Props To Immigrant Parents

I know it’s a time-honored tradition among teachers to complain about parents. Everyone knows “that parent,” the one that thinks their Little Darling can do no wrong and that attacks their teacher for holding LD accountable for any of his/her actions. I don’t feel like “that parent” was as common when I was a kid as they are today, but that could be a mix of naivete and nostalgia talking. Whatever.

Me, though, I’m lucky. My students have amazing parents, and I have buckets of respect and admiration for them. My Spanish never feels strong enough to fully express those sentiments, and it’s the same problem when I’m using an interpreter to speak to parents in other languages–something just seems to get lost. So I hope that my high regard comes across through the way I treat their kids.

I’m going to speak in many generalizations in this post. Please be aware of that, and know that I’m aware of it. I don’t believe in lumping groups of people together; everyone has their own unique story. However, in my ten years of teaching and working with immigrant families, there are things that have shown up way more times than I can count. I want to honor those stories, hopefully without stereotyping or cheapening them.

Parents sacrifice for their children. All good parents, to some extent or another, sacrifice for their children.Mine certainly did, and continue to! But I’ve never seen better examples of sacrifice than among my students’ parents.

There’s this nutty idea out there that people come to the United States to have a free ride and be taken care of. So ignorant!! When my students’ families moved here, most of their parents knew perfectly well they were trading one hard life for another. They left behind their homes, neighborhoods, all the places they could move about freely without worrying about language or culture. Back home, they could blend in, which is a luxury people in the majority culture never really appreciate.

Coming to the United States meant leaving behind family–it seems like every couple of months, I have another kid coming to school sad about the death of a grandparent they never got to meet. Many families don’t have the paperwork that would allow them to go back and visit. It blows my mind. I know an awful lot of people my age who wouldn’t dream of raising their kids in a different state than at least one set of grandparents; it’s hard to raise kids without your built-in village. Imagine picking up your baby and saying goodbye to your parents, knowing it’s likely forever. Never getting to take your kids to visit grandma and show them the house where daddy grew up, the street where mommy walked to school. No matter how dire the situation back home, it’s still home, and leaving is tough.

In the United States, these same parents will work around the clock, trying to keep rent and bills paid, food on the table. I know kids who literally go days without seeing their parent(s), because they’re always at work. Endless hours on the job, yet many will never climb any ladders into better positions or receive benefits beyond a basic income. Some will be cheated out of pay, and find themselves without options for legal recourse. They’ll spend the rest of their lives paying taxes into the system, and never collect a social security check. And they’ll do all this in the constant shadow of fear that ICE is going to show up at their door and take it all away.

Why choose to be poor in a country that doesn’t want you, where the language and culture always seem out of reach, where there’s not much future for you, when you could have stayed home and at least been a more familiar flavor of poor? For your kids. And for their kids. Whether those kids are being saved from drug traffickers, or abuse, or gangs, or violence, or extreme poverty…. I meet kids who haven’t been to school in years, because it wasn’t safe, or just wasn’t available. Getting your children into the United States means getting them the right to an education, regardless of social class or ability, and that’s reason enough to hope their future will be brighter. Safer. The generation after them will have even more reason to be optimistic. It’s never going to be an easy life in the United States for that first generation, but if it means giving your kids a chance, you do what you can.

When parent conferences happen, I don’t have to suffer many attacks from “that parent” defending Little Darling. The parents in my classes almost always start by asking ÂżComo se comporta mijo/a? (How is my child behaving?) We’ll discuss academics in a minute, but first and foremost, they want to know if their child is being polite and respectful. Even when my report is glowing, there’s still a good chance that I’ll watch the parent turn to their child and lecture them about the opportunities they have and their responsibility to work hard, to be somebody, to go further in life than their parents ever could. I know the kids have heard this lecture a million times, but they don’t roll their eyes. They repeat the same phrases when their parents aren’t around; they’re listening.

Somehow these moments always take me back to high school English, reading The Great Gatsby and writing essays on the American Dream. But how much could Fitzgerald really teach us about the American Dream? Like most of us students in that AP classroom, he started out with all kinds of privilege. I remember that even as I wrote my essay, I felt like I was missing something. I could say all the right words to define the Dream, but I couldn’t quite grasp its significance or connect the bootstraps talk to my core identity as an American. It didn’t fully resonate for me yet.

It wasn’t until I was the teacher in my own classroom that I finally had a solid answer to the long-ago essay question–YES, of course the American Dream is alive! As long as we have immigrant parents willing to bet everything on America and the chance it offers their children, the American Dream lives. As long as the “tired…poor…huddled masses yearning to breathe free” keep accepting our invitation, the American Dream lives.

I’ve been on the receiving end of many thank yous from parents. Not one has ever given me a Pinterest craft project or a Starbucks gift card. (I don’t care about the artsy crafty teacher gifts anyway… although I’m happy to accept gift cards if anybody’s feeling generous!;)) I do occasionally get some amazing tamales. (Tamales are better than Starbucks anyway…) But the thanks is soooooo sincere. Sincere, and even laced with a little insecurity about being able to offer their children enough support in school. They just want all the best for their kids, so they trust that the school is providing it, and they’re full of appreciation for anything and everything that I do…. This, of course, makes my guilt-reflex kick in hardcore, and I walk away feeling inspired to find ways to serve their kids better than what we’re already doing.

