The Mom Bubble

A marvelous idea for an invention came to me the other morning as I attempted to meditate.

The moment I settled onto my cushion and closed my eyes, my cat sauntered over to paw at my lap. In case you’ve not had the pleasure of this experience, it’s rather difficult to focus on your breath when your inner thigh is being kneaded like the soft dough it resembles. No matter how many times I shooed him away, he returned purring louder than before with those tenacious claws. Perhaps this was the real test. To reach Zen, I must maintain my calm whilst swatting at the world’s most persistent pet.

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Just when I had finally managed to rid myself of the feline, my five-year-old wandered out of her bedroom and plopped herself down on top of me. First startled, then annoyed, I tried to shoo her away too, but she threw her body on the rug and cried.

And cried.

And cried.

It was in that very moment that the concept for The Mom Bubble was born. The Mom Bubble would not only come in handy during meditation though. There are a variety of uses that make The Mom Bubble a must-have for every mother.

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Would you like to be able to have a phone conversation where you only communicate with the person you called? Then The Mom Bubble is for you. You’ll no longer hear, “I’ll let you go. It sounds like you’re busy,” from the person on the other end.

Why, just the other day I was on the phone with my cousin when she asked, “Did you just go poopie?” I was about to answer when I realized she wasn’t asking me. Perhaps the sing-song of her voice should have tipped me off, but The Mom Bubble can help avoid embarrassing situations like these.

As a mother, it’s inevitable that you’ll get a farewell leg-hug from your toddler when you’re headed out the door in a pair of slacks fresh from the cleaners. If you’re lucky, you’ll notice the snail trails your child left smeared across your thigh before you exit the house. With The Mom Bubble, gone are those days of being used as a human Kleenex. Now you can go out in public without accessorizing in dried boogers.

Projectile vomit? No problem! Watch those chunks slide down the outside of The Mom Bubble while you stay safely inside. As an added bonus, the putrid odor that once sent you retching towards the toilet is guaranteed not to enter your sphere.

Speaking of odors: The other night while watching TV, my youngest said she wanted to sit on my lap for a second.

For a second? But you’re right next to me.”

Then it dawned on me. Her intention was to fart on me. As if sitting right next to me and breaking wind was not enough, she wanted to actually place her buttocks directly on me to let one rip. It’s no coincidence that Pink Eye outbreaks are at all-time high in my household, but The Mom Bubble will keep you out of harm’s way.

Not only would The Mom Bubble protect you from kid farts, but dog farts too. Imagine watching your family gasp and cough while you enjoy the sweet-smelling air of The Mom Bubble. 

Do you have a little one who likes to climb in your bed at night? Sleep in The Mom Bubble and you’ll never have to cling to the edge of the mattress like you do your sanity. Those elbows, feet, and knees will find another body to disturb while you get the rest you deserve.

Lack of personal space got you down? Just because your offspring once inhabited your womb, does not earn them the right to hang from your body like baby orangutans. The Mom Bubble gives you the ability to say “I love you, but please don’t touch me” without actually saying it.

Now I know you’re probably thinking that what you really want is a little peace and quiet. Equipped with noise-cancelling technology, The Mom Bubble will make it so that you won’t have to listen to another ear-shattering temper tantrum ever again.

With The Mom Bubble, you’ll quickly realize that letting them cry it out is a great parenting strategy when you don’t have to hear it. And your darling child will likewise cease having quite as many fits once they find that when you’re inside The Mom Bubble, you’ll never cave to their 87th request for Fun-Dip at 6:30 A.M.

Equally important is the autonomy your children will develop when they can no longer ask you to pass them their cup of water that is literally sitting RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM. Imagine the peace of mind that will come from knowing that The Mom Bubble is as much of an investment for them as it is for you.

The Mom Bubble: The best thing to happen to motherhood since the epidural. Coming soon to a Target near you. Look for it near the wine aisle.

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Request Denied

“Mom? Can you do me a favor?”

This was the voice of my nine-year-old.

“When you fold my laundry, can you turn my socks so that they are the right way for when I put them on?”

I paused to consider the request.

Three beats was all it took before I said, very simply, “No.”

In my mind, though, this played out quite differently. There was an actually buzzer, like that which signals the end of a basketball game, like the dreadful X when a wrong response is given on Family Feud, like the handheld noise-maker for the game Taboo (the only game my brother-in-law will agree to play and only if all he has to do is auditorily tell players that they have erred by sounding the buzzer in their faces. Think Sissy Spacek in Four Christmases.)

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Hearing my curt “No” crushed my daughter. She had asked so sweetly and had been so brusquely denied. She looked crestfallen, and for a moment, I considered granting her request if only so that I didn’t feel like a total biatch, but then I remembered that crucial moment when my mom made me start washing my own laundry. And I remembered why.

I was in the fifth grade—one year older than my daughter. My mom had told me to clean my room. So I scooped all the clothes, dirty or clean, and threw them in my hamper.

Clean room?

Check!

