Saturday, June 30, 2018

Floor Pie FLASHBACK! - Elitist, My Ass (September 2008)

“You know the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick!" – Sarah Palin

As the applause thundered throughout Palin’s speech, I felt like I was back in 7th or 8th grade again, trying to will myself invisible or at least tune out the taunts of my classmates. Ah, the Dawn Wiener years. And even though I’ve done my best to repress it, the knee-jerk physical memory of that time catches in my throat whenever I hear a crowd jeering in its victorious rejection of people like myself.

That pit bull line reminds me of a former co-worker who once described, with great self-righteous indignation, how she’d grabbed a woman by the shirt and slammed her into a wall because the woman had accidentally bumped into my co-worker’s small daughter at a crowded Wall E. Weasels. It also reminds me of my friends whose toddler bit an older child at a crowded children’s museum (through his jeans, no broken skin). The victim’s parents not only refused to accept their many sincere apologies and concern, they screamed at my friends and followed the family all through the museum, followed the mom into the ladies room, verbally harassing the parents, demanding their phone number and medical records, threatening the museum with legal action.

That, to me, is what a pit bull in lipstick looks like. Timid types like myself tend to reject these folks in the first place, and it’s not about elitism. We’re just not big on being a target for someone’s displaced aggression.

Earlier this year, my state was dismissed by a political surrogate as a bunch of “latte-sipping elitists.” And while I was tempted to just scoff it off, I had to think about it. I do drink lattes, after all. Maybe they were onto something. I’ve recently questioned my long-held rejection of my small Pennsylvania home town, realizing at last that adolescence is a train wreck no matter where you grow up, no matter how privileged you may be. As a shy, quirky, anxious girl in glasses, I would have been harassed no matter what.

But it’s a hard thing to unlearn. A small town upbringing may not have harmed me, but it really didn’t do me many favors, either. Teachers espoused anti-Semitism, homophobia, and creationism with impunity. A classmate’s tragic suicide was co-opted into an insensitive war-on-drugs circus. One American history teacher had us convinced that brutality to slaves was a myth. His reasoning? “Slaves were property, like a car. You wouldn’t beat up your car, so slave owners didn’t beat up their slaves.” Oh. Okay. But we believed it.

My parents were Vietnam-war-protesting Jimmy Carter supporters, bleeding hearts through and through. But the racism, the homophobia, even the sexism of the community still managed to seep into my sensibilities. It wasn’t that I consciously believed it. There wasn’t a speck of hate in my heart. But I’d learned to be complicit to fit in. In a town where supporting Walter Mondale made you some kind of a radical, I accepted without question that an all-white, straight community was Us, and assumed I’d never actually intersect with Them.

And thus, young Floor Pie packed up her paisley sweaters and went off to a small east coast liberal arts college.

I’d been an outcast nerd for so long. The Dawn Wiener years ended with junior high, largely because our high school tracking program finally separated me from my detractors. The meanest ones would still taunt if our paths crossed in the hallways, but we were in different classes and different lunch periods now.

But even as I was making friends and getting involved in theater and music, I was still quite the asexual oddball. I’d yearned for college, and when I finally got there it seemed better than I ever could have imagined. I met people who were creative and proud to be smart. They liked their high school English teachers too! They didn’t like Ronald Reagan either! They introduced me to Kate Bush, Suzanne Vega, and Robert Smith. I’d found my people!

Until I blew it. My farm-fresh ignorance cringingly revealed itself over the first few days, and the cool kids dropped me like the nerd I’d always been. There was a trip to Manhattan I wasn’t invited to, but found out about afterwards. There were times when I’d see them see me coming and they’d hastily duck out. Some were catty, some ignored me, some tried to be patient and still let me hang out, some were downright mean. After a few weeks, I retreated without making too big an ass of myself.

So there I was: rejected by both sides of the culture war, settling among the mainstream 80’s girls on my freshman floor to be their loveable token weirdo. It was more frustrating than painful, really. I could see exactly how my ignorance and over-anxious enthusiasm had caused me to forfeit a place at their table. Crappy as they’d treated me, I still identified with their intelligence, their pop culture, their whip-smart senses of humor and irony, their politics. These things spoke to who I truly felt I was at heart.

