Dear Charlotte: Happy birthday, your world is growing!

Dear Charlotte,

If this 4th birthday letter has any theme, it is this: the months between 3 and 4 have been a year of understanding a world much bigger than yourself.  You are curious beyond the boundaries of your 38 inches, our four walls, and the roughly five mile radius we travel to school and back each day.  You ask big questions.  You’re constantly thinking: about the books we read, the things you hear on the radio, and the things you see people doing at any moment.  

“Mommy, will Donald Trump decide to be a good person now that he is president?”

“Does God exist in real life?”

“Did God make all the people in the world?”

“I’m sad that Hillary Clinton lost.  But that’s okay.  Maybe she can try again tomorrow?”

“When I die, will this tissue still be here?  Will you still save this drawing I did after I die?”  

Your innocence is perfectly entwined with your developing conscience; your optimism and your sense of justice are still able to operate in their own vacuums.  You’re curious enough to be hungry for everything new, but you haven’t seen, heard, and watched enough to become jaded.

Please don’t, not ever.

With your never ending questions you’ve started to form your sense of self, and your understanding of how people relate to one another.  You’re trying to recognize your place in all of it, which is a gargantuan task for a four year old mind.  It’s no surprise that we put you to bed at 7:30, but you sometimes sneak out to watch us in the living room at 9:15.  You are too busy to sleep!  You have things to figure out!  

You and I had a special moment on the night of election day, 2016.  We talked all week about going to the polls to vote for Hillary.  We drove through Scarborough with our windows down, Florence and the Machine blaring, and you exclaimed “Girl time!  Mommy and Charlotte are going to vote for Hillary Quipment!”  It was exciting and novel–but not because we were going to vote for a woman.  No, the gender wasn’t even remarkable.  You were just excited to go show your vote, to take part in the grown up process.

The next morning, I cried.  I cried before you woke up, and I cried after I brought you to school.  I was so heartbroken that I couldn’t joyfully tell you we had the first woman president, that you’d have to wait longer in your life to see it.  And the weeks and months since have been difficult, as your mom: waiting, watching, and wondering what kind of world my baby girl is going to grow into.  Will it be one that respects her rights?  

But I’ve taken solace in a few places that may become iconic as we look back on 2016:

Hillary Clinton said, in her concession speech:  “And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”

Barack Obama told us in his farewell address, that his proudest accomplishment was raising two daughters that are smart and beautiful, but more importantly kind, thoughtful, and full of passion.  That is my hope–no, my goal of every single day–for you, Charlotte.  That your every move is motivated by a sense of purpose bigger than yourself, one that looks outward, and still seeks to welcome people in.  

You do, already, in your four year old way.

You were the first to welcome a shy girl to a busy and loud birthday party–to draw her into a room full of extroverts by providing her a quiet hand and a smile.

By greeting your teacher at 7am: “I noticed you got a haircut!  Wow, it looks good!”

“Baxter, I’m sorry you fell.  What can I do to help you? Do you need some ice?”

Just keep on asking, listening, and thinking.  Keep on talking.  Keep on helping, smiling, and sharing.  And most of all, keep believing.  Believe that you are kind, you are smart, and you are important.  That is what will take you far.

Happy Birthday!  With all my love and even more pride,

Mom

“Then they will call HER and tell her she won?”

Riding in the car this morning after the presidential debate, Charlotte asked me why I was listening to so much news.  I started to explain about the election in very general terms, telling her that two people were trying to earn votes to become our leader in the U.S.  I didn’t mention Trump, Clinton, any specifics, or any opinions.  This is the conversation that ensued:

Mom:  “So on a special day in a few weeks, everyone will have a chance to go vote for who they want to be our leader.  It will be a very important day, and a very important chance to vote for what we want.”

Charlotte: “Oh.  Just like how we have a chance to vote on books at school, to see which one everyone wants to read.”

M:  “Yes!  Same idea.”

C: “So then after everyone votes, they will call her and tell her she won, right?”

