Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Children and Activism

I recently came across a blog post about a musician I admire. Apparently the musician is about to have a baby with her partner, and this blogger seemed concerned that she would no longer write and perform songs with the same activist spirit she has shown for decades. The idea was that, once she has a child, she won't care about the world any more. Instead, her focus will shift to her family, and her songwriting will stagnate.

Immediately I fumed about the ridiculousness of the fear. Here is a musician who has written and performed heartfelt, often politically driven songs since she was a teenager. Thirty years into such a career, it seems unbelievable to me that a child would cause any shift in her dedication. And besides, I figure if she writes about having kids, I'd enjoy that music anyway. I laughed about the blogger's irrational fear.

Then I started reflecting on my own life. I always knew that 27 would be my favorite year, and it was certainly my most challenging. After completing a rigorous graduate program in Urban Planning, I had joined Teach For America. Since I was a child, I had known I would make a difference in the world. I wanted to help people, and had been focused on the challenges faced by urban youth. Finally, I had found a job that offered me the opportunity to start to accomplish that. At 27, I embarked on my career as an educator in Oakland, CA.

Two and a half years later, I became pregnant with my first child. I didn't think it would change my life direction at all. I would have a baby, find day care, and return to work. I'd take my allotted maternity leave, for which I would meticulously prepare, and I would return to work a couple months later, with no changes. Two fathers at my school, my principal and my curriculum coordinator/mentor, didn't believe me, but I knew they were wrong. I wasn't the stay-at-home mom type, and I loved my job. I was motivated; I wanted to change the world, and I was good at my job. I helped my students, and I learned from them. I confidently told them I'd return after 6-8 weeks, and they smiled knowingly.

Things started to change even before Chris was born. I planned to work right up until the baby was born. But on a Friday afternoon, two weeks before I was due, I went into my principal's office in tears. I told him that I had done the unthinkable in my class that day. I had put in a movie because I was too exhausted to teach. He assured me that many teachers had done far worse, but when that didn't comfort me, he called my long-term sub. As I waited in his office, he told the sub to come in on Monday. After he hung up he told me that the rest was up to me. I was welcome to stay as long as I wanted, or to start maternity leave on Monday. I came in for a couple days to get the sub situated, and then waited at home until Chris was born.

I planned to return to work on January 2nd that year. My dear friend came to visit to meet the baby in early December. She was the last in a string of family members who had flown across the country to meet the newest addition, as we had no family nearby. When she left I called my principal to check on my classes. Again, he saw through me. I was worried about something, and I didn't know exactly what. Finally my principal said directly that he wanted me to come back, in whatever capacity would work so that I would stay. We decided to push my return to the end of the semester, which added about three weeks to my maternity leave. Somehow 6-8 weeks had turned into 3 months. I ended up returning part time, to teach only 3 classes instead of 5.

As the year progressed, the pull of family strengthened. By February we were looking at apartments in Boston, and then Cambridge, and then Somerville, and then Medford, Natick, Hopkinton, and ultimately my hometown of Hopedale. John and I decided we would move back east, and both look for jobs. He could do flexible consulting work, and with the help of family, I would be able to work in a city or in another capacity where I could still make a difference. We purchased our first home in May, a half duplex in Hopedale. Without even looking, John was offered a job at MIT that was too good to turn down. I decided to wait until we settled in, and he finished his initial job training, to find a job. In June, I left the job I loved, where I felt I had an amazing impact on the students, who in turn impacted me more than any other experience in my life.

That September I started looking for a job. I found one that seemed perfect for me. The position was an education planner, and it combined my skills very well. I could help shape schools into the future, and have an impact on a larger level. The position came with extensive travel, as I would visit urban and rural schools across the country, and maybe some internationally. I attended the job interview the day I found out I was pregnant with my second child. I was such a perfect fit for the job, that I was able to work out an alternate, part-time option. For the next 2 years I was functionally a stay-at-home mom, doing sporadic work to help the education planner they hired when I turned down the job.

Three years ago I received a call from the principal of the local suburban high school. He asked if I might have any interest in a part-time position, teaching 8th grade English. I was only mildly interested. I had grown accustomed to staying at home with my boys, and was planning to continue it for another year or two, until they were in school. I ultimately did apply for the position when it became available. When the job increased from 60% to 80% time, I almost turned it down.

