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The Humbling of a Substitute Teacher

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The little girl is cute as can be. She has a button of a nose that she wrinkles up when you say it’s time for math, and her coarse black hair is braided into unwieldy pigtails that spring out from the sides of her head. Right now, her mouth is open in a little o and she is looking at you as if you are very dangerous indeed. Perhaps a psychopath.

And you are acting like one. You are bending over and yelling into her little face at the top of your lungs, “I don’t care whose job it is, you are doing it and you are doing it now! I am sick of this!”

Suddenly all the children in the class are busily stacking their chairs as if they do this every afternoon, which they do not. It’s why your back has gone out of whack and you’ve been gobbling Advil for two days and are unable to chase wayward children down the hall when you tell them they can’t go to the water fountain but they go anyway. Because you end every day by stacking twenty chairs and then stooping and stooping and stooping, gathering scissors and crayons and water bottles and abandoned spelling worksheets and all the detritus of the day which other teachers somehow manage to have their children pick up, but you can not.

This is why I am yelling at the cute little girl. I am in pain. The teacher for whom I was supposed to sub two days has shingles and this is day five with her unruly class. (It has been confirmed by several teachers that this is one of the toughest classes in the school, and I am highly relieved to hear this.) It is fifteen minutes before dismissal, the end of the day so close I can smell it, and this little girl has blurted out the last of one too many “nos,” one too many “it’s not my jobs,” and one too many “but our teacher lets us do a, b, or c.”

True, the girl has been acting up and getting worse all week, aligning herself with the constantly trying second grade boys. But she has not been responsible for most of the week’s trouble in this, my first eye-opening week of substitute teaching.

Tomorrow I will apologize to her in front of the class. To show them how grownups who are not psychopaths behave.

I FORGOT

Was This Teaching Thing All a Mistake?

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WAS THIS TEACHING THING ALL A MISTAKE?

The closest thing I can liken it to is that feeling you get when you’ve been in a car accident and you step out all wobbly, gingerly testing every part of your body. You think you might be OK, but then again you might be missing a limb and not feeling it because you are in deep shock. Everything seems vivid and clear and surreal. You are glad to be alive.

You take deep gulping breaths and blink back tears, tears that have been lurking since you ate your PB&J sandwich at noon and waited for the kids to come back from recess.

Today you have been sad, mad, and despairing, but mostly just powerless.

Over first and second graders.

My first day as a substitute teacher might have been better without the second grade boys in the mix. In fact, it most definitely would have been. The paper airplanes wouldn’t be stuck on top of the ceiling light fixture and the four-foot-tall stack of plastic tubs would not have careened to the ground and scattered all the regular teacher’s folders and papers all over the floor.

I just thank God that the head of the school did not walk in at that moment. With two boys denying responsibility at higher and higher decibel levels and a third boy sobbing his heart out and the rest of the class staring at me with saucer-sized eyes, wondering if I was going to hit someone.

The girls mostly got into fights with each other over sharing toys and where things such as rocket ships and flags were supposed to be stored. There were raised voices, there were tears, there was one who sat in a corner and sulked for ten minutes. I asked her if she wanted to talk and she shook her head so I left her there. She seemed to bounce back.

I don’t know. Was this whole idea of substitute teaching a massive mistake?

My Facebook friends were so encouraging! “You’ll be amazing . . . you’ll be great . . . you have so much wisdom . . . you’ll change lives!”

Not so much.

There were moments. Helping a little girl learn to read the words “ice cream and cake” was cool, and reading Horton Hears a Who to an exhausted class at the end of the day with one small child cuddled next to me was five minutes of well-earned bliss.

A little red-headed girl who was only with my class for an hour of spelling and writing came running in to give me a hug after school.

And A, despite being in tears several times during the day, presented me with this:

A’s Gift

I don’t know whether that is a TV or a couple of aliens coming in through a window, but it matters not. I will keep this picture as a reminder of my first day as a teacher. Someday I hope to laugh about it all. Right now, my stomach hurts. I have to go back tomorrow.

A Sad but Beautiful Personal Story of Japanese “Internment”

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A Sad but Beautiful Personal Story of Japanese “Internment”

This is Part Two of the story that I posted this morning, Executive Order Imprisons 110,000 People. I wanted to share this lovely remembrance that a reader wrote in response to the version I posted in my Daily Kos Diary.

This is from a Daily Kos member who calls himself HarpBoyAK, a “long-time Juneau, Alaska political and environmental activist.”

My community was incensed that their good citizens of Japanese ancestry were being deported.  They implored the Federal Government to let their beloved laundry owner and workers, their favorite cafe owner and workers, and many other Japanese workers stay.  They knew these good, honest, hardworking people, and did not want them to leave.

