Battle Scars

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Our interaction was brief, no more than 2 minutes in a typical Saturday scheduled with events and appointments during which my children and I managed to squeeze in a visit to our neighborhood park. And I can’t stop thinking about her… a comment about the heatwave, a genuine smile directed at my daughter, a polite “maybe we’ll see you here again…” as she worked to buckle her cranky toddler into his stroller. And as she turned to wave to me, I saw a dark bruise on the underside of her arm, the size of a large thumbprint. My eyes trailed to her forearm, where there were a series of faint, linear cuts. Self- inflicted? By now her son was in full-blown fit mode, back arched and hollering, and she shushed him with the promise of ice cream and a chance to play video games with dad when they arrived home. And she was gone. But her image lingers in my mind.

Every now and then, I catch a glimpse of it…the faint trace of scar about a half-inch long, on my left wrist right under my ring finger. I hardly think of it now. It serves no purpose but to remind me of a period of youthful hopelessness during which I was somehow convinced that my worth was tied to the boys I was dating. This one’s name was Bryan. He was tall and fair-skinned with hazel-eyes and an inviting grin. The trace of freckles sprinkled across his nose gave off an appearance of innocence, when in reality he was anything but. At 15, he was already on a path of self-destruction that included run-ins with the cops, voluntary homelessness, and sadly, methamphetamines. Like several of the other boys I had dated, he made a habit of exerting power through hurtful phrases and a heavy hand, and he could literally destroy  & re-build my confidence all in one day. But I adored him. Our time together was short…it began in early autumn and ended before the last leaf touched down on the cold winter pavement. Thankfully. But as always, my hindsight offers me a much clearer picture of a disaster averted, though at the time of our parting I was devastated. I remember there was another girl (isn’t that often the story?), and she happened to be a friend of mine. I consoled myself with Jack Daniels and my friend’s word that she would never pursue a relationship with him. And in my stupor, I found relief in hurting myself. Hence, the scar. The first, and last time I ever took comfort from the endorphin rush of self-harm. I was 14 years old.

These are not easy memories for me to recall, though it’s interesting for me to look back and see how, by the age of 15, I had silently vowed to myself that I could never put up with regular overt violence in my relationships…although up until fairly recently I did learn to tolerate (and engage in) bouts of covert conflict marked with verbal taunts and emotional stalemates. I know this is a common enough story that I’m willing to bet many of you reading this are nodding your heads, perhaps remembering a time that your broken heart lead you to depression, or self-medication, or injury. Or maybe it was none of these. Maybe your heart lead you to remain in a destructive relationship, and convinced you that a familiar suffering was better than the unfamiliar fate you’d endure if you somehow managed to walk away.

     We acquire many scars in the name of love; some are emotional, some are hidden & self-inflicted, others are visible to all. It takes an incredible amount of bravery to remove yourself from a situation that you have grown accustomed to. Or to admit that you are locked in a destructive pattern of interaction, either emotionally, physically, or verbally. The statistics on abusive relationships and related trauma in our country are sobering. Several studies have noted a co-occurance between dating/domestic violence and self-injury. And many sources estimate that 1 in 3 women have at one time been a victim of dating/domestic abuse. One in THREE. Which basically makes violence against women one of the most pervasive human rights crises in the world.

 If you are trying in vain to hide the battle scars of your hidden war, know that you are not alone. Know that voicing your struggle is the first step toward freeing yourself from it. Realize that, even if you feel completely isolated, there are people waiting in the wings who will support you are you take your first steps on different path.

 I regret not having said something to her. Not to pry or ask questions. But to offer friendship. A phone number. A bridge into our neighborhood network of strong, supportive women, many of whom have experienced similar misfortune at one point in their lives. If we happen to cross paths again, I will not hesitate to reach out…

Sister, you are stronger than the weight of his words. You are whole even in the absence of his presence. You, are a work of art to be admired and protected from defacement—be it from the hands of others, or your own.

Mother, love is not allowing your wings to be unwillingly clipped, even if you convince yourself it’s for the sake of your children. If you live in constant conflict, your little ones may benefit more from seeing you in flight than watching you wither in captivity. True, a nuclear family is worth is weight in gold…but a peaceful home is priceless.

Daughter, as I held you tenderly during your most vulnerable times, so should he respond to you with gentle touch and soothing words. Never expect less. Never settle.