Thankfully, my social life, social skills, and political savvy improved over time. I found a happier niche with a merry band of alternageeks, and those years still have a special place in my nostalgia file. But I never reconnected with that first group of would-be friends. Sometimes I imagine they’re out there stumbling upon my Facebook profile or my listing in the alumni magazine. I can just hear them scoffing smugly to see that I’ve ended up a stay-at-home mom. “Sounds about right. That’s about all she was cut out for.”

Yeah, maybe I’m still bitter. But I haven’t let the bitterness trip up my (oh, forgive me) journey of self-discovery. I could have taken this college experience and parlayed it into the disgust for “liberals” or “elitists” that so many seem to share. But that wasn’t it for me. I had to suck it up, hang back a little and just listen and learn. Hate the arrogance, not the ideals. It would have been nice if those guys had given me more of a chance. But at least I still gave myself a chance.

Okay, we’re venturing into Afterschool Special territory, here. Turn the ship around.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Smart and Kind

I’m not so scared for my boy anymore. Not like I used to be. Not compared to, say, his final year of preschool, when I anxiously devoured Dave Cullen’s excellent book Columbine in a mad and desperate search for clues and validation, all because he’d been knocking over the same kid’s blocks at preschool every day. Knocking over another 4-year-old’s blocks…mass shooting…turns out I was missing a few key pieces in there, but honestly the way our (entirely white) preschool community was responding to The Boy’s raging glimmers of as-yet-undiagnosed ASD, I can’t really fault myself for the fears.

Years later, as a middle school special ed teacher, I realize now exactly how predictably common that response is to students with disabilities like ASD, ADHD, and PTSD. It’s chilling how often I’ve heard the term “sociopath” tossed around lightly and wildly inaccurately by teachers and even a speech therapist once (not at my current school, thankfully). And every year there’s at least one anxious mom or grandma or dad of a kid who’s basically fine who comes to meet with me before the school year begins, shell-shocked and sometimes tearful and a little bit broken from having been made to believe that their child was fundamentally Bad. Sometimes the students show up believing it about themselves, too.  

And, to be sure, my students can get up to some shenanigans. I don’t excuse these behaviors and neither do their families. We hold these students to high expectations, and we teach and re-teach and coach and practice. We chart their progress and celebrate their successes. We hold them accountable with love. Years ago, one of my boys made me so angry, and I said, with such fierceness in my voice “You are SMART and KIND!” Instantly he stopped fronting and slumped into tears…maybe because he’d needed so badly to hear it. Maybe because he knew at the root of it all, it was true.

In the wake of yet another devastating school shooting, I’m seeing a lot of conversations unfold out of our fears. It’s necessary and productive, of course, and I hope some good will come of it. But there’s a new little thread in the collective narrative that has me a feeling a bit uneasy – friendly admonitions here and there in my social media feeds encouraging us to raise boys who, you know, won’t grow up to be mass shooters. Raise your sons to be sweet. Raise your sons to be gentle.



And, you know, on behalf of my fellow mothers of boys with ASD, ADHD, and PTSD, I’ll just say thanks for that. It might never have occurred to us to worry and fear and shame ourselves over our sons’ behaviors if it weren’t for the steady voice of concerned townspeople waving their pitchforks of good intentions. Remember when they used to blame autism on “refrigerator mothers”? Honestly, why even bother trying to scientifically disprove such bullshit at this point; our culture is so determined to oversimplify and seek a cartoon villain to pin all the scary things in the world onto.

Look. If you’ve never had to sit in a school administrator’s office wearing the Cone of Shame with your sobbing child while they tell you all about some unbelievably ridiculous thing he did or said that you absolutely DID NOT raise him to do or say…well, have a gold star and a cookie and take a moment to be grateful for your good fortune. I promise you, gentle readers, I never set out to raise a boy who would knock over somebody else’s blocks any more than you did. No one does. I don’t excuse it, and I have absolutely held us both accountable for his transgressions over the years. But it’s a rocky road, two steps forward and seven steps back always, constantly. The judgment and speculation about our boys and the likelihood that they’ll go fabulously wrong? It’s not helping.

There have been supportive teachers in my son’s life who have seen and embraced his strengths and used that as a starting point for their work with him. And there have been teachers so preoccupied with vigilance for some imaginary evil that they’ve mistakenly seen it in him. Guess which teachers helped him make the most progress?

This whole business of “Holy moly, be careful you don’t accidentally raise a school shooter” is a slippery slope, my friends. We are setting ourselves up to hurt and to fail. Worst of all, we’re setting ourselves up to look at our young men with suspicion and fear and maybe even self-fulfilling prophecies.