Later, when my mother went to do laundry and saw that there were clean clothes, still partially folded, tossed in the hamper, she cracked. She very calmly told me that I would henceforth be responsible for washing my own clothes. For. The. Rest. Of. My. Life.

“But I don’t know how!” I argued.

And then she taught me. And she never did my laundry again.

Well, until she retired. Now all she does is laundry. My step-dad jokes that he only needs three pair of underwear. Doing the wash is kind of her hobby these days, so when she comes to visit, my washing machine doesn’t quit, which feels like an apology…And I accept.

But back to my daughter.

I guess she wasn’t asking a lot, but something about her request, much like when I heartlessly tossed clean clothes into my hamper, made this mother crack. Each person in my family has two feet, and there’s four people in my family, times that by seven days in the week (or perhaps five since at least twice a week my kids try to wear flip-flop, even in January). If each sock took two seconds to turn right-side-out, that’s…

I don’t really do math unless I have to, but what I do know is this:

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Every mother in America will tell you that there is never no laundry to be done. There are always clothes in the dryer that someone forgot about, and sometimes clothes in the washer that also got forgotten about, clothes that now smell like mold and cheese that need to get re-washed.

My mom may have been on to something when she decided that one decade of washing my dirty (and sometimes clean) clothes was enough.

For my oldest child, time is running out.

Meanwhile, round-the-clock laundry marathons continue every weekend. I may even start a load or two during the week. I continue to fold my children’s clothes and provide them with clean underwear. But about those socks…

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The Wolf Strikes Again

You stood before my dresser mirror brushing your hair. I stood a few feet away and watched you.

You wore no socks, no shoes, and I couldn’t help but think, “My, what big feet you have.”

“The better to wear high heels with,” I supposed.

I saw the silk of your hair and noted how your lips are still as plump as when you were a baby. With your large, blue-green eyes and the slope of your nose, you are beautiful, but you haven’t realized this yet.

I, however, have known it all along.

I observed your long legs and thought about how you have outgrown yet another bike. Your figure is changing too. You are maturing, and every day, I hold my breath… and wait. It won’t be long before we are shopping for bras and I am watching your cheeks flush with embarrassment.

Lately I joke that if you had an extra head atop your own, you’d be as tall as me. What you cannot know is that each time I wrap my arms around you, I kiss your parted hair if only to measure whether you’ve grown. I rest my chin, breathe in your smell, and try to be your cloak, to protect you.

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In front of that mirror, for just a moment, you seemed already a woman, and I was mesmerized.

But then, the brush got snagged in a knot of hair and you turned to me for help. Just like that, you were my child again, albeit one with great, big feet.

Still, the shift has begun. The other evening when I reminded you to use better table manners, I felt the weight of your stare. There was resistance there and defiance flickered in your irides. For now, these challenges pass quickly, but soon, you will be consumed. When that time comes, you will gnash your teeth and growl at me. You will attack when you feel you’ve been provoked–and everything will provoke you.

I know because when I was only a little older than you, I stopped listening to my mother. I ventured into the dark wood and was swallowed whole by the wolf.

Your feet may seem in disproportion to the rest of you now, but when you are freed from the beast, your transformation will be complete. You won’t be my little red riding hood any longer, but I will still be your mother and I will await the day I hear your high heeled shoes on that well-worn path as you return home, to me.

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My 18 Resolutions for 2018

This New Year’s Eve, I slept on the living room couch with my two daughters. We spent the evening doing each other’s hair and make-up, then taking it all off to apply face masks. We played games and did crafts while listening to Kidz Bop. When the Cha-Cha Slide came on, there was an impromptu dance party. By 9:30, we had one big bowl of popcorn to share, three individual bowls of ice cream, and had cued up The Goonies.

Although my five-year-old was sound asleep by 10:30, my oldest daughter and I made it to midnight, after which we shuffled outside wrapped in blankets to listen to the fireworks and stare at the moon. It was the best New Year’s Eve experience of my life.

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Wishing everyone peace in the coming year.

As far as resolutions are concerned, 2017 was fairly successful. While I still cannot do the splits, to be fair, I only practiced a handful of times. Among my other resolutions though, I managed to run a 10K, meditate more, and drink less. Taking one day at a time still proves to be a challenge, but I’m trying to invite the mindfulness I practice each morning into other areas of my life, and for that, I give thanks.

Resolutions are crafted each year to improve oneself. The best thing I can do for my daughters is to teach them that personal growth is important. You can set academic goals, professional goals, fitness goals, financial goals, and personal goals that will help you to live a balanced life. And so, as I enter a new year, my 40th year, I am raising the bar.

