnerable and afraid than I’ve ever experienced as a disabled American. And not just because of possibilities and hypotheticals of what he might or might not do in office. Because of what he’s already done. Because he’s already pointed a finger at me, and labeled me as weak. Because he’s already given the world permission to laugh at me, to disrespect me, to put me down. Because even though I spend every day trying to teach kids that “difference is just fine,” Trump has a wider audience, and he’s told them exactly the opposite.

It’s not ok for a person who wants to be our country’s leader to make me feel this way. It hurts. And if I’m hurting, and my community is hurting, that should make you hurt too. We’re your people.

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I want to write about how Trump has hurt me as a woman. But I don’t feel like I can say anything on the topic as powerfully as Michelle Obama did. So if you haven’t watched her speech yet, do yourself that favor. It’s worth the time.

All I’ll do is repeat: It’s not ok for a person who wants to be our country’s leader to make me feel hurt and vulnerable. To make all women (#YesAllWomen) feel vulnerable. Even if all allegations past and present are false (and there’s no way they’re all false), the way he openly speaks about women is more than enough harm done.

It hurts. We’re hurting. And you should be hurting with us.

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Then we go out a degree, to where Trump’s not talking about me, but he’s talking about people I care about…. I’ve addressed it before: here, and here, and maybe even here. But I don’t feel like I can say it enough. Trump’s America, you’re scaring my kids. You’re hurting them. And that hurts me more than I can express.

I should be trying to convince my students to pay attention and take an interest in the election, the way my 7th grade teacher did. (I vividly remember watching the ’96 DNC, RNC, and debates because of you, Ms. Fell!) But I don’t have to tell my kids to pay attention, because they can’t stop paying attention. Instead, I’m trying to shield and distract them from the worst of it. I’m trying to nurse their wounds. I’m trying to help them feel safe and valued, despite the nightly news telling them the opposite.

A new batch of Americans finally decided “that’s enough” last week when Trump bragged about groping women. And to that new batch, I say welcome to the light side. But my kids and their families have been Trump’s punching bag since day one of his candidacy. They’ve been relentlessly attacked  this whole time. They hear again and again that they don’t belong here. So many of my kids are going through life without roots, without feeling like they belong anywhere. They’re hurting.

Our community is hurting. Our people are hurting. We should all be sharing this pain.

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Jesus said to “love one another” and “mourn with those that mourn.” The Mayans said “in lak’ech.”

In Lak’ech

Tú eres mi otro yo.

You are my other me.

Si te hago daño a ti,

If I do harm to you,

Me hago daño a mi mismo.

I do harm to myself.

Si te amo y respeto,

If I love and respect you,

Me amo y respeto yo.

 I love and respect myself.

That horrible feeling that’s been filling the air, suffocating us all, isn’t politics as usual. It isn’t even as much about “the election” as we think it is. It’s the pain of millions of Americans who’ve had their very core identities attacked.

It isn’t them; it’s us. The victims aren’t the other; they’re us. It’s not those people; it’s our people. What might hurt even more, is that the attackers are also us. We’re hurting our own people. And that’s more terrifying than any external threat.

It’s Hard To Like People

I’ve been having a hard time lately coming up with words for what I’m feeling. This year has been so…? Every time I turn around, it’s more…? So I’m just…?

Words are hard.

I finally came up with a short sentence, though, that describes a pretty big portion of what’s been bothering me in 2016–it’s hard to like people

This isn’t me, for the record. I generally like people! That might not always be obvious because I’m definitely an introvert–scared of big social events, terrible at small talk, big fan of Friday nights with Netflix. But I do like people.

I like deep conversations, getting to know who people really are, what drives them. If I don’t like someone yet, it generally just means I need to dig deeper. I like to sit back and observe people. I like to lean in and love people. I grew up going to church with the most delightfully quirky congregation, and I learned to enjoy all the spice and variety that humans have to offer. (Suddenly, it makes sense that I feel so at home in “keep it weird” Portland….) Long before I knew where exactly my career path would take me, I knew that it would have to be a job that involved working with people, helping people. Other things in life try to get in the way, but people have always felt like the most important priority. Things are just things, but people are people.

I like finding connections with people and appreciating how we’re similar. I like learning more from what makes us different.

I’ve always liked people.

Right now, it’s really hard to like people.

So hard to like people!!

People of my generation-ish, do you remember when we used to ask ourselves how we would have behaved in Nazi Germany? Or how we would have behaved when the Civil Rights movement was fighting Jim Crow? Or how we would have behaved when Mormons were being violently expelled from the United States? Remember when we used to wonder which side we’d have taken?

Do you remember? Because I don’t. I don’t think I ever asked myself those questions. I just assumed that I would have been the “good guy” in each scenario. That I would have stood by the people being dehumanized, and seen them as more than “other.” That I would have loved instead of feared. I assumed any rational person would be the good guy. I couldn’t fathom who these crazy people in history were that supported the obvious wrong over the obvious right.

I miss that innocent, ignorant bliss. I miss when the “bad guys” were just people in the history books, most of them nameless and faceless.

Now they’re my neighbors. Now they’re everywhere. They have names, faces, and I’m supposed to love them.

Politics and election years have always been divisive, but we all know this year is more than that. I’ve seen bad politicians before, and bad presidents, and people who I strongly disagree with. But this is the first chance in my lifetime to witness a true, through-and-through Bad Guy seeking power in my own country. There’s no question that history will remember Trump as an embodiment of evil. Our grandchildren are absolutely going to be asking us the same questions that the kids are asking now, “Why?? How?? Why did you let this happen??” I’m afraid that I’ll only have the same pain in my eyes and lack of satisfying answers for those kids as I do for the current ones.

