Sunday, August 15, 2021

Back to School

August 15, 2021

It is the eve of the new school year.  For me, this is the beginning of year 32 in education, and year 31 at my current school site.  Each new year brings with it excitement and a little bit of anxiety.  As a teacher of seniors, it is a true privilege and honor to get to meet these young people on the edge of adulthood, as they are beginning to develop and refine their sense of self and how they intend to make a mark on the world.  The kids are the excitement, and the reason I walk into my classroom every day inspired and rejuvenated.  

The anxiety comes with the unknowns of the new year, and of course the past year and a half has been rife with unknowns.  Along with all of the usual variables of a new school year, we now have mandates, vaccines, variants, social distancing, quarantining... and a whole host of opinions about how all of those things should or should not affect the schools (and the community at large).  We still don't know all the answers, and even if we did, they would likely change again tomorrow--and that, my friends, causes anxiety.

You know what won't change?

The kids who walk into my room tomorrow are my kids.
And I will love them and care for them and teach them.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Farewell Letter to My Seniors

 June 2, 2021

Dear Students,

Well, my friends--you have made it.  This was a year literally unlike any other for all of us.  There was so much we needed to adjust to and recalibrate, again and again, as the year progressed.  Some of us thrived in this new way of doing school, but for many it has been difficult to readjust to our new way of education during the time of the pandemic.  We didn’t always do things the best way, even despite our best intentions. Students and teachers alike made mistakes and had to give ourselves grace for our learning curves. (I think giving ourselves grace and giving others grace might be the most important lesson of all this year.)  For all of us, it probably looked like we were ducks skimming across the pond--seemingly calm and placid on the surface, but kicking furiously and somewhat chaotically below where no one else could see.  Nevertheless, you rose to the challenge and persevered, and I am so very proud of you.  There are many experiences you may feel you missed out on during this senior year, but probably the biggest experience was just the day-to-day social interaction among classmates and between teachers and students.  Trust me when I say that your teachers also missed that interaction dearly.  I missed not getting to see your faces and build an in-person community together throughout the year.  Regardless, we were a community, albeit an online one.  That did not make any of you less important or appreciated in our class.  I value the time I got to spend with each and every one of you.

As we close on this year, I want to offer my sincere congratulations and best wishes for all your future endeavors.   I want you to know you have all made an impact on me, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have taught you (Yes, you—even those of you thinking to yourself, “She probably doesn’t mean me.”  All of you.)  This may not have been your favorite class, or maybe it was.  Regardless, your presence, your insights, and your personalities were all a  part of what made this year a unique and memorable one.  Even through a small screen, I could see your hearts clearly.  You are all amazing human beings with so many possibilities ahead of you.  I hope you trust yourselves to reach out and take advantage of those opportunities ahead, and I hope that you continue to cultivate and foster those friendships and relationships that will be your safety nets when you fall short of your goals.  And you will fall short sometimes--but you will survive.  I know this because you have survived every unknown thrown at you this year. You will recalibrate. You will redouble your efforts. You might even change course.  That’s what growth looks like--finding the path you were meant to travel.  I hope you travel that path with all its twists and turns with joy, with passion, and with kindness to yourselves and those you encounter along the way. 

I wanted to take this time and opportunity to thank you for your contributions and your work, but most especially for the personality you brought that helped shape the community of our classroom.  I wish you success in whatever way you define it, and more importantly, I wish you happiness.  I know I have played this song for you before in class, but I wanted to give you the lyrics as well, as I feel this is pretty appropriate for the occasion; I hope you find the sincerity of the message, from my heart to yours.

