No Card for You: First Annual Holiday Blog Wrapup

Screen Shot 2013-12-24 at 8.08.50 AMI didn’t send you a card.

Not because I don’t like you. I never finish my cards. Ever. Somewhere in the recesses of a closet lies a box of unsent wedding thank yous from a dozen years ago–I was so appreciative I wrote novels. I paused to include black & whites hand-picked specifically for each note and found small mementos requiring a slightly bigger envelope, which I hand-calligraphied…

Defeated by vision and distraction, the cards lie in wait.

This happens every Christmas. Some years I plan cards for New Years. A couple of times I aimed for summer solstice. This year, I skipped cards entirely and sent a pile of small boxes and gifts.

I got a few cards from people who are much better than me. Cheryl, Cat, Herb and Su, and my Mom always send a real card. Elly, my dear friend and accountant includes a calendar so I remember to I pay my taxes on time.

The bulk of the cards on the mantle are from Declan’s classmates. I pretend they’re mine. It’s tough to hang holiday emails.

I love cards with pictures of families, but I wonder why parents always cut themselves out. We get old, too. I have five grey hairs containing the wisdom of 2013.  I want to show them off. I look like an adult now. I don’t get carded often. I’ve aged gracefully. I clean up well if I have to. That’s what you’d see if I sent you a card.

I wish I saw people in person more. I’ve promised not to say that anymore, because the truth is, life gets away from me no matter where people live. I rarely see my friend an hour down the road, and I’ve been texting my friend two doors down. That’s only slightly more forgivable than texting someone in the next room.

It always seems easier to visit tomorrow and send a text or email today. I check Elly’s calendar to find “tomorrow,” so I can block out visits with real people. I keep hunting, because “tomorrow” isn’t anywhere on the pages.

Phone calls are no better. These days, I schedule them. I caught up with one childhood friend this week but have a call pending that’s been hanging out there for two years. If that seems excessive, just know it’s been a busy two years.

An assistant won’t help. It didn’t make me any more organized in my first life, but it was cool to hang out and get reminded of all the work I didn’t do.

“Did you finish your cards?”


I like cards with holiday newsletters, especially the ones people sign in human form–I authenticate signatures. My mom sends one. Since I already know what happened, I read it to see if I got more mentions than my brother and sister. That’s how I know I’ve had a good year.

Since I didn’t send cards, here’s a post including links from Christmases past. Pull up some egg nog. Enjoy the blessings of this and all the other holidays I haven’t properly acknowledged. Be well, be blessed. Savor the gifts of the universe, be they small or great. Thank you for sharing this year with me and being among my greatest gifts.

“Best Christmas Posts from The Last Two Years When I Didn’t Send Your Card.”

Here’s where I complain that customs ruined Sarah’s Christmas surprise, and next I fail to send gifts for Declan’s classmates at school. Speaking of zero surprises, I bought a couch this year, which can’t be wrapped and put under the tree. On Christmas morning we’ll see the dog didn’t eat it. We’ll yell, “Surprise! Merry Christmas!”

In this post, I forget what I ordered from Amazon, so it feels a little like Christmas, even though it’s fall. Here, I try to organize the list but fail. Here’s where I promise to finish your cards in order of religion, not alphabet. Epic fail again.

The boy is still reciting Scrooge by the version now and asking why there is no sequel. He does this all year. Our snow has been melted by freakish weather. I’m reminded by Sarah, the Australian, that Christmas isn’t owned by New England, and some people decorate with sea shells and wait for Beach Santa.

These 2012 and 2013 posts reflect upon the day before Christmas vacation–a tough one for teachers. I’ve kept my vow never to use glitter again.  Reading through posts, I see my mind’s in a better place this year, though I’m thrilled Declan wants to give me–“world peace and an end to human suffering.” It’s much appreciated. I sit by the fake tree looking at the ornaments that remind me of my childhood trees. Putting up the tree this year was a joy–a three-piece fake tree with lights included. Not one argument. Declan is trying to be good for Santa, although not so successfully at times. Last year, a chance run in with an elf helped carry the momentum. This year Santa sent an email.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and a Joyous 2014.