Is it even necessary to recite the laundry list of evils again? Sigh. Let’s make it quick…. Trump got his initial campaign momentum by calling Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists. In practically the same breath, he proposed banning Muslims from entering the US. For those already in the US,  he suggested deportation, tracking systems, and shutting down mosques. Every time he talks to or about a woman, he objectifies her; he even speaks sexually about his own daughter. He made fun of the reporter for his physical disability. He attacked the Muslim parents of a fallen US soldier. He’s advocated for torture of not just enemies, but also their families. He cheats people out of money owed left and right. Trump University was entirely invented to swindle money from vulnerable people. He brags about how easy it is in his position to assault women…..

We all know I could keep going. But let’s stop the list there, and state the obvious: Trump hates Americans.

Yes, he’s also the lyingest liar that ever lied. And yes, he’s verbally trampled all over the Constitution. It’s easy to argue that he hates American values, ideals, and laws. But remember, my first priority is the people, so let’s keep in the front of our minds that Trump hates Americans. Black Americans, brown Americans, female Americans, Americans with handicapped parking passes, Americans in hijabs…. Trump hates Americans. It’s not a secret. It was never hidden or sugar coated. Since the very start of his campaign, we’ve all known that Trump hates Americans.

And here’s the thing. No matter what happens in the election next month, the damage is already done. It’s not going away any time soon. Because Trump isn’t spewing his hate alone in a vacuum. There are Americans eating up every word, and proudly waving Trump signs. And there are Americans who aren’t fond of him, but they’re holding their noses and voting for him anyway, because they think there are bigger threats than a president who hates Americans. They’re willing to tolerate the hate.

We’ve now seen our country’s population in a very unflattering mirror, and we can’t unsee it. And as offended, disgusted, repulsed, and nauseated as I am by Trump hating Americans, the truth is that he’s made it so much harder for me to like Americans.

I’m struggling to like the people who excuse Trump’s behavior. I don’t know how to like people who are ok with blatant racism, sexism, and so many varieties of hate.

When I repeat comments my students have made about Trump or the political climate in general, people act surprised. “Wow, s/he’s that aware of what’s happening?”

Are you kidding me?! It’s the air my kids are breathing. They can’t turn it off, step back, or ignore it. Not just Trump, but all the people who think he makes good points, are everywhere–attacking them, harassing them, threatening them. “You don’t belong here” is whispered, implied, and screamed at them by peers, by the tv, by the adults who are supposed to be keeping them safe and modeling how to function in society. They’re terrified of this election, and with good reason. But no matter how the election ends, they’re going to have to keep existing in a world that’s taken giant leaps backward and given people permission to spew hate in their direction.

I don’t have kids of my own, but I do have mama bear instincts that kick in when “my” kids are threatened, hurt, or treated poorly. Those instincts have been raging for the last year, with no end in sight. And I don’t know how to like people who are complicit in attacks on my kids!

Let’s not forget that I’m also one of those Americans Trump hates. I’m a woman, I’m disabled, and I’m a teacher in a public school. He wouldn’t hesitate for a second before describing me as a sexually repulsive drain on the system.

His judgement wouldn’t even bother me too much. But what about all his supporters? They either see me the same way, or are ok with stepping back and letting others keep me down.

It’s so hard to like people!!

I have a long running list of topics I’d like to blog about, and this school year is making it almost impossible to find the time to write. But every time I do make the time, this seems to be what comes out. I have to keep processing, and I have to keep doing my small part to speak against evil. So I can look the kids in the eye tomorrow, and fifty years from now.

I really wish I could go back to easily, naturally, by default, liking people.

(Song playing in my head as I wrote: “History has its eyes on you……”)


9/11: Fifteen Year Reflection

I’m intentionally posting this a few days before September 11th, so that it won’t be perceived as a response to anyone in particular who chooses to share that day…. I’m usually too busy with the beginning of the school year to voice many of my 9/11 thoughts, but I always think about it. It’s a day of mourning that I feel even more intensely as time goes by. Obviously we honor and mourn the lives lost. But I feel like those individuals weren’t the only losses that day… I feel like my generation lost a lot of our innocence, and our country started losing our grasp on what it even means to be an American.

Every year, among the reflections on September 11th, I see people speak nostalgically about how our country “pulled together” in response to the attacks. How there was a great sense of unity in the days that followed. But as much as I want that to be true, I just don’t see it that way. Even at the time, I didn’t see it that way.

I was in my senior year of high school, and working on our school’s newspaper that semester. A month or so afterward, I remember writing an editorial for the paper about patriotism. (Part of me wishes I could see a copy of it now, but most of me is glad I don’t have to cringe at younger Kristine’s words… So if anybody weirdly has access to those archives, please don’t share them!) I was really bothered by how trendy patriotism had become. Flags on everything. Everyone was making a quick buck by marketing red, white, and blue. Consumers felt like they were taking a stand and fighting terrorism by wearing tshirts bedazzled in stars and stripes.

I remember struggling to write the editorial and articulate why it bothered me so much. It’s not that I was anti-flag; something inside of me just felt like the entire concept of patriotism was being cheapened, and something else was being missed. My instincts said  there were bigger issues to be grappled with, questions to be asked, values to be examined, stands to be taken… I don’t think I ever successfully figured out what those bigger issues were at the time, but I sensed them there, buried under an enormous pile of flaggy paraphernalia.

(Incidentally, I recently learned that the earliest flag desecration laws, passed between 1897 and 1905, were intended to keep the flag from being used for commercial purposes or political campaigns. Using our nation’s symbol for personal gain was considered unpatriotic.)