Here’s the link to the video.  Watch it--it will make you smile!--and then come back and read the lyrics.  This is what I wish for you always…


Have It All—Jason Mraz

May you have auspiciousness and causes of success
May you have the confidence to always do your best
May you take no effort in your being generous
Sharing what you can, nothing more nothing less

May you know the meaning of the word happiness
May you always lead from the beating in your chest
May you be treated like an esteemed guest
May you get your rest, may you catch your breath

May the best of your todays be the worst of your tomorrows (wohoh)
May the road less paved be the road that you follow (wohoh)

Well, here's to the hearts that you're gonna break
Here's to the lives that you're gonna change
Here's to the infinite possible ways to love you
I want you to have it

Here's to the good times we're gonna have
You don't need money, you got free pass
Here's to the fact that I'll be sad without you
I want you to have it all

Ohh! I want you to have it all
I want you to have it (all)
I want you to have it all

May you be as fascinating as a slap bracelet
May you keep the chaos and the clutter off your desk
May you have unquestionable health and less stress
Having no possessions though immeasurable wealth

May you get a gold star on your next test
May your educated guesses always be correct
And may you win prizes, shining like diamonds
May you really own it each moment to the next

May the best of your todays be the worst of your tomorrows (wohoh)
May the road less paved be the road that you follow (wohoh)

Well, here's to the hearts that you're gonna break
Here's to the lives that you're gonna change
Here's to the infinite possible ways to love you
I want you to have it

Here's to the good times we're gonna have
You don't need money, you got free pass
Here's to the fact that I'll be sad without you
I want you to have it all

Ohh! I want you to have it all
I want you to have it
I want you to have it all

Oh ho! I want you to have it
Oh ho! All you can imagine
Oh ho! No matter what your path is
If you believe it then anything can happen

Go go go! Raise your glasses!
Go go go! You can have iiiiiiit all!

I toast you!

I want you to have it all.


            Come back and visit every now and again, send me an email, or catch up with me via social media  (FB, Twitter, Instagram).  I would love to keep in touch with you as you head off on to the next chapter of your book.  May you write your dreams into the story of your life.

                                                            With love,

                                                            Ms. Lutjens


Sunday, May 2, 2021

An Adventure, Indeed!

May 2, 2021

A couple of months ago, my youngest daughter and I decided to co-invest in what I like to call a 'project van'.  Danielle is really excited to design and create an ideal travel space to go out and do some exploring now that she's graduating from college; I am really excited to have a relatively comfortable and inexpensive way to hit the beach or chase waterfalls for a weekend here or there.  This weekend my sister Lisa and I decided to take my Adventure Beast traveling van out for her maiden voyage.  Even though the van still needs to have a little work done to shore it up (it's definitely seen its share of miles with its previous owner), I wanted to drive it and get a sense of what problems might present themselves so I could report back to my mechanic when I take it in.  

On the whole, the Adventure Beast did beautifully.  We picked a weekend when the weather couldn't have been better.  The van was a champion driving up to Sequoia and we set up camp Friday evening, cooking dinner on the firepit and then settling in the van to sleep for the night.  It was pretty convenient not to have to pitch a tent; the back seat lies flat for one bed, and the center chairs are taken out so that we can lay down a foam mattress for a second bed.  I will say that my sister and I fit perfectly, though I'm not sure anyone much taller than the two of us would fit quite as comfortably.

Saturday was our big hiking day.  We had intended to hike up to Morro rock, but the signage indicated that the hike would have been a much longer one than what we had seen when we looked it up online.  We still had a great hike and saw the rock from a distance before changing plans and turning around.  

Lisa knows that pretty much the only reason for me to hike is to find waterfalls or rivers, so our second hike was about finding a beautiful water source.  As we were heading up to our next scheduled destination, the Adventure Beast protested--the only time on the trip it did.  The elevation, combined with the air conditioning, got the best of the vehicle and it started to overheat.  We pulled over to the side of the road and decided to take a lunch break while we gave the van a chance to cool down.

We had just finished up our lunch and were idly relaxing--me sitting in the passenger seat with my feet dangling out the open door, and Lisa standing outside nearby.  Suddenly, nearly simultaneously, I heard an incredibly loud CRRRAAAACKKK!!!! and Lisa yelling "Look out!!!" and she dove toward me.  Just out in the near distance in the forest, a tree split about two-thirds of the way up its approximately 80-foot trunk and the top crashed thunderously and dramatically to the ground, just inches away from the back of the van.  The impact of the tree hitting the ground shattered the wood into sizable logs and shards of lumber that littered the area.  On the way down the tree hit a huge metal sign, which no doubt changed the trajectory of the falling tree just enough to avoid us and the van.  We were really very lucky, but it definitely got our adrenaline going! I don't know many people who have been up close and personal with a tree falling in the forest, but I can't say I recommend it.

