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Category Archives: Relationships

“We’re still working on the requirements”

“We’re still working on the requirements”

This is what my sweetheart said in relation to his work as an artist/ engineer, but it makes a good metaphor. Metaphor being sometimes the only way we can angle in to touch on a truth like seeing a faintly twinkling star better in peripheral vision. Relationship requirements: we are still working on these in our private hearts, and obliquely in our conversations, while we enjoy our time together one day at a time.

I am in the habit of writing to figure out what I think, feel, or even to change what I think or feel. A combination of story telling, logical analysis, poetry, and dream reflections helps me decide on next steps, examine my way of being and my road to growth and future developments I can face, embrace, or bring about.

How do I write about him, about us? He deserves his privacy, but also deserves to know that I’m a writer, and see if he’s comfortable with sometimes being a subject. This public forum (such as it is, without SEO) isn’t my journal, so rest assured I won’t be revealing any secrets, but I want to share some of the aspects that might strike a common cord, raise useful questions, provide hope or encouragement, tell a happy story, for a few readers.

I think I wrote a few months ago about re-awakening to the joys of life, how the phrase “I love my life,” with or without dating success, kept coming as I started building my life alone. That love of life just as is, without a strong leaning into anyone else’s or dependence on anyone else, I want to preserve. It seems to be a common thing, among women at least, to allow too much a loss of self in the process with joining lives with another. Although connecting in any profound way with another person is transformational and should be, and especially when we take years to create a family and raise children, I feel that in this part of my life I want to build an interesting life that is more grounded and centered in my own identity as it has been developed so far. I don’t want to be needed in the same way as I was as mother and homemaker.

But being alone with myself, with marginally special people only on the fringes and remaining dispensable to them is not what I want. I see that as a somewhat cowardly existence, and not fulfilling in the sense of what it means to be fully human. I don’t want to be that widow who says, okay I did relationships and sometimes they were pretty hard, so I’ll keep the writer’s group, work friendships, phone calls holidays with my grown children and a social media presence, but from now on all I want is my tidy house or apartment, Pilates class, my routine and my loyal, simple-minded, housebroken, hypoallergenic Labradoodle.

So, I’m in love, and, yes, willing to build a new one-of-a-kind relationship that sends ripples into the whole rest of my life. If he lives in  another city, maybe on or both of us will change jobs and move to be together. Our kids and previous in-laws will be affected. Our friendships are and will continue to be affected. Our routines and how we pursue leisure, personal goals, and create will be affected.

How will it be? How do we want it to be? Will it be? We are still working on the requirements.

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2019 in Relationships

 

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Classroom norms: Keep them simple, global, flexible.

It’s my fourth year teaching math and science at my parent partnership (school for homeshoolers). This year, happily, I have cycled back to teaching biology, after a year of chemistry and one of physics. Out go those files into temp storage, in comes my much bigger stock of biology books, props, and readings. Once again this year I teach Algebra 1 and Geometry and this year’s Algebra 2 is a regular course rather than just supporting home study. Friday classes are fun but much simpler, as I only have one class to prep, repeated twice each for groups of 3rd to fifth graders and 8th to eighth graders. This was another gift from my principal, who wants to reduce unnecessary stress for her team of very hard working teachers.She also spread my high school classes across Monday through Thursday rather than having them all on two days with the others being tutoring only.

Of course I start each year with a conversation about norms and expectations. One must lay the groundwork for a good community learning environment. Arising from the evolution of my teaching practice and seeing what is life-giving for student learning, my advice is: keep it simple and frame most of what you “require” students to do in terms of choices they make internally. Secondly, try to get most of the important stuff stored in their mental cupboards rather than on neat laminated posters on the wall..

Here’s what that looks life for me. Keep in mind that I teach mainly high school, but these things work well down to the level of my third graders.

I have classroom rules, values rather, framed in terms of two short phrases, posted in rainbow colors on the wall, “Be kind” and “Do your best.” Lately I’ve been thinking of rephrasing the second one to “Do quality work.” A previous iteration was “Work hard,” but the word “hard” doesn’t really bring out the ideal of work being a desired and enjoyable challenge.

At the beginning of the year, I briefly point out these rules, explaining that if they are wondering whether something is okay to do or say, they should consider the two values and see what fits, and if not sure, I and the rest of the community will help out.