Maybe in 2001 I didn’t have the language to talk about what I was seeing, because I hadn’t experienced anything like it before. I was a raised-in-the-90s kid, and my world seemed like a pretty good place. The economy was good. War was something we read about in history books. I knew racism wasn’t dead, but I thought we were quickly heading in that direction. I had my religion; other people had theirs; and I only knew it as a positive force in any of our lives. Maybe the 90s weren’t really as idyllic as I remember them, but it was easy to believe from my little bubble. The world’s major problems felt so far away, in the international news segment, far removed from my world.

Then it all broke. The happy world I’d always known, where everybody holds hands and chases the American Dream together, was gone. And it happened so fast!

Suddenly, Americans turned their backs on each other. Anyone who looked like they might be either Muslim or Middle Eastern became the enemy. In August, they’d been Americans like any other, but in September, they became dangerous. One day, they were just living their lives like any of us; the next, they carried the burden of an entire nation’s fear, anger, suspicion, and hate.

I was shocked, scared, and saddened by the September 11th attack. But I was no less shocked, scared, and saddened by the series of attacks that we made on each other afterward. The attacks — variably physical, mental, and emotional — that our Muslim, Middle Eastern, or I-dunno-they-just-look-like-bad-guys neighbors had to endure. Technically, I did know that Americans were capable of this; I’d studied the Japanese-American interment camps of WWII. But that was our grandparents’ world! I thought we’d learned from our history, and become a nation of better people. I couldn’t believe the same racist blame game was happening right before my eyes.

Except I’m using the wrong verb tense. Those attacks aren’t in the past; they still happen. My naive 2001 self might have assumed it would all settle down, but look at our country today…. While my high school self didn’t know modern America could be so deeply divisive, today’s high school kids don’t know it any other way.

When we were all trying to make sense of the attack on the twin towers, I remember being baffled at why Al-Qaeda called us an anti-Islamic country. I’d never had reason to give Islam much thought one way or the other before. It seemed like such a wild accusation against my united-we-stand country. #ePluribusUnum

But here we are, 15 years later, and it feels like the terrorists are winning. Every time they attack, whether it’s a legitimate terrorist or a lone bad actor, we respond by lashing out at our Muslim community. We’re letting the bad guys mold us into the monster they always said we were. Which provokes further trauma and terrorism. Rinse and repeat.

If anybody had asked my teenage self to define “American,” I would have thought it was a crazy question. An American is someone who lives in America–what else could it possibly be? I thought the United States was like the Olive Garden, “When you’re here, you’re family.” But for the last 15 years, I’ve felt the question buzzing in the air. I’ve seen the hierarchy emerge, where some people are considered “more American” than others. I’ve seen those with darker skin pigmentation, or those who identify as any religion but Christian, forced to carry a higher burden of proof as to whether they’re truly American. Whether they truly belong.

Late 2001 was when I started hearing debates between civil liberties and security, and feeling pressure to choose a team. Again, this wasn’t the America I thought I knew. I thought we could have both. Maybe I was naive, but I thought the US aimed for a healthy balance between the two. That balance was thrown dramatically in 2001, and now I live in a country with fewer civil liberties than ever… and I don’t feel any safer. Who’s winning?

I’m afraid I don’t look back on September 2001 with any warm and fuzzy memories of unity. I only remember it as the day our communities splintered. As quickly as we plastered the flag across our tshirts, our hearts started forgetting what it means to be American. So, here we are, and I have to look to the future instead. I have to hope that we can eventually come back together, remember why we’re all here, and what ties us together.

School Eve

In honor of School Eve, which some people refer to as Labor Day, I’m having a small party with my laptop and some pumpkin spice hot chocolate. We’re gathering to welcome Ms. Napper back, and say goodbye to Kristine. It can’t be a long party, because Ms. Napper has a to-do list that’s seventy miles long. Laptop is keeping us all honest by leaving Charger at home, so the party can’t possibly outlive Battery’s life.

Ms. Napper letter magnetsThey say there’s nothing like the first day of your first year teaching, and they’re right. I’ll always remember the off-the-charts anxiety that I walked in with that first day, no idea what I was getting into…. These days, the first day anxiety is because I know exactly what I’m getting into.

Anxiety isn’t nearly an all-encompassing enough word to describe it though. The truth is, if there’s a feeling, I’m feeling it. All the feels.

I know by now that there’s room in my heart for countless hundreds of kids. I had three student run-ins just this weekend–one who will be in my class again this year, one who is just now leaving me for high school, and one that graduated high school already. Every one of them made my heart smile! Also, every one of them saw me and reached out to connect before I even saw them, so I think that means Ms. Napper is doing something right. (Although I guess I don’t know how many other kids might have seen me this weekend and hid….)

There’s a very real part of me that loves the first day of school. A perk of teaching ESL is that I get many students for more than one year, so the first day of school is like happy reunion time. “Hello!! How are you? How was that summer Cali trip? How’s your new baby sister? Do you have pictures? Love those new shoes! When did you get so much taller than me?” Even with the new 6th graders, there are usually a few shades of family reunion, “Wait, you’re Maria’s cousin? Does that mean you’re Brandon’s little brother? I love your family! Haven’t I met you at conferences before? You were tiny then, but if I remember right, you weren’t shy….”