Yes, by all means, report incidents of concern to your school principals or even the police. But once you’ve reported it, let the administrators and police officers do their jobs and don’t pile on with fear and judgment. The young man you reported hasn’t done anything yet. Maybe it’s not too late for him. 

And when it comes to the young man’s mother, please trust – you’re just going to have to trust, because she might not give you the satisfaction of showing it publicly – that this hypothetical young man’s hypothetical mother’s heart is already broken into pieces upon pieces, because she was quite sure that she DID raise him to be gentle and sweet. Consider the possibility that being gentle and sweet and seeking a way out of one’s misery through horrific violence might not be mutually exclusive.  

Life is complicated. Human beings are complicated. There’s no such thing as good guys and bad guys. We’re all of us just a pile of wounded humanity swinging from branch to branch, trying like hell to survive and save face.

Like I said to my student all those years ago: He – whoever “he” is – is smart and kind. If we’re going to be vigilant about anything, let’s be vigilant for the goodness in our boys instead of the evil. SEE the sweetness in them in the first place. Nurture it. Model it in your response to them, even when their behaviors upset you. Isolating troubled children and pushing them further and further away is probably the most dangerous thing we can do. Let’s pull them in while we still can.  

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Meanwhile, 20 Years Ago...

January 18, 1998

Well...what can I say? Work is Melrose Place, but it's not all bad. I met someone new at Erin's party. I'm happy of course, but it's hard to be too optimistic...the way these things keep exploding in my face. Person A is detached. Person B is long gone. This guy is somewhere in between the two - well-read, educated, cool, Simpsons fan, and so forth. He's very attractive in that way I love...slim, boy-like, exquisite hands. We shared an orange and touched fingers. We held hands and kissed goodnight. Man, I can't even focus on what to feel. I don't want to worry or be cynical. So...we'll see.

It occurred to me that maybe I run into these problems because I misrepresent myself as One Who Is Too Cool to Care...when in fact, nothing would make me happier than the right guy sewed to my couch/bed. One who spends the weekend and emails me six times a day. Sure, that would suck with the wrong guy. But with the right one...

Anyhow, I don't have any answers. I just thought I might try to not misrepresent myself this time and see if it makes any difference. Probably won't, but it's worth a shot. I like this guy. I like all of them...why does it always end in huge disappointment? Oh well...half-full/half-empty, right? Tune in next week and hope for the best.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Not You. (But Also a Little Bit You.)

The #MeToo reckoning of the last few weeks has turned out to be quite the unexpected rabbit hole for me. Somewhere between Louis C.K. and Al Franken, I had to pull over and think about whether I really wanted to pursue that particular rabbit any further down. Because I was pretty sure that at the bottom of it, all I’d find would be a blazing inferno of my own suppressed rage, ignited long ago by the twigs and sparks of little indignities swallowed over years upon years. How could I face such a fire without completely succumbing, becoming endlessly and unforgivingly one with the rage? I had IEPs to write, lessons to plan, emerging young men to guide with love and empathy away from the crimes of the fathers.

You know how rescuers will blindfold horses to lead them safely out of a barn fire so the horses don’t freak out and run away? That’s what I’ve been trying to do for myself. I didn’t want to see that fire. I just wanted to get myself safely outside.

But the fire, my friends, it is everywhere. Let’s go ahead and extend that metaphor and recall the relentlessly smoky skies that hung over my beloved Seattle for most of last summer. That’s realistically closer to where I’m at. I’ve only endured the low-level “something’s not quite right here” hazy effects of devastating fires raging elsewhere. Nothing traumatic, thankfully. Just low, slow, steady doses of toxic smoke and muted sunlight.

You know. Boring stuff, like when they stop being friends with you as soon as they know that sex is definitely not going to happen. When they devour your respect and admiration like a platter of holiday party appetizers, but will disappear for months at a time if you dare utter even the slightest criticism against them. When you can’t even go to the store or have an office job or walk across campus without being evaluated – are you worthy of their desire? (And if you’re not, then how dare you even show up being so unenjoyable to look at.) When we're heartily encouraged to see our disappointments through the filter of “He’s Just Not That Into You.”  