I’ve heard it advised that teachers democratically work out a list or rules for each class, making a list and posting it. The idea is the students will come up with what the teacher wants anyway because we all gravitate to natural law. This has seemed sensible to me in the past, but now I don’t even bother fleshing it all out at the beginning; I just ask that they work it out as we go, except for the non-negotiable management- and safety- related requirements such as signing out to leave the classroom, which is a school rule we have found necessary. I told them it’s in case of emergencies, but mostly it’s to track possible bathroom vaping patterns.

The advantage of this streamlined approach centered around a few global values is that it eliminates the clear, impersonal  boundaries that certain students are naturally inclined to spend precious energy and creativity challenging. Instead they use their intelligence (more in future n believing in your students’ intelligence) to create personal boundaries that flex as needed to maintain values about which there is generally no debate.Then if you need to have further conversation due to students’ naughty or dumb choices (we all know that intelligence doesn’t keep us from being naughty or dumb), it can consist simply of clarifying how best to act more consistently with the two big rules/values.

On the other hand, the disadvantage (some might call it a disadvantage, though personally I call it an adventure) is that interpretations can vary and working things out might require a teacher to let go of a few things. For example, in that initial conversation about what is okay to say to another student might acknowledge that teasing can be okay among friends who build their relationship that way, but not okay with others.

But doesn’t this confuse students if they do not have a clear idea of what is expected of them? Yes. But, I say, give them some practice in that, for heaven’s sake–in life, they’ll need it.

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2019 in Education, Relationships

 

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Getting ready for the first date in the second half of life: a study in unrealistic expectations

I wanted to give it all, almost–my personal email, my blog URL, a good view of my shapely enough figure. The written exchanges were so… right, so warm and yet appropriate, intelligent with no posturing, appreciative with no flattery. In his reticence, I read alluring self-restraint. In his simple sentences I read deep thought and care about using words in the most frugal and powerful way. An unleashed ability to be passionate. In his serious expression and seeming reluctance to smile in the few photos he posted, I read authenticity–who can criticize someone who has not trained themselves to grin at a camera, who can only manage an “Ah shucks, okay I’ll try half smile? I appreciated his regular, but not too frequent, replies, and how he referenced the content of my messages intelligently and sometimes connected them with his own thoughts and experiences. In his references to heartbreak I read tenderness, a willing to be vulnerable, even be hurt, and I admired his courage to try again. I placed his personal rule of not letting online dating interfere with his lifestyle at the forefront of my mind. And it start to gather dust.

I thrilled at his allusion to having considered mooring his boat in my area, of having applied for positions here in the past. I drew him out. I encouraged him to meet. Yes, I agreed; this was hard, but one had to give it a chance. Yes, one could have one’s expectations disappointed, find that one person felt differently than the other, not sense the necessary chemistry. But what else was there to do? audentis Fortuna iuvat and all that.

He suggested a dockside dive in a half way town, said he had a boat project to work on, nothing too ambitious. I was jittery, excited, excitable. I refrained from frothing over to my kids, who supported me in my online dating venture, but for whom this was too new, and they’d rather not have the play-by-play. But my oldest daughter was patient with my need to bubble over a little, and said she’d help me pick out my outfit. She cautioned against red, and said that a plaid shirt, even a cute one worn with a skirt, looked like dressing down.

I had been checking online several times a day, feeling that rush of dopamine, knowing it was foolish to allow myself to get worked up, but at the same time savoring this long-dormant feeling. And why not? My friend Pink Poet texted, “Do you feel sixteen again?” She let me tell all, said it was welcome alternative drama to the tension of her current marriage situation. I told her that for some reason I was more drawn to this guy that to either of the others with whom I’d arranged meetups–the tall, bearded Hispanic romance writer, or the curly gray-haired designer-sculptor who made me laugh, let loose my wry sense of humor, and ended every message with “Whoo-hoo!”

The day of the early dinner date dawned. I puttered around all morning, avoided digging in the garden to keep my fingernails clean, repainted my toenails, put the laundry through and worried that my sweater wouldn’t be dry in time. I skipped my morning exercise so as to have more energy later, especially since I hadn’t slept well the night before. I picked berries to pull out for a surprise dessert. Distractedly scrolled through the matches of the day online, sent some “currently following some other leads, which is enough for now, but thanks for reaching out, and good luck with your search” messages. I wondered whether I should have purchased a shorter membership after all.

The time to head south drew near. I dressed, tidied my hair, chose a slightly form-fitting black sleeveless top and striped rose colored linen pants one might throw on after a day in the sun. I thought of my daughter’s claim that pants with a pattern made anyone’s butt look good.