Without kids of my own, and most likely none on the way, I get to throw all my mothery energies into my students. For better or for worse, those instincts need some sort of outlet. 🙂 I feel lucky that these parents share their incredible kids with me, and I learn so much about parenting from them. I love listening to the kids talk with pride about their families, where they came from, and how hard their parents work for them. The toughest kids turn into total softies when they talk about wanting to make their moms proud.

I hate that my students’ parents have to take so much shame and scorn from society. The people at the top who are hogging all the wealth just point their finger, and suddenly all of our middle and working class problems are the fault of the mom who’s working two jobs and still can’t afford to replace the clothes her kids have outgrown. People like to say she “doesn’t care” about her kids, because she can’t make it to school events. And then they get really comfortable on their moral high ground, and say that she should have come to the United States “the right way.” Never mind that the United States doesn’t offer any legal pathways to people like her.

(Note 1: My European ancestors sailed across an ocean, committed mass genocide, then went back and rounded up some Africans to care for their stolen land. If that’s the right way, color me unimpressed.) (Note 2: Put in a situation where there’s no legal way to give your child a safe upbringing with hope for the future…. are you really going to tell me you would do anything different than these parents have done? You wouldn’t take the same risks for your own children?)

I teach beautiful, funny, smart, kind, hardworking, fantastic kids. And fantastic kids come from fantastic parents. Think how great America would be if we really tapped into this resource and all they have to offer.

Inauguration 2017

Eight years ago, I had no idea a presidential inauguration could make me feel so many things.

Today, I had no idea a presidential inauguration could make me feel so many things.

Spoiler alert: they aren’t the same things.

I was warned as an undergraduate in teacher school, that I’d watch the pendulum swing back and forth throughout my career. They were talking about educational policies and trends, of course. But nothing could have prepared me for the whiplash of my first ten years of teaching, going from Bush, to Obama, to Donald. If a time traveler from the future had tried to warn me, I’d have never believed them. I don’t even fully believe it in the present.

My foundation has been shaken in so many ways, it feels more like walking on jello. I’ve found myself rethinking values and beliefs these last several months that I’ve never had reason to question before… And maybe that part’s not such a terrible thing. Maybe it’s good to shake out dusty old beliefs now and then, and see if they still fit.

The one that’s been the most surprising and omnipresent for me–unity.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many church talks and lessons I’ve sat through on unity. I’ve given a few of them myself. It’s one of those easy, warm and fuzzy topics that doesn’t raise too many questions. It’s a defining characteristic of Zion. I live in a country with unity embedded in its name and its original motto. So unity is a Good Thing, right?

Or… maybe not. Maybe not necessarily. On deeper reflection, I’m finding that unity is actually value-neutral. Was there ever an evil dictator that didn’t rally their people with cries for unity? In every story ever told, both fact and fiction, weren’t the bad guys just as united as the good guys? Unity brings strength, but it doesn’t necessarily bring good. It can be dangerous.

It turns out, unity isn’t my priority right now. I don’t see it as a primary goal. My goal is goodness. My goals are right, light, love, and equity. If we’re working for the same goals, then unity will be a natural consequence, and I’ll welcome and embrace it. There’s room for different methods and approaches, as long as we’re unified in purpose. It’s a large tent and the doors are wide open. But I won’t move the tent.

For months now, I’ve seen people cry for unity as a coded way to say, “Be quiet. Sit down. Stop rocking the boat. Keep your opinions to yourself. Accept what is, and support it.” I absolutely can not, will not. Not now, not ever. Of course, seeing as the majority of the country feels similarly to me, I’m actually standing united with plenty of people. I’m not just united with a bigger crowd than the other side, I’m also united with a much more diverse crowd that actually reflects “real America.” (I have no idea why the extremists on the far right keep referring to themselves as “real America.” Their demographics simply don’t support the claim.) But you know what? It doesn’t matter. If I’m the last person left in this tent, I still won’t be moving. My conscious won’t allow it. I’ve been taught all my life to stand for what’s right, even if it means standing alone. I prefer to stand united with family, friends, and neighbors, but I’m not afraid to stand alone.

I’m trying hard to figure out how to remain civil, friendly, and kind with those who won’t stand by me. It’s not easy; I’m still working on it. It isn’t the goal for me right now either, but it’s a goal. Most people deserve civility, friendliness, and kindness most of the time. But there are lines I won’t cross just to make other people comfortable. There’s ugliness, lies, ignorance, hate, and misguided fear floating around so prevalently, and I can’t let it all go unchallenged and still call myself a moral person. I won’t call evil, good, much less great. I won’t call factually incorrect information, your truth. I won’t call hate and fear, patriotism. I will be civil, polite, and kind, but I won’t be untrue to myself and my values.

My students taught me an idiom once, El que anda con lobos, a aullar aprende. In English, He who spends time with wolves, learns to howl. (I’m sure there’s an equivalent idiom in English, but the Spanish one is what’s coming to me right now.) We have to be careful about who we choose to unify with. It’s never been a secret who’s waving the Donald flag and fueling his fire. That train has been loud and proudly staffed by white supremists, male chauvinists, actual Nazis, and Donald’s bestie, Putin, since day one. I shouldn’t have to clarify this, but–those are the wolves. Unify with that crowd? Not if there were a gun held to my head.

Asking me to unify in support of an administration that shares none of my values, is asking me to betray myself. Asking me to unify in support of an administration that I consider a threat to American values, is asking me to betray my country. I won’t.

I will not support an administration whose goal is to take down public education. Not only because it’s my livelihood, but also because I believe in the concept of education for all, not education for profit. I believe our society depends on it.