Or…when they send you texts admiring your writing, confess to a boyish crush and then, before you've even had a chance to smile and ponder over it, request nudes and declare “You think too much” when you say no. Turns out they admire an awful lot of writers besides you and have quite the collection of boyish crushes. PS – those other crushes are hotter/more talented/just overall better than you. PPS – would you spy on some of those crushes on social media for him since they’ve all blocked him?    

Boring, everyday stuff, really. Who hasn’t had some version of any of those things happen, like, this week? But I’ve been so afraid to say any of it out loud.  

For one thing, saying it out loud is a sure way to end meaningful friendships that I’ve been laboring so attentively to maintain. Not all of them, of course. Some of these guys (like the “send nudes” guy) can go jump in a lake. Others, though. In spite of their endless mountains of male angst bullshit, I have loved them all so much that I’ve agreed to be complicit and breezy, swallowing every last complaint so they don’t disappear in a puff of smoke. Finally giving voice to all this? They’re already gone. I’ll miss them.

Saying it out loud makes me vulnerable to the obvious criticism: WHY would I even bother with such friendships in the first place? Hey. Okay. You got me. I like friendships with men. I still occasionally get sweet crushes on men. I am attracted to men, and this is what being attracted to men is…so it’s kind of my fault for putting on the football helmet and getting out on the field in the first place and then “whining” that somebody pushed me in the mud.

Saying it out loud makes me vulnerable to this criticism, too: Hey Lady, maybe the problem is you, with all your intensity and negativity and wanting people to like/respect you as much as you like/respect them. Men have more important things to do than sit around talking to you. Put out or go home. And either way, shut up about it or else you’re “psycho.” (They love to call us psycho, don’t they?)

Saying it out loud makes me vulnerable to the chorus of female friends who stick up for these guys. There are more of them than not. You know it. I know it. They’ll post on social media all day long about Louis C.K., but wait until someone in their own friend group pulls something like that. Then see how much they’ve got your back.

So, yeah. Now that I’ve pissed off and alienated pretty much everybody, I’ll just say this: I loved our friendships. I’ve missed you when you’ve been unofficially absent from my life with the faint promise of someday coming back, and I’m going to miss you even more now that I’ve broken the unspoken agreements and conveyed my disappointment and need so publicly. 

So…if you’re so vain that you probably think this song is about you, please consider the following:

(1) I don’t want or need your apology. I wanted you to never do this stuff in the first place.

(2) I don’t need your explanations. But if you feel so compelled, you can go ahead and try to explain yourself anyway. I know I haven’t told the whole story here. I know I’ve only focused on the things that hurt my feelings and lasted over the years. Tell me all about it if you must. I’ll read it. I’ll listen. I’ll try to be fair.

(3) Think twice before posting outrage at the bad behavior of celebrities and politicians on social media as if you are somehow superior to these dudes. Maybe you didn’t do anything quite that bad. But you’re not so clean that you couldn’t use a good long look in the mirror. Have you ever made a woman doubt her own logic, reasoning, beauty, intelligence, or basic need for self-respect? Did you use the other women who admire and adore you as ammunition against her when she tried to argue? Have you worked as hard as she was working to maintain a friendship, or did you just breeze in and out as it suited you, entirely on your terms?  

You know, just…think twice about all that. And tread a little more lightly around that glass house. 

Friday, July 7, 2017


Three things I’ve learned during my transition from special education parent to special education teacher:

1.      My family’s journey, as painful and soul-shattering as it was, is not even a little bit unique.
This is the rule more than it is the exception: A wily bright-eyed 5-year-old full of reckless intelligence and raw spirit shows up for kindergarten and can’t make the cut. His sensibilities get tweaked and twisted hither and thither, out come the behaviors, out come the adults’ baggage as they respond to those behaviors, throw in a diagnosis and a few dance numbers and in a year, give or take, the child is in a special ed program – maybe a program specializing in emotional/behavioral disabilities (EBD), maybe in a different school entirely. From there, it can get better or worse. Or both, from year to year. There’s no school or system alone that will wholly sustain a child. What matters, always, is how engaged and flexible and empathic are the adults in the classroom. But children are resilient. They can and do emotionally leapfrog a successful path across the adults who “get” them, sailing safely over the ones who don’t. It’s true, people. One person absolutely can and does make a difference in this respect.

