Category Archives: Working Mom

The Climb

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da boys

I am home with the kids and revising all the time what that means to me.  I am not gonna lie; at first, I  had every intention of going back to teaching in September, when my youngest was six months old. After all, teaching and being a working person has  forever been part of my identity.  But… the economy had different plans and after several job applications and interviews took me nowhere, my partner and I revisited our family budget and realized that it more than works for me to stay home.

Budgeting aside, it’s been far from easy.  This baby was not a regular sleeper and there is still the older child to think about… its much different from just having the one kid…in many ways it would be easier to be work outside the home because at least I would get some mental space, some time with adults, even just an opportunity to complete a thought.  ( If this blog is any example, I’ve been drafting this and several other posts on and off for several months!)  But, as with everything, we’ve learned to adapt and adjust. With the support of my partner I take self-care and me-time very seriously. This support is not something I take for granted since I know and (and feel myself) how very strong the current of “status quo” is on mothers and women in general in terms of caretaking and valuing what we do.  As much as I understand and want to change gendered roles and the effects of patriarchy, that shit is so deeply woven even in the most “woke” of us that I often stumble.  So, no, I could not do this at all if my co-parent wasn’t the determined badass that he is.

With that said, once I get over the ever-present mom-guilt, I try to get writing time in at least one evening a week, go to excercise classes at the local YMCA a couple of times a week, and get together with other moms and in general, grown-ups as often as I can.  Winter time feels isolating enough as it is, but not getting out and about while taking care of young children felt extra isolating. Now that the baby turned one and with Spring around the corner, the care taking load feels much lighter and life, less overwhelming.  I encourage all moms new and seasoned to find their tribe.  We were never meant to go at this alone. That is why I decided to include this lovely comic by Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes.  This hit me right in the feels:  “To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy … but it’s still allowed.”  

So while my “life’s meaning” might have been defined in one way when I was a 22-year-old new teacher, I am allowed to revise what that means to me know that I am 32-year old mother and always in the future.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing…and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you are doing…

Yes, yes, and yes!  Oh my goodness does this ring true in a million ways!  I needed this reminder that self-care, self-love and just being in the moment is a revolutionary act. After all, these kids will grow up in a blink and the work world will still be there waiting for me…

o-WATTERSON-900

 

Thanks for the reminder;)

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Middle School Confessionals: charter v. public

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Whew! So I haven’t blogged in what feels like a very long time.

Typing feels awkward and my terrible spelling has managed to get worse from disuse ( I already have to spell check like 52 times!) But I came back on because I really miss writing in this form.  I still can’t wrap my head around how fast this month flew by.  I shouldn’t be surprised considering all the preparation, summer professional development ( who ever says teacher have summers off is living under a rock!), and late afternoons spent in my classroom making sure everything was prepared and set up for the next day. This isn’t my first time working with this age group or teaching, but I totally forgot how exhausting all this can be.  Pile on the single mom of a toddler thing and you got yourself the potential for one frazzled lady.

Luckily for me, I have taught before and have been working with young people in educational settings since I was 19, so I feel pretty comfortable with little people and at times actually enjoy them.   My latest teaching experience was at a charter school where  I could easily spend all my days, nights, and weekends totally absorbed in my work and my students. (and weekends!) And contrary to what I previously felt, this time around I am grateful for public, unionized schools.  It means I get to go home at a reasonable hour, have dinner with my son, and actually have a life outside work. If someone told me  five years  ago that I would end up preferring  work at a public (as opposed to ‘state of the art’ charter school) school and actually love it, I would have totally scoffed in disbelief.

What?

Far left me? Accepting my fate as a corporate test proctor in an overly hierarchical urban public school?! Just allowing myself to serve as a cog is this evil school-to-prison pipeline scheme?

Yup.

And here’s why:

1. My job is protected.  When I signed my first teaching contract at that ‘innovative’ charter school I didn’t realize it was ‘at will’ employment. That’s the same type of employment I agreed to as a holiday worker at the mall as a college student-where employers had the right to fire me anytime without reason or warning, and I had the right to simply quit at any time without warning as well.  I wasn’t too phased by it then, but after I started at the charter school I quickly realized that ‘at -will’ employment is not what I spent years and thousands of dollars going to college for.

2. Transparency.  Accountability is important… not via the one dimensional no child left behind act testing nonsense, but from top down.  Everything from job postings, sick days, student progress- is measured and kept track of in a systematic, transparent, no-surprises kinda way.  Not like my experience at said charter where  individual were moved up a few pay grades and into administrative positions without them having proper training or certification, where positions suddenly appeared and folks hired to fill them without there ever having been a job posting… Now, I fully understand it was probably just this particular charter ( because since then, I have worked in other charters that were much, MUCH better than that one…), but it just goes to show…

3. Teaching is a profession. Not just a job. and I greatly appreciate that every other teacher in my building has been through the same or similar hard core training , legal certifications, and all that jazz. Why? Because I have seen what happens when individuals who have not been properly trained or educated are given the enormous responsibilities that come along with  leading groups of young people ( or groups of  teachers) and its just not pretty.