There’s some magic where we all like each other more on the first day of school than we ever have before. A little magic happens over the summer, and the kids are slightly more mature. They’re refreshed, full of hopes and goals for the school year, because this is the year when they’re going to get their act together and fix whatever habit was holding them back last year. It’s good energy, and I try to make the most of it. Also, now that it’s a new year and they have a new set of teachers to figure out, I’m the familiar face, and there’s nothing more comforting to the nerves than a familiar face. We don’t have to start back at square one in my class; we can pick up where we left off. We already know each other’s strengths and limits; we know how far we can push, and where we should tread lightly. We have a bank of shared memories and struggles and inside jokes to pull from, and they make us stronger.

I really do love my kids, and it’ll be great to see them this week.

The kids get even more wacky when the wi-fi goes down… How could you not enjoy these weirdos? 🙂

All those goals and hopes and dreams they’re coming with? I have them too, for the kids and for myself, times a thousand. Here’s where the anxiety starts creeping in. I have a million and one ideas for how to better teach and support my students this year, and I want to make them all happen. I spent all last year pushing, pushing, pushing to get my schedule set up a certain way this year,  believing it would allow me to do better work. After a little more pushing last week, I got my way! My teaching schedule is (almost) exactly what I’ve been asking for. And that’s great, but it means now there’s even more pressure. I have the structure and the responsibilities that I requested, so now it’s on my shoulders to make the most of those opportunities.

My kids deserve the best, and I want to give it. My colleagues too. I work with so many incredible people, and I’m sure I spent more time than I should have last week just chatting with many of them, but you know what? Enjoying socializing too much with your work family seems like a pretty good problem to have. I know that my fellow Whitford teachers also want to give their ESL kids the best they’ve got, and as a specialist, I want to support them in that. It’s part of my job, and with increased staffing this year, it’s back on my priority list, as it should be.

“My job is to serve the public, not save the public.” A very smart educator friend told me that years ago. She’s right, and I believe it in my head, but it’s hard to convince my heart. No matter how many good intentions I’m overflowing with, my supply of time and energy is still limited. So limited! I’ve reassured my newer teammates a hundred times that every year we come into this job with a thousand goals, and we accomplish like six of them. The other 994 get put on next year’s list, along with three hundred more that we think of over the course of the year, and that’s ok, not a reason to beat ourselves up. But secretly, I’m telling this to them because I need to hear it myself. The unmet goals eat at me. My shortcomings taunt me. My failures, insecurities, and unsolved problems are always in my peripheral vision. Because those things aren’t just about me, they all come with the faces of kids I love and want to do better by.

My greatest wish is to be able to spend time being both Ms. Napper and Kristine on a daily basis. That’s what people don’t understand about teaching when they make comments, sometimes in bitterness and sometimes in fun, about how “It must be nice to get summers off.” Let’s set aside the fact that I’ve never had an entire summer where I didn’t work, mostly unpaid hours. Even if that weren’t the case… Summer is when I find Kristine again! I miss her during the year. It’s exhausting to go all year without ever clocking out. This job follows me every minute of the day. If I’m not working, I’m feeling guilty for not working, and feeling the weight on my shoulders getting even heavier. We’re set up for failure, because the to-do’s aren’t just more than anybody could do in an 8-hour day; they’re more than anyone could do in a 24-hour day. And none of it’s menial, mindless work. It’s mentally and emotionally draining. I would try and explain how physically taxing it all amounts to for me, but I can’t even put it into words anyone would understand. I know that teachers aren’t the only workaholics around, but I don’t think it would be hard to make the case that we’re the lowest paid workaholics.

I say all the time that I have no idea how people manage to be both teachers and parents. Endless respect for those who do. I’m barely even coherent when I get home every day. I can’t imagine having anything left to give to my own kids.

This year is particularly frightening for Kristine, shoved back into her summer closet, because Ms. Napper (re)started a master’s program. I’m glad it’s happening, and it’ll hopefully be done in a year. But it’s another huge time commitment. Another energy commitment.

I’ve been really trying to find small ways to let Kristine out during the school year. That’s why I joined PDX Vox and let the choir thing back into my life in 2015. I’m not giving that up! I refuse. Singing makes me happy, and my choir community is just the greatest group of people. But even so, it’s a struggle every Thursday night, when I want to be fully engaged in rehearsal and the people around me, but my brain just won’t keep up.

Same reasoning went into starting this blog last January. I almost forgot how much I need writing to feel like myself. It gets all those thoughts and feelings that swirl around chaotically in my head, and puts them somewhere external, tangible, and manageable. I need this! And I’m afraid that personal writing, meaning this blog, will take a back seat this year. If I’m sitting with my laptop, the school work, and the other school work, is always going to feel more pressing. I’m not saying goodbye, because I hope to keep making time for my blog this year. But I’m afraid it might be a ridiculous hope.

I hate feeling my own thought processing slow down during the school year. It’s only been a week of preservice, no students yet, and I can already feel it happening. My brain gets smart but my head gets dumb. I can’t hold onto a thought long enough to complete it, and it just turns into a mess up there.

I’ll post this in the morning, as I head off to First Day #1. (6th graders come for the first first day. The 7th and 8th will join us for the second first day.) Ready or not, it’s here. My head and heart will be fully in the game, and it’s going to be a good year. I’ll do my best not to beat myself up for all the ways I don’t succeed this year, and I hope others will be kind and forgiving with me as well. I won’t have much left to give outside of school; I tell everyone that “I’m really only a good friend in July.” But please don’t allow me to rely too heavily on that excuse, because I also need friends the rest of the year.

Pumpkin spice and scarves and boots will have to be enough for me now. Luckily, Kristine and Ms. Napper both share those not-even-guilty pleasures.

Harry Potter and the Trip Through Time

Last week I loaded Harry Potter and the Cursed Child onto my kindle app, excited to read it on the train ride to my parents’. I didn’t expect it to live up to the original series or anything, but I figured it would be a fun read, and what could be a more perfect place to read Harry Potter than a train? In my head, I was basically rocking Platform 9 3/4.