After looking around incredulously and calming ourselves down a little, we decided to get back on the road and find the calming serenity of the waterfalls.  We actually decided to change courses and go back downhill instead of continuing up in elevation because of the Adventure Beast's seeming reluctance.  Fortunately, we happened on not just one but two beautiful spaces to hike to waterfalls.  Both were well worth the journey.

After heading back to camp, we set out to cook a delicious campfire meal, which we ate while gazing up at the multitude of stars in the sky.  It was a peaceful way to end quite an adventurous day.

All in all, despite the quite unexpected tree nearly crushing us, it was exactly the weekend we hoped for.  There are still some mechanical issues that need to be addressed with the van, but this trip showed me that it's going to serve exactly the purpose I had hoped for it.  I'm looking forward to many more adventures ahead.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Considering the Social and Emotional Well-Being of all of Our Students

 April 23, 2021

The emotional impact of online learning has been a concern for a great many parents and educators in this past year.  As we have been in various forms of lockdown, including the closure of many school buildings for months on end, some of our students have sunk into depression, anxiety, and lack of motivation to sit in front of screens to complete their work in this most abnormal of situations.  These are very real concerns; some of our students have been hit incredibly hard by the uncertainty of the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and the loss of connections with friends who would typically have been lifelines during a regular crisis.  This, however, was no ordinary crisis. Our pandemic simultaneously created one of the biggest challenges in students' lives and cut off the social system of support by which navigating this crisis might have been made more manageable.  We all know that our friends and families help buoy us and bring joy and comfort when things are difficult--and yet students, like the rest of us--could only see their friends through the little screens on their phones, which is a poor substitute for a well-timed hug or just the joy of hanging out together, communing in band or choir or robotics or football or any number of other activities that join like-minded spirits.  There is no underestimating the impact of the social nature of school as a balance for the work at hand.  (In this regard, adults are not so different.  If we are truly fortunate, we have friends with whom we work who make our days brighter and well, more fun as we take on some of the more mundane and monotonous aspects of our jobs.)  To state the obvious, being with friends makes life better.

So it's no surprise that parents were loudly and angrily advocating for bringing their kids back on campus.  "Open up the schools! Our children are suffering!"  And they had a point.  Many children were suffering, and as parents we desperately want to help make things right for our babies.  In a world where Covid-19 was raging out of control, and businesses were being shut down, and normalcy was on hold, parents sought to move the needle on at least one thing that might make them feel like they had some control in a world where control was spiraling mostly out of reach--putting pressure on school boards to open up the school buildings and let the kids and the teachers back in.  As is often the case where people feel like there is a lack of control, there was often misplaced hostility and anger.  There were teachers who felt that with skyrocketing infection rates, we should not be so hasty to move back into the buildings.  Those teachers were met with accusations of laziness and apathy toward their beloved students.  Teachers didn't create the virus or the mandates that the school buildings shut down, and every teacher I know desperately wanted to see their kids.  However, many teachers didn't think they should have to assume the risk of coming down with the virus--or worse yet infecting their own children or parents--when our health officials were pleading with everyone to stay home to mitigate the spread.  Still, there were those who believed that it was our responsibility to take on that risk.  One parent at a local board meeting said, "I know teachers will get sick.  That's a risk I'm willing to take.  Open up the schools!"  He said he was willing to take the risk of me getting sick.  How is that a risk for him?

Yes, I agree that the pandemic has been mentally and emotionally difficult on a great number of people, our students included.  However, it is a bit of a misstep to say that it created a mental health crisis among our youth.  We already had alarming suicide rates and issues of self-harm.  We already had huge numbers of students who dealt with anxiety and depression and bullying and negative self-image and abuse.  What was different?  Being at home and away from a social support system was new and jarring to many of our students, who had been thriving in the traditional system, so their depression and anxiety was new to them--and their parents.  Some kids who had always done well in school were suddenly not keeping up in classes and were suffering mentally, and that was understandably frightening for parents.  On the other hand, we had many kids who were thriving in the online format precisely because they didn't have to deal with the daily bullying or constant reminders that they lacked a social circle and support system.  They were thriving because they didn't have to deal with the sometimes paralyzing anxiety of being in a classroom with people they felt didn't like them or know them or even see them, because they felt like they didn't belong.  Some of those kids could actually relax and focus on the learning in front of them, because the daily social anxieties were no longer a distraction.  We have always had a mental health crisis in our schools.  The difference with the pandemic was that it was different kids who were struggling, and some of those parents saw it first hand in their own homes for the first time this year.