And most importantly; Sons, with your hands, exhibit kindness. With your eyes, respect. With your tongue, honor. With your heart, love. And seek out a partner who will do the same.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/VAWG-Dialogue-Ending-Violence-against-Women-Girls/224212490996337
 http://www.loveisrespect.org/
http://www.weaveinc.org/domestic-violence-information
http://selfinjuryfoundation.org/self-injurers.html
 

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Classroom Musings; On Immigration & Families

A reunion between mother and daughter from opposite sides of a massive steel fence at the United States-Mexico border. Originally printed in the New York Times.

A reunion between mother and daughter from opposite sides of a massive steel fence at the United States-Mexico border. Originally printed in the New York Times.

 

In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same.  -Albert Einstein

 

               I have to admit, at the very beginning, she perturbed me. She would linger in the classroom for long periods of time, closely watching over her granddaughter Naya, and assisting her every maneuver, all the while quietly observing the actions of other parents, students, my aide, and myself. I welcome family volunteers graciously. For the teacher who is willing to maintain an open door policy (within closely monitored district requirements, of course) there are countless rewards once a solid relationship is built with your helpers in waiting. Anyone who has ever been in charge of multiple children at any given time, can tell you that crowd control is easily undermined by extraneous factors such as tiredness, hunger, bright colors on the wall, lint on the carpet…you catch my drift. In addition to maintaining some semblance of classroom management, teachers are also expected to execute tasks such as the facilitation of learning and stimulation of young minds. No sweat, right? Especially when you have a supporting cast of volunteers who are eager to help prepare crafts, staple copies, and set up small group activities. My volunteers are a God-send. No joke. And so it was that I reluctantly decided to accept Naya’s grandmother into the classroom with open arms. Well, not quite.

            You see, I’m ashamed to say it, but It took some time for me to warm to her. And, to be fair, I think it’s accurate to say it took a while for me to grown on her as well. I was irked by her over-bearing nature, and she was skeptical of me, the young-ish teacher with skinny jeans & a tendency to break out in spontaneous song. She would indirectly question my reasoning behind taking the children out to recess on cold winter days. Or my practice of encouraging the children to do things independently such as opening their own milk cartons, or working through peer conflict before I swooped in and rescued the situation. She was a classic helicopter grandparent. Protective to the point of stifling. But as months went on, she eased up a bit. And Naya became more confident and outgoing as a result. She was also extremely helpful in the classroom;  whether it was sweeping of floors, wiping mouths, or serving lunch plates…she was quick to fill in any void she saw. As a result, the classroom schedule and transitions were as smooth as could be. Around the second half of the school year, she began to smile, and talk, and even joke. And I started to genuinely enjoy her presence.

             Then, April came, and suddenly Naya stopped coming to school. After waiting a few days to hear from her family regarding her absence, I called home. Naya’s grandmother picked up. There had been a family tragedy. A car accident, and her grandson had died, a day before his 20th birthday. Needless to say, she was devastated. When they returned to school several weeks later, Naya requested to draw a sidewalk chalk picture for her deceased cousin so that he could look upon it from his new home in Heaven. So we did. My aide and I also listened as grandmother broke down and told us the details of the accident. And about her daughter’s inconsolable grief. And how precious and short life is. We cried with her. As mothers. But mostly, as  friends.

            Last week, as we prepared to close the classroom for the summer, Naya’s grandmother and I stood on the school yard watching the children work themselves into a feverous state of excitement over the impending summer break. I glanced over in her direction, and for a second, realized how far we had come since September. And out of nowhere, she began a story…”You know, I left my daughter in El Salvador when she was about Naya’s age. Not just her, my other daughters also. My youngest was 2 at the time. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do…” And for the next half hour, she recounted how she had left her improvised country to come to the States in search of a better life for her children. She came alone. With nothing but the clothes on her back, and a small picture of her daughters that she carries with her to this day. She found under-the-table work as a house cleaner, and sent nearly all of her earnings back home to her daughters who were in the care of her mother. She did this for 7 years, until finally, with the help of her American born husband, she was able to bring her children to the U.S. for good.

              Suddenly, all the times she spent hovering around Naya made sense. The way she coaxed her to finish all her food, the manner in which she fussed over her clothes, her hair, her school work. The way that she worried for every single cough, sneeze, and yawn. It was all justified.

