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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