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Category Archives: parenting

I have been a ‘single’ parent for 7+ years (but not really because my daughter and her dad are very close emotionally). However, there are lots that I’m learning about raising a child alone basically and with my quick wit, I thought I’d capture some of it here.

Is there freedom in death?


Is there freedom in death ? Not for the person who dies but for the person who lives.

I vividly remember a student in my 4th grade class more about 15 years ago. This student was a sad, sad girl. It always seemed as though she carried her sadness way down on the inside and only used her half of a smile to camouflage something untouchable. Even in her laughter on the playground, or when constructing some fabulous building in the block area with cantilevers and everything, this student was weighed down by something. Perhaps not by anything tangible– just a weight light as air and heavy as water which seemed to be everywhere and nowhere in her soul.

She wore dark colors, long hair always out and straight down her back, usually not combed (she would tuck it behind her ear throughout the day). She was friendly and worked hard and was (can I still say this word?- smart). really smart. I remember riding  bikes in the neighborhood park one sunny day and her mom rode up to me on her bike and asked me to please take care of her daughter. I remember thinking that this was the first time that I had seen both the mother and daughter happy in a way that you just cannot fake.

A few days later, the mother committed suicide (hanged herself in her bathroom). I don’t remember if the daughter was the one to find her but I do remember the preparations to sit Shiva. Yes, there was crying and disbelief and numbness which lasted as it should.

However, I clearly remember the day when I noticed that the student started to wear bright colors and laugh a hearty, lively laugh from deep down in her gut and I couldn’t help but think if she found freedom in death. It is a horrible thing to say, to write, to even think but I tell you, the little girl no more than 7 or 8 began to transform right in front of me. Was something released with the passing of her mother? Is that even possible? Did she begin to experience a sense of normalcy without  her mother? (My hand are trembling and my heart is beating fast as I even dare write this).

I’ve thought a lot lately about a dear friend of mine who recently lost her father. He had medical challenges, as well as Alzheimer’s. This friend, my sister is an amazingly mature soul with a strong sense of self and selflessness. She is the nucleus of a family with a husband and two children (plus a nephew that she is raising) who were all adept at locking the cabinets and the refrigerator and even parts of the house. I watched her juggle her work schedule since someone had to be with her father at all times. She came to work, did her job expertly, smiled with a slight reserve that you’d only know about if she decided to let you know that she spent the better part of her life caring for and worrying about her father. In fact, she came to meetings as her activist self; strong, determined, focused and calm but with a great worry that she carried under her professionalism and her harried, complicated schedule of caring for her father.

Now he is dead. Will she experience some type of freedom in his death? Am I just being naive and saying things that should not be said or thought about. Of course, he is her father and she loves him deeply but I wonder what life will be like for her now. The African priestess who wore white for a whole year as the embodiment of her beliefs and connection to a higher power. Will she experience some sort of freedom in death? Is this even possible?

 
 

Twin Dispositions: Resiliency and Tenacity


Does resiliency and tenacity run in families? How does one cultivate this? What does a parent do when it is not apparent?

During a warm evening last month, I decided to take my 11-year old daughter roller skating on a whim. The evening quickly became frustrating for both of us as she was not able to get up after falling. She simply refused to skate saying that she felt stupid and that she was not a good skater. As I skated around the rink under the disco lights singing…and falling, I couldn’t help but wonder why she couldn’t do the same thing. What was happening in her mind that would not allow her to get up? to try? to admit that she had to practice and then go practice?  Why wasn’t she acting as a resilient and tenacious child?

What makes some children push through challenging situations and others become paralyzed by it? How did this happen to my child? 

As I was skating around the rink, trying to show my daughter how much fun I was having and coaxing her to skate with me, holding onto the wall, with another child, anything to get her out on the floor, I thought of the notion of resiliency, fear, and learning.

I was reminded when my daughter was 7 and she began to complain that she didn’t enjoy reading and “wasn’t good at it”. This confession hurt me to the core as a parent and teacher. I shook my head in disbelief thinking: ‘You mean you don’t want to read’. Of course you know how to read. I’ve been reading to and with you since before you were born. Did she mean that she did not want to try more complicated texts? I was flabbergasted and scared that my child was not resilient in the face of what proved difficult or tenacious enough to conquer the difficulty, or not enough of a learner to do either.

I decided to start a book club with 3 friends and their daughters, in order to provide a social purpose for reading since my daughter was not reading for her own enjoyment. I used her strengths as a social child to fit reading in. This idea paid off and four years later we are still reading amazing books and having amazingly complex conversations as a group. At 11, she has just begun to read books independently and take pride in reading faster and more books than me.