I’m not gonna lie–the first couple pages had me cringing a bit. The dialogue felt a little clunky, and I just wasn’t sure I’d be able to get into it…. But the plot picked up quickly, and I felt myself getting sucked into the adventure. I kept reading. It was like when you see an old friend after years apart, and it’s a little awkward as you’re trying to figure out this new person. You kind of see glimpses of the person you remember, but aren’t completely sure whether you’re still friends… But then you work through the awkward and find your new rhythm, because you remember how much you actually love each other. That was me and the Hogwarts gang. They’ve changed, and I’ve changed, but being reunited feels so good.

The book that lived...
The book that lived…

I didn’t fully appreciate just how appropriate the time and place was for reading this new Harry Potter, though, until the next day as I read the last few pages. By that point, I wasn’t just reading for plot anymore; I was fully wrapped up in the humanity and heart that our wizard friends offer, feeling all the feels. Suddenly, I realized that I was sitting in the exact same spot–my bedroom at my parents’ house–as the last time I read a brand new Harry Potter book.

When I both eagerly and reluctantly read the last in the original series, it was July 2007, and I was a hot mess. My parents had just moved from the only house my family had ever lived in. I’d just graduated and left BYU. Being a person who doesn’t handle change well, it really threw me to be uprooted from all the places, and most of the people, I’d ever known as “home,” all at the same time. I was interviewing for jobs, but didn’t know where or if I’d land. The future was a foggy black hole. I had a shiny new teaching degree, so I was interviewing for teaching jobs, but I’d hated student teaching. I wasn’t at all convinced that I had what it takes to be a decent teacher, and I was pretty sure I’d never be happy doing it. But what are you supposed to do when you’ve just invested five years and a zillion dollars into a degree you then think was a mistake? Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was a great way to escape reality for a day or two. But then it ended, just like every other era in my life had just ended. Did I mention I was a hot mess?

A couple days after finishing Deathly Hallows, I interviewed with Whitford. The job was different than all the others I’d been applying for, but it also felt so much more right. I wanted that job. And I got that job.

And then I blinked, and it was 2016, and I was back in that same room, reading Harry Potter. There was never going to be more to Harry’s story, but it turns out “never” was a strong word. (I prefer #always anyway…)

I was never going to make it in teaching, but here I am, about to start year ten, and I’ve done more than just survive teaching. I’ve lived it, slept it, and breathed it. I’ve found passions and areas of growing expertise within my teaching world that I never would have guessed. I’ve amassed a list of hundreds of kids–not all of them such kids anymore–who I love dearly. I can confidently say that I’ve made a difference for at least some. I laugh every day. Maybe it wasn’t a mistake…

I was afraid I’d never find a place that felt like home again. But I dropped my roots onto Oregon soil, and they like it there. It’s still a struggle sometimes to be alone and feel like I actually belong in a place with no family. But it’s a really good place, filled with really good people. I have communities that I’m grateful and proud to be part of. I have friends and connections that I treasure. And as half the country, unfortunately, seems to have discovered, Portland is just really cool!

Gave my heart to Oregon, then pinned in on my bag.
Gave my heart to Oregon, then pinned it on my bag.

I was sure that my parents’ new house in the middle of nowhere was never going to be home…. and, well, that’s still mostly true. I can’t visit without getting homesick for our real home. But, funny thing, becoming an aunt has helped a little. There’s been life and memories attached to the house now. That’s where I spent hours cuddling those sweet babies. I just spent a week hiding, seeking, and running around like a crazy person with my cutie pie niece in all random corners of the house. This is a house they’ll look back on nostalgically someday when they’re remembering their own childhood. My 2007 self didn’t imagine ever caring much about the next generation in Harry Potter’s world. And had no idea how deeply in love I’d be nine years later with the next generation in my own family.


The first time I finished Harry Potter forever at my parents’ house, I couldn’t see where my life was about to go, and it terrified me. This time, as I finished the turns-out-it-wasn’t-forever Harry Potter, I had to smile about all the unexpected directions it’s taken. If I had been able to see my future, I wouldn’t have recognized it. How could I have recognized the 32-year-old version of myself who would color her hair like a peacock, earn an IMDb page, become a minister-by-the-powers-of-the-internet, write stuff on a blog that eleventy billion people would read, and occasionally ask herself if life in Nebraska would be so bad? (Ok, there aren’t that many regular readers of my blog…. But some days it feels like it.) And who knew that version of me would be reading a new Harry Potter book?

Life is weird. I should stop trying to predict it.

When the tragedy hits way too close to home…

This really, really isn’t what I wanted to write about this weekend. But after pushing through and doing all of this weekend’s have-tos, I’m finding this to be the only thing I can write about….

Like everyone who calls Mukilteo home, I’m thinking about the shooting that happened late Friday night. I don’t want to write the details; you can read about it at the link, or plenty of other news sources.

My peer group and I are reeling. We didn’t know the people involved, but shave off a few years, and we would have known them. We basically were them.

They went to Kamiak High School. So I’m remembering Kamiak. I remember feeling pretty safe and protected from the world most of the time; we were 90s kids in an idyllic town overlooking the Puget Sound, and I don’t think lockdown drills were a thing yet.