As we have slowly moved back into opening up the buildings and bringing students back on campus, I think it's important to step back and look at the big picture.  We have an opportunity here to really make some important changes to an antiquated system--one that assumes a one-size-fits-all approach is workable and effective.  There have been so many who are pushing hard to go back to normal as soon (or sooner) as possible for the students who have struggled without the structure and security they've always known in their educational experiences.  But just like online learning didn't meet the social and emotional needs of all of our students, neither does the old system of school fit everyone's needs.  Why, then, are we so eager to push everyone back into the old model?  Why are we not looking forward, instead of backward? And yes, we do have structures in place for non-traditional learners and needs, but up until now--and moving forward again if we don't address it--those structures for the 'others' have been marginalized, looked down upon, and deemed only a last resort for the outcast.  It's time to celebrate and explore a variety of paths as important and viable educational options. We can and should create real opportunities to offer well-supported avenues of true educational experiences that meet the needs of all of our kids without making them feel 'less than' if they don't fit into the model that was devised to meet the needs of 17th century America. We live in an ever-changing, digitally connected world.  Our children's learning within four walls of a classroom at a prescribed time each weekday shouldn't be the 'correct' way to conduct our school; it should be only one way, and it certainly shouldn't be privileged over other ways to engage and connect simply because it's the system that looks familiar and is comfortable for the adults with the decision-making power.   

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Learning Loss in the Time of the Pandemic

 April 21, 2021

Over the course of this past year of the pandemic, one of the greatest concerns I hear many people sharing is the issue of learning loss.  Some students didn't go to school at all at the end of the year last year either virtually or in person.  Some students haven't set foot in a classroom since last March and are continuing all of their education online for the whole of this school year.  And that has many parents (and some teachers) worried about what that will look like when kids return to whatever sense of normalcy we are striving to return to in our educational system. "Our kids are falling further and further behind," is the resounding lament.  "Our kids have lost a whole year of education!"

Falling behind.  Behind whom?  The reality is that yes, many of our kids have not had the full curriculum generally ascribed to a particular year or grade level in school, though it is woefully inaccurate to say that students have gotten no education in the past year.  (I say this as I know every colleague I know is working endlessly to try to reach and teach our kids in person, on zoom, and more often than not, both simultaneously.)  However, this is true of districts across our county, our state, our country, our world.  This was a global health crisis that affected the normalcy of life worldwide, including the landscape of education.  So if time stopped educationally for a year (it didn't), or even slowed somewhat, it in effect did so for ALL of us.  So where are the people who are speeding ahead of the rest of our students as all of this learning loss is taking place? I would even argue that schools across the world that opened up in person in some form before our school did were still wrestling with issues of social and emotional well-being in the wave of this pandemic that superseded some of the traditional learning.  Our kids are not falling behind other kids.

Perhaps what is meant instead is that our kids are falling behind the prescribed timetable of learning.  In first grade, one learns this.  In fifth grade, one learns that.  By eleventh grade, one should have learned these.  Yes, we have these parameters and benchmarks in place.  We have goals and articulated frameworks by which our students are intended to progress.  Goals are good and they are necessary. But they are created by humans.  They are artificial and moveable.  Grade level goals and standards, at the site, state, and federal level have been modified many times, in response to student achievement, educational access, and intellectual/emotional development and maturation.  Every time those achievement goals are modified in keeping with current understanding of all of those factors, the system has adjusted--from grade-level expectations, to standardized testing, to higher education requirements.  These benchmarks are not set in stone; they are man-made and can certainly be readjusted to reflect a realistic response to a global event that affected all of us, including our school-aged children.