I ended up taking the job, and this year it increased to full time. Now I teach English and coach soccer at the local high school. I walk to work, one mile, down a tree lined street. My 6am walk is the best part of my day. I enjoy the exercise, the beauty of the trees silhouetting the sky as the sun approaches the horizon, the serenity of the street, which will soon come to life. I greet the dog walkers, the occasional joggers, and the newspaper delivery man. I take in the chilly air.

As I walk, I listen to music, much of which is written by the musician who is about to have a baby. Her lyrics question the state of the world, explore the possibility of peace, encourage equal treatment of all people, and implore me toward activism. Some mornings I am able to convince myself there are actions I can take in my life today that will make a difference in this world. Most days I consider what I can do next, and when I will do it.

When I pull open the door of the high school, the heat surrounds me and I rush to remove my hat and gloves and unzip my coat before it suffocates me. I reluctantly remove the headphones from my ears. I smile and greet my coworkers, turn on my computer, make a cup of coffee, and chat with the teacher next door. I go through the motions of my day, and look forward to the next morning's commute.

I still hope the blogger is wrong about the musician I admire, but I think she may have described my life perfectly. Perhaps it was my own fear that had me fuming from the start.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Chris is officially a kindergartener, and he couldn't be happier. He loves his teacher, has made a new best friend, and bounces his way into and out of school each day. He told me tonight that he wants to go to school every single day, and it's the best school ever. So far, so good.

He's been starting to read better on his own, and really started to express his views on life, which has been really standing out lately. A few items that I want to write down so that I don't forget them later.

1. The Reindeer Civil War
For the last month or so, we have been in the midst of a reindeer civil war. As told by Chris - the California Reindeer are fighting the US Reindeer, because the US reindeer stole the CA's land, and they were there first. He has tried a number of diplomatic negotiations, during which he calls his commanders on imaginary cell phones and suggests what they could do. First, he tried telling them that really, they're all the same underneath, since he was born in California, and now lives in the US (seems there's a bit of a distinction being misunderstood here...). That didn't work. Then he tried having them print the "US flag" on one side and the "CA flag" on the other. That didn't work. Then he invited them to have drinks together. That didn't work. Then he told them they should share the land. That didn't work. Then he replaced all their bullets with marshmallows. After that the war has fizzled, but apparently is still being fought. Meanwhile, Alex had a war of his own. He solved his by making reindeer stew.

2. Goals
I had to fill out paperwork for Alex's school, which asked for "social and academic goals." Not knowing what to write, I asked Alex what his goals are. He said he didn't know. Chris said - "Do you want to know my goals?" I said sure. He said "My goal is to make the world a better place. It's my social and academic goal." Well, okay, then. The next question was "Favorite Song." I asked Alex, and he said "Doe-A-Deer." Chris said "Let It Be Me," and then asked when we can go see the Indigo Girls again.

3. Peace Pretzels
I asked Chris about lunch at school today. He is enjoying eating with his new friend, who is also allergic to peanuts. Today there were others at the table, too. He said some were nice, but others were fighting. He tried showing them his "peace pretzels" (pretzels he chose for snack because they're in the shape of peace signs). Apparently this didn't stop the fighting.

4. No allowed eating...
Chris and the 10 year old girl next door have been having an ongoing disagreement about the merits of being a vegetarian. He said it is mean to eat meat because it's animals and they don't need to die. She answered that it's mean to not eat meat, because then you eat more vegetables, and that's their food, so you're starving the animals by eating their food. They debated for a while, and then Chris drew a sign with a person killing a cow and a big "no allowed" sign over it. He hung it on the window by the front door. Jenna then write "Eat Cows" on a piece of paper and hung it up. Chris threw a fit and she added "Don't" above it. By the next morning, our door was filled with "no allowed" signs, including "no allowed killing..." cows, goats, sheep, chickens, and dogs.

5. Hate
Chris told John at dinner that he hated the fork John gave him. John told him that he didn't mean "hate," he meant "don't like" and that "hate" is much stronger, like for something that you never want to see again, and that the sight of it is just awful. Chris said, "Okay then, I know something I really hate... war!"

I'm certainly curious to see where all of this is headed...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"Let It Be Me" and the power of a song

It's been another year since I last posted a blog, but today was pretty special to me.