But you know what else I remember? I remember the bookends to my KHS years–freshman year was Columbine (Remember how that was a tragedy we’d never imagined, not “oh no, another school shooting?”), and senior year was 9/11 (Remember how that felt so impossibly surreal and nobody knew what to do next, instead of “Here come the pundits, seizing another chance to make the same political arguments as always, and everybody will have added a filter to their profile photo within an hour…?”). The world wasn’t safe then either, and we were just starting to realize it. We were teenagers, still kids, and we didn’t know what to do with that kind of fear. But we were also teenagers, on the brink of becoming adults, and the world was asking serious questions about how to become a safer place while maintaining the freedoms we treasure as Americans… and we were starting to realize it would be our responsibility to answer them.

You know what else I remember? I remember the choir room. The safe space. When life was too much to deal with, choir was always comfortingly predictable. Always the same people, in the same routines. We went on a retreat in the woods every fall, sang the Messiah and Carol of the Bells every winter, and went on some big trip every spring. We made beautiful music and memories together. It’s almost cliche to refer to the “choir family,” but I realized how extended that family is when I went back to visit several years later. The kids didn’t just follow all the same routines I remembered, they’d heard of my class! “You were one of the blesseds?!” Yes, I was. Yes, I am.

The shooting involved choir kids. That means they’re extended family. When I watch videos of them singing, I just have to close my eyes, and I can see my own generations of choirlings, plain as day.

You know what else I remember? Coming home from college in the summers, and reuniting with friends. Having people to “catch up” with made us feel a tiny bit adult, while falling into old patterns made us feel like we’d never really grow up, or maybe wish that we didn’t have to. Exactly the same as these college kids were doing Friday night. On the same street they were partying on. The only thing separating us from them is time.

You know what else I remember? The Harbour Pointe LDS Church building. I went to church there, youth activities there, early morning seminary there. I got to know God there. I felt the love of being part of a giant church family there. It was a refuge.

It was also the gathering place for kids and their families after Friday night. It hosted a vigil on Sunday night.

You know what else I remember? Every single mass shooting since I became a teacher. Every lock-in, lock-out, lock-down, whatever they’re calling them this year, drill since I became a teacher, all of which stir up memories of those shootings. Because now it’s not just about feeling unsafe; now it’s worrying about the safety of the kids. Kids who I love like my own. Kids who trust me to keep them safe. Kids whose families trust me to keep them safe. And on a regular, day-to-day basis, I do a pretty good job of it. Most kids feel safe enough in my room to express themselves, to make mistakes, to have fun, to ask for help, to try things, to share bad news, to share good news, to be themselves. But what about when I can’t keep them safe? What about the stuff I can’t protect them from?

Those kids in Mukilteo had some of the same teachers I had. And those teachers are living one of my nightmares right now.

You know what else I remember? Every kid I’ve taught that was holding onto some deep and unresolved issues. Emotional issues, psychological issues, issues that clouded the light in their eyes. Kids who got everything I had to give and services from those more qualified than myself, but it never seemed like enough. They might be the bullied, or the bullies, or both, or neither. Kids that were hurting somehow. Kids that might be capable of hurting others one day, especially if they have easy access to a weapon. I hurt for them when they were my students, and if the worst should ever happen, I’d hurt for them then too.

Those same Mukilteo teachers are living that nightmare also.

I don’t know how to end this post. A plea for better gun laws? For better mental health services? To stop hate and remember love? Do I express my love for the communities that I’ve found homes in? Do I express my faith that God is still with us? Hope for a better tomorrow? Despair for how the todays feel like they keep getting worse? Condolences to the families and those close to them?

All of those things. But… I don’t have closure right now, so I can’t write closure. Just… here we are.

How To Teach A Social Norm

A few stories.

Story #1:

I remember getting on an airplane, headed to Disneyland with my family, full of all the can’t-contain-the-excitement feels that you expect from a kid headed to Disneyland. I was probably about seven years old, and my brothers were younger. (Still are, actually.)

disneyland with dopey
Cheesin’ with Dopey!

The flight attendant cheerily brought us crayons and coloring books. (That seems strange now. Do flight attendants really give coloring books to kids? Did they back in the day? I don’t even know.) There were three coloring books–one  Barbie, and two dinosaurs. As she held them out for us, I didn’t realize that I’d already been assigned the Barbie coloring book; I innocently thought we were being given options. I had lots of dolls, but Barbies were never my favorite. I loved The Land Before Time though! I watched that movie so many times, I still remember the Pizza Hut commercial that came before it started on the VHS. (See? YouTube remembers it too!) So with the coloring books fanned out in front of us, I quickly claimed a dinosaur book, excited to start filling in the “long necks” and “three horns.”

Then I saw the adults giving each other, and me, The Look.

Let’s describe The Look a bit. It isn’t an angry look. It’s a mix of awkwardness, embarrassment, disappointment. It seems to beg, “Please don’t make us explain why that thing you just did is wrong. It just is, and you should know better.”

It wasn’t until I saw The Look that I realized there had been two boy books, and one girl book. I don’t remember for sure what happened next, but I think I held tight to my chosen dinosaur pages. I’m not sure if one of my brothers ended up with Barbie, or if they complained about it, or if a third dinosaur book was rustled up, or if I folded and took the Barbie book after all…. But I do know that I learned a few things that day– 1) I should play with girl things. 2) Dinosaurs are not girl things. 3) Boys shouldn’t have to play with girl things.

Story #2:

I was in a toy store, looking at dolls. Despite the Barbies vs. dinosaurs mix up, I really did love dolls, and the 90s had so many great dolls. There were Magic Nursery Babies, Kid Sister, Baby Alive, Quints, the doll whose makeup magically appeared when you painted on water, the doll whose hair grew and changed color, the dolls that smelled like cupcakes…. It was a great time for dolls.