She wasn’t talking about Hillary; she doesn’t know Hillary’s name, let alone the fact that one male and one female are running for office!  We don’t have the TV on at home [very often], we don’t talk about politics when the kids are awake [very much], and I hadn’t mentioned Hillary or Trump’s name in this car conversation.

But Charlotte said SHE.  “They will call her and tell HER that SHE won”.

My daughter lives in a world where she expects that women will lead!  That women will win!  That it’s completely obvious and simply normal that a woman would have a very important job.  Of course, this is her three-year-old world, where she hasn’t yet experienced any gender differences.  But I took a pause in the conversation right there to marvel to myself how lucky she is–she’s growing up in a world that will empower her, and one in which she’ll someday ask me “Wait, when I was three, you voted for the FIRST woman president? Why weren’t women leading before that?”

The incredulity that I know will accompany this question–whether she asks it in two years, or twelve years–will just be proof of how far we’ve come.  The time when women didn’t lead, or couldn’t lead, will be such a distant memory that it will be hard for her to believe.  I can teach my daughter all I want that women are powerful, intelligent, and successful…and I do.  But it’s time she starts seeing women doing, being, and leading so that it continues to just be normal and expected for her as she grows up in this world.

“Da. Beep beep!”

My latest assignment in the writing course I’m taking was to draft a piece using only dialogue.  It didn’t take much imagination to come up with this one!

*****

[Mother and daughter playing on the living room floor.  It’s a mid-summer afternoon, and both are eagerly awaiting daddy’s return from work.]

Girl:  Da?

Mom:  Dad will be home soon!

G: Da? Wook?

M:  Yes, dad is at work.  

G: Car?

M:  Yes, dad drove his car to work.

G: Car.  Da.  Wook.

M:  You got it!  What should we have for dinner when he gets home?

G: Bebbees.

M:  Well, we have to eat more than just berries!

G:  Bebbees.  Peese?

M:  Berries please?  Yes, we can have berries.  But we have to eat something else too!  What should I make for dinner?

G:  Chee.

M:  Ok, something with cheese.  How about eggs with cheese.  A quiche maybe?

G:  (does not speak, but shakes her head vigorously “yes”)

M:  Quiche with cheese and berries it is!  (picks up phone to text dad and ask when he’ll be home)

G:  Meme?!?!?!  Cahh meme???

M:  No, I’m not calling meme.  We talked to her this morning.  I’m asking dad when he will be home!

G:  Meme!!!  Hiiii meme!

M:  Oh you’re so sweet.  You love talking to meme, don’t you?

G:  Yes.  Papa.  Meme, papa.

M:  Right, we can’t forget Papa.  What do you think Meme and Papa are doing right now?

G:  (does not speak, but pretends to go to sleep)

M:  You think they’re sleeping??  Silly!  It’s the middle of the afternoon!  I don’t think they are sleeping, haha!

G: Meme.  Papa.  umm hmm.

M:  I bet Meme is cooking dinner.  And Papa might be reading the newspaper.  Or he might be helping Meme cook.

G:  Bebees?

M:  Well, maybe they are having berries for dinner.  We’ll ask them when we see them tomorrow!  We will say “hey Meme, did you eat berries for dinner last night?”

G:  Haha.  Meme.  Bebees.  Chee.

M:  Sounds like our dinner.  

G:  Da?

M:  Dad is at work, remember?

G.  Da.  Wook.  Car?

M:  Yes, dad is at work and he took the car.  

G:  Da!  Wook!  Car!  Beep beep!  Da!  

 

I Am

At school today, I was searching my files for an old writing lesson that I wanted to share with another teacher….and I found this beautiful piece of poetry that my mother wrote!  She must have been teaching a poetry unit, and wrote a model poem to share with her kids.