I hope you enjoyed your “card.”

End of the Horror Movie

coffee stationThere’s that point before the end of the horror movie when nearly everyone is dead. You know they’re going to catch the bad guy, because why else spend fifty million dollars on a budget, blood and goring the whole set red?

Most of the time at least one of the good guys has to come out alive… sometimes even two of the ones you were rooting for, or the ending sucks. And at least until the sequel, the killer dies or goes to jail. That’s where the protagonist gets twenty minutes of peace before it starts all over again in the next movie.

That’s what end of the teaching year is like.

For teachers, the correlation is obvious. It feels like we’re opening every closet where the killer might be…book collecting, inventory, complaints, unhappy customers, functions, field days, evaluations, data… the end of the year is like a cacophony of things we might be able to handle or enjoy if only they did not assault us all at once.

This desk represents Dantes's 10th circle of hell

This desk represents Dantes’s 10th circle of hell

For students, it’s that moment of sheer desperation where they look down at their grades and realize that we were right all along.  A senior handed me a paper which referenced Dolly the Clone Sheep more times than I’d ever considered clone sheep in my life. It was well researched and kinda-sorta fit the parameters of science fiction within the I-am-flexible-as-long-as-I-don’t-get-crap-research…the research was solid. So I let it fly.

Another did all the critical thought questions on my school blog in detail hoping I’d let her “relearn” the material for a good grade. I will. Just like I considered Dolly the Sheep. If it’s well done.

“Miss,” said one student I’ll call “Jim” because that’s his name, approached me, downtrodden. It was about five years ago, and I was sitting peacefully in the hallway, guarding it from disturbances. “Remember in October when you said you thought I failed a class freshman year and I needed this class to graduate?”

“Yes.” I remember strange details like that. I don’t remember what I had for breakfast or what my husband asked me to remember–but a kid’s four-year course schedule…that, I can remember.

“Well, you were right.” This was as close to an apology as I generally see.

“I’m in the business of being right.”

“What do I need this quarter to pass your class?” he asked.

“One hundred and forty-five.”

“That’s not very likely, is it?” I almost said “If Jesus came and took the final, it probably wouldn’t happen. Except that’s happened before. I don’t want to make false promises I can’t keep before the Lord.

One day, Jesus did float in. “Hello, my child.” He addressed me in the gentle voice I imagined He would use. He was dressed in all white, wearing a crown of thorns. “Please pass my children.” Those “children” were in a similar numerical situation. A situation I’ve come to refer to as “Jesus math,” whereby only the good Lord, or another deity of choice–a big deity, mind you, not a little assistant–could influence the outcome.

Only later in the day did I discover that two white tablecloths were missing from Culinary and a rose bush in front of the building had been destroyed. Imposter! Posing as the Lord? Is there no low to which people won’t sink during grade mongering season?

Today, I received a set of final exam essays between classes while I was running to the bathroom. Teachers get one bathroom break a day. “I understand if it’s too late,” it says.

I answer. “I’ll look at it in a minute.” I wonder how many people will be wondering if I graded their paper on my iPhone from the bathroom.

The building itself looks rather like the final scenes in a horror movie before the end of the year–books tossed about, lockers being emptied, revealing unmistakable treasures like foods that might even have been edible months ago…It’s all a disaster. My room especially. Every year I promise to toss everything and attain clutter-free enlightenment. Then I look at the stacks of old papers I have created with love, making extra copies because we’re so often out of paper. Maybe I will need those again sometime! They never get thrown away. I’m hoping that because I have digitized most of my stuff on my school WordPress blog and Learnist boards, that I can free myself of these stacks of papers forever.

