Where Words Fail, Music Speaks

Music is magical, for me at least. I have a dear friend who nearly despises music, noise in general, so I am not sure how we came to be friends or how we sustain a solid relationship.

Music is a huge part of my life, it always has been. It is such a release from the daily hustle. I remember songs igniting strong emotions as far back as second grade. Celine Dion and Shania Twain are the first two professional artists that I felt were traveling through the speakers in my living room and talking directly to me. Before this it was mostly my mom and her friends at church. I still get chills when I hear “On Eagles Wings” because, no matter who is singing, all I hear is my mom and Karen Carr. No version I have found sounds quite right.

I have a memory from 2001, sun shining, last day of 5th grade, jamming out with friends to J-Lo and Ja Rule singing “I’m Real”. It was the first time I rode in a limousine (yeah, I was a high-roller at age 11). We stuck our heads out of the sunroof, ate way too much candy, blasted the songs our parents hated and then had lunch at The Cheesecake Factory. Maybe that wasn’t the finest song ever written, or even close, but it did enough to put a memory in the books for years. That is the magic of music.

I count on music to get me through most days.

I listen to it in the morning to set the tone for the day. If I need a little get up and go I put on something upbeat, something I know all the words to and puts a smile on my face. Most recently this happened when I stumbled across a series of songs that immediately transported me to the summer of 2008 (also known as the best summer of all time, ever). We The Kings, The Ataris, and Mayday Parade enraptured me on an early morning drive to work. It was unexpected. It was not my typical music scene. It was everything I needed.

I listen to music during the day for a purpose. I have multiplication songs, rounding songs, songs about being a good friend, songs about encouraging the underdog and, songs to remember how to chunk syllables. I use the lyrics to teach content. I use the beat to control the mood in the room. Why talk when you can sing?

I listen to music after work to placate any feelings that may have arisen throughout the day. Some days I need to cry so I put on something emotionally charged, either by my own accord or the artist’s. Some days I want to party while I commute so I put on a silly drinking song. Other times I need soothing sounds and I turn the dial to find my friend Frank. Frequently I just want to zone out and sing some girly favorites like Carrie Underwood and Christina Aguilera.

Music is healing for me. It says much more than the hundred or so words used to comprise the verse and chorus. Music is my compass, always pointing me in the direction I need to go. I can find what I need in music, and things I didn’t know I was missing to boot. Music, to me, is impossible to explain using words. It is much more than any amount of reasoning can capture. I hope that my unmelodious friend has a fondness for something like I have for music.

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Aw, CCRAP 

CCRAP testing is back. It’s the time of year that I dread more than anything. Well, maybe not more than snow day make up days tacked on to the end of the year but pretty close. This week I was blessed with a double-whammy, the poisoned chalice, an unexpected day off during PARCC testing week. 

7 days, back to back, of testing Math and ELA college and career readiness with 8- and 9-year-olds for the first time in their academic career. I don’t know if a rational adult would choose that over hand-feeding an angry octopus for a year but I certainly don’t have a choice. I get to administer this test in March, wasting an entire week of instruction, and get the results in October. Super helpful.

I am one of those people that abide by the sound reasoning of, “If you’re going through hell keep on going, don’t slow down,” and this especially applies to standardized testing. Once we have begun this labyrinth of anxiety, tears and frustration there is no way I am slowing down or taking a day off. Unless, of course, school is cancelled. In that case, I guess I will just cry.

When I got the phone call from my principal I was putting my face on for the day. I had one eye of mascara completed and I paused to take her call. I watched myself talking to her in the mirror, strangely admiring my mannerisms that I don’t typically recognize. My half-done baby doll face twisted and turned as her words registered. “No school today,” she uttered with rightful anticipation for my totally underwhelming, not at all dramatic, response of, “What the? Nooooooo!!!!” Followed by a string of incomprehensible ramblings of a quickly overwhelmed teacher.

She spoke to me in her always even, calm voice and reassured me that my life was not coming to an end and that I should just enjoy the day off. Well, she knows me better than that but at least she gave it a good effort. We are alike in this way so she gets it; we just keep encouraging each other to do the impossible. 