I will not support an administration that rejects freedom of religion. My own religious ancestors were persecuted by the United States–violently chased out. I know deep in my bones what our country is capable of when we let our fear of difference override our reverence for the first amendment. I will not silently watch as my Muslim students and their families, who came here seeking safety, are put on a registry and a target slapped on their back. I will not accept their family and friends back home being barred from joining them.

I will not support an administration that is actively seeking to take health care away from millions of Americans. Less health care means more death. Obviously the Affordable Care Act still needs work. Obama could tell you that himself, and has. But repealing the act entirely, bloodies our hands. (Not to mention, after my livelihood as a public educator goes away, what healthcare options are going to be left for me, a disabled American?)

I will not support an administration that puts the oil guys in charge of environmental policy. I plan to live on this earth for a long time. I’d like for the generations that come after me to be able to live on this earth. One of the earliest lessons I can remember being taught as a child at church is that God created this beautiful world for us because He loves us. I still believe that, and I believe in taking the best possible care of this priceless gift.

I will not support an administration that demonizes immigrants. Crime and terrorism are entirely different issues than immigration. This administration promotes fear of those who have been most victimized by crime, violence, and terrorism, telling us that they’re the problem. As the wealthiest country in the world, we’re not doing our fair share to help, support, and welcome the most vulnerable. I’ve yet to meet a family who came to the US looking for free handouts. All I’ve ever seen is desire for opportunities to learn, work, and contribute. And I know an awful lot of immigrant families….

I will not support an administration that oppresses, victimizes, and objectifies women. Rape and sexual assault aren’t funny and aren’t excusable. I will not shoulder shrug away the very language that normalizes a culture where it’s terrifying to be out and female. Although my views on abortion are too complicated to be accurately described as either pro-life or pro-choice, I can most of the time say that I’m pro-women’s healthcare and anti-abortion. Reducing access to healthcare and preventative birth control has never failed to increase abortion rates. I can’t support it.

I will not support an administration that is anti free press. Look at any dictatorship past or present, or just read any dystopian novel–when the government controls what you know about the government, democracy is dead. That’s why our founders gave us the first amendment.

The campaign that got us into this mess began with the promise of a wall, and they’ve been building walls ever since. I said it last year, and I’ll say it again now–it doesn’t matter whether the literal, physical wall is ever built. They’ve already succeeded at building thick, tall, deeply divisive walls. They’ve manipulated our carnal instincts to otherize since the beginning. This administration has never been about unity; they promised divisiveness, and now they’re delivering.

If unity is what we want, first we have to tear down those walls, and that demands putting a stop to the wall builders. It doesn’t work to tell people they need to support a divider in the name of unity.

I can’t predict the future, so I have no idea if we’ll beat them. But I know there’s no force on earth that could convince me to join them.

Doing New Years Backwards

When I was a student in high school and college, I remember thinking that my middle school teachers were going to track me down and have a fit, because I  wrote my papers a little backwards from how they’d taught me. I knew I was supposed to start with the thesis and let that guide the rest of the paper, but I often had to write the entire paper before I figured out what my thesis was. Whatever, it’s my writing process, and now I just own it.

So in that backward spirit, I’d like to start 2017 by finally writing new year’s resolutions for 2016. How was I supposed to know last January that these were the things I’d accomplish this year?? But now that I know what I was working on all year, I’m ready to retroactively write my 2016 goals…

1. Get back to grad school

I started working on a master’s program forever ago. It was a fully online program, one class at a time, each class lasting five weeks–designed just right for full-time teachers who are trying to squeeze another thing in. I was plugging away, getting it done… And then the economy fell apart. The school budget fell apart. I went from being on a team of 3 teachers down to a team of 1.5 teachers, even though the number of students hadn’t changed. This was still early in my career, and I was completely overwhelmed. Before even starting the master’s program, I’d promised myself that my students would remain my priority, and I wouldn’t let them suffer for the sake of my own schooling. When my responsibilities suddenly grew, my grades started plummeting. It was too much. I set grad school on hold for a while.

Of course, once you lose momentum, it’s really hard to get it back! Plus, things stayed incredibly hard at school for several very dark years. So grad school stayed on the back burner…. Last spring, we were finally  promised enough ESL staffing to bring us back up to 3 full-time teachers! I was thrilled! When summer came, I decided that it was now or never. Time to suck it up and get it done.

That decision terrified me. I know how all-encompassing and soul-consuming my job is. I really wasn’t sure if I could handle being a full-time teacher and part-time student again… But my mantra has been, “Keep your head down, keep pushing forward, don’t stop and think about it.” And it’s gotten me this far! My grades have remained high. It feels like neverending hoop-jumping to get it all done, but I keep checking each little milestone off the list, and that feels good!

Also, I’m pretty sure this timing was a result of some divine prompting. This year I have the luxury of two fantastic teammates, a luxury I hadn’t had in eight years. My master’s program should be finished next summer. After that, I’m fully expecting next school year to bring the same kind of disastrous conditions in the school district that led to me dropping the program in the first place. No budget again means no teachers again,  which will mean those of us left standing will take on an even bigger burden of work. (I’m hoping it’s not too optimistic to include myself in the “us” left standing…. nothing is guaranteed.) If I’d waited another year, there’s no way I’d be taking on grad school, and who knows if I’d ever finish?

2. Start a small business

Nope, that was never anywhere on my bucket list! Especially not in a year where I barely have time to breathe. I don’t know how this happened.