2.      The discrimination I always suspected when I was just a parent is not only there; it is thriving and unapologetic.
The stories I could tell. I think what hurts most, though, is my own persistently na├»ve assumption that if you just reason with people, they will see the light and say “Thank you very much for the constructive criticism” and enroll in a series of trainings. Yeah. That doesn’t happen. I don’t know what the actual correct answer is, but I have learned the hard way that simply speaking up and shining a light in the dark ugly corners is definitely NOT the way if you want to survive in this biz for very long. But there are like-minded people here too, good people who’ve been at this a lot longer than me and have learned some wise and stoic ways around and through. Someday, I hope, I’ll find authenticity and effectiveness in navigating the cracks as they have.   

3.      My family’s experiences of 1 and 2 are the 5-star easy-peasy white privilege version.
Anything I’ve seen happen to white children with ASD, ADHD, or trauma is a trip to Disneyland compared to what happens to children of color with the same disabilities. Bias runs deep. I don’t have much more to say about that, because it’s not really my story to tell. But I’m constantly working to learn and unlearn and, most of all, to listen.

And now…

A change is coming. My whole career thus far has been me in the cracks, working simultaneously within and against The System to catch and strengthen any of the kids who slipped down there. I have, for the most part, found my strength in opposition. Standing by my students when they’ve been misunderstood or unfairly punished. Amending behavior plans that were little more than a laundry list of complaints about the student’s deficits. Empathizing with families, hearing and validating their complaints, helping them find their own voice and empowerment. I’ve kept my students company on those chairs outside the principal’s office, sat by them under tables and in corners of the hallways, struggled through inscrutable paper/pencil assignments with them, staffed “stay back” rooms during field trips and school dances they weren’t allowed to attend.

And now I’m moving on. A brand new school that’s opening in the fall chose me, in part, because of all these things I’ve done and stood for. This school aspires to be different. Its leaders and staff are driven by similar passions and sense of justice that drives me. Which means, in theory, anyway…no more cracks.

Welcome to the surface.

How very strange. Suddenly, instead of hunkering down and finding sneaky ways to thrive within a system, I’m standing with and for a system in broad daylight. How intimidating, really, because what if I’m terrible at it? What if all I really know how to do is fight? And then the fight gets taken away and….well….all that’s left are my own little shaky-legged inadequacies?

That’s the fear, anyway. And as fears go, I suppose the fear of being terrible at teaching is a pretty easy fear to have. Because, let’s face it, on some days we just are, and it’s never the end of the world. Just, you know, keep swimming. Keep working. Keep learning. Try new things. Try other new things. The Boy’s best teachers, after all, are never the ones who are unyieldingly The Best. They’re the ones who can flow and reflect and expand and absorb and change. As a parent on the verge of enrolling my then-2nd grader in his very first special ed program, I wrote:

But ultimately, what I want is something you can’t really legislate. I just want autism to be accepted from the ground up and build from there. And nobody officially does that. They either have it in them or they don’t.

So, you know. I have it in me, at least. This might not be easy, but it just might be the best year yet. Onward.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

On This Day

I didn’t think I would cry. Or that it would be my students, some of the only people who’ve been keeping me sane and happy during these dark and dangerous times, who would be the ones to tip the scales in the direction of weep-fest. My 6th graders, joyfully returning from a walk-out organized by the neighboring high school to protest the dark and dangerous times. My 6th graders, bragging that they’d ditched the march and gone to 7-11 instead.

And then immediately taking it back upon seeing the disappointment on my face.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, because OF COURSE they ditched the march for 7-11, being basically children and all...children who no longer get recess or much of anything beyond endless paper/pencil tasks and ample opportunities to feel bad about themselves; children whose teachers pull me aside in the hallway to scold me for being such a bad babysitter (where are the consequences? how are they being held accountable?! ); children whose case manager teacher is sitting motionless at her desk, staring into the computer screen while the tears stream and stream and stream; children whose new president, the one they were supposed to be protesting while they were sneaking off to 7-11, is about to appoint a leader who doesn’t even want this teacher here protecting them from 15-day suspensions and a grading system that punishes – sorry – holds them accountable – for their disabilities.

“You’re giving me a negative vibe, Ms. Floor Pie!” scolds a student, not wanting to hear anything more about freedom equaling responsibility, and storms out of my classroom to play with the other kids cutting class in the hallway. And that’s the tipping point. Here come the water works.

The principal shows up and is thankfully, surprisingly, supportive. Looks into the kid’s face, the kid who’s surely going to give me playful hell on Monday for calling the principal on him, but who still needs to hear that principal say THIS teacher will fight for your education when no one else will! And you want to mess with THIS teacher?