But for now, I just have to get to the end of the year in one piece. Then, I’ll start planning my attack for next year. I’ll make a plan to clean up my act. I’ve been making this plan for a dozen years, and it never comes together at the end to produce a nice, shiny classroom cleaned in advance. There are always scholars with last-minute numerical needs, last-minute research papers, and stacks of books and clutter. I can’t imagine that will go away. But I’ll try to tighten up my systems anyway.

And this time, next June, it’ll look like the end of a horror movie once again.


I Can Do Anything I Want

Don't Touch the Thermostat“Mom, you can’t do that!”

Um, yes, I can. It seems like I, once again, made an executive parenting decision that was unpopular to the crowd. Too bad.

I started to think. I just turned 42. There is a whole host of things I can do now. In fact, I can do anything I want.

For example:

I can eat all the candy I want. Every day. I remember the first time I discovered this. I bought a pound of M&Ms with my babysitting money–back when a pound was 16 ounces, a boatload of chocolate–and kept it in my room. I ate the whole thing I didn’t want candy after that. I tell that to Declan I can eat all the candy I want but he has to eat vegetables. It’s fun parenting. I rarely eat junk. But I can.

I can use the thermostat. Heck, I pay bills, so I refuse to “put on another sweater.” There’d be days growing up when I looked like the Fat Albert I had so many sweaters, and Dad would tell me to get one more. Lesson one: you can never have enough sweaters. Lesson two: don’t go with electric heat during the Carter administration.

Even today, I argue with my husband–he feels strongly heat should be kept at one steady temperature. Something about the molecules of the furniture reabsorbing heat and costing more. Maybe there’s a science person out there who can weigh in on this. We’ve argued–I’m sure he’s correct. That’s not the point. I want to be warm. With great pride I touch the thermostat, even though I get flashbacks of having my life threatened and being given more layers.

I can take long showers. I don’t, though. I don’t want the world to have less water on my account. I love the environment.

I can stay up as late as I want. I can party all night. But that never quite meshes with my getting anything done at work the next day. It’s just not fun. I learned that in college–looking at a plate of eggs at 6AM and falling asleep at an 8AM class just didn’t bring the joie de vive that it should have for someone who had the freedom to be social all night.

I can say the F word. I like to save it for emergencies though, because otherwise it loses its effect, and there really isn’t a better word in reserve. Well, there is, but it’s not in English–it’s a swear in Russian that packs quite a punch, but when translated, comes across as “penis from the mountain,” which doesn’t reflect extreme anger as intended. Lesson: never swear in a foreign language.

I can hook up stereo wires, pack a trunk, and use a lawnmower. I can drive a stick shift. I can do all the things that were relegated to the male world or put in the “no” and “don’t touch,” category growing up.

I can do anything I want. But the problem is this–It’s no longer a big deal. That’s how you know you’ve grown up…when you can do anything you want, but “anything,” is no longer fun. Fun, for me, is growing more carrots that I could ever eat, reading a book, running. Or writing this post. All nerd things.

I wonder if, when I contemplated all the things I’d be able to do when I grew up–the things everyone prohibited earlier in life–the idea ever crossed my teen mind that it wouldn’t be fun. Or productive. Did I even know what productive was?

When I’m at school and this subject comes up, I take the liberty of informing students, “Yeah, you’ll be able to do anything you want. And it’ll suck. Because you’ll have bills, responsibilities, and people counting on you. So you won’t party. You won’t blow off work, and you won’t waste stuff. Because you’ll be paying for it. In fact, study more now. You’ll be grateful later.

They all groan and tell me how terrible I am for even saying that. And I smile through the veil of a million years of experience and the commensurate beatdowns I’ve taken giving me the right to make such a statement. That’s the joy of teaching. Everyone hates the truth. That is the truth. But it must get out in the open.

And once in a while it’s fun to say. And I do. Because I can do anything I want.


Carrying People Through The Sand

There is a story that runs over and over again in many different forms called “Footprints.” It’s about a person walking in the sand with God. You see the footprints. Two sets of footprints, and then, at times, just one.