Actually, I do know. I fell in love with LipSense. And instead of paying a zillion dollars to have ALL the colors, I signed up to be a distributor and support my addiction. So far, no regrets! The time commitment is bite-sized and of my own choosing. It’s given me a space for a little creativity in a time when I otherwise feel like I’m drowning. It’s connecting me with people in a time when I’m inclined toward isolation. And it’s just fun to be trying something new!

Definitely didn’t see that one coming….

3. Find my voice as a writer

I only saw this one coming a little bit. A year ago, I was writing about starting this blog as my “new thing for the new year.” I didn’t have big plans for it. I just knew that I missed writing. I started out writing light and fluffy, just-for-fun stuff for the most part. Even then, clicking “publish” and sharing it with the world scared me. Fortunately, one of my core life philosophies is that “being afraid isn’t a reason not to do things.” So I kept writing and publishing.

Then the world kept getting more intense, heavier, more terrifying, more maddening. And my writing followed. I never dreamed I’d be writing the kinds of things I’ve written this year. But now I can’t imagine how I’d have survived the year without this outlet! The world is so ugly, I keep feeling like it’s crushing me. I can’t crumble under all of it, because there are too many people and responsibilities demanding that I stay strong. So I write, and when I write, the pressure eases just a little. I get some of that energy out of my system and into the universe, and it clears up just enough room inside for me to breathe and move forward.

Does any of my writing matter to the world beyond my own catharsis? I don’t know. From some of the feedback I’ve gotten, I think maybe it does. Maybe a little. It still scares me every time I click the button and put a piece of my soul on display for public viewing. But it also means a lot each time somebody finds my writing worth passing on to their own friends. It means a lot each time someone comes up to me and says “thank you for finding the words for the things I’ve wanted to say.” Occasionally someone even says “you helped me understand a little better,” and those might be my favorite moments.

If nothing else, history will know where I stood in this dark moment. I grew up listening to that quote at church about how the angels may quote from our journals someday. That idea terrified me at the time, and felt like reason enough to never write in a journal. I didn’t want my inner thoughts–the silly, the dark, the unkind–to be shared with anyone! But the angels can quote from this blog if they want. I stand by everything I’ve written. I know that I’ll continue to grow and learn and rethink and evolve, but I’m not ashamed of who I am at this moment in time.

I didn’t see it coming in 2016. I’m afraid to imagine what I’ll be writing in 2017. But I will keep writing.

4. Perform a marriage

Technically, I’ve known for a long time that anyone can go to the Universal Life Church online, click a few buttons, and be able to legally perform marriages. But the thought of actually doing so never crossed my mind!

Also, although I had a long list of questions I fully expected to be asked before “Will you marry me?”, somehow, “Will you marry us?” wasn’t on the list! So, I still haven’t gotten married. But I have married. 🙂

I’m thrilled to add this resolution to my retroactive goal list, because Erin and Dusty’s wedding was beautiful, and their marriage is more beautiful! It was a ridiculous honor to be part of the magic binding them together. So much love! Giant explosions of love! A huge love bubble that they take with them everywhere and love up the world!

I don’t plan to make frequent use of my new marriage-making superpower, but I’m so glad I got to use it this once. 🙂

5. Be on Netflix

No, I don’t mean watch Netflix. I watched my share, but it wasn’t retroactive resolution worthy. I mean, my face is on Netflix!

When 2016 started, I had filmed my episode of Portlandia, and was looking forward to it airing. (Or maybe I was dreading it? Maybe both?) I hadn’t really given any thought to Netflix though. I should have–I knew they had all the other seasons of Portlandia. But somehow it still blew my mind a little the day season six showed up, and I realized that was me! People can watch me in their Netflix binges now! I’ve made it!

5. Play more hide-and-seek

When we entered 2016, my favorite (and only) niece was barely two, and I don’t think she really knew who I was. But by the summer visit, I was Aunt K’teen (sometimes Aunt Kissteen), and loving every second of it. Running around the house, playing hide-and-seek with Makenzie was one of the highlights of my year. Of course, she didn’t make it too hard for me, giving directions like, “You count, and I go hide in the pantry.” She also didn’t quite grasp the rhetorical nature of me calling “Where’s Makenzie??” while I searched, and would helpfully answer, “I’m right here!”

Like I said, highlight to my year. I’d rather play a million hours of hide-and-seek with that girl than do most other things. One of the best retroactive resolutions I made for 2016.

Our Sentences Are Too Long

I’m noticing a problem. Actually, I’m noticing so many problems that I feel like I’m drowning in them, but let’s focus on just one for the moment–our sentences are too long. We’re using too many words–unnecessary words. Dangerous words. As a student, I somewhat enjoyed when people would ask me to edit their papers. More than anything, I would just cut words out. The paper could breathe so much better after getting rid of the clutter! Now I want to take my red pen and clean up some speech….

I started noticing this problem months ago, when a friend told me a story that took place at church. The class (of adults) was very judgmentally discussing other people’s problems, but they absolved themselves from the sin of being judgmental with this line: We need to love them as they try to live the gospel. She gritted her teeth, and she bit her tongue, and she shook her head, and then she finally told them what she thought–“Your job is to love them, period.” Look how much shorter that sentence is! Love them. Those are the only words we need. The other words are getting between us and God. When people aren’t interested in the church, we need to love them every bit as much. That’s what unconditional means, and that’s what we’re asked to do. Let’s not complicate things with extra words.