Here are my 18 Resolutions for 2018:

  1. Continue to strengthen my meditation practice.
  2. Don’t use alcohol to cope with stress.
  3. Pay off debt while saving money.
  4. Grow my blog.
  5. Read books, take classes, and network with people to cultivate my professional leadership capacity.
  6. Spend time individually with each of my daughters. 
  7. Find time for solitude & silence: run a hot bath, take a long walk, go to the spa, or stay home and send everyone else away for an hour or two.
  8. Give up control occasionally—And when things are out of control, relax. Don’t fight the current.
  9. Challenge myself physically: go swimming or bike riding, try snowshoeing, practice splits and headstands, lift weights, attend new classes.
  10. Be more present. Give attention to what matters most. Limit social media.
  11. Tell people how you feel and show them that you care. Don’t assume they know.
  12. Be kind.
  13. Undertake one major home improvement project.
  14. Make time for friendships. They matter.
  15. Read at least 25 books.
  16. Step outside my comfort zone from time to time.
  17. Appreciate the world and all that it offers. Go out and explore it!
  18. Begin and end each day with an attitude of gratitude.

While I have never been a huge fan of celebrating New Year’s Eve, I love each new year for the possibilities that await. We spend so much of the holiday season focusing on others, that January offers a time to turn that attention back on our self.

Paulo Coelho said, “When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.”

By focussing on me, I know I am not just bettering myself, but I am also becoming better for them.

So, what will you strive for this New Year?

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Helicoptering, Homework, and Learning to Let Go

When you enter my classroom, there’s a newspaper article by John Rosemond tacked to the bulletin board that discusses why parents should not be involved when it comes to homework. As I teach an honors level English class, I often have a handful of parents each year that I would classify as “helicopter moms.” They expose themselves early enough through seemingly innocent emails, but as the year progresses, it becomes clear that they are after one thing: That A.

Often, the parent wants the grade more than the student does, and it becomes increasingly difficult to watch especially when the child doesn’t earn that A. Panicked emails are sent on the day that grades are due begging me to “round up”—emails that I’m sure are typed out with Mom hovering right behind the keyboard.

Rosemond claims, “There is no evidence that actual achievement is enhanced through parental involvement in homework. After all, achievement has gone down as parental involvement has gone up. Grades improve, yes, but that is because parents make sure homework is returned to school virtually without error.”

As achievement decreases, anxiety (and often depression) increases. Some students will completely disengage with their school work, while others live in fear of making a mistake. The result is a growing society of people who lack responsibility and are paralyzed when it comes to making decisions.

By the time a student is in high school, it is no longer age-appropriate for the parents to be involved in homework. My five-year-old though? She can’t even read the directions to her homework on her own, and many of her assignments demand our involvement.

For math homework one night, my kindergartener had to play a game called Bicycle Races. A makeshift spinner was created by using a paperclip and a pencil. A button and a ring acted as the game pieces. I read through the directions, then asked my husband if he would play the game with her.

After they had completed a couple rounds, I inquired who had won.

“Daddy did. Both times.”

“Was it a game of luck?” I asked.

“Not for me!”

Often, homework is a chore. It is one more thing that needs to get done in the short hours between the time we arrive home in the evening and the time the kids go to bed. In a two-hour span, there’s dinner to cook, eat, and clean up; lunches to pack for the next morning; baths and showers to be had; teeth to be brushed; and the request for an episode of Teen Titans Go! Add to that homework, and it’s a tight fit.

That’s not to say I don’t believe in homework. I do. I assign it with my students and I am thankful that my children’s teachers assign it too. There is merit in struggling with a challenging math equation without a teacher nearby to help, just as there is merit in requiring children to read each night. Through homework, children learn how to manage their time, how to problem solve, and how to take responsibility. However, when it comes to completing homework, the less involved I need to be, the better. After all, often I am sitting at the table with my own stack of grading to do.

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In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, the kindergarten homework assignment was to disguise a turkey. My daughter decided she wanted her turkey to masquerade as a slice of pizza. I manned the hot glue gun and cut out red felt pepperoni, my older daughter cut up orange and yellow construction paper into strips of shredded cheese, and the mastermind behind the project assembled it all together with some scissors, red paint, and a giant glue stick. After the feathers were attached, it was a collaborative work of art, but I can only imagine what it would have looked like had I truly let her do it on her own.

Still, it’s a slippery slope.

Recently, a colleague of mine asked one of her junior-level AP students where his project was when it hadn’t been submitted on time.

He matter-of-factly replied, “My mom and I are still working on it.”

She had suspected that this mother had been involved in some of his previous assignments, but never expected he’d come right out and admit it. But it doesn’t surprise me.

I’ve read countless articles on helicopter parents who keep on hovering right on into college and adulthood– calling college professors about grades, submitting resumes on their child’s behalf, even attending job interviews. I’ve witnessed students of mine, while he or she is in class, receive text messages from their mom the second a grade is entered that is deemed unsatisfactory. If a parent hasn’t loosened the reigns by high school, it’s likely they never will.

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As the first semester of the school year wound down, my kindergartener had another holiday homework assignment; this time it was to decorate a foam Christmas tree cut-out. Unlike the pizza turkey, she did it all on her own.

When I came home from work that evening, she was eager to show me her creation.

