Holiday Parties

My husband and I both have our holiday parties today.

Mine will be a bummer because two colleagues are being forced out of their jobs and everyone is really angry and upset for them, and their students. They’ve been with us for 1.5 years and are very well liked and their departure will weigh heavily on everyone’s hearts.

My husband’s holiday party will be even sadder, as the mayor of San Francisco just died, and everyone in his office is devastated.

Sometimes the holidays aren’t a happy time.

More Thoughts on Doing the Best We can

{I started this post a little over a week ago, after another post got some response surrounding this idea. I’m sorry it took me so long to finish and post it.}

I’ve already talked about this here on my blog. I actually posed the question to all of you and you had A LOT to say on it. The I posted my answer.

I still believe people are doing the best they can. It keeps me out of judgement, and I used to be REALLY good at judgement. Staying out of judgement also keeps me away from the righteous indignation that judgement can engender. Self-righteous anger never did anyone any good.

Believing people are doing the best they can, also gives me hope.

As a middle school teacher I need to believe that people are doing the best they can. If I didn’t, I’d walk around believing that the majority of my students are entitled asshats that are specifically trying to make me miserable. I would believe that their misbehavior is a choice they are purposefully making to disrupt my teaching and thwart the learning of their peers. If I believed that, I wouldn’t have many options, and my entire professional life would feel like a hopeless endeavor.

Instead I choose to believe they are doing the best they can, and recognizing that when they aren’t behaving in a productive way, I need to identify why that is and make changes. Usually a student is misbehaving because they are confused and don’t know what to do or how to do it. Sometimes it’s because they haven’t yet learned how to ignore the impulse to socialize, which is a VERY important need for young adolescents. Once I determine why they might not be meeting my expectations under the current circumstances, I can take action, like provide more scaffolding on the next assignment, or place them at a seat where the urge to talk won’t be so uncontrollable.

If I believe they aren’t doing the best they can, I take it personally. It’s about ME. Or it’s about them being a jerk to me. Or them just being a jerk to everybody. How exactly can I make a difference in a child’s life I believe they are the kind of person who would choose not to the best they can? If I believed that, there would be no way to help them, and I would be hopeless.

I’m relearning the importance of believing that people are doing the best they can at my daughter’s school. As I attempt to increase parent participation it’s so easy to blame nonattendance on the families. Obviously they don’t care, or they’d figure out how to be there. Clearly the ones that don’t come believe education is the job of schools and don’t think they should have to do anything to support their kids’ education. I’ve heard people say all of these things before. Even when they mention valid reasons families might not attend parent-teacher conferences or other important school functions (the parents are working two jobs, or don’t have a car and live far from the school, or can’t arrange childcare for younger siblings), there is a linger judgement that these parents aren’t trying hard enough, and their children are suffering for it.

If I really believed that certain parents aren’t going to do their best for their children, there would be no point in trying to make positive changes at my daughter’s school.

But I choose not to believe that. I choose to believe that parents are doing the best they can. If I believe that, then I can’t just assume they don’t care enough to support their children’s educations. I have to believe something else is standing in the way of them being good advocates for their kids at school.

It has taken a lot of soul searching for me to check my white, upper middle class privilege and recognize how EASY it is for me to advocate for my children. I know how the system works. I know what to say and to whom I should say it. I know what questions to ask and how and when to ask them. I know who else to go to if I don’t at first get the answer I want. Even if I weren’t a teacher, and didn’t have intimate knowledge of the inner-workings of the public school system, I have friends (and parents) who do. I am confident that if my daughter’s placement weren’t working, I could get her transferred to another school. I am confident that I can be an effective advocate for my daughter’s success in school.

Yes I am confident, and yet there are times when even I am unsure of what to do or how to do it. Even though I am a teacher and I know every important person at my daughter’s school, I still struggle sometimes wondering if I should voice a concern and what might be the best way to voice it. If even I doubt myself, I can only imagine how parents who do not have the knowledge and skills that I have, feel when it comes to advocating for their children.