Here’s another personal favorite, said between people who haven’t seen each other in years because one stopped going to church: I’d love to see you at church sometime! Close, so close. This sentence just needs to lose two words. Try this–I’d love to see you sometime! This could be followed by an invite to meet for lunch. If church is the only place you care about seeing them, then you don’t actually care. You’re not their friend, and they know it. Fake friendship isn’t going to entice anyone to come to church. When you’re in a place that you genuinely care about each other and enjoy being around each other regardless of church, then it might be appropriate to invite them to church. Maybe. A sincere friend will know how to make that call.

Before we step away from church, let’s throw a classic example of a much too long sentence out there–Love the sinner; hate the sin. Such a terrible sentence! Six words, and five of them need to go. Let’s make it a shorter mandate–Love. Nothing else in that sentence is loving. Who goes around calling the people they love, sinners?? Sure, it’s technically correct, because we’re all sinners. But that’s not how we talk about people we love! The commandment says to “love your neighbor,” because neighbor is a nice word. Let’s start working on loving our neighbors by using kind and respectful language toward them. As for hating sin, the only sin any of us have time to hate is our own. When we’re personally without sin, then we can reconsider casting stones. If we were really good at this love thing, I have a feeling we’d be surprised how many other sins would just work themselves out.

Switching gears, this is another personal favorite. When somebody tells me that I’ve done something, anything, well, and then says, That’s really impressive with all the challenges you face. (Translation: “the challenges” is secret code for “wheelchair.”) This one is sooooo easy to fix, but let me demonstrate again how to make it shorter: That’s really impressive. Is it still impressive without the wheelchair in the equation? Cool, then just say that! Is it not so impressive anymore without the wheelchair? Ok, then, you probably just shouldn’t mention it at all. I don’t know how to respond to compliments with qualifiers. They don’t leave me feeling better about myself; they just leave me confused. Was that really a compliment? Am I actually good at [fill in the blank]? Or am I just warming hearts because I leave my house and do things in a chair?

Here’s another. There are many variations on this one, but the formula is always the same, I’m not a racist, but _____________. Fix this one by dropping everything after the comma. Nothing good has ever completed that sentence. Stick to I’m not a racist. Then ask yourself, “what would a person who’s not racist do?” Whatever it is, do that. It will never be the same thing that followed the original “but _____.” If unsure, gather up all the humility you can muster, and ask the people that you’re worried you might offend for some advice. If they give it to you, be grateful and gracious. If they don’t, don’t get upset; they owe you nothing. The same applies to No offense, but….

Since it’s seasonally appropriate, let’s tackle this gem: I don’t understand why people have to say Happy Holidays. Why can’t they just say Merry Christmas? I’m going to do some extreme editing on this one, and because I believe in choice, I’ll give options. This one can be cut down to Happy Holidays, or to Merry Christmas, or to a combination of the two. Everything else in the original statement screams “I don’t have enough real problems to worry about!” None of us have the energy to waste being offended because somebody decided to be all-inclusive in their holiday greeting. It’s ok to share the holiday season with people who celebrate a wide variety of holidays. It doesn’t hurt. Some even find it enriching. Just offer whatever holiday greeting feels right in the moment, and do it kindly, not smugly. Now could we please never have this inane conversation again?

Let’s end with one that’s actually not as grating as the others, but worth mentioning anyway. That’s someone’s daughter/sister/mother/etc. I chose feminine descriptors there because I feel like this is said mostly in response to disrespect for women, but I’m sure the same sentiment is said about men sometimes as well. And it’s not a bad sentiment. I just tend to replace it in my own head with That’s someone. Because that’s all that matters. It isn’t other people who give me value. I matter because I’m someone. Period. If there weren’t another soul in my life, I would still deserve the same dignity and respect.

We all do.

Ten Things

I won’t say that this week has been the deepest pain I’ve ever felt, or the most shaken I’ve ever been. It’s hard to compare, because I’ve felt some pretty intense pain and disorientation in my life before. But I will say that it’s the most macro-pain and macro-disequilibrium I’ve experienced. It’s the largest scale, most all-encompassing. I’ve felt broken before. I’ve been part of groups that felt broken before. But I’ve never been part of such a large group that felt so deeply broken. It’s going to take time to wrap my head around what a possible path of repair could even look like.

Right now, I want to respond to some of the frequently seen comments on facebook. These are comments I’ve been itching to respond to all week, but mostly haven’t, because 1) I wasn’t ready, and 2) I didn’t want to direct my words at any one person in particular, where it could feel like an attack. This blog is a better forum for me. So, here we go…

1. It’s just politics. Set it aside. Stop thinking about it, and let’s drink milkshakes. Everybody likes milkshakes.

I still don’t really have the words for how tone deaf I find it to label all of this “just politics.” The effects of this election have been so real, so concrete, so personal, for many people long before the actual election night. Now that the election is decided, the promised effects are even worse. This isn’t like when your football team loses, and you throw a fit, but it doesn’t actually affect your life in any way, shape, or form. This isn’t a game.

The tone that’s been set, that’s been deemed acceptable month after month, has made many of our people more vulnerable than ever. Personal attacks are more vicious than ever.

How will it affect my job to have a president that’s anti- public education? How will it affect my life as a disabled person to have a president that belittles me? How will it affect my life as a woman to have a misogynist president? I don’t know. I can’t spend too much time even thinking about those questions.

But I can’t not think about how it’s affecting my students. They fully believe that they won’t have a home in this country much longer. If it’s not their own home that they’re worried about, it’s their family or friend’s. And I can’t promise them that they’re wrong. It’s completely within the realm of possibilities that they’ll be ripped away from the only home many of them have ever known, with nowhere safe to go, and that their American Dream will be declared officially dead.