With brown marker scribbles and globs of light blue glitter in a nonsensical arrangement, it was truly hideous.

“Is this your best work?” I questioned.

She said that it was.

Having just bought some Christmas stickers for my own classroom, I offered her some. She stuck a few on, but it didn’t help. The tree still looked like something a five-year-old would do. But then again, she is a five-year-old…and this was her homework, not mine.

Looking at it, I shrugged my shoulders and stuck it in her backpack to be returned to school where it would be proudly put on display.

One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, in a Ted Talk titled 12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing says, “you can’t run alongside your grown children with sunscreen and Chap Stick on their hero’s journey. You have to release them. It’s disrespectful not to.”

That release, I’d argue, is one that begins with homework. It begins when I don’t frequent the online portal to check my children’s grades. It begins when I only review my fourth grader’s homework if she asks me to. It begins when I allow my five-year-old to complete as many of her assignments as she can with total autonomy, no matter how challenging for me that may be.

 

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The Perfect Christmas Gift

It’s that wonderful time of year where my children view every retail destination as if it’s FAO Schwarz. Whether we’re food shopping in Walmart or making a restroom stop at a gas station, they’ll hold up some toy they’ve spied and give me their best Puss-in-Boots eyes. Usually, by the time they sit down to write their letters to Santa, they have forgotten most of the things they had pleaded for, which suits me just fine. However, this year proved otherwise.

With the help of her big sister, my five-year-old wrote out her Christmas list rather early. Among other things, she’d written down an American Girl doll, a giant Beanie Boo, a Kindle, and lots of Legos. But it didn’t end there. On and on and on it went. Everything from sneakers to pajamas to hair bows. She took inventory of her sister’s room and recorded anything she’d seen that she herself didn’t own. She wrote till the construction paper ran out and the marker went dry. She may as well have scribbled the lyrics to “Santa Baby” while she was at it.

“You have a lot of expensive things on that list.” I told her.

“Mom,” she sighed as if I were the five-year-old, “Santa doesn’t buy the presents, he makes them.”

I couldn’t help thinking that my five-year-old was outsmarting me at Christmas, a sure sign that we were in trouble.

“You know,” I told her, “You’re only supposed to ask for three things: something you want, something you need, and something to read.” I later found out that something to wear is also included in this minimalist version of the Christmas list, but she was getting the gist.

My nine-year-old was suddenly curious. “Really? Is that like, a rule?”

“Well, it’s not a rule so much as a guideline.”

My five-year-old, in all her wisdom, pointed to her list. “Something to read: Kindle.”

I’m certain I rolled my eyes.

I know I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the consumerism that is Christmas. This year, I felt it more than ever when I couldn’t find a single gourd for my Thanksgiving table yet poinsettias were aplenty. We hadn’t even carved our turkey and they were selling me fruitcake.

As a parent, I struggle with not wanting to spoil my children at Christmas, while still hoping to dazzle them with the magic that Santa brings. But this year, Santa was already exhausted, and he hadn’t even started shopping yet.

In an article humorously titled “Christmas is Ruined by Children,” Trevor Mitchell states, “parents these days are time-poor and over-compensate for this by indulging their offspring.”

Mitchell may be right; when it comes to time, there isn’t even a jingle in my pocket. And in Christmases past, I had indulged my offspring. While staring at the piles of wrapped boxes, I would often ask my husband, “Do you think that’s enough?” No matter his answer, I would find a way to sneak in an extra trip to Target for a few more stocking stuffers.

This year, however, I just can’t Christmas.

Sure, my tree is up and there’s lights on the house, but every time I set foot in a store, I have a visceral reaction that makes me flee.

Take a mother’s mental load and add in a major holiday where children’s happiness is at stake, and it’s a recipe for a spontaneous midlife crisis. It’s no wonder that I often find myself having a psychotic break come Christmas.

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My psychotic break, unfortunately, does not resemble this scene from Bad Moms 2.

As I tucked my kids in the other night, I pulled Once Upon a North Pole Christmas from the bookcase for their bedtime story. Dot, our Elf, had delivered it as a special treat the year before. In it, the grown-ups are grumpy and tired, “trying too hard to make Christmas too perfect or running around everywhere.”

A story I thought was intended for children, turns out, might have been for me.

Shoot, even the Grinch comes to realize a few things before his book is through.

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The truth is, when I came right out and asked my kids what they were most looking forward to this Christmas, my oldest didn’t hesitate. “Spending time with family” she said, and then after a brief pause, “and eating quiche.” Despite her long list, even my youngest rattled off a good three or four things before any mention of gifts.

And so, this Christmas, rather than going to ugly sweater parties and standing in check-out lines, I want to stay in my pajamas and abuse Amazon Prime. Rather than feverishly baking cookies to exchange and sending out Christmas cards, I want to order pizza and play Parcheesi. Rather than giving more presents, I want to give more presence. If I can figure out how to do that, I think it will be the perfect Christmas gift for everyone on my list.