The 90s were also all about token racial diversity, so some of the dolls that were white in all the ads, also had a black counterpart on the store shelves. This particular day, it was the black version of a doll that caught my fancy, so I pointed it out and said, “I want that one!” I wasn’t trying to make a statement for social justice or anything; I just thought she was pretty.

The adults gave The Look again. I saw it.

“Are you sure?” I was asked.

“No,” I mumbled.

I don’t think I got a doll that day. I think I escaped the doll aisle and went to look at stuffed unicorns or something. I don’t remember. But I do remember learning that white girls play with white girl toys.

So many rules to remember!

Story #3:

I grew up, and became a teacher. Now I listen to my students define a nurse as, “a girl doctor.” I hear girls say they want to be a doctor when they grow up, and the boys shoot them down with, “Don’t you mean a nurse?” I hear the girl who loves soccer say she’s not allowed to play like her brother can. I hear the boy who doesn’t like sports say he can’t just have a conversation with his dad like his sports-loving brothers can.

Every time, I try to give my version of The Look. I try to express my disapproval of restrictive and nonsensical gender rules. My look does nothing. I can tell nobody even sees it.

So, during the career unit, I invited one nurse to speak with my classes–my RN brother skyped in. Talked all about the work he does in the ER, and the work it’s taken to get there. He didn’t say a word about gender, but the message was clear. Nursing is a great career option for men and women. Both. (Incidentally, his two-year-old daughter kept interrupting, waving her toy dinosaurs in front of the screen, and roaring for us…. Right on, lil’ sister suffragette!)

skype with kasey-2
My brilliant niece, in the middle, loves princesses, dinosaurs, cooking, doctoring, baby dolls, big trucks, reading, counting, and her family…. She’s not such a fan of the patriarchy. 🙂

A female doctor spoke to some of my classes about her work with natural medicine, and the people she’s been able to help around the world. A female PA talked about her career, and completely won over the kids when she gave them surgical caps and masks to dress up in.

We heard from women who practice law and accounting.

We heard from men who write.

We heard from different kinds of therapists who work with the disabled…. We also heard from disabled people about their careers as a graphic designer, news producer, social media outreach specialist, and software engineer.

The year before, we wrapped up a unit of study about the brain with another guest speaker–a neurosurgeon, and a woman.


It’s easy to teach traditional social norms. You don’t even have to try; a slight and momentary facial expression will do the job. But unteaching those norms? Teaching kids to think beyond social norms? Takes a lot more work. A simple Look isn’t going to cut it. Occasionally repeating a throwaway line, “Everybody’s equal,” isn’t enough. You have to be really intentional about what they’re seeing, hearing, and doing. They have to see behavior that falls within the traditional norm, and outside of the norm, and somewhere in the middle, and feel that it’s all worthy of approval.

And you have to mean it!

Not Even Pretending To Be Cool

“Ms. Napper, do you have a Snapchat?”

There were about five minutes at the very beginning of my career when I was cool, because I used Facebook. Then I blinked, the kids had moved on to the next shiny object, and I began my descent into dinosaur status. I guess we all know that we’ll become out-of-date relics eventually, but who knew it would happen so fast?

dino-me with background

The evolution of social media mystifies me though. I was along for the ride as we went through the phases of AIM chats/profiles/away messages, LiveJournals, Xanga, MySpace, etc, until we all landed on Facebook. After that, it stopped making sense.

Remember the old days (or, at least, the movies about the old days), when grocery shopping meant a list of visits to the butcher, the produce guy, the baker, and the milkman came to you? Then grocery stores became a thing, and now we can get everything at Safeway. We consolidated, simplifying our lives, so now we can get all the things in one place.

Or remember when we used calculators, maps, cameras, dictionaries, flashlights, notepads, music players of some sort… And then smart phones entered our lives. Consolidation. All the things in one place.

So why is social media going in the opposite direction? Facebook gave us all the things in one place, but ever since, we’ve been fragmenting.


Instagram lets you share photos… Or I can put photos on Facebook.

Twitter lets you share messages in 140 characters or less… Or I can share messages of any length I want on Facebook.

Vine lets you share videos of 6 seconds or less… Or I can share videos of any length on Facebook.

Snapchat, Kik, and whatever other messaging apps are out there… Not only does my phone already have text messaging, but Facebook has a messenger too!

Now, the question we should be asking ourselves–why isn’t Mark Zuckerberg paying me to write this?? (Hey, Zucks, contact me, and I’ll hook you up with my PayPal….)


It sounds so crazy when you hear people in the public eye promoting themselves, and they rattle off this long list of usernames on all these different platforms. Why? Why is that necessary? Who can keep up with that?

As it is, Facebook sucks up an unhealthy amount of my time and attention. Also, I’ve been terrible about checking my personal email ever since Facebook became a thing. I can’t imagine how I’d manage my time if I were juggling half a dozen more social media apps, all of which I’d surely think needed to be checked every three minutes.

So, sorry-not-sorry, but my social media status piqued in 2005, when I was an elitist, college-student-only user of TheFacebook. The kids can shake their heads in disappointment at me, but it’s cool. I can always shake my fist and tell them to get off my lawn.

One Last Bout Of School Year Sentiment

Not gonna lie, I spend all year looking forward to the magical last day of school, when the insanity takes a break, and summer begins. That should come as no surprise!

But here’s the thing. Underneath my thick layers of snark, awkwardness, and whimsical nonsense, I’m also a sentimental sap. And ending the school year is always tough. Goodbyes are tough. I’m horrifically bad at them.

