My Reasons for Watching 13 Reasons Why

One of the things I love about my job as a high school teacher is that it keeps me young. Most of the time, I find out about the latest trends before my own children do. I learn the newest slang, and my students think it’s funny when I’m able to work it into my own speech during class. Dealing with teenagers on a regular basis reminds me what it was like; it helps me to remember, including those parts that I’d rather forget.

pexels-photo-289740

Teaching English, my students confide in me through their writing. These windows, in particular, let me see some of their darkest moments. It didn’t surprise me then that when 13 Reasons Why premiered on Netflix, my students were abuzz. There was a resurgence in kids that wanted to read the popular novel by Jay Asher. As a representation of what they experience in high school, it resonated with them.

My students are participating in book clubs right now and I have six groups reading 13 Reasons Why. Others have chosen it as one of their independent selections for the semester. I’m stoked for anything that gets kids reading, but some of the students who have picked it up have had to put it down, unable to stomach the sadness. All the attention the title has received piqued my interest, if for no other reason than to form my own opinion, so in addition to buying a copy of the book, my husband and I recently cued it from our Netflix list.

If you haven’t heard, the show has been criticized for glorifying and romanticizing suicide. I’ve read pieces that talk about how the producers did the exact opposite of what one should do when dealing with this subject matter, warning anyone who might be suicidal or prone to suicidal thoughts not to watch. In contrast, I’ve read other works that praise the piece. Not to mention the press that surrounded this group of high school students who started an anti-suicide campaign: 13 Reasons Why Not.

I knew going in that it wasn’t going to be a show I could binge-watch. Each episode was heavier than the next, and several of them required additional warnings for their explicit content. However, in the end, I was glad that I viewed all thirteen episodes, not just as a teacher, but as a parent. While my children are only five and nine, startling enough, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for ages 10-24.

Did you see that? TEN.

I often write about the difficulties of parenting, yet I know raising an adolescent will be the most trying of all. This is only the boot camp for the eventual war of the teenage years. And as parents, we sometimes forget what it was like to be young, which only intensifies the conflict. Even if I find it easy to empathize with what my students go through, I might find it more challenging when it comes to my own children, when my love for them and the storm of emotions I feel clouds my understanding.

After the final episode, Netflix included “13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons.” In it, the cast talks about how teenage brains don’t function the way that adult brains do. I’ve done enough lessons with my students on this very topic, usually in conjunction with our study of Romeo and Juliet, another suicide story. We watch some TedTalks about the adolescent brain and listen to podcasts from NPR before deciding whether Romeo and Juliet would have made different decisions if they each had a fully developed pre-frontal cortex.

Suicide is a subject that is a part of most teenager’s reality whether they have thought about it themselves, or known someone else who has. Just as Shakespeare didn’t shy away from it, neither does Jay Asher, which is why many students of mine find both works so intriguing.

The creators of the Netflix series hoped that the show would spark conversations between parents, and in my home, it did just that. I confessed to my husband that this scared the shit out of me long before we viewed the episode where Hannah’s mother finds her in the bathtub. (I had to shield my eyes from the graphic nature of the actual suicide.) My husband and I shared stories about the people we knew—friends and friends of friends– who’d taken their own lives. We discussed their reasons, and the impact it had on others. As a teacher, sadly, I add to the list alumni from schools where I’ve taught who didn’t choose life.

pexels-photo-196266

In one episode of the show, Clay imagines telling Hannah how he feels about her. Her response: Why didn’t you say this to me when I was alive?

In “Beyond the Reasons,” the producers advise parents not to ignore what they went through as teenagers, to be honest with their children, and to talk to them without judgement. They implore people to tell others, “You matter to me; I’m glad you’re in my world.” These small steps, they say, can make a big difference.

As a teacher, I appreciated 13 Reasons Why. Not only did it remind me about many of the issues my students face, but it also reminded me there are consequences for our actions, even when, as in the case with Mr. Porter, the action is inaction.

As a parent, it reminded me that what I say to my daughters can make a difference, things like, “It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to not be perfect.” Most of all though, it reminded me to take every opportunity to tell my children what they mean to me, to tell them that they matter. They’re not only in my world, but they are my world, and I love them no matter what.

 

For more like this, follow me on ReadingWhileEating or like my page on Facebook.