You can’t just set this stuff aside in the “politics” compartment of your brain and move forward unscathed. If it doesn’t feel personal to you, then it’s an immense level of privilege that’s protecting you. And it’s ok to have privilege; it’s not ok to have privilege without working hard at empathy.

2. He was elected by our democratic process. You have to respect the office of president.

Of course I respect the office of president. I’m not the one who just helped elect a man who, at best, is easily compared to a fascist. I’m not the one who just helped elect a man who disrespects (disdains?) a long list of other Americans, the Constitution, the military, the environment, and all of the things that make America great. It’s out of my respect for the office of president, that I will continue to vocally oppose the man making a mockery of that office.

Respecting the office of president should never mean “shut up and unconditionally support the person in that office.” Respecting the office needs to mean carefully vetting the people we put there, and holding them to a high standard of accountability. The office has been disrespected in an unprecedented way, but I’m going to plead “not guilty” on that accusation.

3. Stop the riots. Stop the violence. Violence won’t solve anything.

This one’s more nuanced, because really, it’s true. You’re not wrong. I’m anti-violence pretty much across the board. So let’s put this in context.

We just listened to an entire campaign that provoked, encouraged, and overlooked violence at every turn. That campaign was a winning campaign. Our country said yes to violence. And now we continue to watch violence begetting more violence. Wow, what a surprise, who could have possibly seen that coming?

Did you speak out against the violence and violent rhetoric all along our president-elect’s campaign trail? Did you use both your voice and your vote to say “No, we don’t tolerate violence”? If so, then go ahead and critique today’s violent rioters. I ask you only to do so thoughtfully, recognizing that those who treat a peaceful protest as an opportunity for violence and chaos, don’t represent even a significant minority of the whole. But go ahead and promote peace. We need peace promoters. Thank you for your voices.

For those who accepted these months of violence without a word, for those who used your vote to say, at best, “I’ll allow it,” this is not your moment to suddenly start speaking up for peace, blaming others for disturbing the peace that wasn’t there. This is the time to take care of that beam in your eye.

4. Don’t call me a racist/misogynist/bigot.

I see a lot of people speaking out against racism/misogyny/bigotry right now. I hope to always see people speaking out against racism/misogyny/bigotry. If you see yourself reflected in these posts where your name was never mentioned, what would you like me to do about it? If you don’t want to be associated with racism/misogyny/bigotry, then I suggest that you stop aligning yourself with racists/misogynists/bigots.

There’s no need for me to review the lists of racist/misogynistic/bigoted remarks from that campaign, or the proposed policies that fall under those umbrellas. It’s already out there ad nauseam. It was never a secret that a Trump presidency was opposed by every living former president, regardless of party, and supported by the KKK. We all knew what team he was leading. Every eligible voter made a choice. We either drew a line in the sand that said “this is unacceptable,” or we didn’t. Many jumped on the Trump train because of the racist/misogynistic/bigoted ideology, and others accepted it as a bitter pill they were willing to swallow. Some didn’t vote at all, because they didn’t like it, but they also weren’t willing to stand against it. The average person might not actively wish anyone harm, but they’re willing to allow it. Something else was prioritized above the equal rights and well-being of fellow Americans. Many of us are feeling the deep burn and sharp sting of those choices.

If your choices have helped prop up racism/misogyny/bigotry and you don’t like it, I can’t undo that for you. I can only suggest that you move forward with an anti-racism, anti-misogyny, anti-bigotry focus. There are plenty of things in this world that we can afford to be apathetic about. You don’t need to have or voice an opinion about Taylor Swift, the Seahawks, or double-stuffed Oreos. Prejudice isn’t one of those things. Silence is consent. Apathy is consent.

Also, calling yourself anti-racism/misogyny/bigotry doesn’t make it so. If you haven’t done a meaningful study of the subject, then you aren’t prepared to be part of the solution. You need to understand a movement in order for it to mean anything when you claim the descriptor. I’m not inviting you to read one article. I’m not inviting you to make a black friend. I’m inviting you to deeply educate yourself. Take your own voice out of the equation temporarily, and immerse yourself in learning.

5. All condescending comments about “educated coastal elites.”

This one’s hard to respond to… I’m not sure at what point I entered a world where “educated” became an insult, a word spoken with derision. I was taught all my life that if I wanted to understand the world around me, and have the skills and depth/breadth of knowledge to contribute and make the world a little better, I needed an education. I was taught to always keep learning. If it was taught, I certainly didn’t internalize any kind of attachment to educational hierarchy. It’s never been important to me whether a person’s education came from the Ivy League, or from a state school, or from a vocational program, or from books at the library. I’m highly in favor everyone pursuing the path that’s right for them. And no matter what that path is, I’m in favor of continual learning.

I do highly value my own education, formal and informal. I’ve also been taught all my life that the real value to an education isn’t the knowledge in your own head, but what you do with it. Call me cheesy, but I take BYU’s motto of “enter to learn; go forth to serve” pretty seriously. That’s how I try to live my life in general, and how I’ve tried to live through the election season. I always have room to be more well-informed, but I try to take in lots of information from lots of sources, read the arguments and the counter-arguments, view everything with a critical eye, and fact-check, fact-check, fact-check. I try to learn about my own culture and others’.  I’m always looking for better answers, and those answers generally have little to do with personal gain. I’m looking for answers that offer open arms and hands-up to the marginalized and disenfranchised. I’m looking towards the greater good. I don’t always get the details right, but that’s always what I’m going for.