My mind continued to spin–images, feelings, imaginings seemingly unstoppable. I cautioned myself, tried to maintain some kind of realism. It was expectations that disappointed, after all, not reality. Though I felt attractive enough, I remembered that my efforts to get a good selfie at times made me think of Silvia Plath’s “hideous fish.” I reminded myself to smile fully, not nervously covering my teeth, an old habit I picked up as a teen when I was insecure about them. I decided on my first few words: “It’s the real person, finally” or something, a hand clasp, like a friend rather than a colleague. I imagined the locking of eyes, the wordless reaching out of hands, a kind of recognition. I packed a travel toothbrush and clean underwear, because who knew? gushed my hormones.

As I pulled out of my driveway, I saw a jar of sweet peas on the roadside stand my son and I had set up. Suddenly my eyes filled with tears. It felt like the beginning of the breaking of my bond with my longtime husband, now gone almost a year.

 

 

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Parenting by extension: siblings carry the baton for each other

My grown kids out for Frisbee and coffee, by daughter #1

My oldest kids are old enough to start giving me advice about parenting my youngest son, and to some degree my youngest daughter, though she’s already eighteen and has considered herself an adult for many years and not subject to parenting efforts.

They give pretty good, advice, too. My husband and I seeded some of it, but now it’s filtered through how they experienced it, highlighting any of the wisdom it has borne out in their lives.

For example, my oldest daughter is the most similar in personality to my youngest, is good friends with him, and can offer a new voice, and help me be patient while her younger brother takes his sweet time to learn life’s lessons. She also comes alongside him, mentoring him in her oddball humor way. She’s taken him shopping for clothes, encouraged him on dating (that it’s fine not to in high school–many sensible people don’t), listens, fascinated, to his bubbling over of what he’s learning about history and politics, and helps keep up his spirit when life is stressful. She also backs me up on the issues of nutrition, fitness, and computer games-life balance.

My oldest son confirms the wisdom of just putting in the word consistently but gently and then letting his brother ruminate on its  possible application in his life, until ready. This was illustrated in the surprise turnabout my youngest made on how he’s spend his sophomore and senior education dollars. He was firmly committed to remaining in his high school, with his friends, to go the traditional route. I said that’s fine, but required him to at least attend the information session for Running Start to be sure he was well informed in his decision. He came out with the packet, said it had confirmed him in his decision not to enroll, and I was satisfied.

The next day he announced that he had decided to do Running Start after all. Whatever was holding him back–certainly not any fears about academic readiness, but probably including discomfort at losing contact with his friends–had been processed, and surmounted. His siblings, having experienced Running Start for themselves with positive results, slapped him on the back and affirmed his decision.

He also told me he had decided to rejoin the high school swim team. I showed muted enthusiasm at this, knowing that he had quit a month into the previous season. Probably due to what was going on with his dad’s cancer–that was the first fall after his body succumbed, and this boy had enough to deal with. My son wisely adjusted his course load too, as well as turning down a study abroad and internship opportunity that year. But his confidence has returned, which is very heartening. He sure will miss seeing his dad in the stands–as busy as he was with work, he hardly ever missed a meet. I’ll pretty sure all five of us will be cheering all the harder.

We’re also doing some patient waiting on my younger daughter’s growth. Her sister is her greatest friend, though the younger is less that committed when her age-mates come to call. She prefers to block out advice, then learn lessons the hard way. I just pray that she will remain essentially unharmed as she walks that rough road. For example, she recently had a collision (she says she was not at fault) without auto insurance–without having even activated her title registration after I filled out all the paperwork months ago to sign the car over to her. I’d given her several weeks of warning, told her what could happen without insurance, and then, with trepidation, cut her off my policy, partially honoring her stated wish that I get out of her life, and knowing she had the funds to take care of it if she managed right.

I appreciate the fact that neither older sibling is preaching at her. Her sister vents to me sometimes, especially when hurt in the roller coaster of being a friend to this young woman who burns so through life. The brothers shake their heads, but essentially there is just love and acceptance, reaching out, and patience to see the amazing life this woman will built with her strong spirit, good mind and, beneath it all, tender heart. There was that frequent “Keep your heart soft” mantra embedded in our parenting of all of them, often repeated by their dad, as he worked on his own heart. And, what my husband and I passed on from my own dad, to work on your own issues first.

