Goliath, 2017

In some ways 2017 felt scary and unruly: chaotic, confusing, overwhelming, sad, appalling. Social media had its way with me for awhile there, making everything appear as treacherous water I was exhausted treading in. If I let myself travel down the narrowed, fixed view of the world offered me from outside, I was convinced we were all going under.

But.

Many things in 2017 felt important and impactful: inspirational, breathtaking, funny, purposeful, good. My little family, my community, the school in which I work, the people I interact with every day – they were kind, helpful, thoughtful fellow travelers. And when I focus on them, my life seems downright charmed.

Every year is like this. We get to the end of one, and we have the absolute luxury of judging it as generally good or bad, do we not? When I look back at 2017, I’m fairly certain I’ll remember it as the year I took up my slingshot and took aim.

I’m a relatively well-read, well-informed person. Never in my life have I felt as powerless as I have this year over things that are bigger than me. Fine. Politics. I’m talking 95% about politics. This year, I’ve debated and argued with people I’ve known for years, I’ve written letters and emails, I’ve made phone calls and I’ve taken a tone with politicians I voted for and previously believed in. This year, I’ve understood as I never have before, that though I have a voice, I have no real say. This overwhelmed me for awhile, and then it spurred me on.

I can read and learn about big goings-on in DC and the world, and then visit a neighbor in the nursing home, bring her a cookie and talk for a bit. I shovel out my kid’s car so when he needs to leave he can do so easily. I snuggle up on the couch with my daughter and read side by side, our favorites. I let a stranger go in front of me in line at Hannaford when the lines are half way down the aisles. I listen to people when they speak to me, especially my students – our galvanized youth – that I spend my days with. They are listening back, and they’re paying full attention.

So 2017 can go now. He’s not a visitor with an open invitation to return. Yet because of him, I can’t help but know: there’s no authentic freedom without fight, no authentic joy without sorrow, no authentic knowing without questions, and no authentic truth without falsehood rearing it’s ugly, ugly head. This year’s complexities are going to bring about some needed growth. And it will be authentic and long-lasting.

Yes, 2017 it was so much bigger than I am: a goliath. But as everyone knows, you should never underestimate David.

 

 

There’s a Hole in my Bucket

 To write about the good stuff in teaching is to cursorily skim over the difficulties of my job, and to write only the difficulties is to put my thoughts out there as what might be considered whining. I go in circles wondering whether I really want to entertain comments about how easy I’ve got it. Or how hard.  Both of which are right. And wrong.

My day to day life in 8th grade is Henry and Liza and the hole in his bucket.Do you remember this from Sesame Street?

There’s a hole in Henry’s bucket, so Liza tells him to fix it with a stick. He gets the stick. He goes back to Liza to tell her the stick is too big. She tells him to cut it. With what? A hatchet! But the hatchet, he finds, is too dull. Whatever shall he do? Sharpen it! With what? A stone. Alas, the stone is too dry. Then wet it, she tells him. With what shall he wet it, he asks? Water, she tells him. With what shall he carry the water? He needs to know. A bucket, she answers.

But there’s a hole in his bucket.

Round and round.

In case you’re wondering which character I am in this scenario, the answer is both — on different days at different timesAs a child I remember loving Henry, his aw shucks manner and earnest questions. But as an adult I tend to sway toward understanding Liza and her impatient, under-the-breath frustrations bubbling to the surface. Forgive me, I never wanted to be Liza, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t.

Case in point: a student I’ll call Student came to class this week on “Project Day,” an entire period I gave to kids for working on reading response projects. Two weeks prior to this day we went over the actual assignment in depth, they got the assignment sheets in writing and on Google classroom, we talked about preparing ahead to bring necessary physical materials, they wrote it down in their planners, we wrote it on the board, they were encouraged to ask any clarifying questions. I reminded them daily about said “Project Day”.

Student showed up on Thursday, having no materials to work, and no reading book with him. It went a little something like this:

H: Mrs. Hamlin, I don’t have my stuff for project day. 

Me: That’s too bad, that makes it hard to do your work. How did you miss this information? We talked about daily for the past two weeks – we talked about all upcoming calendar days. We wrote it down…

H: I wasn’t here Tuesday.

Me: Were you here every other day?

H: Yes, but I didn’t have your class every day.

Me: Did you think to come see what you had missed? Did you check in Google Classroom? Did you check the WIP? Did you check the board?

H: Sorry, no.

Me: Okay. We did talk about this a couple of weeks ago when you got the assignment sheet (where the dates are also highlighted for you.) Do you remember that?

H: Yeah, I lost that sheet, sorry.

Me: Next time, you can find it on Google Classroom. You also wrote this date down in your planner. Can I see that?

H: (Looks at planner): Oh, yeah. It says “L.A. Project Day!” But I had no idea what that meant.

Me: Okay. What do you need to progress forward today?

H: I need stuff for my project. Which I don’t have. 

Finis.

People, this is daily. It’s an exercise in the most astoundingly asinine, ingratiating ridiculousness. On this day I had this conversation 8 times – that’s an average of 2 times PER CLASS.  And I have variants of this conversation all the time. With different students. About different assignments. Because of differing reasons. In varying degrees of lose-my-mindedness. Sigh.

The thing is: Liza loves Henry. You can see it in the beginning as she rocks in her chair while Henry gets to work. As the work increases and Henry just can’t seem to accomplish anything, she loses patience, yes, but never the love. She just wants him to figure it out, dammit. She wants him to get his ever loving self together already. God love him.

It’s December in public school ya’ll. Can you feel it?

But I Can Do His Laundry

I saw an article about helicopter parenting the other day, and in it, among many other things, the writer bemoans the parent who allows her college-aged child to come home to have his laundry done by his mother. I won’t link it here because well, I do that, and I have absolutely no problem with it.  Here’s why.

I can’t fix anything for my son any more. I can’t, and I don’t want to. I’m helping him grow wings after all, in these years of crucial wing-growing pupation.

He’s 18 years old, a freshman in college. He doesn’t live in my house. He doesn’t ask my input about what he can and can’t do. He doesn’t call me when he’s lonely (although I did get one vaguely sad text one time) and he’s no longer a consideration in groceries we buy and/or daily plans we make. I can’t hug him before I head up to bed every night, nor can I kiss the best part of his face, the place just in the back of his left ear, whenever I feel like it.

It’s killing me. It is so, so hard.

I miss him. I miss his voice and his feet thudding down the stairs. I miss his crumbs on the kitchen counter, and his wet footprints on the bathroom mat. I miss the way he gulps the milk he has with dinner, and how he suddenly has something very important to do when it’s time to clean up the dishes.

I can’t fix the fact that he’s not particularly happy at school. I can’t fix that he hates his history and biology classes. I can’t get him a job. I can’t make his dorm wing suddenly friendly and outgoing. I can’t run upstairs and grab the bandaids, swipe some Neosporin on that sucker and call it a day. It just doesn’t work that way anymore. And it never will again.

But I can do his laundry. I can take it out of the dryer, piece by piece, every single thread of cotton bought by me, and know that there will come a day when I will have bought none of it, not one item.

So, yes, I’m that mother who gladly does the laundry when it arrives at her house – a house that’s just a little bit dimmer without my son in it. Say what you will, or think what you must. I have no plans to stop doing so.