Brown

I met a little girl recently. She’s seven, the same age as my son. I spent the day with her and my son at the Pacific Science Center. She was openly curious about me and asked lots of questions. She also told me about herself, her school, her sisters, her friends.

My son, not used to having to share his mother’s attention with another child, interjected with an increasingly authoritative tone. I observed her defer to his judgement. I heard her say “I don’t get it” even when I suspected she did. I noticed this and said nothing. I thought about my female students in class. I thought about my male students always calling out the answers.

In the time we spent alone, she never said “I don’t get it,” only when boys were present. I made a point to ask her more questions. I pushed her to tell me why, to reach for the part she got, to build on it. I didn’t give her answers. I responded by asking her more questions and making observations with non-evaluative language.

As the day went on, I discovered that her favorite food is pizza, she can run really fast, loves to touch water and likes every color except brown. This last piece of information made my stomach flip over.

I immediately wanted to call all the beautiful, powerful, brilliantly smart women of color I know and surround her with them.

It made me want to point out everything that is beautiful about the color brown, to name everything that is brown as beautiful and important and wise.

It made me want to throw away all my pens and write only in brown, to cover all of these white pages in brown ink. And it made me question everything about my suddenly very white life.

It made me think of my about-to-be-teenage female students of color who look up at me adoringly, arms around my waist and say how beautiful and skinny I am.

It made me think of how I brush off their compliments, tell them they are beautiful too and worry about their body image, but what I wasn’t hearing them say was how beautiful, skinny and white I am. And how what I needed to be saying is how beautifully perfectly brown they are. That I must name what is unspoken. That I must do something.

Because at seven this little black girl whose smile lights up the room, who can easily run faster than any boy her age, who knows more about compassion and patience than she should probably have to, who is stunningly beautiful, likes every color except brown, and it keeps me awake at night.

I don’t know how to make it right, but I know I have to try. I know I have to do everything I can to be a part of the conversations that must take place in order to change that.

Fridays

I miss you the most on Fridays

When I’m tired

When my son asks when you are ever going to come over again for a visit

When I get home from the week and I realize my house is a mess, the dishes are piled up in the sink, the laundry I never folded is still on the couch and my son is so excited to spend the evening with me but I have absolutely nothing left to give anyone

When all I want to do is collapse on the floor

When all I want to do is be still and quiet

Somehow you always made it seem possible to hold it together for just a few more hours until he went to bed

Somehow you gave me just enough of a break to be able to enjoy the time together by just being together

Somehow dinner would get made and somehow the things that never got put away during the week might even get cleaned up, but it didn’t really matter either way

Somehow I’d find myself laughing with you both, eating dinner, playing a board game, watching a movie, snuggling up for a bedtime story

And then having finally made it to the end of the day of another devastatingly long week, we could sit together on the couch in silence or talk about the ridiculous shenanigans of my students or make plans for the weekend

And tired didn’t feel so exhausting

And the stress of teaching didn’t feel so stressful

And the mess of my life didn’t feel so messy

I miss you the most on Fridays because you were the only person I ever let see me defeated

And you would just hold me

And everything would be okay.

Work it out

Dear men at the gym,

Quit looking at me like you are hungry. I am not for dinner.

 

Dear men at the gym,

I can hear you when you are talking about me to your friend standing 5 feet away from me. I am a teacher. I can hear everything.

 

Dear men at the gym,

Just because I am wearing leggings and a tiny tank top does not mean I put this outfit on for you.

 

Dear men at the gym,

You eyeing me and then increasing the weight of your sets just reminds me that you don’t know what you are doing. It does not impress me. You are not here to impress me.

 

Dear women at the gym,

Yes, I am thin. That’s not why I workout. Quit looking at me like I don’t belong here. I am trying to stay sane.

 

Dear women at the gym,

I am standing on this scale to make sure I haven’t lost any weight. Do not scoff at me as you walk by. I can hear you.

 

Dear women at the gym,

Take up more space. Don’t cluster tidily in the corner like you might be interrupting something. Spread out in the weight room. Leave your shit everywhere.

Except when we are in Zumba class, then put your stuff in a locker and try not to accidentally smack me. It gets crowded.

I hope you stay

I posted an article on FB recently about not quitting teaching. It’s solid how-to-calm-your-self-down advice, but I posted it mostly as reminder that I am not the only one who sometimes fantasizes about hanging up my tote bags and becoming a barista or maybe just a bartender. Unfortunately, there’s no advice column that can save you from the frustrations of teaching because to be honest the not-going-to-quit moments come from my kids and their families not from life coaches. Like today. After being at school for 12hrs on four hours of sleep, a lot coffee, 3 chocolate peanut butter cups, a handful of tortilla chips and an unfortunately sized scoop of overly salty guacamole, I was cleaning up from our family night. All the families were buttoning up coats and making their way out the door into the dark, blustery evening. One mama made her way towards the table I was cleaning and since this was the furthest direction away from the exit she could have gone, I felt obligated to politely chat.