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Dear Husband,

It’s been eleven years since we’ve wed and we have come to a pivotal point in our relationship whereby it is necessary to renegotiate the terms of our contract.

This morning, as I was pulling up my stockings, I let one slip. It was audible, and as I glanced at our bed, I was relieved that you had already gotten up to make yourself a cup of coffee. Our daughter, with headphones on and iPad in hand, was oblivious to my morning salute.

I grew up in a family where farts were, and still are, hilarious. I can clearly picture my grandpa, with his tanned skin and thick gray hair, asking in feigned innocence, “Who stepped on a frog?” His smile would always betray him.

My father has always been a fan of the old “pull my finger” trick. It delighted him so to simultaneously cut the cheese as one gave his pointer a tug. Long after we knew better, we reluctantly played along just to avoid disappointing him.

I know you find humor in human hydrogen bombs too. Remember the first time my mother had us over for dinner after we were engaged? She let one rip in the kitchen and gleefully announced, “Welcome to the family!” Just like that, you were christened.

Together, we laughed till we cried over a fart machine cleverly taped beneath a dining room chair at Thanksgiving or tucked between the sofa cushions in the first home we shared. Even the memory of a well-timed wind serves to amuse.

Still, despite the joy that flatulence has brought to my life, I have, for over a decade, tried my best to shield you from the gas I expel, with one exception: pregnancy.

In the nine months that my body was taken over, I lost all bodily control. I remember the night that I lumbered out of bed for the sixth or seventh time to go to the bathroom. While lowering my big belly and even bigger bottom, a toilet-bowl fart echoed through the night and roused you from your slumber. You–who have slept through earthquakes, screaming babies, and smoke detector alarms. There was a strange look on your face, a mix of horror and amusement, when you realized the source of the sound that woke you hadn’t come from your alarm clock, but rather from my back door.

A few weeks later, we found ourselves in the hospital giving birth to our first baby girl. She was so precious and tiny that it caught us off guard that very first night when we heard a man-fart erupt from our newborn daughter. We stared at each other in disbelief. How could something so small wallop with such gusto? Suddenly, those three trimesters of trouser coughs all made sense. It wasn’t me; it was her!

 As soon as I resumed control of myself again, I quickly returned to the self-imposed prison I had created. For over a decade, I have clenched my cheeks, I have stepped outside to walk Donald, I have blamed my SBDs on the dogs.

Having children has filled our lives with music, and we have found their symphonies entertaining, yet despite the few times I accidentally joined the band, I have tried my best not to toot my own horn in your presence.

Yet knocking on 40’s door, things are starting to go. I see it in my skin. I feel it in my body. I smell it in the air. These days, I find myself losing control more and more, and it happens when I least expect it: pushing a shopping cart in the grocery store, bending over to tie my shoe, blow drying my hair.

I can no longer blame my butt burps on a baby, but I also can no longer keep my bombers at bay. It’s only a matter of time before I am one of those women in yoga who applauds her own downward dog.

And so, Dear Husband, as we enter a new stage of our relationship, one that you neither asked for nor can deny, please remember: If I blow you a kiss with my bum, it’s only because I love you.

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In Memoriam: The Best Teacher I Ever Had

When I was a senior in high school, I had a lead role in the school play; I also had an emergency appendectomy. The latter resulted in the stage manager/understudy performing in my place. She happened to be a girl whom I had been “best friends” with, but like many high school relationships, we had drifted apart. On opening night, I sat in the first row of metal folding chairs and watched, silently mouthing each word she spoke, words I had been memorizing for months.

My love for theater was cultivated by Mr. Brennan, an English teacher at my small, rural high school. When I took his AP English class, I saw a future for myself that I had previously thought impossible, so when I told him that I couldn’t even afford to apply to college, he made me go to the best counselor at the school, a colleague and good friend of his. There, I told her what I had been too ashamed to admit to anyone other than Mr. Brennan. I left her office with a fee waiver to apply to four SUNY schools and renewed hope.

I enrolled at SUNY Oneonta as a theater major. After all, Mr. Brennan made me believe I had a talent, so much so that I had given up cheerleading to be in his plays. From rehearsals to cast parties, we were a strange tribe of misfits, but I never felt more at home.

Later, when I became an English teacher myself– one that directed the musicals at the school where I taught– it was all thanks to him.

To complete observation hours for my undergraduate degree, I went straight to Mr. Brennan. I hadn’t stepped foot in my high school since graduation, but if I was going to be a teacher, I wanted to be Just. Like. Him. Watching him with his students, I longed to be back in his class, participating in the discussions, reading the books–Well, most of the books. I never could make it To The Lighthouse, no matter how many times I tried.

Between classes, Mr. Brennan listened to NPR from an old stereo. When one of his students spoke, he leaned in close and wagged his long finger when he approved of what they were saying. His classroom felt like a stage set as a well-loved living room, complete with worn-in couches.