Are you carrying others or being carried? Both are important.

Are you carrying others or being carried? Both are important.

The person laments to God, “God…these are the times in my life when things were most difficult. Why, ” he asks, “did you abandon me?”

God smiles. I imagine God smiling that sort of smile of love and amusement when someone has said something naive, bordering on stupid. “I didn’t,” God replies. “Those are the times in your life when you struggled. I carried you.”

We walk along the path of life, and we meet people. We connect. There is that moment of excitement–that period where we realize that our new friend is just the friend we needed. We exchange stories, plan activities, say, “Hey, me too!” a hundred times in deep conversation. We realize that through this connection, our world has changed in some way–sometimes radical, sometimes slight, but it has, indeed, changed. It’s “friend Christmas.”

We connect constantly–but we keep few. We gather an inner circle of people who together make, “the perfect friend.” We go to them for “their” things. We’d be fortunate enough to have one or two of these friends at any time. I look around. I realize I am lucky. In addition to my family, I have a compendium of others…my childhood friend, my sensitive friend, my friend of two decades who just sent me a photo, the friend who tells me I’m overqualified every time I discuss a career change, my girl-power friend, my “I can call you at 4AM” friend, my nothing-like-me friend from college, and some recent additions. Friend Christmas. I am blessed.

Once in a while, someone comes along that transforms the entire scope and sequence of our lives. I’ve had a couple of these, too. People who snuck up on me when I didn’t know I needed them. When I looked back, radical changes had taken place. Nothing would ever be the same.

We all have one or two of these people if we listen very closely. A mentor, a professor, a boss, a student. Someone who makes us see life very differently, through another lens–someone who changes our paradigm forever. I would like to think that maybe, if I live a good life, I have not only been the beneficiary of this magic, but I create this magic too.

I think “Wow, I’m glad I met this person. I am inspired. I have vision!” Sometimes I fail to see that on their road, and the roads of others, I serve the exact same purpose. I fill the holes, inspire, serve a need. And occasionally, I change a life that radically myself. It’s never all about me. I am this person, too. We are all this person. It is a blessing and a responsibility.

And so, I must say, “How has my life touched the lives of others?” Have I made a difference, even to those who my life has touched in the slightest measure?

We connect. And we fly.

We connect. And we fly.

In the geometry of life–in those paths that cross and intersect, those concentric circles enclosing those we touch–our acquaintances, our innermost friends, our families, and eventually ourselves–to whom we owe the most and rarely indulge–am I making a difference?

Today, I will do better by those who my life touches in the slightest measure, because I am grateful for those who have blessed mine. I want to be a better person, to have vision, to be the person I should be.

Touching lives is what teachers do every single day.

We smile, we give a kind word, and often we carry someone through the sand without them ever being aware. And a mediocre life becomes great. The challenge is this. I must always being aware, because I never know the moment when we change someone’s life forever. Sometimes, I never even find out.

[Images: and]


Tardiness, Cluelessness, and Lack of Balance

Screen Shot 2012-12-11 at 10.18.38 PM

I was going to a conference on a topic that I suspected was not going to be exciting. My boss suggested I go, and since he’s right about many things, I decided to listen. I was not really excited about the topic, but I figured I’d survive till 2PM with enough fully charged devices, so I went.

I tried to be on time–there is never an excuse for being late in my book. I’d make it to work early in the snow. People two feet down the road would show up an hour late and try to pull the weather card.

“It’s snowing! Gee, thanks, Jim Cantore–try this–watch the weather, get up early, and leave your house. That’s what people do.

In Rhode Island, there’s pretty much never an excuse for being late other than “I’m inept.” I’ve been struggling with this one myself lately since our move to the forest.  My mind refuses to acknowledge the fact that I’m geographically farther from work on a road frequented by farm and recycling trucks with no passing zones. I can’t seem to comprehend that I cannot physically leave at the Old Time and get to work early. It’s neurolinguistic programming–habits and ruts that we build deep in our minds that we have to reprogram.  This is a deep one.