            Justice. It’s a word I think of often. I contemplate how it applies to my students, as they work their way through a school system that overemphasizes test results rather than learning processes. I ponder the way it manifests in daily interactions between school staff and parents who are visibly uncomfortable on the school campus; be it because their English is limited, or they are unsure of their role in a formal educational setting, or perhaps because their own experiences in school were negative enough to prompt them to shy away from the environment as a whole. But I can tell you what Justice is not. Justice is not represented in a worldwide system that ruthlessly places profits before the needs and rights of a human being—a system that looks the other way when national policies such as NAFTA outright cripple a country and it’s ability to support it’s own, then responds with laws that criminalize people who migrate for the sake of their survival and that of their families. Justice is not present in a political environment that labels people “illegal.” Justice is not represented in a classroom where a teacher refuses to call a child by their birth name, on the basis that ‘Jorge” in English is ‘George.’ Justice means little to a mother who has nothing but a faded snapshot of her children to keep her going, day after day, night after night, as she toils away in a foreign country that never welcomed her in the first place.

               I do not like to make sweeping generalizations. But I am going to make one now. I have been teaching in one of the most diverse cities in the nation for the past 12 years, in both the public and private sectors. I’ve taught children who were born into affluence, and those who live in extreme poverty. And this I can say with certainty: 9 times out of 10, the people who have consistently been willing to do the grunt work (the wiping of noses, mopping of floors, scrubbing down the grime, and sanitizing of rugs after vomit incidents) are immigrants. Whether its the grandfather who immigrated from a war-torn Vietnam and now helps tend to my classroom garden, or the Iranian born mother who lovingly zippers the jacket of each and every student as I usher them out the door to recess, or the Cantonese-speaking auntie who kneels (without flinching) on the dusty cement to tie the shoe of an active student—these people deserve justice. But there’s more. They also deserve our utmost respect. 

               The battle over immigration rights continues in this country, as it always has, and perhaps always will. In the strategy room, there are politicians and pundits and activists each with their own agendas. All of them motivated by a different cause. And on the front-lines, there are men and women like Naya’s grandmother. Naya’s grandma, who joins her granddaughter in class everyday because she was not there to do it for her own daughters. Like Hanisa’s grandfather who gently held the hands of an angry student and told him, in broken English, how hate is the cause of all problems, but the solution to none. Like my grandmother, Guadalupe, who worked the cotton fields of Texas while bearing the weight of a small child on her back. Laws will be written, policies changed, and slogans coined. But all that aside, the collateral damage of the war on immigration remains the family. And to me, that is a high price to pay.

(For my Father, Jose. Happy Father’s Day. And for my Nana Lupe, for going through hell and back to bring him here…)

Roles & Realizations: Mother’s Day 2013

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“there are different ways to make a family. It just takes love.”

Several nights ago, my youngest children came home from an evening with their father a little later than expected. It was a school night, and I was irritated that they would be getting to bed late, thus making it likely that the morning routine would be difficult– as it is much more challenging to wake a tired child than it is a well rested one. The drop-off exchange was curt,  and as soon as I closed the front door behind him, I began directing each of my boys through their nightly routine…”Isaac, get in the shower, Jacob, make sure your homework folder is in your backpack!” As I turned to my littlest one, I saw that she was already bathed, and in clean pajamas, all she needed was to be tucked in. I instantly felt relief (one less task to be completed in an already rushed night), then, a profound sense of bitter-sweet gratefulness. “Who brushed your hair, Ava?” My daughter turned to me with those wide, round eyes of hers and answered, “Sarah.” I held her little head against my cheek and took in the scent of her freshly washed hair, holding back tears. “That was very nice of her.” And I meant it.

Since my ex-husband and I seperated, I have considered many things in regards to our newly aquired roles as co-parents. But until recently, I had not given much thought to the notion that someday, I would likely be faced with with the task of turning over the mothering reins, should he begin a new relationship. 

Before I continue, I want to reiterate what I wrote in an earlier post regarding our split…the decision to separate was ultimately made by me. Though in recent discussions, my ex-husband has also expressed his feeling that the split was a necessary move in light of our ongoing struggles. But with 14 years of history & 3 children between us, life after break-up has not always been easy. That said, the one part of this that has been much less trying for me than one might expect, is my acceptance of his dating. Simply put, my one desire in the aftermath of our spilt is that we come out happier and more balanced than we were before. If that means finding love with another person, so be it. 

So when my children began  coming home from their dad’s, chattering about Sarah and her daughter—whom they adore, by the way— I began to come to terms with the fact that there was a new someone in my children’s inner circle.