As an introvert working in a highly extroverted profession, I was beyond done with interacting, but I was trying hard to not show how exhausted I was really feeling. As we talked a small exuberant young boy ran up and side hugged me. He had also been at school for 12 hours at this point, but his version of tired looked slightly more animated and hyper than mine. “Who is this?!” She wanted to know. I laughed and then paused while my brain sluggishly searched for the words I wanted in English. I had been translating my teaching partner’s English into my Spanish all night, and in the moment I was struggling to do the reverse. “That’s my son” I finally managed. Her face brightened “Oh! All this time I have seen you, and I didn’t know you had a child. Does he go here?” I nodded. “Yes, he’s in second grade” I confirmed. More excited now, she exclaimed: “That’s good news!” I stopped the absentminded robotic clearing of the table and side-eyed her. Then she sweetly, awkwardly, shyly explained: “I was hoping you would be here next year to be my daughter’s teacher…” I stood up. “And since… you have a son in school here …it’s …well maybe it’s more likely that you will …stay.” And then quieter and trailing off she added: “I hope…” and looked at me expectantly. I looked at her thoughtfully for a moment.

Last year, my duty spot for most of the year was in front of the school in the morning. I loved it because I got to see many of the kids and their families in their most real, unfiltered early morning interactions. I had the privilege of being one of the first non-family members they saw. I stood on the edge of the crosswalk and smiled and waved in the cold and the rain and the sun. I translated for families when it was too early for anyone in the office to help, and I joked around with kids and my co-workers as we waited for the school day to start.

My morning spot is different now. I hang out in the back by the portables with the 5th and 6th graders. It’s still a pretty nice way to start the day, but I interact with the families a lot less because big kids tend to walk to school by themselves. Still, this mom remembers me. She saw me in the mornings when she walked her daughter to school and even though she has never seen me teach or had a child in my class, she decided for whatever reason that I am the kind of person she wants to teach her daughter. Not only that but, she felt so strongly about it that she felt it necessary to tell me. And in that moment it was everything I needed to hear.

I replied slowly: “I’m not going anywhere,” and I smiled like I do every morning when my students arrive.

 

I stopped watching NetFlix

I stopped watching Netflix and started watching TED Talks and it was the best decision I ever made. That sounds good, right? Noble even. The truth is I needed something to distract myself from my sorrow after my break-up. I’ve been keeping myself busy with exercise. They say it’s a good idea to take up a hobby after the end of a relationship, so why not obsess over an exercise routine? I mean I do have a lot of excess energy all of the sudden, and insomnia was a problem even when I had a honey. Ice cream and alcohol were making me suicidal, so I bought an exercise tracker thing, finished off the ice cream, left the booze at a friend’s house and stopped binge-watching Netflix. Okay, to be fair I didn’t stop watching MY Netflix because technically, I never had a Netflix account. I stopped using my not-sweetheart’s account because it seemed overly opportunistic to continue reaping the side benefits of our companionship when I was no longer receiving the real benefits of our love. In other words, I logged out.

I know time heals and this too shall pass and whatever, but shit is hard right now y’all. I didn’t realize just how much better my life had become until then it wasn’t anymore. I know that relationships are hard work, and I’m used to them being a challenge. If I could record the number of times I have heard “but it’s not supposed to be this hard” from my exes… well it would be a lot of times. That’s the thing though. This felt different. It was definitely challenging, like trying to teach my students how to read -that is super complex- but I WANT to help them. I am excited to be a part of solving the puzzle and continuing on the journey. That’s how I felt about us. Like I wanted to do the work. So the work didn’t feel like work. It just felt like us. And despite the added time and energy intimate relationships require, ours worked out so that my life was about 10% easier than it had ever been before. And y’all that ten percent was everything. I mean everything.

First of all I never thought that would actually happen: that my life would ever be easier. I had mostly resigned to the fact that it would just hover around bearable with occasional to frequent dips into “oh god I’m not going to make it.” But then there it was happening. It was 10% easier to breath, to fall asleep, to laugh, to hope for a future in which I could be more than a tired, short tempered, scraping by single mother living in a tiny basement apartment. It was wonderful. All the while I was careful not to self-sabotage by doing something stupid. I piled up all the lessons I learned from all my previous failed relationships, studied them carefully and made sure I did everything right because I didn’t want to mess this up: I was appreciative, I talked openly about my feelings and fears, I made time for us, I did all the things, but it didn’t matter. The relationship still ended.

I didn’t take it well. I am not taking it well. There is the usual ouch of a relationship ending, and the fact that my life got 10% harder again, but there is a deeper wound: the loss of hope. It’s frustrating and embarrassing to lose my shit so thoroughly over a failed relationship. I’ve survived numerous difficulties in my life: multiple forms of abuse, psychosis of a sibling, death of a parent, divorce, and poverty just to name the big ones, but this break-up is the thing I am uncertain I can overcome and that is terrifying.