5. I believe in public education (as someone that immigrated from a place that didnt have free public ed, I appreciate it’s potential to be the great equalizer… ( of course that hasn’t been the case here in Providence, but we can dream and work towards it…)

6. I am supported.  By fellow teachers in my building, by others that teach in the district (even if they work way across town), and by my district office. Why? because its such a large system there are many resources available (and because there is a system of accountability in place), unlike my time at the small charter school where it felt very much like every woman for herself.

I am still learning and growing and I am open to new and better ideas.  I still love the emphasis our charters have placed on safe and comfortable learning, student-centered communities where students take risks and grow in multiple ways, not just what can be measured with some culturally biased standardized test. I also still have the desire ( which is family and economically dependent) to home school my child.  But I believe there is a way to combine the best of all worlds, to think creatively and work together to meet young people where they are at while pushing them to grow.

I am interested to see what happens in the next couple of years with some Providence public schools applying to change over to charter status…I wonder if those federal resources will really be worth it, if teachers will still have the same union protection, if our work day will stay a work day and not a work day, evening, and night… ( where we get to teach other people’s kids and not our own) all of that is yet to be seen.

Until then, I will try and keep up my blog and share my adventures teaching middle school:)

This is Etcetera: MFA Wrap up

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In preparation for graduation, we are asked to write a letter to chronicle our journey at Lesley University’s MFA program.  Here is what I came up with:

 

My time at Lesley helped me not only develop my writing but my overall sense of commitment to the writing life.   These two years have allowed me to lay down roots into myself by providing me with the opportunity to ground my life through my creative process.  Lesley has set the stage for this commitment to transform into a lifetime of developing stories and essays.

My journey as a writer began when I learned how to write in English after fleeing the Gulf War in Kuwait. I would write stories about princesses escaping invasions or monsters transforming into people.  Writing was my safe zone, my shock absorber.

 

 

But being a refugee made me feel as though I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time- as though my life couldn’t truly begin yet and I had to delay creative expression.  I needed to save it for another place and time.  Year after year, my mother would set off to explore other cities-traveling to Montréal, Detroit, Orlando, Santa Fe, even San Diego-with the hopes of leaving Rhode Island behind- (which we never did)- since we had to leave Kuwait in such a hurry, I understood that she was trying to make an informed choice about which community to lay down roots.  However, this constant re-imagining of my future had the effect of distancing me from my present reality.

 

I lived in an imagined future, which, for an only child who lived in my mind to begin with, didn’t need much encouraging. From that young age that I was being set up to never truly commit to the present moment, to continue to live in the purgatory of if’s and maybe’s.  Little did I know that there was no such thing as the perfect time.

___

                My Lesley journey began shortly after I left my first teaching job.  I taught at a charter school with a unique model, one that places teachers with the same group of 15 students all day for all 4 years of high school. One of my students, Ryan, I regarded as a member of my family after our long talks, family meetings, and journal writing sharing.  Ryan and his family suddenly passed away from carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty water heater installation on New Years Day.  I had to face the reality that nothing was guaranteed and life was not waiting for me or anyone else. I found it difficult to put off writing and my creative pursuits for another moment.

That summer, I started researching creative writing programs and visited Lesley’s summer session in June 2008.  At that time, I had no writing sample, felt little inspiration, and had very little confidence, as I hadn’t written in years and had no idea where to begin.  Apparently life had other things in mind because shortly after visiting Lesley I found out I was a pregnant with my son.  The pregnancy, birth, and time to myself allowed me to begin the process of committing to my word and when my son was eight months old, my writing sample poured out like a flood.  The sample that started out handwritten on journal paper turned into The Birthing Tree, my first story to be published (in the Masters Review), which I scribbled between nap-time and cooking.

 

After two years at Lesley, I developed my thesis, a collection of short stories.  I feel that the stories represent my first years of immersing myself in the writing life well.  I have covered an array of themes, narrative styles, and created memorable characters.  My strengths include having varied interests-from science fiction to cultural and generational clashes.  My ideas will keep me inspired for a long time. What I need to continue to work on is to just keep writing- by giving myself more time with my writing each day and continue learning about the world of publishing and business side of writing.  I also need to keep my connections with my fellow writers strong and develop a routine of exchanging stories.  I am looking forward to continuing my Lesley connection strong by becoming involved in the Alumni group.