And then I get mocked for it? Because there’s something wrong with having an education? Because learning about the world somehow means that I don’t really understand the world? Because trying to apply my learning and make the world more inclusive is out of touch? I’ve known for a long time that my country doesn’t value education very highly; my paycheck as an educator tells me that. But using my education to insult me? This is new…

6. Read a history book.

This one might be my favorite. It tends to be the same people who just made a mocking jab at the “educated elite,” who then tell us in the next breath to “read a history book.” What do they think “educated” means?? If I were more ignorant of history, maybe I’d be feeling more optimistic about the future. But historical patterns tell me that nothing good is on the horizon. By and large, our experts with the most education in history have been the most vocal opponents of the president-elect. In a way, this might be the moment they’ve dreamed of since they first had the inkling of going to college and majoring in history. The moment when they could recognize the next Big Bad, and raise the flag of warning! Of course, as is the tradition, it did no good. But I give the historians an A for effort….

7. The president doesn’t really do that much. Checks and balances, yadda yadda. And they never do what they promise anyway.

The President of the United States doesn’t do much? The commander-in-chief? The leader of the free world? You’re telling me that job doesn’t have much power? You just spent eight years blaming Obama every time you got a paper cut, but now you want me to believe that the president doesn’t have a meaningful impact on our lives? Am I hearing this right?? I could take some time to write out a list of ways previous presidents have impacted us for better or worse, but that seems like a poor use of time. I’m just going to assume people are saying that in the spirit of thoughtless reassurance, and don’t really mean it.

The new administration will be neither checked nor balanced. When one party is controlling all branches of government, that’s badly out of balance. I’ve listened to many voices from all ends of the political spectrum this year bemoaning the two-party system we’ve developed and can’t seem to shake. But do you know what’s worse than a two-party system? A one-party system. And do you know what’s worse than a one-party system? A one-party system headed by a man famous for not playing well with others.

A vague hope that “maybe he didn’t really mean all those things he kept saying” isn’t enough to soothe anyone’s fears. There’s nothing in his 70 years of life history to lead me to believe this is a giant “Gotcha! Every day was opposite day. Now I’m going to do a full 180 and govern like a decent human.”

8. He’s just one man. How can one man upset you so much?

This is the part I’ve been saying for ages. It’s not about one man. If this were just one man, he’d be nobody. I couldn’t care less about him as an individual. But 60 million people voted for him. 109 million people didn’t vote against him. Our culture has become toxic. It didn’t become toxic on Tuesday. It’s been building for a long time, and then hit an epic spike on Tuesday. Or, more probably, it didn’t just become toxic. The toxicity that’s always been there is just coming out into the open. And it’s hard to breathe.

9. This is the time to unite. Unity above all.

Of course I’m pro-unity. That’s why I spent the campaign season speaking out against the candidate who preached divisiveness. The candidate who preached intolerance and hate. The candidate who drew clear lines about who he considered American, who he considered worthy of respect, and who was “other.” He and his followers just dedicated all those months to stirring people up and turning them against each other. That was the time to unite. We missed our moment. We epically missed our moment.

So when you ask me now to work for unity, please be careful about what you’re asking. Do you want me to unite with the oppressor, or the oppressed? Because I’ve been taught since I was a little kid to stand for what’s right, even if I’m standing alone. I’ve been taught to stand with those who’ve been bullied and mistreated, no matter what the popular kids think. I want unity, but I won’t sacrifice my values or the well-being of my neighbor to obtain the appearance of unity.

So, come, join us! Unite over here. There’s always room for more. 🙂

10. What am I supposed to say to my kids?

This one, of course, comes from the people in my own camp. It’s come out of my own mouth. I don’t have perfect answers, and I probably never will. But this is what I said to my kids on Wednesday….

First, I didn’t say anything. I just let them talk as much as they liked, pretty much uncensored. I knew that in their other classes, there would likely be students with more varied opinions about the election outcome. In my ESL classroom, it was a pretty safe bet that we were on close to the same page with each other. If there was going to be a safe space to come together and process thoughts and feelings, that felt like it. So I tried to provide that space if they wanted it. And most classes did. They talked, and they talked, and they felt, and they talked, and they cried, and they talked, and they laughed, and they talked…. When they ran out of words, they asked me what I was thinking and feeling.

So I told them. I admitted that I’m sad and hurt and angry and confused too, right along with them. There’s a time for putting on the game face, and there’s a time for emotional authenticity. This was the latter. (I couldn’t have lied about my feelings in those moments if I’d wanted to. iMDB might think I’m an actress, but nobody’s that good.) I reminded them that we don’t actually know what’s going to happen next. Nobody does. Right now, all we can do is hope for the best, and take care of each other. We can’t control the country, but we can control our small community. We can respect and protect each other. We can be kind.

I told the kids that they’re my reason for pushing forward no matter what. They give me hope. I trust them. I believe in them. There are so many things that we don’t know right now, but we know one thing for sure–in four years, there will be another election, and some of them will be able to vote in it. Most of them will be able to vote in the election after that. A lot of responsibility comes with the privilege of voting. I told them that I know it’s hard sometimes to be a kid and feel like you don’t have very much power. But that’s why we work hard in school every day–so one day, in not that many years, they can be adults who both have some level of power, and have the ability to use that power wisely. I told them that I love being their language teacher. We get to work on reading and listening skills, so that they can consume information and figure out for themselves what’s going on in the world. So they can find answers to their questions, and so they can decide for themselves what they think. We get to work on writing and speaking skills, so that when they use their voices, they can do it in a way that makes people listen. So they can powerfully communicate what’s in their hearts. Because I know they have such good hearts.