Chris's absolute favorite song is an Indigo Girls song written by Emily Saliers called "Let It Be Me." He first heard it about a year ago when he and Alex were fighting in the car. The song has a line "This is not a fighting song." I turned it on and told them they couldn't fight while this song was on. They not only bought it, but Chris started requesting "not an arguing song" frequently, and asking for it to be repeated 2, 3, 4+ times whenever it came on. A year later, he knows all the words, asks for it all the time, and sings it daily. A couple weeks ago he woke up in the morning and told us that he slept great because when he had nightmares, he "shined his life like a light" (a quote from the song) and all the bad went away. He asks me to explain the meaning to him (he enjoys the term "metaphor" and will ask "what is that a metaphor for?"). To me, the song is about being the good that the world needs, and spreading that to others. I've told him that I think that song is perfect for him, because it reminds me of him. Of course he's only 5 and I'm his mom, so I'm biased.

When I mentioned out loud to John a month or so ago that Amy Ray from the Indigo Girls would be at a Newbury Comics in Boston one afternoon, Chris overheard, and there was no question that we'd be going. He understands that she did not write "Let It Be Me," but she sings it, so that was good enough for him. He does like many of her songs as well (both solo and her Indigo Girls songs), but he has been on a mission. He decided he would sing "Let It Be Me" for her. I told him I didn't know what to expect at the appearance. I'd never been to anything like that before. All I knew was that she was doing an acoustic set, and then maybe signing autographs. I didn't know how she would react to him. I was worried he'd be let down, and honestly, I was afraid I'd be let down. I have a lot of respect for both Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, and I was afraid of setting us up for disappointment. Turns out I had nothing to worry about.

Chris wrote Amy a letter. It said "Amy, May I sing Let It Be Me for you?" He signed it "Chris (heart) Amy Ray (heart) Chris" and he drew her a picture of the train and trees on the way in. As we approached the front of the line, employees came by to tell everyone that there would be no time for posed photos, to have your stuff ready to autograph, and to not hold up the line. I started to get worried, and I prepared Chris (and myself) for the possibility that she wouldn't have a chance to even look at his note.

When we got to the front, he brought her his letter, and Alex handed her a CD to sign. I tried to rush them by prompting Chris to read it to her, saying that preschool handwriting can be difficult. In an attempt to calm me down, Amy assured us that his writing was great, and she could read it perfectly. She read it out loud, and when she realized what song he was asking for, she said she was going to give his letter to her friend, Emily, because she wrote it and it would make her happy. Chris told her that he knew that Emily wrote it. This was possibly the best thing she could have said to Chris, since more than anything else, he truly enjoys making people happy. Then he explained his picture to her, and she told him he was very creative and pointed out that his tree looked like a guitar as well. I continued to try to rush him along, and Amy continued to try to calm me down. She asked if he wanted to sing for her. He was being shy and nervous, so to help him get started, she sang with him. He flew through most of the first verse in a whisper. She talked to Alex for a minute, which helped Chris relax a little and sing more. She joined in with him periodically as he sang. Of course the boys were both more calm than I was. I brought a tee shirt to have her sign, and when she asked me to whom she should sign it, I froze for a minute. In the end she told us to come see the Indigo Girls when they come to the area in July and they'd sing "Let It Be Me" for him. I said something like "Are you sure?" and she said yes, and that we should bring a sign to remind them.

As we rode the train home, I was struck by how many people were made happy by the exchange, and how appropriate it was that it was all sparked by a song about spreading good things in the world. John, Chris, Alex and I left on cloud nine. Amy seemed to enjoy the boys. She made a point of saying she would pass Chris's letter on to Emily, who wrote the song, as it would make her happy. Perhaps most interestingly, when I looked at the pictures John took, I realized that all the people waiting in line behind us were smiling and watching. Even these strangers, who had to wait in line longer because we took so much time, were happy.

I hold both Amy Ray and Emily Saliers in very high regard, and they both lived up to it today. One by her graciousness and generosity of spirit in person, and the other through the power of a song she wrote two decades ago.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Growing Up

As I notice the last post about Alex turning two, apparently it's been almost a year since I've posted.

My boys are growing up, and I love it.