So much so that when the valedictorian of the Juneau High School class of 1942 (my uncle’s class) held their commencement, the school painted one of the wooden folding chairs black and put it in John Tanaka’s place in the front row of the class (he had been awarded his diploma 2 months earlier when his family was sent to Minadoka, Idaho in early March).

John Tanaka went on to enlist in the 442nd Regiment and fought in the Italian campaign where the “Go For Broke” unit had one of WWII’s highest casualty rates.  Unlike many other communities on the West Coast, Alaska’s capital city took care to preserve the properties and businesses of our fellow citizens and helped them get back on their feet when they returned after the war.  John worked summers in his family’s restaurant while he attended college and medical school.

2 years ago, we dedicated a bronze copy of that folding chair placed in the park next door to that school as a memorial to those who were deported, and to remind us that it should never happen again.

Never again will we allow people to be imprisoned for who they are.  Never Again.  NEVER AGAIN.

EmptyChair.jpg

For more information and the full story of the Empty Chair, see The Empty Chair Project blog.

Another reader of my Daily Kos blog pointed out that calling these “internment camps” is “whitewashing” what our country did. They were concentration camps, built with the intention of concentrating the “undesirables” in one place. Hence the quotation marks.

And in case you missed it, the trump people are already citing these concentration camps as a legal precedent for their planned incarceration of immigrants (despite the fact that President Reagan issued an official apology for our World War II actions and paid each victim $20,000). The man currently occupying the Oval Office says he may or may not have supported the Japanese camps.

Ancestral Voices in My Head

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ANCESTRAL VOICES IN MY HEAD

I have these voices in my head. You know the ones I mean. Right?

(Please tell me that you do.)

Mine mostly entail shoulds and oughts and shames. Judgement. I’ve spent years in therapy, meditation, and prayer, and many hours in recovery programs for dysfunctional families, trying to rid myself of these voices.

Girl shouting with fingers in ears

Before that, I just drank and did drugs and overworked, trying to quiet the unacknowledged chattering. As long as I had a romantic partner, I could throw myself into the drama of trying to fix them and “us” instead of noticing the voices in my head. As long as I was an environmental lobbyist, I had a whole planet to save. Who has time for self-awareness?

I was oblivious to the submerged script that directed my life, causing me to make unwise choices and judge others and numb in any way I could.

I coped. I was OK. I didn’t always feel good about myself, but I was OK.

When I began my journey of spiritual and emotional healing, I finally started to hear the voices. I did not hear them in an auditory sense, but their words were clear and loud: “What is wrong with you?” “Why are you are so stupid?” “I can’t believe you did that!”

They were regular and insistent and alarming. Who talks to someone like that?

Well, as it turns out, everyone in my family did.

Digital Mouth

Family Voices

“Whose voice is that?” my therapist would ask. And I’d close my eyes and try to pinpoint it. It was often my mother, my sister, or my brother. They weren’t unloving people, they were just responding to the harsh and commanding voices in their own heads, I guess. It pains me now when I hear families talk to each other like this because I know it’s being internalized, especially by the youngest ones.

These are ancestral voices, passed on through generations. When I trace mine back as far as I’m able, they belong to my grandmother, born Zillah but called Beedie. Her judgmental voice haunted my mother, who passed it on to my older sister and brother.

It’s not Beedie’s fault. Someone talked to her that way. She grew up highly privileged, the daughter of a wealthy diamond mine magnate in South Africa, surrounded by servants and governesses and nannies. Of course she had a strong sense of the way things ought to be and the way people ought to act. They ought to act like wealthy British imperialists, better than everyone else.

And so when I don’t measure up to Beedie’s standards, the critical voices kick in. The underlying “truth” of all the negative voices is “You are not good enough.”

I imagine she felt the same way, or she would not have internalized the judgement and passed it on.

Placing the Blame

Of course when you find someone else’s voice in your head and it’s been hounding you as far back as you can recall, you get angry at them. You need to blame someone for your own brokenness. It’s my family’s fault! It’s that kindergarten teacher’s fault!

The problem with blaming someone else is that it disempowers you. You give away your power of recovery to someone else, and you get stuck. Might as well pour another Scotch, I can’t get these voices out of my head anyway.

The other day my therapist asked me what I would say to Beedie if she were here today. And I said without hesitation: “You are dead and I am still alive.”

She has lived her life with her voices. I still have a chance to heal and become more whole. In fact, that’s a good way to honor those who have come before us.

Birthday Blessing

Today is my grandmother’s birthday. She was born on February 15, 1889 in Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa. In honor of Beedie, I’ve decided to let go of the blame and negativity that I’ve held. I release her judgements and her critiques — I don’t need them. Instead, I choose to think of her with compassion and love. I want to remember her true, best self.