One time, he confessed that when he arrived at work earlier than usual, a custodian was sleeping on the couch in his classroom. Whether the man was homeless or just didn’t want to go home, Mr. Brennan quietly slipped back out without waking the man, refusing to risk embarrassing him.

You see, it didn’t matter who you were, Mr. Brennan afforded everyone their dignity.

On October 26, I left my classroom to head home for the weekend. As I was walking to my car, I checked my phone and saw a post on Facebook that stopped me. At the age of 76, Mr. Brennan had passed away. Immediately, I was filled with a deep sadness.

There isn’t much I can say about Mr. Brennan that hasn’t already been said. In the wake of his passing, innumerable tributes have been written in his honor. Every story shared captures exactly the kind of man he was. To many, Mr. Brennan was an inspiration, and I am no different. What he did for me, he did for countless others: He made us believe we mattered.

That time when I had my appendix removed, Mr. Brennan came to see me in the hospital. I remember waking up to him standing at the foot of my bed. But I wasn’t special. An article that appeared in The Suffolk Times in honor of him told how, “when Liz Casey Searl’s brother died at only 21 years of age, Mr. Brennan showed up at the 1995 Mattituck graduate’s home to ask how he could help.”

He did that sort of thing…for all of us. He showed up. And by showing up, you knew he cared.

For my final Senior project, I recited a poem I’d written about my father’s alcoholism. When I looked up, Mr. Brennan had removed his glasses and was wiping tears from his cheeks. Whether words poured from our mouths or bled from our pens, he made us feel like what we had to say was worth hearing. He didn’t discredit us for being angsty teens with too many hormones and not enough pre-frontal cortex.

As I worked towards becoming a teacher, Mr. Brennan told me that I should never take any grading home. It took him many years to figure that out, but, he said, it was better to stay at work till 5 in the evening than to leave with a stack of papers in hand. In the 16 years I’ve been teaching, I wish I could say I have heeded that advice.

These days, I often stay at work till 5. I don’t teach in the small, rural town I grew up in where you can’t find a class with more than 25 students, and the expectations of teachers grow with each passing year. Yet at the end of the day, the most meaningful thing we can do in our classrooms is to build relationships with our students, to show them that they matter.

I might not be able to keep my weekends free from grading, but I can show my students that I care. Mr. Brennan’s passing has reminded me of that. In many ways, he’s still my teacher.

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{via Mattituck High School’s Reflector, 1991}

Mr. Brennan is remembered for his plaid flannels, his work boots, the mints he carried in his shirt pocket and sucked on throughout the day. He is remembered for the gas-station coffee he drank and for the way he laughed without making a noise. Head thrown back, mouth open wide, he found humor in so many of our adolescent antics.

When I graduated from high school, I drove to his home with a copy of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. In it, I had penned a heartfelt note. I no longer remember what I wrote, but I do remember the sentiment behind it. This was a man who had given me—had given all of us—so much, and he had asked for nothing in return. He gave us crowns to play king of the forest. He provided us with shade or a quiet place to sit. He was there for us as we grew. Even when we went off to start our lives, he remained. So much of what we needed was found in him.

I can only hope, that in giving us his all, he got something in return.

I can only hope that in the end, the tree was happy.

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{via Mattituck High School’s Reflector, 1991}

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#MeToo

It wasn’t rape. There was no penetration. I was not beaten, nor was I abused. I wasn’t a young girl. I hadn’t been drinking. There were no drugs involved. I didn’t wake up the next morning questioning my memory of the events that had transpired.

Every year in June, I remember. Every time I see that tailored dress from Banana Republic in my closet, I am reminded. The truth is, I won’t ever forget.

As a high school teacher, the two events I like to chaperone are prom and graduation. Both rites of passage, at prom I get to relive my own high school memories as girls kick off their high heels as soon as possible and boys offer their dates their tuxedo jackets to keep warm. Graduation is the culmination of all the work we do; it is the ultimate goal for both students and teachers.

Several years ago, I volunteered to work graduation; I haven’t done it again since.

I wasn’t thrilled to learn that I had been assigned to supervise the boys’ waiting area. Separated by gender, there are two rooms where students leave their personal belongings and put on their caps and gowns. They act as holding cells until the students are told to line up. The energy is high. You can smell it in the air. I would have preferred to be with the girls, holding mirrors for them while they reapplied make-up and fixed their hair. Instead, I was caged up with the boys, counting down the minutes.

When the time had come, this mass of young men assembled in the hall and waited for the doors to open to begin the procession towards the stage. The girls, positioned down another hall, would enter through separate doors. In alternate colors, they’d meet as they walked in. Purple, White, Purple, White, Purple, White.

It was in this hall, packed with eighteen-year-olds on one of the most significant days of their lives, that I experienced my Me Too. As I made my way through the crowd of bodies, a hand grabbed my right butt cheek and squeezed, hard. Then it released its grip.

It shook me. I stopped and turned towards a sea of purple robes. Panicked, I quickly exited the hall.

There was no way of knowing who had done it, but I still felt the imprint of that hand on my bottom. Finding a friend, I told her what had happened, but I was embarrassed and ashamed.