Overall, I feel that were two years were well spent. I learned how to respect myself by respecting my writing time. I learned to quiet that negative voice in my head long enough to let my imagination do the talking at the keyboard and I learned how to feel out a story by listening to the characters. My first semester I developed my scene building skills and with my second semester, I focused on writing realistic and complex characters. Taking on a full time job during my final year threw me into the fire of the writing life and forced me to face some tough questions about whether it was the best idea to continue with the program.  Only this time, instead of letting outside forces control my sense of timing, I committed to controlling it for myself and decided to stick it out.  As a result, I wrote more than ever in my final year.

 

 

My plans for the future include writing fiction, non-fiction and science fiction, and teaching English to middle school students. I plan on attending next year’s RAWI conference-a conference of Arab-American writers, as well as the AWP conference and staying in touch with my Lesley community for years to come. Most notably, my plans for the future include my continue commitment to my writing, as it has served as both my anchor and  my springboard.

 

 

 

Cruelty Free?

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Working full time and being a mother of a young child are two things that are often at odds with each other.  While there are moments where I feel my time at work is a welcome break from the tantrums of a toddler, there are also (often simultaneously) moments when being away at work makes me miss my son so much it makes me rethink everything.

Even though we were super broke, I was fortunate to have had the first year and a half to just be a mom.   Hands down, those days were some of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I ever had.  But once the unemployment ran out, (even though I still couldn’t find a full time teaching-or any-gig) I had to take anything, so I found a part after-school teaching position.  Those days were even more challenging, because I wasn’t working enough to really get a childcare break, (or enough money),  yet was still away from Ali long enough for Mom-Guilt to kick in…

He was growing and changing so fast that I wasn’t only afraid that I would miss something, I was also terrified that his childcare provider (any childcare provider that wasn’t me anyways) wasn’t a good place for him.  At that point, I had received so many mixed messages about the positive and negative sides to daycare; increased behavior problems but  increased social skills, increased exposure to germs yet decreased sick days in later years, increased independence yet increased neediness…that my brain felt like it was in a  slow cooker, simmering  in a Mom-Guilt stew.

this is your brain on information overload...

To make matters worse my local hospital’s monthly childcare e-newsletter-which in my early days of mothering provided me with interesting and guilt-free  baby care articles-was now featuring articles on the childcare/no childcare debate.  This month, they posted a Q and A about my most dreaded fear:

Q:I’ve heard that children who attend childcare may develop behavior problems. Is that true?

A:What you have heard is probably based on the results of a large, long-term
study conducted by the National Institutes of Health. The study is
ongoing and its results are complex. Two of the findings are fairly
straightforward, though. One concerns behavior: a small percentage of
children who spend long hours in a center setting may exhibit behavior
problems at age 4.5; this effect can still be seen at age 15. The other
concerns academic achievement. When comparing childcare settings, the
study found that high-quality settings were associated with better
academic achievement. While every child will respond to these settings
differently, it is best to choose a high-quality setting, and try to
keep the number of hours a child spends in a childcare center to fewer
than 40 if possible.

WHA? I am screwing my kid up till the age of 15?!? Are you freken serious? And what do you mean to TRY to keep the hours to less than 40? ARRGG!!!!

this is what happens to your babies with daycare?

So after much hair pulling and general Mom-Guilt moments, I felt that I needed an opportunity to make Ali something.  Something he would have while I was away, that would somehow remind him of how much I think of him when he isn’t with me.  I had the same urges as a nesting pregnant woman who stitches a blanket to welcome her new baby… except I completely lack any yarn skills and this urge is coming over me two years too late…of course

one day I'll do that...

I took matters into my own hands and decided to do what I love and get crafty.  I planned to make a warmer lining for Ali’s light jacket, a project I hoped would  have us work together and make his jacket wearable into the colder winter months.  It was a win-win all around… or so I thought.

I went online and was excited to find an organic, family owned farm so I ordered a batch of their cruelty-free feathers.

no mom-guilt here...

The feathers had simply fallen off the hens and were washed in vinegar and rain water.   I visited my local fabric shop and got a yard of stretchy fabric for the lining to stuff the feathers into.  I hand sewed the makeshift  lining into his jacket and TaaDaa!

Instant warm built-in vest.  He visited his grandmother’s house wearing my creation.  Not even an hour into the visit, I get a phone call.

“Um, you know those feathers you put in his jacket?”

“Yeah?”

“Ali keeps saying ‘feather hurt.”

“Oh no!”

“Yeah, and they are coming out all over the place.”

What a mess...

I get Ali home and low and behold…feathers everywhere…poor kid got poked with sharp cruelty-feathers all over…they even got in his shirt…

….after the mess was cleaned up and the feather lining swiftly eliminated, Ali found a stray feather on the floor.

“Ouch! Noooo! Feather Hurt Me!” He said pointing at the feather that seemed to shift guiltily away from his small accusing finger.

Hello Mom-Guilt.

So much for cruelty-free.