Im sorry, but initially, I was not as graceful about this new development as I’d like to think I was. It brought about feelings of defensiveness that I quickly had to put in check. There is nothing productive that comes from being at odds with your ex’s significant other, especially when there are children in the picture. 

When I picked up my little ones from their dad this evening, I brought along a small gift for the new woman in their lives. Not only is she the mother of a young daughter, but she has also bravely taken on the task of welcoming my three little ones into her life, into her home, into her heart. 

This Mothers Day, I am humbled, as I come to accept that there will be another set of hands to care for my children when I am not around. Another voice to soothe them, another shoulder to bear their weight when they fall asleep after a long summer’s day in the sun. It’s challenging…but in a strange way, it’s not. I have always lived in a community where women step in to support each other in the role of mothering. Sisters, cousins, friends, neighbors…they have all played a part in the rearing of my children. 

But the smell of an unfamiliar shampoo in my baby girl’s hair awakened the realization that there is a new mother figure in the cast of caregivers. A significant one. And I’d be lying if I denied that the thought alone can bring me to tears. But I also speak the truth when I say that I wish her the best as she becomes accustomed to this new reality of ours.

Road Trip

Elijah, age 2

Elijah, age 2

When Elijah was 3, I took a job at a private day care nearby in an effort to gain some experience in the early childhood field and earn some money for college. The added perk was that this particular center offered free tuition to its employees, so Elijah was able to attend preschool a few rooms down from the class I was assisting in. It seemed like an ideal situation. My first day of work, I got us both up bright and early and dressed Elijah in a brand new red & cream outfit complete with matching kicks, scarves, and gloves. I wanted to make a good first impression. After getting myself presentable, we hit the road. I was nervous, as one would expect me to be, but my toddler’s carefree chattering lightened my mood a bit. I remember that his favorite CD was playing, a little album I had picked up during one of our trips to the Sacramento Railroad Museum. Elijah was in one of his fixation phases and loved anything remotely related to trains, including music. This CD contained a nice score of railroad themed songs, however there was this one track that had nothing to do with trains from what I could tell, but ironically, it was his favorite on the disc. It was a folksy little acoustic tune about growing up.

That morning, as we rolled along the freeway, I recall tearing up as I watched my son in the rearview mirror, kicking his legs in time to the music, singing, “Hey little boy, you’re acting kind of old, you’re just a little child today…hurry not, don’t rush your days, the time will pass away….slow down, little boy slow down, little boy I said slow down. Before the twinkle of an eye, your time will come around…” His little voice was so sweet then—I wish you could have heard it. Small, yet deliberate, he could carry a tune like  no other toddler I knew and he’d belt out songs as if he were singing to the heavens themselves. By the time we made it to the new school, I was feeling more at ease. But that was only temporary. The first day was rougher than I’d expected. The classroom I was working in was small and stuffy and filled with restless, rowdy two-year-olds. To top it off, the teacher I was working under seemed more interested in sharing the details of her personal life than focusing on the management of the little toddlers in our care. By the time I got to Elijah’s classroom to pick him up, I was feeling ambivalent about the center as a whole. That’s when I saw my son. He was off in a corner, eyes downcast, lip trembling. I glanced at the floor to see what he was staring at, and saw that he was standing in a puddle. He’d had an accident, but in the chaos of the room, no one had noticed. I swept him up, and quickly got him in a fresh set of clothes. He had been potty trained for months and had not once had an accident, until then. As we drove home that day, I knew I would not be returning to that job. Experience and money aside, my little boy was not going to be little for very long and I was not going to have him attend a preschool where he was not being attended to.

I wish I could tell you how fast time passes. It seems everyone tells you so from the day your baby is born; “Cherish these moments, they go so fast… They grow up so quickly.” We politely nod our heads in agreement while admiring the tiny features of our newborns and secretly tell ourselves things will always remain as they are. Those little eyes forever looking to us for guidance, the fingers clutching ours for comfort. And then they are 1, and take their first steps without your help. Then they are 3, and run into a wide open space without once looking back to see if you are there… then 5, and the door to the kindergarten room closes behind them as you stand on the outside wondering how it all happened so quickly. Then 10, and their social life begins to circulate less around you, and more around their peers. Then 16, and you receive an official letter in the mailbox one day with the license that allows them to roam further away from you than was ever before possible.