I am not suggesting that we go backward, or that we throw out all the articulation that has been done from grade level to grade level in our schools.  But a slight readjustment of the traditional curricular plan might not be such a terrible response.  Nor would it tragic.  Nor would it be especially difficult. Nor would it be permanent, as these goals and benchmarks do, and have, changed over the years.  We have created these timelines, and we are creating a false sense of panic if we lament over the fact that students might fall slightly short of these yearly goals this year and next when we are the ones who can easily redraw the lines of demarcation.

Regardless of whether or not we do, in fact, reconstruct our current construct, we teachers will continue to do what we have always done in our classrooms:  figure out where our kids are, meet them there, and do all that we can to bring them forward to the next levels of learning, understanding, and processing.  I don't worry about learning loss in my classroom; I'm too focused on learning growth.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Why Start a Union?

 April 9, 2021

A couple of days ago, I was accused-not for the first time this school year- of being selfish and of not caring for the students I teach.  It's a hurtful accusation, and couldn't be further from the truth.  Anyone who knows me knows I love my kids, and I love my job and my school dearly.  I want to see my students grow and thrive.  I worry about them when I know they are struggling.  And we've all been struggling this year.  It's been a tough one.  I have spent hundreds of hours transferring lessons and activities into digital files, planning and creating new content to address the very real social and emotional struggles my students have been dealing with this year, learning new digital platforms, zooming during class hours and during tutoring and parent meetings, grading online until my eyes burned, and answering emails at all hours of the day and night.  I am exhausted, and have much worse vision than I did at the start of this pandemic.  Why?  Because I do care about them-- and I want them to know it, without a doubt.

So why have I been accused of not caring about my students?  Well, as best as I can tell, the reason is two-fold.  The first is that last summer and fall, as the pandemic was growing out of control and there was no vaccine in sight, I advocated for following CDC, state, and local guidelines for the shutdown of schools.  (Shutdown of schools, by the way, is a misnomer; the buildings were closed, but the business of school was very much alive and well in our district.)  As a cancer survivor and the sole caretaker of my 92-year-old grandmother, I didn't think it unreasonable that I should be able to take all the safety precautions recommended by doctors and scientists.  The second reason for the accusation is my involvement with and support for a teachers' union in our district.  The perception of some is that if I am advocating for a union, it is because I am only interested in putting my own needs in front of those of my students.  However, the needs of students and the needs of teachers are not mutually exclusive; they are both important factors that foster an effective and robust learning environment.

I have been a high school teacher in my district for 30 years.  The primary purpose of our vocation is to model and foster critical thinking skills.  I want my students to be critical consumers of information in all its forms in order to better inform themselves, solidify their own understanding of the values in which they believe, and situate themselves in positions to not only be self-advocates, but to be advocates for others who might not have a voice in the conversation.  How strange, then, to think that there are those who feel putting myself and fellow educators in positions to have a voice is somehow considered selfish.

Our district prides itself on promoting a growth mindset and celebrates a life-long learner.  As our district has continued to grow and evolve, our core values have remained constant, and that's important to me.  What has evolved, however, is the way in which we seek to achieve and maintain those core values.  As a life-long learner, I have continued to seek knowledge about both my profession and my district.  As someone who values a growth mindset,  I have seen a need for change in the conversations in our district.  We have a body that has been an informational conduit for teachers' voices, but is no longer able to be an effective part of the decision-making process.  I respect and appreciate the work that these teachers have done on behalf of the teachers they represent, but the time has come for teachers' voices to be part of the team of decision-makers, rather than a voice that is easily pushed aside when deemed inconsequential by those who actually make the decisions.  I don't advocate for this voice because I am angry or because I don't like the school or district in which I work.  I enjoy positive relationships with the administration at my site, as well as many educators in the upper administration in my district.  I don't seek a voice in order to be adversarial; I seek a voice through the union because by nature I am collaborative, and I feel the best way to make important decisions is by collaborating with everyone who should be part of the conversation--not just sometimes, and not just when it's easy--all the time.