And then we got back to our regularly scheduled learning activities. Because no matter what happens, we won’t stop pushing forward, working hard, and bettering ourselves.

Wait, I lied, there’s actually one more thing….

11. You’re just upset because your team lost. It’s the same thing for one side or the other every election.

No, I’m not, and it’s not. I can handle losing an election to someone who thinks differently and uses different methods than I would, but is still a decent human working for the good of all Americans. We just elected someone without basic decency. Without any record or spirit of public service. Someone who wouldn’t be fit to serve in the local PTA, much less in the White House.

Believe it or not, I do want there to be a strong, respectable Republican party. It’s highly unlikely, but not impossible, that I’d ever personally vote for a Republican candidate. But I still want them at the table. Those leading the party are, to use one of our president-elect’s favorite words, a “disaster” right now. But there are a number of decent, intelligent, reasonable, moderate Republicans in my personal circles, and I want their voices to have a place. Even though we don’t always agree, I need them to check and balance my own party. When reasonable people with diverse opinions work together, that’s when “the magic” happens. That’s how a checked and balanced government is intended to work.

Dear Unbreakable Student,

I’ve never been into poetry. I definitely don’t write it, and I don’t really read it. But this came tumbling out of my head, and I think it’s a poem. It’s the product of lots of thoughts and conversations I’ve had over the last few weeks. Or the last ten years, depending  how you count it. I wish I could show you the faces of all the students that were floating through my head while I wrote… Anyway, I want to share.


Dear Unbreakable Student,
Can I tell you what I love about you?
I love that you’re loud.
I love that I can’t get through a lesson plan, because you
have something to say about everything, and you
have a question about everything.
And every question leads to another question.
My answers are never enough for you—
Your curiosity never satisfied.

I love that your words tumble out
louder and faster
than even you can keep up with.
I love your lack of filters.
You say what you mean,
and you don’t wait for permission.

I love that you don’t walk, but run.
You’ve got places to go,
Paths to follow,
Things to do and try and experience.
Even if you don’t know exactly where you’re going,
You know you want to get there
Right now.
Can’t stop
Can’t wait
Can’t sit still.
Energy and passion
rushing and buzzing
through your body
Plowing past anything and anyone
that gets in your way.

I love that you put on a tough front,
A strong face, a fight face,
a face that can’t be messed with;
Without ever losing your soft center,
Your kind heart, your gentle heart,
your heart that cares so deeply, it hurts.

I love that you can’t be lied to.
You don’t have time for the easy, comfortable answers;
You’re here for the ugly, naked truth.
You can take it.
The only thing that will make you flinch
is insincerity.
You can see right through it.

I love that you challenge me.
I love that you make me think,
make me laugh,
make me cry
Sometimes all at once.

And I worry.

I worry that when you come to school,
We all tell you to
Sit down, and
Shut up.
Don’t be so difficult,
Get back in line, just
Sit down, and
Shut up.
Stop interrupting, and
Listen to me. Just
Sit down, and
Shut up.

I promise you
that it comes from a good place.
Because we care,
we tell you to
Sit down, and
Shut up.
We want nothing more than your success
in school
in life.
So we keep telling to you to
Sit down, and
Shut up.

And I worry.
I worry that we’re wrong.
That isn’t what I want for you.

I don’t want you to sit down.
I want you to stand up!
Rise up!
Stand out!
I want you to stand, and
Stand for something
Stand for what’s good, and true.
Stand for others
Stand for you
Stand for the things you know
Will make our world better.

I want you to stand up.
Stand up against the status quo
Stand up against oppression
Stand up against oppressors
Stand up against the darkness that clouds so many eyes,
but not yours.
Stand up to those who would have you
Sit down, and
Shut up.

I don’t want you to shut up.
I want you to speak up!
Speak out!
Shout out!
I want you to yell so loud,
they have to listen.
I want you to scream so long,
they can’t block you out.
You thoughts matter.
Your ideas matter.
Your feelings matter.
Your story matters.
And the whole world should hear—
make them hear.
Go ahead and holler in the ears
of those who would have you
Sit down, and
Shut up.

I don’t want you to sit down. Not really.
But when you do,
Sit with your eyes open
Sit with your ears open
Sit at full attention
So you don’t miss anything.
Sit to listen and read and learn.
Take everything in.
Make some of it, part of you.
But not everything.
You’ve got to figure out
What to accept,
What to reject,
What to push back,
So that you’ll know when it’s time to
Stand up.

I don’t want you to shut up. Not really.
But when you do,
Listen carefully,
so carefully,
to what others are saying
and how they say it.
How do they get people to listen?
How do they get people to care?
What are they really saying, and
Not saying?
Pay attention to other voices,
because you too have a voice.
And when you use that voice,
When you speak up,
You had better have something to say.
People won’t keep listening all day.
So when you speak up,
You had better make it count.
When you speak up,
You had better give everyone else
Something to talk about.

Dear, Unbreakable Student,
I don’t want to change you
Not now, not ever.
I’d rather stand by your side,
On your team, and
Have your back
While you claim your power.
Our world needs
You and your power.

Dear, Unbreakable Student,
Don’t ever let them break you.
Don’t ever let us break you.
But if there’s a time when you feel
like you might be broken,
Just take a breath,
A slow, healing breath,
And come back better than ever—
Refusing to stay broken.
Refusing to ever
Sit down, and
Shut up.

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.)

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

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.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

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.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

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.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

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

In Lak’ech

TĂş 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.