Elijah earned his right to drive recently. He diligently studied his driver’s education book, persuaded various family members (including myself) to take him out for impromptu driving lessons, scheduled all the necessary appointments with drivers’ training and the DMV, and in the end, was rewarded with his drivers licence nearly a month and a half after his 16th birthday. This has allowed him to drive himself to and from his many baseball games during the week when no one is available to take him. It permits him the freedom to visit friends in nearby neighborhoods on the weekends… neighborhoods he previously could not venture into because they were too far to get to on skateboard or bike. It affords him the feeling of freedom, yet at the same time saddles him with a great deal of responsibility. And it has prompted me to, once again, loosen up my psychological reigns a bit as we inch our way toward his 18th year…

I tell him, the rules of the road are much like the rules in life: be courteous and cautious but confident in your abilities to manage difficult situations as you encounter them. Trust your instincts. Always refer to your rearview but don’t fixate on it. Don’t be ashamed to ask for directions. Even in the age of MapQuest, you may still need to seek out the direction of someone who knows the area better than you. And above all, never forget the way home. There is nothing like the comfort of your loved ones when you grow weary of traveling or need a place to refuel.

Coaches & Critics

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Early this year I had the opportunity to accompany my 7 & 11 year-old-sons to their  annual baseball tryouts. The tryouts take place over the course of two weekends, and land in the  middle of January which means parents  & players alike withstand the bitter northern California chill for several hours as coaches draft their teams. Though my boys have been playing little league for years, this was the first time I’ve ever attended tryouts. Typically, this task has been delegated to their father, however circumstances had it that I was the chaperone to what my children claim is one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the season. My boys were excited but jittery as we arrived at the field that day. Nerves aside, the overall energy of the place was infectious. Clearly, everyone in attendance that morning was excited to be kicking off yet another season of baseball, even if it was at an ungodly morning hour in the biting cold. As the young players formed lines and greeted friends from seasons past, I found myself hanging back a bit (partly due to the fact that I was one of only a handful of mothers in a sea of dads). As I sat on the bleachers inhaling my warm coffee, I quickly fell into observation mode. 
I watched as each child took their turn at the designated drill and quickly began to notice a pattern of interaction and reaction from the parents of the players. Save for a few outlying personality types, I had the overwhelming sense that the parents on the sidelines fell into two categories: the coaches, and the critics.
The coaches were pleasant to watch. These were the parents who, even after their child missed a pop fly, struck out, or failed to field a grounder, maintained a positive approach to their young player. Encouraging, and reassuring, they offered constructive criticism & instruction without being demeaning.
The critics, however, were by far more difficult for me to observe. If you have ever attended a children’s sports events, you’ve seen this parenting style, and perhaps, like me, find yourself cringing at the tactics used. Critics can be ruthless. Rather than pointing out the players strengths, and acknowledging the effort, they go straight into attack mode. 
My grouchy, judgmental self got the better of me that morning, and I found myself silently criticizing the “critic” parents for their lack of understanding and encouragement, and their failure to praise their youngling’s accomplishments before offering suggestions for improvement. As I ushered my kiddos into the parking lot after tryouts had ended, I felt smugly confident in my superior communication skills, and was sure my children were better off for it. 
That high-and-mighty phase lasted all of five minutes because as soon as I returned home, I was greeted by a hungry toddler who was literally throwing herself against the fridge in a desperate attempt to find a juice box and a teen complaining about how his brothers are constantly finding ways to break into his bedroom in search of gum, money, pocket knives, and anything else  that might be of value to them. It was there that my refined parenting skills were forgotten. In frustration, I swooped up my blubbering toddler and stuffed a banana into her mouth (to take the edge off her hunger, of course). Then, I went after the boys. I began this completely disjointed tirade about how I remember how maddening it was to have a younger sibling rummage through my stuff and how-ironically- at one point I was ALSO the younger sibling who had complete disregard for her older sisters things and because I was a middle child I could relate to BOTH ends of the issue BUT that the bottom line was that everyone needed to shut up & relate to MY needs as a mother whose only desire was to come home from a long morning at tryouts to a quiet home, free of bickering and screeching 3-year-olds. (*deep breath*) When I had finished yelling, I realized my kids were staring at me blankly as if I’d gone mad. (I had). My 6-year-old then politely offered me some sunflower seeds as my toddler smeared banana onto the back of my neck.
For the rest of the month, I unintentionally analyzed each and every conversation I had with my children to see if I was coaching or criticizing. I found that, especially when the stress levels were high, my tendency to be a critic was more frequent than I’d like to admit. Not only that, I took notice of how my children reacted to each style of communication. When I was even-tempered and fair in my reactions to things such as unfinished homework assignments, botched attempts to load the dishwasher, and sibling warfare, my children were infinitely more receptive to my intervention & instruction. When I was short and critical, they quickly shut down and we’d get no where. 
 This is true of almost every interaction we have in family life–whether it’s with a spouse, co-parent, or stubbornly autonomous two-year-old–we are generally  able to accomplish more through warmth & constructive feedback than we are with aggression & criticism.
Not long after the tryouts, my 11-year-old pulled his favorite Aesop’s fables book from his shelf and brought it to me for bedtime readings. By coincidence, I opened to the story of the The Wind & The Sun. For those of you unfamiliar with this tale, it begins with the wind and sun arguing over who was most powerful. As they are bickering, they take notice of a man strolling along the road below dressed in a heavy winter coat. They decide to see who will be able to persuade him to remove his coat. The wind blows with all his might, but the man only draws the coat tighter around him in an effort to fight off the cold. All at once, the sun shines her warm beams upon the man, and he quickly takes off the jacket. In short, the moral of the story is “gentle persuasion is stronger than force.” As I finished reading the fable, my 7-year-old turns to me and says, “We sure are lucky you are warm like sun. The wind is cold-hearted!” 
And there you have it. The wind blows.
Pass the sunflower seeds. 🙂