Somehow, it ended up in my filing cabinet.  It made me stop, take a few breaths, and smile in the midst of a busy day at school.  It’s quite obviously a decade or more old, written at a time when life was crazy with teenage boys that were too big for their own bodies (literally and figuratively) and with a young adult daughter who was exercising her independence for the very first time.  I hope she doesn’t mind that I share.

I AM

by Deborah Gott

I am a mother

I wonder if there will be time just for me

I hear words of banter that sometimes turn to anger

I see my children sometimes succeed and sometimes fail

I want everybody at the table for dinner at the same time

because I am a mother.

I pretend to be calm when I am screaming inside

I feel overwhelming joy with a simple homemade gift

I touch the soft, fuzzy heads of my boys

I worry about my daughter and her travels in Africa

I cry with pride and happiness

because I am a mother.

I understand and celebrate the differences in my children

I say I love you

I dream of a clean house and no laundry

I try to shut out the loud music

I hope for grandchildren someday

because I am a mother.

A word to the wise

Walking down the hall with one of my second graders this morning, she offered up this little gem:

“Mrs. Foll-som-bee, you should always try to come to school with a smile on your mouth.  That’s what I do.  It makes the day fun!”

How very true that is.  It made me realize how often I have my ‘busy’ face on when I’m at work.  So, here’s to more smiles!

Bring your A game

Lately I’ve felt the need to advertise the fact that I have an eight month old baby at home.  You see, I started a new teaching job a few weeks ago.  And usually with new jobs, you try hard NOT to show up with the kids and leave soon after the final bell.  You slave away before and after school, trying to stay ahead (well, let’s be honest, you’re really just trying to not get behind!)  You can’t really go on autopilot, because you don’t even know what the flight path is.  Teaching in a new school is hard–and long–work.

But I have been showing up moments before the students, and leaving school within an hour after the final bell.  Slacker?  That’s why I keep telling everyone that will listen about my Baby ‘Bee.

I’m not just leaving at 3:30 to go shopping or go to happy hour.  I’m picking up my daughter, changing diapers, breastfeeding, cooking dinner, playing with blocks, making lunch, reading books, rocking to sleep, and then collapsing myself sometime around 8:30pm.  I arrive at school just before the kids because I’ve spent the morning wrestling my daughter into clothes, attempting to pack a healthy lunch, and maybe even read a book before we rush off to day care.  I’m sure there are tons of other working moms who recognize this routine.

The reality of being a full-time teacher and a full-time mommy is that you really can’t do it all.  And if you can, you’re probably not doing it all well.  A close friend once told me, “you can’t always bring your A game to everything.  Your kids have to get your A game.  And your marriage has to get your A game.  But work?  Sometimes it might have to get your B+ effort. And you can’t spend the time to feel bad about those priorities.”  

Now I do realize that I might be pushing some buttons here.   I’m a teacher.  I work with the neediest, lowest kids, and every single one of them is somebody else’s baby.  They need and deserve help, and shouldn’t teachers spend every breath of every minute doing more and doing better?  Mommy guilt is no joke, but teacher guilt feels strangely the same.  It’s exhausting spending the work week never quite feeling like you’re doing enough, both at home and at work.

I’ve become efficient with my lesson planning.  I know how to eat lunch and analyze a reading test, while chatting with a teacher about student A , and mentally lesson planning for student B. When I’m at work, work is totally getting my A game.  But come 3:30, I’ve got another little face that gets 100% of my attention.  So please, just remember when you see me lugging my books and computer to my car at 3:30…I’m really just heading off to my second job.  And I’m trying my hardest not to feel guilty!

Friday fun

I just couldn’t help but share this gem.  It kills me to drop Charlotte off at daycare each morning, knowing that I’ll miss her and would rather spend the day with her, but there is a silver lining: she gets to spend her day with other kids, and with someone who engages her and plays with her all day… instead of struggling to get the laundry done/living room vacuumed/dinner on the table while still playing at the same time.

And yes, she most certainly is a literacy teacher’s daughter.  Proud teacher mama here 🙂

Click on the pictures to enlarge.