Finally I’m able to sniff and apologize. “I’m sorry you had to see that. But now you know that teachers aren’t robots. We have feelings too, and our feelings get hurt just the same as anyone else’s.” They get it. Because kids, in general, are simply better human beings than adults are much of the time.

Earlier that day, I’d spent my prep period on the phone with the school psychologist who’s doing The Boy’s 3-year reevaluation. She’s beyond amazing, this woman. The school psychologist I’ve been waiting for. She’s got some harsh truths and concerns and hypotheses for me, but my Zod she sees the nuance, too. She sees what I’ve been seeing all along, what I’ve tried to express to blank stares glancing anxiously at their watches around too many conference room tables over the years. Not this time. Even his classroom teachers have written complex, nuanced, frank-but-strength-based whole paragraphs about him in the drafted reevaluation. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Then, as if to underscore the hilarious absurdity of my work/life balance these days, my classroom door opens and in walk three of my boys, my “high flyers” as we say in the biz, deep in conversation with each other while I continue to talk to my son’s school psych as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening. A moment later, an administrator comes in, radio in hand, urging them to return to the cafeteria where they’re supposed to be. All four of them vanish as quickly as they appeared.  “Isn’t it great that they felt safe coming to your classroom?” asks a colleague as we laugh about the absurd situation over a small Special-Ed-Supporters-Only happy hour. Yes, I think. It is.

We say our goodnights, I turn on my cell phone, and there it is all over my social media feed like a bitter orange cherry on top, marching into power to gleefully piss on my very livelihood and everything I’ve ever cared deeply about. And I’m crying again, silent and stoic, seemingly endless cascade of tears down my face.

Today, though, my social media feed is all pink hats, ferocity, and inspiration. Driving Little Grrl to her Japanese class this morning, the streets of Seattle are packed with freedom fighters of all descriptions, waiting at bus stops, walking, biking, gathering for group photos before heading off to the march. And when I pick up my phone again it’s full of texts from various pink-hatted family members – not just the ones who live in DC but from all over the nation, taking a stand.

I’m finding this all incredibly encouraging as I plod through my usual Saturday routine of trying to catch up on paperwork while special education is still even a thing. And I’m reflecting on the brightest moment of my teaching yesterday…first period, right after the principal’s lengthy announcement detailing the rules for participating in the walk-out.

“The United States of America is still a free country,” I told them. And even though they’re not supposed to get this information until 8th grade, I drew the Three Branches of Government triangle on the board. “He’s not the king,” I explained, to many students’ relief, and I wrote the names Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell, and Pramila Jayapal on the board under the “Congress” point of the triangle. “You don’t have to be 18 to call and email these women,” I said. “Tell them what YOU want from your country. It’s still your country, too.”

And I saw their faces brighten just a little.

Saturday, December 3, 2016


December gathers us in. It calls us out of the darkness, back from our various endeavors; shepherds us safely home through rain-slicked pitch dark streets at 4pm, through lines at the airports, through those last few weeks of school. December calls for us to help, too. Bring coats and food. Welcome them with love when they show up at my classroom door unscheduled, pacing and frustrated, puzzling it out.

Cry a little on the inside but don’t scold when one of them, through the sheer force of the his own anger and sorrow as he tells me the story, absentmindedly forces and forces the window until the rusty old lock breaks off and clunks unceremoniously to the floor, all rust and splintered wood. People who force kids to say “I’m sorry” should watch their faces instead; watch for the moment of impact before they remember to put their tough-guy personas back on. “I…. I didn’t think it would break that easily.”

I don’t say “It’s all right” because, truthfully, it isn’t. But my face betrays something too, maybe a child-like disappointment as earnest and pure as his child-like shocked-at-his-own-strength remorse, and that look between us is really all that’s needed. Later I find him and his buddies joyfully helping the ladies in the office gather up bags of groceries to donate to a local food bank, loading them into the school counselor’s car, students and adults all eagerly buzzing about the prospect of snow this weekend.

December huddles me in to Starbucks, not because I’m that much of a sucker for their  marketing, but because a Christmas-decorated Starbucks was the scene of one of the happiest moments in my life ever – where 13 years ago Mr. Black and I silently rode the hospital elevator down, solemn and unspeakably joyful at once, gingerly holding a black and white ultrasound printout of our little outer-space soon-to-be first baby. A boy, we’d learned only moments ago. So before we went our separate ways to work, we sat near speechless in the hospital Starbucks downstairs, gazing reverently at the first-ever picture of our son, dreaming away under the opulent reds and greens.