Happy birthday, dear Beedie. Thank you for your sense of humor and absurdity and fun. Thank you for your love of animals and flower gardens. Thank you for your small kindnesses (often involving chocolate) and for passing on your appreciation for “a proper cup of tea.” Thank you for holding to your values and always doing what you thought was right.

You were a strong woman, Beedie; you were courageous. Your best friend was murdered by Zulus when you were a child; you lost your own little boy; you lost your husband’s love to his philandering and then his young life to a ship fire; you lost your fortune and lived in poverty but kept your family together. Gangrene stole your ability to walk and dementia stole your ability to think.

Nevertheless, you persisted.

Thank you for being who you were, Beedie. Thank you for being an example. I treasure the day that you were born. I love you.

♥♥♥

Thanks for the WordPress prompt: sound

He May Have the Nuclear Codes, But He Can’t Have My Brain

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HE MAY HAVE THE NUCLEAR CODES, BUT HE CAN’T HAVE MY BRAIN 

Last night I finally did something I’ve been needing to do for weeks: I turned off my computer. I looked the angry orange tweeter who lives in the big white house right in his puffy eyes and I said, “No. You may not come in to my head anymore.”

As the child of an alcoholic, I learned to be hypervigilant. The only way to feel safe when there is a wild man in the house is to always know where he is, what he’s doing, and what kind of mood he’s in. You become ultra-aware: Are his eyes read? Does his breath smell like Clorets mints? Even from upstairs, you can hear the freezer door open and the ice clink in the glass.

It’s about survival. You need to know when it’s safe to ask for lunch money or a school permission slip, and when to lock your bedroom door, crank up the Grateful Dead, and hunker down.

Survival

So of course when an impulsive wild man moved into the Oval Office last week, I automatically took it upon myself to keep an eye on him. And this time it’s quite literally about survival. Right? Planetary survival. If I’m not keeping an eye on him, who will stop him from dropping a nuclear weapon on North Korea? Or Germany, if Angela Merkel says something uncomplimentary.

It feels almost suicidal to detach and ignore him for any length of time. I wonder how Mike Pence feels? He must know how batty his boss is by now. Can he sleep?

At least a half dozen Facebook friends have posted pleas for help with detachment this week. How do I tune him out? How will I stay sane? How do I cope with the grief and fear? How will I not burn out, trying to protect Muslims and Native Americans and gay people and African American kids and the whole frickin’ planet??

I always offer helpful advice about going for walks, and laughing with friends, and meditating. And turning off the computer. But I don’t take the advice myself.

Until last night.

Just Say No

I had gone out with dear friends the night before and although we talked about the nation’s perils and our resulting emotional states, we also laughed and listened to open mic offerings and drank wine.

I confessed to staying up later and later each night, 2 a.m., then 3, then 4, monitoring @RealDonaldTrump and retweeting and posting on Facebook and looking for pictures that capture the moment.

mt-rushmore

lady-liberty-weeping

resist-banner

I can’t focus during the day, I get nothing done. Can’t write. My friends expressed concern, hugged me, sympathized.

Somehow getting away from Crazyland for an evening broke the spell. It was good to hear myself say out loud, “I stayed up until 4 a.m. tweeting to Donald Trump.” Talk about crazy! It gave me the strength to push that “off” button on my computer last night.

I pulled up the drawbridge to my psyche, slapped a big ol’ “Keep Out” sign on it, and read my novel. And today I am saying no again. No Twitter, no Facebook, no trump™.

Pray Without Ceasing

Maybe trump™ will start a nuclear war while I’m reading my novel. I saw before I exited Twitter last night that he had signed something called the Military Preparedness Order. This after signing the Muslim ban.

muslim-ban

But there is nothing I can do about it. All I can do is take care of myself so that I have the energy to take action when I can make a difference. To march, to write, to call Senators. To care for those who are hurting and afraid.

And to pray without ceasing for the Syrian children who may die because of what our nation has done.

Omran

Omran

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

Make America Simple Again

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MAKE AMERICA SIMPLE AGAIN

The man-child president’s supporters mean all manner of things when they chant “Make America great again,” some as obvious as, “Get all these Mexicans out of my 7-11 parking lot,” and some more complicated, entailing tangled ideas of dark global conspiracies and nefarious plots by NBC and CNN.

My hunch is that many of these people — my fellow Americans whom I cannot understand no matter how much I argue with them on Twitter — just want to return to a simpler time.

A time when it was easier to maintain the illusion of control in your life.

  • A time when you turned on the TV and there were only four channels and you knew the four newscasters by name and they were all trustworthy white men;
  • a time before the world was complicated by all those international agreements and organizations with acronyms that don’t tell you who they are or what they do;
  • a time before electronics began running our lives, adding even more incomprehensible acronyms like USB and URL and HTML to confuse us;
  • a time when a man could open up the hood of his car and know where everything was;
  • a time before kids took semesters abroad and went far away to college and came home for Thanksgiving staring into their phones and declaring that they weren’t going to church with you on Sunday. 