Change is hard.  It can be scary, especially because there are a lot of unknowns.  If nothing else, this year of the pandemic has taught us that.  There are people who fear that an outside entity coming in (CTA) will make us change our values and abandon our dedication to the children of this district.  This union is US--teachers who work in our district, care about our students here in Clovis, know and love the values of this district.  We, the teachers and educators in our district, would be the ones making decisions about what priorities we want to advocate for to support our students and our educators.  There are some who think teachers will want to advocate for staying online. Now that the vaccine has become available and infection numbers are low, I can't imagine that most teachers in the district would want to advocate for that because we LOVE to see our kids in our classrooms, face-to-face.  It's why we went into the educational field; it's why we stay here.  I have many conservative friends who worry that their union dues will go to support political candidates or issues they don't support.  I absolutely respect that--I don't want my dollars going to support something in which I don't believe either.  You are able to opt out of those political contributions.  There are those who worry that a teachers' union seeks to be the ONLY voice in the conversation--at the expense of students, parents, and even administration.  We don't want to be THE voice; we want to be one of the voices.  

We are in the classroom, day after day, and can see firsthand how a particular program or curriculum might benefit our students.  We can see how much more often we can engage with and support our students in a classroom with a manageable number of students.  We can advocate for additional systems that can help support our students' academic growth and emotional well-being.  And yes, we can even advocate for a more comparable salary schedule to compete with similar or nearby districts. It's important to have people in the decision-making process who see the big picture--the needs of the district as a whole.  But having people who are in the individual classrooms working with our kids Monday-Friday also share what our kids need on the ground level is vitally important to continued growth and change in this district.  It's an important balance.

I know not everyone supports a union in this district.  There are differing opinions as to how to go about achieving and maintaining excellence.  That's okay.  I recognize that those who are advocating for something different are advocating out of the same love for the kids that I have.  I would never disparage the character of someone who believes, with good intent, that a different path for our district is a more beneficial one.  We just have different ideas about how to go about supporting our kids, our teachers, and our schools.  All I ask, at the end of the day, is that you learn about the options with an open mind, recognize the perspective of all those involved even if you don't agree with them, and try not to assume negative intentions.  We are all here for our kids.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Life in Death

March 29, 2021

A couple of months ago, I was talking with a dear friend who had recently lost her mom.  Her husband had lost his dad a handful of years earlier.  I lost my own mom over twenty years ago.   We sat together late into the night and shared memories, shared struggles of missing our loved ones, of not being prepared to let go, and reminiscing about the times we were able to share with each of our respective parents before they passed.  We laughed about small shared moments; we cried about momentary meaningful moments, and grieved what we missed--what they missed in no longer being here with us.  We celebrated things we learned from them, and traits we share with them, and gifts they gave us, in memory or in experience, that shaped who we are.

I confessed to them something I had never said to anyone, because it seems a little morbid, in light of social norms.  I am the picture-taker, the memory keeper of my family.  The last pictures taken of my mom, just a few days before her death, were of her holding my niece, her most recent grandbaby.  By that time, cancer had ravaged Mom, and she was weak and tired.  Still, she said in moments when her fiesty spirit and devotion to family was as strong as ever, that she had never not held one of her grandbabies, and she wasn’t about to let cancer stop her from holding this one.  In the photos, we had placed my week-old niece in Mom’s arms, and my sister had her arms underneath my mom’s to stablize her, since she didn’t really have the strength to hold up even that tiny little bundle.  Those pictures are hard to look at to this day.  Mom’s eyes are beaming, proud of her precious new granddaughter, but she is hunched over in her wheelchair, her face is swollen from the medication, the wig she wore to cover her hair loss is slightly askew, and her smile is tinged with pain.  Her spirit was there, but her body was only days from letting go.  This is not the image of the vibrant matriarch of the family, filled with zest for life, that I picture when I think of my mom.