 

 

 

This One’s For My Mom

Well, I did it. I ran that 10K that I promised I would back when I posted Return To The Gym, and as with any accomplishment, it felt pretty darn good. It was even better that my sister ran it with me. We chose Moms On The Run for our 10K debut, a local charity event that supports women in our community battling breast cancer. While we are fortunate to say that breast cancer hasn’t personally touched our lives, cancer has. And being women, there isn’t a day where I don’t realize the possibility which exists.

18425192_308646192881543_2449530641794818186_n

Held annually on Mother’s Day, a few years ago we participated in the 5K. My husband pushed our youngest in the stroller while I pushed my oldest to keep running every time she wanted to quit. My sister was there then, too; in addition to running her 5K, she took a Walk of Shame to retrieve my oldest when I lost her in the chaos of the finish line. We were all frantically searching when she heard the call from the MC asking for Peyton’s mom to please come to the grandstand.

We didn’t lose any kids this year (#MomGoals) and we were both proud of our race results. But more than that, even though our own mother was almost three-thousand miles away, it felt as though she was with us as we ran. So while we couldn’t take her out for brunch for Mother’s Day or all go get pedicures, it was a great way to pay tribute to the most incredible woman we know.

IMG_9963

Growing up, our mother was a runner. My sister and I were not. There’s a classic story of how when my sister was in high school, she and her friend decided to go running with my mom. They were found literally writhing in the driveway…at the start of the run. That’s right. They ran to the end of the driveway and collapsed.

By the time my sister and I were both out of college, we began joining our mom at various 5K events. She would pay our entry fees so we felt obligated to attend. It was only slightly embarrassing to have our mom, who was then in her 50s, beating us by a landslide. She’d usually place in the top 3 for her age group, and while I managed to place once for mine, it just so happened for that race, I was the ONLY one in my age group.

It was the worst race of my life. A hell-like cross-country run in the middle of summer. Every step, my feet sank into the soft Long Island sand. The sun beat down on me, sweat stung my eyes, and my sides cramped as though I was being impaled by the very bamboo that lined the endless trail I was trapped on. To stop running only meant to succumb to swarms of blood-sucking mosquitos. It was 5K, Survivor-Style and I desperately wanted to be voted off. When I finally emerged at the finish line, I sat in a patch of shade, red-faced and out-of-breath. When they called my name to retrieve my medal, it was a true WTF moment. Oddly enough, it still felt good to have won something.

At Moms On The Run, we were approached by a camera woman from a local news station who asked us some questions: Were we running as a family? Were we running in honor of anyone? Did we want to say a few words on camera? We graciously declined the interview; however, as I was running, I replayed some of those questions in my head.

I was running for someone. In fact, I was running for a lot of people.

For starters, I was running for me. Every time I was keeping pace with another runner and they stopped to walk, or they surpassed me, I told myself that this wasn’t about how I compared to anyone else. This was my challenge. This was my race. As my own biggest critic, I could let the critic win—the one who tells me that I can’t, or I could listen to that other voice, the one that affirms all that I am capable of and motivates me to do more.

I was running for my girls. I was running to show them that when you set a goal, you don’t give up. I was running to teach them how important it is to be healthy, at every age.

I was running to support other women whose lives and whose families had been affected by cancer, knowing that if ever I was there, I would need the support of my community as well.

And I was running for my mom. A woman who taught me how important it is to care for our bodies, our minds, and our souls. A woman who tells me that she is proud of me, but may not realize how proud it makes me to have her as my mother.

img20170517_06470281

A candid shot of my mother (which knowing her, she’ll hate) after having placed at a 5K.

When I was young, my mom would attend aerobics classes at night. She’d arrive home after my sister and I were already in bed, but she would come to tuck us in. She’d give a little piece of her chewing gum to our dog who would attempt to chomp on it in such a way that it would leave us in fits of laughter, falling asleep with smiles on our faces.

I remember her lifting weights, coining herself “The Ironian” (pronounced: eye-ron-ian)—a woman made of iron. To this day, “The Ironian” remains my Superhero.

She’d take us on long bike rides, over the Ponquogue Bridge, to the ocean and back. A drawbridge with a 55-foot clearance, I wished I owned a 10-speed like my sister. I pedaled my fourth-grade legs on my banana-seat bike knowing that once we reached the top, we would have an adrenaline-pumping thrill on the way down, but would have to work to do it all over again on the return.