16 Candles & Other Musings

IMG_20130127_104042                       Well. The big birthday has finally arrived. My baby boy is turning 16. I feel as if I’ve been anticipating this milestone since the day he was born. Remember the Disney film Sleeping Beauty?  Princess Aurora’s parents spend years anxiously awaiting their daughter’s 16th birthday because it has been proclaimed that, before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. Okay, that’s a bit dramatic…and I’m pretty sure my son wasn’t cursed at birth, and even if he was, I’m confident that there are no spinning wheels in the nearby vicinity. So, we’re safe in that sense. However, I do feel a teensy-weensy bit apprehensive about this upcoming birthday. Why? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think it has something to do with the fact that I am seeing him now at the age I was, right before he came into my life. I’ve heard other young moms talk about the coming of age of their children and how their up most concern is that their child doesn’t share a fate similar to their own. In other words, they wouldn’t want their child’s potential to be cut short by an unplanned pregnancy, especially in the teen years. I can relate. A few months ago my son’s (then) girlfriend called me unexpectedly in the wee hours of the morning. The second I heard her teary voice on the other end of the line my mind reeled with hypothetical questions…”Had my continued contraception/sex talks been adequate enough? Had I been too lax on my monitoring of his comings & goings? How far can a parent go to prevent their teen from becoming a parent?” Thankfully, a pregnancy was NOT the issue she was calling about, but in those few seconds I realized how fast our lives could change. I’ve been there before, of course, but not as a parent. That morning, after hanging up the phone, I gained a new sense of appreciation for my mother, and the grace with which she handled herself when I came to her with my news 16 years ago.
                       Anyhow, it’s a peculiar thing to watch my son, as he meanders through the kitchen in the morning in search of a bite to eat…as he curls up on the couch doing normal teenage things like watching movies, texting  friends, or catching up on required reading for school. In the past, these little moments haven’t caught my attention as they do now. But now….now, I am seeing my son as I was, 16 years ago, pre-parenthood. It’s impossible for me to watch him swoop his little sister up for a piggy back ride, kneel down to un-tuck the pant leg that’s caught in her boot, or coach her to take that last bite of oatmeal, without considering that I was more or less his age when I was doing all these things for him. Its humbling in a way that takes my breath away.
                    I think its safe to say that every mother who has ventured into parenthood as a teen hopes that their child will not follow in their footsteps when it comes to early parenthood. I’ve heard others say they would not want their child to repeat their mistakes. That always gives me pause.  For  mistake is not quite  the way I would describe my eldest son. Yes, his birth changed the course of my life, but not necessarily in a negative way. My stating this is in no way an endorsement of teen parenthood. It is a difficult road to travel. Isolating, at times frustrating, and some would say limiting, especially in regards to mothers. But consider this: Parenthood at ANY age can be described as such, and all the while there are countless wonderful aspects to it as well. There is hope in our story, and as his 16th birthday approaches, I want my son to know that. 
                 Yes, my options were limited because I was raising him. I didn’t get the chance to experience college in the traditional “move away from home, live in the dorms, join organizations and party” sense. I didn’t travel the world. I couldn’t take part in many of the twenty-something rites -of-passage that our culture deems so valuable. But what I did do, was help guide a precious little soul into adolescence. And I stand back now, in awe of the person he is becoming. Mark my words; Elijah will a leave positive imprint on this earth. Perhaps not with fanfare and wide-spread recognition, though if he sets his mind to that he is perfectly capable of it. More importantly, with his gentle, thoughtful, old-soul of a spirit, he leaves, and will continue to leave subtle but significant impressions on the lives of all he touches. Beginning with me. As January 27th approaches, I’ll be contemplating new beginnings, a supportive family network, strength in the face of adversity, relentless hope, and the beautiful little baby that made all these concepts a reality in my world one winter night, so many years ago. 
                                                                                                                                                            Happy 16th Birthday, Elijah. I love you with all my heart.