For one day I did slow down. For one day I paused in hell and looked around. For one day I worried about all the things I wish I could fix. For one day I hid under my blankets and cowered behind sappy movies so I wouldn’t remember that this means an extra day of testing next week, right before Spring Break AND returning to school on a Monday in June to end the school year. This “day off” felt like a slap in the face with a wet noodle. 

I returned to school today back in the saddle, ready to shoot down this blasted assessment. I prepared myself for more tears (new Kleenex box), more performance anxiety (arsenal of kind, encouraging words), more freaked out kids (Stress Away essential oil) and, of course, more caffeine for the teacher just because I’m the boss and I said so. I did good. My kids did good. It seemed like they came in with the same kick-ass and take-names kind of attitude. We are walking through hell but we’re doing it together. We aren’t slowing down (unless there is labeling, organizing, or checking our work to be done) until we get through this. 
I am certainly glad I am not dramatic or this week could really be a CCRAP show.

Sadie Jane

Click, click, click. Her little toes clack against the hardwood as she trots over to the couch that I just plopped down on with my morning coffee. She knows I’m a sucker and all she has to do is ask nicely.

She rests her greying muzzle on the edge of the couch, just inches from my fuzzy-socked feet. I know what’s coming next – the eyes. Right on cue she flicks her gaze upward and stares into my eyes. This is her asking permission to join me for some cuddles. Drats, her puppy-eyed voodoo has worked again. I pat the couch, say, “okay!” and up she pounces, tail wagging, delighted to curl up next to her human.

When I say, “next to” what I really mean is, “on top of”. I don’t even mind. I actually kind of like how ridiculously close she has to be to me. Having her legs draped over mine, her little snores echoing in the earlier morning, is one of the best feelings. I soak in these moments because I know they won’t be here forever. She is literally the best dog in the whole world. I don’t even care what you have to say about how great your dog is ’cause Sadie wins.

I am obsessed. I get it. She is my shadow, it is hard not to fall in love. She knows when I’m sad, she nudges her head under my arm to give me a hug. She knows when I’m sick, she patrols the bathroom or wherever I am quarantined. She is my emotional support animal, giving me what I am missing in human relationships. She plays with me when I am being silly. We mutually wag our tails when we greet each other. I am a sucker for her cuddles and her puppy dog eyes.

Never in a million years did I think that I was bringing home my fur-child when I went against all better judgment and picked up a dog at the shelter on a whim. I am so glad that Sadie chose me as her human. I adore this little ball of furry love more than is possibly captured with words.

Don’t Piss In My Yard

Today it was brought to my attention that I continue the crusade of being blessed by a Resting Bitch Face. 

I thought that I had outgrown this facial dilemma; I haven’t heard grumblings of it in years. At minimum I had outgrown the stage in life when peers judge based on looks. I mean, by this point in life people have experience with enough individuals to see and understand that what lies beneath the surface of someone is typically not what is seen at first. I expected this to be exceptionally true in the field of education. 

Well, I guess I was wrong. I reckon I have been judged by my lack of smiling. I suppose my small circle of thick-as-thieves friends has given the impression of exclusion. My confidence has given some crowds an uneasy feeling of cockiness where it is unwarranted. What a terrible feeling. What a sad view for anyone looking to make friends or share life with like-minded individuals. I can’t help but feel poopy for myself because my main goals in life are to appreciate each moment with the people around me, to inspire positivity and to spread joy!

When this information was shared with me today it gave me a strange sense equivalent to being outside of my own body and watching the reaction someone else was having to mind-altering news. It was like this person was describing someone else. It couldn’t possibly be me.

Anyone who knows me understands that I am one of the most loving, caring, positive, and mother-effing hilarious people you will ever meet. I am deliriously loyal. Of course, I speak my mind and rarely do I back down, but it is driven by my passion for my moral compass. I accept everyone for who they are, for whatever path they have traveled. I recognize that not everyone comes to the table with the same experiences or expectations that I do. I respect the differences in others around me and I guess that’s why it hurts to know that I haven’t been regarded with the same decency. I follow my arrow, I don’t expect your arrow to have the same trajectory as mine. It would just be great if we didn’t collide halfway to the target.