Everything my mom did was hard work, but she never viewed it that way. Her running wasn’t working to stay in shape; it was a way to eliminate stress, something that mothers (single mothers especially) have plenty of. Exercising was about growing stronger, to be there for us as the best version of herself, because quite frankly, she was our everything.

Being a mom involves sacrifice. Ironically, the most selfless thing you can do for your children is to care of yourself—for them. This is what my mom taught me, even if it took me 39 years and this 10K for me to realize it.

As I crossed that finish line, I could almost hear her voice in my ear, encouraging me and cheering me on. For a woman who likes to tease me about the paybacks of motherhood, this was my opportunity to pay it forward…to my mom, for all she’s shown me, and to my girls, so that maybe one day, they’ll run races of their own.

IMG_2844

For more like this, follow me on ReadingWhileEating or like my page on Facebook.

 

 

 

OMG! It’s My Blogiversary!

Each year, I do something different on the first day of school as an Icebreaker, and since my students are meeting me for the first time too, I always begin by introducing myself in the same manner that I have planned for them.

August of 2015, I asked my students to complete a 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.  I began by sharing with them the last five books I had read, four things I had done that summer (complete with pictures), three of my goals, two states I wanted to visit, and a favorite quote. My students could come up with any categories they wanted for their 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 so long as they met the objective of having their peers (and me) get to know them better.

My three goals were that I wanted to learn more about the practice of meditation, save money for an upcoming vacation to Hawaii, and start a blog. Before the school year was over, I was well on my way.

May 11, 2016, I posted my very first blog on ReadingWhileEating.com. Thirty-five posts later and here we are.

DSC03913.jpg

When I started the blog, I told myself that I would give it a year and then evaluate where I was with it. Was I enjoying it? Did I want to continue? Or would it be something that I simply crossed off the bucket list? As I celebrate my first blogiversary, I can honestly say that it has been an amazing ride, and happily, one that is not over yet.

In the bio for my blog, I ask readers to “join me in discovering whether or not there’s room for more on the plate.” This year, I have learned that there is. People sometimes comment, “you’re so lucky you can do that…I just don’t have the time.” But we make time for the things that are important to us, and this blog has become just that.

The other night, as my husband and I were getting ready to go to sleep, he turned towards me in the dark and told me that he admires the way I create goals and really go for them. I’ve been training for a 10K, so I assumed that was what he was referring to, but it really could be any number of things—or maybe all of them. I am determined, and when I set my sights on something, I don’t like to fail. If I do, it had better be after giving it my all.

That’s not to say that my blog is wildly successful. I don’t have the thousands of followers that some other blogs have, but that’s okay. Maybe one day I will. As I continue this journey, hopefully I will grow my readership. Although what’s more important: I know that I will continue to grow.

If you are here, then you may already be one of my readers. This is where I get to say, “Thank You.” Thank you for taking the time to read what I have put out there. Thank you for the support you have given me. And thank you for the positivity that you have sent my way.

As my blog enters a new year, I hope that you’ll continue to follow me on ReadingWhileEating. Maybe you’ll even find the time to share it with a friend or two.

Now… Let’s go celebrate!

DSC03903.jpg

 

 

 

I Used to Have Patience…And Then I Had Kids

Tell anyone who is not a teacher that you are, and they assume patience is one of your virtues. They’re not entirely wrong either. Maintaining composure in my classroom is easy, even when I’m asked the same questions a half dozen times in a row: How many paragraphs does this have to be? When is this due? Do we have to finish this for homework? Even if I have repeated myself ad nauseam, even if the answer is also posted on the whiteboard directly behind me (It is), and even if the reason I am being asked to echo myself again and again is due to the asker having been playing with a fidget spinner or checking their Snapchat, I never lose my cool.

I’d love to pretend I possess the same tolerance with my own children; unfortunately, my patience dwindles considerably when I change hats. Some days, it’s gone before 7:00 A.M.

Case in Point: One morning my youngest was brushing her hair when I asked if she’d like me to style it. She nodded. I proceeded to pull the top half up in a ponytail before securing the rest of the hair into a low bun. Minutes later, she’s sobbing.

“I wanted a bun!”

“You have a bun. Look, there’s a bun.”