I know I was supposed to cry when they turned 1, and 2, and ate solid food, and dropped naps, and started preschool, but I haven't. And I don't miss those days, not even a little. I know I'm supposed to want to quit my job and take them out of preschool so I don't miss the early years that fly by, but I don't. I've had more fun with my children in the last 3 days than I think I ever have. Why would I want any of that to change.

Friday morning we dropped John off at the train with the boys still in their PJs. I asked them what they wanted to do next, and they said "play". So we went to the Franklin McDonald's. I dressed them in the car, bought a $1 cup of coffee and sat on an armchair while I drank my coffee and watched them play. I only picked up my cell phone once, for about 2 minutes, in the hour and a half we were there. When we got back to the car, Chris asked to go to a playground. Although it was only 50 degrees, it was sunny, which made it the best weather of April vacation week. So we stopped at a nearby playground in Franklin. When we got out of the car, Chris said "hey, this is where we went for Max's birthday." Max is Alex's friend. We were there last May for his 2nd birthday. I couldn't believe they remembered. The boys played for half an hour or so and I realized it wasn't that cold after all. So I asked them if they wanted to take the train into the city.

They said yes.

We stopped at CVS where I bought a water bottle and let them choose snacks, having left the house with almost nothing in the morning. I brought my wallet and phone in a small shoulder bag, with the Epi-Pens and a few pens in it. Not even a water bottle. Anyway, we got cash back for parking and caught the 12:05 train, armed with a huge box of Goldfish (Chris), a tiny box of animal crackers with a string to hold onto (Alex), and 5 granola bars (me). 2 stops later, Alex had to pee. Luckily (?) the train car had a bathroom. It took him a while, all the while Chris worried that someone might steal our coats that we had left on our seats. When we returned to our seats, our coats were still there, but someone had sat in 1 of our 4 seats (2 facing 2). Poor guy had to sit with us all the way into the city. I was worried, but I didn't need to be. The boys charmed the 50ish year old businessman away from his work. He helped them look for forsythias out the window, and complimented them and thanked them for such a fun train ride when we arrived.

We arrived at South Station, crossed 2 streets to a find a map of the Greenway where we'd meet Marie, Gary and Lucas for a free concert. As I struggled with the map, my phone rang. It was Marie, and they were just leaving South Station. We walked all together to the concert, where, in addition to the music, they had instruments to play, crafts to do and hulahoops to try, not to mention free samples of chocolate Greek yogurt. The boys were wonderful and had a blast. When we got too cold, we walked back to South Station where John met us. He took the boys to the Children's Museum, for free with our EcoTarium membership. I went out for a drink (or 2?) with Marie, which was wonderful. We caught the 5:40 train home, and had a nice conversation as a family. Dinner at Pizzeria Uno and then the boys were in bed around 9, and so were we.

I genuinely enjoyed every minute of the day. We've passed the diapers and (most of) the tantrums. I can trust my boys to hold my hands in the city, and not to wander off. We can look for forsythia together and enjoy conversations about Earth Day, our week with Mimi, and using levers to move the play structure up the hill. I've always loved them, but I'm starting to truly enjoy them. THey make me laugh, and instead of feeling like work to take them places, I have fun too. I really never thought I'd see the day...

Easter morning was a blast. The boys were so excited, mainly for the egg hunt. They ate too much sugar and ran in circles. We planted the grape vines the Easter Bunny left, with the shovels he left and the gardening gloves he left. Then we went for a hike in the Parklands and "fished" with sticks in a stream, and John had to decide what was or was not safe, as they both have better balance than I do. Chris crossed the stream from rock to rock like it was nothing. Alex tried to swim on a rock. We talked with the neighbors and they played with the 3rd grade girls next door. We had to change their clothes for dinner at Nonna's with no idea which marks where chocolate and which were mud, and where the new cuts and bruises came from. They were in the tub by 6:00 because they thought it was bedtime.

I go back to work tomorrow, Chris goes back to school, Alex to the Little Gym with Nonna, John to work. Alex returns to school Tuesday. We all like what we do during the day. I'm home at 1:00 and John works from home 3 days a week. I'll miss the boys a little more tomorrow than normal for the fun we had this week. I'm looking forward to our adventures this summer. I think the fact that we do go our own ways sometimes makes us all more interesting people, and for that, I'm grateful. I don't miss the days when I was home full time, or when I carried them in the Ergo, or when I had to carry diapers and stop for naps, or try to carry 2 boys across busy streets because neither would walk by my side. Or because the one who could walk wanted to be held. I'm enjoying my children now, and looking forward to each day with Chris, Alex and John. That's the first time I could've honestly said that since the boys were born.