There are so many valid reasons why parents don’t advocate effectively for their children. They don’t speak the language. They work two jobs. They are caring for an aging parent, or a mentally ill sibling, or both. They didn’t complete high school (or middle, or elementary school) and don’t feel comfortable at school. They had a really negative experience with the school system and don’t believe it will treat their children any better. There are literally countless reasons why some parents don’t make the choices other, more involved parents, make.

So does that mean they get a pass? That we accept they are doing the best they can and their best isn’t good enough?

I choose to believe that people are doing the best the can, AND that they want to do better. I believe that we need to work to give people the tools and supports to do better.

Again, this does not mean that people aren’t responsible for their actions. There need to be consequences. But I believe we are better able to provide more effective consequences if we believe someone is doing their best, than we do if we believe they are choosing to make poor choices, because they just don’t care to make better ones. If we approach a person with compassion instead of judgement, or resentment (both highly probable reactions if we believe someone is purposefully choosing not to do the best they can), we are much better able to accurately identify ways we can help, and implement those strategies effectively.

If I believe people are doing the best they can, I can better judge what they are actually capable of, and make more informed decisions about how to proceed. If I approach a situation with compassion instead of resentment, I have a much better chance of recognizing it for what it is and not listen to the story my hurt feelings has conjured up.

So yes, I choose to believe that people are doing the best they can, because for me, the alternative is creates too much opportunity for resentment and self-righteous anger. Some might argue that believing people are doing their best  gives them a pass, but I don’t see it that way. I can uphold my boundaries and advocate for myself even if I believe people are doing their best. In fact, I think I am better able to make the right choices for myself with this world view. If I think someone is NOT doing the best they can, then they might, at any moment, be moved to do better. That might give me the false belief that THEY will change, without anything else changing around them (which is HIGHLY unlikely). If I believe someone is doing their best, and their best isn’t good enough, either immediately or long term, I can make decisions with a better understanding of what that person is capable of, AND my own best interest in mind.

Has your view on this topic changed over time? How does your belief about this facet of humanity serve you?

 

 

Weird

On Monday night I was reading an article about how Trump drinks 12 Diet Coke’s a day and eats crazy amounts of fast food and I was wondering how I would feel* if I woke up one morning to learn that he had died of a heart attack during the night.**

Yesterday morning I woke up to find my husband already awake. I asked him what was wrong, and he told me that the mayor of San Francisco had died suddenly in the night, of a heart attack.***

The world is weird sometimes.

*I would definitely be incredibly relieved if Trump and his side show administration were gone, but I’d also be terrified for the havoc Pence would wreak on our country. Pence wouldn’t make a mockery of the presidency, but he would destroy the lives of pretty much everyone who isn’t exactly like him (white, cisgender, male, Christian, and conservative).

**Of course Trump will never die, because the normal rules of decency don’t apply to him, so why should the normal rules of self-care apply? Also he is the devil incarnate.

***My husband works for the mayor’s office at City Hall and while Ed Lee hasn’t generally been the most popular mayor San Francisco has had, he was very well liked and respected by the people who work for and around him. Everyone is very saddened by what happened.

Or Maybe Not

I’m not going to LA after all. Looks like my London trip probably won’t happen either. Boo.

I’ve had a cold for so long now, I’ve forgotten how it feels to be 100%. I’ve had a scratchy throat, stuffy nose and cough for over a month now. I’m seriously done-zo with feeling like shit.

Current events are making me feel…how to describe it? Well I guess I don’t really have to, you all already know what fresh hell is this. Each and every day I think it can’t get any worse, and then somehow, it does.

Two teachers at my school won’t be coming back after the break. They didn’t pass some portfolio requirement the state now has for new teachers. They are both GREAT teachers who are totally dedicated and have great rapport with the students. They are both devastated that they can’t come back. This was their dream. They’ve been working toward becoming fully credentialed teachers for years now. They’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours checking off the millions of boxes California requires for new teachers. This is their second year teaching at our school and they are loved by students and staff alike. But none of that matters because the powers that be don’t give a shit about what it really means to be a good teacher. They only care about bureaucratic bullshit.