But there is never an excuse for tardiness in a state the size of a yardstick. Even in the unfortunate event of a traffic pileup, it’s possible to get off the exit, which in Rhode Island is probably six feet down the road, and back-road it the rest of the way.  People don’t though–they’ll sit in traffic instead.

“I didn’t know how to get around it.”  That’s why the Lord invented GPS.  Even if your iPhone mocks you by sending you random places, in this state, you can’t be too far off.  Just follow the direction of the sun and stars. You’ll still get there on time.

But for this conference, I was late. Perhaps it was my motivation level that day.  I walked in five minutes after the appointed time. Generally, this is okay for teacher functions because teachers take more than five minutes to chat and get coffee, then even more time ignoring requests to listen. I figured I could slip in unnoticed.

There was another participant walking in late. I walked in with her. We chatted on the way from the parking lot.  Finally, I did the right thing–I introduced myself.

“You look familiar,” I said.  “My name is Dawn.”

“I know,” she replied. “I work with you.”

Indeed, she did. She was hired at the beginning of the year, we had talked once or twice, and then I retreated to my classroom. I haven’t left since.

How do you recover from that?  There is no way to dig out of stupidity that deep. I was forced to go with the classic, “My bad,” which includes an offer to buy lunch. That’s the last resort when admitting you are dumber than tree mould.

That would have been tragic enough if I hadn’t done it once before. I did it in my own neighborhood after living there a good half-decade. I was in my next-door neighbor’s yard. She had a friend over chatting. I introduced myself.

“I know. I’m your neighbor across the street.”  I had waved to the woman for six years, but when I saw her twenty feet over into the next yard, completely out of context, she was unrecognizable to me. In the end, though, she delivered my son. She turned out to be the maternity ward nurse.

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. Maybe that we’re not as neighborly as we used to be and that everyone is so busy dealing with their own stuff that we’ve lost that sense of community. That work really has become a rat race, and that we don’t break out of our molds and habits enough to pay attention. That the speeding up of the world forces us to dullen ourselves to personal experiences around us…That we lack balance in so many areas of our lives.

Yesterday, I was copy-editing a pile of senior thesis papers. There was one about the evils of social media. After checking my Twitter twice, I finished reading the paper, whose thesis was apparently that social media has horrific effects on the teen developmental mind. It turns them into antisocial malcontents who lack balance and can’t have a real phone conversation or interact in person. I’m thinking of a conversation I had with a great friend whose one flaw is that he never calls back, “I’m not good at the phone, but I rock it in person.”

Society has changed. It’s faster, more efficient, has lots more cool gadgets. But my senior was right, even as I said, “Nuh-uh,” throughout the whole thesis. At times, the world speeds up so much that I sometimes lack balance. Though I get tons more done, I rush from thing to thing, apparently missing some really cool people at the same time.

I was at a meeting tonight, where a local superstar educational leader** discussed that very concept, suggesting that working hard in the field of education was critical, but that we need time for our families, too. We need balance.  We need to prioritize, slow down and attend to what is important–our loved ones. He was right. I’ve often felt it ironic that I save the world’s children while at times ignoring my own. I’m improving.

Balance is difficult. I always seem to do better during food production season when there are veggies and fruits to grow, things to can, and nature to watch. While there are plenty of tasks that need doing, the fact that I get to stop and watch something grow makes me marvel at the moment–and reminds me to just sit and be. To enjoy the gift of the present and to consider that nature cannot be rushed, that we must enjoy its seasons. To realize this is to discover the smallest part of the meaning of life. It is the essence of balance.

[Plug: The educational leader in question is a co-moderator of #Edchatri, one of my favorite Twitter chats. It’s on Sundays at 8PM, and it’s not just RI anymore! Check it out!]