Pissing in my yard ain’t gonna make yours any greener.

Dystopia or Donald?

Easily my favorite part of each day is the read aloud. It’s a magical time in Room 14. Everyone comes back refreshed from lunch, definitely no lingering recess drama. We all settle in on the carpet, cozy up, and plunge into our sacred world of words. 

We have been reading The Shadow Children series since October. It is a dystopian universe where third children are illegal, outlawed by the government supposedly because of a food shortage; The Famines left the country in ruin. The majority of the population is dirt poor but there are Barons who have special privileges around most laws. Regardless of class, everyone must abide by the Population Law. As a result, third children are hidden by their families – they are shadows. Throughout the series third children from all over the country come out of hiding and face countless dangers as they fight for justice together.

Students are entranced while I read, stuck in a world unlike their own. The audible gasps, the sighs, the collective, “Nooooo!” when I put the bookmark in for the day all tell me that this is time well spent. 

My students are very intelligent. As a group, they are continuously amazing me with their cognitive abilities, their intrigue into real-world issues and connections, their academic discourse among each other and their endless curiosity. As we have been reading this series and studying various topics in history they have truly out done themselves in making real meaning of the text, going deeper than just enjoying the story. The students have been able to draw conclusions, make connections, compare characters and events as well as evaluate social implications. Their conversations have inspired research. Their research has inspired further reading and writing. There is no end to the level of thinking that is driven by this shared time together. 

Recently, there have been a few quotes that the students, and I, have been deeply disturbed by. It started out as a coincidence and it has developed into some kind of strange, parallel universe that we are slightly terrified of. Have a look for yourself at two examples of undeniably nerve-wracking text.


 As one student said last week, “Gross, that just sent chills down my spine.” After I read the line from the second photo the whole class went up in arms. They stopped me from reading so they could express their outrage and confusion and creeped-out-ness. It was a moment that no amount of planning can prepare you for. I read this series every year. This year has had an entirely new layer added to the conversation. 

These kids have been listening to a completely fictional story all year long. They have repeatedly made comments about how unbelievable some elements of this story are. They ask me, like broken records, “Why does he hate third children? There is nothing different about or wrong with them, they are just born third in their family.” You are correct, little ones. Hate is inexplicable. There are no words I can offer you to help you understand why this fictional character you despise suddenly resembles a man in charge of your country. A man you see on television, smiling and spewing hate for anyone who is a different race, sex, religion, class, or of civil opinion than him. A man, so delusional, he preaches of making things great while acting as though he has never experienced anything sensational. For if he had experience with people, thoughts and emotions that differ from his own, he would know what an asset they are instead of fearing them. 

I feel a bit of sorrow that this hallowed time, this cherished text, has become tainted with reality. But I do not feel disheartened by my students ability to see the inequality. I am not apologetic for exposing my students to rich text that makes them think and question and challenge their own thoughts and the ideas of their classmates. I will not water this down and I will not steer their conversations away from politics. I will encourage hard conversations and difficult concepts. I will play Devil’s advocate to push their buttons and light the fire for their beliefs. 

I will not allow voices to be silenced. 

You May Call Them Mini-Me

Once you are my student, you are always mine. You are one of my kids. You become part of this underground society of brave souls who entered Room 14 and survived. We are bonded by our experiences together. Only we know how that year truly went, regardless of test scores and grades. That’s not what we remember.

We remember that one time that the hamster got out of the cage and the teacher lost her mind and ran around the room with a yard stick and finally convinced a kid to trap it in the cubbies and then capture it with a shoe box.

We remember jamming out together to Michael Jackson and Journey during transition songs, air guitar included.

We remember that awesome moment when the entire class cried at the end of Stone Fox. Or the time that everyone gasped in outrage because The Hating Man was really Mr. Talbot and he was just testing Nina and we felt like we had just been Jedi mind-tricked by the author.