I am incensed that California–a state that boasts a bigger economy than most countries, and yet spends less than most states in this nation, (which on average spends less than most other developed nations) on public education, puts ridiculous roadblocks in the way of recruiting good teachers. You already don’t pay us enough to live in this insanely expensive state, you ask us to teach in increasingly difficult situations, and then you make it extra-hard to become a public teacher. In 2-3 years, when the teacher shortage is even more dire, you will do away with this ridiculous requirement, but by then you will have already lost hundreds of amazing educators that you will never get back. Fuck you California Credentialing system. You are a fucking travesty.

By the time Betsy DeVos is done with public education in this system, none of this will matter anymore anyway. We are on a sinking ship, descending slowly into the icy waters of own demise.

It’s been that kind of day.

This Week

This week is crazy. I have something big after school every day this week. I’m struggling with pick-up on two of the days. Sometimes I really miss my in-laws.

This weekend we got a lot done around the house. My husband got rid of over 200 CDs! I was so thrilled. I’ve been asking him to deal with them since we moved in. He had no idea how many there were as they were hidden around the house. He still has about 200 more to deal with, but it’s a good start!

I also got some stuff sorted out. Almost all my son’s 4T clothing is ready to give to my friend, and all the 5T clothing has been washed and put away. I finally moved his train stuff into the garage (where a box of CDs used to be!) and packed up the Halloween stuff (yes, it was still up in early December). I didn’t get rid of as much as I wanted, but I did move a lot of stuff into the garage so that at least it’s not cluttering up the house. And I do have two big Costco bags of clothes and toys to give to my friend, a bag of stuffies in the garage I hope to give away if they aren’t missed in the next few months, and a box of toys I will give away too, so I didn’t do too badly. Still, I know we have too much stuff and would be happier if more of it were gone. Hopefully after Christmas I’ll be inspired to purge more.

I’m all planned for the coming week at work. There is a lot to get done before the break! I always love how fast winter break comes after Thanksgiving break is over. By this point in the year we really need a vacation.

I have almost nothing planned with my family during our time off. I may go down to LA and San Diego to visit friends over the New Year, but those plans aren’t confirmed yet. I’m looking forward to some quality quiet time with my family after Christmas – I kind of love that we have nothing planned.

I’m also looking at flights to London for my spring break. My sister is spending this year in a graduate program there, and I have a good friend who lives there as well. It would be amazing to visit again, I haven’t been there in over a decade. I hope it all works out, but without the help from my in-laws it might not be possible.

Sorry this is all over the place. An accurate representation of what is going on in my head. In 10 days I’m on winter break. Just 10 days…

What living in a small house is really like

A new season of Tiny House Hunters is on Hulu. The first season was only two episodes, so I was excited to see that a bunch more were available.

I watch shows like Tiny House Hunters when I’m grading papers or working on my computer. I don’t think I could just sit and watch a show like that, but I enjoy it being on in the background.

I will admit, a part of me is taken with the idea of tiny houses. I find the stories of why people choose to live in 100-400 square feet interesting. I also admit that the idea of buying my home, and living without a mortgage, is enticing, especially when you can hitch that home to a truck and take it with you wherever the road may wander.

Then I remember how challenging it is to live in our 1,200 square feet, and I wonder how people really feel about tiny house living, months and especially years later.

There isn’t a lot written by people who have lived in a tiny house for long. What you do find presents the option as a panacea, a way to forgo the ills of the modern world and live in frugal luxury for the rest of your life. If those pieces mention the challenges, they only step over them vaguely, en route to the Amazing Things They Learned About Life.

I wonder though, if it really feels like that to them. I find living in 1,200 square feet pretty difficult sometimes, especially with two small kids. How can these people love sharing 400 square feet with three or more other people?