“But I didn’t want that bun. I wanted a different bun!”

“Did you ask me for a bun?”

“No, but I wanted a bun!”

“YOU HAVE A BUN!”

Mornings can be tough though, so I try to forgive my children for their meltdowns, and I hope they forgive me mine. If patience has a kryptonite, it is fatigue. Some days, they are more tired than others. Some days, I’m more tired. But even on the most frustrating of mornings, I’m able to brush those feelings off when I step inside my classroom, leaving me to ponder why I can handle everyone’s children but my own.

DSC03801.jpg

Her granola bar broke when she opened it.

Unflappable in the face of my students’ questions, my endurance is tested by the inane inquiries my little one tosses my direction.

“Mom, what does TNT stand for?”

“What?”

“TNT…What does TNT stand for?”

“Dynamite.”

“What’s that?”

“Explosives…like firecrackers.”

“So they are crackers that are hot?”

“No.”

“Mom? When are we going to buy popsicles?”

“I don’t know.”

“Mom?”

“What?”

“I think I want to be a bird so when people walk by I can poop on their heads. But not your head because you’ve already been pooped on. Right Mom?…Mom?…MOM?!?”

“WHAT!?!”

“When are we going to see the fireworks again?”

“I don’t know. Probably the fourth of July.”

“When is that?”

“THE FOURTH OF JULY.”

“Yeah, but what day is that?”

These are the moments when I know that I will be pouring myself a glass a wine with dinner to go with the glass of wine I poured myself before dinner.

Sometimes my inability to be a more patient parent leaves me feeling less-than. I convince myself that other moms are holding hands with their children, singing Kumbaya, and answering all their questions with a smile. But then I’m sitting at gymnastics when another mom snaps at her son after his fourth or fifth “mom” and I am reassured. She sounded just like me.

Like me, she just wanted these forty-five minutes to scroll through social media, to zone out, or to read a book without the constant pestering. Thank you, Real Mom of Gymnastics. We should be friends.

When parenting—especially parenting young children—patience can melt faster than a soft-serve ice cream cone at the beach. It’s perfectly normal to feel like there isn’t enough oxygen in this ecosystem for all the deep breaths you’ll need and it’s not wrong to want to give yourself a time out.

I once received text messages from a mom-friend who was hiding in her closet from her children and not because they were playing an awesome round of Hide-and-Go-Seek. I had to remind her that she wasn’t a terrible mother; she was wise to go in there (and wiser still to have brought an adult beverage with her). After all, what mom hasn’t gone to the bathroom and locked the door under the guise of needing to poo if only to get a five-minute reprieve? Sometimes the overstimulation of being poked and prodded and needed and questioned is too much. Nerves get exposed and every whine or cry feels like a root canal minus the Novocaine. If hiding in the closet means you regain your composure without losing it on your kids, more power to you.

After a long week, even Family Game Night requires me to tap into my depleted patience reserves. A few hands of Uno feels more like Chinese Water Torture. This one needs to get a snack, then that one needs something to drink, the dog scratches at the door to go out, then there is an attempt by a five-year-old at shuffling the deck. The dog scratches to come back in. The cup of water gets spilled. The nine-year-old is tap-tap-tapping her cards on the table, and I’m looking at my phone every five minutes to see if it is time for bed yet and cursing every Draw Four card that gets played.

Sometimes I think I could hang onto my sanity if only everyone would kindly just shut up. My youngest has been talking since she was born. You couldn’t quiet her unless there was a nipple in her mouth and we used that binky way longer than we should have. Still, I don’t enjoy feeling like the Grinch looking down on my little Who-Ville complaining about “the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!” I get why he freaked out though.

DSC03809

Dr. Ray Gaurendi, author of the book Back to the Family, says “Patience is an ideal to strive for. It is not a day-to-day reality.”

It’s certainly not my reality most days, but then there are those other days, the ones where I don’t just tolerate the clamor, I enjoy it; where the silly line of questions amazes me; where instead of hiding, I want to immerse myself in the chaos of these crazy kids, my crazy kids.

Let’s face it, if you are around your children enough to be irritated by them, you’re doing a good job. And if you lose your shit from time to time, remember to cut yourself a little slack, too. We can’t be Stepford Moms all the time. If patience is the ideal, I’ll keep on striving.