They're growing up, and I'm loving it.

Of course these days I'll probably miss...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Alex - 2 yrs

Alex turned 2 yesterday! Just wanted to keep track of what he's up to. Overall, Alex is all or nothing. He's a total goofball, and loves making us laugh. He's all smiles and happiness and joy... until he's angry, and then I'm sure you could hear him in the next state. Luckily, that is usually short lived, and then he's back to his happy self.

He's starting to speak well, even in complete, but short, sentences. This morning's was "Uh-oh Mommy, door is locked!" He can say just about anything he wants to say, and we can understand him well enough. Sometimes he needs to try to explain himself another way to get his point across, but he does pretty well. He knows color words (although doesn't match them up so well), and he can count beyond 10 (usually he gets to 12 then skips to 20), in English and Spanish. He knows most of the letters.

Alex loves to sing, and we really need to video tape him singing and doing the hand motions to "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "The Old Oak Tree" (a Music Together song). Now that he requests his favorites regularly in the car, we've started to have some battles, but generally they both seem to like just about any music.

Alex also likes sports stuff. He can throw a ball overhand quite far, and will kick a soccer ball back and forth with me (at least until Chris comes and steals the ball). One of his favorite phrases is "I running!" as he takes off running around in circles.

He also likes to paint, color, draw, anything art like. He even holds crayons the right way, and scribbles all over everything.

Alex also likes to sleep, and he will tell us when he wants a nap or to go to bed. "I bed" or "I nap NOW PLEASE!" are common.

He has gotten past the dairy issues, and now is enjoying ice cream this summer. Yay!

Here he comes home from a walk with John and Chris, into the house, yelling "Lelley! Lelley!" He's pretty happy to have Kelley around. So am I, but that's another story :).

Monday, February 1, 2010


I just looked at my blog here and noticed that my "about me" still said I just moved from Oakland, just left Frick, and have a baby. So I updated it.

It now says that I stay home with my 2 boys, and have various jobs. Oh yeah, and I cleared out the occupation information, which still read "Education - Teacher."

I'm not sure if it's terrifying or reassuring, but I think that may be the first time I have admitted, in writing, to my primary job not being, well, a job. There, I said it. And in the same breath (or sentence rather) I said that being a "stay at home mom" isn't a job. I'm not sure I'm supposed to say that. But I did anyway, and I'm not deleting it.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Summer already?

We've basically pulled Chris out of preschool, and I'm a bit sad about it.

After a rocky start, where he threw tantrums daily for a week or two, he settled into school. From day one he has enjoyed himself while there, but getting there has always been difficult. Although he says he loves Miss Lynn, he never wanted to go to school. We progressed past tantrums, and he was basically resigned to the fact that he had to go to school 3 days a week, but he never liked going. Every day he would say that he didn't want to go, and then he'd dutifully get in the car. When we pulled up at school, Chris was eager to enter.

He is young for school this year, and has 2 more full years of preschool because of his birthday timing. Since this year is really a bonus year, and he doesn't seem to want to go, I started to wonder why we were paying so much money and driving so much to get him there... for something he didn't even want to do. The problem is that when he got there, he seemed happy. His teachers were surprised to hear that he didn't want to come to school. They only saw happy Chris (or whatever he was pretending to be that day) when he arrived. His teacher told us that he's the most imaginative child she's met, and that she's worked with a lot of children. He clearly did well there and was himself, and he really loves his teacher. He says he'll see them next year... when he's bigger.

I'm happy to have him home with me for the next few months, and it's what he wants to do. It'll save us money, gas, time, and be easier for Alex's naps. But I still feel like it may have been the wrong choice. I worry that he'll miss out on fun stuff there each day. I worry that he'll fight school even more in the future since we basically gave in to what he wanted to do this time. On the other hand, I was starting to worry that if we kept him in school he'd start to feel like we didn't listen to him at all. He's been saying, very calmly, for months now, that he doesn't want to go to school. He didn't have to go, so why were we making him? I don't know.

Chris is happy at home, I'm enjoying him, and we're spending less money and saving gas. So why does the thought of picking up his stuff from school make me so sad?