Because it’s hard. For us at least. Our kids aren’t great sleepers and our small house means that space can’t be utilized at certain times. I can’t exercise before everyone’s awake because the elliptical is in our bedroom and the TV room shares an open wall with our bedroom. I can’t even work quietly on my computer because the minute I walk down the hall (to go ANYWHERE else in my house) my son wakes up and calls for me. When I read about people waking up early to steal a few quiet minutes to themselves with a coffee I feel real envy. The only “me” time I can steal in the morning is lying still in my bed, squinting at my phone without my glasses.

We only have one bathroom, and it’s insanely small, which means it’s basically impossible for two people to be in there at the same time. I can’t count the number of time I’ve been in the shower when my daughter announced she had to… add an olfactory aspect to the experience I would rather have avoided. We still have our son’s training potty in the hallway, even though he’s four, because there are constantly moments when they both have to go and neither can wait and what would we do if we only had one toilet?

{And yes, the training potty is in the hall because the bathroom is so small it doesn’t fit.}

When your house is 1,200 square feet (and ours is really 1,000 square feet because 200 of the total is our entryway, which is downstairs from the rest of the house–nice for storing the bike and hanging sweatshirts and jackets, but not for actual living) every part of the house is connected, in some way to every other part. There is no “getting away” from anyone, especially if your bedroom is only separated from the living room by a Japanese shade.

We sleep in what is supposed to be the living room (and “live” in what is supposed to be the dining room) so our kids can have their own rooms, a decision I still stand behind 100%. As I said before, neither of our kids are great sleepers, and we’re constantly interrupting each other sleep with the few walls that do exist between us, I can only imagine how little sleep we’d get if the kids were waking each other up constantly. It’s also nice for the kids to have their own spaces, since the space we all share is so small. (It should be mentioned that neither of their rooms is very big either).

We don’t have adequate space to entertain–we can’t invite people over for dinner (we can only sit four at the small table in our “dining room,” which is actually an non-insulated “sun room” off the kitchen that gets VERY cold in the winter), and we can barely sit four other adults for drinks in our living room. We can’t really host people when they come from out of town, even though our son has a bunk-bed; we’ve tried and no one ever wants to stay for long because there just isn’t space for many more people.

There are definitely benefits to having a small house–we have almost no storage space so we’re forced to par down our belongings instead of storing them. There is less to clean, which is good because I am horrible at cleaning.

But it also means that when things get cluttered, they are REALLY cluttered, and there is no way to escape the fray. Yes this means we have to purge pretty regularly to keep things manageable, but when we’re too busy to do that kind of hard work, the house gets really overwhelming really fast.

I know 1,000 square feet is by no means a tiny house for a family of four, but it’s smaller than most family’s houses in this country, and there are many moments when it feels small for us. I dream regularly of incorporating our tenant’s unit into the house, which would give us a “master suite,” and MOST importantly, a second bathroom, and would also free up our current bedroom to create a living / dining room area that is connected by an open double doorway. We would be able to entertain that way, and simply have more “shared space” to be together as a family. The idea is so seductive, but I doubt we’ll ever be able to afford it. Still, a girl can dream.

In the meantime, we just have to make do with our 1,200 square feet. And keep watching Tiny House Hunters to remind ourselves that some people live in much smaller spaces.

How big is your house? Is it a good fit for your family?

 

Depleted

I promised to keep writing every day and then I disappeared for the better part of a week. Oops.

I’m feeling depleted these days. I consider writing a post, but when you write a post give you a little part of yourself to the world, and lately I’ve felt like I have nothing more to give.

By the end of the day my mental energy is spent. There are commutes to endure and meetings to attend, phone calls to make and emails to write. I will have a sub on Friday because on of my classes is touring my alma mater; it’s taken me all week to figure out an acceptable lesson plan for three of my classes. I still haven’t figured out the fourth.

I’m getting another cold. It’s nothing like the monster that leveled our whole family in November, but it still slows me down.

I have a lot to do after the kids go to bed and I have to sacrifice precious sleep to get it all done.

But there are bright sides. The snack program I’ve been working on at my daughter’s school finally got off the ground. Hopefully, when we get back from the winter break, it will be a self-sufficient system.