December celebrates Little Grrl’s birth. Can’t take a chilly walk through our neighborhood past the Christmas lights without remembering a similar walk Mr. Black and I took almost 10 years ago, pausing to breeeeathe through gut-splitting contractions amid all that merriment. As we hurried into the hospital lobby trying to remember which was the right elevator, a sparkly-white Christmas display caught my eye and filled me with a thread of joy and anticipation through the pain. Santa Claus comes tonight. My parents came, trimming the tree and taking 2-year-old The Boy on various holiday excursions while baby and I huddled into a blissful nest made of holiday movies and delicious meals from the preschool families. 

December sometimes has a Christmas miracle or two up its sleeve. One year, for example, our aging cat came down with a serious kidney infection. “Eric says it could be fatal,” The Boy, age 7, stoically informed us as he and Mr. Black strode into the emergency vet’s waiting room straight from school. Second grader or not, Eric wasn’t wrong. We cancelled our holiday travel plans and stocked up on subcutaneous fluids and a needle disposal bin along with candy canes and presents. We brought our Tiny Tim of a kitty home from the animal hospital and steeled ourselves for heartbreak. But, in true Very Special Christmas Episode spirit, the kitty pulled through almost completely. God bless us, every one.

December gathers us in. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it this year, given the political state of things and its immediate impact on loved ones, on many of my more vulnerable families at school, on the very existence of public education. There are dark and difficult times ahead. Our values and beliefs have been shaken to the core – not just from the election, not just from Standing Rock, not just from the untimely deaths of African American children at the hands of prejudice and ignorant fear…but from the real impact I’m seeing on my fellow “helpers” in the trenches with me.

Because sometimes it gets to be too much. As much as we care, as much as we love, if we don’t let go and move to higher ground, our own caring is going to drag us under.

He’s one of the strongest, one of the very best. He’s practically Santa Claus himself. No…Dumbledore. Not Dumbledore falling from the Astronomy Tower in the 6th book, thankfully, but Dumbledore in the 5th book when he’s temporarily forced out by a growing movement of cynicism and distrust of children, leaving us to form our own little rag-tag “army” of sorts and hope for the best. And he’ll wave goodbye sayin’ don’t you cry…

December breaks our hearts. We learned it on the Monday after Thanksgiving, about five minutes before we had to welcome back our students and all the attendant post-Thanksgiving-pre-Winter-Break madness. A few of us gathered at the back of the library and did that thing teachers do when they’ve been unexpectedly pushed a few thousand feet too far – cry on the inside, in our throats and at the very corners of our eyes without any actual tears or sobs. People were asking me about it all day. “I’m shattered,” I replied plainly. Calm, without hyperbole. “But what can we do? I guess I’ll just have to learn how to be my own Dumbledore.”

And now, I’m typing all this up in another Christmas Starbucks while Bing Crosby serenades us and people come and go in their running/biking garb, every conversation swirling with anxiety and theories about our country’s impending regime change. “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” Bing persists, and cynical dismissal feels almost too easy.

December gathers us in. As rocky as this year has been, I still feel the love and joy of the season as strong and poignantly as ever. My boys loading that car with groceries for the food bank. My teacher friends checking in for coffee and gallows humor. Mr. Black with delicious food on the table when I stagger in from the cold dark night covered in my O the Humanity haze, The Boy punctuating my jargon-filled school-related rants with air horn sound effects, bursting into a rousing chorus of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” to cheer me up. Little Grrl regaling me with stories about her day at school that are so carefully organized that I suspect she’s been using a Common Core rubric to plan their delivery.

And my wonderful, wonderful mentors and colleagues out there. Every freedom fighter, every helper, every single one of you who has touched my life and made me a stronger teacher and a better human being, from my ACLU-staffer days to cooperative preschool to graduate school and Seattle Public Schools and beyond. I love you all so dearly.

January will force us back out into the fight and the fray. But December gathers us in. Let’s embrace it. Hold each other, laugh together, eat delicious food together, let ourselves have fun. Troubled times or not, we need this. And we deserve it.

Tidings of comfort and joy, my loves.

It's in every one of us 
To be wise 
Find your heart 
Open up both your eyes 
We can all know everything 
Without ever knowing why 
It's in every one of us
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