Goodbyes to students are tough, especially the 8th graders. Laugh and roll your eyes if you must, but you have to understand, I teach many of them for up to three years in a row. I meet them as 11 year old children, stick with them through the crazy hormonal storms, and then say goodbye to 14 year olds who are actually bordering on maturity. By then, magic happens when I look at the kids, and I can simultaneously see shadows of the adults they’re becoming, and of the lil’ kids they once were. I miss the latter, and hope to someday meet the former. But after all that we go through together in three years, they have a pretty huge place in my heart!

The kids actually aren’t who I’m thinking about today though.

It’s also hard to say goodbye to the adults. I happen to work at the best middle school in the west–possibly the world–and it’s not coincidentally staffed by the best professionals you could ever want to work with. Ending the school year means saying goodbye to those who are retiring or moving on to other jobs. Of course, nothing will ever be as bad as the years after the economy crashed, when teachers were being moved against their will, and nobody had any control over where they ended up. At least now people generally only leave when they choose to. But that only makes it marginally easier!

I’m pretty anti-change in general. I like my routines. I like things to stay comfortable. I like my people to be right where I expect them to be. Always.

And I don’t like losing people who are such talented, kind, integral parts of our school community. So many times over the last few days, I’ve thought “How will we ever survive without _____?”

But I think that every year, and this year I tried not to say it out loud. Because you know what I’ve learned? We will survive. And we’ll continue to thrive. That’s part of how the much-talked-about “Whitford Way” works.

In nine years at Whitford, especially these nine years, I’ve seen a lot of incredible people come and go. The magical part, though, is watching their ripples. A person’s influence doesn’t stop when they leave Whitford. The good they’ve done keeps working its way around, evolving into new shapes and forms, but maintaining its flavor. Sometimes people leave a very tangible mark, where you can point to specific objects, practices, or traditions, and you know who did that. Usually it’s a less tangible legacy.

Speaking for myself, I know that I carry many pieces of other teachers with me. Sometimes it’s even mildly against my will: “If So-And-So were here, they would do such-and-such. But they’re not here, and it should still be done, so I guess I’ll do it…” Most of the time it’s with a much better attitude though, I promise! “This person always acts this way, and I want to be like that too…”

As a new teacher, it was easy to name the qualities I wanted to have as a teacher. For example, “I want to have high expectations for all students.” Very easy to say! But what does that actually mean in the trenches of a classroom? I can read lots of articles about high expectations, and maybe they help a little. But nothing helps as much as being around teachers who consistently model successful ways to get students meeting high expectations. In my head right now, there’s a long list of Whitford names, past and present, and specific things I’ve learned from each, that help me keep the expectations high in my own classroom.

I try to pass those things along to others, both students and teachers, because the Whitford Way works in ripples. Some of the most valuable advice I’ve received can be traced to teachers I’ve never even met, so I try to do my part to keep passing it forward.

A few months ago, I randomly came across a gathering of the Whitford retiree group. Some I knew as friends; others I mostly knew from legend. But there was something comforting and circle-of-lifey about that glimpse of what I hope my future looks like, still a part of this special family.

I’ve always felt lucky to be part of this community, experiencing the Whitford Way magic. And I think I’m starting to finally believe the magic doesn’t have an expiration date.

Another Opportunity To Check Your Racism

I’m not a big fan of our biggest local taxi service. Some bad experiences have left me with a sour taste and general distrust. But you know what I hate more than the taxi company? I hate that I can’t complain about the cab service, and just be talking about the cab service.

This is what happens, probably nine times out of ten, when I tell a story about a cab driver who was dishonest, or unsafe, or whatever the complaint is this time. The listener immediately asks some variation on: “Was he… from another country?” “Did he speak much English?” “Was he [insert race or ethnicity here]?” Often the question is preceded with the classic, “I’m not racist, but…”

The answer to the question doesn’t even matter. My problem is with the question itself. Why is anyone asking it? Why are so many people asking it? What kind of assumptions and biases are they trying to validate, and why?

When I tell stories about people being kind, thoughtful, witty, fun, or smart, nobody ever responds by asking about the person’s racial background. Never, at least as far as I can remember. If there are any assumptions made about that person’s ethnicity, they go unspoken.

And when I tell a story about bad behavior, I don’t remember anyone ever asking, “So, was he white?” “Was he European American?” “Let me guess, he was a native English speaker?”

IT’S NOT OK WITH ME. A story about bad behavior shouldn’t make your mind default to dark skin!

I resent being put in the position of answering such an offensive question. It’s easier when I can say the person was a white American with no trace of a different accent. In that case, everyone accepts that it was an individual acting poorly, and nobody gets stereotyped. But when the person is from any other racial or cultural background, there’s a knowing “hmm,” and I feel like I become complicit in the racism by answering the question. No matter what words I may say about an individual’s actions not reflecting the group, I still have this sense that I just reinforced another person’s stereotypes, and helped racism score a point. I never wanted to be part of something so ugly; I just wanted to vent about a bad taxi experience!

It gives me some empathy for an experience that people with privilege don’t often understand very well–having to represent an entire community. Maybe my fellow Mormon friends can understand this one. Once people find out I’m Mormon, they forever view my actions through that lens. They want to know how my words, actions, thoughts, politics, relationships, emotions, morals, etc. relate to my religious identity. They tell me all kinds of stories about “the Mormon neighbor” they used to have. All of that is completely fine with me, by the way. But it shows me how much power one person has to affect another person’s entire schema of Mormonism, for better or worse.

It’s a different experience for a person of color, but there are parallels. And that’s what comes to mind every time somebody asks if my negative experience was with a person from a different race. I feel this pressure, related to what a person of color must feel all the time, to represent an entire community. And I feel like I let that community down when my story doesn’t reflect well.

It’s not ok.