Still, my daughter defaults more often than not to pleas of, “I can’t” and “it’s too hard” and “ I just don’t want to, Mom”. This disposition was extremely distressing to me as a teacher who prides herself with instilling in students a sense of being a learner (of loving the learning process).  It was if my own child was afraid to embrace a learner-stance. How could this happen?  It was as if it learning and fear of failure was a weakness not to be exposed rather than an opportunity to learn. Sadly, as a parent, I saw her peers advance in school and on the soccer field even though my daughter had comparable skills and experiences (at least in the beginning). As she continued to shelter her skills and not ‘take on’ anything challenging, she slipped further behind and then couldn’t adequately compete.

Our relocation to a different state seemed to provide her with a way to reinvent herself. She agreed to go to honors classes (something that she refused to do in our old town). However she still did not display the level of resiliency and tenacity that I would like to see as both a parent as an educator. She does enough to get by in school, nothing more. I’ve been bothered by her lack of with-it-ness and often wonder how much I can push her as a parent and as a teacher.

To my surprise, at 11 years and 6 months of age, she started to complete homework with her friend. They Skype and sometimes, they even ask me to help them with their math homework among giggles. Sensing an opening, I decided to go for broke and force Danielle to work at something that she cares about. Singing. I forced her to go to choir practice. During the first practice, I had to threaten and drag her down the aisle (while people watched)…that is not a good sight in a church. She pouted and folded her arms the whole time and I couldn’t help but think that everyone was thinking, “Who is this grumpy kid and who in the world is her mother?” I felt so uncomfortable that wanted to take her home and say, “you win”…but I didn’t. I stuck with it.

The second practice wasn’t much better. She was stiff and looked miserable in the choir loft and I couldn’t help but think- ‘she won. I can’t force her to try’… but I stuck with it and so did she. I sent her the songs over email and found that she was practicing in her room over and over again. She was working through something challenging.

As if by osmosis, she came home from school and said that she needed to start preparing for soccer tryouts. She put on her shorts and started exercising. She asked me to take her out running in the park to help her build her stamina. (This is progress in that she actually asked me to help her with something.)

She seems to be trying and working through experiences which are difficult and to which she has a goal. This is a very different disposition that what I have experienced with her over the past several years.

Perhaps she needed time and something to really care about. 

Perhaps she needed a mother who would not give up on her. 

Perhaps she needed a teacher who would give her space to grow.

Perhaps she was a learner all along but had a different timeline than what I wanted as a parent.


Tenacity is imperative if she is to achieve anything worth having. However, being resilient and being able to get up after falling on roller skates is the biggest life lesson of all.

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in parenting

 

Race, Equity and Access : Being a Parent and an Educator: Do I really have to choose?


The burden is heavy for us educators (and I dare say, even heavier for us progressive educators). Traditional, progressive or somewhere between, all of us who are educators and parents have to think about when and how we will interact with teachers and in particular, the ways in which we ask questions; is there a slight lilt in the voice, eyebrows up, fingers on chin, smiling, etc. We have to be mindful of asking authentic questions but sometimes we just want to parents or be educators but most of all, to be blunt.

For me, being a parent and an educator is complex enough without the added issue of race. Perhaps this is just my issue because I am  acutely attuned to issues of race, equity and access. Somehow though, I have a sneaky suspicion that it’s not just my issue.

Issues of race, equity and access come up often as a parent of a school-aged child and in these times, it’s much more difficult to choose between being a parent and an educator. You have to be both.

I remember vividly last year when one of Danielle’s teachers requested that she come in for remedial math support. When I asked the teacher to show me the data which suggested that Danielle needed this support, all she could do was admit that she was incorrect and in fact, Danielle was doing well in math. How does this happen? How does the teacher assume that the student of color in the class needs remedial help without first looking at her data? Why can’t the kid of color be assumed to be amazing in math first and not deficient? How does the teacher’s perception affect how she/he interacts with Danielle and with the other kids of color?  Does the teacher ask the same open-ended, higher order questions to Danielle that she does with Danielle’s white peers?

In another instance, I had to talk with to a principal about why only the white kids in the school received awards at an end-of-the-year celebration. Not one student of color received an academic award. Not one. Surely, there are students of color in the school who fulfilled the requirements of one of these awards. How does this oversight happen? Don’t teachers talk about students and issues of equity? We did at the Westside Community School and at the Muscota New School. This is when it becomes hard to choose between being a parent for one’s own child and being an educator.

All of this stuff is emotionally draining and yet, if unchecked-could mean the difference in your child’s education. Yet, your kid pays the price for this kind of involvement. It’s almost as if they have a target on their back. Danielle, I’m sure, worries about when and where I will unleash the educator parent on the teacher. I don’t want to be THAT parent but I have to advocate for my child because lord knows, it might not happen any other way.

 

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2011 in parenting

 

How Many Times Can We Laugh This Off


“Hollee”, my grandmother says gently, “Is Danielle okay?” I knew just what she meant.