Ironically, then, my confession was that one of my strongest instincts at Mom’s funeral was that I desperately wanted to take a picture of her.  Lying in repose at the front of the church, my mom looked beautiful in a dress she’d picked out well in advance for the occasion.  She entrusted me to make sure she was buried in a dress she liked--one she knew was a good color on her.  Mom liked to look good when she was going out in public.  Her face was no longer swollen and sallow; they had taken great pains to make her hair and her make-up beautiful and natural.  She was peaceful, no longer in pain, and she looked like the mom we hadn’t seen in months.  Her spirit was no longer there, but her body looked like her.  I wanted to capture that vision of her to remember that last look, rather than her battle-weary body in the months leading up to her death.  I wanted to take a picture of the roomful of loved ones too--family, friends, colleagues, students--who came to pay their respects and to share their stories of how she’d touched their lives.  She would have loved that, honestly.  But we don’t do that, do we?  That’s somehow looked down on as perhaps disrespectful?  Uncouth?  Irreverent?

I didn’t mean any of those things--disrespect or irreverence.  I was so moved by the emotion of being in that room with all of those people Mom was important to, and feeling like I’d been given back my mom for a brief moment even as she was being taken away from me, that I wanted to save those memories, that expression of love and grief and loss and connectedness, and tuck them away to savor and reminisce about later--all the minute details.  But we don’t do that, do we?  We don’t take photos of the dead, or of the celebrations of their life.  And I wonder why that is.  We record for posterity all other aspects of life--births, first steps, milestones in school, marriages, even divorces and heartache, reunions, moves away from home, from friends, and jobs, and celebrations of new beginnings.  But the end?  Recording the end of life is perhaps too difficult, too much for us to acknowledge its finality.

It’s not really final, though, is it?  I don’t want to call too much on something as trite as ‘the circle of life’, but when we are celebrating the life of someone we love, especially a parent, what we are doing is recognizing those moments big and small that will continue to ripple out among hundreds of people with whom they spend their lifetimes.  “You have her eyes.” “I can see her in your smile.” “I went into my profession because she inspired me.” “When I look up at the clouds, I can see him.”  “She is sending me rain to say hello.” “You have your mom’s intuition.” “She had the same generosity of spirit you do.” “His sense of humor was just like yours.” A hundred little things that connect us, repeat the idiosyncrasies and personality traits and likes and dislikes, and beliefs, and traditions, and physical traits, and memories of shared moments, days, lives. In the same way that we celebrate and record all those other milestones of life, death--or the passing on of all of these gifts to our loved ones to carry on and continue to share with our loved ones in turn--should be captured as one of the most significant milestones of them all.

I wish I had one more picture of my mom.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021


 January 20, 2021

I anxiously held my breath today, and in fact have been doing so for the past four years.  Today, on this historic day, I finally exhale.  Today's inauguration was smooth, filled with decorum befitting the day, and inspiring.  I am thankful for the abundance of protections put in place to allow the ceremonies to proceed without incident.  In addition to restoring respectfulness to the Office of the Presidency, it cannot be overstated how empowering it is to see, finally, a powerful, intelligent, and driven woman take the oath of office beside the President as his Vice President, and to see representation of diverse members of our country up on the stage.

In just one of many inspiring moments today, Amanda Gorman took the stage as the youngest inaugural poet laureate.  Her message-- a moving call for moving forward--spoken with passion and poise, was beautifully and articulately delivered.  She moved me to tears.  She gave me hope. 

Today was everything I hoped it would be.  There is tough work ahead, and a long arduous journey toward undoing damage that has been done.  I am looking to you, Mr. President and Madam Vice President, to set the tone and lead the way.  The rest of us need to be willing to help get the work done.

It is time.  Exhale.  The new beginning is here.

Transitions Can Be Difficult

 January 19, 2021

Four years ago, a new president took office.  I wasn't happy about it, and honestly was still in shock about it, but it was happening. Though I was disappointed in the outcome of that election, and frankly more than a little frightened and worried about how the administration was going to face the challenge of being able to honor the respect and decorum expected of the office, I was not actually worried about safety on the day of the inauguration. On that day, four years ago, I was worried about our country's future, but I never for a moment was afraid of possible violence and insurgence on the actual day of swearing-in.  