Only we remember when you called me mom, when you cried because you were stressed about a test, when I cried because my grandma was sick, or when you actually used that strategy I taught you that one time (750 times).

Once you are my student I have stock in you. I have an investment in, not just your academic future, but your future as a real human. I care about your feelings. I see you for all of you. I want you to come back and see me. I want you to share your ups and downs and trust in me to mentor you through any number of moments in your life.

I will tutor you when you need it. I will come to your ballet recital and your baseball game. I will beam with pride as I cheer you on at a spelling bee. I will listen to your stories of 4th grade drama. I am always open for hugs, whenever you need them, for whatever reason you need them, no questions asked.

Once you are mine, once I have poked, proded and tortured you, embarrassed you and laughed with you I cannot erase your footprints from my heart. I may be the teacher in this labeled equation (you know I love labels) but you are the treasure and you are worth more than you realize.

Down a Rabbit Hole and Out Again.

My feet hurt. I didn’t get to eat dinner. Not eating makes me cranky. I guess bits of a blueberry scone from Saturday will do. I already sat down in bed and I don’t want to get up to take out my contacts, brush my teeth and wash my face. I have 3 unanswered emails… from last Wednesday. There is a stack of papers waiting to be graded. I feel unprepared for a meeting with a parent tomorrow. I hear the wind outside my window taunting to keep me up all night as it blows in a thunder storm. I didn’t even get time to love on my Sadie girl today.

I have a blueberry scone that a regular customer brought me on Saturday morning. I put in brand new contacts today and they feel like heaven, I almost forgot I was wearing them. I made great money and got home relatively early tonight. I didn’t eat dinner and I’m not even cranky. Not eating makes me skinny. My sleepy husband cuddles up next to me, gently kissing my arm over and over again. It is so good to be loved. This same man is going to hold me in a few hours when I tremble with fear from the storm. Tomorrow I have a meeting with a parent and we have a lot in common: we both care about her kid. I know that I am doing the best I can for my students. There is room in this bed, Sadie girl can come cuddle for just a minute.

Living the Adjectives You Desire

énouement: n. the bittersweetness of having arrived in the future, where you can finally get the answers to how things turn out in the real world, but not being able to tell your past self.

Recently it has come to my attention that I am in the future. Here I am. I am an adult now. I have started my life. I’m not sure when this started or what triggered me to realize that this is it.

I’ve been with my husband since we were 19. We were kids. He was among the first friends I made when I moved away from home to go to college. We spent endless nights, countless car rides, indefinite days dreaming together, jabbering about the future, scheming how we would achieve our unrestricted hopes and aspirations. Careers, traveling, social events, marriage, family life, bank accounts, moral compasses, faith, routines, adventures, and what to eat for dinner circulated within our conversations for years. When did those years turn into nearly a decade? It seems like just last year we were dangling our feet over the retaining wall of Tempe Town Lake and talking about how great it will be when we graduate so we can finally do what we want (said on a sunny Tuesday around noon because we didn’t have class or work to be at). I wish I could go back and tell myself to cherish those sovereign moments. I wish I could tell myself that it would all work out; that life is pretty darn great and not at all what you expected but it is tragically beautiful in a thunderstorm kind of way.

Mistakes have been made, rules have been broken. At times I felt like we had really messed up and we would have been better off choosing the other fork in the road. There were days when the growing pains were so infuriating I wanted to throw up my white flag, send for an SOS, plop down, cross my arms and wait for someone to figure it out for me. But I didn’t. We kept each other going. We cheered each other on. We prayed for and coached our partner. We got in each others faces with a reminder that we didn’t come this far to quit.

There were innumerable times when I felt like it was all wrong, like my life was nothing like I had planned, like I’d invested so much time and energy and hadn’t gained much to show for it. I was mistaken, completely amiss. I am living the life I have always wanted. I am safe, I am loved, I am successful (in some messed up, totally unconventional way), and most of all, I am happy. It has taken me a long time to allow myself to just be – to just be content and happy and secure. I have arrived in the future and I am shouting at my 20-year-old-self, “You are boundlessly happy!” I can look back now and find beauty in places I never even noticed. This awareness is providing me with an appreciation for daily moments that award me feelings of joy, hilarity, contentment, optimism and peace of mind. I am awake; my life is here and I don’t want to miss it.

zenosyne: n. the sense that time keeps going faster.