I’m so glad to have the help. I said to my youngest, about cleaning up after him but with more iunderneath, “I’m just tired of doing this, J____.” Not really fair, and I am still committed to the most important parts of parenting, for the rest of my life, as needed. But it’s a relief to have part of the holy burden shared by these young, energetic travelers.

 

 

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And she doesn’t type!

I went to a writer’s conference on the weekend, half filled a notebook with useful tips, inspiring and otherwise helpful thoughts and perspectives and resources. Now I’ve started simple typing up everything that could become an essay, part of an essay, quotes, reflections, memories, poetry starts and dreams. All in one rough document, resisting almost all impulses to edit. It feels great–like a skim of my work, eanbling me to see what themes are most important to me, what questions arise again and again, how my thoughts and writing have developed. Already I’m getting a sense of direction, but for now I’m going to keep just being a typist (although I might actually hire someone for some of it, since I don’t type properly or very quickly.

For the last several months I’ve had mostly scorn and criticism for my writing attempts and kept stalling, getting annoyed, “shoulding on myself” even more for writing so little. Asking myself why, I figured that it was because I’d been more in contact with writers, of higher quality and greater accomplishment. As much as that was great for learning and aspiration, for my self esteem as a writer, not so much.

At the conference, I didn’t attend the “Silencing the Inner Critic” session, but I took the title as a reminder to do just that, to just let the words flow again. Like I learned when I was working hard to develop my drawing ability, I have to treat everything I start as just practice, just for me, to express, understand, see what I think. Still, as I copy out my starts, I am getting a sense that there’s some substance in some of my work even at this stage, that certain readers could value this stuff, when refined and possibly almost unrecognizable the offspring of all that early drafting process.

In other news, I joined a dating website. We’ll see how that goes. Fun so far; I’m in a conversation that arose about books and writing, for example. I clearly set out my low key approach, not being out to find a serious match, not feeling needy, just hoping for some enjoyable outings with new acquaintances based on shared interests and valued qualities.

I’m surprised at my level of confidence in my “ignore” versus “like” decisions. I simply decide based on a short blurb plus a few pictures. This surely will lead to some false negatives as well as some false positives, but there really is something in visually discerned potential chemistry, as well as in reading between the lines of the personal essay. I find myself sometimes giving grace, sometimes jumping to conclusions. So what if someone does the same based on my profile? That’s life, and I don’t believe in “the one” or want to put any pressure on myself to either find the one or be the one. It’s fun to court the possibilities, though.

 

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2019 in Relationships, Writing

 

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The sympathy of not really belonging

I am part of a small team within our small staff, just three people, working on getting to know the Common Core math standards, focusing on 6th grade and up. We call it our Math PLC, Professional Learning Community, and meet most weeks, with a few gaps for other things that come up and general staff meetings. I am sort of leader, being the high school math teacher, so I bring guiding documents and suggest options for how we proceed, but we really all work together and I respect and depend on each person for their perspective, experience, and skills. For example, I am ideas and vision oriented but also wanting to analyze a lot of information before making decisions, another member is relationship oriented, super encouraging and also hilarious, and a third member is action oriented and good at laying out the pieces visually so we can organize the parts and move forward.

So far we’ve chosen what we’re calling Priority Standards, being the ones we guarantee to teach and assess with an aim to get all student to meet these standards. These are about a third of the ones laid out in the big CCSS documentation, but it’s recognized that it’s impossible thoroughly teach and track progress in every standard every year. Also and since the standards are broad and overlap from year to year and even across each other, as long as we align the strands up through the different level and catch the stages where certain ones are emphasized, in the big picture we try to cover them all. It’s also true that only certain things can be captured in standards language or be assessed in any standardized way; this does not mean they are the most important or can comprise a full curriculum.

This last meeting was completely different. We didn’t really do anything about math standards, but we made a deeper connection that felt pretty profound. We just talked. About one eprson’s relationship with her grandpa, about spirituality and religion, and about feeling, all three of us in different ways appreciative of but also disconnected and critical of the culture of our local community. I was like, one person said, My two team members had always lived here, but said the place sometimes drove them nuts and they’d never really feel they fit in. Yet at the same time, they knew it was imporant to stick around and be a part of the community, especially as teachers.

I’ve written before about how I don’t feel I fit into the community, doubt sometimes even whether I can even make an impact because I’m so at odds with the dominant culture, even though on the surface I seem like I have a lot of similar background. From a rural dairy area, raised in the Church, large family, homeschooled my kids. But that’s where the similarity ends. I feel like they both said they do so often, like I’m always having to bite my tongue.