Now there’s a man you could trust

Rebellion Against Reality

I get it. I do. Life is very complicated now. I feel out of control most of the time.

I remember that simpler time, and you are right — it was easier.

I understand why you rebel against “experts” who talk about ridiculous, incomprehensible things like humans changing the weather, for Christ’s sake! And I get why you reject the idea of being “politically correct.” It means you need to pay attention to other people who aren’t like you, and listen to (and care about) their experiences. Even though you were here first and they should learn to speak English. Why can’t we just call a maid a maid and a trash man a trash man and a retarded person retarded and a colored person colored?

There are too many voices, too many opinions, too many options. Too many uppity women marching around in pink pussy hats, and you just don’t understand how they can act like that and say those terrible things.

RALLY ON CONSTITUTION

How can they say those terrible things??

Focus, Deep Breaths

So here is something simple to remind you of the days when you thought America was great, only you didn’t know it then but you sure do now.

Just focus on the Bible. Keep it simple. Take deep breaths.

Here are two verses to meditate on. Oh, no, wait. Not meditate, that sounds kinda Buddhist or something. 

Just *think* about them. Maybe pray. Perhaps they will stir in you an image of what America *could* be.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.   (Galatians 5:22)

 

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

(Matthew 25:25-36)

 

** A disclaimer: I know this post is a tad snarky. I’m still working towards understanding and forgiveness and those fruits of the Spirit. Give me time. I am still angry. I mean, the Doomsday Clock.

How Trump’s Rise Can Make You a Better Person

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HOW TRUMP’S RISE CAN MAKE YOU A BETTER PERSON

Here’s something good about the rise of trump™. (I know, I’m grasping at straws.)

This is a chance for us to become better people. I don’t mean just being better citizens, although that’s great — being vigilant about what our government is up to and who is getting rich because of it, standing up for people who are being bullied or intimidated, gathering with our neighbors to protect our communities — no, I mean actually becoming better human beings.

You know how they say that the behavior that drives you crazy about someone else is likely lodged deep inside of you, too? We have visceral responses to unwanted aspects of our own personalities. Oftentimes, this is unconscious; we are not even aware that we have the same attitude or behavior that’s driving us nuts in someone else.

When you are annoyed by someone, try searching your own heart, especially if you sense you might be overreacting. Might as well look at your own crap, because there’s nothing you can do to change them. Why not work on changing yourself? If you are successful, you will find compassion for that annoying person and peace for yourself.

This is not a new idea and it’s not my idea. The Bible says to take the splinter out of your own eye before you start prying the plank out of someone else’s eye.

Old lumber and two by fours stacked in a wood pile. Shallow depth of field.

Pathological Neediness

Back to trump™. There’s a lot not to like in him, and I won’t go through the list. You know it. Ugliness and brokenness.

One of my heroes, Father Thomas Keating, says that we all carry childhood emotional needs into adulthood, and they become distorted if they weren’t met in childhood: safety & security, power & control, and esteem and affection. Trump™ has all of them to a pathological degree.

What horrifies me most about him is the esteem and affection bit: his endless need for recognition, his boundless self-glorification, his screaming craving for adoration. He thought money would buy him love, but now he’s not sure if he is loved for his money or for himself. He is abusive to anyone who criticizes him, and he is transparently manipulated by anyone who compliments him.

Hence Putin. Soooo dangerous.

My Splinter

The thing is, I can relate to his emptiness. I have been praying for many years for God to change that very trait in me. I *hate* how much I want people to like me and recognize me. It makes me do and say things that don’t come from my true self; it makes me a hostage to other people’s opinions.

And it’s nuts. I’m a grown woman with gifts and skills and with shortcomings and annoying traits. At times I rock out and at times I screw up. I have a ton of friends who love me regardless. And God loves me so much I ought to have no time to ponder anything but my response to Her spirit.

For some reason, God leaves this thorn in my side. It’s better than it used to be, but I am still painfully aware of it. It’s OK, though. It humbles me. I try not to obsess about my shortcomings, because in the end that’s just being self-absorbed, but I want to recognize them and offer them up to God for fixin’.

So here’s the good thing about the rise of trump™ that I promised: this is an opportunity for you to call out the negative in yourself. Which of his many unpleasant traits really annoy you? And — is it possible that you host them inside yourself?

This inaugural week, in recognition and protest of the new president, let’s work on making ourselves better people. 

And I just want to say God bless Barack and Michelle.

Thank you for your dedication and love for our country and its people.

Be well.

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