So I’ve been doing what I always do when things get hard; I work harder. Which brings me back to the fitness tracker and how I got hooked on TED Talks.

I have struggled with depression off and on for most of my life. I have a pretty big arsenal of coping strategies I’ve learned along the way, but the best therapy by far is sweat. I’ve been going to the gym or Zumba or going dancing everyday since we split. The days I have skipped for seemingly “valid” reasons quickly turned into really rough nights and reinforced the need to stick to the routine. The problem is the gym is BORING and weird. People, based on my observations and eavesdropping, are there to lose weight or get bulked up and muscly. That’s great for them, but I don’t really feel like I fit in because I don’t particularly care about either of these things. I am literally just trying to keep myself alive. My real issue with the gym though is that the elliptical and the weights give me too much time to think. Listening to music has proven troublesome because there are too many memories, but TED Talks are awesome. Did you know that there’s an app?! Of course there is. Now I have something to focus on that is positive and productive. Yesterday I learned about Power Posing and today I listened to a talk about the struggle and triumph of children’s author Jarret J. Krosoczka. I’ve been watching them at home too when I cant sleep, and sometimes they even make me feel a little better, not 10% better, but like I can probably make it through the week and that’s a start.

Sandpaper, a poem-ish about love

Love sounds coarse in his mouth. It twists his tongue awkwardly as if it were a foreign language.

I can see the furrowed brow of his heart peering out through his ribcage as it studies my gestures and the inflection of my voice and tries to decipher their meaning.

It’s like spending your entire life reading a word silently in your head, having never heard it spoken out loud until one day someone says it. It sounds strange. It doesn’t sound at all the way you thought it was supposed to and yet you know that that is it. And it changes you forever. You will never read that word in the same way again because now you know.

He’s like those kids in high school who studied Latin. They could read and write fluently in the target language, but they never actually had a conversation in it. I mean, who speaks conversational Latin? No one.

Love is not Latin.

Love is a language I can speak. I have had practice. I am well rehearsed.

But he is still learning.

Sometimes his terms of endearment sound more like commands than caresses.

Sometimes his responses are so abrupt and lacking in sweetness that I begin to doubt his sincerity. I wait though for his voice to warm up and soften, for the edges of his words to curl up around me. Sometimes I am not very good at waiting. Sometimes his coarseness reminds me of my own and I become cold and hard and confused. I worry that my fluency is fake, that I nailed the accent but missed the point.

Sometimes I wonder if the book I am reading is actually in French and all this time I have been reading it in Spanish thinking I understood, but as it turns out I know nothing. I do not speak French.

Or maybe it is not language that is the problem. Maybe we are reading books that tell different stories, and I never noticed until now. And now… with our dry mouths and sandpaper tongues we must somehow smooth the edges of the two competing stories into one: one of friendship.

Dirty Laundry

The first thing I did after he left was to walk slowly into my room and take all the sheets off the bed. I carried them ceremoniously to the washer, poured in the soap, closed the door and pushed the button to begin the cycle. I stood there watching the sudsy water overtake the inside of the machine, churning the sheets into an unrecognizable mass. I stared uncomprehending. I didn’t cry. That had happened earlier that morning when after several hours of discussing I finally asked: “Does this mean we are breaking up?” I already knew the answer, but I needed him to say it. “Yes.”

I can survive this I reminded myself. I have done it before.

After I put my son to bed, I tried to coax myself to wash my hair. I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready for him to be completely gone.

I took a shower and put on fresh pajamas and got into my giant empty bed alone.

I remembered that someone had told me once that the key to surviving the heartache of a newly empty bed is to not have a side. There is no one coming to fill the other half of that bed, so you are just torturing yourself by leaving it open. I moved my pillow to the middle of the bed and stared into the dark.

I remembered how glorious it used to seem to be able to stretch out over the entire bed for a few brief moments in the morning once everyone was up. I tried to tap into that feeling, sprawled like a starfish taking up as much surface area as physically possible. It felt vulnerable, and I quickly retreated to my previously coiled position.

Tonight is the first night where I am alone. I do not have my son. I do not have my honey. I am sitting in the kitchen typing because I cannot even bear to look at my bed. I don’t know how I will be able to sleep in it.

I know I must wash my hair. I know I must let go of this token of evidence that we were an “us.” I know but I am not ready. I am not ready because I don’t want to let go of “us.” And he is everywhere. In our tiny apartment there is nowhere I can rest my gaze without something reminding me of him.

Pictures of us are waiting for me at Walgreens. I ordered them before we split up. I haven’t been able to bring myself to pick them up. I was going to do an art project. I have no idea what to do with them now. I have no idea what to do with myself now either.

Nothing makes sense.

Except I had a very vivid and disturbing dream last night where all my teeth fell out. I woke up panicked and decided to look up what dream analysts think it means. I read that teeth falling out symbolizes change and fear of losing something important.

That makes sense.