Living with my Dad has its own special challenges. Most of which I have successfully mastered by flying low and taking up as little space as possible. This, in and of itself, is quite a feat with a daughter who is larger than life. Danielle is colorful and loud and talkative and messy. None of which work consistently well on the road named for my forbearers–a quiet people who keep everything inside. Don’t ask, don’t tell. I’m playing with fire by even writing about this.

My Dad was in the military and worked in a highly technical job in a laboratory. Perhaps this is a contributor to his over the edge disposition on cleanliness and order. He has lived alone for decades and likes nice things in pristine condition. Knowing this, my mom begged me to dust and sweep and mop, which I have done.

I find myself tiptoeing around all the artifacts in here while pretending like it’s the most natural thing in the world for me to do so. There are huge citation fish, stuffed owls, and deer antlers on the walls. Glass objects, model houses and boats sit squarely on tables and everything has a place. One particular place. Just one.

My daughter and I have done well here. Nothing has been broken or has fallen or been misplaced. We wash dishes immediately after using them and recycle everything (and I mean everything-as in virtually nothing goes to waste). Yes, we should live in an orderly environment but this level of order is exhausting physically and mentally. I am grateful to have a beautiful home to live in but sometimes, I just cry because of the burden of the expectations.

A few days ago, I was admonished to sweep the fringes on the rugs. This simple request was meted out in a matter-of-fact manner with an angry tone that hinted of a detrimental inattention to detail. So now, I walk around careful not to step on the fringes because I cannot bear the added chore of using the tiny broom and putting it back each time I use it. A little thing that is a big thing.

I try to intervene for Danielle’ every chance I get but I was off guard last night as she and I joked around in her room. My dad admonished her to cut off the lights when she leaves a room. A simple request. One that she would happily agree to given her ‘save the world’ philosophy on just about everything. But the request was said with all the 1940s ‘this is my castle’ authority of an adult to a child. His tone was totally uncalled for and I felt so helpless in the moment because if I intervened, then it would have surely made the situation worse.

The easiest thing to do in the moment is just to hope that the chastisement won’t be too mean or last too long. After the episode (as we now call them), I said to her “Don’t worry about it. When we get our own house, we are going to run around turning on all the lights. The house will be lit up like a Christmas tree. We can even flick them on and off like this (flicking the bathroom light quickly). She and I had a good laugh with hands covering mouths.

I gave her a kiss goodnight and then wondered about how much more cover up I can do. How many more times can we laugh this off.

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2011 in daughter-ing, parenting

 

Bella Barks

Bella Barks

Mama guilt will make you buy a dog just because your daughter asks repeatedly for one (as if that matters).  

After avoiding the question, “When can I have a baby sister” for what seemed like years, I finally relented and bought a dog from a shelter. A dog is kinda like having another child (which I did not want to do as a single parent) BUT at that point, I felt guilty enough (for not having a partner and thus, another child) and my defenses were low enough to allow me to give in and give up. (Besides, having a dog adds years to your life (and truth be told, I could stand to lose some weight)  That’s how I rationalized getting a dog…

I went online and found a cute, cuddly puppy then went to the shelter to find him-just like everyone else. The long line of anxious people and the suggestion to consider an older dog gave me just enough impetus to make eye contact with the dog handlers. Sensing the most minute of facial expression, the dog handler continued by saying, “Older dogs are harder to place and they often end up living in the shelter their whole lives.” To solidify the deal she added, “older dogs are house broken”. I raised my eyebrow and said, “Okay, I’d like to see an older dog”.

Bella (aka Andrea hailing from Tennessee) came bounding into the office, sliding around the corner on two legs like a race car leaning on the walls of the tires. All I saw was a big black blur. “ahhhhh, is THIS the dog?”, I thought. “I sure hope this is NOT the dog.”

“This is Bella. She’s a sweet girl but very energetic. The last family gave her back”

Like magic, Danielle fell in love with Bella as did my mother. I knew that we would have to take her even though I dreaded all of the energy that was zooming around the room. My life was hectic enough. How could I take care of a dog and a child. An energetic dog and an energetic child.

I had a day think it over (i.e. pray that Bella wouldn’t be there the next day when we went to pick her up OR at least that she would be calmer–that the frenzy that she was in was temporary) But…she was and she was ready.

In the days and months after bringing Bella home, I can’t count how many runs and walks I took with her just to get her energy level from 5th gear to 4th gear, which may have meant that she would stop eating shoes, bookbags and stuffed animals. I was exhausted from pure exertion and from painstakingly having to pick up everything within reach.

I cried and thought that I had made a terrible mistake. Danielle just kept saying, “we just can’t give her back, Mom. She’s been through enough already” even though she cried also when her favorite doll was maimed and had to wear a bandage forever. Luckily, Bella didn’t bark very much.