What if it had been one of my former students? The thought deposited my stomach in my throat. Yet I was aware of the statistics: most sexual assaults are performed by someone the victim knows.

I am a professional. I was professionally dressed. I was a couple of decades older than these boys. And yet, I was stripped of all of that by one faceless grope in a crowd. I felt dumb, and young, and vulnerable. I felt disrespected as a person, as a woman, and as a teacher.

Part of me wanted to get far, far away from what happened, but a part of me wished I could go back, grab that wrist, yank that pervert from the crowd, see his face, identify him, drag him to administration, demand that he not be allowed to walk the stage, pull his parents from the audience, make him explain to them why he was not able to get his diploma that day, press charges even.

That was what I fantasized because that would have given me back my power. But like all the comebacks I’ve never spoken, I didn’t react quickly enough.

I was powerless: a common denominator of Me Too.

I imagined this being some kind of testosterone-induced dare. How many other students were in on it? I envisioned the same boys next year as college freshmen, gang raping a sorority girl. I thought about how I’d never once walked a campus at night without practically running, holding my keys like a weapon.

As co-workers met after the ceremony at a local bar, I told a male colleague what had occurred. “I heard,” he said. “A bunch of kids were talking about it, but when I approached them, they all clammed up.”

My integrity was stolen and they were bragging about it? But I wondered, why hadn’t he done more? Why hadn’t he rounded them all up, made them confess? In my mind, I told myself that it was because no one thought it was a big deal. So a kid grabbed your ass. So what?

Someone suggested I take it as a compliment. Degraded, I left and went home.  

When my husband asked how graduation went, I told him what happened. His first response was a chuckle of sorts. With tears welling I looked at him, and for the first time, I saw him as one of them. How could you laugh? I was sexually violated. He quickly apologized and admitted that he had the wrong reaction; he wasn’t sure how to react. Of course he was upset by this. Of course he was angry. I believed him if only because I couldn’t fathom the ramifications if I chose not to.

This past Sunday, when I started seeing the posts on Twitter and Facebook of friends and family members who were writing Me Too, that memory surfaced. It’s always there, but I hold it down until something triggers it to rear its head, take another gasp of air, and sink back to where it continues to dwell.

 “And the sooty details of the scene rose, thrusting themselves between the world and me…”            

                                                                                              –Richard Wright

Earlier that same weekend, my book club met. We were discussing Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Four white women, we quickly turned from discussing race to discussing gender. Often our book talks veer off-topic, but we hadn’t been sidetracked. This was how we could relate. We are not black, and we are not black men, but as women, we all knew fear, and much of what Coates writes about is fear.

In Between the World and Me, Coates is speaking directly to his teenage son. He tells him, “You have seen so much more of all that is lost when they destroy your body.”

When they destroy your body…

That when, I read, as inevitable. It is bound to happen. When you are born black, they will destroy your body. Coates was speaking to his son with the knowledge that one day, he too, would be destroyed. Perhaps that is why this line made it hard for me to breathe.

As I look at my beautiful daughters, I know in my heart that a day will come when they each will face a Me Too. I can hope it won’t happen, but I know the statistics: because they are female, because they are girls, because they will grow to become women, it probably will.

Soon, I will need to have a very real, very painful conversation with each of them about the risks they take just by existing in this world.

In the meantime, I pray: Let them not be raped. Let there be no penetration. Let them not be beaten. Let them not be abused…

I may not have posted it on my Facebook feed. I may not have Tweeted it to the world. I couldn’t bring myself to like anyone’s status, nor can I share anyone’s story but my own though I have been witness and confidant to many more. But for each post I saw, I thought, Not you too.

I went to sleep that night and with great sadness, those words replayed in my head: Me Too. Me Too. Me Too.

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STOP SEXUAL ASSAULT

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To Forgive, Divine

I picked up my copy of Rising Strong in the airport while we waited for the first leg of our flight that would take us to Mexico. As my children browsed the souvenirs, I perused the titles of paperbacks with no intention of buying anything. After all, I had a book I needed to finish for my book club and I’d packed my Kindle with a memoir I’d downloaded that I was prepared to start as well, but by the time I boarded the plane, I also had Brené Brown’s latest title in hand.

Mexico was the vacation that we had hoped it would be. Instead of visiting family in Florida or New York, we took our children to a place where we knew no one, where we were tourists. We lounged by pools while waiters offered us happy hour drinks all day long. They brought our children cheesy nachos and brought us salted margaritas all while the sun turned our skin different shades of pink.

For one whole week, I turned my cell phone off and never once checked email or social media. We watched baby sea turtles make their way to the ocean, and despite the birds that circled overhead threatening to pluck them from the sand, we didn’t interfere. Later, I watched my own children playing together in the brackish waves; I felt extremely blessed to have witnessed both in the same day, knowing these were memories I would cherish forever.