Almost everything I ordered during the big sales has come and I’m done holiday shopping. I still have high hopes to make the photo book from our summer trip so I can send it to the aunts and uncles as a Christmas surprise, but I’m allowing myself the possibility of that not happening. I do have to make a calendar for my grandmother, but that shouldn’t be too hard.

This weekend my mom might take our kids again, giving us a chance to clean up the house, which has become a total disaster. I really hope that happens, because the state of things is causing me a fair amount of stress, and I always try to do a toy purge before new things come in after the holidays.

The most exciting thing about holiday shopping this year, was realizing my daughter is pretty much out of the toy phase. She will surely get some LEGO dragon sets from her grandparents, but otherwise she’s only get books and some art supplies. I’m excited that the “toy” era, for her, is over. I’m sure my son will get enough for the both of them.

There is more to say but I just don’t have to the stamina to say it. I hope I can pick up the daily writing again but I’m not going to push it. I hate when writing here feels like a chore…

The weight of the unarticulated

Our new TV imploded so we haven’t had one for a week. I wanted to watch something on the iPad tonight but my husband wasn’t interested in “huddling around the small screen.”

So we ended up talking, and I ended up sharing things that I didn’t realize I needed to share.

I cried, and I felt ashamed for the tears I shed. I hadn’t realized the weight of so many things left unarticulated. There is much I don’t say, for fear… of what exactly I do not know.

The fear you cannot name is the most terrifying of all.

But maybe I can make it. The words are jumbled, the adjectives misplaced, but the gist of it is there. If only I’d venture to say the words.

Tonight I tried and I cried and I felt weak for the tears. It’s frustrating, and I wonder what my husband thinks of me, but I can’t change who I am or how I feel.

Why do tears have to be the mark do the weak? Perhaps they are really the mark of the strong. Or simply the mark of the honest.

I tell myself often: We are all doing the best we can.

Mini-retreat

Tomorrow I am leading a four-hour PTA mini-retreat for the members of the board. Our board meetings are on the 4th Thursday of the month, so we lost November’s to Thanksgiving and we lose December’s to the winter break. We are making up those two hours, and adding two more, in the hopes that we can get in front of the rest of the school year. Fall was totally nuts for us; we felt like we were perpetually scrambling to catch up. No one wants a repeat of that this spring, so we’re trying to be preemptive. We hired someone to provide childcare for everyone and we’re hoping to get a lot done!

I have folders for everyone, with copies of all the resources we’ll be referring to. I’m hoping to spend 1-3 hours planning the big spring fundraiser and the date nights we hope to put on, and at least an hour looking at ways we can support the academic achievement of the students.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about how and why to create a family and community partnership school. It’s really exciting to think of what we could accomplish if we do the right ground work. Money and resources will be coming in as part of a Beacon Initiative, so this is definitely the time to be advocating for a community school. I have hope that we can make some positive changes.

I hope the meeting goes well. I want very much to be an effective leader and I’m always worried I’m doing a subpar job. I HATE meetings, and have spent my entire professional adult life avoiding them when possible, so leading them is a very new, and stressful, experience for me. I know no one on the board would ever speak negatively of my efforts, but I still worry about wasting their time. There is nothing I hate more than having my time wasted, I would hate to do it to someone else.

As is the case with everything PTA related, I hope things will go well, and be relieved when it is all over.

30 posts in 30 days

Well, I didn’t manage to post every day but I did post 30 times in the last 30 days. That’s something.

Sure some of them were more whimper than bang, but at least I got back into the habit of putting something out into the world on the reg.

I want to keep it up, so I’m going to see if I can keep going, at least until the new year.

Tomorrow is December 1st, which means our Elf on a Shelf will be back, and this year she has little surprises for the kids in their holiday boxes. They need to find the elf to find the keys and see the surprise! I know they are going to love it. I’m excited for their excitement.

The best part about Elf on a Shelf in December is my kids are actually excited to get out of bed in the morning. That is no small feat, especially when the house is cold (it finally got cold this week!)

I hope your December is filled with magic.