Tomorrow is different. Four years of divisiveness sown in more concrete ways than I've ever seen in my lifetime came to a horrifying flashpoint two weeks ago with the attack on The Capitol.  The hatred inflamed by increasing encouragement of feelings of entitlement and outrage over perceived injustices has led to a thirst for violence and retribution.   Even people I know personally have posted incendiary comments on social media, still refusing to accept the results of the election and gleefully awaiting what they hope will be a hostile take-over on the world stage to keep their candidate in power.  It's like reading the pages of a dystopian novel, but we're seeing it unfold in real life, evidenced by the massive troops deployed to guard over the ceremony--a kind of militaristic preemptive show of might and power that has never before been deemed necessary in order to ensure the safety of the incoming administration.

I hope I am being overly worried, and tomorrow's inauguration will go smoothly, marking the beginning of a new era in our country.  Biden is not without faults, and I am sure I won't agree with every move.  I will continue to watch him and all those leaders who guide our country, and hold him accountable for steering the ship appropriately.  A party affiliation does not give someone a free pass, obviously.  Responsible citizens hold their elected officials to high standards, regardless of which party they belong to.  First and foremost, I expect the leaders of our country to be thoughtful, compassionate, responsive and respectful, and inclusive.  I expect to see humanity.  I have missed that in the past four years.  I only hope that when tomorrow comes, our new president will have the opportunity, without incident or impediment, to prove that he truly has the heart of country at the forefront of his priorities.  Tomorrow I will hold my breath as the President is sworn-in, hoping all precautions to avert any potential uprisings have been successful.  Then, slowly, collectively, it will be time to begin the healing this country desperately needs.  It will be a long, long road ahead.  Time to start the journey.  

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Worries...and Hopes

January 13, 2021

Every year at the beginning of the second semester, I do an activity with my students that's meant to bring us together as a community and highlight things we have in common.  We also don't always think about the fact that even the most put-together, seemingly happy people are often carrying around some pretty weighty hopes and fears.  It's a lesson in grace and empathy that's often very powerful.  I asked them to anonymously complete the sentences "I hope" and "I worry about". Then I read them out loud and just asked them to listen.  Here's a sample of  what they said: 

I worry about the well being of our country and how all this chaos will affect the future.

I worry that my elderly family members could get covid.

CurrI worry I  will not make myself proud.

I worry the pandemic is going to be prevalent for a lot longer than it has to because people refuse to follow guidelines. 

I worry I will "fail" to reach society's standard of success 

I worry life will never go back to the way it was. 

I worry when I go to school my social anxiety will get in the way of me having fun and enjoying my new friends and family

I worry I wont be able to let go toxic people and hold onto those emotions. 

I worry I  will soon be granted responsibility I won't be able to handle.

I’m worried of repeating my parents mistakes.

I worry m
y insecurities will make me fat, depressed, poor, and lonely like many adults I’ve seen in society. 

I worry I will let down my family if I do not become as successful as they want me to be.   

I worry 
all of the trauma, fear, anger, hate, loss, and grief of this year will hold us back from moving forward. 

I worry 
y parents wont trust or love me for being a part of the LGBTQ+ community.     

I worry I will never overcome the trauma of being physically assaulted.

I worry I am/will be a failure.


I hope to realize that my high-functioning anxiety and depression is a skill that I can use towards my future success; I have to look at it positively and make it become something great about me. 

I hope to have a "day one" mindset rather than "one day". I hope to be independent in all aspects of my life.

I hope 
I can move on from my past and become more free with myself. 

I hope that we get to go back to school soon.

I hope our world and country can heal from all the terrible things happening lately.

I hope that people will feel less alone. 

I hope when people see me they see Jesus in me and the light and love that comes from Him.

I hope our country can find peace.

I hope that I'll graduate as a better version of myself.

I hope that I will find someone to love me forever.

I hope that one day, people will stop bullying people, stop judging people based on their gender, race, or religion, and that our world will be a peaceful, happy place for everyone. 

I hope that I get into college and experience autonomy for the first real time in my soon to be young adult life. Also hopeful that I am able to learn more about myself in the process. 

I hope to find a good partner in my future relationships because all my family has had bad luck with men.

I hope that I find a friend. 

I hope I can be more honest with myself and those around me. 

It's a lot, the things these kids are carrying with them behind the scenes.  Whenever I hear people saying that teenagers are shallow, self-absorbed, or unaware, it makes me sad.  If that's what you think, you're just not taking the time to listen closely.