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We didn’t realize when we booked our trip that we were headed to Mexico during their rainy season, but we didn’t mind the few afternoons when the thunderstorms cracked open the sky. We watched from the balcony as sheets of rain danced from the sea towards the mountains and lightening sizzled through the humid air. These interruptions in paradise were just another part of our experience, but there was a darker storm approaching.

While returning from the pool one afternoon, I sat next to my oldest daughter on the golf cart that would shuttle us back to our hotel when she turned to me and said, “Your stomach is really soft and jiggly.”

Of all the ways I could have responded, I settled on, “That doesn’t make me feel good.”

And it didn’t.

And it didn’t and it didn’t.

You see, from that moment on, I scrutinized my cellulite in the mirrors of the elevator, I ordered the salad instead, I declined dessert.

I was still on vacation. I was still stifling my laughter as my husband attempted to speak the language. I was still holding hands with my children, jumping into the pool together. The sun kept trying to peek through, but that squall was inside me.

I thought about my own mother, a woman whom I had only ever seen as beautiful. As a child, I don’t remember ever intentionally saying anything critical of her looks because I never thought there was anything to criticize. Why did my own children not see me the same way?

“Maybe she just has a different perception of beauty.” My husband’s words, meant to console me, offered no solace. Maybe I’m not a good mother.

Each night, as I dressed for dinner, my husband showered me with compliments, but they couldn’t permeate my own belief that I wasn’t beautiful enough.

She’s right, I told myself. My stomach is soft and jiggly. I am not the best version of myself. I have failed. I am a failure.

Brown writes, “The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness.” Yet here I was in Mexico, with this story stuck on repeat. I had fallen into this narrative and despite having finished the book, I was not rising strong.

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Had I been home, I likely would have taken to the gym. I would have sat down to write or meditate. I would have engaged in some retail therapy, a little time by myself till those clouds rolled away. Here in Mexico, the maid left chocolate every night by the side of my bed. Every morning I needed to don a bikini again; I hadn’t even packed a cover-up! And the drinks were TWO for ONE for crying out loud.

I could escape neither storm nor story.

Back in the states, I woke the next morning and headed straight to yoga. The following day, I hit the treadmill. Popping in my ear-buds, I scrolled through my podcasts. Knowing I could benefit from something inspirational, I decided on Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations. Two episodes was all it took.

The first episode I listened to was a conversation with Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, a book I had read ages ago. Oprah and Ruiz discuss how 95 percent of what we believe is not true, they are stories we tell ourselves, and behind those stories lie our fears—fears that we are not good enough, are not beautiful enough, are not worthy. This sounded familiar—it sounded like Brené Brown.

Don Miguel Ruiz says, “The human is the only animal on earth that pays 1000 times for the same mistake.”

How many times had I beaten myself up over this same story? How many times had I questioned my self-worth because of what I thought I, or someone else, saw in me?

The second episode was a conversation with Michael Singer, author of The Untethered Soul. I haven’t read this book (yet), but here I found the answer to the bigger question: How do I break this cycle?

Singer uses the analogy of a thorn embedded deep in one’s skin, touching a nerve. He says we have two choices: We can live with the thorn and try to avoid all those things in life that disturb it, or we can grab our tweezers and take that thorn out.

In keeping the thorn in, we not only alter how we live our lives, we also train everyone around us so they don’t ever touch that thorn. That’s what I was doing, wasn’t I? Through my reaction and my behavior, I was training my family that this was a thorn not to be touched.

On the contrary, if we remove the thorn, we don’t ever have to deal with it again. We can start to enjoy life, and that, Singer says, is spirituality.

Whoa.

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Oprah asks, “How do you know what your thorn is?”

Singer’s answer: “Disturbance tells you. Just like pain happens outside, disturbance happens inside.”

Singer claims that the moment something disturbs you, if you don’t let it pass right through you, the energy of it will drag you down. “When a problem shows up with that chitter-chatter in your mind, the first reaction must be to lean away from it.”

Ruiz believes, “forgiveness is the most important thing.” Oprah explains that by forgiveness, he means to “let it go; do not be tied to the past.” While my daughter had apologized, I didn’t need to forgive her, I needed to forgive myself.

My daughter’s words to me were not what hurt me, nor did she intend to hurt me. My daughter’s words disturbed my thorn, a thorn that I have carried around with me for a long, long time. But in that moment, I had a choice, and I chose to take it personally when I should have chosen forgiveness.

The second of the four agreements is Don’t Take Anything Personally. When we take something personally, it “is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything then is about me.” Mexico wasn’t supposed to be about me. Mexico was supposed to be about us. I was making it about me.

If I could go back to that moment when my daughter turned to me and said, “Your stomach is really soft and jiggly,” I would lean far, far away from my discomfort—even if that meant falling off the damn golf cart. I don’t want another internal storm to cloud an otherwise amazing family vacation. Yet maybe this storm was necessary in realizing what needed to be washed clean.

I’ve since ordered a copy of The Untethered Soul. I plan to turn the pages with my tweezers in hand.

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