Service with a Smile

Working in the service industry changes you. 

After you have ran back and forth from the kitchen 900 times in one night for one table, gritted your teeth and smiled at rude customers, scraped plates full of ketchup from bored kids, and almost taken to heart the note on the receipt as the “tip” saying, “Lose some weight and maybe your job won’t be so hard,” you tend to look at things differently. You view the jobs that require people to perform tasks for you in a whole new light. You become a lot more conscious. 

Waitresses often depend on the money left after your meal to pay their bills. Yes, we are a wait staff. No, we are not your personal butler. There are numerous customers assigned to one waitress at any given time and, while you believe it to be true, you are indeed NOT the VIP. You may feel that your water being filled is more important than the table in the corner getting their check cashed but I assure you, if you whistle or snap at me one more time, you will die of thirst. Waitresses have an innate ability to prioritize and efficiently use our time and space.

As the night is coming to a close and you can clearly see that tables are being cleared and the crowd is winding down, now is not the time to mention that you have a group of 22 coming in for a high school reunion and they are all famished from a long day on the golf course and they are going to want to order some food. No. Just no.

Try this instead:

Step 1: Call in advance. This will give the waitstaff, the bartenders, and the kitchen a heads up. This will not make the staff see red and want to scream. 

Step 2: Ask about kitchen closing time. Be considerate of kitchen closing time. Don’t plan to show up 10 minutes before kitchen closing time. Kitchen is already closing.

Step 3: Don’t make light of this terrible situation. Don’t roll your eyes and give your server indignant ‘tude. We’ve probably been on our feet for 6 hours already and our shit-taking meter is about tapped out.

Step 4: Tip well. Like, every-time-I- ask-you-to-do-something-I’ll-give-you-a-buck well.

Step 5: Go home.

Even though there are abominable customers, there are really, really great ones that make up for the others. One of my greatest pleasures is taking care of someone who takes care of me. There is nothing that beats kindness. Developing a relationship with regular customers is a lot of fun and totally rewarding! It makes a job seem less task-oriented and more people-directed. Your dining experience can be full of smiles, laughter and great service when you approach your server like a human instead of a peon.
Empathy is a difficult skill to adhere and it’s nearly impossible to teach. We don’t expect you to understand what it’s like to have this job or to feel bad for us. We like our job. Next time you’re tempted to wave your arms and bellow, “Excuuuuse me!” as your waitress passes by with 4 steaming plates in her arms, try to imagine that she is your daughter, or your sister, or your mom if you are just a budding barbarian. Remembering that your server is a human is always a good place to start. 

Inside ouchies

Why are inside ouchies so much harder to heal? Outside ouchies are easily spotted, assessed and treated – even the really bad ones. Inside ouchies hide from us. They fester and grow. They tangle themselves with other things that live inside us like our trust, hope, reasoning, and sense of right and wrong.

Even when we find an inside ouchie they aren’t simple to diagnose and cure. They are shape-shifters, always eluding us and leading us down dead-end paths. We think we’ve determined the source of pain so we attempt to heal the wound with a variety of approaches: drinking, singing, praying, counseling, medication, reflection, change of scenery, change of pace, and the nastiest tasting remedy of all, burying or excusing our feelings.

Inside ouchies don’t present themselves right away like outside ouchies. They develop over time. They are a product of repetition of experiences, words and emotions. This process can take years to manifest. By the time we catch onto them they have spread their venom to numerous parts of our soul. There, they take hold of anything that may trigger a memory of those experiences. They are cobwebs, clinging to everything in an old, dusty shed.

Maybe we need to clean our sheds more often. We can organize our tools and sweep the floors. We should take out the trash and make the unwanted items disappear.

Cleaning the shed is rarely a one-woman job, enlist the help of friends. Plus, it’s more fun to sing along and dance to the music in the company of someone else.