I attempted to have a doggie play date with my neighbors but their dog was so docile that she brought outa mean-sounding barking in Bella that really drove a wedge in our friendship. The neighbor said through tears and a quivering voice through my screen door that Bella could not play with her dog anymore because her dog was scared-she was scared.

People tend to be more afraid of black dogs, especially black dogs which bark. Bella barks. She barks when she sees other dogs. Sometimes her barks are playful and sometimes her barks sound guttural and aggressive. That’s what dogs do though-they establish dominance. However, it was difficult living on a block where people and dogs were afraid of each other, unfounded fear or not.

So, I explored dog parks. Bella loved dog parks but I found that people at dog parks tend to stand in clusters talking which inevitably leads to the dogs hanging around in clusters. As I talked, Bella stayed close. Yet, she needed (I needed) for her to run around.

Finally, I found a pennisula which provided hours of running and swimming entertainment for Bella. In Hingham, people walked, not talked and dogs played and ran. It was great. I began to recognize the beauty of my dog-how she communicates with other dogs, when she feels trepidation, when she doesn’t, how she responds to new stimuli, her need for affection.

Bella became a significant part of our little family. Not just an object to be walked and fed but a real part of the fabric of our lives. Some of the most peaceful times was walking with Bella and she would up at me, and I -down at her and we just knew that we had a connection.

I took Bella to stay with my boyfriend when my dad got home from the hospital, just to keep the peace (less noise, less licking, less chance of getting hit by a tail). My dad is improving but his attitude toward Bella is not. So, Larry has a pet now and I drive 1/2 hour a day each way, just to be the dogwalker. It’s not enough. I really miss her. I think about her constantly and I want to pine for her just like she whines for me when I leave. I can’t wait for my situation to change so I can reunite with Bella and her barking.

                            

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2011 in life freestyle, parenting

 

The Good and Perfect Life


Waiting to leave everything she knew for the second time, an 11-year-old sat on a tiny plane at Logan Airport and cried on her mother’s shoulder. “Why did you have to leave Boston, Mom? “, she said softly in between sobs. “We had a perfect life. We had a good life”, she pleaded as she looked at me through the tears.

How can you convince an 11-year-old that you weren’t really happy-deep down inside. How do you convince yourself? At what point do you become selfish in the quest to be happy? What is happiness anyway?

True. Our life in Boston was good. In the 11 years of her life, she lived in the same white house on a dead-end street with lots and lots of kids to play with.  She walked to school, past the pond, then biked to school, when she got older and was able to ride in a little caravan with friends. She had a trampoline in the back yard, an excellent hill for sledding on the street and went to a neighbor’s house for popsicles and swimming We picked up a small cheese pizza from Tino each week and she shared her report card with him and made crosses for him for Easter. She was the life of the school dances and the soccer field. She had close friends from different cultural groups and they spent time swapping stories that would make any person smile and hope that they stay friends for life.

True. Our life in Boston was good. In the 11 years of her life, I lived in the same white house on a dead-end street for which I happily worked two jobs to keep up along with single-handedly fixing the toilet, trimming branches, cutting grass and monitoring the actions of the sump pump. When I walked her to school, I had to jog or speed-walk back home only to have to rush to work only to inevitably arrive late and have to bear the burden of finding a seat at the huge table when all I wanted to do was pee and wipe the sweat from under my bra. I lived on a street with white, 2 parent families who huddled in groups swapping stories about home remodeling, rarely including me and always forgetting to tell me when the neighborhood kids were walking to school; setting me up for the mad dash at 7:15 to get her backpack and lunch ready so that she could be a part of the neighborhood contingent for Walk to School Wednesdays. I had a big back yard, with trampoline and swing set which often meant that I had to choose between doing something important inside (cooking, cleaning, writing) and supervising children. Happily, I usually chose to hang outside with the kids while I tended my garden or played with the dog, Bella. I was the coach and she was the soccer player.I pursued interests and hobbies with gusto. I laughed a lot. Smiled easily. Looking down on her in that tiny plane I thought,  “Yes, we did have a good life. I was happy.”

But I was unfulfilled. So maybe, I wasn’t happy? Does everyone get to be happy or is that just a cute thing to say: “I’m happy” and was there enough happiness to leave our good and perfect life for something that is at this point is not as good or perfect.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2011 in parenting

 

the art of being a parent and an educator


so, I go into to school a few weeks ago to get a better sense of what the curriculum is for my 6th grader. To my surprise, well-not really, the teachers invited the assistant principal to the meeting. Maybe my emails were intimidating. I don’t know. However, I do try to maneuver between being a parent who happens to know a lot about education and teaching and being a parent who is just interested. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2011 in parenting