There are two sides (at least) to this tongue biting–one being the effort to avoid unnecessary argument, alienation, or openness to misinterpretation when views are worlds apart, or at least toning it down so as to have a chance to slowly influence as well as show respect. The other is the restraint of criticism of the community and culture, and certainly individuals, to those on the fringes or outside, and avoiding a holier-than-them attitude.

None of us put out any specifics about what that culture was that grated, but we all knew. And about the rich and valuable parts too. No need to say, but it was special to feel more connected to one another in that moment, and it was an important team building session.

Personality-wise, the three of us are very different–it’s kind of magical that we can still feel so in sympathy as a team that has come together, as well as individuals who in some way are outsiders. Brings home in a greater way what community means.

 

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How can we say what’s real, with so much going on under the surface?

I have about 38 posts partially written, stuck somewhere in every one, either because they were too ambitious and require much more deep thinking and hard wordsmithing than I can manage lately, or because they are very out of date. I have not been showing up daily, as wanted, to put words together t o craft at least some kind of post. Discipline is important, yes, but I regularly find I purposely rebel against routine, including this one. It is a regular thing, these purposeful bouts of neglect of a practice I find so enriching for me and for which I can see some possible usefulness out there in the world, if I can improve my craft and develop a sense of a proper focus for my writing voice.

My idea is to double-rebel; that is, when I feel like breaking with the regularity of writing, I’ll recognize that as a habit bred from the same thoughtless laziness that makes me as eat the same breakfast every day or drive the same route to work, frequent the same coffee shop or avoid social situations. Thus I will feel that by maintaining a habit I am being a disruptor, which is more exciting, and out of my comfort zone.

Yes, that’s all really dumb and immature, but at least now I’m writing a little instead of watching two or three episodes of The Crown like I did last night. I was utterly exhausted, wanting to go to bed at 8 pm, exhausted for unknown reasons. I just lay on my quilt, partially propped up with unadjusted pillow, unable to move even to pull over and turn on my laptop and be passively entertained. I wondered if it was just my lack of leafy greens, excessive coffee, and failure to work out for the past two weeks. That habit was getting established, felt mighty fine, and I let that falter too, staying in my classroom a few hours after I should have to get through more paperwork.

As I felt the heavy inertness of my body, I also wondered if it was carrying the burden of some grief stage anniversary. Or if I was feeling May teaching burnt out, frustration from coming home to a mess in the kitchen I did not make, or just fighting a virus.

I did drag myself to the gym today after work, mindlessly warmed up on the treadmill, made the circuit of machines and did a few free weights, and it started to feel very good. It doesn’t feel so awkward going on my own now that I know what to expect–the machines, the low key 4 pm clientele, but the pool was full of kids and a water exercise group so I didn’t get the swim I’d hoped to end with. I was planning to suspend my membership for the next three months, but it turns out I can’t on my deal, and I’m kind of glad that this might make me get here more often, even if I do have more work in the yard to keep me fit.

I don’t want to have a countdown attitude about May and June. I want to fill the hours with well planning lessons and even up my game to work for a higher level of student engagement and success even while the weather calls us all outside and the three fans in my windowless room can’t keep it from heating to uncomfortable levels by the afternoon. I’m trying out a new Chemistry resource and a new online math curriculum we’ll be piloting this year, and collaborating with two colleagues to pin down priority standards for math which we’ll work on aligning K through 12th grade. I’m getting to new levels of understanding of best practices in teaching science (though still a long ways to go on the quality of my instruction), moving toward more student ownership of learning, getting to lead on my team more, all kinds of exciting things going on.

Plus, there was this student I was starting not to like, and really, to get pissed off at, most days. Well, actually two, and sometimes three. That’s never a good direction, and I needed to talk it out with colleagues, and even my daughter, to work on improving my attitude. I think I’m making progress. As I told my daughter yesterday, if I can convey that I actually like, in some genuine way, a student who is passively or actively resisting my leadership and/or their own better instincts, I think there is a lot of hope for something good to happen. Even if that hope is deferred for years. I want the most “difficult” students, when they realize down the road what they want to do with their lives and start to be more mature and responsible, to remember being liked. I want to provide a balance of sort of a parental style to pushing, requiring, disciplinary consequences, with a releasing into their own unique life, a recognition of their free agency to make their own choices, and an acknowledgement that the school machine is just a thing, and you can’t let it get you down. It’s a thing, and it has its uses, but it’s not the real thing, baby.

 

 

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