A little child shall lead them…

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“A Little Child Shall Lead Them”
  -Isaiah 11:1-10

 
In any given year, Winter Break is typically the highlight of the season. Two weeks off of work for me and school vacation for the kids, it is our time to celebrate, rejuvenate and reflect on the year that’s past. This, in addition to the holiday traditions; tamales, cookie making, light viewing, carol singing, parties, and family gatherings galore, make for an enjoyable end to December.  Festivities aside, one of my favorite aspects of the holiday season is the emphasis on the nativity. I was raised Catholic, and therefore feel a special connection to the story of the Holy Family…but in all honesty, it’s the story of Mary’s journey that really moves me.
 
Here’s this young unwed mother who, after much soul-searching (and a visit from an archangel), bravely carries her baby to term against all odds. Impoverished and shunned, she gives birth in the humblest of all conditions and in doing so brings forth one who become sone of the worlds most heralded prophets. Regardless of your beliefs or religion, you’ve got to admit the story has some appeal, especially to a former young mother such as myself.
 
A few weeks before Christmas, I found myself sitting in a church service next to my 15-year-old son  who was flipping through a pamphlet inscribed with a bible verse from Isaiah 11: 6-10 which begins..”A little child will lead them…” In an instant, I remembered the days during which I grappled with the new-found discovery of my pregnancy at the age of 16.  A time during which I prayed for an angel to guide me, a prayer that I quickly realized had already been answered. The little child within me WAS my angel. He guided me during those early days–motivating me to walk with purpose and integrity—and he continues to guide me now.
 
A couple of days after that church service, a gunman walked into a school in Newtown, Connecticut and killed 26 people, 20 of whom were children. When I first read of the tragedy, it was in a report accompanied by a picture of a teacher running with her students, hands grasped, faces drawn, and it was unclear who was leading who. I was at work at the time, and the sounds of the kindergarteners in the room next door to me brought me to tears. By the time my own students arrived in the classroom, it was all I could do to keep composure. That afternoon, I relied on their presence to renew my faith in mankind. The horrendous nature of the days events were made more bearable by the children in my care, who constantly exhibit compassion and empathy toward one another, as well as unabashed love toward me and my staff. Without their energy, the afternoon would have been much more grim as details of the slaughter continued to be reported.
 
In the days that followed, my own community experienced its own rash of gun violence that left several dead, many wounded, and countless lives forever changed. In all, the last few weeks are a blur of many raw discussions, tender gestures, and fleeting moments during which I was reminded of how precious life truly is, how nothing is guaranteed, and how petty all the usual holiday stressors really are. Many tears were shed, often alone and out of sight from the children, but laughter was in abundance as well. As is often the case when there are children present, grief and sadness cannot take hold for too long before joy comes bubbling to the surface when you least expect it…a giggle brought on by some silly mishap, a spontaneous smile when a neighbor comes to the door bearing homemade cookies, and an infectious hum instigated by the memory of an all-too familiar Christmas song…
 
This season, though its hardships were plentiful (both personal & otherwise), I was lucky to be surrounded by an abundance of family & friends, and by children. Lots of them. And it is because of their company, that I was prompted to mediate upon the importance of being child-like. I am indebted to the young ones in my life who have led me to live in the present, focus on  beauty, and live free of grudges. Because I’ve found that in my darkest moments, it is child-like innocence, trust, faith, & love that illuminates the road ahead and ultimately leads us to light.